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, December 12, 2016

Scottish Gaelic with an English Twist

By Victoria Dakajos

Victoria Dakajos recently graduated with a major in Agriculture and Consumer Economics and a concentration in Public Policy and Law. She completed a double minor in Communication and Political Science and is planning on attending law school. She wrote this piece while enrolled in PS 418 ‘Language and Minorities in Europe’ during the spring of 2016.

Scottish Gaelic with an English Twist

Scottish Gaelic, which is one of many minority languages in the European Union (EU), is undergoing revitalization and becoming a more commonly spoken language in Scotland. According to the 2011 Census (Nance, 2015, p.555), there are approximately 58,000 people that speak Scottish Gaelic, which corresponds to only 1% of the Scottish population. Most speakers are traditionally from the rural highlands and the Islands of Scotland.

Source: Wikipedia
As it increasingly becomes part of the daily vernacular, the younger generation is beginning to speak Scottish Gaelic more but with a bit of a twist. The younger generation is growing up with English as their first language, and the Scottish Gaelic that they are learning to speak is changing and different compared to how the older generation used to speak it. The change is mostly due to the new immersion schools also known as Gaelic-medium education.

Research has shown that when a person becomes bilingual, one-language’s features, mainly the native language, transfer to the second language that the person is learning. As Claire Nance says in her paper, “The structure of the community-dominant language may influence the direction of change in a minority language” (Nance, 2014, p. 15). This explains why many of the younger people feel that they do not have a Gaelic speaking accent because they did not grow up learning the traditional way to speak the language (Nance, 2015, p. 556-557). What they mean by accent is that they do not use the proper Gaelic lateral phonetics and use more of the English phonetic variation.

The older generations of Gaelic speakers are limited in their literacy skills because they spoke the language in their homes, at work, and on the playground. In school, however, they were only able to speak English. Unlike the younger generation, the older Gaelic speakers “learned English via immersion when they first attended school” giving them less practice to learn how to read and write the language (Nance, 2015, p. 3). The younger generations of Gaelic speakers learn half of their lessons in Gaelic, while the rest of their lessons are taught in English because of a shortage of Gaelic-speaking teachers.

One can noticeably see the difference in the language change by studying the pitch accents and how the generational accents compare. In her paper, Nance discusses that languages are divided into three broad categories: languages that make use of lexical tones such as Scottish Gaelic, languages that do not use lexical tones such as English, and languages that partially use lexical tones like Japanese (Nance, 2015, p. 4). Lexical pitch refers to the tone patterns in Scottish Gaelic.

Source: Wikipedia
It has been suggested across Indo-European languages that lexical pitch accent systems are very rare and may eventually be lost, which is why we can see this language change between the generations. Researchers think there can be many potential explanations, but one of the most common explanations for the lack of tones in the young generations’ Gaelic is because of the English language and how it does not have a lexical pitch accent prosodic system (Nance, 2015, p. 11). The younger speakers instead collapse Gaelic lateral categories so that it is more similar to the English system, and “Some young speakers produce laterals which are phonetically more similar to those reported to their dialect of English, than those of the older speaker groups who grew up in Gaelic-dominant environments” (Nance, 2014, p. 15). Another reason that we are seeing the change in Scottish Gaelic is that the younger generation is learning their Gaelic through immersion schools. Although most of the teachers are of the older generation and most use the dialect with the lexical pitch accent, it is possible that they received a more dialectally mixed input in their learning. Pronunciation was very rarely taught in immersion-type schools, which would explain why the lexical pitch accent would not be taught in the younger generations’ courses.

In the end, we can see from the facts presented here that the increased use of English among the younger generation speakers has contributed to the loss of lexical pitch among the younger speakers compared to the older generation. As explained above, most bilingual people use the features of one language and transfer it to the second. This is where we see a language change because younger Gaelic speakers use English features and especially lexicon, when speaking Gaelic. It is as if we see code-switching (CS) or language-mixing (LM) which means the “alternation of the two languages is locally meaningful within the conversation” (Smith-Christmas, 2016, p. 64-65). This describes why we are seeing such a language shift from the “new speakers” because they are mixing their two spoken languages together. We do see some differences when looking at people who come from parents with a Gaelic-speaking background and those who do not; we are still seeing this language change/shift even in the highlands where most Gaelic speakers live. In the future, we will start to notice the lexical pitch accent that older Gaelic speakers use will not really be needed anymore to be able to communicate.

Work Cited

Nance, C. (2015). Intonational variation and change in Scottish Gaelic. Lingua, 160 1-19. doi:10.1016/j.lingua.2015.03.008

Nance, C. (2015). ‘New’ Scottish Gaelic speakers in Glasgow: A phonetic study of language revitalisation. Language In Society, 44(4), 553-579. doi:10.1017/S0047404515000408

Nance, C. (2014). Phonetic variation in Scottish Gaelic laterals. Journal Of Phonetics, 471-17. doi:10.1016/j.wocn.2014.07.005

Smith-Christmas, C. (2016). Regression on the fused lect continuum? Discourse markers in Scottish Gaelic–English speech. Journal Of Pragmatics, 9464-75. doi:10.1016/j.pragma.2016.01.007

Wikipedia. (2015, October). Gaelic speakers in Scotland (1755-2011) [Table]. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scottish_Gaelic

Wikipedia. (2015, October). Distribution in Scotland [map]. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scottish_Gaelic#/media/File:Scots_Gaelic_speakers_in_the_2011_census.png


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Monday, December 5, 2016

Revitalizing the Inari Saami Language in Finland

Saami flag (7)
By Emily Cheng

Emily Cheng is an undergraduate student in linguistics. She is also very interested in film production and pursuing a Masters in Leadership for Creative Enterprises. She wrote this text as a senior enrolled in 418 ‘Language and Minorities in Europe’.

