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An official language is a language that is given a special legal status in a particular country, state, or other territory. Typically a nation's official language will be the one used in that nation's courts, parliament and administration. However, official status can also be used to give a language (often indigenous) a legal status, even if that language is not widely spoken. For example, in New Zealandmarker the Māori language has official status under the Māori Language Act even though it is spoken by less than five percent of the New Zealand population. Non-national or supra-national organizations such as the United Nations and the European Union may also have official languages.


Official language status is often connected with wider political issues of sovereignty, cultural nationalism, and the rights of indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities, including immigrant communities. For example, the campaign to make English the de jure official language of the United States is often seen as a way of marginalizing non English-speaking minorities, particularly Hispanic and Latino Americans, whereas in the Republic of Ireland the decision to make the Irish language an official language was part of a wider program of cultural revitalization and Gaelic nationalism. Various indigenous rights movements have sought greater recognition of their languages, often through official language status.

See also


  1. "OFFICIAL LANGUAGE", Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language, Ed. Tom McArthur, Oxford University Press, 1998.
  2. Statistics New Zealand:Language spoken (total responses) for the 1996-2006 censuses (Table 16)

  • Akira Nakanishi (1990) "Writing Systems of the World: Alphabets, Syllabaries, Pictograms", ISBN 0804816549 — the book lists official languages of the countries of the world, among other information, although it contains errors; e.g., it names English as the official language of the United States.

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