Tuesday, June 18, 2024

The Countries With Many Official Languages in the World


We’ll look at the list of countries with many official languages, and explore the legal status of language as an official language in countries worldwide.  A language recognized as the universal language of a nation and accorded legal standing inside that nation, state, or other jurisdiction is called an official language.

Governmental agencies, educational institutions, and other settings frequently utilize one official language. Around 100 of the 178 countries worldwide recognize more than one official language. One hundred seventy-eight countries have at least one official language, with many recognizing English as an official language alongside other languages.

Several nations have provisions in their constitutions that allow for the recognition of a certain language as official.

English is the most widely used official language, having been approved in fifty-one nations. The official languages of Spain, French, and Arabic are also widely used.  Any language used in state government proceedings is considered an official language. You have undoubtedly wondered which country with the most official languages, South Africa, could be a contender for this world record.

Remember that some nations designate one language as their official language over their whole territory, while others only designate one language as official in specific areas.

More than 6,500 languages are spoken worldwide, so having more than one official language is common for nations.

Why are there multiple official languages in a country?

One of the primary motivations is the integration of various racial and ethnic groups, whether at the time of the nation’s creation or later. Having many official languages honours a country’s heritage and indigenous population while enhancing the sense of belonging that residents can experience.

Why are there multiple official languages in a country - The Countries With Many Official Languages in the World

Due to colonization or imperialism, some languages are official in Africa, America, and some regions of Asia. Spanish, Portuguese, English, and French are examples of languages still used in former colonies centuries after their independence.

Finally, cultural ties or economic motivations are the last justifications for multilingualism. Many governments have decided to include an official language to improve their chances of being in the marketplace or connecting with neighbours.

We now understand why certain nations have multiple official languages, although this is not necessarily good. Governments and most multilingual countries need help interacting with the populace.

For instance, Indonesia has around 700 active languages, setting a world record for linguistic diversity. Bahasa Indonesian is the only official language, though.

Countries With The Highest Number of Official Languages

  1. Bolivia
  2. Castilian (Spanish)
  3. Aymara
  4. Araona
  5. Baure
  6. Bésiro (Chiquitano)
  7. Canichana
  8. Cavineño
  9. Cayubaba
  10. Chácobo
  11. Chimán
  12. Ese Ejja
  13. Guaraní
  14. Guarasu’we
  15. Guarayu
  16. Itonama
  17. Leco
  18. Machajuyai-Kallawaya
  19. Machineri
  20. Maropa
  21. Mojeño-Ignaciano
  22. Mojeño-Trinitario
  23. Moré
  24. Mosetén
  25. Movima
  26. Pacawara
  27. Puquina
  28. Quechua
  29. Sirionó
  30. Tacana
  31. Tapieté
  32. Toromona
  33. Uru-Chipaya
  34. Weenhayek
  35. Yaminawa
  36. Yuki
  37. Yuracaré
  38. Zamuco

Countries With the most languages

1. Bolivia

The Bolivian government and the departmental governments must operate in at least two languages: one must be Spanish, and the other must be chosen based on the area’s specific needs and conditions.

Bolivia - The Countries With Many Official Languages in the World

Additionally, native languages were taught in the nation’s schools alongside Spanish.

Bolivia’s national song has been translated into six indigenous languages: Mojeño-Trinitario, Guaraní, Guarayu, Quechua, Aymara, and Bésiro-Chiquitano.

Most people in Bolivia speak Spanish as their mother tongue (4-5 million speakers) or as a second language, with 4.5 million people speaking it fluently.

More than two million people speak Quechua, making it the nation’s most widely used indigenous language and underscoring its role as a common language among most of the population in certain regions. The Quechua people speak it as their primary language.  Quetzal is the nation’s most widely spoken indigenous language, with over two million speakers.

There are just a few native American languages with more than a million speakers, including Aymara. One of the few Native American languages with more than a million speakers is Aymara. Although the relationship between Aymara and Quechua has not been established, several linguists held this belief. Because speakers of the two languages have interacted frequently, they have parallels.