Inari Saami, also known as Aanaar Saami, is one of the three Saami languages spoken in Finland. All nine of the current Saami languages are considered endangered; with about 350 speakers, Inari Saami is considered seriously endangered (6). Inari Saami (IS) is spoken by the Inari Saami people, who reside in the municipality of Inari; most speakers are middle-aged or older. IS is the only Saami language spoken exclusively in Finland (1).

Location of Inari in Finland (8)
Problems with Inari Saami in Finland

The Saami people in Northern Europe suffer discrimination against their people, language, and culture. The clothing is considered strange, they often are not wealthy and therefore are considered to have a lower social status and to be inferior to modern cultures (5). The Saami language is viewed as an obstacle in a competitive environment and has a number of proponents who are fighting to keep the language out of schools in Finland. Often times, Saami parents decide to speak the official language with their children at home, to avoid humiliation and to give their children better opportunities (4). Inari Saami is a “minority of a minority”, complete with a small body of speakers; it too suffers diminished usage at home like the other Saami languages.

The Saami Language Act, passed in Finland in 1992 made a valiant effort to bring Saami up to the status of Finnish. However, it only extended to designated Saami areas. Smaller communities, such as the Inari Saami, did not experience the benefits of the act (5).

The path to success

The method of using language nests for the revitalization of Inari Saami perhaps has single-handedly began the relatively efficient and quick success of IS revitalization. A language nest is an early immersion of preschool-age children, taught completely in the local minority/indigenous language from Day 1 by linguistically and culturally proficient elders. Not only do children learn the language they don’t have access to at home, the preschool teachers and parents often develop proficiency in IS along the way (4).

The use of language nests has made IS more visible in the community, upgraded the status and prestige of the language, and is producing a generation of young bilinguals. More media and literature is also being produced in response to a shift in children’s culture.

The “Lost Generation”

After 2000, Inari Saami became the main language for school instruction with the “language nest generation”. However, with the rapid revitalization, there comes a lack of speakers aging 20-50 years old (2). Without adults, there is no force to produce teaching materials, provide financial backing, nor to occupy related jobs to the revitalization of IS.

The Giellagas Institute of the Oulu University had a solution. From August 2009 to August 2010, the CASLE (Complementary Aanaar Saami Language Education) program began (1, 3). Seventeen adult students, ranging in occupation from teachers, daycare personnel, a priest, and a radio journalist, participated in an intensive language course. Not only did courses produce language skills for these professionals critical for language transmission, they also covered Inari Saami culture and arranged internships in IS speaking workplaces (2). These seventeen individuals went on to revolutionize the Inari Saami revitalization.

Future endeavors

Even with the success of revitalizing Inari Saami, it still has a long way to go. There are still very few IS-speaking environments outside of the learning nests and schools. The lack of language rights for all Saami languages, as well as its diminished social status and lack of political power of the Saami people, still threatens the endangerment of the languages.

What do you think the future holds for the Saami languages?

If this topic interested you, check out this 10 minute documentary about the Inari Saami revitalization in the northeast of Finnish Lapland.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e0YcIkUoEhc

Works Cited

1. Pasanen, A. (2010) Revitalization of Inari Saami: reversal language shift in changing speech community [PPT document]. Retrieved from SlideShowes Web site: http://slideshowes.com/doc/351323/revitalization-of-inari-saami--reversal-language-shift-in

2. Pasanen, A. Solving the problem of the lost generation: Inari Saami language education for adults. Arkisto. Retrieved from http://www.arkisto.org/envision/images/Dokumentarkiv/Ph%20Annika%20Pasanen.pdf

3. Reyhner, J. (2013) Revitalizing the Aanaar Saami Language in Finland. Nabe Perspectives. Retrieved from North Arizona University. Web site: http://www2.nau.edu/~jar/NABE/Saami.pdf

4. Magga, O. H. & Skutnabb-Kangas, T. (2001) The Saami Languages: the present and the future. Endangered Languages, Endangered Lives. Retrieved from Cultural Survival. Web site: https://www.culturalsurvival.org/publications/cultural-survival-quarterly/saami-languages-present-and-future

5. Ricco, E. The Sámi Language Crisis. Sami Culture. Retrieved from Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services of the University of Texas. Web site: http://www.laits.utexas.edu/sami/dieda/ling/languagecrisis.htm

6. Sarivaara, E, et al. (2012) How to Revitalize an Indigenous Language? Adults’ Experiences of the Revitalization of the Sámi Language. Cross-Cultural Communication. Retrieved from CSCanada. Web site: http://www.cscanada.net/index.php/ccc/article/viewFile/j.ccc.1923670020130901.2121/3591

7. anjči. “Saami National Day 6 February.” Photograph. Wikimedia Commons. 6 Feb 2011. Web. 16 Apr 2016. Web site: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Saami_flag,_Troms%C3%B8_Norway.jpg

8. Joonasl. “Location of Inari in Finland.” Photograph. Wikimedia Commons. 5 Dec 2005. Web. 16 Apr 2016. Web site: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Inari_Suomen_maakuntakartalla.png

9. IET. “REBORN (with English subtitles)”. Online video clip. Youtube. Youtube, 9 July 2012. Web. 16 Apr 2016.


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Monday, November 28, 2016

What is in store for Catalonia now that it has officially declared the beginning of its independence process?

