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Many countries have a language policy designed to favour or discourage the use of a particular language or set of languages. Although nations historically have used language policies most often to promote one official language at the expense of others, many countries now have policies designed to protect and promote regional and ethnic languages whose viability is threatened.

Language Policy is what a government does either officially through legislation, court decisions or policy to determine how languages are used, cultivate language skills needed to meet national priorities or to establish the rights of individuals or groups to use and maintain languages.


The preservation of cultural and linguistic diversity in today's world is a major concern to many scientists, artists, writers, politicians, leaders of linguistic communities, and defenders of linguistic human rights. Up to one half of the 6000 languages currently spoken in the world are estimated to be in danger of disappearing during the 21st century. Many factors affect the existence and usage of any given human language, including the size of the native speaking population, its use in formal communication, and the geographical dispersion and the socio-economic weight of its speakers. National language policies can either mitigate or exacerbate the effects of some of these factors.

Types of language policies

What follows below is one of many ways in which language policies can be categorized. It was elaborated by Université Lavalmarker sociolinguist Jacques Leclerc for the French-language Web site L'aménagement linguistique dans le monde put on line by the CIRAL in 1999. The collecting, translating and classifying of language policies started in 1988 and culminated in the publishing of Recueil des législations linguistiques dans le monde (vol. I to VI) at Presses de l'Université Laval in 1994. The work, containing some 470 language laws, and the research leading to publication, were subsidized by the Office québécois de la langue française. In April 2008, the Web site presented the linguistic portrait and language policies in 354 States or autonomous territories in 194 recognized countries.

Policies of assimilation

A policy of assimilation is one that uses strong measures to accelerate the downsizing of one or more linguistic minority group(s).The ultimate goal of such policies is to foster national unity inside a state (based on the idea that a single language in the country will favor that end). The measures taken by States enforcing such policies may include banning the social use of a given language, the exclusion and social devaluation of a language group and in extreme cases repression by force and even genocide. Leclerc, Jacques. "Politiques d'assimiation" in L'aménagement linguistique dans le monde, Québec, TLFQ, Université Lavalmarker, retrieved on April 29, 2008 (in French).

These policies are to be distinguished from all other policies which it could be argued favor or lead to assimilation of members of minority groups as a result of non-intervention or insufficient measures of protection. In practice, all States enforce, implicitly, policies leading to assimilation with regards to immigrant groups and in numerous cases aboriginal groups and other national minorities.

Jurisdictions having such a policy:

Burmamarker - Indonesiamarker - Iranmarker - Iraqmarker - Russiamarker - Thailandmarker - Vietnammarker - Francemarker - Slovakiamarker

Policies of non-intervention

A policy of non-intervention consists in choosing to allow the normal rapport between the main linguistic group and the minorities evolve on its own. This almost invariably favours the dominant group. Sometimes, such policies are accompanied by administrative measures protecting certain minorities.

Jurisdictions having such a policy:

Angolamarker - Argentinamarker - Australia - Austriamarker - Bangladeshmarker - Beninmarker - Burkina Fasomarker - Chilemarker - Democratic Republic of the Congomarker - Côte d'Ivoiremarker - Cubamarker - Czech Republicmarker - Dominicamarker - Dominican Republicmarker - Ecuadormarker - Gabonmarker - Ghanamarker - Germanymarker - Gibraltarmarker - Guineamarker - Guyanamarker - Iranmarker- Jamaicamarker - Japanmarker - Liechtensteinmarker - Malimarker - Nebraskamarker - Nicaraguamarker - Saint Kitts and Nevismarker - Saint Luciamarker - Saint Vincent and the Grenadinesmarker - El Salvadormarker - San Marinomarker - Saudi Arabiamarker - Senegalmarker - United Kingdom - Uruguaymarker - Venezuelamarker - Vermontmarker

Policies of differentiated legal status

A policy that recognizes a different legal status for a given language usually aims at allowing the coexistence of multiple linguistic groups inside a state. Typically, the majority has all its linguistic rights secured and sometimes promoted while the minority or minorities are given special protection for their language.

Jurisdictions having such a policy:

Albaniamarker - Bosnia and Herzegovinamarker - Bulgariamarker - Californiamarker - Chinamarker - Croatiamarker - Estoniamarker - European Council - Republic of Macedoniamarker - Guatemalamarker - Latviamarker - Lithuaniamarker - Manitobamarker - Ontariomarker - Netherlandsmarker - New Mexicomarker - Paraguaymarker - Quebecmarker - Portugalmarker - Romaniamarker - Slovakiamarker - Spainmarker - Swedenmarker - Walesmarker - Yukonmarker

Policies of promotion of the official language

A policy favouring the official language is a policy of unilingualism. Sometimes, it favours the (or a) national language, sometimes it favours a colonial language with a strong influence internationally. In some cases, such policies are accompanied by measures recognizing and protecting minority languages or indigenous languages. This approach may be considered in two broadly different types of situations: where the official language is also the first language of the majority of the population, and where it is not.

Jurisdictions having such a policy:

Ålandmarker - Albaniamarker - Algeriamarker - Andorramarker - Azerbaijanmarker - Brazilmarker - Californiamarker - Cambodiamarker - Colombiamarker - Cyprusmarker - Croatiamarker - East Timormarker - Egyptmarker - Estoniamarker - Indiamarker - Iranmarker - Icelandmarker - Israelmarker - Italymarker - Japanmarker - Kuwaitmarker - Latviamarker - Lebanonmarker - Lithuaniamarker - Republic of Macedoniamarker - Madagascarmarker - Moroccomarker - Mexicomarker - Moldovamarker - Montenegromarker - North Koreamarker - Nepalmarker - Perumarker - Philippinesmarker - Polandmarker - Quebecmarker - Saint-Pierre and Miquelonmarker - Sloveniamarker - Somaliamarker - South Koreamarker - Sri Lankamarker - Tunisiamarker - Ukrainemarker - Uzbekistanmarker - Vietnammarker - Voivodinamarker

Sectoral policies

A language policy is said to be sectoral when it concerns only a subset of the possible sectors generally considered by global language policies. Examples of common sectoral policies are those which only deal with matters of education, or corpus planning, or the status of a language in the civil government and justice system, etc.

