Native toSurselva in Switzerland
Latin script
Language codes
ISO 639-3

Sursilvan (pronounced [sursilˈvaːn] ; also romontsch sursilvan [roˈmɔntʃ sursilˈvaːn]; Sursilvan, Vallader, Surmiran, Sutsilvan, and Rumantsch Grischun: sursilvan; Puter: sursilvaun) is a group of dialects of the Romansh language spoken in the Swiss district of Surselva. It is the most widely spoken variety of Romansh with 17,897 people within the Surselva District (54.8%) naming Romansh as a habitually spoken language in the Swiss census of 2000.[4] The most closely related variety is Sutsilvan, which is spoken in the area located to the east of the district.

The name of the dialect and the Surselva District is derived from sur 'above' and selva 'forest', with the forest in question being the Uaul Grond in the area affected by the Flims Rockslide. The word selva itself has fallen out of use in modern Sursilvan, with the most common word for forest being uaul, an Old High German loanword. Selva is only used for in a few more recent terms such as selvicultura 'forestry', selvicultur 'forest officer', or cavrer selvadi 'Long-eared owl'.

A Sursilvan inscription on a house in Waltensburg/Vuorz


A Sursilvan traffic sign

Sursilvan is used across most of the Surselva District, with the exception of the Walser villages of Obersaxen, Vals, St. Martin and Safiental. Outside of the Surselva District, Flims is also part of the Sursilvan dialect area. In addition, Sursilvan was previously used as the written Romansh language of parts of the Sutsilvan dialect area. When a separate Sutsilvan written language was introduced in 1944, the villages of Bonaduz, Rhäzüns, Domat/Ems and Trin retained Sursilvan as their written language. In addition, Sursilvan was previously used in the Surmiran dialect area as the language of church, but has now been replaced by Standard Surmiran and Rumantsch Grischun.

Most municipalities in which Sursilvan is the traditional language still have a Romansh-speaking majority today. The exceptions are Flims, Laax, Schnaus, Ilanz, Castrisch, Surcuolm, and Duvin. In all of these, except for Flims, however, a majority of people reported using Romansh daily in the 2000 Swiss census, even if only a minority named it as their language of best command. In about half of the Sursilvan villages, Romansh is the language of best command of over 70% or 80%. The highest percentage is found in Vrin with over 95%. As a daily language, it is used in nearly all municipalities by at least 70%, in about half by more than 80%, and in a third by over 90%. Overall across the Sursilvan dialect area, in the census of 2000, 70.1% named Romansh as a habitually used language, while 58.3% named it as their language of best command.[5]


Sursilvan spelling mostly follows a phonemic system.

Orthography IPA Example
а /a/ clav ‘key‘
аi /aɪ̯/ zai ‘tough‘
аu /aʊ̯/ paun ‘bread‘
b /b/ bogn ‘bath‘
c /k/ before a, o, u
/ts/ before i and e
canzun ‘song‘
december ‘December‘
ch /k/ (only occurs before i and e) zucher ‘sugar‘
d /d/ dadens ‘inside‘
e /e/
tegia ‘hut‘
lev ‘light‘
è /ɛ/ pèr ‘pair‘
é /e/ pér ‘pear‘
ei depending on the region, /ɛɪ̯/ (Gruob), /aɪ̯/ (Cadi) or /ɔɪ̯/ (Breil/Brigels) treis ‘three‘
eu /ɛʊ̯/ glieud ‘people‘
f /f/ fil ‘thread‘
g /g/ before a, o, u
// before i and e (i is silent)
grischun ‘Grisons‘
baselgia ‘church‘
gh /g/ (only occurs before i and e) schenghegiar ‘give a gift‘
gl /ʎ/ at the end of a word and before i (i is silent)
/gl/ before a, e, o, u and some loanwords
egl ‘eye‘
gn /ɲ/ gnierv ‘nerve‘
h usually silent
/h/ in loanwords
habitaziun ‘habitation‘
haluncs ‘crooks‘
i /i/ ti ‘you‘
ia /ɪ̯a/ siat ‘seven‘
ie /ɪə̯/ caschiel ‘cheese‘
iu /ɪʊ̯/ ischiu ‘vinegar‘
iau /ɪ̯aʊ̯/ cumiau ‘farewell‘
j /j/ jamna ‘week‘
l /l/ legums ‘vegetables‘
m /m/ mir ‘wall‘
n /n/ neiv ‘snow‘
o /ɔ/ comba ‘leg‘
p /p/ pur ‘farmer‘
r /r/ or /ʁ/ raps - ‘money‘
s /s/
/ʃ/ before c, m, n, p, t, tg
/ʒ/ before b, d, g, v
sulegl ‘sun‘
casa ‘house‘
finiastra ‘window‘
sbagl ‘mistake‘
sch /ʃ/
cudisch ‘book‘
pischada - ‘butter‘
t /t/ Turitg ‘Zurich‘
tsch // tschiel ‘sky‘
tg // tgaun ‘dog‘
u /u/ tut ‘everything‘
ua /ʊ̯a/ quater ‘four‘
ue /ʊ̯ɛ/ quel ‘this one‘
uo /ʊə̯/ buob ‘boy‘
uei /ʊ̯ɛɪ̯/ quei ‘this‘
uau /ʊ̯aʊ̯/ uaul ‘forest‘
v /v/ luvrar ‘to work‘
z /ts/ Svizra ‘Switzerland‘