By Erin LePoire

Erin LePoire graduated from University of Illinois in Spring 2016, with a degree in Human Development and Family Studies, and Spanish.

The people have spoken, or at least voted, and the regional parliament of Catalonia decided to begin the process of secession from Spain, with hopes of completing it by the year 2017 (Time.com). The likelihood of actually accomplishing secession remains to be seen, but the fact that the process has begun is a big step in and of itself. To look at how Catalonia got here, it is important to review Catalonia’s past.

Catalonia came to be a part of the Frankish Empire in the late 9th and 10th centuries, not becoming a part of the Spanish Empire until the 15th century with the marriage of Isabella and Ferdinand. The war of Spanish secession in the 18th century was a real blow to Catalonian independence, in that the Catalonian state was abolished and Spain became a ‘unified nation’ (cataloniavotes.eu). Fast forward to Franco’s dictatorship in the 1930’s and anything associated with Catalonia was repressed. People were exiled to France, and the Catalonian culture was suppressed. When Spain began to become a democracy again in the 70’s, a reemergence of Catalonian culture occurred. What really spurred this most recent push for independence however was Spain becoming an EU member state, and the 2009 collapse of the economy. With Barcelona being one of the biggest economic powerhouses in Spain, the economic downturn hit the region of Catalonia hard.

So what does this mean for Catalonia now that it has begun unilaterally the secession process? First and foremost, it means a lot of uncertainty. While Barcelona is the economic powerhouse of Spain, the region of Catalonia actually has a lot of debt (BBC). While yes, the debt was caused by the Spanish government taxing the Catalonian region in the first place; the process of secession really only exacerbates the issue. What’s more, is that Catalonia is not in control of its finances, an autonomy that has been granted to the other region in Spain that identifies as culturally different: the Basque Country. Not being financially autonomous means that Catalonia essentially doesn’t have the (recent) experience of financial stability or accountability, a pretty large component what it takes to successfully be an independent country. But stepping away from the economic negatives that successful Catalonian secession would have, what are the positives?

I think the major benefit of an independent Catalonia would be that the vibrant cultural identity of Catalonians would now have now an official and separate matching nation, and not just the constitutionally recognized “nationality”. The cultural aspects of Catalonia are quite different than the majority of Spain. This is most clearly seen in the views on bull fighting. Spaniards in general view it as a part of their culture, which Catalonians view it as cruel and inhumane towards animals (debatingeurope.eu). By beginning the process of secession from Spain, the Catalonian region begins to remove and distinctly distance itself from traditional ‘Spanish’ culture. This distinction of cultures can be beneficial, but can also have the negative effect of cultural monotony, which could lead to a very isolated Catalonia.

Lastly, and arguably the largest, impact that the beginning of the process of secession from Spain has had on Catalonia is the language. While around 11.5 million people in Spain speak Catalan, almost all of them are also fluent in Spanish (debatingeurope.eu). This leads to two possible scenarios, the first of which is that over generations, Catalan becomes the more dominant language. The second scenario is that people within and outside Catalonia need more than just Catalan to work, and so continue to use Spanish in addition to Catalan, leading to no drastic change in the status of the language. This second scenario leads to no real benefit to Catalan from Catalonian independence.

In conclusion, the beginning of the process of secession from Spain leaves many uncertainties for Catalonia. From the economic disadvantages to the Cultural gains and losses, what secession means for Catalonia remains to be seen. But it is still a long, uphill battle before independence is even remotely secured.

Works Cited

http://www.cataloniavotes.eu/history/
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-20345071
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-20345073
http://www.debatingeurope.eu/focus/independence-catalonia/#.VxGAF0ImTwx
http://time.com/4102619/what-catalonias-vote-for-independence-means-for-europe/
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Monday, November 14, 2016

Swedish language policy in action: legal rights of migrant languages during the European refugee crisis

Poster for the anti-refugee Swedish Democrat party,
a growing political group (source).
By Sonja Brankovic

Sonja Brankovic is a senior studying mechanical engineering at U of Illinois. She took ITAL 418 this past spring as a part of her International Engineering Minor in Germanic Studies. Sonja says: “This class has been unlike any other in European history and culture in that it has opened my eyes to marginalized perspectives I have never encountered before (even in personal travel and studying abroad). The course gave me a foundation to analyze historical language topics—the evolution of Basque’s codification, the ongoing linguistic de-Russification in the Baltic countries—as well as the ability to assess how the current refugee crisis will have an impact on the European linguistic landscape. This assessment is the main theme of my blog entry, and will hopefully give an idea of why the influx of Middle Eastern languages to Sweden is such a complex issue, and will continue to be so over the next few generations.”

