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There are certainly days when the election cycle in the US makes me want to hide my head in the sand and have someone alert me when it’s all over.  As nervous as I am to get into politics on this blog, since it seems to be the quickest way to ensure that everyone goes insane and starts screaming, I think a blog about languages and language diversity would be really remiss not to address one of the big stories that came out of the Republican primary in the past couple of weeks.  But I want to address it in as friendly and non-confrontational a way as possible.  So I’m making it this week’s Pop Quiz🙂

For this quiz, look at the following list of nations, and rank them by number of languages recognized as “official” languages of the state.

  • South Africa
  • India *
  • USA
  • Nigeria
  • Canada
  • China
  • Bolivia
  • Belgium *
  • Morocco
  • New Zealand
  • Australia
  • Mexico

(*Neither Belgium or India have official national languages, so the totals I’ve used here are the total number of official languages recognized by regional authorities within those nations.)

  • Extra credit: Of the nations listed here, which one has the highest number of distinct living languages currently spoken within its borders?

Answer:

  1. Bolivia – 37
  2. India – 21
  3. South Africa – 11
  4. Belgium – 3
  5. tie: Canada, Morocco, New Zealand – 2
  6. tie: Nigeria, China – 1
  7. tie: US, Australia, Mexico – 0.  Trick question!  None of these nations have official national languages.  Technically, if I applied the same rule to the US that I did with India and Belgium, then we would be tied for 5th, with two languages recognized as official at the state level: several US states do recognize English as the official language, while Hawaii recognizes both English and Hawaiian.
  • Extra credit: Nigeria has an (estimated) 521 languages; the US comes second with 332.  If you’re doing the math, that is well over 10% of the world’s language diversity just in those two countries combined!