Lingue nell’Eurovision Song Contest


The following is a list of languages used in the Eurovision Song Contest since its inception in 1956, including songs (as) performed in finals and, since 2004, semi-finals.

The rules concerning the language of the entries have been changed several times. In the past, the Contest’s organizers have sometimes compelled countries to only sing in their own languages, but since 1999 no such restriction has existed.

From 1956 until 1965, there was no rule restricting the language(s) in which the songs could be sung. For example, in the 1965 Contest, Ingvar Wixell of Sweden sang his song in English.

From 1966 to 1973, a rule was imposed that a song must be performed in one of the official languages of the country participating.

From 1973 to 1976 inclusive, participants were allowed to enter songs in any language. Several winners took advantage of this, with songs in English by countries where other languages are spoken, including ABBA’s song in 1974.

In 1977, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), the Contest’s organisers, reimposed the national language restriction. However, Germany and Belgium were given a special dispensation to use English, as their national song selection procedures were already too advanced to change. During the language rule, the only countries which were allowed to sing in English wereIreland, Malta and United Kingdom as English is an official language in those countries. The restriction was imposed from 1977 to 1998.

From 1999 onwards, a free choice of language was again allowed. Since then, several countries have chosen songs that mixed languages, often English and their national language. Prior to that, songs such as Croatia’s “Don’t Ever Cry” (1993), Austria’s “One Step” and Bosnia and Herzegovina’s “Goodbye” (1997) had a title and one line of the song in a non-native language. In 1994 Poland caused a scandal when Edyta Górniak broke the rules by singing her song in English during the dress rehearsal (which is shown to the juries who selected the winner). Only six countries demanded that Poland should be disqualified, though the rules required 13 countries to complain before Poland could be removed from the competition, the proposed removal did not occur. 

Since 2000 some songs have used artificial or non-existent languages: the Belgian entries in2003 (“Sanomi”) and 2008 (“O Julissi”) were entirely in imaginary languages. In 2006 the Dutchentry, “Amambanda”, was sung partly in English and partly in an artificial language.

The entry which used the most languages was “It’s Just a Game”, sung by the Bendik Singers forNorway in 1973. It was performed in English and French, with some lyrics in Spanish, Italian,Dutch, German, Irish, Serbo-Croatian, Hebrew, Finnish, Swedish and Norwegian. In 2012Bulgaria’s entry, “Love Unlimited” had lyrics in Bulgarian, with phrases in Turkish, Greek, Spanish, Serbo-Croatian, French, Romani, Italian, Azerbaijani, Arabic and English. 1969 Yugoslav entry “Pozdrav svijetu” was mainly sung in Croatian, but it had phrases in Spanish, German, French, English, Dutch, Italian, Russian and Finnish.

As of 2015, only three countries have never entered a song in one or more of their national language(s): Belarus has used neither Belarusian nor Russian since its first participation in 2004, Azerbaijan has not used Azerbaijani since its debut in 2008 (leading Bulgaria to be the first country to enter a song with Azerbaijani lyrics) and Monaco has not used Monégasque, which is one of the official languages of Monaco.

On the other hand, as of 2015, there are only eleven countries whose representatives have performed all their songs at least partially in an official, regional or national language: Andorra,France, Italy, Luxembourg, Monaco, Morocco, Portugal, and Spain. In addition, former countriesSerbia and Montengro, Yugoslavia, and current countries Ireland, Malta and the United Kingdom, only have been represented by songs fully in an official language.

