Welcome to Linguis Europae, the EUC's language blog!

Linguis Europae is dedicated to a range of topics involving official state, regional, and minority languages in the EU. Posts are written in five languages by UI students and faculty! Check back regularly for updates!

Bridging the Gap: Language and Community in Action in East Central Illinois

Skye Mclean discusses the East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center (ECRIMAC), which provides services essential to refugee and immigrant resettlement in East-Central Illinois and aids in the exchange and preservation of their respective cultures.

Place and Space: Another Perspective on Crimea

Senior Andrey Starosin offers his perspective on the current events taking place in Crimea.

French Professor Revamps Course on "Language and Minorities in Europe"

Linguis Europae's own Zsuzsanna Fagyal and her course "Languages and Minorities in Europe" were featured in a recent issue of the School of Literatures, Cultures, and Linguistics.

Un'Ode al "Dialàtt Bulgnaiś": An Ode to the Bolgnese Dialect

Kaitlyn Russell muses on her fondness for the Italian dialect, Bolognese.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

What is Manx and Why Does Manx Matter?

by Josh Erb |

editor: Jessica Nicholas, PhD Candidate in French |

Josh Erb is a Senior in Global Studies. Josh is interested in many topics related to cultural heritage, policy and identity, and was attracted to Celtic languages in a class session devoted to language endangerment and the revitalization of insular regional minority languages in Europe (418). In this blog entry, he makes an inspiring plea for revitalizing the seriously endangered Celtic language of Manx. 

In 1974, Edward ("Ned") Maddrell, the last native speaker of Manx Gaelic, died. “So what?” you would be tempted to ask. Why should anyone be concerned with the loss of one language in a world that has approximately 6,500 or more? What significance does the loss of a man named Ned Maddrell and his mother tongue have for the rest of us?

In our globalized world, we are often hard-pressed to find answers to these questions. This is especially true for those of us who were blessed with being native speakers of the current global lingua franca: English. When talking of the extinction of a language, however, it is extremely important to refocus the issue. The loss of a language does not exclusively mean the loss of words and accents. No, when language is lost, so too is culture, tradition, identity, ideology, theology, and much, much more. When Ned Maddrell (seen right) died, so did the native understanding of the worldview of his people, the Manx people, on the Isle of Man (shown on the map below).

Allow me to make the argument in another way. Imagine a rare bird that sings a song unlike any other bird; a song that pierces the silence of the forest around it, and causes passersby to pause momentarily. To illustrate this point I would encourage you to listen to the recordings on this link. Now imagine that this bird, or any of the birds on this YouTube video, is about to go extinct. This unique song would be gone forever, and the forest would permanently lose the ambiance and harmony that the song created. But with languages, especially well documented ones such as Manx Gaelic, we are fortunate enough to be able to revive them, if we really want to.

Before I go on to make my case for the revival of Manx, let me provide you with a (very, very) brief history of the language and the island with which this Celtic language is associated. This will, hopefully, help illustrate what is at stake. Manx Gaelic, not to be confused with Anglo-Manx, a variety of English, is/was spoken exclusively on the Isle of Man. It is closely related to Irish and Scottish Gaelic and most likely appeared on this island around the 5th century A.D. Manx emerged as a distinct language sometime in the 13th or 14th century. It then went on to enjoy an almost unchallenged position in the community until the Isle was sold to the British at the end of the 18th century by the Duke of Atholl. The decline of Manx coincided with the increased British influence that took place in the aftermath of this sale. English became the dominant language of the Isle. However, I think the most accurate example of what’s at stake can be found in the common Manx expression “traa dy liooar,” which translated to English means “time enough.” This expression is often used as an example of the stereotypical Manx ideology of taking things slowly. This expression is just a small fraction of what would be lost if this language were simply allowed to go extinct.

In recent years, however, the language has slowly become associated with the identity of the people of the Isle. Fortunately for Manx, perhaps, the language has been well preserved in relics, writings, and songs. Several integral works were published in Manx following the reformation (i.e. The Book of Common Prayer, the Bible, and a translation of Paradise Lost). These texts are vital to the efforts that are being made to revitalize the language. These efforts have grown from a renewed interest on the part of the Manx people to preserve the culture and language of their heritage. This desire is most likely related to the loss of Ned Maddrell. Because of these efforts, what once seemed to be lost forever has now attained the status of “limited official recognition.” The standardization of Manx and the effort to educate a new generation of native speakers has given this “bird song” hope. Click on the video to hear the song in Manx: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2tOnI9m5cME


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

France’s New President to ratify the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages?

by Jessica Nicholas |

François Hollande, France’s new President, has promised to ratify the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, guaranteeing protection and active support for regional languages in Europe.  Hollande’s campaign had vigorous support from groups advocating for official recognition of regional languages (such as Occitan and Breton) due to his expressed support for ratifying the Charter during his candidacy.  He did state, however, that the French language should be protected.

