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Internationally, 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
Influence of number of speakers
There are many cases when a regional language can claim greater numbers of speakers than certain languages which happen to be official languages of sovereign states. For example, Catalan (a regional language of Spain and France, albeit the national language of Andorra) has more speakers than Finnish or Danish. In China, Wu, spoken in southern Jiangsu, northern, and the general area of Shanghai Zhejiang by more than 90 million speakers, can claim more native speakers than French, and Cantonese, a regional language of Guangdong, Hong Kong and nearby areas in China with more than 60 million local and overseas speakers (North America, parts of Malaysia), outnumbers Italian in number of speakers. Subgroups and dialects of the Min group have over 70 million speakers, mainly in Fujian and in nearby Taiwan, but also in the Southeast Asian countries of Malaysia and Singapore.
Relationship with official languages
In some cases, a regional language may be closely related to the state's main language or official language. For example:
- The Frisian languages, regional languages of the Netherlands and Germany, belong to the Germanic family.
- The Gutnish language, a regional language spoken in Gotland and related to the Swedish language.
- Regional languages of Han Chinese, belong to the same family of Chinese languages as Mandarin. Some regional languages of minority groups such as Tibetan have regional official status.
- Kashubian, a regional language of Poland.
- Limburgish, a regional language in Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, has around one million speakers and is closely related to Luxembourgish, Rhinelandic and Ripuarian.
- Low German (also referred to as Low Saxon), an officially recognized regional language in Germany and the Netherlands, the direct descendant of Old Saxon. Sometimes (e.g. by nds and nds-nl Wikipedia) considered two languages divided by today’s Netherlands–German border on account of Dutch influences in the west and German influences in the east; closely related to Frisian, more distantly to German.
- Prekmurian, considered by linguist[who?] a dialect of Slovene, is used as a regional language in the Prekmurje region of Slovenia.
- Scots, a regional language of Scotland and Ireland, belongs to the same family of West Germanic languages as English.
- Silesian, a regional language of Poland and Czech Republic. Silesian (with Czech and Polish) is a Slavic language. There exists also Germanic version - Lower Silesian language.
- Regional languages of Spain: Aranese, Catalan/Valencian, Basque and Galician are each, in the regions where they are the autochthonous language, co-official in status with Castilian (Spanish) which is official everywhere in the Kingdom of Spain. Basque is unrelated to any other language of Spain; Astur-Leonese (see below) is closely related to both Castilian and Galician, which itself is most closely related to Portuguese. Catalan/Valencia is an Occitano-Romance language; and Aranese is a subdialect of Gascon (Occitan), most widely spoken across the Pyrenees in France and Catalonia, together with Occitan and Catalan, forms a subgroup of Romance languages linguistically intermediate between French and the Ibero-Romance languages of Spain and Portugal.
- Asturian and Leonese are recognized (but unofficial) in Asturias and Castile and León (Spain), while Mirandese is co-official with Portuguese in Miranda do Douro (Portugal). These Romance languages are classified under the term Astur-Leonese languages.
- Romansch, a regional Romance language with a different set of vocabulary, but related to Italian spoken in the Swiss canton of Graubünden.
- Võro, a regional language of Estonia, belongs to the same family of Finnic languages as Estonian.
- Walloon, a regional language of France and Belgium, belongs to the same family of Oïl languages as French.
In other cases, a regional language may be very different from the state's main language or official language. For example:
- Basque, a regional language in Spain and France, is a language isolate.
- Breton is a regional Celtic language spoken in Brittany, part of France.
- Cornish, is a regional Celtic language originating in Cornwall and spoken in England.
- Gagauz, a regional Turkic language used in Moldova.
- Livonian, a regional language of the Finnic family spoken in Latvia.
- Resian, a dialect of Slovene, is a regional language spoken in eastern Italy.
- Scottish Gaelic is a regional Celtic language spoken in the highlands of Scotland, part of the United Kingdom.
- Sorbian, a regional language of Germany, is a Slavic language.
- Welsh is a regional Celtic language spoken in Wales, part of the United Kingdom. In November 2010 the Welsh Assembly passed a Measure that made Welsh and English the official languages of Wales.
Official languages as regional languages
An official language of a country may also be spoken as a regional language in a region of a neighbouring country. For example:
- Afrikaans, an official language of South Africa, is a regional language of Namibia.
- Cantonese, one of the official languages in Hong Kong and Macau (both special administrative regions of the People's Republic of China), is used as a regional language of the province of Guangdong, People's Republic of China.
- Catalan, the official language of Andorra, is a regional language in Spain (Catalonia, Balearic Islands and Valencian Community), France (Pyrénées Orientales) and Italy (Alghero).
- German, an official language of Austria, Belgium, Germany, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg and Switzerland, is a regional language in Italy (South Tyrol), Poland (Silesia), France (Alsace and Lorraine) and Denmark.
- Hungarian, a Uralic language and official in Hungary, is a regional language of Romania whose official language, Romanian is a Romance language.
- Irish, the first official language of Ireland, is a regional language in the UK (Northern Ireland).
- Korean, the official language of Korea, is a regional language in People's Republic of China (Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture).
- Russian, the official language of the Russian Federation and Belarus, is a regional language of Ukraine, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and other entities.
- Turkish, the official language of Turkey and Cyprus, is a regional language of Kosovo.
- Minority language
- National language
- Languages of France
- Languages of the European Union
- British-Irish Council
- Languages in the United Kingdom
- List of languages of Italy
bg:Регионален език ca:Llengua regional de:Regionalsprache et:Regionaalkeel el:Περιφερειακή γλώσσα eu:Hizkuntza gutxitu fr:Langue régionale fy:Streektaal id:Bahasa daerah csb:Òbéndowi jãzëk kw:Yeth ranndiryel lv:Reģionālā valoda nl:Streektaal nds-nl:Streektaol ja:地方言語 nds:Regionaalspraak pl:Język regionalny ro:Limbă regională ru:Региональный язык zh:方言