In Switzerland, the official political discourse is embedded in the belief that historical quadrilingualism is an essential component of the national cultural heritage. But, as in many other countries, increasing mobility of the population leads to a progressive destabilisation of language situations. Cultural homogeneity, protected by the principle of territoriality, no longer exists. Historical quadrilingualism is replaced by a plurilingualism from immigration.

This new demographic situation calls for different linguistic policies. Consequently, a new discourse of intergration (vs assimilation) begins to emerge, opting for maintenance of the language of origin while acquiring the public language. The need is to find an equilibrium between the maintenance, by migrants, of linguistic and cultural practices linked to their region of origin while participating actively to the regional culture of their new country. And this, whithin mixed linguistic communicative networks, while respecting the sensitivities of linguistic regions - for whom official unilingualism must guarantee, on the long run, the survival of their language.

But, does this new plurilingualism pose a threat to a quadrilingual equilibrium ? A recent analysis of the last (1990) census survey allows us to conclude that:

  • except for rhetoromanch, the national languages are not imperilled on their territories ; German does not pose a threat, nor for French nor for Italian, namely because internal migration has been replaced by external migration;
  • diverse forms of bilingualism have appeared in all linguistic regions
    characterised by an unprecedented linguistic heterogeneity without forming alloglotic islands;
  • the percentage of alloglots is greater in the French and Italian speaking regions than in the German speaking region ; inversely, in the German speaking region, alloglots better maintain their language of origin and integrate less the language of the region.

Although profound stereotypes maintain the unilingual vision of regions of Switzerland in a plurilingual country, individual plurilingualism in the national languages has constituted in the past, not only a factor of cohesion between the linguistic regions, but also an important economic asset. This plurilingualism has traditionally been encouraged by compulsory and early teaching of a second national language.