2. Zimbabwe

When its original constitution was adopted in 1976, Zimbabwe had no official languages. However, a new constitution drafted in 2013 has given Zimbabwe 16 official languages.

Zimbabwe has 16 official languages: English, Shona, Ndebele, Shangani, Sotho, Venda, Kalanga, Nambya, Chewa, sign language, Tonga, Chibarwe, Ndau, Tswana, Koisan, and Xhosa. Shone, Ndebele, and English are the most widely spoken languages. While travelling in Zimbabwe in tourist areas, you’ll find many people who speak English.

According to the Constitution, Zimbabwe must promote each official language equally in the government and the schools. One interesting feature about Zimbabwe is that, while a new language can be added to the list of official languages, it cannot be removed, ensuring that once a language attains the status of an official language of the country, it is permanently recognized.

Zimbabwe - The Countries With Many Official Languages in the World

In the late 1800s, British colonists introduced English. English is primarily spoken as a second language despite having a low native-speaker population. In addition to other languages, it is utilized for education and official business.

Most people in the center and eastern regions of Zimbabwe speak Shona, illustrating the cultural significance of minority languages. Due to the Shona tribe’s historical dominance and the continued importance of Shona culture, around 70% of Zimbabweans talk to Shona. The majority of Shona speakers reside in Zimbabwe’s east and central regions.

Ndebele is the second most spoken language in Zimbabwe, spoken as the first language by almost 20% of the population. It is primarily spoken in the province of Matabeleland in western Zimbabwe.

3. South Africa

There are roughly 34 historically recognized languages in South Africa, making it one of the countries in the world with a record number of official languages. However, only 11 are recognized as official languages by the South African Constitution.  There are 11 official languages in South Africa.

Sepedi (also called Sesotho sa Leboa), Sesotho, Setswana, siSwati, Tshivenda, Xitsonga, Afrikaans, English, isiNdebele, isiXhosa, and isiZulu are the eleven official languages recognized by the South African constitution.

Most South Africans are multilingual, and there is frequently a diglossia between the official and informal language forms for those who speak the latter.

The most widely spoken language among South Africans as a first language is Zulu. With 12 million native speakers and 15 million second language learners, Zulu is South Africans’ most widely spoken first language, demonstrating its official status and cultural importance. More than half of the population speaks Zulu as a whole.

South Africa - The Countries With Many Official Languages in the World
Xhosa is primarily spoken in the Cape’s eastern, western, Gauteng, and northern regions. With 8 million native speakers and 11 million speakers of the language as a second language, Xhosa holds a prominent place among South Africa’s culturally significant minority languages. It is most commonly used in the Northern Cape, Gauteng, Eastern Cape, and Western Cape.

A dialect of South Holland introduced to South Africa in the 1600s gave rise to the Dutch language known as Afrikaans. Of all the languages, Afrikaans is the third most spoken, with 17 million speakers. Afrikaans is the most frequently spoken and understood second or third language in South Africa, with the largest geographic and racial spread of any of the country’s 11 official languages.

The media, commerce, and government all primarily utilize English. English is spoken as a first language by roughly 10% of South Africans and as a second or third language by about 20% of the population, highlighting its role as a common official language in a multilingual country.

4. Switzerland

Switzerland, a landlocked nation known for its watches and chocolate, has four official languages.

Switzerland is among the countries with the most official languages in the World, with Italian, French, German, and Romansh as its official languages. It borders Italy, France, Germany, Austria, and the Principality of Liechtenstein, each with its own culturally significant language. The four languages are mainly limited to particular localities even though speakers of these languages are found all over the nation.

French, Italian, Romansh, and German are the four official languages. They are all spoken in various places, making it ideal for any foreign student!

About 65 percent of Switzerland’s region is where German is spoken. The German-speaking portion of Switzerland, which includes most of the Swiss Plateau, North-Western, Eastern, Central Switzerland, and the Swiss Alps, makes up around 65% of the entire territory.