What is the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, and why has this question become a campaign issue?

The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (click here for full text in English) is a convention adopted by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in 1992.  (You can read the explanation on the Council of Europe’s website here.)

The Council of Europe summarizes it thus:

“The Charter is a convention designed on the one hand to protect and promote regional and minority languages as a threatened aspect of Europe’s cultural heritage and on the other hand to enable speakers of a regional or minority language to use it in private and public life.”

The regional and minority languages concerned are those that have a territory within the state in question, have a smaller population of speakers than the rest of the state, are not official languages of the state or any dialects thereof, and are not the languages of migrant groups.

Countries that ratify the Charter are subject to external oversight to make sure they are adequately meeting the conditions of the Charter.  They have to prove that they are taking action to promote their regional and minority languages, provide for the teaching of these languages, and facilitate their usage in private and public life.

It is precisely with this “public life” provision where the Charter conflicts with existing French law.

France signed it, but didn’t ratify it.  Why not?

In a divided government under conservative president Jacques Chirac and a leftist majority Parliament, France signed the Charter in 1999, making a series of declarations about how the French government would choose to interpret certain parts of the document.  Most particularly, they took issue with the Charter’s granting of rights to certain groups within France, which they interpreted to be contrary to the unity of the French people, and to its requirement that the State facilitate and encourage the use of the minority languages in the public sphere.

The Conseil Constitutionnel (France’s Supreme Court) decided not to ratify the Charter because they found it to be unconstitutional. (Click to read the original decision in French, and an English translation in PDF form).  The main conflict was between the Charter’s call for official, public use of the languages in question and the Constitution’s mandate that all official, public communication be conducted in French.

The conflicting statements in the Constitution (click for full text in French and English) are as follows:

Article 1:
“France shall be an indivisible, secular, democratic and social Republic. It shall ensure the equality of all citizens before the law, without distinction of origin, race or religion.”
Therefore, it would go against the Constitution to recognize separate groups within France under the law.

Article 2:
“The language of the Republic shall be French.”
Therefore, no other official status shall be granted to any other language.

Thus, the Conseil Constitutionnel decided to sign but not ratify the Charter:
“[T]he specified provisions of the Charter are inconsistent with the Constitution…Having regard to their nature, none of the other undertakings entered into by France is contrary to the Constitution, most of them, incidentally, doing no more than recognize practices that France has already implemented to promote regional languages.”

In other words, France signed the Charter because it looked nice but they didn’t actually have to change anything.

What changes are underway to allow France to ratify the Charter?

The French will need to change the Constitution to allow the Republic to be “divisible” and to permit other languages in addition to French to be used in public life. We’ll see what happens.

Jessica Nicholas is a PhD Candidate in the Department of French.  Specializing in French Linguistics, she has a particular interest in language ideologies, variation, and education.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

La Charte Européenne des langues régionales ou minoritaires: la France et ses relations avec le breton et le basque

by Natasha Sharp |

Alessia Zulato (PhD candidate in French)
Zsuzsanna Fagyal (Associate Professor of French) |

En 1992, le Conseil de l’Europe a voulu promouvoir et protéger des langues régionales et minoritaires qui sont en voie de disparition. Le Conseil de l’Europe a donc établi un traité international, La Charte Européenne des langues régionales ou minoritaires, pour inciter les états européen à préserver leurs langues locales qui font partie du patrimoine historique et culturel l’Europe. La Charte prévoit la protection et la promotion des langues utilisées traditionnellement par les minorités historiques et territoriales. La Charte confère à ces langues un statut et elle oblige les états qui la ratifient de prendre des mesures de protection pour préserver les langues dans les régions où elles sont parlées. Le texte de ce traité explique que les pays européens doivent permettre à leurs ressortissants d’utiliser leurs langues régionales ou minoritaires pour que ces langues ne disparaissent pas.

Cependant, il est difficile de faire adopter ces règles en France. La France a signé quelques articles de la Charte, mais elle ne l’a pas encore ratifié (confirmer comme loi). Il y a plusieurs variétés de langues régionales ou minoritaires en France, comme l’indique la carte ci-dessus. Pourtant, d’habitude, les Français considèrent ces langues comme des dialectes ou des patois ; beaucoup ne les voient pas comme des « vraies langues », donc des langues avec un statut. Ceci crée un problème pour leur protection. Au Bureau européen pour les langues moins répandues, on reconnaît dix langues régionales en France qui sont le breton, le catalan, le corse, les langues créoles, l’allemand/alsacien, le basque, le luxembourgeois/mosellan, le néerlandais/flamand, l’occitan, et les langues dites « d'oïl ». Certaines de ces langues sont enseignées, mais la France ne leur donne aucun statut officiel. Selon certains, il y aurait beaucoup plus de langues en France, si on prenait en compte les langues des immigrés, comme le romani. A ce propos, il faut noter que la Charte ne reconnaît pas les langues des immigrés, car ces langues n’ont pas de passé historique et territorial en Europe. Il est donc difficile de trouver un bon moyen pour protéger toutes les langues minoritaires.

