Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Linguis Europae - Season 2

Welcome to a new season on Linguis Europae! No, this is not an April’s fool joke! We are delighted to announce the official opening of a new season of exciting blog entries on European languages and their relationship to political integration, identity, conflict, and migration in the twenty-eight member states of the European Union and beyond. In the great tradition of your favorite TV series, here are some of the highlights that you might find especially interesting to read on this site every other week.

There is, first of all, the language and politics in Ukraine, the talk of the global village since Crimea became – yet again – officially Russian-speaking in March 2014. As you will find out from a series of blog entries featured on our site in the next few months, tensions over status-planning for Russian in the Ukraine have been building up for quite some time. In the summer of 2012 the Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych wrote into law that Russian can become a regional minority language in cities and municipalities that wish to pass such local language laws. In principle, of course, there is nothing unusual about this: there are many examples of broad language legislation for instance in Spain and Italy where they represent a preferred way of granting the right to linguistic self-determination to people without explicitly trying to tell these people what to do with their languages.

However, as one of the Brookings’ Institute’s Senior Foreign Policy Fellows was quick to point out in 2012, “what that language law actually meant for national unity” in Ukraine was on everybody’s mind and far from being crystal-clear. Russian is no longer a preferred second – or additional – language of an entire generation of young Ukrainians that grew up speaking and learning Ukrainian since the country won its independence from the Soviet Union twenty years ago in the summer of 1991.

Increasingly westernized and less and less bilingual in Russian, this generation has, indeed, changed the course of events in February 2014 when it removed Yanukovych from office after one of its bloodiest demonstrations in over a decade. Tune in to our web site to hear what happened next as more postings will be featured on this question in later weeks.

This spring will bring another potentially explosive topic on linguistic self-determination in Europe: we will go to Catalonia to listen in on preparations for the planned November 9, 2014 referendum on this autonomous region’s independence from Spain. We will analyse the debate, starting from a recent, March 25, court ruling by a Spanish court of appeals that challenged Catalonia’s – one of Spain’s autonomous “communities” – right to hold such a referendum: http://time.com/38137/catalonia-independence-referendum-ruled-unconstitutional-spain/.

Note that the question that Catalan nationals will be asked to answer broke down the issue into two constitutive parts: statehood first, independence second. If the referendum is allowed to go on, voters will be first asked: “Do you want Catalonia to be a state?” If their answer is “yes,” then they will be asked to move onto the next question and chose the way in which the state that they envision should relate to Spain: “Do you want that state to be independent?” Find out why subtle wording like this matters and how the Catalan government had planned for an increasingly more extensive use of Catalan at the local level and in the European Union since the 2006 Statute of Autonomy.

Queen Elizabeth the Second addresses the two houses of the British Parliament every year in May. In addition to signalling the official opening of the new legislative season, however, the Queen’s 2013 speech before members of the House of Lords and of Commons touched to an important matter for the British Commonwealth: … (If you are thinking of the birth of her great-grandson George, you are only off by a few months, as she mentioned him in her Christmas speech that year)… Scotland.

“My government will continue to make the case for Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom”, she stated, following a pledge to implement “institutional improvements” in Northern Ireland and “new electoral arrangements for the National Assembly for Wales.” But this time Scotland is not Commonwealth business as usual. Unlike in Catalonia where the courts are still debating whether self-determination is even a good question to ask, in Scotland the referendum on whether this autonomous region should be an independent state within the British Commonwealth is firmly scheduled to take place on 18 September 2014. It is unclear what place the national languages of Scotland – Scottish Gaelic and Scots – will have in this new state. The 1998 Scotland Act that gave the Scots their own Parliament and a great deal of legislative power in matters of culture. And yet, serious language planning initiatives for the two national languages have not been on anyone’s agenda. The Guardian’s 2011 note on Scots, “The return of the Scots language: In an independent Scotland, might Scots become the official national tongue”, reads like a rhetorical question framing new and exotic editions of Roald Dahl’s children’s books published in Scots, a language forgotten by many and now learned only by the very few.

Tune in every other week to read blog entries written by students and faculty at the University of Illinois in English, en français, auf Deutsch, en español, in italiano, and по-русски.

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