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.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Defying the Odds: The Resurgence of Breton through Education and Media

by Gwendolyn Childers

In 1972, then-president of France Georges Pompidou encompassed The State’s longtime repression of regional minority languages in the following statement: “There is no room for regional languages in a France that is destined to set its seal on Europe” (ELA, 2012). Even a decade later, J.P. Chevenement, the Minister of Education under president Francois Mitterrand, said in reference to the Corsican language that “teaching the youth languages that offer them no perspective is not doing them a good service,” (Kelly-Holmes, 35). These disheartening statements about regional minority languages have been fairly de rigueur throughout France’s history. So how is Breton still surviving against all odds?

Like many severely endangered languages today, Breton has had a history ripe with repression and degradation in status. In recent years, Breton has made strides to reconstitute its status, in a similar way to Irish Gaelic and Welsh. Although the education system has likely been the main way through which use of Breton has spread, media is another important source of revival for the language (Holmes-Kelly, 35).

Breton, along with Cornish and Welsh, is a Brythonic language (Mogn, 3). Before the immense growth of Germanic and Romance languages, Breton was widely used among Western Europeans (ELA, 2012). Today it is spoken in the Brittany region of France, which makes it the only Celtic language spoken on the European mainland presently (ELA, 2012). Breton is estimated to have around 500,000 speakers currently. The number of active speakers falls far below that, in all likelihood. In 1986, it was estimated that there were 50,000- 100,000 active users of the language, a figure that has probably diminished since (ELA, 2012).

This map shows the regional dialects of Breton in the Brittany region of France. Languages used in this region are Breton, Gallo, and French. In the bottom left corner, a smaller map points out the location of Brittany in reference to the UK.
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The Breton language’s collapse in the 1960’s had its roots in years of suppression, but still surprised many French citizens. Newer generations were deprived of the language, making it impossible to be passed down (Kelly-Holmes, 35). Although such citizens were not native speakers, they still felt a sense of loss for the language that had been a part of their culture (Kelly-Holmes, 35). This was the root of the activist movement to revive Breton.

The creation of the first independent Diwan school in 1977 followed a number of protests lead by Breton language activists throughout the 1970s. The Diwan schools are primary- and secondary-level schools that offer material in Breton through the emersion method. Today, around 6,000 students attend these schools. While 6,000 is minute percentage of the total number of schoolchildren in France (Kelly-Holmes, 36), the annual growth rate in these schools is over 20 percent-- a more promising number (Kelly-Homes, 36).

The sign for a Diwan school in Brest, in the Brittany region of France. Diwan schools offer education in Breton through the emersion method.
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These steps in the revival of Breton were not universal or greeted without conflict, however. The statements of Pompidou and Chevenement, as quoted above, were made after the revival movement for Breton had begun. Still, the Diwan school system has been a major triumph for the revival of the language as the French government has increased its support for the schools in recent years (Kelly-Holmes, 35). An especially crucial step in this is the French government’s rising recognition that the Diwan bilingual schools are a public service and the government’s increasing treatment of the schools as such (Kelly-Holmes, 35).

Availability of media in a language naturally has a large impact on the daily use and maintenance of that language. For the Breton language revival, media has helped increase social recognition of the language (Kelly-Holmes, 38). Broadcast media is the most popular form of media in which Breton is used, since there are far more people who can understand Breton when spoken to than are literate in the language (Kelly-Holmes, 38).

France-Bleu Breiz-Izel is a publicly funded radio station that has two hours of daily programming in Breton (Kelly-Holmes, 38). This programming includes local news, talk, and music (Kelly-Holmes, 38). Several independent radio stations also offer programming in Breton (Kelly-Holmes, 39).

The logo for publicly-funded French radio station France-Bleu Breiz-Izel. The radio station offers two hours of daily programming in the Breton language.
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France3Ouest offers differing amounts of coverage in Breton depending on the viewer's location in Brittany (Kelly-Holmes, 39). Western Brittany has a daily news program in Breton, while Eastern and Southern Brittany receive news coverage in Breton only on select weekend time slots (Kelly-Holmes, 39).

Although print media use of Breton is less popular than broadcast use, there are several papers that print sections in Breton (Kelly-Holmes, 38). Le Telegramme is one such newspaper. Within its ‘Brittany’ section, stories detailing the use of the language within schools and the political decisions effecting Breton are highlighted. One such article showcases the appointment of a Deputy of Cultural Diversity, which oversees language policy related to visual, performing, urban and digital arts (Le Telegramme, 2013).

