What are multilingual countries? Here are some examples from Europe and around the world.
Does each country have only one official language? As you probably may know, this is not the case. Different historical and cultural implications are the reason why some countries allow two, and sometimes even more official languages to be officially used. By definition, they are multilingual countries, examples of which you will find both in Europe and around the world. What are the most interesting of them?
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What does it mean that a country is multilingual?
Let’s start by defining what multilingual countries actually are. As it turns out, there is no officially and universally accepted explanation of this concept. So there’s no point in trying to look for it in any encyclopaedia. A clue can be found in a Wikipedia article under the heading “multilingualism”. It shows that it is a term referring to a situation in which a given individual or a social group uses two or more native languages.
When following this particular method of reasoning, a multilingual person is someone who speaks at least two mother tongues. When you apply this term to an entire country, it can be said that a multilingual state is one in which there are at least two languages considered native to its inhabitants. It is worth remembering that they may function as official languages or they may just be present and used in everyday speech without necessarily being official.
Is Poland a multilingual country?
When you take into account the above definition, virtually every country in the world can be considered a multilingual country and Poland is no exception here. Although Polish is the only official language used in this country, there are locally recognised supporting languages as well. In 22 communes, German is such a supporting language, in 5 communes Belarusian and Kashubian, while Lithuanian is official in 1 commune. The reasons for this are always the same – the specific areas are highly populated by national minorities so recognising their language as official in communes where many representatives of these minorities live on a daily basis should come as no surprise to anyone.
Multilingual countries in Europe where several languages are in official use
History and cultural implications are always the reason why several languages are officially recognised in a particular country. Let’s take a closer look at Switzerland, for instance. It is located on the border of the influence of three different major cultural centres: German, French and Italian. Hence German, French and Italian are recognized as official languages in this country. However, it is worth pointing out that Switzerland officially recognizes the Romansh language as well, which is spoken by the people living mainly in the canton of Graubünden, located in the east of Switzerland.
Luxembourg with three official languages
Switzerland is not the only European country with several official languages. Due to its complicated history, Luxembourg is another example of a multilingual country, where the following official languages can be used officially: German, French and Luxembourgish. Interestingly, the last of them has only recently been considered a separate language. Previously, it was treated as one of the dialects of the German language.
Other multilingual countries of Europe
It is worth keeping in mind that cultural and historical issues are not always the reasons for a given language becoming the official language. It is also due to practical reasons and this is exactly what happened in Malta, where besides Maltese, English is also considered official and it has nothing to do with cultural heritage. Malta is a tourist country that has the ambition to attract investors from abroad. Recognising English as an official language has a practical dimension and is aimed at making it easier for foreign entrepreneurs to run a business in this country.
Multilingual countries with supporting languages
As we mentioned earlier, Poland is an example of a multilingual country with local official supporting languages. In this respect, we are no exception in Europe. It is similar, for example, in Italy (German and French are locally allowed), in the Netherlands (Frisian) or in Norway (Sámi languages).
The largest number of supporting languages in Europe can be found in Russia, where it is allowed to use: Ossetic, Ukrainian, Buryat, Kalmyk, Chechen, Ingush, Abaza, Adyghe, Cherkess, Kabardian, Altai, Bashkir, Chuvash, Crimean Tatar, Karachay-Balkar, Khakas, Nogai, Tatar, Tuvan, Yakut, Erzya, Komi, Hill Mari, Meadow Mari, Moksha, and Udmurt. There are 35 of them in total.
Which country has the most official languages?
Switzerland, mentioned above, is one of the countries with almost the largest number of official languages allowed. In addition to this country, there are also four official languages in Singapore (Mandarin, Malay, Tamil and English). However, those countries are not record holders, because in Guinea there are 9 such languages (French and 8 national languages), and in South Africa as many as 11 (Afrikaans, English, Xhosa, Ndebele, Pedi, Soto, Swaziland, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda and Zulu). Admittedly, officials in South Africa must be genuine linguists if they are to perform their duties diligently.
Which language is the official one in most countries?
The fact that English is most often regarded as official should be treated as a curiosity. It functions in this capacity in as many as 60 countries, which is an absolutely record-breaking achievement. Especially considering the fact that the second most popular French in this respect is recognized as official in 30 countries, which is exactly half as much. The third language in terms of official use is Arabic, which is spoken in 24 countries. Spanish, on the other hand, is official for 20 countries.
The most multilingual countries in the world
It is worth noting that having multiple official languages does not make a country the most multilingual in the world. Taking into account the criterion of everyday speech, even those 11 official languages in South Africa do not make a big impression. Take India, for example. Although only Hindi is official in the country, English and 21 other locally recognized languages are the supporting languages, there are as many as 400 live languages in total used there.
While it may sound impressive, try comparing it to the languages used in Papua New Guinea. Theoretically, only three languages were recognized as official there (English, Tok Pisin and Hiri Motu). However, there are as many as 851 languages in everyday use, which is an absolute world record. Keep in mind that the official population of this country is less than 7 million people. To better illustrate this scale, it is enough to mention that it is about 12% of all the world’s languages. Impressive, right?
Good translations are the key to communication
The fact that multilingual countries are not uncommon at all shows a simple correlation. Linguistic diversity has always existed and will continue to exist in the future. It is also difficult to communicate in all languages, as it is estimated that there are around 7,000 of them spoken worldwide. At the same time, trouble-free communication is the key when it comes to the functioning of the international community. If you want to understand and be understood, it is worth ensuring that you have good translations available whenever needed. Especially when you think about professionalising your blog, your company or any other messages that you address to foreign recipients. We will be happy to help you with this. All you need to do is fill out a simple form and order a written or sworn translation. It will only take you 5 minutes.