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definition - National language

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National language


A national language is a language (or language variant, i.e. dialect) which has some connection—de facto or de jure—with a people and perhaps by extension 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.

C.M.B. Brann, with particular reference to Africa, suggests that there are "four quite distinctive meanings" for national language in a polity:[1]

  • "Territorial language" (chthonolect, sometimes known as chtonolect[2]) 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 seems often to be given the title "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 language may be considered a national language.

Some languages may be recognized popularly as "national languages," while others may enjoy a high degree of official recognition. Some examples of national languages that are not official languages include Cherokee, and Navajo (and other living Native American languages).

Certain languages may enjoy government recognition or even status as official languages in some countries while not in others.



Andorra's national language is Catalan, however the Catalan language is a regional language in Spain (Catalonia, Valencian Community, Balearic Islands, the Catalan-Aragonese borderlands known as La Franja and the Murcian municipality of El Carche), France (Pyrénées Orientales) and in Italy (Alghero).


Canada's national languages are English and French.

  Greater China

See also: Standard Chinese and History of Mandarin.

In China, plenty of spoken variants exist in different parts of the country. In ancient times, several local dialects were chosen as the official spoken language, such as the dialects from Hangzhou, Nanjing, etc.

After the Xinhai Revolution in 1911, the Kuomintang (Chinese nationalists) founded the Republic of China (ROC). In order to promote a sense of national unity and enhance the efficiency of communications within the nation, the ROC decided to designate a national language. The Beijing dialect of Mandarin and Guangzhou dialect of Cantonese were the most popular options. Ultimately the Beijing dialect was chosen as the national language and given the name 國語 in Chinese (Pinyin: Guóyǔ, lit. national language, commonly known as "Standard Chinese" in English). In the beginning, there were attempts to introduce elements from other Chinese spoken variants into the national language, in addition to those existing in the Beijing dialect, but this was deemed too difficult and was abandoned in 1924. Since then, the Beijing dialect became the major source of standard national pronunciation, due to its prestigious status in the preceding Qing Dynasty. Elements from other dialects exist in the standard language.

After the Chinese Civil War in 1949, the Chinese Communist Party established the People's Republic of China (PRC) in mainland China. The Kuomintang regime of the Republic of China retreated to the island of Taiwan and maintained the same policy. Similarly, the People's Republic of China, which administers mainland China, continued the effort and renamed the national language, largely based on the Beijing dialect, as 普通話 (Pinyin: pǔtōnghuà, lit. common speech).[3]

  European Union

  Sign in the entrance of the European Parliament building in Brussels written in the 23 official languages used in the European Union as of 2007.

The European Union has a list of 23 official languages: Bulgarian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovene, Spanish and Swedish.


Finland has two national languages: namely the Finnish language and the Swedish language according to the Constitution of Finland.[4][5] The Language Act details the use of them by public authorities.[6] However, there is an aboriginal nation Sami and another group Romani that have their languages mentioned as legal to be maintained and developed by such groups. The Sami have partial right to use Sami languages in official situations according to other laws.[7]

The Swedish language (6% of the people) is a valid language everywhere in Finland, whereas the Finnish language (92% of the people) is most widely used, but the latter is not legally valid everywhere.[5] 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.


India specifies English and Hindi as official languages of the India de jure. Article 343 of the constitution specifies that the official language of India is Hindi in Devanagari script. Article 345 states that a state of India may officially adopt one or more languages in use in the state or Hindi/English as the language or languages to be used for all or any of the official purposes of that state.[8]

Section 8 of The Official Languages Act of 1963 (as amended in 1967) empowers the Union Government to make rules regarding the languages which may be used for the Official purposes of the Union, for transaction of business in Parliament, and for communication between the Union Government and the states.[9]

