A minority language is a language spoken by a minority of the population of a territory. Such people are termed linguistic minorities or language minorities. With a total number of 193 sovereign states recognized internationally (as of 2008) and an estimated number of roughly 5,000 to 7,000 languages spoken worldwide, it follows that the vast majority of languages are minority languages in every country in which they are spoken. Some minority languages are simultaneously also official languages, including the Irish language in Ireland. Likewise, some national languages are often considered minority languages, insofar as they are the national language of a stateless nation.
Minority languages are occasionally marginalised within nations for a number of reasons. These include the small number of speakers, the decline in the number of speakers, and their occasional consideration as uncultured, primitive, or simple dialects when compared to the dominant language. Support for minority languages is sometimes viewed as supporting separatism, for example the on-going revival of the Celtic languages (Irish, Welsh, Scottish Gaelic, Manx, Cornish and Breton). Immigrant minority languages are often also seen as a threat and as indicative of the non-integration of these communities. Both of these perceived threats are based on the notion of the exclusion of the majority language speakers. Often this is added to by political systems by not providing support (such as education and policing) in these languages.
Speakers of majority languages can and do learn minority languages, through the large number of courses available. It is not known whether most students of minority languages are members of the minority community re-connecting with the community's language, or others seeking to become familiar with it.
There is a difference of views as to whether the protection of official languages by a state representing the majority speakers violates or not the human rights of minority speakers. In March 2013, however, Rita Izsák, UN Independent Expert on minority issues, noted that "protection of linguistic minority rights is a human rights obligation and an essential component of good governance, efforts to prevent tensions and conflict, and the construction of equal and politically and socially stable societies".
In Slovakia for example, the Hungarian community generally considers the 'language law' enacted in 1995 discriminative and inconsistent with the European Charter for the Protection of Regional or Minority languages, while majority Slovakians view that minority speakers' rights are guaranteed in accordance with the highest European standards and not discriminated against by the preferential status of the state language. The language law declares that "the Slovakian language enjoys a preferential status over other languages spoken on the territory of the Slovakian Republic" and as a result of a 2009 amendment, a fine of up to €5,000 may be imposed for a misdemeanor from the regulations protecting the preferential status of the state language, e.g. if the name of a shop or a business is indicated on a sign-board first in the minority language and only after it in Slovakian, or if in a bilingual text the minority language part is written with bigger fonts than its Slovakian equivalent, or if the bilingual text on a monument is translated from the minority language to the dominant language and not vice versa, or if a civil servant or doctor communicates with a minority speaker citizen in a minority language in a local community where the proportion of the minority speakers is less than 20%.
Sign languages are often not recognized as true natural languages even though they are supported by extensive research.
Auxiliary languages have also struggled for recognition, perhaps partly because they are used primarily as second languages and have few native speakers.
Lacking recognition in some countries
Languages that have the status of a national language and are spoken by the majority population in at least one country, but lack recognition in countries where there is a significant minority linguistic community:
Russian language: official in Russia, co-official in Belarus and Kazakhstan, lacking official status in Ukraine, Estonia and Latvia (more than 25% of the population in the latter two).
Hungarian language: official in Hungary, co-official in Serbia's Vojvodina province (293,000 speakers), lacking official status in Romania (1,447,544 speakers, 6.7% of the population), Slovakia (520,000 speakers, approximately 10% of the population) and Ukraine (170,000 speakers),
Romanian language: official in Romania, co-official in Vojvodina (30,000 speakers), lacking official status in Serbia (2011 census - 35,330 estimated 250,000) northwestern Bulgaria (estimated 10,566 speakers) and in Ukraine (estimated 78,300 speakers).
Macedonian language - Macedonian is not recognized as minority language in Greece and Bulgaria.
Bulgarian language - Bulgarian is not officially recognized as minority language in Greece.
Muhammad Aurang Zeb Mughal (2012) 'Spain'. Steven L. Denver (ed.), Native Peoples of the World: An Encyclopedia of Groups, Cultures, and Contemporary Issues, Vol. 3. Armonk, NY: M .E. Sharpe, pp. 674-675