Land and People
Between the Jura and the Central Alps, which occupy the southern section (more than half) of the country, there is a long, relatively narrow plateau, crossed by the Aare River and containing the lakes of Neuchâtel and Zürich. Alpine communications are assured by numerous passes and by railroad tunnels, notably those of Lötschberg, St. Gotthard, and Simplon. Switzerland consists of 26 federated states, of which 20 are called cantons and 6 are called half cantons. The cantons are Zürich, Bern, Lucerne, Uri, Schwyz, Glarus, Zug, Fribourg, Solothurn, Schaffhausen, Saint Gall, the Grisons (Graubünden), Aargau, Thurgau, Ticino, Vaud, Valais, Neuchâtel, Geneva, and Jura. Of the half cantons, Obwalden and Nidwalden together form Unterwalden, Basel-Land and Basel-Stadt form Basel, and Ausser-Rhoden and Inner-Rhoden form Appenzell.
German, French, and Italian are Switzerland's major and official languages; Romansh (a Rhaeto-Roman dialect spoken in parts of the Grisons) was designated a "semiofficial" language in 1996, entitled to federal funds to help promote its continued use. German dialects (Schwyzerdütsch) are spoken by about 65% of the inhabitants. French, spoken by about 18% of the population, predominates in the southwest; Italian, spoken by about 10%, is the language of Ticino, in the south. The few Romansh-speakers are in the southeast. Over 40% of the population is Roman Catholic and 35% is Protestant; there is a small Muslim minority, and 11% of the people professes no religion. Although the country absorbed many foreign industrial workers after World War II, especially from Italy, social tensions in the late 20th cent. led the government to restrict immigration.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.