Monday, July 1, 2013

A New EU Member State, a New EU Language

by Mike Nelson

I will begin with a riddle. Most people know the famous phrase “a dime a dozen.” Keeping that phrase in mind, the European Union will soon have twenty cents. What is the meaning of this riddle?

A plaque in Croatian
The answer is twenty-four official languages. When Croatia joins the EU on July 1, 2013, Croatian will become the twenty-fourth official language. Croatia is the first country to accede to the EU since Bulgaria and Romania in 2007. With two dozen official languages, there are many questions regarding the efficiency and practicality of so many languages, as well as the expense. In particular, there was a tense debate on whether or not Croatian should become an EU official language.

According to an article in EU Observer, the main concern of adopting Croatian as an official language is the similarity between the various Western Balkan languages. Augustin Palokaj, the author of the article, notes that the United Nation's International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia uses a common language that represents Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian. The fact that the U.N. supports a common Balkan language gives some legitimacy to critics who demand that the EU should mandate a similar rule. The problem is that the other Balkan countries may join the EU in the next few years, and the EU will then have to recognize the languages of all of those countries, making the total number of EU languages end up at twenty-seven or twenty-eight languages.

A major consideration in determining the status of Croatian in the EU is cost. The Directorate-General for Translation, one of the many translating organizations in the EU, estimates its total annual cost as €330 million. When adding the cost of the other translation services, the total cost of translation and interpretation is even greater. The inclusion of Croatian, as well as future potential additions of Bosnian and Serbian, will significantly add to overall expenses. A common Balkan language would save money.

There is a separate debate over whether Croatian even is its own language. Some critics argue that after the breakup of Yugoslavia, each new nation state took the common language and gave it different names in each country for political purposes. In other words, Bosnian, Croatian, Montenegrin, and Serbian are (mostly) the same language under different names. It should be noted that Luxembourgish was never included as an EU official language, most likely due to similarities with French and German. The idea is that having a national language is a way to create a feeling of nationalism. There can be no debate that all of the Western Balkan languages of the ex-Yugoslav space are very similar. As my own mini-experiment, I typed in the text from the picture of a sign in Croatian in this blog into Google Translate, and you could translate the text from Croatian into English and from Serbian into English with the same results.

Personally, I believe that the EU has already made a decision to be multilingual to the fullest extent. If we were going back in history, I may have supported capping the official languages at a total of four or five languages for practicality, but it is too late at this point. Croatian should thus become an official language. It would seem odd if languages such as Irish and Maltese that are fairly uncommon would be official languages but Croatian would be ignored. The EU has a very good translation and interpretation system in place, and it can deal with a few new languages. After all, there are only so many applicant countries left at this point to even join the EU.

Furthermore, as we now know, an agreement was finally reached in this debate. Croatian will indeed become the twenty-fourth EU official language on July 1, 2013. Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia are all EU applicant countries. Due to the acceptance of Croatian, the languages of Macedonian, Montenegrin, and Serbian may all one day become official languages, as well.

Image source: "Karlovim Karima (Alberto Weber)." Wikimedia Commons: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Karlovim_Karima_%28Alberto_Weber%29.JPG

11 comments:

You should do some research before writing this kind of ridiculous articles. Especially this part: "There is a separate debate over whether Croatian even is its own language. Some critics argue that after the breakup of Yugoslavia, each new nation state took the common language and gave it different names in each country for political purposes. In other words, Bosnian, Croatian, Montenegrin, and Serbian are (mostly) the same language under different names. It should be noted that Luxembourgish was never included as an EU official language, most likely due to similarities with French and German. The idea is that having a national language is a way to create a feeling of nationalism"
Croatian is a very old language, and during yugoslavian times people and intelectuals fought for Croatian language and its 'serbization' so to speak. Croatian and Serbian are similar but not the same. There was no common language which was then called Croatian or Serbian or Bosnian after the breakup of Yugoslavia. Thats a complete nonesense and I dont know where you heard that. Maybe you just made that up. Furthermore, about that part about national language creating a feeling of nationalism. Are you a nationalist because you insist on speaking English. Are Catalans nationalists because they insist Catalan is a separate language. Are Basques nationalists? Croatians have the right for their own language just like any other nation in the world. Anyway ridiculous and lousy article in any case. All the best from Croatia.