In a report by Olier ar Mogn at Mercator-Education in 2003 detailing the statistical success of Breton language education and the spread of understanding, it was made clear that there continues to be a great need for the continuing work on Breton language revival in the new millennium (Mogn, 25). For the continued development of Breton, efforts in media and education must be backed by the government in order to be truly successful (Mogn, 28). The likelihood of government action in favor of this, however, seems low. This is especially true following the 2002 decision by the Consiel d’Etat that implicated the emersion method of teaching as being in direct conflict with the French constitution (Mogn, 27).

Will the Breton language make gains in its revival efforts in the coming years or will it collapse again? If France ratifies the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, of which it is currently only a signatory, efforts for the former will be made. However, if the French government continues to work against Breton in its policy actions the extinction of this endangered language is a prevalent threat.

Works Cited
"Breton." Endangered Language Alliance. Endangered Language Alliance, 2012. Web. 31 Mar. 2014. <http://elalliance.org/projects/celtic-languages/breton/>.

Kelly-Holmes, Helen. Minority Language Broadcasting: Breton and Irish. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, 2001. Print.

Mogn, Olier, and Mark Struijt. Breton: The Breton Language in Education in France. Ljouwert: Mercator-Education, 1998. Web. 31 Mar. 2014.

Mogn, Olier Ar. "The Breton Language in Education in France." Mercator-Education (2003): 1-45. Web. 31 Mar. 2014.

"Municipales : La Gauche Bretonne S'engage Pour La Langue Regionale." Le Telegramme. Le Telegramme, 22 July 2013. Web. 31 Mar. 2014. <http://www.letelegramme.fr/local/finistere-sud/quimper/ville/municipales-la-gauche-bretonne-s-engage-pour-la-langue-regionale-22-07-2013-2180064.php>.

The author of this blog entry is Gwendolyn Childers, a sophomore in Political Science at the University of Illinois. While at the University of Illinois, Gwendolyn is planning on double-minoring in Gender and Women’s Studies and Media and Cinema Studies. She wrote this text in the seminar PS 418, Language and Minorities in Europe.


Monday, November 24, 2014

Language Educators on the Tech Bandwagon

by Saloni Mishra

Users of computers and creative learning tools do not have to go through the stress of reinventing the wheel: technology is now widely available and can facilitate our teaching and make learning more interactive for our learners. To find a good example of recent teaching methods that make copious use of new technologies, we can look at CLIL or Content and Language Integrated Learning. CLIL is a great methodological tool for learning ‘content’ through the use of another language (minority, second, third), thus ‘integrating’ a subject with the acquisition of the language. This method was strongly promoted by the European Commission to enhance bilingual education and became part of its action plan known as: Promoting Language Learning and Linguistic Diversity: An Action Plan 2004 – 2006. The national government educational entities and educators themselves agreed that it was a great way to open doors to young students learning languages in ‘useful’ ways: learning math in English, arts in French, literature in minority languages… etc. There is a long list of so-called suitable subjects and an even longer list of various languages taught using CLIL, according to the 2006 Eurydice report published on this subject.

As would be expected, English, the most commonly thought foreign language in the EU, “is a long way in front in all countries, followed by French and German”, according to a report on CLILC published by the Goethe Institute.

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No surprise there: the English language is considered the most wide-spread lingua franca in the world and the number of people trying to learn it is increasing day by day. It is an official language in many countries and used many times as a mediator, or vehicular, language between countries, not only in Europe, but also in different continents English in schools has grown tremendously in Europe; it was altered to produce better results and had been implemented through policies to reach even preschool education across the continent. To implement CLIL or any other successful teaching method, however, one must integrate that method with appropriate technology that allows students to interact with people in their home environment in the same way that they would be interacting with them in the other country. Thus, technology is a must to help these students grow their bilingual skills.

Of course, technology means different things at different times. In the 1970s, teaching English started to be an effective language learning experience for students thanks to the method of ‘process-oriented writing instruction’. It seemed to be the most popular method of teaching due to its effectiveness in helping students learn faster and retain the language longer. The National Assessment of Educational Progress had found positive results regarding this method and refinements are being implemented every year.

In today’s generation, technology is a very familiar tool for most students. One can look at a curriculum, for instance, in primary schools in England and Wales called Design and Technology that started in 1990. This educational program combines the effectiveness of learning a subject and another language (e.g. Welsh). It is acknowledged as a multidisciplinary subject with different overlapping curricular activities.  When the Design and Technology program was assessed, experts found that its process-based nature was—educationally speaking—the most unique about it. Students were learning to formulate their own paths to results. Ways to arrive to a preferred outcome were not cookie-cutter but required to think beyond what was provided to solve the problem. Language-enhanced Design and Technology classes were not merely studying technology; they were becoming ‘technologists’ who demonstrated a “capability to operate effectively and creatively in the made-world” and increased their “competence in the indeterminate zones of practice”, according to a report published in the Journal of Technology in Education (Interim Report, D&T Working Group, DES/WO, 1988, p. 3)” (Wilson and Harris p. 52).

