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.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Love and Hate for Language

by Eda Derhemi

In the beginning was the Word … As humans we are defined by and immersed in language. We often think of it as a simple means of communication, but, on deeper reflection, the way we see our language is much more complex than that. With the strengthening in recent centuries of the link between language and national identity (a link built and maintained subjectively through human interaction and interpretation), symbolic attachment to one’s language has also come to mean hate for the language of whoever was perceived as national enemy.

Potentially that link could have remarkable power for social mobilization, cohesion and interaction. Joshua Fishman has written insightfully on the positive power of the symbolic link of language and ethnicity. But it can also be a reason for wars, and it is a favorite topic for political manipulation and propaganda. The mobilizing power of language understood as a symbol of group identity is much greater than that of language as the tool that makes possible our mere interaction. As speakers of a certain language, humans often construct its image as an idealized representation of the group they belong to, often threatened and even victimized by some sort of “enemy," as suffering being always in a moral conflict with “the other." So every time nationalism is in the air, we speakers, in our national subconscious, behave like soldiers assigned the task of praising our language as the best, the most beautiful, the oldest, the richest, the most important, the language of diplomacy, of philosophy, of ballet, of cuisine or whatever special value, and defending it from imaginary attacks. Being from the Balkans, I know this attitude first hand. But the “backward and foolish” Balkans are not alone in this behavior; quite the opposite. Some of the highest legal fortifications, for example, have been built to protect the honor and purity of French, “the language of civilization” from all sorts of “wicked” linguistic attacks from outside and inside.

A few months ago one of the graduate students of the European Center at UIUC published in this blog an entry about the use in EU institutions of members’ languages. In one sentence he gave an opinion regarding the similarities between Serbian and Croatian, which are often discussed by linguists as dialects of the same language, and have lived as such for many years inside the ex-Yugoslavian socialist space. That sentence drew heated reactions from speakers of these languages, who dismissed the thought of such similarities. Reason and argument are not satisfactory answers in these cases: the symbolic value people give to their languages transcends any structural argumentation on the matter, and it is exactly in the domain of the historical relations of languages with cultures, and in their role as identity signifiers and molders, that such phenomena can be understood. Individuals would never apply critical self-analysis to reach the process through which such attitudes are constructed and to question the work of dominant ideologies; it would take a much longer time and mass education to undo what social propaganda has daily incorporated in our national cultures.

The bilingual signs were put up in line with EU rules on minority rights
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In early September incidents of aggression occurred in Vukovar, in the brand new EU member state, Croatia. In Vukovar EU regulations require the official signs in institutional buildings to be written in both alphabets, Latin (Croatian) and Cyrillic (Serbian). The BBC reported that "The protesters managed to overcome the police protection and smash new signs in Cyrillic on the local tax office and police station". “Cyrillic letters used to come to Vukovar on army tanks," one of the protesters, called Josic, told local media, referring to the occupation of the town by Serb rebels during the 1991-1995 war. The Croatian and Serbian languages are linguistically similar, but Croats use Latin script while Serbs use Cyrillic.” The strong emotional attachment the speakers feel towards their languages and its identification with ethnicity make it a very handy tool for all sorts of political and nationalistic manipulations. In highly indoctrinated environments people would literally die for their languages, without even reflecting for a second on the worthiness of such actions. Language anthropomorphism is an expression of these feelings, and as propaganda it is directed to cause immediate response to some sort of situated human cognition. Posters of languages and countries represented as beautiful but abused suffering women are examples of this process. In many ethno-linguistic conflicts language, nation or religion are used as symbolic flags, which groups follow as they would follow charismatic leaders. In their name conflicts are initiated, and their legacies are maintained for years after the end of the conflicts.

