German Swiss - Orientation

Identification. The German Swiss are the linguistic majority in nineteen of Switzerland's twenty-six cantons and halfcantons. They call their country "Schweiz," which comes from the canton of Schwyz. They are generally either Roman Catholic or Protestant.

Location. Switzerland is located between 46° and 48° N and 6° and 10.5° E. It is a small country of 41,295 square kilometers. The German Swiss occupy central, north, east, and a third of the south of Switzerland's land area. The west is French-speaking, while the southeast is either Italian- or Romansh-speaking. The geography of Switzerland is divided into three areas: the Alps, the Mitteland, and the Jura. The Alps are the mountainous spine of Europe forming the Southern portion of Switzerland, while the Mitteland is a plateau between them and the Jura Mountains, which form the northern frontier along with the Rhine River. The German Swiss live principally in the Alps and the plateau.

Demography. The population of Switzerland in 1982 was 6.5 million with 5.5 million of that figure being Swiss. German Swiss comprise 65 percent of the total population, and they represent 73.5 percent of the native Swiss. The population density is 153 persons per square kilometer, ranging from 9,868 persons per square kilometer in Geneva to 1.3 persons per square kilometer in Fieschental, in the canton of Valais. The population is growing at a rate of 40,000 persons per year or less than 1 percent per year. The three largest cities in Switzerland—Zurich (369,000), Basel (182,000), and Bern (149,000)—are in German Swiss cantons/Switzerland as a whole has become an industrialized urban nation with a large net internal migration from the mountain areas to the plateau (with 26 percent of the country's total population migrating in 1850, decreasing to 15 percent by 1950, but still comprising a significant amount). This is particularly true for German Switzerland. The urban population has shifted toward German Swiss cities, with Geneva and Lausanne both being larger than Zurich in 1850 and rating fourth and fifth in overall population size today.

Since 1976, German Switzerland has had a decreasing population. The reasons include reduced marriage rate, lower number of births, increase in childless marriages, unwed cohabitation, and postponement of births. The largest demographic problem in German Switzerland is considered to be the alien or foreign-worker problem ( Auslander Probleme ). Over 1 million non-Swiss work in the Swiss economy. This wave of immigrants is a post-World War II phenomenon. Most were, or are, unskilled workers who do the menial labor the Swiss refuse to do.

Linguistic Affiliation. Swiss German (Schweizerdeutsch, Schwyzertütsch, or Schwyzerdütsch) represents a wide range of local and regional dialects that are derived from the Old Allemmanic, a West Germanic language. Most are classified as High Allemmanic, with exceptions such as Basel (Low Allemmanic) or Samnuan (Tirolean). The number of dialects has been estimated to be in the hundreds, but they are Generally mutually intelligible, with rare exceptions—such as dialects spoken in the most remote valleys. High German, Hoch-Sprache or Schriftdeutsch, is taught in schools and used as the written language. Strangers are addressed in High German, and for the German Swiss it constitutes their true Second language.

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