Which language is spoken in which country?

Which language is spoken in which country?


It is a question we are sometimes asked in everyday life: what language do they actually speak in...? At first glance, of course, this seems like an easy question. What language do they speak in France? French. What language do they speak in Iceland? Icelandic. What language do they speak in Austria? Austrian. Hey: that's where it goes wrong .... In Austria, of course, they speak German or possibly an Austrian dialect of German. But if you think about this further, many more peculiarities come to light. Below we highlight a few.

Need translation into one of the 7 official languages of the Netherlands?

Did you know that in addition to Standard Dutch we have 6 other official languages? If you need a translation from or into Frisian, Papiamento, English, Limburgish, Low Saxon, Yiddish or Sinti-Romanese you can request a quote now without obligation.

What language do they speak in Luxembourg?

This question comes up regularly. This is actually not very strange: it is the lesser known third member of our Benelux and a small country, yet it has three official languages: Luxembourgish, French and German. The Grand Duchy lies between France and Germany, which explains those two languages, but Luxembourgish is a notable third. This is actually an old regional dialect, Moselle Franconian, enriched with influences from French, German and Flemish - and yes, that means the average Luxembourger even understands some Dutch!

This makes Luxembourg a good example of a country with multiple official languages. In practice, there are many of these; in fact, most countries in the world have several officially recognized languages. Sometimes this involves the main language plus the national sign language, such as in Iceland, but there are also countries where it is a whole list, such as the 37 official languages of Bolivia. This situation can grow due to an influx of new inhabitants (or rulers) with a new language, but it can also arise because the country has begun to cover an area larger than the language area of the existing languages. In the case of Bolivia, it is even both: the Spanish of the conquistadores and 36 different languages of the original inhabitants of the areas that now make up Bolivia.

What language do they speak in Mexico?

This is an interesting question for other reasons. First, this country made a conscious and explicit decision not to have an official language. Because this is a large country with a very diverse population, it turned out that no less than 68 languages and more than 350 dialects were spoken within the country's borders (many languages of original inhabitants, but also, for example, ancient Venetian and a late medieval East German dialect). For political reasons, it was decided to consider them all equal before the law and thus not to privilege any population group. In practice, however, Spanish is the main language of communication in most situations: of the approximately 126 million inhabitants, just over 8 million speak a minority language.

However, the Spanish spoken in Mexico is also interesting. Indeed, this is a great example of a language that has come a long way from home and developed so differently. Mexican Spanish is not only different from Spanish in Spain, but also slightly different from that in South America. Compared with Spanish from Spain, for example, it is striking that there is no distinction in pronunciation between the s and the z (and, when used before the vowel e or i, the c) and between the b and the v. One difference with South American Spanish, for example, is the use of the x, which has seeped through from local languages (think, for example, of the name of the country itself or that of the U.S. state of Texas).

Bonus question: what language do they speak in the Netherlands?

This is not a question often asked, but the answer may be surprising. Most people assume that the Netherlands has two main languages: Dutch and Frisian. While those two are certainly correct, there are seven other recognized languages within the borders of the Kingdom of the Netherlands! The Dutch government itself says the following about this:

Dutch is the official language of the Netherlands. Frisian is the second official language in the province of Fryslân. On Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba (BES islands), in addition to Dutch, Papiamentu and English are also recognized as official languages. Through European agreements, the Netherlands has recognized Limburgish, Lower Saxon, Yiddish (Yiddish) and Sinti-Romanes as regional or non-territorial languages.

Here you see that official languages can also be regionally defined. In practice, this mainly means that in the town hall of Dokkum you cannot demand that someone speak to you in Papiamento and that on Bonaire the local government does not have to be able to help you in Frisian. What is not yet included in this quote is that Dutch Sign Language was also unanimously adopted as an officially recognized language in 2020.

Tthis quote also mentions languages such as Limburgish and Yiddish. These have thus been recognized at the EU level, as part of a cultural preservation program. This is part of a strategy to protect regional cultures in an era of international integration and dominance of the national vehicular language and major languages such as English. Indeed, it is now widely recognized that language is an important aspect of culture and that culture can vary from region to region (and sometimes even from village to village!). And as we now know: language is not so much a property of a country as of its speakers.

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