Swedish language policy in action: legal rights of migrant languages during the European refugee crisis

Figure 1: Total number of asylum applications in
2013, 2014, and 2016 [1] (source).
“The most generous country in Europe” has become a common boast about Sweden’s 2015 open-door policy for accepting Syrian and Somali war refugees. After Germany, Sweden is the destination of choice for many asylum-seekers—and as Figure 1 shows, the number of asylum applications is only increasing. But what are Sweden’s refugee policies once the initial welcome is complete? Where do refugees settle, and what are their daily activities? How do their children integrate into the Swedish educational system?

These questions reveal a complex web of answers that can only be found in Swedish policies for refugee settlement, employment, and schooling. After accepting tens of thousands of migrants in 2014 and 2015, the country has been filled nearly to its breaking point. The Swedish Migration Agency has become reliant on available housing in more urban areas and the attitudes of those recipient communities, which has resulted in large clusters of refugees living near larger cities. Södertälje, a town just outside of Stockholm, has a population that is 50% Syrian, Somali, and Afghan refugees [2]. The children living in such areas are being slowly introduced to Swedish schools; what languages will they learn there? Swedish, of course—but what of their mother-tongues and the history and traditions of their families and culture?

There are a few factors that distinguish Sweden’s reception of these war refugees:
  • Sweden is actively trying to provide a permanent home for these refugees, rather than just a temporary residence for the duration of the Syrian Civil War. Assistance is provided to procure housing, find jobs, and send refugee children to Swedish schools. This is a stark contrast to other European countries’ attitudes: Spain, the Netherlands, and now nearby Denmark have tightened border security and are not eager to accept more refugees [3], [4].
  • The populations of Syrian, Somali, and Afghan migrants in Sweden already outnumber the older, now-established migrant populations (many of which still speak their mother-tongue) [5]. This more than anything implies that refugee rights (including language rights) will become a point of educational contention in the future.
  • Sweden has liberal language policies for migrant/refugee tongues; Swedish schools are required to provide mother-tongue language classes if more than five students request the instruction and teaching materials/resources can be found [6]. This policy is much more generous than the ECRML (European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, which Sweden ratified in 2000), which has no provisions for migrant languages or any language that cannot establish historical roots in the country [7].

All of these factors suggest that Swedish government is going above and beyond the minimum duty of EU countries to welcome and settle these refugees (at least linguistically). But these liberal policies are not easily translated into the classrooms—or even into the minds of Swedish natives, who have grown increasingly wary of accepting refugees as readily as they did during 2015, when 1000–3000 asylum application were granted per month [8].

In November 2015, Prime Minister Stefan Löfven announced that Sweden was reversing its open-door policy; after that point, any arriving migrants would no longer receive automatic permanent asylum and the associated benefits. Later in December, the country backtracked even further and announced that Sweden would from then on only accept the EU-negotiated refugee minimum.

These cautious decisions are the product of increasing pressure on Swedish schools and a highly competitive job market, as well as social pressure from growing anti-refugee political parties. The burgeoning group of Swedish Democrats, which boasts 20% popular support by recent polls, has seized on recent sexual assaults and violence at refugee centers as reasons to stem the flow of migrants; a related point is that most refugees do not socialize with native Swedes (as seen in Södertälje) and the welcoming atmosphere perpetuated by the Swedish government belies the fact that most refugees live in their own communities; these communities are now being treated with suspicion and distaste by many Swedes (especially those associated with the SD, who claim that refugees have “muddied” the waters of a homogeneous Sweden) [9].

Moreover, and ignoring all of these social and political forebodings, these language instruction guarantees for refugee/migrant languages are clearly negative rights; while the government’s policies do not prevent refugees from staying connected with their cultures, there are virtually no government-sponsored televised programming in Arabic, and none of the refugee/migrant languages have been given the same formal municipal power as the traditional minority languages (which in the ECRML include rights within the judiciary, local administration, and cultural programming).

Figure 2: Mother-tongue instruction statistics
in Swedish schools [7] (source).
The question out of all of this becomes: will refugees in Sweden, despite its accommodating language policies, be able to take advantage of these opportunities to learn their mother-tongue? (“Do they even want to?”—as Figure 2 shows, migrant language instruction accounts for a large portion of mother-tongue education in Sweden). Is there legal recourse for refugees if they are denied this right? As of now, the answer falls within a murky territory of available school resources and community attitudes toward migrants. Despite the social and political blowback in the last few months, the refugees currently settled in Sweden will acculturate (not necessarily assimilate) to the country’s culture in the upcoming years; they will still retain their own religion and language, and the latter will have to account for a measurable rise in Arabic and Somali instruction in Swedish schools. Now is the time that refugees will have to establish their right to mother-tongue instruction if they hope to preserve (at least through their children) this major bridge to their past lives.

Works Cited

1. "Statistics." Swedish Migration Agency. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2016. <http://www.migrationsverket.se/English/About-the-Migration-Agency/Facts-and-statistics-/Statistics.html.

2. Harress, Christopher. "Syrian And Iraqi Refugees Are Half The Population Of This Swedish City." International Business Times. N.p., 03 July 2014. Web. 28 Mar. 2016. 

<http://www.ibtimes.com/syrian-iraqi-refugees-are-half-population-swedish-city-1619232>.