First appearances of language

Order Language First
appearance
Country First performer First song
1 Dutch 1956  Netherlands Jetty Paerl “De vogels van Holland”
2 German 1956  Switzerland Lys Assia “Das alte Karussell”
3 French 1956  Belgium Fud Leclerc “Messieurs les noyés de la Seine”
4 Italian 1956  Italy Franca Raimondi “Aprite le finestre”
5 English 1957  United Kingdom Patricia Bredin “All”
6 Danish 1957  Denmark Birthe Wilke & Gustav Winckler “Skibet skal sejle i nat”
7 Swedish 1958  Sweden Alice Babs “Lilla stjärna”
8 Luxembourgish 1960  Luxembourg Camillo Felgen “So laang we’s du do bast”
9 Norwegian 1960  Norway Nora Brockstedt “Voi Voi”
10 Spanish 1961  Spain Conchita Bautista “Estando contigo”
11 Finnish 1961  Finland Laila Kinnunen “Valoa ikkunassa”
12 Serbian [see 1] 1961  Yugoslavia Ljiljana Petrović “Neke davne zvezde” (Неке давне звезде)
13 Croatian [see 1] 1963  Yugoslavia Vice Vukov “Brodovi”
14 Portuguese 1964  Portugal António Calvário “Oração”
15 Bosnian [see 1] 1964  Yugoslavia Sabahudin Kurt “Život je sklopio krug”
16 Slovene 1966  Yugoslavia Berta Ambrož “Brez besed”
17 Viennese 1971  Austria Marianne Mendt “Musik”
18 Maltese 1971  Malta Joe Grech “Marija l-Maltija”
19 Irish 1972  Ireland Sandie Jones “Ceol an Ghrá”
20 Hebrew 1973  Israel Ilanit “Ey Sham” (אי שם)
21 Greek 1974  Greece Marinella “Krasi, Thalassa Kai T’ Agori Mou”
(Κρασί, θάλασσα και τ’ αγόρι μου)
22 Turkish 1975  Turkey Semiha Yankı “Seninle Bir Dakika”
23 Arabic 1980  Morocco Samira Bensaid “Bitaqat Khub” (بطاقة حب)
24 Icelandic 1986  Iceland ICY “Gleðibankinn”
25 Romansh 1989  Switzerland Furbaz “Viver senza tei”
26 Neapolitan 1991  Italy Peppino di Capri “Comme è ddoce ‘o mare”
27 Haitian Creole 1992  France Kali “Monté la riviè”
28 Corsican 1993  France Patrick Fiori “Mama Corsica”
29 Estonian 1994  Estonia Silvi Vrait “Nagu merelaine”
30 Romanian 1994  Romania Dan Bittman “Dincolo de nori”
31 Slovak 1994  Slovakia Tublatanka “Nekonečná pieseň”
32 Lithuanian 1994  Lithuania Ovidijus Vyšniauskas “Lopšinė mylimai”
33 Hungarian 1994  Hungary Friderika Bayer “Kinek mondjam el vétkeimet?”
34 Russian 1994  Russia Youddiph “Vyechniy stranik” (Вечный стрaнник)
35 Polish 1994  Poland Edyta Górniak “To nie ja!”
36 Vorarlbergish 1996  Austria Georg Nussbaumer “Weil’s dr guat got”
37 Breton 1996  France Dan Ar Braz “Diwanit Bugale”
38 Macedonian 1998  Macedonia Vlado Janevski “Ne zori, zoro” (Не зори, зоро)
39 Samogitian 1999  Lithuania Aistė “Strazdas”
40 Styrian 2003  Austria Alf Poier “Weil der Mensch zählt”
41 Imaginary 2003  Belgium Urban Trad “Sanomi”
42 Latvian 2004  Latvia Fomins & Kleins “Dziesma par laimi”
43 Catalan 2004  Andorra Marta Roure “Jugarem a estimar-nos”
44 Ukrainian 2004  Ukraine Ruslana “Wild Dances”
45 Võro 2004  Estonia Neiokõsõ “Tii”
46 Montenegrin 2005  Serbia and Montenegro No Name “Zauvijek moja”
47 Albanian 2006  Albania Luiz Ejlli “Zjarr e ftohtë”
48 Tahitian 2006  Monaco Séverine Ferrer “La Coco-Dance”
49 Bulgarian 2007  Bulgaria Elitsa Todorova & Stoyan Yankoulov “Water”
50 Czech 2007  Czech Republic Kabát “Malá dáma”
51 Armenian 2007  Armenia Hayko “Anytime You Need”
52 Romani 2009  Czech Republic Gipsy.cz “Aven Romale”
53 Swahili 2011  Norway Stella Mwangi “Haba Haba”
54 American Sign Language 2011  Lithuania Evelina Sašenko “C’est ma vie”
55 Udmurt 2012  Russia Buranovskiye Babushki “Party for Everybody”
56 Azeri 2012  Bulgaria Sofi Marinova “Love Unlimited”
57 Georgian 2012  Georgia Anri Jokhadze “I’m a Joker”