This is a remarkable result from the Design and Technology program as we can see that students are not merely repeating things that they learned but there is an opportunity for innovation and creativity. When it comes to integrating English with learning other subjects, we can use the D&T example to formulate similar curriculums where students are not just ‘in-takers’ but also creative users. Learning science, math, or arts in English or any other language using some of the applications developed in ‘Brainpop’ (see insert below) that was founded by a father who was dissatisfied with the way in which his children were learning science in school is just one of the many ideas that can be implemented with Content and Language Integrated Learning.

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Applebee, Arthur. "Issues in English Language Arts." Issues in English Language Arts. Center on English Learning and Achievement, n.d. Web. 1 Apr. 2014. http://www.albany.edu/cela/publication/article/issues.htm

Wilson, V., and Harris, M. (2004). “Creating Change? A Review of the Impact of Design and Technology in Schools in England.” Journal of Technology Education, 15(2), pp. 46-65. Retrieved from http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/JTE/v15n2/pdf/wilson.pdf

“Technology in Education – The Father who created BrainPOP” by BrainPOP. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC-BY2.0). Accessed 01 April, 2014. https://flic.kr/p/61eof2

Giersberg, D. (2007, November). It doesn’t always have to be a Mercedes – Perspectives on Bilingual Learning. CLIL in Europe. Retieved from http://www.goethe.de/ges/spa/dos/ifs/ceu/en2747777.htm

“01” by Rosa M. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC-BY2.0). Accessed 21 April, 2014. https://flic.kr/p/5WrN8m

The author of this blog entry, Saloni Mishra, was a senior in Political Science and Informatics at the University of Illinois when she wrote this text in the seminar PS 418, Language and Minorities in Europe in the spring of 2014.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Mallorca y la Disputa del Catalán

by Maia Kirsh

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Hoy en día se sabe que los habitantes de Mallorca, así como los de varias otras regiones de España, hablan y se identifican con el idioma catalán ¿Pero es esta idea compartida totalmente válida? ¿Hasta que punto se identifican los residentes de esta Isla con el catalán?

Gracias al Decreto de Mimos, aprobado en el 2007, los métodos de enseñanza de Mallorca y el resto de las Islas Baleares sufrieron grandes cambios (1). El susodicho decreto obligaba a los colegios de las Islas a impartir al menos la mitad de las clases del ciclo primario en catalán, lo cual crearía un gran contraste con la típica práctica de enseñar todo el contenido escolar en castellano. Este cambio, se creía, no sería algo que pudiera crear mucha polémica ya que el idioma original de Mallorca, así como de Menorca, Ibiza y Formentera, era desde hace años el catalán y, por lo tanto, la ley sólo ayudaría a reforzar la establecida noción nacional de querer proteger la cultura de cada región española.

Estas expectativas, sin embargo, fueron erróneas. Aunque el decreto fue favorecido durante sus primeras etapas, éste se vio, desde principios del año pasado, atacado por varios habitantes de las Islas, quienes son incapaces de sentirse identificados con el catalán utilizado en el sistema de inmersión lingüística actual (1). El catalán utilizado en las escuelas, según el punto de vista de estos habitantes, no es el mallorquín, el idioma de sus abuelos y padres, sino un idioma completamente perteneciente a otra región, y por esta razón, también un idioma que falla en mantener la cultura innata de las Islas. A pesar de que las similitudes entre los dos tipos de habla son imposibles de ignorar, muchos insisten en que las diferencias son aun así lo suficientemente fuertes como para ser enseñadas de una manera diferente del catalán corriente.

Se debe resaltar, de cualquier manera, que sólo una porción relativamente pequeña de la población tiene un problema con este nuevo estilo de educación, el cual enseña en catalán en lugar del mallorquín. La mayoría de la población, sin embargo, siente antagonismo con respecto al concepto de dependencia, sea ésta cultural o política, que crea la palabra catalán con la provincia de Cataluña. En otras palabras, aunque las leyes intentan mantener las culturas regionales de la mejor manera posible, todavía existe un gran número de problemas con respecto a ellas, incluso dentro de las mismas regiones que, normalmente, son aglomeradas al nivel político (2).

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Siento que es necesario tratar este tema ya que el caso de España es frecuentemente utilizado para demostrar un estilo de eficacia política cuando se refiere al mantenimiento y la proliferación de idiomas regionales. El caso del uso del catalán en Mallorca nos indica que, tal vez, aunque este tipo de sistema funciona dentro de las regiones en las cuales fue basada la nueva norma del idioma, éste no es el caso en otras zonas.