But even in peaceful societies, exclusive linguistic policies and hostile measures towards one of the languages of the community’s repertoire are not uncommon today, and the image of past victimization often becomes a reason for new institutional measures “to return the favor” to the old victimizers. The case of Catalan vs. Spanish in Catalonia, or the treatment of Russian in some of the Baltic Republics are two of many cases in point. In all these cases a strong claim is made for delayed but necessary justice and moral right, and probably with good reason. But the goal of achieving justice and that of respecting democratic principles and human rights are not always easy to reconcile. Major changes in linguistic policies to achieve justice for once subordinate languages, often result in the anticipated reversal of language shift, which in the long run establishes linguistic balance and promotes the maintenance of diversity, as in the above two cases. As much as this goal is honorable, maintaining democratic standards in dealing with speakers of once dominant languages is a challenge in all European societies, especially those that have undergone rapid but significant political changes.

To come back to the Balkans’ linguistic issues: language purism, although not rampant and mainstream today, is not just an issue of the 19th century; it continues in all the little states of ex-Yugoslavia, in Albania and even in Greece (an old EU member), towards general vocabulary and toponymy. But it is always justified as done in the name of love and respect for the language. Greek, Slavic and Turkish words in Albanian are layered according to very old contacts and relations of various kinds of Albanian speaking communities with these languages; but they are seen today with much less affection than the older Latin borrowings, or than much more recent loans from Italian, French and English. These loan words carry the weight of hostile or friendly discourses socially constructed as dominant cultures define their enemies and friends. The loan vocabulary from countries seen today as discursively hostile is treated as if the words themselves work as vicious undercover agents for national destruction. The fact of the matter is that these old borrowings from different historical periods which are today an integral part of Albanian, in spite of what language they come from, simply make the vocabulary of Albanian much richer and more expressive than the new, often unnecessary but “cool” borrowings from some modern languages.

Photo by I. Floqi
In Greece the use and even the name of the Arvanitika language, an Albanian sub-dialect, has been traditionally suppressed since the early times of Greece as a nation. It is almost a taboo even among Arvanites themselves to mention the linguistic connection to Albanian (see my article on Hydra in this blog). But when the head of the infamous fascist party “Golden Dawn” was arrested on September 28th, somehow Greek newspapers suddenly discovered that he had Albanian origins, because his family originated from an Arvanitika-speaking village of Greece. And in October, when the controversial Mayor of Thessaloniki, a Greek city with a very large number of Albanian emigrants, courageously inaugurated in the Karaiskakis park a testimonial stone to honor the twinship of Thessaloniki with the Albanian city of Durrës, another language hate act occurred: immediately after the inauguration, the part of the stone written in Albanian was completely covered by black paint by a group of anti-Albanian Greek protesters. No Albanian letters could be allowed in the Greek Karaiskakis park. I am sure they would claim they did this in the name of love for Greek, and that the Albanian language had no place in the Karaiskakis park. (The Karaiskakis incident was first reported on the Albanian blog "Peizazhe të fjalës")

The problem is that hate for a language is very close to hate for its speakers, and this condition is an enemy of a civil and peaceful society. The stability of today’s multiethnic multi-migrant societies depends fundamentally on the linguistic attitude and linguistic culture of these societies. The truth is that love for one’s language should not hurt but heal, as it does in the case of thousands of endangered languages around the globe, where simple (sometimes illiterate) communities of speakers make extraordinary efforts to save their languages. Unesco’s Endangered World Languages Atlas lists about 155 endangered languages and dialects in Europe alone. Most of these communities fight daily to save their languages from the threat of death. And imagine that Europe is the continent with the smallest number of endangered languages in the world!