From the first Contest in 1956 until 1965, and again from 1973 until 1976 there was no restriction on language. From 1966 until 1972, and again from 1978 until 1998, songs were required to be performed in a national language. The national language rule was actually instituted shortly before the 1977 Contest, but some countries had already selected non-national language entries, and they were allowed to enter without any changes.

As of the 1999 Contest, the restriction was again lifted, and songs may be performed in any language. As a result, many of the songs are performed partially or completely in English. In2003, Belgium made full use of the so-termed free language rule, and entered a song, “Sanomi”, in an artificial language created especially for the song. This proved successful as the country finished second, only two points behind Turkey. The same tactic was used in 2006 by the Dutchentry Treble which is partially sung in an artificial language and once again by Belgium with their 2008 entry “O Julissi”.

No entirely instrumental composition has ever been allowed in Eurovision contests. Latvia did their act in a cappella in 2006, as did Belgium in 2011.

Dialects and regional languages: On some occasions, dialects of a language or a very rare language have been used in a song entry:

  • 1971, 1996, 2003 & 2012 – Austria sang in various dialects of German
  • 1972 – Ireland sang in Irish, one of the two official languages of Ireland
  • 1982 – Germany sang in German but after winning performed the reprise in four different languages: German, English, French and Dutch
  • 1989 – Switzerland sang in Romansh, the fourth language of Switzerland
  • 1990 and 2012 – Finland sang in Swedish, which is the country’s second official language.
  • 1991 – Italy sang in Neapolitan, an Italo-Dalmatian language spoken in Naples and surrounding areas.
  • 1992, 1993, 1996 and 2011 – France sang in the languages of Creole (1992), Corsican(1993 and 2011) and Breton (1996).
  • 1999 – Lithuania sang in Samogitian, a dialect of Lithuanian
  • 2004 – Estonia sang in Võro, which is considered by some to be a dialect of Estonian, and others, a separate language
  • 2003, 2006 and 2008 – In 2003, Belgium’s Urban Trad sang “Sanomi” in a completely made-up language, while the Dutch participants in 2006, Treble, sang half of their song “Amambanda” in a fictional language. In 2008, Ishtar performed their song, “O Julissi” in a fictional language as well.
  • 2006 – Monaco sang partially in Tahitian.
  • 2009 – The Czech Republic sang partially in Romani, the language of the Romani people.
  • 2011 – Norway introduces lyrics in Swahili.
  • 2012 – Most of the lyrics of Russia’s entry were in the Udmurt language (which, alongsideRussian, is the official language in Udmurtia).

Language issues: Many European countries were founded on ideas of linguistic unity and because of the sometimes unwelcome dominance of the English language in modern pop music, the language of a country’s Eurovision entry can be a contentious issue. Some entries are performed in English to reach broader audiences, though this is sometimes looked upon as unpatriotic. In recent years up to 2007 the number of non-English language entrants has decreased, with mostly Eastern European countries, French language countries, Spain and Portugal performing in their native language. In terms of recent Contest performance, most non-English songs have been far less successful than those in English. Until 2007, the last wholly non-English language winner was Israel’s Dana International, who performed Diva in Hebrew in 1998. The 2004 winner,Wild Dances performed by Ruslana, was partially sung in Ukrainian. After 2007 when Marija Šerifović won, singing in Serbian, the number of non-English contestants increased again in 2008. Almost half of the performers contested in their native language.