Esto, a fin de cuentas, crea problemas como los vistos en el País Vasco, donde varias sub-regiones se niegan a utilizar el Euskara estándar porque no sigue las reglas básicas del dialecto de la zona (3). En general, estos hechos nos demuestran que la normalización lingüística no se ha desarrollado homogéneamente a través del país, creando complicaciones con las minorías lingüísticas que se encuentran dentro de otras minorías lingüísticas.

Así, en estos momentos hace falta preguntarnos, ¿qué es lo que podría hacer el gobierno para mejorar la situación en Mallorca? ¿Debería cambiar sus leyes con respecto a los idiomas regionales para asimilarse a las de Italia, haciéndolas más abiertas e imprecisas? O ¿debería empezar a crear nuevos sistemas de normalización lingüística, desarrollando leyes que protegen incluso dialectos?

Es triste ver que tanta gente se siente amenazada por el uso del catalán en áreas donde el mallorquín solía predominar, pero al mismo tiempo es difícil definir hasta qué punto el catalán es el mallorquín y el mallorquín el catalán, no sólo de manera lingüística sino también cultural. Tal vez la enseñanza del catalán común como idioma compartido no es la respuesta a los problemas de idiomas regionales en el norte de España. A pesar de que prescribir un sólo idioma a varias regiones es definitivamente la manera más fácil y conveniente de solucionar la cuestión de las lenguas regionales, esto aparentemente no ha sido lo suficiente como para satisfacer las demandas de las minorías.

Me resulta imposible imaginar cómo semejante dilema puede ser solucionado de una manera eficaz, garantizando el crecimiento y el mantenimiento del idioma nativo de Mallorca así como se ha logrado en Cataluña. No obstante, pienso que es necesario entender los reclamos de los habitantes de la isla y hacer algo al respecto. Al fin y al cabo, si los mismos habitantes, quienes desde el principio deseaban proteger su cultura, no sólo se sienten desprotegidos, sino atacados, es obvio que hace falta implementarse medidas diferentes. De momento, sólo espero que el gobierno logre atenuar el descontento popular y encuentre alguna manera de asegurar la integración del mallorquín, así como el del catalán, en el ambiente educativo de Mallorca.

(1) http://www.abc.es/local-baleares/20131004/abci-balear-idioma-catalan-201310031210.html

(2) http://www.valenciafreedom.com/es/noticias/0-politica/4463-abuchena-al-alcalde-de-palma-de-mallorca-por-hablar-en-catalan-en-vez-de-mallorquin.html

(3) Rodríguez-Ordóñez, Itxaso. “The standardization of Basque: Implementation and Acceptance” University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Presentation for  PS/FR/LING/SP/ITAL/GER/SLAV 418. 15 March 2014. Lecture.


Maia Kirsh is a junior in German and Global Studies at the University of Illinois. Maia is planning on graduating early next year and is interested in taking a semester-long internship relating to international humanitarian aid. She wrote this text in German 418, Language and Minorities in Europe.


Thursday, October 2, 2014

More Catalan or More Spanish? Dilemmas of a Bilingual Education System

by Eileen Sanders

Catalonia is an autonomous region of Spain with material and cultural wealth. Despite its affiliation with Spain and peaceful coexistence, its people feel truly separate from the rest of Spain due to their strong sense of independent regional identity. The laws and policies currently in place reveal how truly separate identities are between Catalonia and the rest of Spain. Specifically, the linguistic debate in the educational system is an important illustration of this sentiment and from it many debates and tensions have manifested.

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In Spain the autonomous community of Catalonia is considered to be a bilingual region. Here Catalan and Spanish (Castilian) coexist, however, there are virtually no Catalan monolinguals: whoever speaks Catalan necessarily speaks Spanish, too. A 2013 census found that 73.2% of the population of Catalonia could speak Catalan (5.35 million people), 95% could understand it and 55.8% could write it. There are significant differences among age groups. Of individuals under 25, only 3% do not speak Catalan. On the other hand, of individuals over the age of 75, 60% can speak Catalan. Another significant factor to the data is nationality. Individuals who do not have Spanish nationality know less Catalan than those who are Spanish citizens (Census Reveals, 2013). In the home and with peers the majority of the population uses Catalan. Those who speak Spanish in the home are normally of higher economic class who view Catalan as less prestigious (Boix-Fuster, E,. & Sanz, C.).

The linguistic conflict between Catalan and Spanish can be traced back to the fifteenth century. During this time Castilian Spanish was the dominant language used throughout Spain causing regional languages to be spoken only in the home. It was not until the nineteenth century that Catalan began to have cultural and literary value. Catalan once again went through a period of decline in the twentieth century when General Francisco Franco prohibited teaching in any regional language (Lourenço, 2010). With the reinstatement of Catalan democratic institutions in the 1970s, Catalan again became an official language and the primary language used in the educational system (Boix-Fuster, E,. & Sanz, C.).

