- Minority language
With a total number of 193 sovereign states recognized internationally (as of 2008) and an estimated number of roughly 5,000 to 7,000 languages spoken worldwide, it follows that the vast majority of languages are minority languages in every country in which they are spoken.
In Europe and in some other parts of the world, like in Canada, minority languages are often defined by legislation or constitutional documents and afforded some form of official support. The term, for example, appears in the Constitution of Canada in the heading above section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees official language minority communities educational rights.
Some minority languages are simultaneously also official languages, including the Irish language (Gaelic) in the Republic of Ireland (which lost its status as the predominant language in Ireland due to the period of English rule in Ireland.). Likewise, some national languages are often considered minority languages, insofar as they are the national language of a stateless nation.
Definition in international law
For the purposes of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages:
- "regional or minority languages" means languages that are:
- traditionally used within a given territory of a State by nationals of that State who form a group numerically smaller than the rest of the State's population; and
- different from the official language(s) of that State
Minority languages are occasionally marginalised within nations for a number of reasons. These include the small number of speakers, the decline in the number of speakers, and their occasional consideration as uncultured, primitive, or simple dialects when compared to the dominant language. Support for minority languages is sometimes viewed as supporting separatism, for example the on-going revival of the Celtic languages (Irish, Welsh, Scottish Gaelic, Manx, Cornish and Breton). Immigrant minority languages are often also seen as a threat and as indicative of the non-integration of these communities. Both of these perceived threats are based on the notion of the exclusion of the majority language speakers. Often this is added to by political systems by not providing support (such as education and policing) in these languages.
There is a difference of views as to whether the protection of official languages by a state representing the majority speakers violates or not the human rights of minority speakers. In Slovakia for example, the Hungarian community generally considers the 'language law' enacted in 1995 discriminative and inconsistent with the European Charter for the Protection of Regional or Minority languages, while majority Slovakians view that minority speakers' rights are guaranteed in accordance with the highest European standards and not discriminated against by the preferential status of the state language. The language law declares that 'the Slovakian language enjoys a preferential status over other languages spoken on the territory of the Slovakian Republic' and as a result of a 2009 amendment, a fine of up to € 5.000 may be imposed for a misdemeanor from the regulations protecting the preferential status of the state language, e.g. if the name of a shop or a business is indicated on a sign-board first in the minority language and only after it in Slovakian, or if in a bilingual text the minority language part is written with bigger fonts than its Slovakian equivalent, or if the bilingual text on a monument is translated from the minority language to the dominant language and not vice versa, or if a civil servant or doctor communicates with a minority speaker citizen in a minority language in a local community where the proportion of the minority speakers is less than 20%.
Signed languages are often not recognized as true natural languages even though they are supported by extensive research. In the United States, for example, American Sign Language is the most used minority language yet almost the only minority language which lacks official government recognition.
Auxiliary languages have also struggled for recognition, perhaps partly because they are used primarily as second languages and have few native speakers.
Notable minority languages
The largest communities of speakers that of a language not recognized as a nation-wide official language anywhere:
- Punjabi language: 88 million speakers, regional status in Pakistan and India
- Javanese language: 80 million speakers, regional status in Suriname
- Marathi language: 90 million speakers, regional status in India
- Wu Chinese: 77 million speakers, no official status
- Cantonese: 70 million speakers, regional status in Hong Kong and Macau
- Chinese dialects other than Mandarin, Wu and Cantonese: Min (60 million), Gan (20-50 million), Hakka (34 million), Xiang (30-36 million); see identification of the varieties of Chinese
- Sindhi language: 60 million speakers, regional status in Pakistan and India
- Gujarati language: 50 million speakers, regional status in India
- Maithili language: 50 million speakers, regional status in India
- Pashto language: 45 million speakers, regional status in Afghanistan and Pakistan
- Kurdish language: 16-26 million speakers, regional status in Iraq
- Malayalam language: 35 million speakers, regional status in India
- Kannada language: 35 million speakers, regional status in India
- Telugu language: ≈85 million speakers, regional status in India
- Bhojpuri language: 35 million speakers, formerly considered a dialect of Hindi, in the process of being granted regional status on its own right in India
- Oriya language: 30 million speakers, regional status in India
- Sundanese language: 27 million speakers, regional status in West Java, Indonesia
- Oromo language: 25 million speakers, regional status in Ethiopia and Kenya
- Cebuano language: 20 million speakers, regional status in Central Visayas, Philippines
- Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo with close to 20 million speakers each are the major languages of Nigeria, all three with regional status, and none with majority status.
