The number of languages spoken in a country depends very much on its history and its demographic makeup. Some countries are very linguistically diverse, yet only recognize one or two languages as being “official”, whereas others make more of an effort to increase accessibility to information for all people in their own mother tongues. For instance, those Canadians with a background in linguistics may know that in the most linguistically diverse part of Canada, as many as 32 languages are spoken in a single province, though only English and French are official languages therein. Such is often seen to be the case in many other countries as well. Politics play a huge role in official language designations and the discussion thereof, so the numbers aren’t accurate unless each of them are used in reference to official languages, and not simply languages that are spoken. Multilingualism, and the ability to use such forms of communication such as Braille and sign language, can prove to be a huge asset to an individual, since it may open up entire worlds that would otherwise remain inaccessible. With those considerations in mind, we have compiled a list of the countries with the highest number of officially recognized languages in the world.
9. Singapore (4 official languages)
Singapore has is tied with 3 other countries as having the sixth largest number of official languages at four. Namely, these are Mandarin Chinese, English, Malay, and Tamil, with Malay being the national language and English and Mandarin Chinese being the most commonly used to conduct foreign business affairs. This may seem like a surprisingly high number for such a small country, but, as an ex-British colony surrounded by countries that speak languages other than English, its multilingualism not only seems logical, but also practical.
8. Moldova (4 official languages)
Moldova, located in Eastern Europe, is another small country with four official languages. These are Moldovan and Russian throughout, and Gagauz in Gagauzia, and Ukrainian in Transnistria (Trans-Dniestr). Its history and the different ethnicities of its citizens greatly contribute to its linguistic diversity.
7. The Netherlands (4 official languages)
The Netherlands also has four official languages. These are Dutch, Frisian, Limburgish, and Papiamento. Many Dutch are also fluent in English, and it is widely used throughout the country. This proves useful to the Dutch economically, since it allows for better communication with its immediate neighboring countries and the English-speaking world as well.
6. Switzerland (4 national languages)
Switzerland, another country with four official languages, borders Italy, France, and Germany, which give it three of these languages. The last language is Romansh predominantly in the southeastern Swiss canton of Grisons . Also a fact, speakers of German and Swiss German are often not able to understand one another.
5. Serbia (7 official languages)
Serbia, the world’s fifth most linguistically diverse country, has ten official languages. These are Serbian, Croatian, Romanian, Ruthenian, Hungarian, Slovak, Czech, Bosnian, Bulgarian, and Albanian. Serbia is similar to Moldova, in that its linguistic diversity can be attributed to its history and ethnocentric history.
4. South Africa (11 official languages)
South Africa recognizes Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swati, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa, and Zulu as official languages. The South African government also accommodates those communicating via Khoi, Nama, San, and sign language as well. One of South Africa’s priorities during the beginning of its post-Apartheid era that began in the 1990s, was to take steps recognize all of its citizens and make official information accessible to all. One of the ways in which this was done was by giving each of the South African people's main languages official statuses, thus increasing accessibility to those citizens from many different backgrounds. While linguistic equity is not necessarily always practiced, the implication that speakers of all languages are equal is a huge step forward from the country's segregated past.
3. Zimbabwe (16 official languages)
Zimbabwe, South Africa’s neighbor to the north, holds the world’s third highest number of official languages at 16, and shares several official languages with South Africa. The official languages of Zimbabwe are Chewa, Chibarwe, English, Kalanga, Koisan, Nambya, Ndau, Ndebele, Shangani, Shona, Sign Language, Sotho, Tonga, Tswana, Venda and Xhosa. With the many human migrations that have historically occurred throughout the southern part of the African continent, it should come as no surprise that there are so many different languages spoken in Zimbabwe.
2. India (23 official languages)
India has 23 official languages. English and Hindi are officially recognized throughout India, while Bengali, Nepali, Kokborok, Garo, Gujarati, Kannada, Khasi, Konkani, Malayalam, Marathi, Meitei Manipuri, Mizo, Odia, Oriya, Punjabi, Santhali, Tamil, Telugu, and Urdu are among those officially recognized in certain states and union territories. As a huge nation with a rich history spanning from both well before and during, and today still continuing after, the British Colonial era, many languages have developed and evolved within this massive country on the Indian subcontinent.
1. Russia (24 official languages across all republics)
The country with the most official languages in the world today is Russia, with 24. These 24 languages span across Russia and the federation's various constituent republics. The official languages of Russia are Buryat, Altay, Tyvan, Khakas, Sakha, Adygean, Bashkir, Ingush, Kabardian, Balkar, Tatar, Kalmyk, Abaza, Cherkess, Karachay, Nogai, Mari, Mordvin, Komi, Ossetian, Udmurt, Chechen, Chuvash, and Russian. The first 23 languages are location-specific within the Russian Federation, with the Russian language acting as a uniting factor that facilitates communication between Russian citizens from across all of its vast area.
What is the World's Most Multilingual Country?
The country with the most official languages in the world today is Russia, with 24. These 24 languages span across Russia and the federation's various constituent republics.
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