An official language is a language that is given a special legal
status in a particular country, state, or other jurisdiction.
Typically a country's official language refers to the language used
within government (e.g., courts, parliament, administration). Since
"the means of expression of a people cannot be changed by any law",
the term "official language" does not typically refer to the language
used by a people or country, but by its government.
Worldwide, 178 countries have at least one official language, and 101
of these countries recognise more than one language. Many of the
world's constitutions mention one or more official or national
languages. Some countries use the official language designation
to empower indigenous groups by giving them access to the government
in their native languages. In countries that do not formally designate
an official language, a de facto national language usually evolves.
English is the most common official language, with recognized status
in 51 countries. Arabic, French, and Spanish are also widely
An official language that is also an indigenous language is called
endoglossic, one that is not indigenous is exoglossic. An instance
Nigeria which has three endoglossic official languages. By this the
country aims to protect the indigenous languages although at the same
time recognising the
English language as its lingua franca.
3 Political alternatives
4 In specific countries/territories
4.6 Hong Kong
4.10 New Zealand
4.14 South Africa
4.17 United States
5 See also
7 Further reading
8 External links
Around 500 BC, when
Darius the Great
Darius the Great annexed Mesopotamia to the
Persian Empire, he chose a form of the
Aramaic language (the so-called
Official Aramaic or Imperial Aramaic) as the vehicle for written
communication between the different regions of the vast empire with
its different peoples and languages. Aramaic script
was widely employed from Egypt in the southwest to
Sogdiana in the northeast. Texts were dictated in the native dialects
and written down in Aramaic, and then read out again in the native
language at the places they were received.
First Emperor of Qin
First Emperor of Qin standardized the written language of China
after unifying the country in 221 BC.
Classical Chinese would
remain the standard written language for the next 2000 years.
Standardization of the spoken language received less political
attention, and Mandarin developed on an ad hoc basis from the dialects
of the various imperial capitals until being officially standardized
in the early twentieth century.
According to an undated chart by the American pro-English-only
organization known as U.S. English, 178 countries have an official
language at the national level. Among those, English is the most
common with 67 nations giving it official status. French is second
with 29 countries,
Arabic is third with 26 countries and Spanish is
fourth with 19 countries, Portuguese is the official language of 9
countries and German is official in 6. Some countries—like
United Kingdom and the United States—have no official
language recognized as such at national level. On the other extreme,
Bolivia officially recognizes 37 languages, the most by any country in
the world. Second to
India with 23 official languages.
South Africa is the country with the most official languages, all at
equal status to one another, in the world. As
Bolivia gives primacy
to Spanish and
India gives primacy to both English and Hindi.
See also: List of multilingual countries and regions
The selection of an official language (or no official language) is
often contentious. An alternative to having a single official
language is "official multilingualism", where a government recognizes
multiple official languages. Under this system, all government
services are available in all official languages. Each citizen may
choose their preferred language when conducting business. Most
countries are multilingual and many are officially multilingual.
Canada, Philippines, Belgium, Switzerland, and the
European Union are
examples of official multilingualism. This has been described as
controversial and, in some other areas where it has been proposed, the
idea has been rejected. It has also been described as necessary
for the recognition of different groups or as an advantage for the
country in presenting itself to outsiders.
In specific countries/territories
Main article: Languages of Afghanistan
In accordance with Chapter 1, Article 16 of the Constitution of
Afghanistan, the Afghan government gives equal status to Pashto and
Dari as official languages.
Main article: Belarusian since 1991
Belarusian and Russian have official status in the Republic of
Main article: Official bilingualism in Canada
In accordance with the Constitution Act, 1982 the (federal) Government
Canada gives equal status to English and French as official
languages. The Province of
New Brunswick is also officially bilingual,
as is the Yukon.
Nunavut has four official languages. The Northwest
Territories has eleven official languages. All provinces, however,
offer some necessary services in both English and French.
Canadian advocates[which?] of a single official language say it
promotes national identity. In Canada, debate has focused on
whether the local majority language should be made the exclusive
language of public business. In the Canadian province of Quebec, for
example, laws restrict the use of the minority English in education,
on signs, and in the workplace.
