Official language

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The official language is the bindingly regulated language of a country or state in language law , which applies to the government and all government agencies among themselves and towards the citizens . Administrative acts and standards are drawn up, information is given to citizens, negotiations are conducted and recorded in the official language . In it also must briefs in court and requests are submitted.

There can be several official languages ​​at the same time within a country or area. For reasons of simplification, states with several official languages ​​often use a separate working language for internal communication . Official and working languages ​​are also common among international authorities such as the UN and the European Patent Office .


The official language is, in the narrower sense, the language in which authorities and governments communicate.

While German is the only official language in Germany, there are also countries with several official languages. Switzerland has four official languages, French, Italian and German as well as Romansh .

In Germany and Austria, in addition to the official German language, other languages ​​are recognized as official regional languages (see official languages ​​within Germany , minority languages ​​in Austria ).

Comparable terms, which are not always synonymous with “official language”, are

  • Court language, the language allowed in court
  • Negotiation language, the language in which, for example, a parliament holds its meetings
  • School language , the language used in school lessons
  • State language , the "official language of a state" (Duden), e.g. B. According to the Austrian constitution , German is the state language of Austria

If, however, one language dominates in a country, it is often the official language, court language, negotiation language and school language at the same time. Colloquially, the word “official language” also stands for the typical administrative language , the style and vocabulary of which is characteristic of offices and authorities. In this sense, one also speaks of “official German”, “official German” or “official German”.

Determination of an official language

The official languages ​​do not always reflect the actual mother tongues of the inhabitants of a country.

In nation states, the traditional language of a nationwide language community is regularly the official language (see also nation ). Languages ​​spoken by indigenous national minorities are occasionally recognized as local official languages ​​(for example, Hawaiian in Hawaii for about 1,000 speakers). The languages ​​that immigrants bring with them to their destination countries are usually not the official language in the country of immigration (if they are, this can be a factor favoring immigration; see e.g. Germans in Switzerland ).

Only in a few cases ( Switzerland with four, South Africa with eleven and Bolivia with 36 official languages) are “all” national languages ​​also official languages. In most states, however, regardless of the occurrence of other native languages, only one language is the official language, which is justified by the need for state unity and the additional administrative effort (training of all civil servants and printing of all forms in several languages), but also due a devaluation of the speakers of non-official languages ​​and, in the longer term , can lead to the extinction of minority languages . The recognition of a language as an official language usually has a language-preserving effect.

A compromise is to give a minority language the status of an official language at the regional level. Examples are the German language in South Tyrol and the Sorbian language in Lusatia . In individual states, such as Norway and Switzerland , official languages ​​are also determined at the municipal level.

Among the sign languages , the New Zealand sign language is the only one that has been defined as the national official language. In Austria, too, a sign language has taken on the function of an official language and can at least be used in court.


After the annexation of areas with a foreign-language population, the question of the official language arises. For example, after the Franco-Prussian War in 1870/71 , French-speaking parts of Alsace and Lorraine became part of the German Empire as the realm of Alsace-Lorraine . The language of the court became German due to the law of June 14, 1871. Since the Reichsland was largely German-speaking, but there was a strong French-speaking minority, a decree of December 17, 1874 set the court language for a number of French-speaking communities differently to French.

Sometimes countries or governments tried to assimilate an annexed area by imposing a single official language .

Official languages ​​in Africa
  • Afrikaans
  • Arabic
  • English
  • French
  • Portuguese
  • Spanish
  • Swahili
  • other African languages
  • In multiethnic states it was not uncommon for conflicts to arise about the official language (s). In Cisleithanien , the western half of Austria-Hungary (1867–1918), there was a deep domestic political crisis in 1897/1898, triggered by the Baden language ordinance in Bohemia and Moravia . With this regulation, the equality of the Czech official language with the German should be ensured, which the Germans did not want to accept. Kk Prime Minister Gautsch failed in his attempt to find a pragmatic solution to the conflict by relaxing the regulation. His suggestion that every civil servant should speak the languages ​​required for duty left too many interpretations open. The language ordinances were finally repealed under the Clary-Aldringen government , and the conflict remained unsolved until 1918, when Czechoslovakia was founded.

    In the case of states that do not or have not formed a single nation, the definition or change of an official language can lead to conflicts. This includes, for example, the successor states of the former European colonies in Africa, whose boundaries were often drawn arbitrarily without considering language and peoples boundaries (see ethnic minorities ). In Africa , colonial languages are usually the official language, for example French in the Democratic Republic of the Congo , in the Ivory Coast or Mali , English in Zambia , Kenya or South Africa , Portuguese in Mozambique or Angola . This language policy often favors the ruling elite, who, in contrast to the common people, speak the official language.

    In the successor states of the former colonies in America , the situation is completely different. There, the Indian and Eskimo languages ​​of the indigenous people have been pushed into the background. Despite the different mother tongues of the European immigrants and the African slaves, the language of the respective colonial rulers has practically fully established itself. Spanish is the official language in large parts of South and Central America ; in Brazil the official language is Portuguese.

    Official languages ​​within Germany

    Individual differentiations to be made are important for Germany. This includes the distinction between the basic responsibility of the 16 individual states in Germany to determine their languages ​​and thus also, among other things, the official languages ​​on the basis of their original national cultural sovereignty and the regulatory competence of the federal government, which is limited to federal tasks (need for regulation in its own matters), which predominates in purely quantitative terms . In Germany (as in many other countries) it is also important to distinguish the term official language from terms such as legal language or court language , which are not identical.

    Overall, there is a whole bundle of languages ​​in Germany that are wholly or at least regionally or factually partially official, legal, court or parliamentary languages. In addition to “German”, which is standardized at the federal level, especially according to Section 23 (1) VwVfG, as the official language in the narrow sense and according to Section 184 of the Courts Constitution Act as the court language, there are also Danish , Low German , Frisian , Sorbian , English and French . Under European law, if it applies, every official or court language of every member state of the European Union can even become a partial court language in a partial segment (applications and documents are also possible in these languages ​​before German courts). “German” is often legally interpreted (disputed in individual areas) as a generic term for High German , Low German and all dialects alike.

    No state language is defined within Germany, neither at the federal level nor at the level of the 16 states. A corresponding amendment to the Basic Law has been discussed since the 2000s .

    Official languages ​​in individual countries

    Information on the official languages ​​in individual countries can be found in the country articles (above in the info box and in the running text). If necessary, the topic is also dealt with in special articles on the languages ​​of the country, for example:

    See also:

    See also

    Web links

    Wiktionary: Official language  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

    Individual evidence

    1. ^ Duden online: State language
    2. Heinz KIoss: basic issues of ethnic policy. 1969, p. 549.
    3. ^ Baron Maximilian du Prel: The German administration for Alsace-Lorraine 1870-1879. Memorandum, 1st delivery, page 114.
    4. ^ Jiří Kořalka : The development of the economic middle class in the Bohemian lands in the 19th century . In: Peter Heumos (Ed.): Poland and the Bohemian countries in the 19th and 20th centuries. Politics and society in comparison. Lectures at the conference of the Collegium Carolinum in Bad Wiessee from November 15 to 17, 1991 . Verlag Oldenbourg, Munich 1997, ISBN 3-486-56021-2 , pp. 57-80, here: p. 71.
    5. References to this section in the main article Official languages ​​within Germany
    6. See also: References to the article Debate about the inclusion of the German language in the Basic Law