National language

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A national language is a language (or language variant, e.g. dialect) that has some connection—de facto or de jure—with a people and the territory they occupy. The term is used variously. A national language may for instance represent the national identity of a nation or country. National language may alternatively be a designation given to one or more languages spoken as first languages in the territory of a country. National and/or official languages are mentioned in over 150 world constitutions.[1][2]

C.M.B. Brann, with particular reference to Africa, suggests that there are "four quite distinctive meanings" for national language in a polity:[3]

  • "Territorial language" (chthonolect, sometimes known as chtonolect[4]) of a particular people
  • "Regional language" (choralect)
  • "Language-in-common or community language" (demolect) used throughout a country
  • "Central language" (politolect) used by government and perhaps having a symbolic value.

The last is usually given the title of official language.

Standard languages, such as Standard German, Standard French, and Standard Spanish, may serve as national (language-in-common), regional, and international languages.

Official versus national languages

"National language" and "official language" are best understood as two concepts or legal categories with ranges of meaning that may coincide, or may be intentionally separate. Obviously a stateless nation is not in the position to legislate an official language, but their languages may be sufficiently distinct and well-preserved to be national languages.

Some languages may be recognized popularly as "national languages," while others may enjoy official recognition in use and/or promotion. Some examples of national languages that are not official languages include Cherokee, Navajo, and other living Native American languages.

In many African countries, some or all indigenous African languages are officially used, promoted and/or expressly allowed to be promoted (usually taught in schools and written in important publications) as semi-official languages whether by long-term legislation or short-term, case-by-case executive (government) measures. "Official language" status may be reserved to a lingua franca such as the former empire-related language(s) (English, French, Portuguese, Afrikaans or Spanish) or other trans-national language (such as Arabic or Swahili) which typically means few government publications and signs are translated into all (or under the most authoritarian regimes, any) other languages.[citation needed]

To be official, spoken and written languages may enjoy government or federalised use, major tax-funded promotion or at least full tolerance as to their teaching and employers' recognition in public education, standing pari passu with the official language(s). Further, they may enjoy recognition as a compulsory publication official language and treasury money may be spent to teach or encourage adults in learning a language which is a minority language in a particular area to restore its understanding and spread its moral stories, rhymes, poems, phrases, songs and other literary heritage which will promote social cohesion (where other languages remain) or will promote nationalist differentiation where another, non-indigenous language is deprecated.[5][6]

National and official languages


Albanian is the national language in Albania and Kosovo and a regional national language for parts of Macedonia and southern Montenegro.


Arabic and Berber are national languages in Algeria as specified in the constitution.


Andorra's national language is Catalan; moreover Catalan is an official language in several territories in Spain (Catalonia, Valencian Community, Balearic Islands), and is spoken (without official recognition or status) in territories in Spain (the Catalan-Aragonese borderlands known as La Franja and the Murcian municipality of El Carche), France (Pyrénées Orientales) and in Italy (Alghero).


Bengali (or Bangla) is considered the national language of Bangladesh.


Bulgarian language is the national language in Bulgaria.


Canada's official languages since the Official Languages Act of 1969 are English (Canadian English) and French (Canadian French). Depending on one's views of what constitute a "nation" these two languages may be considered two equal national languages of a nation called "Canada", or the national languages of two nations within one state, English Canada and French Canada.

Quebec nationalists consider Quebec French the national language of the Quebec nation.

Besides this there many Aboriginal languages of Canada which are the national languages of one or more of Canada's First Nations groups (formerly "Indians"), Inuit (formerly "Eskimos"), and Metis (mixed First Nations-European people). Notably the Cree language is spoken (with variations) from Alberta to Labrador.


See also: Languages of China, Standard Chinese and History of Mandarin.

There many languages spoken across China, with most people speaking one of several varieties of Chinese. During successive imperial dynasties, the spoken language of the capital city served as the official spoken language and was used across the country by government officials who traveled to communicate with one another. Dialects used for this purpose in different eras included those of Xi'an, Luoyang, Nanjing, Beijing, and other historical capital cities.

After the Xinhai Revolution in 1911, the Kuomintang (Chinese nationalists) founded the Republic of China. In order to promote a sense of national unity and enhance the efficiency of communications within the nation, the government decided to designate a national language. The Beijing dialect of Mandarin and Guangzhou dialect of Cantonese were each proposed as the basis for a national language for China. In the beginning, there were attempts to introduce elements from other Chinese varieties into the national language in addition to those from the Beijing dialect; this was reflected in the first official dictionary of the national language, given the name 國語 (Pinyin: Guóyǔ, literally "national language"). But this artificial language had no native speakers and was difficult to learn, so it was abandoned in 1924. Ultimately, the Beijing dialect was chosen as the national language and it continued to be referred to as 國語 in Chinese in the Republic of China. Since then, the Beijing dialect has become the main standard for pronunciation, due to its prestigious status during the preceding Qing Dynasty.