3. Pabst, Sabrina. "How EU Countries Handle the Refugee Crisis | Europe | DW.COM | 12.08.2015." DW.COM. N.p., 12 Aug. 2015. Web. 4 Apr. 2016. <http://www.dw.com/en/how-eu-countries-handle-the-refugee-crisis/a-18646316>.

4. "Protection and Asylum in Sweden." Swedish Migration Agency. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Apr. 2016.  1. <http://www.migrationsverket.se/English/Private-individuals/Protection-and-asylum-in-Sweden.html>.


5. "Statistical Database." Statistical Database. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2016. <http://www.statistikdatabasen.scb.se/pxweb/en/ssd/?rxid=f27ec97e-43e0-4a1c-9092-f7a2289ac255>.


6. Segerhammar, Amor, and Ann-Charlotte Karnermo. "Language Policy for Migrant Children in Sweden." Language Policy for Migrant Children in Sweden. Language Center Gothenburg, Sweden, 10 Nov. 2015. Web. 5 Apr. 2016. <http://www.slideshare.net/Rutufoundation/language-policy-for-migrant-children-in-sweden>.


7. "European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages." Treaty Office. The Council of Europe, n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2016. <http://www.coe.int/en/web/conventions/full-list/-/conventions/treaty/148>.


8. Traub, James. "The Death of the Most Generous Nation on Earth." Foreign Policy The Death of the Most Generous Nation on Earth Comments. N.p., 10 Feb. 2016. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.  <http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/02/10/the-death-of-the-most-generous-nation-on-earth-sweden-syria-refugee-europe/>.


9. Crouch, David. "Sweden Slams Shut Its Open-door Policy towards Refugees." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 24 Nov. 2015. Web. 4 Apr. 2016. <http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/24/sweden-asylum-seekers-refugees-policy-reversal>.

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Monday, November 7, 2016

When and Why Did Greek Become Irrelevant?

By Constantine L. Davros

Constantine Loucas Davros graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in Spring 2016 with two degrees, one in Physics and the other in Italian. He is a Greek American from Chicago. Constantine studied abroad in Verona, Italy in the spring of 2015, and is back there this year to teach in a high school in Crema. In this essay, Constantine examines the differences in prestige and use of ancient and Modern Greek in today’s Europe, referring to scholarly analyses and also to his own experiences as a Greek American.

When and Why Did Greek Become Irrelevant?

As a young Greek American I often wonder why more people do not learn to speak Greek, as frequently as were the circumstances in days past. The contention could be made that due to its infrequent use, the Greek language has slowly faded into obscurity. How could this be though? At one point in history the Greek civilization was regarded as the zenith of academia, as well as the cultural gold standard. Granted, that point may reside deep within the annals of history, but nonetheless the Greek language’s infrequent use deserves explanation.

Knowing Greek isn’t something to be frowned upon, nor is it useless. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. From personal experience I can corroborate the benefits of having knowledge of the language, but for more concrete evidence it’s important to know that, “over 70% of all English words are derived from Greek and Latin. Knowing Latin and Greek prefixes, roots and suffixes will not only help one remember word definitions but will also make it easier to determine the meaning of a new word” (Ruccolo). However, unlike Latin, Greek is an official language of the European Union, as well as a recognized minority language in other member states such as Hungary, Italy, and Romania. With that in mind, it would seem that knowing Greek would serve as an invaluable tool for Europeans trying to learn English.

Moreover, it has become standard practice for the European Union “to conduct its official business in English, French, and German” with English being the “most widely spoken and used language in the administrative domain” (Kachru & Smith). Thus, the latter two language’s roles in both the financial and political domains are diminishing. Couple that with the fact that one of the main objectives of the EU is that “every European citizen should master two other languages in addition to their mother tongue” (EU Parliament), it would seem that there is a perfect storm to learn Greek as the second secondary language; assuming English would be the first secondary language.

However, statistics show that both in Europe and in the United States, there is no real interest in learning Greek as a foreign language. According to Eurostat, the most studied foreign languages in Europe at the upper secondary level of education are as follows: English 94%, French 23%, Spanish and German 19%, Italian 3%, and Russian 3%. It is clearly visible that there is no space for Greek to fit into the European landscape. In the United States, enrollments in Ancient Greek language classes are on a steep decline. According to the MLA from 2006 to 2009 enrollment dropped by 12.2 % and from 2009 to 2013 enrollment dropped an even further 35.5% (Flaherty).

A graph of the decline in language enrollments for major languages (Source)


A painting by Theodoros Vryzakis of
Bishop Germanos blessing the Greek flag
at the beginning of the Greek Revolution on
March 25, 1821. (source)
Thus, we’re still left with the unanswered question, why isn’t Greek getting learned? The answer isn’t a simple one. We could quickly shift blame back through the centuries to the fall of the Byzantine Empire followed by the capture of Constantinople, by the Ottoman Empire in 1453. Later, Athens fell in 1458, subsequently followed by an occupation that lasted until the Greek War of Independence, which began on March 25, 1821, and which lasted until 1832 ending with the Treaty of Constantinople. However, it would be easy to attribute all blame on the Ottoman occupation. The Greek language has been plagued by a diglossic debate, between Demotic Greek, spoken by the public, and Katharevousa, considered to be pure Greek (Frangoudaki), for centuries. At the same time, the Greek government, throughout its various political regimes, has made multiple miscues when it comes to policy making. Such issues persisted through the 19th century after Independence was achieved, into the 20th century. “Linked to the national ideology, it was a recurrent debate in the history of contemporary Greece, with many steps forward and backward, always interrelated with the political power in government, until 1976 when, after the fall of the junda, popular Greek was voted as the official language” (Dendrinos, 2).