At the 17th international conference of the Foundation of Endangered Languages at the University of Carleton in Ottawa that took place in early October, the case studies that showed real care and love for the language were so many, that they would make even a cynic change his mind on the future of humanity. Still, there was one presentation regarding two very similar unwritten languages in Africa, Nabit and Gurene, the second of which, just to avoid having the same writing system as the first one, flipped left to right all the letters of the newly created alphabet of the other language. Certainly this “separatist” move would not help linguistic maintenance of these two very small similar languages; in order to secure maintenance and revitalization, the communities would need ways to enlarge the affordable use of the language, its publications, schooling through it etc, so they would need to build sameness and not difference (without hurting authenticity?). Unfortunately linguistic efforts to build more difference which endangers the mere existence of the language itself, are not rare. But as Jonathan Glover says in his book Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century, tribal feelings that push groups to build separating walls are deeply rooted in humans. He asks “Why does hostility develop between even these minimal groups? One explanation is biological. Some behavior patterns may have had survival value for genes in an earlier environment” (p. 142).

I reject the idea that today we cannot overcome the drive of those genes, if they ever existed. Linguistic diversity, as a democratic and cultural cornerstone of the European Union, should not be just an ornament in the documentation of all the member states that belong to the EU, but a social practice in everyday communication in these countries. Love for one’s language should be cosmopolitan and not nationalistic. Many people I know who love their language, love just as much the language of the other. I dream of a world where this is the group that normalizes societies, and not the political parties that consistently and enthusiastically hijack the linguistic question, in Europe and everywhere else. We would live in much a better world, if the deep connection that we as humans feel with the languages we speak could be used to get closer to the rest of the world and not to build new boundaries separating us from them. It would be better to express love for the language by the wish to use them a lot, not let them die, translate from one to the other, study them, give them to the younger generations, and treat them as treasures, as our own life. Eric Dursteler, a researcher and historian of the Mediterranean, writes about a time when around this sea which many of us still share, a large mass of people spoke between three and ten languages all their lives, and used them as equal tools that simply allowed them to communicate and live with each other… But this was before Herder, north of the Mediterranean, called on his Volk saying “Speak German, o You German!” Am I talking of a utopia? Could be, but you need at least to talk about it, for it to have any chance to ever become reality.

Eda Derhemi (PhD in Communication, 2003) is a lecturer in the department of Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese, and an adjunct assistant professor of Communications in Media and Cinema Studies. She completed her undergraduate studies in Linguistics and Literature at the University of Tirana, Albania, and her graduate studies in Illinois. She has extensive teaching and research experience in Italian Language, Linguistics and Media Studies. She worked as a correspondent journalist for Deutsche Welle, and is a regular writer of opinion pieces in the main Albanian media. Her interests are: linguistic endangerment and language death, minority languages and ethnicity in the EU, language of the media and propaganda, Balkan and Mediterranean studies, Arbëresh and Arvanitika.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Happy Birthday, Linguis Europae

by Zsuzsanna Fagyal, Eda Derhemi, Jessica Nicholas, Jui Namjoshi, and Alessia Zulato, bloggers and editors of this site

Latin is not a dead language, Croatian is the newest official state language of the European Union, there are many sides to Catalan identity in Spain, Albanian is still spoken in some villages in Italy and Greece, and Maltese is also a language, not just a type of dog!

In case you’ve ever wondered where all this kind of information can be found and how they fit together, you’ve just found the ideal blog site: log on to read us every other week!

Today, on European Multilingual Blogging Day, we have the privilege of writing about ourselves, as Linguis Europae is celebrating its one-year anniversary. The idea of this site was born from the stubborn determination of getting students to write something fresh and new about European languages and cultures in the foreign language that they study. We are grateful to the EUC for the Foreign Languages Across the Curriculum grant that we received for trying our luck with blog posts because they did the job: students did want to write in a language other than their native language
! What we found to be challenging is that blog posts are a genre that is not necessarily practiced with equal skills and frequency by all those bright students who come to learn more about languages in Europe from us. So, we’ve asked ourselves the question: “How are we going to teach this”?

