Official language

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An official language is one that is given political recognition in a region, usually a state, and is typically used in national parliaments or conferences, bureaucracy and law courts. Often these languages are widely-spoken in the territory where they have been made official, but in many cases they are not the first or second languages of many people. For example, English is an official language of South Africa, but most South African citizens have other native languages. Conversely, the fact that a language is widely-spoken in a region is no guide to its legal status: English is not an 'official language' by law in either the United Kingdom, where it originated, or in the United States at a national level. Frequently, an official language serves a unifying purpose, allowing peoples of differing linguistic backgrounds to communicate, or it allows communication with speakers from other countries by virtue of also being an international lingua franca.

Language policy

Various degrees of official recognition are possible, and different ways of thinking (ideologies) may determine what language(s) become official in a society. If the predominant belief of decision-makers includes a policy of internationalisation, for example, then a non-indigenous language may be made official, e.g. as a lingua franca to communicate with foreign countries or between groups within the country. An example of this is English in Singapore, where it became necessary for indigenous and immigrant groups of diverse linguistic origins to find a common language. Related to this is what can be called vernacularisation, where an indigenous language is standardised and made 'official'. This happened in India, where Hindi was awarded official status, with English a subsidiary official language.[1]


  1. Wardhaugh (2006: 357-358).

See also