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People, Language & Religion


The four ethnolinguistic groups (Germanic, French, Italian and Rhaeto-Romansh) that make up the native Swiss population have retained their specific characteristics. Originally, the country was inhabited by Celtic tribes in the west and south and by Rhaetians in the east. With the collapse of Roman rule, Germanic tribes poured in, among them the Alemanni and Burgundians. The Alemanni ultimately became the dominant group, and the present Alemannic vernacular (Schwyzertütsch, or Schweizerdeutsch) is spoken by nearly two-thirds of the total population as their principal language. As of 2002, 65% of the population was German; 18% was French; 10% was Italian; 1% was Romansh; and 6% was comprised of various other groups.


Switzerland is a multilingual state with four national languages – German, French, Italian, and Rhaeto-Romansh. As of 2002,63.7% of the resident population spoke German as their principal language, predominantly in northern, central and western Switzerland; 19.2% spoke French, mainly in the west and southwest; 7.6% Italian, primarily in the southern region closest to Italy; and 0.6% Rhaeto-Romansh, used widely only in the southeastern canton of Graubünden (Grisons). The remaining 8.9% spoke various other languages. There are numerous local dialects.


There is no official state church and religious freedom is guaranteed. However, all of the cantons financially support at least one of three traditional denominations – Roman Catholic, Old Catholic, or Protestant – with money collected through taxes. In all cantons, individuals may choose not to contribute to church taxes. As a result, since the 1990s there has been a trend of individuals formally resigning their church membership in order to avoid church taxation. Reports claim this trend accounts for a membership loss of 1 to 2% for each of the three denominations. Religious denominations as of a 2002 report stood at about 44% Roman Catholic, 47% Protestant, 7%, 4.5% Muslim, and about 1% Orthodox Christians. There are about 17,577 members of the Jewish community and about 11,748 Old Catholics. About 12% of the population claimed no religious affiliation.





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