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7 Countries with the Most Official Languages in the World

There are well over 7100 spoken languages in the world. Out of these, the most popular is the English language, spoken by over 1.1 billion persons worldwide. Mandarin is the world’s second most popular language, followed by Hindi, at a distant third. Despite the plethora of spoken languages, only 114 serve as official languages. While some countries sit atop our list of most official languages with 22 tongues, others have none.

For clarity, a tongue can only be considered the official language of a country, when it has legal and constitutional backing. Official languages are often the most widely used in a country. They usually serve as a medium of instruction in schools and public institutions. Official languages are also useful in drafting official national documents like the Constitution. Where there is no common native language, an official language often serves as the lingua franca.

The United States of America and Mexico are perfect examples of countries that lack an official tongue. English is the de facto language for business and governance. That said, the USA has no official language enshrined in its Constitution. In this same vein, Mexico has no official language. But, the North American nation adopts Spanish for administrative and business purposes. Some countries have so many native tongues that it forces them to adopt more than one as their official language. 

That said, we have researched and compiled a detailed list of seven countries with the most official languages in the world.

Countries With The Most Official Languages in The World 

1. India

india 416777 1024x683 1 7 Countries with the Most Official Languages in the World
india 416777 1024x683 1: 7 Countries with the Most Official Languages in the World

India’s position on this list is controversial. Despite having over 19,000 native dialects, India only has 22 recognized official languages. But, the Constitution only recognizes these languages at the regional level. Hindi and English are the only transactional languages for parliamentary business at the national level. Furthermore, intra-government correspondence, judiciary proceedings, and other official communications are in English.

As a result, many consider India to occupy the second spot on the list of countries with the most official languages, behind Zimbabwe which has over 16 official languages at the national level.  However, if we loosely apply the definition of an official language, India sits atop our list. Hindi is the most popular of India’s 22 official languages, with 528 million speakers. English, Bengali, Marathi, Telugu, and Tamil are popular tongues.  Below is a list of the most spoken official languages in India.

Most Spoken Official Languages in India

Hindi – 528 million speakers 

Hindi is the most spoken official language in the country, with 41% of the nation’s populace speaking it. The language is ranked the fourth most widely spoken official language worldwide, however, there have been recent efforts to make Hindi the most spoken language in the country. This effort is visible in the modification of the numerals on Rupee notes to the Devanagari script, which is used to transcribe Hindi.

Bengali – 97 million speakers 

Bangali is the official language of Bangladesh. It is also called Bangala by most local speakers. The Bengali language is spoken by 8% of the people of India and is reckoned to be the fifth most widely spoken native language worldwide.

Marathi – 83 Million Speakers

Marathi is spoken by 7% of the Indian population. It is speculated to be 1,300 years old. It is the official language of states situated in the western part of the country; Maharashtra and Goa inclusive.  

Telugu  – 81 Million Speakers

This Davidian language is most widely spoken in the following states in the country: 

  • Karnataka 
  • Nicobar Islands  
  • Telangana 
  • Yanam 
  • Andhra 
  • Pradesh 
  • Andaman, 
  • Chattisgarh  
  • Tamil Nadu 
  • Maharashtra 
  • Odisha 

Telugu’s earliest writings can be traced to as early as 400 BC. Telugu words were boldly inscribed on coins, but widespread usage of the language in written form is dated 575 AD. The inscription was purportedly made by Renati Cholas, who was famous for his royal inscription in the Telugu language in place of the customary Sanskrit. 

Tamil – 67 Million Speakers 

Tamil is viewed as one of the oldest languages in the contemporary world. This accounts for why it is among the classical languages in India. About 6% of Indians speak Tamil. The language is spoken in the country’s southern regions, especially in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.  

Tamil is the official language in Sri Lanka and Singapore. It is recognized as one of the minority languages spoken in South Africa, Malaysia, and Mauritius. The earliest writings in Tamil are dated 500 BC, but the language gained literary popularity in 300 AD, in its unalterable form known as the ‘Old Tamil.’ 

 

2. Zimbabwe

The Zimbabwean Constitution adopts 16 languages as official languages. The country is in the Guinness Book of Record as one of the countries with the highest number of official languages enshrined in the constitution. The official languages include Ndau, Nambya, English, Chibarwe, Chewa, Kalanga, Shona, Xhosa, Tswana, Shangani, Venda, Ndebele, Khoisan, Sotho, Tonga, and Sign language. 

Despite the country’s numerous official languages, most of them are not promoted. Even though the Constitution categorically states that all the official languages be treated equally, English, Shona, and Ndebele are much more popular than others.  About 70% of the Zimbabwean populace speak Shona, and about 20% speak Ndebele as their first language. English is widely spoken by natives as a second language and used as an official language of communication and instruction in most government institutions. 

So if the bulk of Zimbabwe’s official languages are losing popularity, why are they still in the constitution? Apparently, the country’s Constitution only allows the addition of official languages but does not permit any language from being expunged. So, unless the Constitution is amended, the list of official languages can only go up.

3. South Africa 

With about 11 official languages, South Africa sits third on the list of countries with the most official languages in the world. Out of over 35 native languages spoken in South Africa, 10 serve as the nation’s official language. The 11th is English, which is most widely used in parliamentary deliberations. All official languages are enjoying equal legal status as enshrined in the constitution. Other unofficial languages spoken in the country are also protected by the constitution.  

The official languages in South Africa are English, Xhosa, Afrikaans, Ndebele, Tswana, Zulu, Veda, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, and Tsonga.  

The most widely spoken First language in the country is the Zulu language, spoken by 23% of The most widely spoken native language in the country is the Zulu language, spoken by 23% of the inhabitants of South Africa. Xhosa is the nations second most popular language, spoken by 16% of the population. Afrikaans and English follows closely with a 14% and 9.6% speaking population respectively.