After more than forty selected blog posts written in five languages in the first year, we can share our trade secret: we did not teach anyone how to write a good blog post because just like writing any other genre from poetry to an inauguration speech, there is no single recipe for it. “Keep it short and lively (pictures and all)” and “Having fun writing the blog is a sign that others might like it” are the best pieces of advice we could give them. The contributing editors of this site (from left to right) on this picture, Eda Derhemi (Italian), Jui Namjoshi, Zsuzsanna Fagyal, Alessia Zulato, and Jessica Nicholas (French) invite *you* to submit comments to our site and wish to thank all of you who have been able to contribute with their insights and questions. Matt, Sebnem, Mike, and Lauren at the EU Center: thank you for your continued support!

Happy Birthday, Bon Anniversaire, Feliz Cumpleaños, Buon Compleanno, Alles Gute zum Geburtstag, Boldog Születésnapot, Gëzuar Ditëlindjen, Linguis Europae!


Friday, November 8, 2013

Identity Conflicts Among Catalonians: The Many Sides of an Old Story

Jacqueline Yonover is a Global Studies major at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She composed this blog entry in the ‘Language and Minorities in Europe’ (GER 418) course in the spring of 2013.

by Jacqueline Yonover

Location of Cataluña
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  The Catalan language is a Romance language that is has been characterized by many years of conflict related to issues of identity among the Catalonian people (Gruyter, 2008). It is language that has always maintained linguistic, cultural, and economic differences compared to that of the rest of Spain (Cos Pujolar, 2006).

  The origins of Catalonia’s contemporary linguistic controversy can be traced back to the dynastic developments, which began with the marriage of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile and furthermore the unification of Spain in 1469 (Gruyter, 2008). The state of the Catalan language has changed continuously since the 1400’s—experiencing periods of dominance and also years of serious persecution (Derhemi’s Class Lecture Notes, Spring 2013). The conflict of identity among the Catalonian people is directly related to the 40 years of persecution that the language experienced during the rule of dictator Francisco Franco. Under Franco’s dictatorship the Catalan language was forbidden in all aspects of life, but managed to survive because the language was used among families and friends in private life situations. Since the end of Franco’s dictatorship in 1975 the Catalan language has experienced profound changes in regards to defining elements of nationality, which has created this identity conflict among those living in Catalonia.    

  There are two sides to the Catalonian identity conflict. Some Catalonian’s feel that their identity still is not represented fairly. These individuals view those who do not support the protection of the Catalan language as “Españolistas” (pro-Spain, rather than pro-Catalonia) who continue to hold onto the ideals instilled in their minds during the dictatorship of Franco (Balsells, 2011). 

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  The individuals who are not entirely supportive of the Catalan language are not necessarily against Catalan but feel that, because there is so much emphasis on the Catalan language in Catalonia, the importance of the Castilian language is being overlooked. In the remainder of this blogpost I plan to explore this identity conflict in further detail. I will do so by first looking at the current status of the language. I will then explore various different opinions of Catalonians regarding this identity conflict. Finally, I will conclude this discussion with some final thoughts. All together this blogpost will exhibit how relevant and important this issue is today and it will also show us how much of an impact this conflict has had and continues to have on the lives of individuals living in Spain today.

  Today Catalan enjoys the status as an official language in Catalonia, along side Castilian (Spanish) and is spoken by 13 million people throughout the region of Spain (Vila i Moreno, 2008). This current status, however, was not achieved without a fight. A “fight” that still exists today and can even be felt by those who do not take part in this identity conflict among Catalonians, which takes many forms. It is important to note that Catalan did not gain its current status as an official language until 1994, when the Supreme Court recognized two official languages in Cataluña (Reese, 1996). At this time, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of various articles of the Linguistic Normalization Law (Reese, 1996). These changes can be linked to much of the current identity conflict, which we will look at next.

