National language

The term "national language" can be used in different ways. Broadly speaking, it can mean a language used nationwide, on the country level, or a language of the nation, being identified with an ethnicity or established role within, but not necessarily all over, the country. In Africa, the latter sense seems to dominate (the former seems to dominate in Western thinking).

A 1985 UNESCO sponsored study expressed the definition this way:
"a national language is defined strictly as either (a) an African language that is also an official language?, or (b) a language that has been decreed to be a national language of a country. It must be noted that according to this definition:
- all mother tongues? are not necessarily national languages
- French, English, Portuguese, and Spanish are not national languages, even though they may be official languages."

A more complicated set of distinctions is offered by Conrad Brann, with particular reference to Africa. He suggests that there are "four quite distinctive meanings" for national language in a polity:

  • "Territorial language" (chthonolect, sometimes known as chtonolect) of a particular people
  • "Regional language?" (choralect)
  • "Language-in-common or community language" (demolect) used throughout a country
  • "Central language" (politolect) used by government and perhaps having a symbolic value.

The last is usually given the title of official language?.

References & links

< More languages | Language terms & topics | Official language? >