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Swiss Words of the Year for 2020 have been chosen

“Systemrelevant”, “coronagraben”, “pandemia” and “mascrina” are the 2020 Swiss Words of the Year. They show what society is thinking about and what people are moved by. ZHAW researchers used Switzerland’s largest text database as a basis, with the jury making the final decision.

The Swiss Words of the Year are “systemrelevant” (systemically relevant) in German, “coronagraben” (a play on the word ‘röstigraben’, denoting the divergent epidemiological situation and different approach to tackling the coronavirus in French-speaking and German-speaking Switzerland) in French, “pandemia” (pandemic) in Italian and “mascrina” (mask) in Romansh. In second and third places follow “Maskensünder” (mask sinner) and “stosslüften” (to ventilate a room intermittently and intensively) in German, “gestes barrières” (barrier gestures) and “luttes” (struggles) in French, “responsabilità” (responsibility) and “distanza” (distance) in Italian, and “extraordinari” (extraordinary) and “positivitad” (positivity) in Romansh.

“These words have characterised discourse in Switzerland in 2020 – as was scientifically documented in the text database and confirmed by the choice made by the four juries of language professionals,” explains ZHAW linguist Marlies Whitehouse, Head of the German-language jury and coordinator of the Swiss Word of the Year project.

In all four national languages

The School of Applied Linguistics at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) assumed responsibility for the choice of the Word of the Year back in 2017. Since then, the Word of the Year has been selected on a multilingual, research-oriented and interactive basis. In cooperation with Lia Rumantscha (an organisation that promotes Romansh culture and language), a Swiss Word of the Year in Romansh has also been selected since 2019. For each language, the selection process encompasses three stages:

First of all, linguists analyse the Swiss discourse database corpus, Swiss-AL, and for each language, they determine the words that were used more frequently or significantly differently in, for example, 2020, as compared with previous years. A jury of language professionals then selects the three most striking words from this list and from suggestions from the public on the basis of their own experience. Finally, the researchers demonstrate how these words have developed in language use in Switzerland in the specific year and what societal changes they represent.

The four juries each comprise around ten language professionals from the German, French, Italian and Romansh-speaking areas of Switzerland. The School of Applied Linguistics at the ZHAW in Winterthur is responsible for the database and project management.


Swiss Word of the Year strategic management, Prof. Daniel Perrin, Dean, School of Applied Linguistics, ZHAW, phone 058 934 60 67, e-mail

German jury and Swiss Word of the Year coordination, Marlies Whitehouse, lic. phil. I, School of Applied Linguistics, ZHAW, phone 058 934 61 69, e-mail

French jury, Elsa Liste Lamas, M.A., School of Applied Linguistics, ZHAW, phone 058 934 62 39,

Italian jury, Dr Angelo Ciampi, School of Applied Linguistics, ZHAW, phone 058 934 60 78, e-mail  

Romansh jury, Daniel Telli, lic. phil. I, Manader Lingua, Lia Rumantscha, phone 081 258 32 22,

ZHAW Corporate Communications, phone 058 934 75 75, e-mail