DESK REVIEWS | 01.01.03. Key languages, ethnic groups and minority groups

DESK REVIEW | 01.01.03. Key languages, ethnic groups and minority groups

The Brazilian official language is Brazilian Portuguese. Despite having a single language spoken around the country, there are around 305 geographically isolated indigenous groups speaking 274 different languages (Ethnologue, 2019). According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, the skin colour or race in Brazil are classified as white (45.2%), black (8.9%), yellow (Asians) (0.5%), mixed race (45.1%), and indigenous (0.4%) people (Azevedo, 2015; Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, 2019k).



Azevedo, A. L. M. dos S. (2015). IBGE – Educa | Jovens. IBGE Educa Jovens.

Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics. (2019k, June 17). Popuação residente, por cor ou raça, segundo a situação do domicílio.

Ethnologue. (2019). Languages per country.

Key Languages

The Indian Constitution recognises 22 different languages, with Hindi as the official national language (Know India, 2020). As a multilingual country, India has one classical language known as ‘Sanskrit’, 14 modern languages, and 300 other tribal and minority languages (Fase et al., 1992).

Furthermore, most of the speech communities in India have more than one ‘language dialect’ (Fase et al., 1992). States have “linguistic autonomy”, which allows them to have their own official language along with both Hindi (national language) and English as associate languages (Fase et al., 1992, pp. 254).

Ethnic groups

There are three major ethnic groups: Dravidian (predominantly South India), Indo-Aryan (North and Central India), and Mongoloid (predominantly North-Eastern India) (Ali, 2019). In terms of religion, India is a multi-religious country in which Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism are all practiced. However, Hinduism is the dominant religion.


Ali, E. (2019). Ethnic Composition of Indian Population. Available from:

Fase, W., Jaspaert, K., & Kroon, S. (1992). Maintenance and loss of minority languages. J. Benjamins.

Know India. (2020). India at a Glance. Government of India. Available from

Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian language) is the official language of Indonesia. There are more than 700 local dialects in Indonesia. Other languages spoken are English, Dutch, and local dialects (CIA World Factbook, 2019).

Statistics Indonesia reported that there are more than 1,300 ethnicities in Indonesia, which are classified into 31 ethnic groups. The largest ethnic group in Indonesia is made up by Javanese (40.22%), followed by Sundanese (15.5%) (Na’im & Syaputra, 2011). According to the CIA World Factbook, Malay, Batak, Madurese, Betawi, Minangkabau, Buginese, Bantenese, Banjarese, Acehnese, Dayak, Sasak, and Chinese are other ethnic groups that make up between four to one per cent of the population (CIA World Factbook, 2019).

There are five main religions reported to be practised in Indonesia. The majority of the population, according to 2010 estimates, identifies as Muslim (87.2%) making Indonesia the largest Islamic country, while maintaining its status as a secular country. Other religious groups in the country are Christians (almost 10%; Roman Catholic 2.9%; Protestant 7%), Hindus (1.7%) and other smaller faith groups (CIA World Factbook, 2019).

Indonesia’s culture is a mix of ancient traditions of the early settlers and Western influence brought during the Portuguese and Dutch colonial era (Fisher, 2018). The principles held highly in the Indonesian society stem from life in the village communities, such as the concept of gotong royong (mutual cooperation) and musyawarah (deliberation) in order to reach mufakat (consensus). These concepts are still very relevant and respected across the country and upheld in politics (Kawamura, 2011; Koentjaraningrat, 2009).


CIA World Factbook. (2019). Indonesia.

Fisher, M. (2018). Indonesia People and Culture: Tradition and Custom. Equinox Publishing.

Kawamura, K. (2011). Consensus and democracy in Indonesia: Musyawarah-Mufakat revisited. IDE Discussion Paper, 308, 1–14.

Koentjaraningrat. (2009). Gotong Rojong: Some Social-anthropological Observations on Practices in Two Villages of Central Java.

Na’im, A., & Syaputra, H. (2011). Kewarganegaraan, suku bangsa, agama dan bahasa sehari-hari penduduk Indonesia hasil sensus penduduk 2010. Jakarta: Badan Pusat Statistik.

There are two official languages (English and Swahili) and one national language (Swahili) but most residents in rural areas only speak their native languages, which are about 70.  Kikuyu, Luo, Luhya, Kamba and Kalenjin ethnic groups account for 70% of the nation’s total population (University of Pennsylvania, 2019). The majority of the residents in cities and town centers speak the national language (Swahili) which is spoken in several other countries such as Tanzania, Burundi, Uganda, and Zaire.


University of Pennsylvania. (2019). Kenya Ethnic Groups.

Spanish is the official language of Mexico but there are also 68 indigenous languages originated in Mexico. The predominant and currently most spoken indigenous languages are Nahuatl (23.4%), Maya (11.6%), Tseltal (7.5%), and Mixteco (7.0%). Those who speak these four languages represent almost 50% of total population that speaks an indigenous language (INEGI, 2015b).

Classification of indigenous populations in national surveys and administrative records is done in two ways. The first asks individuals aged 3 years or above if they speak an indigenous language. In 2015, using this classification, 7.2 million indigenous people were identified, representing 6.6% of the total population of the country (INEGI, 2015b). Although the majority also speaks Spanish, 11.3% of the indigenous population speaks only their indigenous language. The states with the highest proportion of indigenous population are in the South of the country in the states of Oaxaca, Yucatán, and Chiapas, where the indigenous population represents one third of total population (INEGI, 2015b).

Another indicator to classify the indigenous population is self-recognition as indigenous or belonging to an indigenous group, even if an indigenous language is not spoken. Using this indicator, 27.5 million people self-recognise as indigenous or belonging to an indigenous group, which is greater than the number of people who speak an indigenous language (21.5% vs. 6.6% of the population). Another important group comprehends those who consider themselves Afro descendants, which are 1.4 million people, and represent 1.2% of the national population. Belonging to or self-identifying as indigenous or Afro-descendant, is associated with a lower number of years of schooling, especially in women, and limited access to health services (INEGI, 2015b).


INEGI. (2015b). Encuesta Intercensal 2015 Estados Unidos Mexicanos. Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía, 1, 85–90.