Section 3 of G.S.R. 1052, titled "Rules, 1976 (As Amended, 1987, 2007, 2011)" specifies that communications from a Central (Union) Government office to a State or a Union Territory in shall, save in exceptional cases (Region "A") or shall ordinarily (Region "B"), be in Hindi, and if any communication is issued to any of them in English it shall be accompanied by a Hindi translation thereof.[10] Section 3 of G.S.R. 1052, titled "Rules, 1976 (As Amended, 1987, 2007, 2011) states Communications from a Central Government office to State or Union Territory in Region "C" or to any office (not being a Central Government office) or person in such State shall be in English. Region C covers regions other than those referred in Regions "A" and "B". Section 1 states that these rules shall extend to the whole of India, except the State of Tamil Nadu.[11]

In 2007, the Gujarat High Court pronounced the India does not have a national language whilst observing that a majority of the nation although observe Hindi as a national language and write Hindi in Devanagari script. The court said that because there was no legal notification that promoted any official languages of India to a national language status, India has no national language.[12]


In Lebanon, the Arabic language is the "official national" language.[13]


The Maltese language is the national language of Malta. It is also the official language of the island, together with English. Maltese 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.


Besides official 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.[14]


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."[15]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 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. As of 2008, leaders from the Ilocos region and other Ilocano-dominated provinces are considering the possible declaration of Ilocano language as an official language in their provinces along with the national language to foster the continuity of their language and heritage.


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


Malay is the National Language of Singapore. Primarily, this results from Singapore's long historic, and deep ethnic, ties with the Malaya Peninsula; Singapore was a state of Malaysia between 1963 and 1965. In 1965, Singapore became an independent nation, with a population that was about 75% ethnic Chinese. Since 1970, as native birth rates have fallen far below replacement (Singapore's native birth rate was the 3rd lowest in the world as of 2010), Malays now comprise only 14% of the total poulation, and due to Chinese immigration, ethnic Chinese are still about 75% of the total poulation (2010 data).[16][17]

English is the primary language of business and government, and the main language used in education. This stems in large part from Lee Kuan Yew's education in England, and Singapore's long-term commercial ties to England.

Singapore’s policy of emphasizing L2, English, from the beginning of formal schooling clearly stems from a belief that children will learn English better the earlier they start learning the language. Lee Kuan Yew, main architect of the education policy, made this assumption explicit:

Language is a key to the acquisition of knowledge. If a student is unable to understand a language, then he is unable to receive information or knowledge in that language. It is therefore crucial that a breakthrough must be made in the English language as early in life as possible (Straits Times, 29 May 1982, as cited in Platt 1982, p. 31).[18]

Use of Tamil is also growing as commerce and trade increases between India and Singapore. Tamil is one of the oldest 'classical Indian' languages in the world. For millennia, speakers of Tamil have sailed across the Indian Ocean, occasionally settling in Singapore and the western islands of modern day Indonesia.[19] Like Singapore, India has long historical and other ties to England, and in recent decades Singapore has benefitted from southern India immigrants skilled in maths and sciences.[20] [21][22]

  United Kingdom

The English is the de facto official language of the United Kingdom and is spoken monolingually by an estimated 95% of the British population.[citation needed] Interestingly, official regional languages exist without reference to a national language.[23]

  United States

In the United States, 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 11 February 2009, Representative Steve King (R-IA.) introduced House Bill H.R.997, to declare English as the official language of the United States. On 5 May 2009, Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) introduced Senate Bill S.991 as a companion bill.

On 26 February 2009, Representative Steve King (R-IA.) introduced House Bill H.R.1229, a bill to amend title 4, United States Code, to declare English as the official language of the Government of the United States, and for other purposes. On 6 May 2009, Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) introduced Bill S.992 as a companion bill.

On 10 March 2011, Representative Steve King (R-IA.) introduced House Bill H.R.997, a bill to amend title 4, United States Code, to declare English as the official language of the Government of the United States, and for other purposes. On 8 March 2011, Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) introduced Bill S.503 as a companion bill.

On 17 March 2011, Representative Peter T. King (R-NY.) introduced House Bill H.R.1164, a bill to amend title 4, United States Code, to declare English as the official language of the Government of the United States.

