German Swiss (de-CH)

This documentation was updated on November 9, 2023.

Creating grammars

The following subsections describe key issues for working with grammar documents in the Swiss German language.

Character encoding

Nuance Recognizer has full internal Unicode support. For example, you can create your grammars using UTF-8 or Latin-1 (also known as ISO-8859-1) character encoding. For example, your grammar header might be:

<?xml version=‘1.0’ encoding=‘UTF-8’?> <grammar xml:lang=“de-CH” version=“1.0” root=“test”>

Below are codes for writing some common Swiss German characters. These are useful if you do not have access to a Swiss German keyboard, and are typed by pressing the ALT key while entering digits on your keyboard (after typing the last digit, the desired character appears on your screen when you release the Alt key):

Alt/0228 = ä Alt/0196 = Ä
Alt/0246 = ö Alt/0214 = Ö
Alt/0252 = ü Alt/0220 = Ü
Alt/0223 = ß

In case your keyboard does not match your target language on Windows add the respective keyboard by going to the “Control Panel” click “Regional and Language” and select “Keyboards and languages”.

alphanum_lc built-in grammar

The alphanum_lc built-in grammar recognizes a connected string of up to 20 digits and lower case alphabetic characters.

For example, this grammar could be used to recognize a product code or order number.

Characters are the letters a–z, and ä, ö, ü, and ß. The letter ‘ß’ can be pronounced as “scharfes s” or “s z.”

Digits are 0–9. The digit ‘2’ can be pronounced as either “zwei” or “zwo.”

Non-alphanumeric characters such as hyphens (-), dots (.), and underscores (_) are not recognized; if spoken they reduce recognition accuracy.

NOTE : The alphanum_lc built-in grammar replaces the alphanum built-in grammar.

Return keys/values

MEANING Contains a string of ISO-8859-1 digits and lowercase letters, with no embedded spaces.
SWI_literal Contains the exact text that was recognized.

alphanum built-in grammar

The alphanum built-in grammar recognizes a connected string of up to 20 digits and alphabetic characters. For example, this grammar could be used to recognize a product code or order number.

Characters are the letters a–z, and ä, ö, ü, and ß. The letter ‘ß’ can be pronounced as “scharfes s” or “s z.”

Digits are 0–9. The digit ‘2’ can be pronounced as either “zwei” or “zwo.”

Non-alphanumeric characters such as hyphens (-), dots (.), and underscores (_) are not recognized; if spoken they reduce recognition accuracy.

Return keys/values

MEANING Contains a string of ISO-8859-1 digits and lowercase letters, with no embedded spaces.
SWI_literal Contains the exact text that was recognized.

boolean built-in grammar

The boolean grammar collects an affirmative or negative response.


The y and n parameters let you associate any two touchtone buttons as synonyms for yes and no.

Parameter Description
y Desired DTMF digit to be equivalent to “ja” (default = 1)
n Desired DTMF digit to be equivalent to “nein” (default = 2)


Caller says MEANING key
ja true
nein false

digits built-in grammar

The digits grammar recognizes a continuously spoken string of up to 20 digits (i.e., the caller is not required to pause after each digit). Valid characters are the digits 0–9. The digit ‘2’ can be pronounced as either “zwei” or “zwo.”

Vocabulary items and pronunciations

This chapter describes considerations for vocabularies and their pronunciations in Swiss German (de-CH). Your product documentation covers details about how to work with pronunciations and dictionaries.

Swiss German pronunciations

This section provides detailed reference information to help create pronunciation dictionaries. It is intended for people who have sufficient knowledge of the German language as spoken in Switzerland. It provides information about transcription and pronunciation.

As a reference pronunciation dictionary we use:

> Duden Aussprachewörterbuch. Mannheim: Dudenverlag 1990
> (ISBN 3-411-20916-X)

If you are not sure how a certain word is pronounced you can refer to the IPA transcriptions given there and then convert them into the SAMPA symbols, given in The Swiss German symbol set in alphabetical order .

