bilingual national anthems

Michael Erard erard at
Mon May 1 16:52:53 UTC 2006

Thanks to those who responded to my request last 
week about multilingual national anthems: Jon 
Orman, Ablimit Baki, and Katherine Mortimer.

Orman wrote that, "South Africa's national anthem 
is regularly sung in at least three languages. 
The first verse is normally Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika 
in Xhosa followed by the Afrikaans 'Die Stem' and 
a third verse sung in English."

Baki wrote, "Chinese National Anthem,"March of 
the Volunteers" are sung in Uyghur at Uyghur
mainstream schools while it is in Mandarin 
Chinese at Chinese mainstream  schools in 
Xinjiang, western China."

Mortimer wrote that "Paraguay is officially 
declared in its constitution a bilingual country 
(both Spanish and GuaranĂ­ as national and 
official languages), and while the original of 
the Paraguayan national anthem seems to be in 
Spanish it is also sung in GuaranĂ­ in schools 
where I've done research in Paraguay."

I also posted this request on a national anthems site forum:

  1) from countries where there's more than 1 
official language, hence more than 1 version of 
the national anthem

  2) there are sizable language minorities that 
sing the national anthem in their language, 
though the version in that language is not 

  3) where the song itself is multilingual -- 
South Africa's anthem, for instance, is commonly 
sung with the first verse in Xhosa, the second in 
Afrikaans, and the third in English.

It turns out that getting certain answers to 
these is more difficult than you'd think, but one 
poster, an amateur performer of 130+ national 
anthems, provided the following (unofficial) 
list. While the list is far from exhaustive, the 
geographic range is notable, as is the wide 
variance in policies and practices surrounding 
national anthems.

Michael Erard

official versions of the national anthem in more 
than one language:
  Belgium (Flemish, French, German)
  Burundi (French, Kirundi)
  Canada (English, French)
  Comoros (French, Shikomoro [Shimasiwa])
  Fiji (English, Fijian)
  Finland (Finnish, Swedish)
  Kenya (English, Kiswahili)
  Malawi (Chichewa, English)
  Marshall Islands (English, Marshallese)
  Nauru (English, Nauruan)
  New Zealand (English, Maori)
  Palau (English, Palauan)
  Suriname (Dutch, Sranan Tongo) [but see below]
  Switzerland (French, German, Italian, Ladinish, Surselvish)
  Zambia (Bemba, English)
  Zimbabwe (English, Ndebele, Shona)
  Note: Even when official versions exist they 
actually may be used only rarely, if at all.
national anthems often or sometimes sung in 
another language:
  Guatemala (Spanish official, Garifuna version exists)
  India (words are same in Hindi and Bengali, but 
pronunciation is different and Bengali version is 
sometimes heard)
  Ireland (Irish Gaelic official, English version 
often sung and is included on government-issued 
sheet music)
  Kyrgyzstan (Kyrgyz official, Russian version 
exists; unclear whether Russian version has 
official status)
  Malta (Maltese official, unofficial English 
version exists but apparently no longer used)
  Monaco (Monegasque official, French version exists)
  Philippines (Filipino official, English and Spanish versions exist)
  Sri Lanka (Sinhalese official, Tamil version exists)
  Suriname (Dutch and Sranan Tongo official, Javanese version exists)
  Tonga (Tongan official; English version exists, 
may have official status; see below)
  Tuvalu (Tuvaluan official; English version 
exists, may have official status; see below)

  South Africa (Xhosa, Sesotho, Afrikaans, English)
  Suriname [some references indicate that the 
first verse is sung in Dutch and the second in 
Sranan Tongo]
  [Tongan anthem is sometimes performed in Tongan and English]
  [Tuvaluan anthem is sometimes performed in Tuvaluan and English]
Note: In some cases where the different language 
versions of the anthem are distinct, the two 
versions are sometimes or often performed one 
right after the other; for example: New Zealand. 
In other cases, performers often use "unofficial" 
bilingual versions of the anthem; for example: 
Austria (six languages; referenced in Reply #11 
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