As of August 2011, the last major actions on these bills were:[24]

Bill Last Major Action Date
H.R.997 Referred to the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties 23 July 2009
S.991 Referred to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs 6 May 2009
H.R.1229 Referred to the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties 19 August 2009
S.992 Referred to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs 6 May 2009
H.R.997 Referred to the Subcommittee on the Constitution. 21 March 2011
H.R.1164 Referred to the Subcommittee on the Constitution. 1 June 2011

Previous incarnations of these bills were co-written and supported by California millionaire Ron Unz.[citation needed]


In Vietnam, the Vietnamese language is the national language.

  See also


  1. ^ Brann, C.M.B. 1994. "The National Language Question: Concepts and Terminology." Logos [University of Namibia, Windhoek] Vol 14: 125–134
  2. ^ Wolff, H. Ekkehard "African Languages: An Introduction Ch./Art: Language and Society p. 321 pub. Cambride University Press 2000
  3. ^ General Information of the People's Republic of China (PRC): Languages, chinatoday.com, http://www.chinatoday.com/general/a.htm#LANGU, retrieved 2008-04-17 
  4. ^ Finland – Constitution, http://www.servat.unibe.ch/icl/fi00000_.html , Section 17. International Constitutional Law website.
  5. ^ a b Alfredson, Bb; Annerstedt, L (Nov 1994), "Sweden: People" (– Scholar search), Journal of advanced nursing (CIA World Factbook) 20 (5): 964–74, ISSN 0309-2402, PMID 7745191, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/fi.html#People [dead link]
  6. ^ Language Act : Unofficial Translation. Ministry of Justice. (PDF) Retrieved 2009-11-06.
  7. ^ Decree on the Sami Parliament FINLEX. Access date: 3 July.
  8. ^ Official Language related—Part 17 of the Constitution of India, Government of India, http://rajbhasha.nic.in/GOLPContent.aspx?t=enconst, retrieved 2007-11-15 
  9. ^ Official Languages Act of 1963, as amended 1967, Government of India, 1963, http://rajbhasha.nic.in/GOLPContent.aspx?t=endolact, retrieved 2007-11-15 
  10. ^ "राजभाषा", The Government of India, http://rajbhasha.nic.in/GOLPContent.aspx?t=endolrules 
  11. ^ Rules, 1976 (As Amended, 1987, 2007, 2011), Government of India, http://rajbhasha.nic.in/GOLPContent.aspx?t=endolrules, retrieved 2007-11-15 
  12. ^ There's no national language in India: Gujarat High Court, The Times of India, http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2010-01-25/india/28148512_1_national-language-official-language-hindi, retrieved 2012-03-30 
  13. ^ Constitution of Lebanon {Adopted on: 21 September 1990}. Constitutional Documents
  14. ^ Article 55, Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria : 1999.
  15. ^ "PART XII (contd); Miscellaneous; Chapter 4. General", The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 14 August 1973, http://www.pakistani.org/pakistan/constitution/part12.ch4.html, retrieved 2008-04-22 
  16. ^ Demographics of Singapore Wikipedia entry
  17. ^ U.S. State Department Data
  18. ^ Bilingual Education Policy In Singapore by L. Quentin Dixon, Cascadilla Press (2005)
  19. ^ Singapore Tamil
  20. ^ Tamil in Singapore History
  21. ^ "World Factbook — Singapore". CIA. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/sn.html. Retrieved 10 September 2007. 
  22. ^ "Languages of singapore". Ethonologue. http://www.ethnologue.com/show_country.asp?name=SG. Retrieved 10 September 2007. 
  23. ^ In the United Kingdom, English is established by de facto usage. In Wales, the 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". Welsh Language Act 1993, Office of Public Sector Information, http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts1993/Ukpga_19930038_en_2.htm, retrieved 3 September 2007  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" Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005, Office of Public Sector Information, http://www.opsi.gov.uk/legislation/scotland/acts2005/asp_20050007_en_1, retrieved 9 March 2007 
  24. ^ The library of Congress : Thomas.


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