The Swiss German phoneme system

The Swiss German phoneme system can be divided into two groups:

  • consonants
  • vowels

Furthermore, it is possible to distinguish six different types of Swiss German consonants:

  • plosives
  • fricatives
  • affricates
  • nasals
  • laterals
  • trills

Within the vowel group, a further distinction can be made between long and short vowels. Also the diphthongs and the schwa represent two additional characteristics among the vowel group.

The following table will give you an overview about the phonemes of the Swiss German SAMPA and IPA symbol set, grouped by the phoneme classes to which they belong (according to the manner of their articulation).

Swiss German symbol set grouped by phoneme classes

Phoneme class SAMPA IPA Examples of usage
Consonants Plosives b b
p p Pein /paJn/
g g Gunst /gUnst/
k k Kunst /kUnst/
d d Deich /daJx/
t t Teich /taJx/
Fricatives v v was
f f fein /faJn/
z z sein /zaJn/
s s das /das/
j j Jahr /ja:r/
h h Hand /hant/
S S Schein /SaJn/
x x ach /ax/
Z ʒ Genie /Ze:ni:/
Affricates ts ts̮ Zahl
tS tʃ̮ Matsch /matS/
pf pf Pfahl /pfa:l/
dS ʤ Dschungel /dSUN@l/
Nasals m m mein
n n nein /naJn/
N ŋ Ding /dIN/
Lateral l l Laut
Trill r r rein
Vowels Vowels a: a: / aː
a a Satz /zats/
E ɛ Bett /bEt/
e: e: / eː Beet /be:t/
i: i: Lied /li:t/
I ɪ Sitz /zIts/
o: o: rot /ro:t/
O ɔ Trotz /trOts/
u: u: Blut /blu:t/
U ʊ Schutz /SUts/
y: y: süss /zy:s/
Y ʏ küssen /kYs@n/
2: ø: blöd /bl2:t/
9 œ plötzlich /pl9tslIx/
Diphthongs aW au̬ / aʊ̬ Haut
aJ aɪ̬ Eis /aJs/
OJ ɔy̪ heute /hOJt@/
Schwa @ ə bitte

Swiss German consonants

The standard Swiss German consonant system is considered to have

  • six plosives
  • nine fricatives
  • four affricates (which are not single phonemes but are represented by two single phonemes each).
  • three nasals
  • one lateral
  • one trill


There are three voiced and three voiceless plosives in Swiss German, which can be arranged in pairs:

Voiced Voiceless
/b/ Berg Kabel
/g/ Gunst Berge
/d/ das leider

Note that /b/, /g/, and /d/ will not appear at the end of any word in your transcription. Swiss German has “devoicing” as described in devoicing , which means that voiced consonants become voiceless at the end of a word:

Rad /ra:t/
Job /dSOp/
Berg /bErk/

Glottal stop

There is an additional plosive in Swiss German, the so-called glottal stop (’?’). Although not clearly defined in the orthography of Swiss German, it is, for example, pronounced in front of words starting with a vowel in the orthographic form. It is not represented in Nuance transcriptions, however.


There are nine fricatives in the Swiss German SAMPA symbol set, four voiced and five voiceless.

The fricatives ‘C’ (“Ach-Laut”) and ‘x’ (“Ich-Laut”) are being represented by the single phoneme /x/ in Nuance transcriptions.

Three of the four voiced ones can be paired with voiceless counterparts:

Voiced Voiceless
/v/ Wein Ablative
/z/ See lesen
/j/ ja
/Z/ Genie

The phonetic characters /v/, /z/ and /j/ will not appear in the transcription in the end of a word due to the “devoicing” described in Plosives.

The distribution of /s/ and /z/ is not unrestricted. As with all consonants, a voiced /z/ cannot appear as a word-final, according to the Swiss German “devoicing,” as described in devoicing . Similarly, a voiceless /s/ cannot appear as a word-initial. Consequently, minimal pairs with /s/ : /z/ can only be found within a word, see the table above.


