Israel has passed a law characterising the country as principally a Jewish state and putting Hebrew above Arabic as the official language, much to the anger of Israeli Arabs.
The law describes Hebrew as the “state’s language”, effectively prioritising it above Arabic which has for decades been recognised as an official language alongside Hebrew.
In which other countries has the choice of language proved politically controversial?
This Baltic state and former Soviet republic has a sizeable Russian-speaking minority, but the government recognises only Latvian as the official state language. A referendum held in 2012 rejected a plan to accord Russian the status of a second official language. The authorities also have plans to promote Latvian as the language of instruction in all secondary schools, although for the moment, teaching in Russian and other minority languages will still be allowed at primary-school level.
After its independence in 1991, Croatia abolished the Cyrillic script, which had been used when Croatia was part of the former Yugoslavia. Croats write using Latin script and Serbs use Cyrillic. However, when Croatia joined the EU in 2013, it did allow signs in both Cyrillic and Latin script in areas with a significant Serb minority, leading to angry protests by some Croats.
Plans to make Hindi the sole official language of India in place of English after independence met resistance from non-Hindi-speaking states in a country with a multiplicity of languages. Tamil Nadu – with its own ancient language and traditions – suffered riots over the issue. The central government continues to use English as well as Hindi for official purposes, and individual states have largely been left to decide their own language policy.
Turkish is the only official language and there have long been restrictions on the Kurdish minority regarding the use of their language. In 2002, under pressure from the EU, Turkey allowed some teaching and broadcasts in Kurdish. University-level language courses in Kurdish and other minority languages were introduced in 2009 as part of reforms.
Canada is officially bilingual, with the constitution stating that English and French have “equality of status” in all government institutions and the parliament. However, historically there’s been concern in largely French-speaking Quebec about the dominance of English, given Canada’s proximity to the US. In 1974, Quebec made French the official language in the province. It’s also taken measures to promote the use of French, for example, policing restaurants which use non-French words on their menus.