We often come across two different terms National language and Official language. A common question arises what is National language actually and how it is different from Official language of a country ? We will try to make these terms clear and elaborate the differences between them.
What is National Language ?
National language is the primary or first spoken language of any country. This primary spoken language may be de facto or de jure. De facto means commonly accepted as a fact although there is no constitutional base. De jure here means that language is given the status of being National language by rule of law (by constitution or legislation). National language reflects the culture and heritage of a country. National language is often seen with a feeling of nationalism or patriotism. Like different national symbols (viz. National Anthem, National song etc.), the primary or most spoken language of a country is generally given the status of National language in many legislatures.
What is Official Language of a Country ?
Official language is the language designated by any country for working of its government. In other words, the language which is used by different government bodies to communicate each other (in terms of official documents) is called as official language. Here different government bodies may include parliament, judiciary, administration, state or province legislation etc. Official languages are generally de-jure in nature, which means that a language is granted official status in any country by a rule of law or by its legislation. The typical dictionary definition of Official Language is “the language that is approved by government of a country, taught in schools, and used in legal and official documents”.
Difference between National and Official Language
National language is a generally de-facto term while Official language is de-jure in nature. It means that National language is generally considered as the mode of expression of common people of a country and cannot be changed altered or modified by any law. On other hands Official language can be changed, altered or modified by a law. National language denotes the common mindset and psyche of a nation and is considered above the purview of a court of law. A remarkable difference between National and official language is that a National language can be given an official status but an official language cannot receive National status.
Languages of different Countries : Australia
- National Language – English
- Official language – not declared (de-facto English)
There is no declared Official or National language of Australia. Although English is considered as the de-facto Official language of the Australia. De-facto status means English is considered as a common fact to be official language but there is no such act of law supporting this. About 81 % of Australian population speaks English. Other spoken minority languages include Chinese 2.9%, Italian 1.2%, Arabic 1.1%, Greek 1%, Vietnamese 0.9% and Spanish 0.4%.
Languages of different Countries : China
- Official language : Standard Chinese (Beijing dialect of Mandarin)
- National language : Standard Chinese
There are innumerable groups of Chinese language out of which Mandarin is the most spoken with about 960 million speakers. Standard Chinese is the form of spoken Mandarin based on Beijing dialect. Standard Chinese is the official language of China (People’s Republic of China) and Taiwan (Republic of China). It is also one of the official languages of Singapore. Cantonese and English are official languages of Hong Kong (special administrative region of China). Cantonese and Portuguese jointly are the official languages of Macau(Special administrative region of China). Before 1924, National language of China was 國語 (Pinyin) which means National Language literally. But this form of Chinese has very few native speakers and was difficult to understand and learn. So 國語(Pinyin) was left out in 1924 and Beijing dialect of Mandarin (Standard Chinese) was given the status of National Language. The Peoples Republic of China renamed the National Language from 國語 to 普通话 (literally “Common Speech”).
Languages of different Countries : France
- Official language : French
- National language : French
Official language as per article 2 of French Constitution is French. All the government communication by law is done in French only. The government however, doesn’t enforces use of French by private individuals, media or corporations. There are a number of regional languages which are recognised by French government although they don’t have official status. Some of these regional languages are Alsatian, Catalan, Corsican, Breton, Gallo, Occitan etc.
Languages of different Countries : India
- Official language: Hindi and English (with 20 other regional languages)
- National language : not declared
The constitution of India recognizes Hindi written in Devanagari script and English as the Official language. There is no declared National language as such. Constitution of India also promulgates and authorizes the states to use their own official language. So, besides Hindi and English, there are 20 other official languages, making total number of officially recognized languages as 22. Besides Hindi and English, the other 20 official languages of India are – Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarati, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Maithili, Malyalam, Manipuri (Meithei), Marathi, Nepali, Odia, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Santali, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu.
Languages of different Countries : Pakistan
- Official language : Urdu and English
- National language : Urdu
Urdu and English are both the official languages of Pakistan. Urdu alone serves as the sole National Language of Pakistan. In year 2015 government of Pakistan declared to make Urdu the only official language and to remove English. However the exact time frame was not declared when this will be done. There are some other prominently spoken regional languages in Pakistan like Punjabi, Pashto, Sindhi, Saraiki and Balochi. It is interesting to note that percentage of population speaking Urdu is only 7.59% (2008 census estimate) while that of Punjabi is 44.1%, Pashto is 15.4% and Sindhi is 14.1%.
Languages of different Countries : Japan
- Official language : Japanese
- National language : not declared
Japanese language is most commonly spoken language in Japan. There are a number of dialects of Japanese, with Tokyo dialect being the most popular and considered as standard Japanese. There is no declared national language of Japan.
Languages of different Countries : Russia
- Official language : Russian
- National language : not declared
Russian is the official language of Russia. Along with Russian, there are 27 more regional languages which have got the status of co-official language. As per article 68 of Russian constitution, various Republics (states) of Russia can establish any other regional language as their official language.
Languages of different Countries : U.S.
- Official language : None at federal level
- National language : English (de-facto)
English is the de-facto national language of United States. There is no declared official language in United States. De-facto national language status means English is considered to be National language as a common fact and not by a rule of law. English is the most commonly used language in US and about 80% (237 million) of the population speaks English as their primary language. Spanish is second most spoken language and 12.4% (40 million) of population speaks Spanish. Chinese (3.3 million) and French (1.3 million) are respectively at third and fourth place in number of speakers.