In Swiss German there are four affricates, /ts/, /tS/, /pf/, and /dS/. Affricates are always represented in SAMPA by two single phonemes. For this reason these affricates do not appear in the alphabetic list of valid phoneme labels:

/ts/ Zahl Katze Geiz /tsa:l/ /kats@/ /gaJts/
/tS/ Tscheche klatschen Matsch /tSEx@/ /klatS@n/ /matS/
/pf/ Pferd Apfel Kopf /pfe:rt/ /apf@l/ /kOpf/
/dS/ Dschungel /dSUN@l/


There are three nasals in Swiss German, /m/, /n/, and /N/.

/N/ is normally represented by the combination <ng> or <nk> in Swiss German orthography and can only be found as a syllable-final.

/m/ mein immer um /maJn/ /Im@r/ /Um/
/n/ nein können kann /naJn/ /k9n@n/ /kan/
/N/ sang sank sangen sanken /zaN/ /zaNk/ /zaN@n/ /zaNk@n/

Notice, that in the <nk> case, the <k> is still reflected in the phonetic form whereas the <g> is not in the case of <ng>.


There is one lateral in Swiss German, /l/.

/l/ Laut fallen Fall /laWt/ /fal@n/ /fal/


There are actually two trills used in Swiss German, which are pronounced with the tongue tip or the uvula, respectively.

Since these are in free alternation (depending on dialect), only the /r/ is used for transcription purposes (as a kind of “archiphoneme”). Both phonetic realizations are contained in the training material so that the /r/ model covers them both.

/r/ rein waren besser /raJn/ /va:r@n/ /bEs@r/

Notice that in the case of besser /bEs@r/ there is a vowel realization of the <r>, but it is transcribed as /@r/.

Swiss German vowels

Long and short vowels

In Swiss German, vowels fall into two groups:

  • long vowels (also called free vowels)
  • short vowels (also called checked vowels)

There is a genuine short-long vowel distinction in Swiss German, the long vowels being approximately twice as long (all other things being equal) as the short vowels.

There are eight long and seven short vowels in Swiss German:

Long Short
/a:/ Aal Tat ja
/e:/ Ehre Meer See
/i:/ ihr mir sie
/o:/ Ober Moor so
/u:/ Uhr Zug Kuh
/y:/ über süss Menü
/2:/ Öl hören Milieu

Of course the exact pairs would be, for example, ‘i:’ and ‘i’, ‘I’ and ‘I:’. However, ‘i’ and ‘I:’ are rarely used in spoken Swiss German and are not included in the phoneme inventory.


There are three free diphthongs in Swiss German:

/aW/ aus Laut blau /aWs/ /laWt/ /blaW/
/aJ/ ein Hain zwei /aJn/ /haJn/ /tsvaJ/
/OJ/ euch Häute ahoi /OJx/ /hOJt@/ /a:hOJ/

Note: The differences between <ei> and <ai> and between <eu>, <äu> and <oi> are merely orthographical. Thus these differences disappear in the transcription.

Diphthongs can artificially emerge in a transcription when the phonemes /a/ and /U/, /a/ and /I/, or /O/ and /Y/ are placed adjacently in a word (for instance, in extraintensiv /EkstraJnt@nzi:f/). However, these cases are so rare that they can be ignored.


The schwa sound is short and only occurs in an unstressed position. This occurs especially as an unstressed /E/, which is often reduced to a schwa /@/. This mostly occurs in prefixes and word-finals.

/@/ hören bekannt bitte /h2:r@n/ /b@kant/ /bIt@/

The first example can also be analyzed as a syllabic /n/, which would be ’n=’ in SAMPA. It is not used in the Nuance phoneme inventory to keep the number of used phonemes small.

Specific pronunciation transcription methods

This section covers the following topics:

  • Double consonants
  • Vowel prolongation
  • devoicing

Double consonants

In written Swiss German, these seem to abound but a double consonant just signals the shortness of the preceding vowel, as in:

rote /ro:t@/ versus Rotte /rOt@/.