Sursilvan nouns distinguish two genders (masculine and feminine) and two numbers (singular and plural).

Nouns in -a are overwhelmingly feminine (with few exceptions such as duca 'duke'). Nouns in consonants or other vowels can be either masculine or feminine.

Plurals are formed with the suffix -s. Nouns already ending in -s do not add this plural ending, but nouns in -z and -sch follow the general rule. Nominalised past participles in -au have a plural in -ai. In addition, nouns may show vowel alternations or other irregularities:

Type Sg Pl Meaning (gender)
Regular + -s frar frars brother (m.)
sora soras sister (f.)
esch eschs door (m.)
péz pézs summit (m.)
-s > -s nas nas nose (m.)
-(t)schi > -(t)schals purschi purschals piglet (m.)
utschi utschals bird (m.)
-i > -ials marti martials hammer (m.)
-agl > -als cavagl cavals horse (m.)
-egl > -els cavegl cavels hair (m.)
-iel > -euls migiel migeuls glass (m.)
-al > -auls armal armauls ox (m.)
-au > -ai delegau delegai delegate (m.)
-ie- > -o- + -s iev ovs egg (m.)
tgiern corns horn (m.)
ies oss bone (m.)
tgaubriechel tgaubrochels somersault (m.)
-ie- > -o- + -s (with irreg.) piertg pors pig (m.)
bov bos ox (m.)
-ie- > -ia- + -s vierm viarms worm (m.)
-ie- > -ia- (no -s) viers viars animal noise (m.)
-ie- > -a- + -s tschierv tscharvs stag (m.)
Irregular um umens man (m.)
dunna dunnauns (also: dunnas) woman (f.)
matta mattauns (also: mattas) girl (f.)
liug loghens (also: logs) place (m.)

Collective plurals

In addition to the normal plural in -s many nouns also show a collective plural in -a. These forms typically occur with natural substances (rocks, wood, plants etc.) and human body parts. Syntactically these collective plurals behave like feminine singular nouns: La crappa ei dira. 'The rocks are hard. / The rock (= material) is hard.' (with dira 'hard' agreeing with the subject la crappa 'the rock(s)') and may best be considered as an intermediate formation between inflection and derivation.[6]


Sursilvan has both a definite and an indefinite article. These are preposed and agree with their noun in gender and number. (The indefinite article only has singular forms.) Forms may differ depending on whether the following word starts with a vowel or a consonant:

Indefinite Article

masc. in fegl 'son'
in amitg 'male friend'
fem. before cons. ina feglia 'daughter'
fem. before vowel in'amitga 'female friend'

Definite Article

Sg Pl
masc. before cons. il bab ils babs 'father'
before vowel igl aug ils augs 'uncle'
fem. before cons. la mumma las mummas 'mother'
before vowel l'onda las ondas 'aunt'

The definite article contracts with a number of prepositions:

il igl la l' ils las
a 'to' al agl alla all' als allas
cun 'with' cul cugl culla cull' culs cullas
da 'of, by' dil digl dalla dall' dils dallas
en 'in(to)' el egl ella ell' els ellas
per 'for' pil pigl pella pell' pils pellas
sin 'on (to)' sil sigl silla sill' sils sillas
sper 'beside' spel spegl spella spell' spels spellas
tier 'to, at' tiel tiegl tiella tiell' tiels tiellas


The adjective agrees with its noun in gender and number and (as in other Romance languages) usually follows it.

A peculiarity of Sursilvan is that the adjective distinguishes an attributive and a predicative form in the masculine singular:

in um vegl 'an old man'
igl um ei vegls 'the man is old'

The predicative masculine singular form is morphologically identical with the masculine plural.

The ending of the masculine plural is -s. Feminine adjectives suffix -a in the singular and -as in the plural. The attributive masculine singular often differs from the other forms in its vocalism.