According to the Finnish constitution, Finnish and Swedish are the
official languages of the republic. Citizens have the right to
communicate in either language with government agencies.
Main article: Languages of Germany
German is the official language of Germany. However, its minority
languages include Sorbian (
Upper Sorbian and Lower Sorbian), Romani,
Danish and North Frisian, which are officially recognised. Migrant
languages like Turkish, Russian and Spanish are widespread, but are
not officially recognised languages.
Main article: Languages of Hong Kong
Hong Kong has two official languages: English and Chinese. Hong Kong
Cantonese is used in daily conversation and Traditional Chinese used
to be the only writing system in
Hong Kong before the
1997 handover. However, in
Mainland China the official language is
Mandarin and Simplified Chinese is used as the standard writing
system. As time goes by, some of the signage in
Hong Kong has been
converted[by whom?] to
Simplified Chinese characters
Simplified Chinese characters due to its
popularity in China and around the world. Also, as more and more
people from the mainland visit Hong Kong, Traditional Chinese
characters seem to be disappearing due to the impracticality of having
two sets of Chinese characters. Some companies may
have changed the characters of the signs whilst nearly all Hong Kong
people continue to use traditional characters.
Main article: Languages of India
The Constitution of
India (part 17) designates the official language
of the Government of
India as English as well as Standard Hindi
written in the Devanagari script.[need quotation to verify]
The Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution lists 22 languages,
which have been referred to as scheduled languages and given
recognition, status and official encouragement. In addition, the
India has awarded the distinction of classical language
to Tamil, Sanskrit, Kannada, Telugu,
Malayalam and Odia.
Main article: Languages of Israel
Arabic are the official languages of Israel. In most public
schools, the main teaching language is Hebrew, English is taught as a
second language, and most students learn a third language, usually
Arabic but not necessarily. Other public schools have
Arabic as their
main teaching language, and they teach
Hebrew as a second language and
English as a third one. There are also bilingual schools which aim to
teach in both
Some languages other than
Hebrew and Arabic, such as English, Russian,
Yiddish and Ladino enjoy a somewhat special status, but are
not considered[by whom?] to be official languages. For instance, at
least 5% of the broadcasting time of privately owned TV-channels must
be translated into Russian (a similar privilege is granted to Arabic),
warnings must be translated to several languages, signs are mostly
Arabic and English), and the government supports
Yiddish and Ladino culture (alongside
Hebrew culture and Arabic
Constitution of Latvia
Constitution of Latvia (or Satversme) designated Latvian as the
state language. In 2012 there was initiative to hold a referendum on
constitutional amendments, elevating Russian as a state language.
Kristīne Jarinovska in her analysis describes the proposal in the
It proposed several constitutional amendments for introducing Russian
as Latvia's second official language—i.e., amendments to the
Satversme’s Articles 4 (on Latvian as the state language), 18 (on
the solemn promise of a member of Parliament to strengthen the Latvian
language), 21 (on Latvian as the working language of the Parliament),
101 (on Latvian as the working language of local governments), and 104
(on the right to receive a reply to a petition in Latvian). Obviously,
the proposed amendments would have influenced other constitutional
norms as well. Moreover, since Article 4 of the Satversme alike norms
of independence, democracy, sovereignty, territorial wholeness, and
basic principles of elections that form the core of the Satversme
(according to Article 77 of the Satversme), the initiative, in fact,
proposed discontinuing an existing state and establishing a new one
that is no longer a nation-state wherein Latvians exercise their
rights to self-determination, enjoying and maintaining their cultural
New Zealand has three official languages. English is the de facto and
principle official language, accepted in all situations. The Māori
New Zealand Sign
Language both have limited de jure
official status under the Māori
Language Act 1987 and New Zealand
Language Act 2006
Languages of Norway
Languages of Norway and Norwegian language conflict
Main article: Languages of Pakistan
Urdu is the national language of Pakistan.