- Zhuang language: 14 million speakers, regional status in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region
- Assamese language: 13 million speakers, regional status in India
- Madurese language: 13 million speakers, no official status
- Berber languages: 10 million speakers, no official status
- Lombard language: 9 million speakers, no official status, treated as an Italian dialect
- Uyghur language: 8-10 million speakers, regional status in Xinjiang
- Neapolitan language: 8 million speakers, no official status, treated as an Italian dialect
- Balochi language: 8 million speakers, regional status in Balochistan
- Ilokano language: 8 million speakers, regional status in Ilocos Region, Philippines
- Hiligaynon language: 7 million speakers, regional status in Western Visayas, Philippines
- Minangkabau language: 7 million speakers, no official status
- Krio: 6 millions speakers, de facto national language of Sierra Leone but without official status
- Bhili language: 6 million speakers, largest linguistic community of India without regional status
- Sicilian language: 5 million speakers, no official status
- Hmong language: 4 million speakers, no official status
- Yiddish language: 3 million speakers, no official status
- Silesian language: 2 million speakers, no official status
- Aramaic language: 2 million speakers, no official status
- Yi language: 2 million speakers, no official status
- American Sign Language: 500,000 to 2 million signers, many states recognize as a "foreign language" for educational purposes; some recognize as a language of instruction in schools.
Linguistic communities that form no majority in any country, but whose language has the status of an official language in at least one country:
- Tamil language: 70 million speakers, official status in Sri Lanka and Singapore, regional status in India
- Amharic language: 25 million speakers, official status in Ethiopia
- Kurdish language: 22 million speakers, official status in Iraq
- Afrikaans language: 13 million first or second language speakers (16 million speakers with basic knowledge)), official status in South Africa, recognized regional language in Namibia
- Catalan languageTemplate:It does form a majority in Andorra: 12 million speakers, official status in Andorra, regional official status in Catalonia, Valencia, and The Balearics and regional in Roussillon, and Alghero
- Galician language: 3-4 million speakers, official status in Galicia, Spain.
- Welsh language: 791,000 speakers, official status in the United Kingdom
- Basque language: 665,800 speakers, official status in the Basque Country (autonomous community) and Navarre in Spain. Although It has no official status in the Northern Basque Country in France.
- Irish language: 391,470 native speakers (1.66 million with some knowledge), official status in the Republic of Ireland and an officially recognised minority language in Northern Ireland.
- Māori language: 157,110 speakers, official status in New Zealand
Languages that have the status of a national language and are spoken by the majority population in at least one country, but lack recognition in countries where there is a significant minority linguistic community:
- Russian language: official in Russia, co-official in Belarus and Kazakhstan, lacking official status in Ukraine, Estonia and Latvia (more than 25% of the population in the latter two).
- Hungarian language: official in Hungary, co-official in Serbia's Vojvodina province (293,000 speakers), lacking official status in Romania (1,447,544 speakers, 6.7% of the population), Slovakia (520,000 speakers, approximately 10% of the population) and Ukraine (170,000 speakers),
- Romanian language: official in Romania, co-official in Vojvodina (30,000 speakers), lacking official status in Serbia (estimated 250,000-400,000), northwestern Bulgaria (estimated 10,566 speakers) and in Ukraine (estimated 78,300 speakers).
- Alexander v. Sandoval
- Arsenault-Cameron v. Prince Edward Island
- Casimir v. Quebec (Attorney General)
- Charlebois v. Saint John (City)
- Devine v. Quebec (Attorney General)
- Doucet-Boudreau v. Nova Scotia (Minister of Education)
- Gosselin (Tutor of) v. Quebec (Attorney General)
- Katzenbach v. Morgan
- Mahe v. Alberta
- R. v. Beaulac
- Société des Acadiens v. Association of Parents
- European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages
- Indigenous language
- Language revival
- Linguistic demography
- List of endangered languages
- Minority group
- Regional language
- Mikroglottika, Journal about Minority Languages
- Sardinian language's office - University of Cagliari
- Blog of Sardinian language's office - University of Cagliari: news about sardinian language and culture
- Onkwehonwe.com Learning Labs
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