Bilingualism or trilingualism policies

A policy favouring the two official languages is a policy of bilingualism. There are many different ways in which these policies can be applied.

Based on non-territorialized individual rights

A policy of bilingualism based on non-territorialised individual rights recognizes the same rights to all members of a community whatever their location on the national territory.

Belarusmarker - Burundimarker - Canada - Central African Republicmarker - Chadmarker - Djiboutimarker - Guammarker - Hong Kongmarker - Republic of Irelandmarker - Kenyamarker - Kiribatimarker - Maltamarker - Nauru - New Brunswickmarker - New Zealandmarker - Northwest Territoriesmarker - Norwaymarker - Nunavutmarker - Rwandamarker - Samoamarker - South Africa - Tanzania - Tongamarker - Tuvalumarker

Based on territorialised individual rights

A language policy based on territorialised individual rights recognizes the same rights to all members of a community within a specific region.

Aosta Valleymarker - Balearic Islandsmarker - Basque Countrymarker - Brandenburgmarker - Brittany - Cataloniamarker - Channel Islands - Corsicamarker - Faroemarker - Finlandmarker - Friuli Venezia Giulia - Galiciamarker - Hawaiimarker - Isle of Manmarker - Micronesia - Navarremarker - Northern Irelandmarker - Nicaraguamarker - Philippinesmarker - Sardinia - Scotlandmarker - Sicily - Sindmarker - Sloveniamarker (Istriamarker and Prekmurje) - Swedenmarker - Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol - Valencian Communitymarker - Walesmarker

Based on territorial rights

Belgiummarker - Cameroonmarker - Fribourgmarker - Grisonsmarker - Switzerlandmarker - Ticinomarker - Valaismarker - Ålandmarker

Linguistic internationalization policies

An internationalization policy is one whereby a State exercises supremacy on the linguistic code beyond its borders.

Germanymarker - United Statesmarker - France - Portugalmarker

Strategic multilingualism policies

South Africa - Netherlands Antillesmarker - Arubamarker - Australia - Federal Belgiummarker - Belizemarker - Comorosmarker - Ethiopiamarker - Fidjimarker - Gagauziamarker - Hungarymarker - Indiamarker - Lebanonmarker - Luxembourgmarker - Malaysiamarker - Maurice - Mauritaniamarker - Moldovamarker - Namibiamarker - Nigermarker - Nigeriamarker - Pakistanmarker - Papua New Guineamarker - Philippinesmarker - Seychellesmarker - Singaporemarker - Sloveniamarker - Sudanmarker - Surinamemarker - Vatican Citymarker - Vojvodinamarker - Zimbabwemarker

Mixed linguistic policies

Mixed policies are possible when a State enforces different types of language policies at the same time.

Non-intervention (official language) and sectoral policies for minorities

Austriamarker - Czech Republicmarker - Germanymarker - Panamamarker - Tajikistanmarker - United Statesmarker

Non-intervention (official language) and assimilation policy for minorities

Northern Irelandmarker - Botswanamarker

Promotion of the official language and differentiated for minorities

Albaniamarker - Californiamarker - Chilemarker - Croatiamarker - Estoniamarker - Kirghistanmarker - Latviamarker - Lithuaniamarker - Guatemalamarker - Macedoniamarker - Montenegromarker - Romaniamarker - Slovakiamarker - Quebecmarker

Promotion of the official language and sectoral policies for minorities

Armeniamarker - Australia - Cyprusmarker - Costa Ricamarker - Greecemarker - French Polynesiamarker - Serbiamarker - Tajikistanmarker - Togomarker - Zambiamarker

Promotion of the official language and non-intervention for other languages

Lesothomarker - São Tomé and Príncipemarker - Omanmarker - Swazilandmarker - Yemenmarker

Promotion of the official language, assimilation policy and territorial bilingualism for minorities

Bosniamarker - Hong-Kongmarker - Kosovomarker - Pakistanmarker - Turkmenistanmarker - Transnistriamarker - Vietnammarker - (Serbiamarker)

Language boards

See also

  • Directions of language policies:
*Linguistic imperialism
*Linguistic protectionism and Linguistic purism
*Linguistic separatism

  • Some case studies:
*Europe: European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages
:*Belgium: Language legislation in Belgium
:*Croatia: Croatian linguistic purism
:*Finland: Finland's language strife
:*France: Language policy in France
:*Germany: Germanization
:*Latvia: Language policy in Latvia
:*Poland: Polonization
:*Slovakia: Language law of Slovakia, Slovakization
:*Spain: Language politics in Francoist Spain
:*Former Soviet Union: Russification, Ukrainianization, Education in the Soviet Union
:*United Kingdom: Welsh Not
*Canada: Bilingualism in Canada, Official Language Act
*Pakistan: Bengali Language Movement
*Arab world: Arabisation


  1. Leclerc, Jacques. "Historique du site du CIRAL au TLFQ" in L'aménagement linguistique dans le monde, Québec, TLFQ, Université Laval, August 16, 2007 (in French).
  2. Leclerc, Jacques. "Page d'accueil" in L'aménagement linguistique dans le monde, Québec, TLFQ, Université Laval, 2007 (in French).


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