Still, elements from other dialects do exist in the standard language, which is now defined as reflecting the pronunciation of Beijing, the grammatical patterns of Mandarin dialects spoken in the northern parts of China, and the vocabulary of modern vernacular Chinese literature. The People's Republic of China renamed the national language 普通话 (Pinyin: Pǔtōnghuà, literally "common speech"), without otherwise changing the definition of the standard national language.[7]


Finland has two national languages: namely the Finnish language and the Swedish language. The Constitution of Finland guarantees the right to use Finnish and Swedish in courts and other state institutions.[8][9] Despite the large difference in the numbers of users, Swedish is not officially classified as a minority language but equal to Finnish. Both national languages are compulsory subjects in school (except for children with a third language as mother tongue) and a language test is a prerequisite for governmental offices where a university degree is required. The constitution also grants the Sami and the Roma peoples the right to maintain and develop their languages: The Sami have partial right to use Sami languages in official situations according to other laws.[10]


The official and national language of Germany is Standard German, with over 95% of the country speaking Standard German or German dialects as their first language.[11]


Haiti's official languages are Haitian Creole and French. While French is the language used in the media, government and education, 90–95% of the country speak Haitian Creole as the home language while French is learned in school.


The official languages of the Union Government of the Republic of India are Hindi language in the Devanagari script and English as mentioned in article 343/1 of the Constitution of India.[12] Currently there are 22 other official languages in India Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Maithili, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Nepali, Odia, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Santali, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu. The English is one of the official languages of Union of India.[13] Articles 343 and 345 of the Constitution of India specify the official language of India to be Hindi in Devanagari script,[14] though states of India were free to adopt one or more local languages for all or any of the official purposes of that state.[12] Pursuant to agitations particularly in South India in the 60s, today all 22 languages carry official status and Government documents can be in any of the 22 recognized official languages. This has been clarified by court rulings as well, most recently in 2010 Gujarat High Court affirming equal role to all 22 languages.[15][16] India has a Common law legal system – therefore, unless overturned by the legislature or a higher court explicitly, the ruling in 2010 takes precedence and all 22 official languages are meant to be taken on equal footing. Currency notes in India typically carry the denomination in all languages as well.India does not have a national language as per the constituion of india.


The official language of Indonesia is Indonesian. Indonesia has more than 700 living languages, making it the second most linguistically diverse country after Papua New Guinea. These 700+ languages, however, are without official status, and in danger of extinction, except for the largest local language of them all, Javanese.


Persian (or Farsi) is recognised as the national language of Iran.


Irish is recognised by the Constitution of Ireland as the national language and first official language of Ireland, and the English language is recognised as a second official language.[17]


Hebrew and Arabic are the official languages of Israel, though English is also used extensively (e.g. on road signs).


The Italian language is the de jure and de facto official language of Italy.[18][19] Italian is also referred to as national language for historical and cultural reasons, because since the 15th century, Italian became the language used in the courts of nearly every state in Italy and in general among educated Italians (scholars, writers, poets, philosophers, scientists, composers and artist) who contributed to what is nowadays the culture of Italy.[20] Furthermore, Italian was often an official language of the various Italian states before unification, slowly replacing Latin, even when ruled by foreign powers (such as the Spaniards in the Kingdom of Naples, or the Austrians in the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia).[21]


While English and Swahili are official languages, Swahili also has a special status as national language. None of the country's biggest languages (Gikuyu, Luo, Kamba, Kalenjin, etc.) have any explicit legal status on the national level, however the 2010 constitution enjoins the state to "promote and protect the diversity of language of the people of Kenya."[22]


In Lebanon, the Arabic language is the "official national" language.[23]


The Maltese language is the national language of Malta. It is also the official language of the island, together with English. Maltese only is recognised as "national" in Chapter 1 of the Laws of Malta.


Although English is the only nationwide official language in Namibia, there are also 20 National languages, which are each spoken by more or less sizeable portions of the population and are considered Namibia's cultural heritage. All national languages have the rights of a minority language and may even serve as a lingua franca in certain regions. Among Namibia's national languages are German, Afrikaans, Oshiwambo, Otjiherero, Portuguese, as well as the languages of the Himba, Nama, San, Kavango and Damara.


Nepali is the official language of Nepal. Nepal is rich in culture and language, and there are many languages spoken there.

New Zealand

There are 3 official languages in New Zealand. Te Reo Māori, UK English and NZ Sign language.


