An official language is a language that is given a unique legal status in a country, state, or other territory. It is primarily the language of the constitution, hence countries with no codified constitution have no official language. Most typically, the official language will be in line with the language used by the principal nationality or ethnic group. The law in many nations requires that government documents be produced in other languages as well.
Officially recognized minority languages are often mistaken for official languages. However, a language officially recognized by a state, taught in schools, and used in official communication is not necessarily an official language. For example, Ladin and Sardinian in Italy and Mirandese in Portugal are only officially recognized minority languages, not official languages in the strict sense.
Official languages are sometimes not the same as the medium of instruction and so, the two are not interchangeable.
Half of the world's countries have official languages. Some have only one official language, such as Albania, France, or Lithuania, despite the fact that in all these countries there are other native languages spoken as well. Some have more than one official language, such as Afghanistan, Belarus, Belgium, Bolivia, Canada, Eritrea, Finland, India, Paraguay, South Africa, and Switzerland.
In some countries, such as Iraq, Italy, Palau, Philippines, Russia and Spain, there is an official language for the country, but minority languages are used in some important regions (such as Kurdish in Northern Iraq). Some countries, such as Sweden, Tuvalu, United Kingdom, and the United States have no official language, although in most such cases there is a single de facto main language, as well as a range of government regulations and practices on which languages are expected to be used in various circumstances.
In contrast, Irish is the national language of the Republic of Ireland and its first official language, although it is spoken by perhaps less than a third of its people. English, which is spoken by nearly everyone, is described as the 'second official' language by Article 8 of the Constitution of Ireland. Irish is an official (treaty) language of the European Union and will become a full working language on 1 January 2007.
In some countries, the issue of which language is to be used and in which context is a major political issue; see List of countries where language is a political issue.
The United Nations, a supra-national body, has six official (primary) working languages: Chinese, Russian, Arabic, Spanish, French and English.
- Language policy
- Language planning
- List of official languages
- List of official languages by state
- List of countries where language is a political issue
- Literary language
- Official script
- Standard language
- Language Movement
- National languageaf:Amptelike taal
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