German-speaking Switzerland is characterised by a type of diglossia where the ‘low variety’ is used in almost all domains of everyday communication. For children of immigrant workers, a Swiss German dialect normally constitutes one of their two first languages. Nevertheless, one can observe two different scenarios how the dialect enters the repertoire of these multilingual subjects.
The first scenario entails the combined use of a heritage language (e.g. Italian) and a Swiss German dialect. Code-switching among peers of the same ethnic group serves a wide array of discourse and social functions, above all the expression of a composite bicultural identity, but the employed varieties do not differ structurally from those of monolingual speakers.
The second scenario, instead, gives rise to a structural transformation of the traditional dialects. For instance, an individual speaker may be perceived as originating from a particular region of Switzerland on the basis of his or her vowel qualities, whereas at the same time the voicing of (normally unvoiced) plosives makes him or her recognisable as a person with an immigrant background. Our analysis focuses on these linguistic transformations of dialects into ‘(multi-)ethnolectal’ dialects, whose social function seem to lie in the signalling of an allochthonous (‘non-Swiss’) identity.