What’s your mother tongue? Maybe you speak English or Spanish or French. Do you speak the language that matches your nationality? Most likely, you do. However, you might be surprised to find that some countries don’t have an official language. Find out if your home is one of the few countries that fall within this category.
Which countries don’t have an official language?
● United Kingdom
● United States
● Costa Rica
What determines an official language?
First, it’s important to note that records for official languages aren’t always consistent. Our research led to finding some contradictory data. Not every nation lists its primary language as an official one. Additionally, many researchers use different criteria to determine official languages. According to our research, the nine countries above don’t have official languages. However, after a bit more digging, we found that this list isn’t quite accurate. Some countries have what is called a national language, which is not the same as an official language.
So what’s the difference?
In short, an official language is one legally recognized by a nation’s constitution and is used in business and government documents or communications. In contrast, a national language refers to one that is spoken at large by significant portions of a country’s population. At times it is treated as the “de facto” language. This means it is viewed as an official language and is taught in classrooms, used in everyday life, and by businesses and governments.
For many countries, there are official languages that aren’t spoken by the majority but are given equal if not more importance than national languages. A perfect example of this is in Pakistan and Ethiopia. In Pakistan, Urdu and English are the two official languages, but Urdu is only spoken by 8 percent of the population. As a result, official government and business documents are printed in English. Likewise, in Ethiopia, Ahameric is the official language, but the majority of the country speaks Oromo. We believe that because the official language isn’t spoken by the majority for many of the nations on this list, researchers are making the claim that many of the countries in the top list lack an official language.
Based on the national language criteria, technically every country on this list has one or more languages that are recognized, even if not formally by their government. But only three have opted not to adopt an official language. A good example of conflicting data is the case of the United Kingdom. The World Economic Forum released an article claiming that the UK lacks an official language even while referencing a map from Indy100 that contradicts that claim and states that the nation has at least one official language.
So which nation really doesn’t have an official language?
We know, it can get confusing once you fall down the Google rabbit hole. But after a bit of cross-referencing, we discovered that there are only three countries without an official language. According to Indy100, those nations are Australia, Mexico, and the United States. For Mexico, Spanish is the de facto national language. While a large majority of the population speaks Spanish, the government created a constitution in 1917 that also recognizes the 68 languages spoken by its indigenous citizens.
That might sound like a dizzying number of languages, but it’s estimated that the country lost over 130 indigenous languages during its colonial period under Spain. In 2002, the nation passed the Law of Linguistic Rights, which further protects these languages and encourages their promotion along with the cultures associated with them. So, preserving the rich and diverse culture and language of its indigenous peoples is a major priority.
What about the U.S. and Australia?
The United States and Australia officially do not have a formal language but treat English as the “de facto” national language because both nations have majority English-speaking populations. In the U.S., the debate to ratify an official language has been raging since the 1750s, but no one at the federal level seems motivated to declare one. Depending on where you are in the country, you might hear one of 350 different languages spoken or 24 regional English dialects. However, official business and government documents are written in English. But while the federal government doesn’t see the need for it, more than half of the states within the union have made English their official language.
In Australia, even though more than three-quarters of the nation speaks English, the country is home to over 200 languages. Still, there’s no official language. Most experts agree that this is due to a “majority rules” mentality. Since so many people don’t just speak the language, but are monolingual and only speak English, there’s no desire or need to enforce a national language.
Now that you know which countries lack an official language, are you surprised? Maybe you’re inspired to do a little digging of your own to better understand why some of these countries are technically listed as lacking an official language. Just remember, research on this topic can be conflicting, so be prepared!