Besides official English (Nigerian Standard English), Nigeria recognizes three 'majority', or national, languages. These are the big three, Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba, each with some 20 million speakers or more.[24]


Article 251(1) of the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan, titled National language, specifies: "The National language of Pakistan is Urdu, and arrangements shall be made for its being used for official and other purposes within fifteen years from the commencing day. Although it has been declared as an official language, so far all the documentation, legislation, legal orders and every thing related on legal front is done in Pakistani English. Mostly the studies at the higher level i.e. Masters , M.Phil and Phd. level is done in English."[25]National Language Authority is an organization established to make these arrangements since 1979.


The 1973 Philippine constitution designated Pilipino (a Tagalog-based language) and English (Philippine English) as official languages, "until otherwise provided by law" and mandated development and formal adoption of a common national language to be known as Filipino.

The 1987 constitution designated the Filipino language, which is based on Tagalog with the inclusion of terms from all recognized languages of the Philippines, as the national language. It also designated both Filipino and English as the official languages for purposes of communication and instruction, and designated the regional languages as auxiliary official languages in the regions to serve as auxiliary media of instruction therein.

More than 170 languages are spoken in the Philippines and almost all of them belong to the Borneo–Philippines languages group of the Austronesian language family. In 2007, a six-part series titled The Case of Ilokano as a National Language authored by Dr. Aurelio Solver Agcaoili of the University of Hawaii appeared in the Culture, Essays, Lifestyle of Tawid News Magazine.[26] In September 2012, La Union became the very first province in Philippine history to pass an ordinance proclaiming a non-official language and a vernacular, Ilokano, as its official language. This move aims to protect and revitalize the use of Ilokano in various government and civil affairs within the province.[27]


The official and national language of Romania is the Romanian language.

The Russian Federation

The Russian language is the only official language of Russia, but 27 other languages are considered official in different regions of Russia.


Serbian language is the national language of Serbia, written in the Cyrillic script. There are 15 minority languages.


Singapore has four official languages: English (Singapore English), Chinese, Malay and Tamil. Although English is the primary language of business, government, and education, Malay is designated as the national language. This is due to the geographical and historical ties to Malaysia as well as the recognition of ethnic Malays (about 14% of the population) as the indigenous people of Singapore.

Traditionally, the lingua franca among the different ethnic groups in Singapore was Bazaar Malay, a Malay-based creole. Since independence, the government has been promoting English as the main language of Singapore. The bilingual education policy requires students to study two languages: English and a "mother tongue" corresponding to the student's ethnicity. Malay is only offered to non-Malay students as an optional third language in secondary schools. As a result, English has displaced Bazaar Malay as the common language among Singaporeans. Therefore, despite the status of Malay as the national language, the majority doesn't speak it.


The Slovene language is the national language of Slovenia. There are 6 minority languages.

South Africa

South Africa has 11 official languages, namely Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tswana, Tsonga, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu. South African Sign Language and Dutch are distinct in South Africa though incompletely emerged national standard languages which also subsumes a cluster of semi-standardised dialects.

The above mentioned languages can be considered as minority Lingua francas — none of these languages are of Official Language Status in the country.


Switzerland has four national languages: German, French, Italian and Romansh.[28]

All but Romansh have equal status as official languages at the national level within the Federal administration of Switzerland.[29]


After their defeat in the Chinese Civil War in 1949, the Kuomintang regime of the Republic of China retreated to the island of Taiwan. They introduced Mandarin as the national language on the island, though it was not spoken by a majority of the population at that time.


The official language of the Tunisian state is Arabic.[30] But, that language is not the mother tongue of the population or used to communicate between Tunisian people, instead Tunisian Arabic plays these roles and is the national language of Tunisia.[31] Also, even without an official status, French is also used extensively in its written and spoken form in the administration, education and business environment and known by 63.6% of the population.[32] Also Berber minorities in the south-west and on Djerba Island use the Tunisian Chelha language to communicate between themselves.


Turkish is the national language of Turkey per the Turkish constitution.

United Kingdom

The English language (British English) is the de facto official language of the United Kingdom and is the sole language of an estimated 95% of the British population.[citation needed] The three Home Nations outside England have national languages of their own with varying degrees of recognition, which coexist along the dominant English language. Britain also has several Crown dependencies and Overseas Territories which are to some extent self-governing, but which are not recognized as independent states. Many of these have their own regional languages.

Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, both the Gaelic Irish language and the West Germanic Ulster Scots dialects are recognized by the Good Friday Agreement as "part of the cultural wealth of the island of Ireland" and are promoted by the Foras na Gaeilge (Irish Institute) and Tha Boord o Ulstèr-Scotch (the Ulster-Scots Agency) respectively.


In Scotland, Scottish Gaelic is a minority language spoken by 57,375 people (1.1% of the Scottish population aged over three years old).[33] The Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005 gives the language a limited official status, and the Bòrd na Gàidhlig is tasked with "securing the status of the Gaelic language as an official language of Scotland commanding equal respect to the English language" [34] Scots, generally treated as a West Germanic language related to but separate from English, has no official status but is recognized as a minority language, and is the language of much Scottish literature, including the poetry of Robert Burns.


