Introduction to the Schweizerisches Idiotikon
Geographical and historical range
The peculiar linguistic situation of Switzerland consists partly in the existence of four national languages, Swiss German, French, Italian and Romansh. The «Schweizerisches Idiotikon» covers the biggest of the four linguistic regions, the German speaking part of Switzerland. The lexical material treated in the Schweizerisches Idiotikon is, on the one hand, the vocabulary of the various living German dialects spoken in Switzerland and northern Italy. Basis for the editing process are collections of words, sayings and idiomatic expressions in manuscript form contributed by individuals, the Swiss German fictional literature of the 19th and 20th centuries, the linguistic literature on Swiss German dialects and regional dialect dictionaries. On the other hand, the language of historical sources written or published in Switzerland from the 13th through the 18th century (the emphasis lies on the 15th and 16th centuries) is incorporated. The Schweizerisches Idiotikon therefore is not only a dialect dictionary, but a historical dictionary of late Middle High German and early New High German as well.
Structure and order of the articles
The individual entry or article of the dictionary starts with the headword (lemma) in its Middle High German form. If a Middle High German form is not to be found, the corresponding New High German or phonetic dialect form is entered. The regional phonological forms follow the headword. Grammatical information concerning gender, inflection etc. is given. The definitions, i. e. the semantic information, introduce the main part of the article. Intricate cases are opened up by a disposition of the division of meanings. Most definitions are followed by a label or labels indicating the geographical areas, where they are found. If possible, the articles present citations corroborating the definitions. This is also the place, where idiomatic phrases are quoted and explained. References from historical sources are dated and appear chronologically, they document the diachronic development of the word. Besides regional and temporal aspects, the Schweizerisches Idiotikon also indicates sociolinguistic aspects, in the case of words that are used by certain social groups. As a rule, synonymous headwords treated in former issues are referred to. Annotations conclude the article. They contain the etymology of the headword (Middle High German and Old High German forms, origin of loanwords etc.) as well as the corresponding onomastic material (place and field names, personal and family names).
As to the order of the entries, the lemmata are listed according to the stem words, i. e. compounds and derivatives appear with their stems. From volume 12 onward, alphabetical indices are added to each volume, helping the user to find the words. In 1990 an alphabetical index for volumes 1 to 11 was published.
A brief history of the Schweizerisches Idiotikon may start with the initiative of the «Antiquarische Gesellschaft in Zürich» of 1862 appealing to the German speaking Swiss people to collect dialect words, sayings, idiomatic phrases etc. The appeal had grown out of the patriotic and wide-spread fear of the time, that the peculiar Swiss German dialects might get lost. In 1881 the first issue was published. The first three and a half volumes are still quite concise. Around 1900 the scope of the Schweizerisches Idiotikon was widened: From the middle of volume 4 onward it tends to document the whole bulk of the Swiss German vocabulary in detail, hence the twofold title of the project.
In 1980 the third, revised edition of the «Quellen- und Abkürzungsverzeichnis» was published. It contains the sources cited in the lexical entries (often combined with short biographies of the authors) and explains the labels used for the geographical indications. It is in itself a bibliography to linguistic, historical and fictional literature.
Since 2010 the Schweizerisches Idiotikon is accessible also online.
Size and availability
The whole work will comprise 17 volumes. 16 volumes of the Schweizerisches Idiotikon have been published so far; volume 17 is in progress. The conclusion of the Schweizerisches Idiotikon drawing near various projects for an easier approach to the invaluable contents of the work are in preparation and will be carried out step by step: Digitisation of the printed parts, extension of the indexes, including grammatical indexes, as well as plans for a concise two-volume edition of the Idiotikon. From September 2010 facsimiles of the printed articles are open to the public for free online access.
Though the Schweizerisches Idiotikon was started by a private initiative, it has been supported by federal subsidies since 1874. Today, the legal body of the Schweizerisches Idiotikon is the «Verein für das Schweizerdeutsche Wörterbuch». This association publishes the dictionary by means of federal subsidies (through the Swiss Academy of Humanities and Social Societies, Bern) as well as the dues paid by the cantons of the German speaking part of Switzerland and other members of the association. The staff issues an annual report, which can be obtained here. From 1881 to 2012 the Schweizerisches Idiotikon has been printed by the publishing house Huber Frauenfeld. 2013 Verlag Schwabe, Basel, took over the editing responsibility. All printed parts of the Schweizerisches Idiotikon are available at Schwabe.