The combination of both external and internal forces seems to have seriously damaged the use and prestige of the Greek language over the centuries. However, under current circumstances it doesn’t seem as though Greek will become the trending language to learn. As David Crystal contends in a video for Macmillan Education ELT, “A language becomes a global language because of the power of the people who speak it. It’s nothing to do with the structure of the language…It’s all to do with power, but power means different things at different times…And then in the 19th century economic power; money talks always” (Macmillan Education ELT). In the 19th century Greece wasn’t an economic powerhouse, and today it is quite the opposite. The Greek Debt Crisis that began in 2010 coincides almost perfectly to the MLA’s reported drops in enrollment. Perhaps a coincidence, but the statistics reflect on the nation as a whole. Nonetheless, the true power and resurgence of the Greek language is inextricably tied to Greece fixing its economy. As we know though, the Greek language is still useful; it just needs to be made relevant once more. Perhaps after the financial crisis in Greece is resolved, efforts can be made to restore the prestige of the Greek language, but only time will tell.

Works Cited

Macmillan Education ELT. “Global English with David Crystal.” YouTube. YouTube, 01 Nov. 2009. Web. 15 May 2016.

Dendrinos, Bessie. “Language Issues And Language Policies In Greece.” (2012): 1-17. Web.

European Parliament

Eurostat

Flaherty, Colleen. “MLA Report Shows Declines in Enrollment in Most Foreign Languages.” Inside Higher Ed. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 May 2016.

Frangoudaki, Anna. “Diglossia And The Present Language Situation In Greece: A Sociological Approach To The Interpretation Of Diglossia And Some Hypotheses On Today’s Linguistic Reality.” Language In Society 21.3 (1992): 365-81. ERIC. Web. 15 May 2016.

Ruccolo

Kachru & Smith


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Monday, October 31, 2016

Is Sicilian Italian?

Image: Erin O'Malley on Flickr
By Elizabeth Lorentzen

Elizabeth Lorentzen is a senior from Arlington Heights, Illinois, studying Speech and Hearing Sciences. She is also completing a minor in Italian Studies.

With approximately 5 million speakers, the Sicilian language is vigorously used throughout Sicily and its satellite islands (Lewis, 2016). However, there are still numerous people who believe Sicilian is merely a dialect of Italian, not its own distinct language; the Italian parliament has failed to ratify the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, and Sicilian is not recognized by the national law 482 which recognizes and protects 12 languages and dialects spoken in Italy.

Additionally, Sicilian is not standardly used in schools, nor is it commonly written or read by the people who use it in daily life. According to the UNESCO rankings, Sicilian is a vulnerable language, meaning there is limited language use at home by a portion of the population; meanwhile, Italian is the national language of Italy, used in schools, government, business, media, etc. (Moseley, 2010). Sicily’s history consists of many different groups ruling its land, leading to many different languages being brought to the island. With influences from Latin, Arabic, French, Catalan, Spanish, Albanian, Greek, and more, do the people of Sicily speak their own language or simply a dialect of Italian?

Considering that Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, separated from Italy by a body of water, it should not be surprising that this land has developed a unique language. Throughout the years, Sicily was populated by many different groups, most notably the Greeks, the Romans, and the Arab people. During the Greeks’ rule over Sicily, a variety of dialects were spoken on the island. These Greek influences are still largely reflected in present day Sicilian words. Some examples of these language similarities can be seen in the following words: ‘cherry,’ in Sicilian ‘cirasa’ and ‘boy’ in Sicilian is ‘carusu.’ In addition to strong Greek language influences, when the Roman Empire took over Sicily, Latin swept through the land. Latin and Greek influenced each other, creating new vocabulary and grammar rules, but Greek still remained the dominant language in general (Mallette, 2003, p. 155). Eventually, Arab settlers arrive, and so did their language, further mixing with the already existing Greek and Latin. The Arab people played a large role in Sicilian language and cultural development; many Sicilian words related to cooking and agriculture have an Arabic base, for example, ‘zaffarana’ for saffron (Bonner, 2003, p. 33).

The Italian language has greatly influenced the Sicilian language, specifically in recent history. Since Sicilian is not used in schools, it is becoming more common to hear standard Italian on the streets, specifically among younger generations (Cruschina, 2013, p. 25). This is an example of how the 2 languages influence each other, continuous mixed use. Over the years, it seems as though Sicilian will continue being modified due to strong use of Italian in schools, mass media, and young people overall.

Based on its vast differences in syntax, vocabulary, and grammar, Sicilian seems to be its own, unique language, not simply a dialect of Italian. The history behind how the language was formed also makes its case for why Sicilian should be considered a stand-alone language. Although Sicily is a region of Italy, more specifically the fifth most populated and largest in geographic size, there has been a long history of cultural disconnect and lack of nationalism for the Sicilian people; many people who live in Sicily think of themselves first as Sicilians while, their Italian identity takes second rank. There is also a widespread phenomenon in Italy that the Northern Italians view themselves as superior to the Southern Italians. This plays a role in negative attitudes about the Sicilian language, people claim it is a dialect of the superior language, Italian, and that it is spoken by the poor and uneducated. In more recent times, the connection between Sicily and Italy has grown stronger, mainly in the younger generations, due to mass media, improved education systems, business, increased travel, and more; however, the languages still have unique traits that maintain that Sicilian is its own, minority language, not a dialect.