Natasha Sharp is a junior in the College of LAS specializing in French. She wrote this blog entry in the European Union Center’s Language and Minorities in Europe (418) cross-listed survey course that also touched to the situation of regional or minority languages in France. In this text, she explains and illustrates the cultural and legal difficulties facing France in the protection and promotion of its regional or minority languages, two of which are Breton and Basque.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Irish Complaint Box

by Dora Lee |

Jessica Nicholas (PhD candidate in French)
Zsuzsanna Fagyal (Associate Professor of French) |

“Où se trouve la bibliothèque?” [Where is the library ?]
“Up the street two blocks, turn to your right, just pass Burger King and you’re right there.”
“Je vous ai dit, “Où se trouve la bibliothèque?” [I’m asking: Where is the library?]
“And I told you, up two blocks, to your right, right past Burger King.  Don’t you understand English?"
We don’t often anticipate someone responding to us in a language other than the one we’ve spoken to them in.  Even if they’re just telling us that no, they don’t in fact speak our language, they usually manage to muddle through our language well enough to inform us that they just can’t muddle through it any longer. 

Not so in Ireland, apparently, where muddling through just doesn’t seem to cut it!

Irish Language Commissioner Seán Ó Cuirreáin has recently issued a report detailing the rise in complaints related to the state of use of the Irish language.  The complaints vary from policemen being unable to communicate in Irish, to signs either being exclusively in English or in misspelled Irish, to receiving English responses to letters written in Irish, all of which are a violation of the 2003 Official Languages Act1, in which Ireland announced its intention to have 250,000 daily Irish speakers by 20302.

This subject has captured my interest because I’m never sure whether complaints are a sign of progress or not. On one hand, if people are complaining, it means that there’s a problem.  If the Irish government were meeting all of its benchmarks, providing all of the services to Irish speakers it promised, there wouldn’t be complaints…or at least not a marked increase in them; people will always complain about the government. However, the fact that Irish citizens are complaining that they are unable to file reports with police officers in a state language like Irish  is a serious matter. Something is wrong.

On the other hand, the fact that people are complaining about it means that there’s something right, too.  It might means that at least the people lodging these complaints are motivated Irish speakers. This means that there are speakers who want to speak the Irish language!  If there were no speakers, there wouldn’t be complaints, because everyone would be complaining to the police officers about the loud party next door in English. The police officer would be responding in English, the report would be written in English, and everyone would be happy… in English, except maybe the teenage neighbor whose parents grounded him until kingdom come. 

I think this dilemma encapsulates the positives and the negatives of Irish’s position in its national arena of language use.  The Irish language has had a lot of support historically, unlike, say the majority of Amerindian languages , which suffer from their own communities’ negative attitudes. Consequently, speakers of such communities are in general more than willing to switch to the European language alternative (be it English, Spanish, or French) and align with governments who have little interest in maintaining the indigenous languages.  The combination of these two factors accounts for the fact that many of these languages are moribund. Irish is a different case. It is an official state language, with speakers who want to speak it and a government that wants to protect it. But as this increase in complaints demonstrates, willing something just doesn’t make it so.

Irish Language Commissioner Seán Ó Cuirreáin has also issued another warning earlier this spring when he explained in the Irish Times that even the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, the department of the Irish government responsible to implement language policy, “has no updated formal scheme” for implementing some of the key elements of the Official Languages Act. Last year a protest was held in Dublin concerning the proposal to drop Irish as a compulsory subject in schools. As one protestor at the event said, “to speak a language is to have a language” . If Ireland wants to maintain its language, it will have to be a language people can gab in, people can lecture in, and people can complain about the loud party next door in. Irish legislation is trying to make this dream a reality, and I believe an empty complaint box would represent the ultimate failure: lack of care! Where there’s a will there’s a way: as long as the complaints are still pouring in, there’s a will.

[1] "Number 32/2003: OFFICIAL LANGUAGES ACT 2003." Number 32/2003: OFFICIAL LANGUAGES ACT 2003. Web. 02 May 2012. <http://www.achtanna.ie/en.act.2003.0032.1.html>.
[2] "Critical Times for the Irish Language." Gaelport Latest News. Web. 22 Apr. 2012. <http://www.gaelport.com/default.aspx?treeid=37>.

