After the Romans conquered the province of Rhaetia in 15 B.C., colloquial Latin was assimilated into the local languages to form a Vulgar Latin with Rhaetian characteristics which, as the result of sound shifts and linguistic differentiation, gradually developed into various Romansh dialects and written idioms.
Since 1794, Graubünden has officially been trilingual (German/Romansh/Italian). The local Romansh dialect known as Puter and spoken only in the Upper Engadin valley dominated in Pontresina until 1933. From then on, the first five primary classes were taught in separate German and Romansh departments. However, in 1949, it was decided to combine these two departments again, and Romansh primary schooling was introduced once more. In 2003, a language-teaching programme was implemented which put the Romansch and German languages on an equal footing.
As a mother tongue, Romansh is declining. However, it is still spoken by approximately 70,000 people. An organisation known as ‘Lia Rumantscha’ has promoted Romansh language and culture since 1919. There are books, newspapers and radio stations in Romansh, as well as a TV network. Although Romansh is a minority language, it plays an active part in everyday life and is firmly rooted in the population.
The area of Romansh culture in Graubünden covers the regions bordering on the Vorderrhein (Surselva), parts of the Hinterrhein (Sutselva), Surses and the Albula valley (Surmeir), the Upper Engadin and the Lower Engadin, and the Val Müstair. Each of these five regions has its own particular idiom, which is also used as the written language.
Since 1982, ‘Rumantsch Grischun’ (Graubünden Romansh) has been used as a supraregional Rhaeto-Romanic written language and became an official administrative and judicial language of the Confederation and the Canton of Graubünden in 1996.