We are delighted to present a new column today. In this series of “episodes” we’ll discuss various multilingual countries and the languages ​spoken there. If we think of the articles of this blog as if they were a TV series, we could say that the first season will specifically discuss European countries, with this first article being the pilot episode, a sort of introduction.


There are multilingual countries all over the world, meaning those countries where a second language, beyond the native language or first language, is officially recognised. Or rather, those countries where  two or more official or co-official languages coexist.

These languages do not need to be spoken throughout the country. For example, if just one Italian region guarantees and formalises the presence of two or more languages​within its borders, that’s all that’s needed for the entire Italian state to be recognised as multilingual.The Council of Europe provides two definitions and sets out the differences between plurilingualism and multilingualism.


According to the Council of Europe, the term plurilingualism refers to the variety of languages that an individual or group of individuals is able to use. Plurilingualism therefore includes the linguistic variety referred to as “native language” or “first language”, “second language”, etc.


Multilingualism, on the other hand, means the presence of multiple linguistic varieties in a geographic area, regardless of its size.

Therefore, the first refers to the languages spoken by the individual, or ethnic group, in the course of their daily lives. The second addresses the issue from a geographic point of view. Respecting these definitions, it is therefore correct to speak of multilingual countries.


Multilingualism in the European Union refers to the set of legal and organisational practices and arrangements which allow the institution to function in several languages, in its internal interactions and in external relations. Multilingualism is thus an organisational property of the institutions.

The entire  Union is therefore considered multilingual.

EU multilingualism was initially based on four official working languages (French, Italian, German and Dutch). With regard to the EEC and EURATOM, from the outset the two Treaties established that the four languages should be of equal value, in short, all authoritative.

The number of official languages subsequently grew to 24.

The principle of equality among the official languages of the signatory countries entails, for example, equal dignity among the languages: since there is no reference language, no referral to a single base or to a single text in a single language, each language is authoritative.

In order to ensure that European legislation can be understood by citizens and applied by national authorities, the acts are “co-drafted” in all official languages. Therefore no translation can oppose an original text. From a legal point of view, there are only different language versions, not translations, which are all equally authentic. It follows that the translation work as such is not visible, as it simply produces an equivalent that does not refer to anything else.


As mentioned, in the next episodes we’ll discuss the various multilingual European countries. Episode 2 – Italy.

Stefano Gaffuri

English translation and adaptation by Sarah Schneider