[note: The EU Center is posting the following comment upon request]

The hostility of Mali Zeus is unprovoked. There is no reason to insult the writer. But, otherwise, this blog welcomes discussions.

The article deals with a very important issue: that of challenges regarding linguistic communication in the EU space. I do not think there will ever be a solution that will satisfy all parties in that. But it is a duty of academia to try to offer explanations, interpretations and new paths in this domain, which makes this blog entry a very helpful effort.

As for the question of the Croatian, the fact that it has been highly politicized during the socialist era and, even more, after the Fall of Yugoslavia, makes the reaction of Mali Zeus understandable. I do not see anywhere in the article the claim that Croatian is not an old or perfectly good language. The article deals with linguistic differences which in certain political contexts lead to the creation of different dialects and languages, and in some others (even if the differences are deeper and more obvious), do not, and remain varieties of the same entity. Here we are speaking about languages as officially recognized entities, and not as structural varieties. In a particular sense, Mali is right: every single person speaks a language that is somehow different from that of his sister or brother. More on the way how this phenomenon has occurred and developed all over the world, can be found in articles by Peter Trudgill (he also discusses the case of Serbo-Croatian), and in work on the South Slavic languages by Ranko Bugarski. What I particularly like about Bugarski is his non-nationalistic approach with regard to the languages in the ex-Yugoslavian space.

—Eda Derhemi

Dear Sir/Madame,

I didn't insult the writer,I just wrote that's a very badly written article and I stand by that.article clearly says there's a debate if Croatian is even its own language. Well that's insulting. There's no debate about that and even if there is its debated by the people who cclaim Croatian language is in fact Serbian and doesnt even exist.. what would the writer say if someone would told him his language doesnt even exist.

kind regards,

Ante Pazanin



I can agree that the article is incorrect since it stated that "Bosnian, Croatian, Montenegrin, and Serbian are (mostly) the same language under different names", which is "prooved" by your own own mini-experiment.

Well I can tell you for sure that your statement and experiment are not evidence-based and are false, since people from these 4 nations cannot talk between themselves with 100% of understanding eachother.

Further proof that these languages are different is that one of the conditions to become a linguist-lawyer or interpreter in the EU institutions for the Croatian language is that you need to speak PERFECT CROATIAN, and/or not serbian, montenegrian or bosnian. That's why people from these nationalities cannot apply for the job! Because every single person who has at least knowledge in these languages knows that they are different. And this is not a nationalistic, but simple linguistic approach.

[note: The EU Center is posting the following comment upon request]

Great discussion! Thank you, all, for participating. The way I’ve read Mike’s use of the word “nationalism” is ‘nation-building’, i.e., something constructive, rather than a synonym of ‘chauvinism’, loaded with negative connotations. This might be due to professional deformation, though, as I teach (and immediately think of) official state-language boundaries in Europe as a result of historical processes of nation-state formation.

At any rate, the point I would like to make is that linguistic and political considerations on language(s) are independent from each other and should be treated as such. Let’s take the US perspective as a thought exercise. Active US diplomacy is implemented by the State Department in ‘BCS’, i.e., Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian. All in one! As you can see in the following letter, the Office of Inspector General explains in simple terms to Ambassador Nancy Powell why – as the letter states – not to treat “Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian as three separate languages” without justifying why they are – or they are not – “essentially dialects of one language”.

http://oig.state.gov/documents/organization/146604.pdf

No linguistic expertise is involved; neither is there any appeal to historical grand traditions or differences in spoken or written forms that might be important for speakers of the language(s). Costs and versatility of the workforce are the prime considerations. Add to this that most universities in this country teach ‘BCS’ regardless of identity considerations that, I am sure, might lead to some interesting discussions in the classroom.