Flag of Catalonia
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Flag of Spain
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Today the language policies of the educational system in Catalonia favor Catalan which is why Catalan is extensively used in primary and secondary education. Congress, under the Spanish Parliament, passed a motion in 2011 backing the Catalan education model supporting linguistic immersion in Catalan and its use as the main language of communication in Catalonia’s public schools. It calls for Catalan to be used regularly as the vehicular and learning language. As a vehicular language Catalan would be the means of communication between peoples of different languages. This was a response to the higher court’s decision that requires the Catalan regional government to accommodate Spanish speakers (more information can be found here) who want their children to be educated in Spanish instead of Catalan (Balsells, 2011). This along with other linguistic policies in the education sector have resulted in major social and political conflict that divides the population by linguistic identity.

Supporters of teaching in Catalan feel that it is at a disadvantage in relation to Spanish. They feel that Catalan is part of their regional identity and that equality will combat against the struggle for linguistic survival. The argument of the opposing side is that prohibiting the use of Spanish in the educational system would be detrimental due to its rich literary history and culture and its international and domestic recognition (Lourenço, 2010).

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As a bilingual speaker Héctor García (26 years old) exemplifies what many consider to be the benefits of the Catalan education model. His parents, who are not native to the Catalonian region, have minimal Catalan speaking abilities. Therefore, in the home he speaks Spanish but with his friends and co-workers he almost always speaks Catalan. He states, “At home we never questioned the linguistic issue when I was going to school, I always considered it my other language. If I did not speak fluent Catalan, I probably wouldn't have found this job and I wouldn't feel so at home here” (Balsells, 2011).

Marina, mother of a grade-schooler, represents the opposing side and exemplifies the controversy that began decades ago over the issue of linguistic immersion. She wants the regional government to require that more classes be taught in Spanish saying, “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.” The current law in Catalonia states that Marina’s daughter can choose the language she wants to be educated in for her schooling until the age of eight when she must be taught in the vehicular language of the region’s education system which is Catalan (Balsells, 2011). The lack of alternatives and inequality of language use illustrates the complex problems and dichotomy between Catalan and Spanish.

There are many complex features to identity, but language is one of the most notable traits that constructs identity due to its innate ability to convey information about the speaker’s social or ethnic character (Boix-Fuster, E,. & Sanz, C.). Thus, the linguistic policies of the educational system in Catalonia are vital when examining the identity that Catalonians embody. In the future the identity tensions of this society will undoubtedly continue to be paralleled by its policies and increasing bilingualism.


Balsells, Ferran. (2011, Sept 15). Spanish or Catalan? A controversy that is anything but academic. El País. Retrieved from http://elpais.com

Boix-Fuster, E,. & Sanz, C. (2008). Bilingualism and Identity: Spanish at the Crossroads with Other Languages. Google Books. Retrieved from http://books.google.com

Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License. Bandera de Catalunya. 2006. Retrieved from https://flic.kr/p/u9yXD

Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License. Bandera de España. 2008. Retrieved from https://flic.kr/p/5yNDvV

Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License. Catalonia is not Spain. 2010. Retrieved from https://flic.kr/p/8hthsa

Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License. File:Localización Cataluña.png. 2010. Retrieved from http://commons.wikimedia.org
Lourenço,Tavares. (2010, Aug 6). Language policy in Spain. Langology. Retrieved from http://www.langology.org

(2013, Nov 21). Census Reveals 73% speak Catalan in Catalonia. Nationalia. Retrieved from http://www.nationalia.info/en/news/1664

The author of this blog entry is Eileen Sanders, a senior in Global Studies, with a minor in Spanish, at the University of Illinois. Eileen is planning on joining the Peace Corps or working in the Human Rights field. Her personal interests lie in traveling, dancing, and attending music festivals. She wrote this text in the seminar SPAN 418, Language and Minorities in Europe.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Saor Alba or Long Live the Union?

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Eda Derhemi talks with Daryl Rodgers about the coming referendum in Scotland. 

When Daryl and I taught for the Italian program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, we never used English. For years our everyday conversations, our meetings, our parties were all conducted naturally in Italian. The friends that we shared were also Italian. But the one time that I heard Daryl speak to somebody in English was enough for me to never forget the beauty of his Scottish accent. It was like something coming directly from a theatrical stage where Douglas of John Home was being recited, or, to be more contemporary, like something similar to Sean Connery’s accent. It also might be that I am in love with the sounds of all the languages of the world, especially the endangered languages of minorities… In fact, I could have interviewed the green ogre Shrek for the purpose of this blog entry (who as I’ve read has expressed his support for the unionists in these words: Mike Myers speaking as Shrek: "Shrek wants what the will of the Scottish people want." He added in his own accent: "I love Scotland. I hope they remain part of Britain - and if they don't, I still love them.") [source] But I preferred to interview a real Scot with particular linguistic sensibilities, although he lives in the US and speaks Italian as a working language. This is my conversation with Daryl Rodgers, a Scottish professor of Italian at the University of Susquehanna. 

