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.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Wealth of Welsh

by Delvan Willis

Delvan Willis is a junior in Political Science at the University of Illinois. He is planning on attending law school after graduation and is interested in International Relations, especially in regards to the Middle East. He wrote this piece while enrolled in 418 ‘Language and Minorities in Europe.’

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In case you couldn’t grasp the meaning of the title, this blog is about the struggles and triumphant revitalization of the Welsh language. First a little background on the Welsh language is important! It is the official language (along with English) of Wales, but that is a big problem since only a little more than half a million of the population of about 3 million of Wales can speak the language! To have an official language that such a small percentage of the population is able to speak fluently seems problematic. Consider, however, that this small percentage of speakers is actually an improvement on past times. According to the 1911 census, at the beginning of the 20th century, out of a population of just under 2.5 million, 43.5% of those aged three years and upwards in Wales and Monmouthshire (a county in south east Wales) spoke Welsh. One might say that this was decent for a nation with two official languages, but at it turns out this was the beginning of a downward slope for Welsh. By 1931, at the time of the next large census, out of a population of just over 2.5 million, the percentage of Welsh speakers in Wales had dropped to 36.8%. It was around this time that many began to think that if nothing is done Welsh would eventually disappear in a few generations.

But why? Why was Welsh starting to disappear? Why wasn’t there more being done to prevent this trend from continuing? Most people who care about the legacy of a language and culture would begin to ask these questions, so here some answers to your questions.

The biggest problem for Welsh in the early 20th century was because it had not made the list of Wales’ official languages list fast enough to prevent language shift to English. Welsh was beginning to disappear because more and more people began to saw English as the only important medium of communication. Demographic changes and loss of people due to wars did not help either. Indeed, the time when the Wels language saw the biggest drop in people who could speak it was after WWII.

Already during WWII, English became the uncontested language of communication among the allies and its global reach has only intensified during the 1950s and 1960s.

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Well, you might ask, English took the front seat, but what about the people who still spoke and preferred Welsh? Why should their language be shoved out of the picture in the same time? The unified response of the Welsh people to this question eventually led to the Welsh Language Act of 1967. This act was meant to “make further provision with respect to the Welsh language and references in Acts of Parliament to Wales”, which amounted to new domains of use for the language. Welsh was allowed in the Courts that were previously functioning only in English and its teaching was extended in the entire educational system. If you look at the graph, though, these measures did not make much difference for the speakers: the number of Welsh speakers did not increase in any age category during the 1970s and 1980s. Something else had to be done. Then came the Welsh Language Act of 1993. This new language law set up the Welsh Language Board which promoted the use of Welsh even more widely, while ensuring compliance with the other provisions and gave Welsh speakers the right to speak Welsh in court proceedings and all organizations in the public sector. One important step for the increase of the status of the Welsh language in Wales was the obligation to provide services to the public in Welsh and English on an equal basis.

Under these acts, the Welsh language began to regain its footing. Youths began to have Welsh spoken to them in schools and in many other public institutions. Welsh became “a compulsory subject for all pupils up to the age of 16 in English-medium schools in Wales” and it was taught as a first language in Welsh-medium schools. It was still widely spoken and taught at home in certain areas of Wales, which helped people to become attached to their language again.  Musicians, such as Gwyneth Glen, was among those who showed that Welsh language and culture were still alive by recording songs in Welsh. Social clubs for youths encouraged the usage of the language, new technologies became available in Welsh… and just so you know the popular game Minecraft is now available to be played in Welsh!

While all these measures have stopped the bleeding, Welsh language use is still drastically lower than what many want. According to the 2001 census shown in this graph, there has been a substantial increase in the number of children who had learned to speak the language in school. It is now up to them to see to the growth and wealth of Welsh in Wales.