Urdu and English both are
official languages in Pakistan. Pakistan has more than 60 languages.
52 of them are types of Punjabi.
Main article: Languages of Russia
Russian is the official language of the
Russian Federation and in all
federal subjects, however many minority languages have official status
in the areas where they are indigenous. One type of federal subject in
Russia, republics, are allowed to adopt additional official languages
alongside Russian in their own constitutions. Republics are often
based around particular native ethnic groups, and are often areas
where ethnic Russians and native Russian-language speakers are a
Main article: Languages of South Africa
South Africa has eleven official languages that are mostly
indigenous. Due to limited funding, however, the government rarely
produces documents in most of the languages. Accusations of
mismanagement and corruption have been leveled against the Pan
Language Board, which is in charge of maintaining the
Main article: Languages of Switzerland
In 2012 debate over adopting Russian as a regional language in Ukraine
caused "an all-out brawl in Parliament", protests, and the resignation
of a lawmaker in attempt to block the bill.
See also: Languages of the United States
English is the de facto national language of the United States. While
there is no official language at the federal level, 32 of the 50 U.S.
states and all six inhabited U.S. territories have designated
English as one, or the only, official language, while courts have
found that residents in the 50 states do not have a right to
government services in their preferred language. Public debate in
the last few decades has focused on whether Spanish should be
recognized by the government, or whether all business should be done
California allows people to take their driving test in the following
32 languages: Amharic, Arabic, Armenian, Chinese, Croatian, English,
French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hmong, Hungarian, Indonesian,
Italian, Japanese, Khmer, Korean, Laotian, Persian, Polish,
Portuguese, Punjabi, Romanian, Russian, Samoan, Spanish,
Tagalog/Filipino, Thai, Tongan, Turkish, and Vietnamese.
New York state provides voter-registration forms in the following five
languages: Bengali, Chinese, English, Korean and Spanish. The same
languages are also on ballot papers in certain parts of the state
(namely, New York City). 
See also: English-only movement
The pro-English-only website U.S. English sees a multilingual
government as one in which its "services actually encourage the growth
of linguistic enclaves...[and] contributes to racial and ethnic
conflicts". Opponents of an official language policy in the United
States argue that it would hamper "the government's ability to reach
out, communicate, and warn people in the event of a natural or
man-made disaster such as a hurricane, pandemic, or...another
terrorist attack". Professor of politics Alan Patten argues that
disengagement (officially ignoring the issue) works well in religious
issues but that it is not possible with language issues because it
must offer public services in some language. Even if it makes a
conscious effort not to establish an official language, a de facto
official language, or the "national language", will nevertheless
emerge. Indeed, two-thirds of Americans believe that English is
the United States' official language.
Sometimes an official language definition can be motivated more by
national identity than by linguistic concerns. When Yugoslavia
dissolved in 1991, the country had four official
languages—Serbo-Croatian, Slovene, Albanian and Macedonian.
Serbo-Croatian was used as a lingua franca for mutual understanding
and was also the language of the military.
Croatia declared independence (1991) it defined its official
language as Croatian, and
Serbia likewise defined[when?] its official
language as Serbian.
Bosnia-Herzegovina defined three official
languages: Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian. The different "languages"
are mutually intelligible and linguists see them more as dialects of
Serbo-Croat rather than as distinct languages.
Critics allege that the Bosnian government chose to define three
languages to reinforce ethnic differences and keep the country
divided. The language used in Montenegro, traditionally considered
a dialect of Serbian, became standardized as the Montenegrin language
upon Montenegro's declaration (2006) of independence.
List of official languages by state
List of official languages by institution
List of languages without official status
Medium of instruction
^ "Official Language", Concise Oxford Companion to the English
Language, Ed. Tom McArthur, Oxford University Press, 1998.
^ The Status of Languages in Puerto Rico. Luis Muñiz-Arguelles.
University of Puerto Rico. 1986. Page 466. Retrieved 23 November 2012.