The language industry follows suit, although some seem to appeal to intelligibility as an objective criterion: “[N]ative speakers from any part of the common linguistic area can easily, without interpreters or translators, communicate with each other. On the basis of this communication criterion—intelligibility, we qualify it as a single language with multiple names.”

http://www.dictyon.net/services/language-courses/bosnianserbo-croatian-language-courses

Are these views different from views expressed by our commentators? Yes. Does the type of intelligibility assumed by the speech industry (see comment above) differ from what one of our commentators (rightly) points out to be an aspect of translator selection in Europe? It seems so, and I wouldn’t exclude that all these views could also differ from EU institutions’ views and policies on ‘BCS / Bosnian and Croatian and Serbian’ in the future, if one or several of the other ‘BCS’ countries join the Union. Time will tell. I hope we will be here to comment in good faith and mutual respect on what we perceive to be true. What matters, I think, is to recognize that politics takes over from here. And when that happens – I hate to say this – even one’s most favorite ‘objective’ criteria might end up carrying very little weight.

—Zsuzsanna Fagyal

Dear Zsuzsanna,

I find it disgraceful that the US Department changes the history on the grounds of "more cost effective approach" for itself.

I don't care whether it is linguistic or political approach, the fact is that you consider these three languages as one. I wonder if State Department treats Danish, Norwegian and Swedish language or Russian and Ukrainian language as one language, since they are also similar with the same political background ?!?! And please don't tell me that the reason lies in he fact that they are bigger and more powerful states....

And I can tell you that you don't know the differences between a language and a dialect, because each one of so called BCS languages has at least 4 dialects of their own.

So let me explain it to you - for example in Italy you have an Italian language, but it is not the same spoken in North or South of Italy. So these are its dialects.

And treating us as BCS group, it's as if we would say that the North and South America are all the same - SO WHAT, IT'S ALL AMERICA, no difference!!!

Kind regards!!


So many things are wrong with that letter I dont know where to begin. There's no such thing as BCS. Croatian, Serbian and Bosnian are not dialects of some regional or common language spoken in these parts, they are separate languages. Although similar they're separate languages. As it was said above, Russian and Ukrainian are very similar, yet noone treats them like one language, or maybe I'm wrong.

Furthermore: "No linguistic expertise is involved; neither is there any appeal to historical grand traditions or differences in spoken or written forms that might be important for speakers of the language(s). Costs and versatility of the workforce are the prime considerations. Add to this that most universities in this country teach ‘BCS’ regardless of identity considerations that, I am sure, might lead to some interesting discussions in the classroom"

even worse if there's no linguistic expertise involved. What are we talking about then, politics, cost benefit, or something 3rd?
If the most universities teach so called BCS then they're teaching a language that's completely made up and no different to esperanto.
But then again maybe the main problem is that Croatia as a state hasnt done enough to prove and point that Croatian is a language like any other in the world and not a dialect of some common balkan language and there's no such thing as Serbo-Croatian anymore, not to mention BCS....

People in Croatia has fought during the centuries for their language. First in the middle ages Hungarian was official, then German, Croatian as an official language was introduced as late as 19th century. Serbo-Croatian was an effort to change a Croatian language and make it more like Serbian and was a way to creating some kind of Yugoslavian language what was one more language completely made out of nothing. So it seems even after Croatian has prevailed and outlived all of those big difficulties during Croatian histry and after Croatia has become a independent country we still have to fight for our language and even for our right to our language. But it seems we or Croatia as a country is not fighting enough....

[note: The EU Center is posting the following comment upon request]

Your points are well taken. Croatia did not wait for EU membership to become a unified nation standing behind its culture that has deep European roots and was enriched by a long combat for sovereignty. This is what I have referred to as ‘nation-building’, above. My apparent cynicism is nothing of that sort, either; as a linguist, I WISH linguists would be consulted more often by politicians! However, I am sticking to my analytical stance and I am reminded of Max Weinreich’s oft-quoted expression: “Languages are dialects with an army and a navy”. In Weinreich’s sense, you are right: I do not “know the differences between a language and a dialect”. I also don’t claim knowing them, and nobody should, based on linguistic criteria alone. Political power (sovereignty) and subjective sense of belonging are the decisive factors when it comes to qualify a language variety one or the other. As far as “reductionist” views of language diversity are concerned, US diplomacy, Academia, and language industries are neither atypical, nor irrational (and definitely not purposely disrespectful) in their approach. Managing language diversity in institutions is tough and can lead to decades of fighting. Consider, for instance, the case of the single European patent that has just been cleared for implementation by the European Court of Justice despite decades of opposition by Spain and Italy over language issues:

