Swiss communities on the Northern Black sea coast

In 1805, a group of 228 people from Switzerland, mostly from the canton of Zurich, travelled to the Russian empire to create an agricultural colony of Zürichtal in Crimea. In 1822, 17 families left the canton of Vaud and created a winegrowers’ colony of Shabo / Chabag not far from Odessa. The Russian empire provided the Swiss settlers on the Black sea with free agricultural lands, equally distributed among the families, and subsidies for 10 years; it dispensed the settlers from paying taxes for the same period of time, as well as from the military service. By the turn of the century, both colonies were among the most prosperous of their respective regions, giving birth to a series of daughter-colonies. Their existence as Swiss colonies came to an end during the Second World War.

How did the story of these colonies go? Which languages did the colonists use inside the colonies, with their neighbours and in their interactions with official authorities, in changing socio-political settings? Did they manage to maintain their respective heritage languages? And how did the early linguistic description of these colonies by Soviet scholars, starting from the 1920s, shape the theoretical and methodological development of emerging (socio)linguistics?

These issues were explored by a Université de Lausanne (UNIL) team from the SLAS (Section de langues et civilisations slaves et de l’Asie du Sud) department within the framework of their research project, entitled History of Swiss colonies in Crimea and Northern Black Sea coast: Linguistic and Identity’s approach (, 2016-2019). The bilateral project, funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (, was carried out jointly with the University of Saint Petersburg, bringing together philologists and historians who worked at the imperial archives of Saint Petersburg, as well as sociolinguists and specialists on the epistemology of linguistics from UNIL. The UNIL researchers explored the archives in Switzerland, Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France and carried out fieldwork in both former colonies. Using the method of historical epistemology of linguistics, they studied in particular the research direction on the dialects spoken by Swiss settlers, which emerged in the Soviet linguistics in the late 1920s.


Map of Swiss colonies on the Black sea. © Université de Lausanne


Chabag/Shabo in 1850, painted by Eugène Duffoug-Favre


Shabo in 2019. Reconstruction of a Swiss colonial house by the Centre of wine culture of Shabo. © Université de Lausanne, N. Bichurina


Main publications:


Simonato Elena, Ivanova Irina (eds.) (2019). Судьбы швейцарских колоний в Северном Причерноморье и в Крыму XIXXX вв. [Destinies of Swiss colonies on the Black sea coast and in Crimea during the 19-20 centuries] eds. E. Simonato, I. Ivanova, Saint Petersburg: Svet. ISBN 978-5-9071-4157-5

Bichurina Natalia (2019). L’émergence du francoprovençal : langue régionale et communauté autour du Mont-Blanc, in Collection «Multilinguisme et langues minoritaires», Pessac: Maison des Sciences de l’Homme d’Aquitaine, ISBN 9782858924813 [Part IV is dedicated to Shabo],

Simonato Elena, Ivanova Irina, M. Giolitto (eds.) (2017). Les communautés suisses de Crimée et de la mer Noire. Langues et traditions. Cahiers de l’ILSL N° 51, 2017, ISBN 978-2-9700958-6-6



Bichurina Natalia (2019). «Conflits linguistiques invisibles : une communauté romande au bord de la mer Noire», in Carmen Alén Garabato (ed.) Sociolinguistique des contacts / conflits de langues en domaine roman des origines à nos jours, Revue des langues romanes. Tome CXXIII N°1 2019, p. 93-121.

Bichurina Natalia (forthcoming). «La vigne, le vin, la langue. Contacts interculturels et construction identitaire dans une communauté viticole vaudoise à la mer Noire», Actes du Colloque international « Autour de la table à travers le temps. Manger, boire et communiquer», 3-4 décembre 2018, University of Lausanne.  Collection a contrario CAMPUS : éditions BSN Press.

Simonato Elena (2019) (in print). «Swiss communities of Bessarabia in the Twilight of Empires. Communities’ perception of the impact of events», Edizioni Ca Foscari, Atti della conferenza Before and after 1st world war.

Simonato Elena (2017). «Un patois romand au bord de la mer Noire: la géographie linguistique soviétique des années 1930-1960», Historiographie & épistémologie des sciences du langage: du passé vers le présent, éd. E. Velmezova, Cahiers de l’ILSL N° 52, p. 169-178.

Simonato Elena (2017). «Le parler de Chabag», Les communautés suisses de Crimée et de la mer Noire. Langues et traditions, eds I. Ivanova, E. Simonato, M. Giolitto, Cahiers de l’ILSL N° 51, p. 191-214.


Main outreach activities

Simonato Elena and Natalia Bichurina (2020), «Chabag. Un village vaudois sur la mer Noire», Special issue. Passé Simple №51, January 2020.

Bichurina Natalia (2019). “Fête des Vignerons and a Swiss winegrowers’ colony on the Black sea,”

Bichurina Natalia, TV interview in Geneva «Swiss communities in Crimea and on the Northern Black sea coast» [in Russian], Dukascopy TV, 5.08.2019,

Simonato Elena, TV interview in Geneva, “Swiss colonies” [in Russian], Dukascopy TV, 25.07.2019,


Conferences organised in the framework of this project:

«Les communautés suisses de la mer Noire», Lausanne, UNIL, February 7-8 2019.

«Les communautés suisses de Crimée et de la mer Noire: langues et traditions», Lausanne, UNIL, October 7-8 2016.

Joint panels by both project teams:

XLVIII International Philological Conference, Saint Petersburg, March 23, 2019.

XLVIII International Philological conference, Saint Petersburg, March 21, 2017.