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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
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 official in Andorra) has more speakers than Finnish or Danish. Cantonese has more than 60 million local and overseas speakers, as a regional language of Guangdong.
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:
- Walloon, a regional language of France and Belgium, belongs to the same family of Oïl languages as French;
- Scots, a regional language of the United Kingdom, belongs to the same family of West Germanic languages as English.
- Frisian, a regional language of The Netherlands and Germany, belongs to the same language family as Dutch and German
- Võro, a regional language of Estonia, belongs to the same family of Finno-Ugric languages as Estonian.
- Cantonese, a regional language of Guangdong, China, belongs to the same family of Chinese languages as Mandarin, and shared the same ideograms and writing systems.
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, is non-Indo-European, and therefore unrelated to Spanish, a Romance language;
- Sorbian, a regional language of Germany, is a Slavic language, and therefore only distantly related to German, a Germanic language.
Official languages as regional languages
An official language of a state may also be spoken as a regional language in a region of a neighbouring state. For example:
- German is a regional language of Italy;
- Hungarian, a Finno-Ugric language, is a regional language of Romania whose official language, Romanian is a Romance language.
- Cantonese is de facto official language of Hong Kong, Macao and the province of Guangdong.
- Catalan, the official language of Andorra, is a regional language in Spain, France and Italy.
- Minority language
- Languages of France
- Languages of the European Union
- British-Irish Council
- Languages in the United Kingdom
- Italian dialects
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