Berta Turnherr Spirig

Our Rhine Valley, our dialect. My name is Berta Thurnherr-Spirig, I was born in Diepoldsau in 1946 and stayed there. Diepoldsau is located at the very eastern edge of Switzerland in a bend of the Old Rhine, separated from Switzerland since 1923 by the New Rhine. In Diepoldsau we speak a unique dialect, as is the case in many places around the world. Our dialect is Alemannic and yet sounds quite different from other Swiss German dialects, all of which are also Alemannic. Our dialect reveals our origin, is a big part of our identity and personality. This dialect has become the passion of my life, although I was highly motivated to learn foreign languages as a teenager. It happened this way: in the eighties, together with my sister Maria Schmid, I collected stories from old people. Our goal was to document the dialect and the special history of our village on the border with Austria in the first half of the 20th century. We collected over 40 tapes full. I transcribed them all word by word. This required me to develop a spelling for our dialect.
We gave the tapes to the Phongrammarchiv of the University of Zurich for archiving as an immaterial cultural asset. I recorded, listened to, wrote down and passed on many hours in about 400 readings, radio broadcasts, etc. This work has made me very sensitive to the peculiarity of our dialect. I have written poems, song lyrics and stories in the Diepoldsau dialect. A CD with stories, 2 CDs with songs and a picture book have been produced. Some of my texts in Diepoldsau dialect appeared in anthologies and literary magazines. With great success the theater group Rhybrugg Diepoldsau performed the open air theater “Hìandaram Tamm”. Tobias Fend, Vorarlberg actor and author has written the text for it based on my collected stories. I translated the play into Diepoldsau dialect. The municipality of Diepoldsau has published a valuable listening and reading book with a selection of the collected stories, with my own texts and with a glossary: “As wöart schù wööara, ma tuat wamma kaa”. (“It’s going to be alright, one does what one can.”)
The associations Literatur Vorarlberg and the International Dialect Institute IDI have accepted me as a member. It was with great pleasure that I received the 2018 Rheintaler Kulturpreis “Goldiga Törgga” from the Rheintaler Kulturstiftung. On June 10, 2021, I received a recognition award for my work from the St. Gallen Cultural Foundation. I am also very happy about this honor. For a long time, the Rheintaler were laughed at because of their language. That is bad. Through my decades of work, I have focused awareness on the uniqueness and richness of sound of our dialect. This has caused a lot of playing, guessing, comparing, dialect joy, amazement among the people of the Rhine Valley. In various places in Germany, Switzerland and Austria I let our dialect sound in stories from the collection and in my own texts. The arc stretches from the Solothurn Literature Days to Langenlois in Lower Austria. Our dialect now has the status it deserves as an intangible cultural asset. This is the essence that the two prizes express.