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What influences a country having, or not having, an official language?

Politifact mentions that there are 14 countries without an official language:

There are 196 nations, according to infoplease.com, an online almanac. The CIA lists no official language for 14 of them. Aside from the U.S., they are American Samoa, Australia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Holy See, Iceland, Jamaica, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Mexico, San Marino and the United Kingdom.

There doesn't seem to be much in common with regards to the countries that lack an official language. Some of them are democracies (the USA, Australia, South Korea), one of them is a totalitarian state (North Korea), the national languages differ (English, Japanese, Korean), and the culture of the peoples differ (some are predominantly Christian, while at least one is predominantly Buddhist).

Does a country being fairly monolingual affect whether or not a country has an official language? I assumed it would, but some countries have a single official language - only 101 out of 178 countries have more than one official language (yes, that 178 countries is different from what Politifact is saying - "what is a country?" may be a difficult concept)

Does the degree of nationalism of a country affect it? Are there any other factors?

  • As far as I can tell those countries only pass legislation in one language at national level, and thus maintain a de facto official language. Are we free to assume from this that your question is what affects the lack of legislative statements naming one specific language as officially recognised? – origimbo Nov 13 '16 at 4:37
  • After a bit more research, it seems that the CIA haven't been keeping up to date with Icelandic politics: eng.menntamalaraduneyti.is/media/frettir2015/… – origimbo Nov 13 '16 at 9:33
  • @origimbo must be paying too much attention to Sweden! – Andrew Grimm Nov 13 '16 at 9:34
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An entirely monolingual country has no need to define an official language, as the question would never arise.

It is only if there 2 (or more) languages spoken in a country that a decision needs to be made as to which are 'official'. The language(s) that end up as being 'official' or the ones whose speakers have sufficient political clout to ensure their language is protected. For example, Spain has only a single official language (Castilian) even though 17% of Spanish Citizens primarily speak Catalan.

BTW while it is true that the USA and UK don't have official languages, their constituent parts may do, e.g. Hawaii and Wales both have 2 official languages.

  • 2
    I think that in the spirit of the original question, Wales only has one de jure "official" language. The act declares Welsh to have official status, but doesn't state the same to be true of English. Of course the meaning is fairly clearly what you suggest. legislation.gov.uk/mwa/2011/1/section/1/enacted – origimbo Nov 13 '16 at 9:27
  • @origimbo that's surprising - AFAIK English became an official language of New Zealand when it made Maori and New Zealand Sign Language official languages. – Andrew Grimm Nov 13 '16 at 9:35
  • The legislation @origimbo linked to states this: the Welsh and English languages [are] to be treated on the basis of equality in the conduct of the proceedings of the National Assembly for Wales which to my mind is granting equal 'official' stature to 2 languages. – Jonno Nov 13 '16 at 9:40
  • @Jonno Downes: Ah, but paragraph (4) states "This Measure does not affect the status of the English language in Wales.". Which means it continues as de facto official with legal status, not through legislation. – origimbo Nov 13 '16 at 9:50
  • @origimbo if there was any ambiguity as to the official status of English in Wales, it was removed by the passage of : this: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… – Jonno Nov 13 '16 at 10:10

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