Switzerland has four national languages: German, French, Italian and Romanian. Within the states, the cantons, their character and language have been largely retained over the centuries. People rarely move between the cantons and the language boundaries are quite clear. Nowadays, a quarter of the country’s residents are citizens of another country.
Nearly two out of three residents speak German, which is the only official language in 17 of 26 cantons, in the country’s northern and central parts. Here are the major cities of Zurich and Basel. Swiss German (schwyzerdütsch) is a common name for the numerous local German dialects in Switzerland. However, the written language is the same standard high German used in Germany and Austria. Most Swiss can also speak such German, and all German-language newspapers in the country use it.
- COUNTRYAAH.COM: Key populations estimated size and data of Switzerland, including population density of how many people per square mile. Also included are facts for population and language.
The French speakers make up about a fifth of the population and are concentrated to western Switzerland with the major cities of Geneva and Lausanne as central locations. Four cantons are only French-speaking, while three have both German and French as official languages. Among the latter are the capital canton Bern.
The Italian speakers live mainly in the southern canton of Ticino with the city of Bellinzona as the administrative center and Lugano as a scenic tourist town. Many Italians also live in four valleys in the neighboring canton of Graubünden. Among the native Swiss citizens, about 5 percent speak Italian, but the figure is higher if you count the residents of the country, as many Italian citizens live in Switzerland.
In the Graubünden also live the majority of Swiss who speak Romanesque, a language with roots in Latin. In total, about 40,000 Swiss are estimated to have Romanesque as their first language. Unlike Roman, German, French and Italian are not officially official language at the federal level, but since 1996 it is considered semi-official language. This means that those who speak the language have the right to use it in contacts with the authorities. Graubünden is Switzerland’s only trilingual cantonment. Most right-wing Romanian speakers are more or less bilingual and also speak German.
More than 2 million residents were foreign nationals at the end of the 2010s. In addition, there are foreigners who have Swiss citizenship; In total, about a third of the residents of the country are estimated to have foreign backgrounds. A large majority of them come from other countries in Europe, almost half of which come from Italy, Germany or Portugal. Many also come from the Balkan countries. There is a large group of seasonal workers who can only stay for limited periods in the country. Foreign officials employed by the UN, among others, are not counted among the residents.
The share of foreign nationals is high in part because it is difficult and expensive to become a Swiss citizen. Foreigners must have lived in the country for at least twelve years before they can even apply for citizenship, which is done at the municipality in which they live. Neither second nor third generation immigrants automatically receive citizenship unless their parents have it.
Since 2006, Switzerland has strict asylum laws, which means that most asylum seekers who cannot present travel documents and ID documents are rejected directly.
In 2015, when the refugee flow to Europe increased sharply, partly as a result of the war in Syria, Switzerland received 35,000 asylum applications. The following year, the number of asylum seekers decreased slightly. The trend continued at the end of the decade.
Other immigration was limited to highly qualified labor in professions where there is a shortage. A law passed in 2010 means that foreign nationals who commit serious crimes would be expelled automatically. In 2014, it was also decided that immigration from EU countries would be restricted. The decision was criticized by the EU for violating the principle of free movement within the Union. The EU warned that Switzerland could be excluded from the internal market at the same time as other agreements would be affected. At the end of 2016, the Swiss Parliament passed a new law that failed to introduce quotas for labor immigration from the EU, but at the same time gave the right to prioritize Swiss over EU citizens in employment.
FACTS – POPULATION AND LANGUAGE
German-speaking 64%, French-speaking 20%, Italian-speaking 6.5%, Romanian-speaking 0.5%, other 9%
Number of residents
8 466 017 (2017)
Number of residents per square kilometer
Percentage of residents in the cities
73.8 percent (2017)
Nativity / birth
10.5 per 1000 residents (2016)
Mortality / mortality
7.8 per 1000 residents (2016)
1.1 percent (2017)
1.5 number of births per woman (2016)
Percentage of women
50.5 percent (2017)
83 years (2016)
Life expectancy for women
85 years (2016)
Life expectancy for men
81 years (2016)
German, French, Italian and Romanian