  As the status of Catalan began to change with the implementation of new laws after the end of the dictatorship of Franco, the identity conflict among Catalonians became very apparent. For example, in November of 1994 Jordi Cruyff, the son of a Barcelona Football Club coach and a soccer player on the Netherlands team, who also holds dual nationality in Spain and the Netherlands was interviewed and asked the following question, “ Do you feel more Dutch or Spanish?” He responded by saying, “Español no. Barcelona esta en Catalonia y no queremos ser españoles/ Spanish no. Barcelona is in Catalonia and we do not want to be Spanish” (Rees, 1996). We can see from this example how this conflict has expanded beyond just being a language conflict and into the realm of individual identity become a conflict of language and identity. 
Flag of Cataloña
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Flag of Spain
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  Not only do many individuals from Catalonia feel that their identity should be recognized as different from the rest of Spain but they feel that Catalonia’s linguistic diversity should be recognized as well in the currency that is used in Catalonia. Reese explains that there are groups of individuals in Catalonia that believe the national currency in Spain does not reflect the linguistic diversity that exists within the country because the currency used in Catalonia and in the rest of Spain is only printed in Castilian (Rees, 1996).

  Some of those who take up the other side of the identity conflict among Catalonians do not fully support many of the laws, which have been implemented in Catalonia aimed at protecting the Catalan language. Especially those laws regarding education. For example, one mother of a grade-schooler in Catalonia felt that her child should receive more classes in Castilian. This mother explains, "I am not against Catalan; I want her to learn it and speak it correctly, but I think it is totally exaggerated to leave out Spanish (Balsells, 2011). However, the law today in Catalonia states that, “Students may choose the language of education in the first years of schooling, but from the age of 8 the “vehicular language” of the regions education system is Catalan” (Balsells, 2011). This mother further expressed her opinion regarding Catalonia’s law regarding education by saying, “This is a clear inequality and they don’t give you any alternatives” (Balsells, 2011). Individuals who have similar views as this mother feel that learning Castilian is important because it is spoken in the rest of Spain and without knowing the language children will be at a disadvantage and therefore limited in terms of job options in the future. Often times these individuals in Catalonia are referred to as “españolistas” (Balsells, 2011).

  Others who take this side of the Catalonian identity conflict do not support that fact that in Catalonia, linguistic maps of Europe’s are available in French, German, and Catalan but they are not available in Castilian (Rees, 1996). They argue that this is another example of the way in which Catalan’s linguistic representation is not fairly recognized. 

  These few examples reflect how prevalent this identity conflict is in virtually every aspect of life in Catalonia ranging from the education system to the national currency, to the language used on maps. This conflict is something that not only impacts the people living in Catalonia but also the entire country as a whole. Regardless of whether one chooses to take a side, the tension of the Catalonian identity conflict is inevitably felt and has been for many years and probably will be for many more years to come. 


Balsells, Ferran. (2011, Sept 15). Spanish or Catalan? A controversy that is anything but academic. El País. Retrieved from http://elpais.com
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License. File:Spain flag 300.png. 2013. Retrieved from http://commons.wikimedia.org
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License. File:Localización Cataluña.png. 2010. Retrieved from http://commons.wikimedia.org
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License. File:Flag_of_Catalonia.svg.png. 2012. Retrieved from http://commons.wikimedia.org
Cos Pujolar, Joan. (2006). Language, culture and tourism: Perspectives in Barcelona and Catalon ia. Retrieved from http://www.academia.edu/858927/Language_Culture_and_Tourism_Perspectives_in_Barcelona_and_Catalonia
Derhemi, Eda. (2013). Basque and Catalan [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from http://learn.illinois.edu
Gruyter, Mouton. (2008). Multilingual Europe: Facts and policies. Berlin,KG: Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co.
Rees, L. E. (May 1996). Spain’s Linguistic Normalization Laws: The Catalan Controversy. Hispana, 79(2), 313-321. Retrieved from www.jstor.org/stable/344927
Vila I Moreno, F. Xavier. (2008). Catalan in Spain. Multilingual Europe: Facts and Policies,  p 157-183. 


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