Wednesday, February 23, 2011

"Schwyzerdütsch" in IT

Somehow I wound up with several IT-related translations from Swiss German this week. While written Swiss business German is much closer to standard German than one would expect when hearing the spoken language, it does have its peculiarities. Oddly, a number of Swiss words and phrases -- at least in the IT world -- seem much closer to their English equivalent than to the corresponding word or phrase used in Germany.

On the other hand, I sometimes have to resort to googling Swiss websites (via to find out what a particular term means. So far I have always been able to find at least a website that uses the term in enough context and/or explains it so I can figure out what is meant, even if most of these websites do not appear to be bilingual. Come to think of it, many of the Swiss German websites I have encountered in this way not only didn't have an English version, but also didn't appear to have been translated into French or Italian, the other official Swiss languages. That seems a little odd, especially after browsing a number of Canadian website that all opened with a page to choose the English or French versions -- although admittedly these were websites in Quebec.

In any case, a couple of years back I had a spate of Swiss texts to translate and finally bought myself a Swiss German-English dictionary (the well-known German dictionary publisher Langenscheidt produces such a dictionary). While this helps with general business texts, it's a relatively small general-purpose dictionary that lacks many IT-specific terms. Does anyone know about a Swiss German-English IT dictionary?

Then again, I remember calling IT support in Switzerland when I was the network supervisor for a department in a Swiss bank in New York. Most of the people I spoke with weren't Swiss and spoke German (or French or Italian) as a second (or third) language. Since many of them were Indian (not an outsourced help desk, but Indians living in Zurich), we communicated much more easily in English than in German. So I wonder whether some of the more English-sounding IT terms I am encountering are indeed Swiss German or were coined by IT personnel who is more at home in English than in Swiss German.

It might be interesting to speak to people at IT-related companies in Switzerland about this, but I doubt I will have a chance to visit there any tiime soon...

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