4. Bolivia

Bolivia 1024x579 1 7 Countries with the Most Official Languages in the World
Bolivia januar 2009. Urbefolkningskvinner på vei hjem fra MAS-kongressen i Oruro.

The Bolivian constitution outlines 38 ethnic groups and languages, but only four languages are given legal status. The most recognized languages in Bolivia are Spanish and Quechua spoken by 84% and 81% of the citizenry respectively. Aymara a language spoken majorly by the people of the Bolivian Andes, is the third most popular official language whose speakers constitute 18% of the nation’s population. Despite being listed as an official language, Guarani is a language that only became written recently. Under one percent of Bolivians speak the language.

5. Singapore

As a country with a colonial past and strong ties with China, Singapore has many official languages. They are English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil. English is due to the island nations history as a British colony. It is the language used in schools, official government correspondence and is the language of business. Mandarin Chinese is also a widely spoken language made official to accommodate the teeming Chinese population. Malay, spoken by 18% of Singaporeans, is the national language. The last official language is Tamil, representing the 8% of Singaporeans who are of Indian origin.

6. Switzerland

Switzerland recognizes four official languages: French, German, Italian and Romansh. The country is known as a Willensnation, the product of an agreement between its 26 cantons to come together as a nation. These cantons or administrative blocs all have distinct languages, as they were historically independent states with armies, borders, language and customs. German is spoken by 63% of Swiss, while 20% of the nation speak French. Eight percent of the population speak Italian and Romansh, the least popular of the official languages, only has 60,000 speakers. Romansh is predominantly spoken in the Swiss canton of Grisons.

7. Papua New Guinea

Of its numerous native dialects, the country has adopted three as its official language. This includes; PNG Sign Language, Tok Pisin, and Hiri Motu. English is also an official language, introduced by former colonizers Australia, and currently spoken by nearly 2% of the population. Tok Pisin is the most popular language, spoken by almost 5 million inhabitants.

Countries With Three Official Languages

A significant number of countries have adopted three languages as their official language. Going by data provided by indy100.com, wikipedia, and our research these countries include Bosnia, Belgium, Rwanda, Seychelles, and Vanuatu. Bosnia has three official languages, Serbia, Bosnian, and Croatian. Although the three official languages share many similarities, the main language widely spoken by Bosnian citizens is the Bosnian language.  

Belgium adopts three languages as official languages. The three languages enjoy equal legal status and protection as enshrined in the country’s constitution. The languages include Flemish, French, and German. Out of the three official languages, the Flemish language is spoken by 59% of the Belgian population. The French language is spoken by 40% of the population, and the German language is spoken by 1% percent of the population.

In Rwanda, French, English, and Kinyarwanda serve as the official languages. Whereas, Vanuatu adopts its native tongue Bislama, along with English and French. Seychelles speaks Seselwa, French Creole and English.

Answers To Some Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. How many official languages are in the world? 

There are over 114 official languages in the world. This figure was obtained from data extracted from the CIA World Facebook

The top 5 languages spoken worldwide are; English, Chinese (Mandarin), Hindi, Spanish, and standard Arabic. Statista provided this ranking in an article published in March 2021. 

The results showed an estimated 1.35 billion people speak English, globally, as a native or second language. Mandarin or the Chinese language comes close, taking the second position with 1.12 billion speakers. While, a lesser percentage of them speak Hindi, Spanish, and Arabic. 

Q3. What is the official international language of the world? 

English is the world’s global language at the time of writing. An international language is widely recognized and used beyond its national borders. The English language’s widespread usage has made it possible for members of different countries to communicate in a common language.  

Q4. Which country has the most official languages in the world? 

Officially, Zimbabwe holds the record of the most official languages worldwide. Its 16 languages are recognized nationally by Zimbabwe’s constitution. The Guinness World Records recognizes Zimbabwe as having the highest number of official languages. Although India has more official languages, they are only recognized at the regional level, thereby giving Zimbabwe the edge.

Q5. What is the difference between a national language and an official language?

National languages are dialects that enjoy formal use in schools and in the general public. However, they may not serve as the official language of the country. For example, many former colonies adopt native languages as national languages. Although these national dialects enjoy formal use in schools and other public institutions, the language of their colonial masters serves as the official language. It is also important to note that non-sovereign or stateless nations lack the judicial power to adopt any language as an official language. All the languages used would be categorized as national languages.  

Q6. What are the world’s oldest languages? 

The oldest languages in the world are Sanskrit, Hebrew, Sumerian, and Basque. They are considered the oldest because there are written records of them. However, these languages may not be the oldest after all. It is almost impossible to tell if older languages exist due to a lack of evidence. Hence, spoken languages were not considered. 

Q7. Which languages are going extinct?

About 231 languages have gone extinct over the years. Also, one language or dialect goes extinct every two weeks according to recent projections. 

Q8. What is the origin of language 

It is still uncertain when the first human language was invented. Nonetheless, experts believe modern man must have used languages since as far back as 100,000 BC when the time man developed the tools for speech: the voice box, skull size, and brain. 

Q9. Can one get smarter by learning a new language?

You can get smarter by learning a new language. Scientists say that becoming multilingual can increase brain power. There is also scientific research that suggests the ageing process of the mind can be slowed down by speaking more than one language. 

Adios

All forms of communication – verbal or non-verbal, are integral aspects of our daily lives. Language plays a crucial role in communication. We don’t know where or when it all began, but we can see the role language plays in our society. Bonds are formed and lifetime partnerships are created with the use of languages.  

Language forms the basis of our human interactions and learning a new language can make your travel, work, or study a lot easier.

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