In some cases, the lyrics are written and recorded in two different versions (usually English and a national language) or a single multi-language version. Examples include:

  • Denmark, where the national selection procedure allows freedom of language, but if the winning song from their national competition is in Danish, it must be re-written in English for the competition.
  • Sweden, even as there is no outspoken rule the song must be translated into English, it has usually been done so (if allowed in the rules), as in 1965, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1999, 2000, 2004, and 2006.
  • Macedonia, who held a vote to decide whether their 2005 song should be in English orMacedonian.
  • France, whose entry in 2001 was performed partially in French and partially in English. The2007 entry was sung in Franglais. The French entry in 2008 caused controversy as it was all in English and people were unhappy about being represented with an English song. In 2012 Anggun Performed her song Echo partly in English but mostly in French.

Rule changes by year: 

  • 1956 First contest – each of the 7 competing countries were obliged to hold a National selection final to choose their entries.
  • 1957 After Italy’s song lasted 5:09 minutes, rule changes were introduced to limit maximum song times to 3 minutes – which still operates.
  • 1958 The convention of the winning country being invited to host the following year’s contest is introduced. However, several countries would decline the opportunity in subsequent years.
  • 1959 Professional publishers or composers were no longer allowed in the national juries.
  • 1962 Voting system change. Each country had 10 jury members who awarded their three favourite songs 3, 2, and 1 points in order. Previously countries awarded 1 point to their favourite song.
  • 1963 Jury sizes doubled to 20 and points awarded were 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1.
  • 1964 Jury sizes revert to 10, and points are now 5, 3 and 1. It becomes possible for a unanimous jury to award all 9 points to one song – but this does not occur.
  • 1966 Countries must now sing in one of its national languages.
  • 1967 Scoring system reverts to the one used between 1957 and 1961. Each of the ten jurors awards a single point to their favourite song – so in theory a country could be awarded all 10 points, although the highest tally allocated under this system was 9 by the Belgian jury forDana’s 1970 winning song.
  • 1968 Although not a rule change, the contest is broadcast in colour by 6 of the 17 countries competing. It has been available in colour to broadcasters each year since.
  • 1970 Following a four-way tie in the 1969 contest, a tie-break rule was introduced with provision for a sing-off and a show of hands from the juries to elect a winner.
  • 1971 Another voting system change. Each country had two jury members, one under 25 and one over 25. They each awarded 1 to 5 points for each song. This created an issue where some juries gave fewer points out than others. The rule permitting groups of up to six performers on stage was introduced. Previously, entrants could only perform solo or as a duet.
  • 1972 Each country had 2 jurors present in the hall. Each juror awarded all songs with a score between 1 and 5, so each country gave all other countries a score between 2 and 10 points.
  • 1973 The rule forcing countries to sing in one of its national languages is relaxed – however this is only in place for 4 years.
  • 1974 The scoring system used between 1957 and 1961 and between 1968 and 1970 is restored for a third time.
  • 1975 The scoring system that still operates today is introduced. Each jury would now give 12 points to the best song, 10 to the second best, then 8 to the third, 7 to the fourth, 6 to the fifth and so forth until the tenth best song (in the jury’s opinion) received a single point. Unlike today, the points were not given in order (from 1 up to 12), but in the order the songs were performed.
  • 1976 As the cost of staging the contest increases, a new rule was introduced that, in future, each participating broadcaster would have to pay a part of the cost of staging the contest.
  • 1977 Countries must again revert to singing in their own national languages.
  • 1980 The jury spokesperson now read the points out in numerical order (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10 and 12) rather than in song order.
  • 1987 As the number of countries reached a record of 22, the EBU imposed a limit on the number of countries competing. Although set at 22, this limit has varied slightly over the years.
  • 1990 Following Sandra Kim’s 1986 win for Belgium at the age of just 13 and controversy over two performers in 1989 being just 11 and 12 years old, a restriction on competitor’s age was introduced. The minimum age is now 16 at the time of the event.
