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This statistic says that 56% of Indian's don't speak Hindi, and this statistic says that only 10% speaks English but still English and Hindi are recognized by the government as official languages. Generally speaking, across different countries, what are the basis for such a choice of National language when the country has states which speak different languages?

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    I doubt there are many objective criteria, it's just based on tradition.
    – Barmar
    Aug 3, 2022 at 22:20
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    The reason for choosing Hindi as official language is that it's spoken by majority of the population as first language, though its near 50% only. Keeping English as the official language though it doesn't command that majority is because it acts as a bridge between people speaking different native languages & not knowing Hindi. 200 years of colonial rule has made English as the binding language in the Indian community Aug 4, 2022 at 3:22
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    Also, some countries don't have an official language. The UK is an example. Aug 4, 2022 at 6:43
  • @AnshulSahni It is also the case that across much of Asia, and I feel sure it is the case in India, English is widely spoken by the senior business community and the upper ranks of the bourgeoisie - officers in the armed forces, senior judges, politicians etc. Many of them will have studied in an English-speaking country.
    – WS2
    Aug 4, 2022 at 8:34
  • @JohnDallman The UK has no formally declared official language. Out of the books, it has gone great lengths to suppress the other languages of the United Kingdom, historically and nowadays (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welsh_Not theirishstory.com/2018/10/11/…)
    – Rekesoft
    Aug 4, 2022 at 10:31

1 Answer 1

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It has been said that Language is a dialect with an army and a navy. Although no general rules exist for how official languages are chosen for a country, there are several obvious considerations:

  • The languages that facilitate communication - that is most people in the country know the language. This may seem obvious in the US, but less obvious in Germany or Italy a century ago, where a different dialect was spoken in every region, sometimes not quite understandable to the rest. Even more extreme case is the use of English in India or French in some African countries - although a language of colonizers, it is often the only option for successful communication between peoples speaking distinct languages.
  • Underscoring national identity - language can be given a special status to underscore its historical and political meaning, as compared to other languages widely spoken in the country. Thus, in the post-Soviet space many countries degraded the status of Russian, despite the large fraction of their population speaking it as their mother tongue, and most of their population being highly proficient in it. One could specifically mention the Baltic countries and Ukraine. BCS (Bosnian, Croatian and Serb) is another example - formerly considered as a single language, these are now three different official languages in three different countries.
  • Upholding the rights of national groups - Switzerland is the most striking example of a country that opted for using multiple languages, representing the major population groups constituting the country. It has four official languages: Standard German (somewhat different from the dialect spoken by the native Swiss), French, Italian, and (more recently) Rätoromanisch. Until recently Arabic in Israel was also an official language, as the one of the significant minority, but its status had been now downgraded.

Remark Beside the official language(s), a country might have some other designations, giving limited importance to other languages, e.g., those spoken by significant minorities, neighbours, etc. Thus, some languages may have official status in specific regions, be taught in schools or can be used for tests — e.g., in New Jersey the driving license exam is available in a dozen of languages (for others an official translator is required).

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    Adding to Author's last point would like to mention the case of India, though Hindi and English are official languages of the Union Government, there are 22 languages listed in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution, which are officially regional languages. Provincial governments can choose one or more out of these and English (not in Eighth Schedule) as their official languages. Other than that there are around 122 languages & dialects, listed in official records having more than 10k speakers. According to the last census, more than 19k mother distinct mother tongues were recorded Aug 4, 2022 at 8:57
  • @AnshulSahni thank you - this is a valuable addition to my answer Aug 4, 2022 at 9:06
  • France's policy of strict enforcement of the French language over regional dialects or languages like Breton also bears mentioning. This was a deliberate attempt to suppress regional identity by linguistic dominance. Until not too long ago, first names were also regulated on birth registries to prevent non-Francophone naming. Aug 4, 2022 at 17:53
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica indeed, Breton and basque are actually different languages, unlike, e.g., occitan or cauchois, which could be passed for dialects, since they are close to French. However, few people speak any of these as their mother tongue, since enforcing Parisian French began a few hundred years ago - the country is essentially monolingual (apart from various immigrant communities.) Aug 4, 2022 at 18:41

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