Modern constitutions typically contain a variety of provisions on language.

They may designate one or more official languages, each with a different kind of legal status. Constitutions may also create language rights, usually held by minority-language speakers, granting groups and individuals the right to communicate with, and receive services from, the government in their native tongue. In systems of multi-level governance, constitutions may vest the authority to designate official language(s) for each order of government.

This Primer addresses the role of language in constitutional design, and the key considerations, implications and potential challenges that arise in multilingual states. It discusses the range of claims around language as a constitutional issue, and the potential consequences of successfully addressing these claims—or failing to do so.


Publication date
29 April 2021
Sujit Choudhry and Erin C. Houlihan
Number of pages
978-91-7671-412-6 (PDF)



1. Introduction

2. What is the issue?

3. Understanding language in context

4. Design alternatives

5. Additional design considerations

6. The (limited) role of international law

7. Decision-making questions

8. Examples



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Official Language Designation

Constitution-Building Primer 20
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