References

Bonner, J.K. (2003). Principal differences among Sicilian dialects, Part 1. IUANA (4) 29-38.

Cruschina, S. (2013). The expression of evidentiality and epsitemicity: Cases of grammaticalization in Italian and Sicilian. Probus 27 (1) 1-31. De Gruyter Mouton: NY.

Lewis, M. Paul, Gary F Simons, and Charles D Fennig (eds.). 2016. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Nineteenth edition. Dallas, Texas: SIL International. Online version: http://www.ethnologue.com.

Mallette, K. (2003) Translating Sicily. Medieval encounters, (9.1) 140-163.

Moseley, Christopher (ed.). 2010. Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, 3rd edn. Paris, UNESCO Publishing. Online version: http://www.unesco.org/culture /en/endangeredlanguages/atlas


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Friday, October 21, 2016

Could sound-change in language contact situations threaten a language? The case of Spanish-Catalan bilingualism

Photo by Jorge Guerrero, courtesy of Yahoo!

Could sound-change in language contact situations threaten a language? The case of Spanish-Catalan bilingualism

By Stephanie Landblom

Stephanie Landblom wrote this blog entry for the course “Language and minorities in Europe” (FRIT 418) in Spring 2016. She is a graduate student in Linguistics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research interests include second language acquisition with a focus on second language phonological acquisition.
Despite the fact that bilingualism and multilingualism is a common phenomenon across the world, it is often mired in controversy. For instance, much has been said about whether being bilingual puts speakers at a cognitive advantage or disadvantage, which is especially relevant to parents trying to raise their children in a global society, immigrant parents, as well as for governments considering linguistic educational policies. Decades ago, it was widely believed that being bilingual only put speakers at a disadvantage. Nowadays, however, research arguing for cognitive advantages have been increasingly popular in the media (eg. The New York Times' article, "The Bilingual Advantage" and Psychology Today's article, "When Does Bilingualism Help or Hurt?").

Cognitive advantages or disadvantages may not be the only issue of importance in deciding when to raise children bilingually or to foster a bilingual society, and it may not even play a role at all. More importantly, identity may play a role, especially when a group feels their cultural and linguistic identity may be threatened by a larger, more dominant ethnic or linguistic group. Sometimes it is not so important that a society is not bilingual, but rather not bilingual in their regional language and the other language perceived as a threat.

We can see this to an extent in Spain. Pau Vidal, a philologist, has published a book entitled El Bilingüisme Mata (Bilingualism Kills). In an interview he gives to infowelat.com, he describes bilingualism as a transitional stage to substitution, specifically believing that Spanish-Catalan bilingualism in Catalonia is paving the way for Spanish to replace Catalan. Also, because all Catalan speakers will speak Spanish, it will be contaminated from contact with Spanish. It is well established that languages in contact tend to change, but how does this happen? One linguistic level on which this can occur is at the level of pronunciation. The knowledge of other languages can influence how you speak a second language, and in some cases can even change your pronunciation of your mother tongue. There has been a lot of interest and research carried out in Spanish-Catalan bilinguals in order to answer some of the questions about bilingualism. We will now take a look at what those studies show, specifically regarding bilinguals’ pronunciation of Catalan.
Photo Courtesy of Amazon

There are vowel contrasts present in Catalan and not in Spanish. For example, the words néta (granddaughter) and neta (clean) in Catalan are differentiated by the pronunciation of the ‘e’, a difficult contrast for Spanish speakers. Researchers have examined how bilinguals can hear, pronounce and process words with this sound. One factor affecting their ability to hear the contrast is language dominance, by which I mean whether the speaker was raised in mainly a Spanish speaking or Catalan speaking environment, despite the fact they may be quite proficient in both languages. There are Spanish-dominant Catalan speakers, who have perhaps grown up in Spanish speaking homes and were exposed to Catalan at a slightly older age than Spanish. Conversely, there are Catalan dominant bilinguals, who speak Spanish at a native or near-native level but were exposed to Catalan at birth. Although these speakers may have similar fluency in Catalan and speak predominantly Catalan at home, Bosch & Ramon-Casas (2011) have shown that there are differences in the two groups. They had participants complete a production task, in which they were asked to record sentences with words with this vowel contrast. Results showed that both groups did produce two different vowels, however, the pronunciation of each group was slightly different. They also found that when producing words, the Spanish-dominant speaker group often produced the wrong vowel for that word. That is, it seemed as though they were unsure which vowel was supposed to occur in specific words, much more so than the Catalan-dominant groups.

This can extend into processes of lexical recognition, or the recognition of words in spoken speech, as well. Pallier, Colomé & Sebastián-Gallés (2001) showed that Spanish-dominant bilinguals, but not Catalan dominant bilinguals processed minimal pairs (words differing in only one sound) in Catalan as homophones when they contain such vowel contrasts as the one discussed above. This means that they did not differentiate between words with these two different vowels, but rather heard them as the same word, or as a homophone.