On September 18th, after an officially renewed initiative and after years of campaigning of its First Minister Mr. Salmond of the Scottish National Party (SNP), Scotland will vote on whether to secede from the union with Britain, and become an independent state. The polls last year made officials in the Westminster feel relatively comfortable because of a significant advantage for the Union supporters. But The Economist of this morning (September 13th) reports that the polls have recently shifted from a 20 point difference to a 2 point difference [source]. Hence the results at this point are very close to call, and therefore the campaigning has become fierce on both sides. Obviously at this point every single vote matters.

1. Is the voting made possible for the Scots who do not live in Scotland, and are you going to vote?

I would like to be able to vote but I can’t. Only people with a permanent address in Scotland are entitled to a vote. Even my younger sister and her (Scottish) husband who live in London cannot vote. On the other hand, people from other countries (including England) who are currently living in Scotland can vote. I understand the reasoning, but I would still like to vote.

2. Is your native town a strong advocate of the independence or is it against it? Or are the people there divided on the issue, like in most of Scotland?

I think the country is pretty much divided 50/50. Based on what I hear and what I’ve seen from people I know in Scotland on social media, it looks like it will come down to the wire.  

3. This is what was recently reported: “12 Sep 2014: The Guardian/ICM poll finds support for the “no” campaign at 51% and “yes” at 49% with less than a week to go, but 17% of voters say they have yet to make up their mind.” [source] From discussing with your friends and family, are these numbers credible to you?

I know my own family (my parents and older sister who all live in Scotland) were split on how they were going to vote. Well, at least up until recently, that is. Now they all seem to be on the same side (the YES side). The tactics used by the NO campaign seem have to been responsible for this move. More about that later!

4. As a Scot who lives and works in the US are you in any way personally affected by the results of the referendum?

It’s interesting. I have actually wondered about this myself. I have wondered when I next go home whether I will need a different passport, for example, or whether I will need to go through border control when I drive from Scotland to England to visit my sister. But I think it will affect me more indirectly in the sense that my family are still there and what affects them (positively or negatively) will of course have some kind of effect on me, I suppose. 

5. How old were you when you first heard about the possibility for Scotland to be completely independent from England? Has this issue been important for the general population during the time you grew up and during your studies in Scotland or has the question of independence become more of a public issue only in recent years after the victory of the SNP?

The question of independence from England has always been lingering in the background for as long as I can remember. Growing up in the 80s in Scotland I had always heard about how Scotland had had the chance to be more independent but that the English government hadn’t allowed it because the proportion of voters was not large enough (in reference to the 1979 vote for a devolved Scottish parliament). However, I always saw the SNP as the idealistic party with no hopes of every getting elected. I always had the idea that Scottish independence was something of a fairy tale or for the movies. Never did I think that Alex Salmond would go on to become the First Minister of Scotland, and never ever did I think that we’d get to the point where we are now that Scotland could possibly become an independent country again. It’s really amazing. 

6. The conservative Prime Minister David Cameron (whose personal political capital will be significantly damaged if Scotland votes independence) went to Scotland three days ago, together with other leaders of the whole ideological spectrum like Miliband and Clegg, to convince the Scots to remain in the Union. It seems like Westminster, surprised and troubled by the recent polls, is now promising to Scotland further devolution and more power [source]. This was immediately repudiated by Mr. Salmond who called it an panicky measure and an effort to bribe the Scots (The Economist, Sept. 12). Certainly large economic interests are at stake here, (especially in the oil, fishing, banking and whiskey industries) but those are played in two completely different ways by the opposing parties. There is talk (Jim Sillars from SNP as reported by BBC News, Sept. 12) that large wealthy private companies in Scotland are in cahoots with the Prime Minister to keep Scotland poor, and that their "day of reckoning" and nationalization is coming if Scotland votes for independence. The New York Times (Sept. 11) connected the independence of Scotland with the exit of Britain from Europe based on fears of banking industries if independence has its way.

A) Do you think such complex economic and political issues that go beyond the borders of Scotland, are made clear to the voters by the Scottish media? Or have the political leaders of both sides had an easy way in stirring up mass emotions based on the old “disdain for Westminster” and the fears that wealth and advantages coming from central power will be gone if independence comes? 

