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 the 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, Interlaken, 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. 2
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 20% of the population, predominates in the southwest; Italian, spoken by about 8%, is the language of Ticino, in the south. The few Romansh-speakers are in the southeast. About 45% of the population is Roman Catholic and 40% is Protestant; close to 10% 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. There are universities at Lausanne, Geneva, Interlaken, Basel, Zürich, St. Gall, Neuchâtel, and Freibourg.