Swiss German is the term for the German dialect that is spoken there. It is a collection of Alemannic dialects no longer spoken in Austria or Germany. That being said, German and Swiss German are not the same. They aren’t the same at all.

Switzerland - The Countries With Many Official Languages in the World

The Swiss are mostly dialect speakers, but they learn Standard German in school from an early age, making it the de facto national language in the education system. As a result, they are fine conversing with German speakers, Austrians, and others.

The popular Swiss destination Geneva is only accessible in French. Most of the 20% of Swiss citizens who speak French live in the country’s western region, which is adjacent to France. Thus, Geneva, a well-liked Swiss destination, speaks only French.

The percentage of people who speak Italian has been declining since fewer immigrants from Italy are immigrating to Switzerland, impacting the cultural landscape and the spread of minority languages. Italian is Switzerland’s third most spoken language, with little less than 8% of the population speaking it.

Despite its small speaker base, the southeastern canton of Grisons uses Romansh as a medium of government and education. Romansh speakers can thus communicate with the federal government in their tongue and anticipate receiving a Romansh response, highlighting its official status among Switzerland’s languages.

5. Singapore

This small island nation in Southeast Asia has four official languages. In addition to English, the three other languages were selected to reflect the major ethnic groups that makeup Singapore’s population.

Most Singaporeans speak two languages because of Singapore’s bilingual language education policy, which supports a dual-language learning system. Since 1960, elementary schools have required students to learn a second language, with English as the primary teaching language.

Singapore has four official languages: English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil.

Malays, also known as Bahasa Malaysia, are Singapore’s national language, illustrating the country’s linguistic diversity and the role of Malay as a common official language in a multilingual society.

The national language of Singapore is Malay, or Bahasa Melayu, which is spoken by about 13% of its people, serving as a de facto national language in culturally diverse multilingual countries. Malay was the primary language spoken in Singapore before the British takeover. The national anthem of Singapore is composed in Malay.

Singapore uses English as its primary language to conduct various activities.
Despite Malay being the official language of Singapore, English is the primary language utilized for various tasks. It is used in media, business, education (apart from mother tongue classes), and administration.

With over 37% of the population speaking English at home, Singapore is currently one of the English-speaking countries in Asia.

Singapore - The Countries With Many Official Languages in the World

According to the population census, Mandarin and other variants of Chinese are the most often spoken languages at home. Fifty-one percent of people utilize them.  As more young Singaporean Chinese speak and use English more frequently than Mandarin Chinese, the number of Mandarin speakers in Singapore has decreased. Nevertheless, the Singaporean government has been working to keep the language alive.

Around 76.7% of Singaporeans of Indian descent and 9.2% of the country’s population speak Tamil as their first language, giving it a de facto national language status among the minority languages. The Ministry of Education Curriculum Planning and Development Division controls language development by forbidding loanwords. Hence, Tamil is taught in schools purposefully and in its purest form.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which Country Has the Most Official Languages?

Bolivia holds the record for having the most official languages, with 37 recognized official languages.

Which Country Has 11 Official Languages?

South Africa has 11 official languages, including Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans, and English.

Which Country Has the Most Number of Languages?

Papua New Guinea is known for having the highest number of languages, with over 800 languages spoken throughout the country.

What Country Has 700 Languages?

Indonesia has approximately 700 languages, making it one of the most linguistically diverse nations in the world.

How Many Official Languages Does India Have?

India has two official languages at the national level: Hindi and English. However, it recognizes 22 languages as scheduled languages under the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution.

Frequently Asked Questions - The Countries With Many Official Languages in the World

Which Country Recognizes Sign Language as an Official Language?

Several countries, including New Zealand, South Africa, and Finland, recognize sign language as an official language alongside spoken languages.

What Is the Most Linguistically Diverse Country in Europe?

Switzerland is known for its linguistic diversity. With four official languages: German, French, Italian, and Romansh, this diversity reflects its unique cultural and geographical position in Europe.

Which Country Has the Most Indigenous Languages?

Papua New Guinea is home to many indigenous languages, with over 200 languages spoken by indigenous peoples across the country’s diverse regions.


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