My impression is that, as is typical of all political parties, nobody really knows anything for sure. I know that sounds ridiculous, but it seems like both sides continue to contend that each one is correct and the public is still left wondering whether or not Scotland will lose big businesses or whether or not they can actually survive on their own thanks to their oil/ whiskey/ fishing, etc. industries. Each side wants to believe what it wants to believe and it seems very difficult to find any impartial sources right now. Just the other day the BBC was accused of impartiality in its reporting of the independence debates and issues. Of course, that’s not a big surprise. It’s been widely accepted for years that the BBC was in the pockets of the English government anyway!

B) Also, can Cameron’s promises still change the results of the vote? The polls show that many voters have changed their minds only very recently, especially very young voters, like students. Do you think the public is well aware of what is at stake and of the pros and cons of independence from England, or do you believe people (especially the young) are jumping on the bandwagon of independence right now under some sort of festive hypnosis…?

I honestly think that when Cameron (and Clegg and Miliband) came to Scotland last week they did more harm than good for their side. One thing they should know by now is that you don’t get anywhere with Scots (man or woman) by threatening them and that, essentially, is what they did. Having said that, I believe that fear ultimately has a great effect on people, and so I have to think that more than the threats of the English government, the threats from big banks and businesses might end up swaying the undecided to vote NO. My concern, of course, is that someone would vote out of fear, but equally so that someone would vote out of “festive hypnosis”, as you put it, because at the end of the day the party is going to finish and the people are going to be left to face reality – whatever that ends up being.

7. Cameron has his own troubles right now in connection to his promise for a British referendum in 2017 (if he wins the 2015 general elections) on whether to leave the EU. His new requests and political moves are seen very skeptically by Merkel and other EU members who, while asking Britain’s cooperation, are talking of “finite patience” with England (The Guardian, Feb. 27, 2014). Many today believe Cameron is doing this for election purposes and that in fact he is not in the position to renegotiate terms with the EU. 

A) Once Scots particularly liked the possibility of being in the EU without being in the Euro-zone, just like England. I mean their hope for sharing England’s “special treatment” in the EU was strong, but probably is becoming now less alluring than it used to be. As recently as November 2013 the Scottish government, while contemplating independence, was still leaning towards gaining EU membership through article 48 of the EU Treaty (hence, from within the UK), and not through article 49 (as an independent State). Do you think the perceived weakness of Britain vis-a-vis EU could be the reason why the Scots’ support for independence has surged recently? 

I honestly doubt it. My perception of Scotland’s relationship with the EU has always been that it is tenuous at best. My feeling has always been that Scotland (and the U.K. in general) feel only peripherally connected to the EU – both geographically and politically. I think there may actually be more interest in being an integral part of the EU if Scotland were to become an independent state than there was when it was part of the U.K. simply for practical reasons – being a smaller fish in the pond it would possibly be seen as more beneficial to ‘belong’ to the big pond than it seems right now for most Scots. However, I do not believe that is the motivating factor for most Scots.

B) Do you think there is still a wide-spread belief among Scots that they need Britain in order to advance in the EU or do they think that Britain’s power in the EU is fading away?

I think I probably answered part of this question above, but I will add that again, in my personal opinion and based on my perceptions, Scottish people (and the U.K. in general) seem to have grown tired of being ‘dictated to by Brussels’, to quote an often heard phrase. As you can imagine, proud Scots haven’t taken too kindly to what they perceive as France and Germany telling them how to run their business, especially when they believe that Eurocrats in Brussels have no real idea of the reality of living in Scotland. But that’s not a sentiment limited to Scotland, I know. Many Italians I know feel exactly the same. It’s interesting to note that for years Scots have been complaining that they are tired of being told what to do by politicians in London. So, that feeling has been compounded when you add Brussels to the equation!

Let us now move to discussing more fun issues than economic politics. Let us talk about culture, deep rooted national psychology and especially, let us talk about language.

8. The film Braveheart is considered by the reviewers as a historically inaccurate film. Do people in Scotland see it mainly as a commercial production based on a spectacular exaggerated myth or as a story that does symbolic justice to their struggle to be free and independent? 

I think it’s probably a bit of both. While we recognize the historical inaccuracies of the film, I think it did help reignite some pride in Scotland and rekindle a nationalistic spirit. Of course, such feelings can be short-lived if there’s no political force to back them up and that appears to be what has happened in the last three years.

9. Are people like William Wallace or Andrew Moray seen by young Scots as legendary figures and remote folkloric images, or do they continue to actively resuscitate feelings of political apprising and self-determination? Do the school text books have any role in this? Coming from the Balkans I know that the battle of Kosovo of year 1389 between the Balkan forces and the Ottomans, is still celebrated by certain groups as an event that happened only a few years ago, and it is used very successfully by political parties today to swing peoples’ votes. Are the years 1328 or 1707 seen in the same way in Scotland, or do Scots no longer see themselves as victims of the Kingdom of Great Britain, so that independence is simply a practical step of Real politics to become a stronger state? 

