I know this is a very niche question, but I live in Eastern Switzerland (German: Ostschweiz) and my colleague needed to translate that into French.

All Google results say it's called “Suisse orientale” in French. This was a bit funny to me, because I started to think of Aladdin and flying carpets. Anyone who has ever been to Eastern Switzerland knows we have as much in common with the orient as a snowy mountain with a sand dune.

I was expecting the translation to be “Suisse Est” or something else with Est. Does anybody know why it is “Suisse orientale”?

  • 12
    Nothing specific to Switzerland: Belgium has 2 provinces called very officially Flandre occidentale and Flandre orientale.
    – Greg
    Oct 17, 2019 at 10:01
  • 4
    @JeremyGrand At least in modern usage (past around the middle of the 20th century,) "the Orient" has normally referred to Eastern and Southeastern Asia, not the Middle East. Granted, prior to the 1800s, the term did refer to the Middle East.
    – reirab
    Oct 18, 2019 at 6:34
  • 3
    @reirab orient and oriental(e) are different words.
    – walen
    Oct 18, 2019 at 6:52
  • 1
    @walen In English, "Oriental" is just the adjective form of "Orient," meaning "of or from the Orient" (i.e. East/Southeast Asia in modern usage.) And, in every language I'm aware of, they have the same common root, from the Latin for 'East'/'Eastern,' as Laurent's answer describes.
    – reirab
    Oct 18, 2019 at 7:03
  • 4
    @Greg: Funnily enough, East Flanders (Flandre orientale) is in the western half of Flanders.
    – Flater
    Oct 18, 2019 at 8:40

4 Answers 4


The adjective "oriental(e)" designates something situated to the east, the orient.

The adjective "occidental(e)" designates something situated to the west, the occident

Sure you could call it "Suisse de l'est", but using the appropriate adjective is more elegant and in this case is not really ambiguous. For example in French, middle-east is not called "moyen-est", but "moyen-orient".

If one of your friend from another region would describe you as "Mon ami suisse oriental", there indeed could be a certain confusion, but that's another story.

  • 1
    weird but funny. Merci de m'avoir expliqué
    – SimonS
    Oct 17, 2019 at 10:14
  • 3
    En France, on connait aussi les départements des Pyrénées, orientales pour le 66, à l'est donc, anciennement Roussillon. Curieusement (ou pas) celles de l'Ouest (64) sont dites atlantiques
    – MC68020
    Oct 17, 2019 at 12:44
  • 4
    To remember which is which, in french "occire" (from latin "occidere") means "tuer". "L'occident" is where the sun dies, so the west. (That's how I remember it anyway!)
    – Pierre
    Oct 17, 2019 at 12:46
  • 8
    As a side note, we also use Septentrional for "North" and Méridional for "South", even though its less common.
    – Richard
    Oct 18, 2019 at 5:50
  • 2
    @fdb The latin verb has multiple meanings indeed, "to die" and "to kill" are one of them. When used about stars it does mean "to lie down", "to fall" or "to set" though. In french, "occire" only means "to kill".
    – Pierre
    Oct 18, 2019 at 9:08

As a french native speaker living in Suisse romande, I can confirm that suisse orientale is commonly understood and used to speak of the east part of Switzerland (St-Gallen, Graubünden,...).

Though most of time, the whole german part of Switzerland is seen as suisse allemande for the people in suisse romande. As I lived in Zurich, I noticed that the differenciation between Ostschweiz, Zentralschweiz, etc. is mostly used by german swiss people themself. Probably because, the accent and dialect changes depending if you comes from Bern, St-Gallen, Zürich, etc.


The short answer is that oriental is the adjective associated to the noun est. “Eastern X” and “X oriental(e)” are in straightforward correspondance.

In French, you can't just take a noun and use it as an adjective. You often need to add or change a suffix, and sometimes more than that. There is no adjective built directly on est¹.

It's very common for “basic” nouns and verbs to have evolved continuously from Latin (formation populaire), and for more “fancy” terms to have been introduced during the Middle-Ages in a form that's a lot closer to the Latin (formation savante). There's a somewhat similar phenomenon in English with basic words of Germanic origin and fancy words of Romance origin. The cardinal directions in French (est, ouest, nord, sud) actually come from English (or more precisely Anglo-Saxon), and can be considered formations populaires. They have associated adjectives that come from the names of the cardinal directions in Latin: oriental (from oriens), occidental (from occidens), septentrional (from Septentrio), méridional (from meridies). The adjectives oriental and occidental are the “normal” adjectives for east and west. Méridional is a little less used, with sud being more common as an adjective or apposed noun¹. Septentrional is rarely used and there is an adjective nordique, but this adjective is mostly used only with the same meaning as Nordic in English, referring specifically to the Nordic countries.

Other constructions would be possible, for example “Suisse de l'est” (like Corse-du-Sud, Corée du Sud) or “Est-Suisse” (like Nord-Kivu). But “Suisse orientale” follows a common and (to a French speaker) unremarakable pattern, like Pyrénées-Orientales, Flandre-Orientale and Flandre-Occidentale,

¹ The word est is sometimes classified as an adjective in expressions like “la rive est” (the east coast/bank) and “le versant est” (the east flank [of a mountain]), but I think it would be more accurate to classify it as a noun in apposition, since it is invariable. Adjectives normally agree with the noun in French.

  • There's also sudiste, an adjective built directly on sud, but it mostly refers to the Confederates during the US Civil War, and sometimes their modern sympathisers. Likewise with nordistes. Oct 18, 2019 at 13:56
  • @Eauquidort But does it ever mean “of the south” or “from the south”, as opposed to “partisan of the south”? Oct 18, 2019 at 14:13
  • Depends on how strict you want your criterion to be. I mostly commented because it overlaps with Northern and Southern in English (ie the Southern offensive on Northern positions -> L'assaut sudiste sur les positions nordistes) Oct 18, 2019 at 15:25


Définitions :

Qui est situé à l'est : La côte orientale de la Corse.

Relatif à l'Orient : Peuples orientaux.

Qui est propre à l'Orient, à sa culture, ses traditions : Musique orientale.

Qui est digne de l'Orient, tel qu'il est imaginé dans la culture occidentale : Luxe oriental.

Here is the first definition that is pertinent: Qui est situé à l'est (Who is located in the east).

Read also the article here :


The word oriental has two origines.

(Adjectif) Du latin orientalis venant de oriens (« orient »).

(Nom) (XXe siècle) Car venu en Europe d’Orient.


Qui est situé à l’est. Cette ville, située à une altitude de mille toises sur le revers oriental des Rocheuses, au bord d’un torrent tributaire du Missouri, forme un vaste entrepôt pour les produits miniers de la région, et compte de quatorze à quinze mille habitants. — (Jules Verne, Le Testament d’un excentrique, 1899, livre 2, chap. 12)

The antonyme is occidental.

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