Dora Lee is a senior in Linguistics. In the ‘Language and Minorities in Europe’ (418) EUC survey class, Dora was intrigued by the paradoxical situation of Irish, an official state language in the EU that is struggling to survive on the streets. In this blog entry she wrote for the class, she talks about this and other dilemmas facing Irish, putting the reader in the shoes of native speakers and language activists.


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Se gli Italiani possono farlo, perché non l’Unione?

Se gli Italiani possono farlo, perché non l'Unione?
If the Italians could do it, why not the EU?
by Orion Meyer |

Alessia Zulato (PhD Candidate in French) |

L'Italia non è una nazione di una sola lingua, ma di tantissime lingue. Come mostrato dalle sequenti mappe, ci sono dialetti regionali, locali, etc.[1] 
Questa cosa potrebbe causare un numero di problemi senza limiti. Ma c'è una lingua franca per la nazione – L'Italiano. La lingua è parlata dalla gran maggioranza del popolo[2] perché senza una lingua comune, il governo e il paese non funziona. Ma con una lingua franca, tutti i cittadini hanno l'opportunità e l'abilità di comunicare facilmente. Questa cosa è importan-tissima per una nazione con divisione dietro ogni angolo. Il parallelismo fra Italia e L'Unione Europea è questo – ci sono tantissime lingue dei cittadini, ma c'è anche un governo centrale. Oggi, nell’Unione, si può usare tutte le lingue dell'Unione per comunicare, si ha una scelta un po' più piccola per i brevetti[3], però ci sono anche tantissime scelte linguistiche[4]. La ragione per cui ci sono solo tre lingue (il francese, il tedesco e l'inglese) nell’ufficio dei brevetti venga dal costo e difficoltà della traduzione da una lingua ad un'altra – per esempio fra l'italiano all'ungherese. L'idea è che con tre lingue, il costo sarà diminuito e ci saranno solo tre lingue per tradurre. Questo è un movimento nella direzione corretta, ma l'Unione deve fare di più. 

Se c'è solo una lingua dell'Unione, non ci sarà la necessità dei traduttori, o la traduzione dei documenti, patenti, etc. I soldi che saranno i risparmiati sono enormi! Ma più importante di questi risparmi c'è la possibilità di comunicazione per tutti dei cittadini! Un governo in cui tutti i cittadini capiscono i desideri e motivi dei politici, c'è la possibilità per una conversazione della situazione politica fra uno Sloveno e un Danese. La cosa bella di questa situazione è che tutti possono capire gli altri, ma allo stesso tempo, le vostre lingue rimangono. 

Quello è come un sogno che è troppo difficile, e si avvererà troppo lentamente, ma abbiamo l'esempio degli italiani! Una nazione che non ha fatto la decisione per il suo inno, o per il riconoscimento delle lingue delle minoranze per più di 60 anni[5]! Forse l’Italia era un po' lenta, ma l'Unione Europea ha quest'esempio d'unificazione come ispirazione. Se gli Italiani possono farlo, perché non l'Unione?

"The Dialects of Italian." Evolution Publishing Homepage. Web. 01 May 2012. <http://www.evolpub.com/Italiandialects/ITALdial.html>.
"Interpreting and Translating for Europe." Cdt.europa.eu. European Union. Web. 10 May 2012. <http://cdt.europa.eu/CDT%20Publication%20Book/CITI%20-%20Interpreting%20and%20Translating%20for%20Europe/Citi_websize.pdf>.
"Italian Minister Slams Three-language EU Patent Proposal." — EUbusiness. Web. 01 May 2012. <http://www.eubusiness.com/news-eu/italy-industry.5f7>.
"Italy - Nationalanthems.info." Nationalanthems.info. Web. 01 May 2012. <http://www.nationalanthems.info/it.htm>.
"The Many Languages of Italy." Family Travel to Italy Guide Italy with Kids. Web. 01
May 2012. <http://www.kidseurope.com/Newsletter/LanguagesofItaly.htm>.

[1] http://www.evolpub.com/Italiandialects/ITALdial.html
[2] http://www.kidseurope.com/Newsletter/LanguagesofItaly.htm
[3] http://www.eubusiness.com/news-eu/italy-industry.5f7
[4] Interpreting and Translating for Europe
[5] http://www.nationalanthems.info/it.htm

Orion Meyer is a senior in Psychology, minoring in Italian. His interests in the EU and regional languages in Italy have inspired this blog entry where he proposes a parallel between Italy’s success in agreeing on a common literary and official state language and the EU’s prospects of settling for one common language. "Italy might have been a bit slow, but the EU can be inspired by its example of unification," he proposes.


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