I would venture to say that more young Scots know who Andrew (Andy) Murray is than Andrew Moray! William Wallace, yes – thanks to the film – but Andrew Moray, no. You see in my experience school textbooks (at least when I was at school) contained few if any references to Scottish history in general. Most of what I learned about Scottish history I learned on my own. My parents’ generation was much more informed on Scottish history, and British history in general (as far kings/ queens, Act of the Union, etc.). You see, for as much as we are a quietly proud country, I would say that we are not very patriotic, at least not in the way that other countries are, like the U.S. So, growing up, I do not remember celebrating any kind of event that was specific to Scotland only, except maybe a mention of St. Andrew’s Day or Robert Burns’ birthday. So, to me, the resurgence in Scottish nationalism is in many ways a surprise, but has grown out of a practical reality. It’s a feeling that has been growing in Scotland for some time, to be sure, but I don’t believe it’s linked more to the realities of modern history than to some historical sentiment of resentment.

10. While the beautiful Scottish Gaelic language is seen today by many as a linguistic institution, we all know that it is in a definitely endangered state.  When in October 8, 2009 The Independent announced that Scottish Gaelic was accepted at EU level, it joyfully and ironically reported two events: first, that Jim Murphy, then the Secretary of State for Scotland, said “this will allow Gaelic speakers to communicate with European institutions in their mother tongue”; second, that the newspaper had contacted the Scottish Office, the Scottish Parliament  and the Scotsman Newspaper to see if the main statement for the introduction of the Scottish Gaelic in the EU and that of Mr. Murphy could be translated in Gaelic, but was given in all three places the answer that no one there could speak the language. This clearly underlines the problem, which is also shown by the numbers: in more than five million Scots, less than 60,000 speak the language (counting many who can barely use it in communication or who have only a symbolic competence in it).

A) Do you or members of your family speak Scottish Gaelic? Did you study the language at school and, if yes, for how long, and did it help? How about your friends, neighborhood, town?

I knew one person who spoke Gaelic. He went to high school with me and the only reason he spoke it was that his family had moved down from Barra in the Outer Hebrides. You see, as far as I understand, no dialect of the Gaelic language has been spoken in the central lowlands for hundreds of years. So, for us, it was always a language spoken only in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Despite efforts to encourage interest in Gaelic over the past twenty years – including putting up street signs in both English and Gaelic – I believe it continues to be spoken by relatively few people in the most populated areas of Scotland (i.e., the Central Belt). As a linguist, I would love to learn it, but even I can’t see much practical use for it in my life – except maybe if I visit the Island of Barra! ☺

B) An article of The Guardian today (September 13, 2014) raised concerns about how the cultural segments of the society that do not directly produce economic wealth will do in an independent Scotland. Classical musicians for example, were very concerned to lose the centrality of London as an international capital of music, large state subsidies coming from the central government, a large market considered secure in a union with Britain, and especially the unrestricted publicity coming from a large and important country. Do you think there are parallels of these fears expressed by classical musicians that could be the same for those who support the use and maintenance of Scottish Gaelic?

The only reason I could see that being true is that the BBC, and BBC Scotland in particular, has done a lot over the past several decades to try to develop programming for Gaelic speakers and to encourage others to learn Gaelic. But, I am more inclined to believe that independence may actually benefit the Gaelic language more than staying together.

C) Ireland is a clear example in that although Irish language is seen as a strong identity symbol, is legally recognized as the first official language of the country, and is given strong institutional and financial support, it has remained still very weak compared to English, is used by only a small portion of the population and is not advancing as expected.

Do you think Scottish Gaelic has better chances to survive and grow in the union with Britain or in an independent Scotland? Can you elaborate on the reasons?  

Irish Gaelic has always been much more widely spoken than Scottish Gaelic. For example, I believe that all Irish children learn both at school and that you must be bilingual in both in order to be able to get a job as a teacher in Ireland (I don’t know that for sure). But again, even there, I understand that there are areas of the country where people are more likely to speak Gaelic than in other parts. However, while I think Scottish Gaelic will never become a widely spoken language in Scotland, I think that there is more of a chance that it would become more popular if Scotland were to become an independent country. Somehow in my mind, for as long as Scotland remains part of the U.K. and its identity is wrapped up with that of the U.K., it will never see a real need – practical or sentimental – for teaching and learning Gaelic. Whereas, if it is independent, it would seem that its identity becomes more restricted in every sense to that of ‘just’ Scotland. In this case, recognizing and appreciating the cultural and linguistic diversity within our own borders may make more sense at that time.


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