M.Sg.Attr. M.Sg.Pred/M.Pl. F.Sg. F.Pl.
Regular grond gronds gronda grondas 'big'
-gl > -gli- vegl vegls veglia veglias 'old'
-tg > -gi- lartg lartgs largia largias 'wide, broad'
-C > -CC met mets metta mettas 'dumb'
-el > -l- fideivel fideivels fideivla fideivlas 'faithful'
-en > -n- giuven giuvens giuvna giuvnas 'young'
-er > -r- pauper paupers paupra paupras 'poor'
Irreg. pign pigns pintga pintgas 'small'
agen agens atgna atgnas 'own'
-i > -ial- bi bials biala bialas 'beautiful'
-ie- > -ia- aviert aviarts aviarta aviartas 'open(ed)'
-(t)schie- > -(t)scha- detschiert detscharts detscharta detschartas 'resolute'
-ie- > -ia- + -er > -r- siniester siniasters siniastra siniastras 'left'
-ie- > -o- niev novs nova novas 'new'
gries gross grossa grossas 'thick'
tgietschen cotschens cotschna cotschnas 'red'
-ie- > -u- bien buns buna bunas 'good'
Irreg. bia biars biara biaras 'much'


Personal pronouns

Subject Object
1 Sg jeu mei (but: a mi)
2 Sg ti tei (but: a ti)
3 Sg masc el
3 Sg fem ella
1 Pl nus
2 Pl vus
3 Pl masc els
3 Pl fem ellas

Demonstrative pronouns

Neuter Masc Fem
Sg Sg Pl Sg Pl
Pron. quei 'this' quel quels quella quellas
Adj. - quei quels quella quellas
Pron. tschei 'that' tschel tschels tschella tschellas
Adj. - tschei tschels tschella tschellas
Pron. & Adj. quest 'this' quest quests questa questas


The fable The Fox and the Crow by Jean de La Fontaine in Sursilvan, as well as a translation into English, the similar-looking but noticeably different-sounding dialect Sutsilvan, and Rumantsch Grischun.[7]

Rumantsch Grischun
L'uolp era puspei inagada fomentada.
Cheu ha ella viu sin in pegn in tgaper che teneva in toc caschiel en siu bec.
Quei gustass a mi, ha ella tertgau, ed ha clamau al tgaper: «Tgei bi che ti eis! Sche tiu cant ei aschi bials sco tia cumparsa, lu eis ti il pli bi utschi da tuts».
La gualp eara puspe egn'eada fumantada.
Qua â ella vieu sen egn pegn egn corv ca taneva egn toc caschiel ainten sieus pecel.
Quegl gustass a mei, â ella tartgieu, ed ha clamo agli corv: «Tge beal ca tei es! Scha tieus tgànt e aschi beal sco tia pareta, alura es tei igl ple beal utschi da tuts».
La vulp era puspè ina giada fomentada.
Qua ha ella vis sin in pign in corv che tegneva in toc chaschiel en ses pichel.
Quai ma gustass, ha ella pensà, ed ha clamà al corv: «Tge bel che ti es! Sche tes chant è uschè bel sco tia parita, lur es ti il pli bel utschè da tuts».
The fox was hungry yet again. There he saw a raven upon a fir holding a piece of cheese in its beak. This I would like, he thought, and shouted at the raven: "You are so beautiful! If your singing is as beautiful as your looks, then you are the most beautiful of all birds.".


The Swiss vocal group Furbaz mainly performs in the Sursilvan variety of Romansh. Their entry representing Switzerland in the Eurovision Song Contest 1989, Viver senza tei, was sung in Sursilvan. They placed 13th out of 22 participating countries with 47 points. It is the only time to date in which Switzerland have sent an entry to the contest in Romansh. [8]


  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian (2022-05-24). "Romansh". Glottolog. Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. Archived from the original on 2022-10-07. Retrieved 2022-10-07.
  2. ^ "Sursilvan". Linguasphere Observatory. Retrieved 10 January 2019.
  3. ^ "Sursilvan idiom of Romansh". IANA language subtag registry. 29 June 2010. Retrieved 10 January 2019.
  4. ^ Gross (2004), p. 31.
  5. ^ Cathomas, R.; Carigiet, W. (2008). Top-Chance Mehrsprachigkeit. Zwei- und mehrsprachige Erziehung in Familie und Schule [Top chance multilingualism. Bilingual and multilingual education in family and school] (in German). Bern: Schulverlag blmv AG. p. 19.
  6. ^ Liver (1999), p. 132.
  7. ^ Gross (2004), p. 29.
  8. ^


Sursilvan literature is published among others by the Lia Rumantscha in Chur.