Swiss German town votes to go French

Residents in a small town in northwestern Switzerland voted in a referendum Sunday to leave a German-speaking canton and join a French-speaking one, after years of animosity.

The town of Moutier after a similar separatist vote in 2017.
Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

In 1978, when Switzerland — with its 26 cantons with four national languages — established the new French-speaking canton of Jura, a number of districts in the area preferred to remain part of German-speaking Bern.

The town of Moutier, population 7,500, was one of them.

Not any more — Sunday’s referendum returned a strong majority to join the French-speaking Jura with 2,114 in favour and 1,740 against.

The issue has deeply divided residents for decades and separatist administrations have repeatedly been elected seeking to break away from Bern.

The canton’s government leader Pierre-Alain Schnegg admitted the result was “extremely clear”.

Moutier will fare better as one of the major towns in the Jura than just one of many small communities in German-speaking Bern, French speakers say.

READ MORE: How do the Swiss really feel about foreigners?

A previous referendum in 2017 — in which a small majority of people voted to join Jura — was overturned because of voting irregularities.

So security was high this Sunday and the two camps were kept apart by dividing the town into two to avoid trouble. The federal authorities also sent observers to ensure that the vote took place properly.

Nevertheless, public television channel RTS reported seeing a letter from the canton of Bern to the federal authorities claiming a suspicious influx of new residents into Moutier in the run-up to the vote.

The new residents were “people… for whom it is difficult to understand their connections with Moutier,” RTS reported.

In what became known as the “Jurassian question”, separatists sometimes resorted to extreme measures in the past — occupying offices in embassies in both Paris and Brussels.

One campaigner was even killed in 1993 when a bomb he was carrying blew up.

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How to talk email, websites, social media and phone numbers in Swiss French

It's a very common experience to have to give out your phone number or email address in Switzerland, or take down the address of a website, so here's how to do this if you're in the French-speaking part of the country.

How to talk email, websites, social media and phone numbers in Swiss French

The correct names for punctuation marks used to be fairly low down on any French-learner’s list, but these days they are vital whenever you need to explain an email address, website or social media account.

Likewise if you want to talk about websites, or social media posts, there are some things that you need to know. 


Obviously punctuation points have their own names, and making sure you get the periods, dashes and underscores correct is vital to giving out account details. 

Full stop/period . point. Pronounced pwan, this is most commonly heard for Swiss websites or email addresses which end in. ch (pronounced pwan ce ash).

If you have a site that ends in .com you say ‘com’ as a word just as you would in English – pwan com.

At symbol @ Arobase – so for example the email address [email protected] would be jean pwan dupont arobas bluewin pwan ce ash.

Ampersand/and symbol & esperluette

Dash – tiret

Underscore _ tiret bas 

Forward slash / barre oblique

Upper case/capital lettersMajuscule (or lettre majuscule)

Lower caseminiscule

The following punctuation points are less common in email or web addresses, but worth knowing anyway:

Comma , virgule. In French a decimal point is indicated with a comma so two and a half would be 2,5 (deux virgule cinq)

Exclamation mark ! point d’exclamation – when you are writing in French you always leave a space between the final letter of the word and the exclamation mark – comme ça !

Question mark ? point d’interrogation – likewise, leave a space between the final character and a question mark 

Brackets/parentheses ( ) parenthèse

Quotation marks « » guillemets 


If you need to give your phone number out, the key thing to know is that Swiss-French people pair the numbers in a phone number when speaking.

So say your number is 079 345 6780, in French you would say zero septante-neuf, trois-cents quarante-cinq, soixante-sept, huitante (zero seventy-nine, three hundred forty-five, sixty-seven, eighty ).

Mobile numbers in Switzerland  begin with 079 or 078 (zero septante-neuf or zero septante-huit).

Social media

If you want to give out your Twitter or Instagram handle, the chances are you might need to know some punctuation terms as described above.

Otherwise the good news is that a lot of English-language social media terms are used in Switzerland too.

Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have the same names in Switzerland and have entered the language in other ways too, for example you might describe your dinner as très instagrammable – ie it’s photogenic and would look good on Instagram.

On Twitter you can suivre (follow), aimer (like) or retweet (take a wild guess). You’ll often hear the English words for these terms too, though pronounced with a French accent.

There is a French translation for hashtag – it’s dièse mot, but in reality hashtag is also very widely used.

Tech is one of those areas where new concepts come along so quickly that the English terms often get embedded into everyday use before the French-speakers can think up an alternative.

READ MORE: French-speaking Switzerland: Seven life hacks that will make you feel like a local