Official language

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An official language is a language that is given a unique legal status in the countries, states, and other territories. It is typically the language used in a nation's legislative bodies, though the law in many nations requires that government documents be produced in other languages as well.

Officially recognized minority languages are often mistaken for official languages. However, a language officially recognized by a state, taught in schools, and used in official communication is not necessarily an official language. For example, Ladin and Sardinian in Italy and Mirandese in Portugal are only officially recognized minority languages, not official languages in the strict sense.

Official languages are sometimes not the same as the medium of instruction and so, the two are not interchangeable.

Half of the countries in the world have official languages. Some have only one official language, such as Albania, France, or Lithuania, despite the fact that in all these countries there are other native languages spoken as well. Some have more than one official language, such as Afghanistan, Belarus, Belgium, Bolivia, Canada, Eritrea, Finland, India, Paraguay, South Africa, and Switzerland.

In some countries, such as Iraq, Italy, Palau, Philippines, Russia and Spain, there is an official language for the country, but other languages are co-official in some important regions. Some countries, such as Sweden, Tuvalu, and the United States have no official languages.

The official languages of some former colonies, typically French or English, are not the national languages or the most widely spoken language.

In contrast, Irish is the national language of the Republic of Ireland and its first official language, although it is spoken by perhaps less than a third of its people. English, which is spoken by nearly everyone, is described as the second official language by Article 8 of the Constitution of Ireland. Irish is an official (treaty) language of the European Union and will become a full working language on 1 January 2007.

In some countries, the issue of which language is to be used in what context is a major political issue; see List of countries where language is a political issue.

See also

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