^ Pueblo v. Tribunal Superior, 92 D.P.R. 596 (1965). Translation taken
from the English text, 92 P.R.R. 580 (1965), p. 588-589. See also
LOPEZ-BARALT NEGRON, "Pueblo v. Tribunal Superior: Español: Idioma
del proceso judicial", 36 Revista Juridica de la Universidad de Puerto
Rico. 396 (1967), and VIENTOS-GASTON, "Informe del Procurador General
sobre el idioma", 36 Rev. Col. Ab. (P.R.) 843 (1975).
^ "Read about "Official or national languages" on Constitute".
^ "L'aménagement linguistique dans le monde: page d'accueil".
www.axl.cefan.ulaval.ca. Retrieved 2016-03-28.
^ endoglossic and exoglossic on OxfordDictionaries.com.
^ Records of the Grand Historian, 6
^ a b "Chapter 1, Article 6 of the South African Constitution".
constitutionalcourt.org.za. Retrieved 18 February 2018.
^ a b "
Language in South Africa: An official mess". The Economist.
July 5, 2013. Retrieved August 25, 2013.
^ a b c d e Alan Patten (October 2011). "Political Theory and Language
Policy" (pdf). Political Theory. Princeton. 29 (5): 691–715.
doi:10.1177/0090591701029005005. Retrieved August 25, 2013.
^ Follen, Charles; Mehring, Frank (2007-01-01). Between Natives and
Foreigners: Selected Writings of Karl/Charles Follen (1796-1840).
Peter Lang. ISBN 9780820497327.
^ Laycock, David (2011-11-01). Representation and Democratic Theory.
UBC Press. ISBN 9780774841009.
^ Martin-Jones, Marilyn; Blackledge, Adrian; Creese, Angela
(2012-01-01). The Routledge Handbook of Multilingualism. Routledge.
^ Official Languages at the Heart of Our Identity: An overview of the
Official Languages Act. Office of the Commissioner of Official
Languages. Ottawa, Canada. Retrieved 26 August 2013.
^ "War between Traditional and Simplified". anthony8988. 7 May
^ "Constitutional Provisions: Official
Language Related Part-17 of The
Constitution Of India". Department of Official Language, Government of
India. Archived from the original on 1 February 2016. Retrieved 1 July
^ Languages Included in the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constution
Archived 2016-06-04 at the Wayback Machine.
^ Jarinovska, K. "Popular Initiatives as Means of Altering the Core of
the Republic of Latvia", Juridica International. Vol. 20, 2013. p. 152
New Zealand Sign
Language Act 2006.
New Zealand Legislation.
Retrieved 24 July 2013.
^ NZ Sign
Language to be third official language. Ruth Dyson. 2 April
2006. Retrieved 24 July 2013.
^ Xaba, Vusi (2 September 2011). "
Language board to be probed".
SowetanLive.co.za. Retrieved 28 February 2018.
^ David M. Herszenhorn (July 4, 2012). "Ukrainian Official Quits to
Language Bill". New York Times. Retrieved August 26,
^  - US English: West Virginia Becomes 32nd State to Adopt English
as Official Language
^ a b James M. Inhofe; Cecilia Muñoz. "Should English be declared
America's national language?". The New York Times upfront. Scholastic.
Retrieved August 25, 2013.
^ "Available Languages".
California DMV. Retrieved November 26,
^ "New York State Voter Registration Form" (PDF). New York State Board
^ "Why Is Official English Necessary?". U.S. English. Archived from
the original on June 7, 2013. Retrieved August 26, 2013.
^ James Crawford. "
Language Freedom and Restriction: A Historical
Approach to the Official
Language Controversy". Effective Language
Education Practices and Native
Language Survival. pp. 9–22.
Retrieved August 26, 2013.
^ Selma Boračić; Ajdin Kamber (December 5, 2011). "
in Bosnia". Institute for War & Peace Reporting. Retrieved August
Writing Systems of the World: Alphabets, Syllabaries, Pictograms
(1990), ISBN 0-8048-1654-9 — lists official languages of the
countries of the world, among other information.
Wikidata has the property: official language (P37) (see talk; uses)
Languages by country in The World Factbook