The Welsh language has official status within Wales, and as of the 2011 census, is spoken by 562,000 people, or 19% of the population.[35] The Welsh Language Board (Bwrdd yr Iaith Gymraeg) is legally tasked with ensuring that, "in the conduct of public business and the administration of justice, the English and Welsh languages should be treated on a basis of equality".[36]

United States

In the United States, English (American English) is the national language only in an informal sense, by numbers and by historical and contemporary association. The United States Constitution does not explicitly declare any official language, although the constitution is written in English, as is all federal legislation.

On February 13, 2015, Representative Peter T. King introduced H.R.997, the English Language Unity Act of 2015, in the United States House of Representatives. This bill would establish English as the official language of the United States. A companion bill, S.667, was introduced by Senator Jim Inhofe in the United States Senate on March 9, 2015. Both bills were referred to committee. Similar legislation has been introduced every year since 1973.[37]


In Vietnam, the Vietnamese language had been the de facto national language for many years, but it was not until Decree No. 5 of the 2013 constitution that the Vietnamese language was officially described as the National Language.[38]

See also

Notes and references

  2. Jacques Leclerc, L'aménagement linguistique dans le monde, CEFAN, Université Laval
  3. Brann, C.M.B. 1994. "The National Language Question: Concepts and Terminology." Logos [University of Namibia, Windhoek] Vol 14: 125–134
  4. Wolff, H. Ekkehard "African Languages: An Introduction Ch./Art: Language and Society p. 321 pub. Cambride University Press 2000
  5. 20 Year Strategy for the Irish Language
  6. Williams, Colin H. (1990), "The Anglicisation of Wales", in Coupland, Nikolas (ed.), English in Wales: Diversity, Conflict, and Change, Clevedon, Avon: Multilingual Matters, pp. 38–41<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. General Information of the People's Republic of China (PRC): Languages,, retrieved 17 April 2008<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Finland – Constitution<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>, Section 17. International Constitutional Law website.
  9. "FINLEX ® – Ajantasainen lainsäädäntö: 11.6.1999/731".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Decree on the Sami Parliament FINLEX. Access date: 3 July.
  11. "BBC Education".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 "The Constitution of India" (PDF). National Portal of India. 26 November 1949. External link in |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Stories they tell about languages. Hindi is the national language of india disided by court initially., The Hindu, retrieved 11 June 2013<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Constitution of India: "343. (1) The official language of the Union shall be Hindi in Devanagari script. [...]"[12]
  15. There's no national language in India: Gujarat High Court, The Times of India, retrieved 30 March 2012<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. PTI. "Hindi, not a national language: Court". The Hindu.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Article 8, Bunreacht na hÉireann.
  18. Law 482, December 15, 1999.
  19. Italian language.
  20. Lingua nazionale: le ragioni del fiorentino.
  21. Bruno Migliorini, (1960). Storia della lingua italiana. 1st ed. Italy: Sansoni.
  22. Constitution of Kenya Accessed 2010-10-28.
  23. Constitution of Lebanon {Adopted on: 21 September 1990}. Constitutional Documents
  24. Article 55, Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria : 1999.
  25. "PART XII (contd); Miscellaneous; Chapter 4. General", The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 14 August 1973, retrieved 22 April 2008<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. Aurelio Solver Agcaoili, The Case of Ilokano as a National Language; Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 (May 2007), Tawid News Magasin
  27. Elias, Jun (19 September 2012). "Iloko La Union's official language". Philippine Star. Retrieved 24 September 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  28. "The Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation, article 4". Retrieved 30 April 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  29. "Diversité des langues et compétences linguistiques en Suisse". Retrieved 30 April 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  30. "Tunisia Constitution, Article 1" (PDF). 26 January 2014. Retrieved 10 February 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Translation by the University of Bern: "Tunisia is a free State, independent and sovereign; its religion is the Islam, its language is Arabic, and its form is the Republic."
  32. (French) Christian Valantin (sous la dir. de), La Francophonie dans le monde. 2006-2007, éd. Nathan, Paris, 2007, p. 16 PDF (5.58 MB)
  33. 2011 Census of Scotland, Table QS211SC. Viewed 30 May 2014.
  34. Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005, Office of Public Sector Information, retrieved 9 March 2007<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  35. "2011 Census: Key Statistics for Wales, March 2011". ONS. Retrieved 12 December 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  36. Welsh Language Act 1993, Office of Public Sector Information, retrieved 3 September 2007<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  37. "All legislation matching 'H.R.997'". United States Congress. Retrieved 21 December 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  38. "Toàn văn Hiến pháp sửa đổi". Tin nhanh VnExpress.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>