What do Nobel Peace Prize philosopher Albert Schweitzer, Nobel-prize-winning chemist Jean-Marie Lehn, rally driver Sébastien Loeb and pastry chef Pierre Hermé, have in common? They are all from Alsace. Alsace is a region in the eastern part of France and has been under the control of both France and Germany. It is adjacent to Germany and Switzerland. It is the fourth wealthiest region in France, the third most densely populated and has the lowest unemployment rates. The people in Alsace speak Alsatian. Alsatian is a Low Alemnanic Germanic dialect that is closely related to other Alemnanic dialects such as Swiss German, Markgräflerisch, Swabian and Kaiserstühlerisch. Most speakers of Alsatian can speak and write in German and French. The language is mainly spoken with family and friends rather than at work, in school or with foreigners. Alsatian has two dialects: The Bas-Rhin dialect which is spoken in northern Alsace and the Haut-Rhin dialect which is spoken in Southern Alsace.
The number of Alsatian speakers has dramatically decreased over the years. This is largely due to the promotion of French in schools and the media through television programs and newspapers. About 700,000 people speak the language, with most of them being older people. Efforts have been made to reintroduce the language. This includes teaching the language in schools and organizations have teamed up to provide resources such as dictionaries and quizzes on the language online.
Because Alsace has frequently changed hands between the French and German, its architecture, infrastructure and economy is predominantly German rather than French. The region was at one time part of the Holy Roman empire so it has people who still speak the upper German dialect. At one point, both Alsatian and German were banned from public life (names of streets, official administration and education system). The ban was lifted but very few people now speak Alsatian as their mother tongue, most of them being adults. Only one out of every four children speak the language. Even though French is the official language in France, the government still recognizes other regional languages such as Alsatian. Alsatian is the second most spoken language in France.