http://euroalert.net/en/news.aspx?idn=16483

and

http://curia.europa.eu/jcms/upload/docs/application/pdf/2013-04/cp130047en.pdf.

At the end, what mattered – and what the Court seems to have upheld* – is the compromise worked out by the majority of the member states who came together to work towards a common goal and, ultimately, no doubt with losses and regrets, got the job done.

I will stop here for good now and thank you for giving me the opportunity to discuss these issues with you.

—Zsuzsanna Fagyal

PS. *My understanding of reason #1 for rejection, “the competence to adopt the language arrangements for those [intellectual property] rights is closely bound up with their creation”, but I am not a legal scholar.

I am joining this discussion a bit late, but as both Croatian and Serbian native speaker (bilingual, if you prefer), I must add a few words.
Firstly, it is ridiculous to say that a person speaking Serbian and a person speaking Croatian do not understand each other. Yes, there are some differences, but they are comparable to those between British English and American English. After the recent conflict, though, the Croatian politicians have invested considerable efforts in enhancing these differences. But that's another issue.
Secondly, despite the above, the BCS concept is ridiculous. Why? Because it does not take any of these languages seriously, neither together nor separately. To allow a nation to use its own language or language variant or dialect, whatever you want to call it, means to give it its dignity and to take it seriously. Even if differences are not huge, no outsider should be deciding whether these languages are different or the same one.
Thirdly, languages are alive and ever-changing. Some time in the future, they might become completely different, disappear or merge into one. But until then, they deserve their chance.

[note: The EU Center is posting the following comment upon request]

I think Alex makes three excellent points! It is disturbing though, that the first point even needs to be made, since speakers of a language have a very good natural sense of whether they can communicate with other speakers with no obstacles in comprehension. I am certain that for speakers of any of the above languages it is obvious that the languages are mutually intelligible. Differences of course exist, as among all spoken linguistic varieties. This emphasizes again that we are moving in a territory where cultural politics determines the discussion, and the discussion can only be advanced if we all are well informed in the history of the Balkans. Therefore theoretical analysis of what it means to be mutually intelligible or what degree of intelligibility decides whether two varieties are one or two languages, might not be very helpful to non-linguists. On the other hand, it is important to keep in mind a sociolinguistic observation: that of the great role of the subjective and emotional factors in linguistic perception and planning.

Which takes us to Alex's second point: People's right of self determination. Especially in the Balkans where many ethnic groups have seen themselves treated by larger or smaller imperialistic powers like mobs unable to decide on their own political and linguistic fate or to know their best interest, the issue is very sensitive. "BCS", I agree, is another politically correct term invented to be "fair and inclusive", but failing in its intentions like everything else that does not grow from the basis but comes from the top to "fix" the problem fast, and allow supranational institutions to operate bureaucratically. Now, is it possible to reconsider the formation of a common standard for all B, C and S (and others that might want to join)? Certainly! All the good linguistic ingredients are there! But this cannot be done if the speakers and writers of the language do not want it to happen, do not trust the process, or even loathe the process.

In such conditions, Alex's third point makes sense logically and practically: these three languages/varieties can come towards each other or distance themselves from each other depending on how the speakers feel. There are languages that even have a date when they were created, and from that date have systematically and with careful planning grown more distant from the rest of similar varieties. Communication among speakers and their will are also a very strong factor here. Certainly state institutions and state politics play important roles as well in manufacturing and shaping people's linguistic wishes.

—Eda Derhemi

Croatia is not in the Balkans. The Balkans is the area that was under Ottoman Rule in 1808.when the term was invented by German geographer August Zeune.

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