Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Geography and Anthropology

First Advisor

Miles E. Richardson


The research explores the cultural landscape of Romansh speakers in Switzerland. The fundamental question is whether small ethno-linguistic groups can create and protect a place (earthly and poetic) for their language to flourish. Swiss-Romansh have many advantages because of their political stability and economic prosperity. Their efforts in promoting and protecting the Romansh language offer a possible model for other culture groups. The research elucidates four distinct geographic scales: national (Switzerland's multilingual federalism), regional (alpine canton of Grischun/Graubunden), local Romansh villages (vinscnanca or communes), and an imaginary Rhactian ethnicity. I employ the term cultural preservation to discuss the Romansh situation. Cultural preservation includes elements of both historical preservation and cultural survival. Preservation focuses on cultural heritage and monument protection. Cultural survival includes politicized communication concerning identity and territory. The Swiss-Romansh promote cultural preservation in a variety of forms such as inscribing the language and ethno-vernacular styles into the landscape. In this dissertation, I elaborate specific themes concerning the Romansh. The first theme concerns the ethnographic past that suggests the ways Romansh construct identity and territory. Secondly, the unique political and social qualities of Switzerland promote alpine regions and Romansh language. Landscape and place are the third theme which allows a thick description of various Romansh valleys and villages. The fourth theme identifies specific linguistic and landscape preservation components that exemplify cultural preservation. Finally, I conclude with a discussion of cultural preservation and speculate on the Romansh as a model for other ethno-linguistic groups. The qualitative research elucidates meaning and understanding from the Romansh people and their cultural landscape. The research methodology relies on ethnographic methods that includes interacting, interpreting, and negotiating in a non-familiar environment. The conclusions and prospects are mixed. On one hand, the Romansh have the organizational and financial wherewithal to perpetuate their language. Individual communities maintain their own traditions and language, while they retain democratic power over contentious cultural questions. On the other hand, the possibilities for cohesive communities and Romansh places outside of traditional areas are minimal. Geographical mobility associated with pursuit of the good life creates new, complex patterns of language contact and language change.