Interview with Nicoletta Mariolini on
Swiss linguistic diversity

On 30 November 2023, Swissmint will launch a new special coin, the “Linguistic diversity” gold coin. We asked Ms Mariolini, the Federal Delegate for Plurilingualism, five questions about Swiss linguistic diversity.

What are your tasks and objectives as Federal Delegate for Plurilingualism?
As the Federal Administration is a microcosm of Switzerland, it has a duty to guarantee that the linguistic communities are fairly represented within it. This is stipulated in the Federal Constitution and the Languages Act (LangA), supported by the Languages Ordinance (LangO), which sets the target values for the representation of the different language communities within the Federal Administration. To guarantee optimal comprehension between linguistic communities, the legislation also aims to strengthen employees’ language skills and facilitate access to language training.

It is in this context that the strategic position of Federal Delegate for Plurilingualism was created. The role consists of coordinating the implementation of the Federal Council’s strategic objectives in terms of plurilingualism, in collaborating with the federal departments, the Federal Chancellery and the Federal Office of Personnel, and ensuring that they are properly monitored. This is a pivotal function that connects the political levels with the Federal Administration.


“Cultural diversity and plurilingualism are part of Switzerland’s very essence, and many other countries rightly envy us for our linguistic diversity.”

Is Switzerland really a model country for plurilingualism?
Cultural diversity and plurilingualism are part of Switzerland’s very essence, and many other countries rightly envy us for our linguistic diversity. Switzerland and the Swiss represent a nation of consensus. Our strength lies in this unity in diversity and the will to overcome our differences and live well together. In order to ensure equal opportunities for linguistic minorities and thus to ensure that plurilingualism flourishes, the will and the openness of the linguistic majority play an important role. In this way, everyone’s needs can be taken into account and, time and again, measures can be implemented together to promote this important cultural heritage.

The new special coin bears 5 inscriptions on the obverse, “Salut”, “Grüezi”, “Salve” and “Allegra” as well as “Varietad Linguistica”. These are complemented by four distinctive Swiss landmarks (one for each linguistic region). The reverse features Article 70 of the Federal Constitution. Do you think the coin’s design is a success?
A real success. In a nutshell: our plurilingualism is worth its weight in gold!

Do the efforts to promote plurilingualism still make sense in view of the advent of fully automated translation tools and artificial intelligence?
Machine translation tools and artificial intelligence are certainly useful for keeping our languages alive, especially minority languages. However, it goes without saying that these tools cannot replace our linguistic communities. New technologies must not and cannot be an end in themselves. The ability to listen, to promote the culture and the linguistic rights of each language community remain at the heart of our concerns: the source and centre of our plurilingualism are the human beings, who must be able to exercise their own rights.

On the 22 August 2023, the headline on SRF News read “Four languages or English for all?“ How did you react to this headline?
Like any other sector, ours too is part of a rapidly changing world that requires new balances to be found. We promote our linguistic diversity and support our minorities, with the aim of achieving social and cultural cohesion. Unity in diversity requires both individual and collective commitment. This commitment favours minority rights, in the knowledge that we also have to contend with the English language.


SRF article: «Vier Sprachen oder Englisch für alle?»:

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