Works Cited

Connolly, Colleen. "Can Musicians and Educators Bring Welsh Back?" Smithsonian. Smithsonian.com, 2 July 2013. Web. 26 Apr. 2015. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/can-musicians-and-educators-bring-welsh-back-5503115/?no-ist

"Wales.com - Language." Wales.com - Language. Wales Cymru, n.d. Web. 27 Apr. 2015.http://www.wales.com/en/content/cms/english/about_wales/language/

"Welsh Language Act 1967." Welsh Language Act 1967. The National Archives, n.d. Web. 26 Apr. 2015.http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1967/66/enacted

"Welsh Language Act 1993." Welsh Language Act 1993. The National Archives, n.d. Web. 26 Apr. 2015.http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1993/38/contents

"Welsh Translation Legally Restored." YouTube. YouTube, 5 June 2014. Web. 27 Apr. 2015.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BIbNk2Q7c2k


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Monday, October 5, 2015

Pedaling Past English in the Netherlands

by Barbara L.W. Myers

Barbara Myers is a graduate student in European Union Studies at the University of Illinois. She is planning on continuing her studies of Dutch, Swedish, literary translation, and the EU. She is interested in the work of immigrant writers in Benelux and Scandinavia. She wrote this text as a student in 418 ‘Language and Minorities in Europe.’

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It would have been easy to conduct the conversation in English—the customer service representative at the ticket desk for the Rijksmuseum was certainly accustomed to dealing with tourists in the lingua franca (ELF). I had heard him speak it clearly with the couple in front of me in line and I had heard it all around Amsterdam in restaurants, on trams, and along the pathways at the Keukenhof. But by beginning the conversation in Dutch, I set the tone for a Nederlands exchange.

The guidebooks I read before my first trip to Amsterdam four years ago (Frommer’s) and my return trip this March (Rick Steves and various bike tour pocket-sized reads with near origami-like folding maps) assured me that learning Dutch was not at all necessary for a pleasant experience, and that many younger Amsterdamers would, in fact, be eager to practice their English with American tourists. The first time around, I wanted to at least know the polite basics, and this time around, I wanted to dive in and try this language that lies neatly between English and German.

When I asked a few expats what they had found most difficult about learning Dutch, they answered that it was the lack of opportunity to use it at the beginning of their time in the Holland region—their foreign accents gave them away, and led the Dutch to switch to English for their benefit. I found myself in the same conundrum years ago on my first visit to Amsterdam.

Though street and highway signs are in Dutch, businesses display a mix of Dutch and English signage. Signs in Schiphol airport use both languages. Pre-recorded tram announcements are in Dutch, though the reminder to check-out with one’s transit card before exiting is in English. Intercity train announcements both at the station and on-board are given first in Dutch, then in English. Though Dutch is not a minority language, it has a comparatively small number of speakers versus other languages on the continent. With a Eurostat-reported population of nearly 17 million, the Netherlands has only a quarter to a third as many native language speakers as its larger, more populous neighbors France and Germany.

The Dutch have adapted to their small state language status by becoming bilingual—the majority of Netherlanders speak one of the working languages of the European Union as an L2. Eurobarometer reports that 94% of the population state that English is the most useful L2. This statistic makes it no surprise to find ELF flowing from the mouths of both those in the thriving tourist industry and the people on the street. More than one young shop worker informed me that s/he had learned more English from MTV than they had in the classroom. Many English-language programs were readily available on hotel TVs (with Dutch subtitles), and American films fill the movie theaters, with both Dutch and English versions offered for children’s films. But despite the profusion of English (including turn-of-the-century American hip-hop blasting through Burger Bar’s speakers), there is no doubt one is in a Dutch city—bikes fill the streets instead of cars, the scent of friet fills the alleys, and the guttural ‘g’ of Van Gogh and gracht fills the air.

The interaction with the ticket agent was simple and straightforward—“Goedemorgen. Twee volwassenen een twee jongeren alsjeblieft.” Amused, the ticket agent responded in kind, asking why I spoke Nederlands—it was not the first time I was asked the question. I reluctantly switched to English to make sure my brief explanation was clear. Smiling his approval, he shrugged off the need to see a city card to apply the discount, and continued, in Dutch, to explain where I could find the coat check, lockers, and museum guides. Happily back in the Dutch, I thanked him and wished him a good day. This was certainly a very short interaction and not the last of its kind during my trip, but such small moments of bypassing ELF and using the local language enriched my time in Amsterdam.
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