In such cases, no double consonant should appear in the transcription.

Vowel prolongation

To indicate the prolongation of a certain vowel, in some cases the special letters <h> and <e> are added in written Swiss German. These letters must not be transcribed since they are not pronounced.

h Naht /na:t/
e Lied /li:t/


There are no voiced consonants spoken in the word-final position in Swiss German, although in the orthography they are shown. They must be transcribed as voiceless phonemes

Consonant Final position (voiceless) Within a word (voiced)
d Rad /ra:t/
g Berg /bErk/
b Dieb /di:p/
s Glas /gla:s/

Pronunciation of foreign words

There are phonemes that only occur in foreign words. These are used in the Swiss German background dictionary and are internally ‘mapped’ or linked to other phonemes in the speech recognizer. There are nevertheless no phoneme models trained for them. This means that it is not possible to use these phonemes in custom transcriptions.

When there is a need to transcribe foreign words the general rule is to transcribe those words with the same SAMPA symbol set as the rest. In the case of a Swiss German transcription you have to transcribe every word of the dictionary with the Swiss German SAMPA symbols.

If you use foreign phonemes your system will be incapable of understanding the input.

Every language has a different phoneme inventory, so you may have problems in covering each and every sound. The most commonly occurring foreign phonemes in the Swiss German everyday language are listed below.

French nasals

Nasalized vowels are common in French. However, there are no appropriate vowels in Swiss German to reflect this. The easiest solution is to use the equivalent non-nasalized vowel and then add the nasal /N/.

For example:

Restaurant /rEsto:raN/ or /rEsto:rON/

This is rather convenient, since it usually reflects the pronunciation used by Swiss German speakers that do not speak French.

Dental fricatives

The English th , or similar phonemes from other languages, must be transcribed as /s/ (voiceless) or /z/ (voiced).

Multiple pronunciations (variants)

Since it is possible to have more than one pronunciation for a word by using pronunciation variants, it may be difficult to determine how many pronunciation variants should be created.

The general rule is: Variants should only be created if the pronunciation differs in more than one phoneme. Minor systematic variations such as the pronunciation of the suffix - ig as /Ix/ or /Ik/, can usually be reflected in the training material for the phonemes, and need not be covered by pronunciation variants. If such a word causes recognition errors, the creation of pronunciation variants may help to solve the problem.

Using the background dictionary as a transcription model

When transcribing new words it is often possible to use similar words, for example, the elements of a compound noun can be used as a model for the new transcription. For instance, if the word Hausbau is not included in the background dictionary, but Haus and Bau are, it may be possible to simply splice (concatenate) their transcriptions, as in /haWs/ + /baW/ = /haWsbaW/.

However, splicing must be used with care. This is because transcription of a compound cannot always be formed from the concatenation of the individual transcriptions of its parts. Consider the “devoicing” and the vowel reduction to “schwa,” for instance. Although the transcription of Rad is /ra:t/ and the transcription of es is /Es/, the transcription of Rades is /ra:d@s/, not /ra:tEs/.

The Swiss German symbol set in alphabetical order:

SAMPA IPA Examples of usage
2: ø: blöd
9 œ plötzlich
@ ə bitte
a a Satz
a: a: / aː Tat
aJ Eis
aW au / aʊ Haut
b b Bein
d d Deich
E ɛ Bett
e: e: / eː Beet
f f fein
g g Gunst
h h Hand
I ɪ Sitz
i: i: Lied
j j Jahr
k k Kunst
l l Laut
m m mein
N ŋ Ding
n n nein
O ɔ Trotz
OJ ɔy heute
o: o: rot
p p Pein
r r rein
S ʃ Schein
s s das
t t Teich
U ʊ Schutz
u: u: Blut
v v was
x x ach
Y ʏ küssen
y: y: süss
z z sein
Z ʒ Genie