  • 1993 After the breakup of Yugoslavia, a pre-qualifying round was introduced.
  • 1994 Relegation had to be introduced to accommodate the ever-increasing number of countries wishing to compete. Initially the bottom five countries from 1993 would not get an entrant at the 1994 contest. The relegation rules would change slightly over subsequent years.
  • 1994 This year’s contest saw the highest number of participants in the 1990s, with 25 countries performing.
  • 1997 After controversy over a 1996 pre-selection procedure (similar to 1993) which resulted in Germany being omitted from the contest, the selection procedure changed to allow only the countries with the best average scores over the previous four years.
  • 1997 Televoting was trialled in five countries and would become the preferred method of voting from 1998.
  • 1999 Restrictions are lifted again allowing countries to sing in any language.
  • 1999 Countries preferences to use backing tracks virtually leads to the abolition of orchestras. Live music became optional and all broadcasters since 1999 have declined to use an orchestra. In 2004, all live music was banned; even artists on stage were not allowed to play their instruments live, even if they explicitly voiced their wish to do so. This live music prohibition is still in place.
  • 2000 The “Big Four” rule is introduced giving France, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom automatic entry in the contest regardless of previous performance. In 2011 it was expanded with Italy, becoming “Big Five”.
  • 2004 Relegation rules, which varied slightly since 1994 were dropped and a semi-final was introduced. Countries eliminated in the semi-final were still allowed to vote on the final, so the convention of reading the scores in both French and English were dropped. The spokesperson would now read the score in one language with presenters repeating in the other language.
  • 2006 Jury spokespersons no longer read out all the points from 1 up to 12. Instead the scores up to 7 points are displayed briefly before the spokesperson reads out their 8, 10 and 12 point allocations.
  • 2008 With a record entry of 43, a second semi-final was introduced. Juries were used to allocate a wild-card place in the final from each of the semi-finals. 25 countries now compete in the final.
  • 2009 After criticism of the voting system after the 2007 Contest, changes in the voting procedure were made with the re-introduction of a national jury alongside televoting (split 50/50). This format would be extended to the semi-finals in 2010.
  • 2010 People can vote from the first song until the end of vote.
  • 2012 The fifteen-minute televoting window is restored due to criticism of the voting method after the 2011 contest. 26 countries now compete in the final, because Italy made comeback in 2011 and became a “Big Five” country along with Germany, France, Spain and United Kingdom.
  • 2013 The format of the jury/televoting result is changed slightly in that all songs are now ranked instead of being given a score in each method, this is then merged and the ten highest ranked songs receive points in the usual manner. Also, for the first time, the running order in all three shows is determined by producers of the show instead of a random draw, which is supposed to give each song competing a fair chance of success.
  • 2015 The EBU considers the possibility of inviting countries outside of the European Broadcasting Area or the Council of Europe to participate in future editions of the contest. The first of such “guest nations” was Australia in 2015. This also bumps up the number of countries competing in the final to 27.

Cristicism (Opposition to English singing in non-anglophone countries): French legislator François-Michel Gonnot criticized French television and launched an official complaint in the French Parliament, as the song which represented France in 2008, “Divine”, was sung in English. A similar incident occurred again in 2014, when Spanish artist Ruth Lorenzo was criticized by the Royal Spanish Academy after the Spanish national selection for singing her entry, Dancing in the Rain, with some lyrics in English.

Notes: 

[see 1] At the time, the language spoken in Yugoslavia was called Serbo-Croatian, and these entries were sung in it. The term Croatian came into use during the seventies; Serbian and Bosnian evolved politically in the 1990s (see Serbo-Croatian for more details). Strictly speaking, the first post-breakup entries can be considered the first for the respective languages: “Ljubim te pesmama” for Serbian in 1992, “Sva bol svijeta” for Bosnian in 1993, and “Don’t Ever Cry” for Croatian, also in 1993.

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