Such studies do not seem to represent a bleak outlook for bilingualism killing a language, especially if the threatened language is most speakers’ dominant language. If it is not, however, it seems that language change could indeed occur. However, as mentioned before, it is undeniable that language contact can induce language change. Therefore, more studies than these presented would have to be examined. Additionally, other linguistic areas would have to be examined, such as how bilingualism can affect the sentence structure or vocabulary. While it is important to preserve languages, we must be cautious in determining the true threats to the language, and be cautious by carefully measuring the pros and cons of bilingualism.

References

Dreifus, Claudia. “The Bilingual Advantage.” The New York Times. N.p. 30 May 2011. Web 15 Mar. 2016.

Bosch, Laura, and Marta Ramon-Casas. "Variability in vowel production by bilingual speakers: Can input properties hinder the early stabilization of contrastive categories?." Journal of Phonetics 39.4 (2011): 514-526.

Olson, Kristina R. & Guirgis, Sara. “When does bilingualism help or hurt?” Psychology Today. N.p. 27 April 2014. Web. 15 Mar. 2016.

Pallier, Christophe, Angels Colomé, and Núria Sebastián-Gallés. "The influence of native-language phonology on lexical access: Exemplar-based versus abstract lexical entries." Psychological Science 12.6 (2001): 445-449.

“Pau Vidal: Bilingualism Kills.” Infowelat.com. May 06, 2015. Web. 1 Apr. 2016.


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Monday, October 17, 2016

English Usage by Dutch Speakers on Facebook

English Usage by Dutch Speakers on Facebook

By Andrew Van Marm

Andrew Van Marm wrote this blog entry for the course “Language and minorities in Europe” (FR/IT 418) in Spring 2016. He is a senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign majoring in Political Science, and has a special interest in the geographic and linguistic history of the European continent. Minority languages are particularly interesting to his work, as they represent the cultures of Europe that were once widespread.

Among the countries of the European Union, English holds a special place in the Netherlands. According to the European Commission (2012), "at a national level English is the most widely spoken foreign language in 19 out of the 25 [EU] Member States." Out of these 19, the Netherlands has one of the highest proportions of English speakers at 90%. In comparison, the percentage of English speakers in the United States is 94%. (U.S. Census Bureau, 2007) This makes the Netherlands a particularly unique case when it comes to English usage on the Internet. Furthermore, the Netherlands has one of the highest Internet penetration rates in European Union (94%), which accounts for 16 million of their 17 million population. (Internet World Stats, 2014) Of this approximate sum, 9 million are reported to have visited the popular social networking website Facebook. (Azevedo, 2013)

Image Courtesy of comScore MMX
According to the demographic profile presented above, the proportion of Dutch Facebook users is fairly evenly split among different age groups. (Azevedo, 2013) This is relevant, as it is assumed that older users would be less accustomed to using English. However, as no official statistics appear to exist on the subject of language usage by Dutch Facebook users, I shall embark on my own investigation.

Many years ago when I had first created my account on Facebook, I happened to search my last name on Facebook. Unlike other surnames, such as 'Brown' and 'Smith,' the name 'Van Marm' is entirely unique, which means all those with it are at least somewhat related. Although the Van Marm's of the United States are few in number (originating with my great-grand father Cornelius who came over through Ellis Island), a significant number remain in the "old country" of the Netherlands. Surely enough, some of my Dutch relatives happened to turn up on the social media site. Over time, more and more of them created accounts, and though I had yet to speak to a majority of them, I was quick to establish contact.

The very first of the Dutch relatives I had spoken to was Britta, who is a student not much younger than myself. As with the others, she is assumed to be a cousin of some sort. Naturally, she speaks excellent English, as the language was taught and used extensively throughout her education. However, while surveying her Facebook page for the purposes of this blog post, it was observed that a significant majority of her Facebook statuses were in Dutch while a few others were in English. One day was "Sunday funday with the flamingos" while earlier she had "even twee dagen relaxen!" (only two days to relax!) In brief, she appeared to flip between the two languages, using Dutch for longer, more complex statements and English for shorter, casual ones. The comment sections, on the other hand, remain exclusively the domain of Dutch. This is because communication is directed towards specific friends and family. According to Britta, there are a few factors that affect her choice of language:
Actually, for me it depends on the thing I am posting. Since I'm having more and more international friends on Facebook, I post more things in English, but if I write something that is especially for my Dutch friends, I will do it in Dutch. Besides that, the most important thing for me is: in which language can I express with better verbage. Sometimes things sound better in Dutch or English.
In summary, the factors involved are her audience, which contains international, non-Dutch speakers (such as myself), personal social interaction between her friends, and the perceived aesthetic differences between Dutch and English. She further stated that her own age plays a role, as her parents would not be comfortable enough with English to use it extensively on the Internet.

It is especially curious that Britta mentioned age as a factor, as her aunt Helena (who is about twice her age) represents the most prolific English user among my Dutch Facebook family. As a semi-professional photographer with a Facebook page dedicated to her work, Helena uses English in almost every single one of her statuses. When I asked why she used English so extensively, she responded by saying,
That's because I've a lot of foreign friends! And sometimes for me it is easier to say it in English than in Dutch. Although I've been born in The Netherlands I think more in English than I do in Dutch. I know it's weird haha. And because I use Facebook as a platform for my photography I also want to reach a lot of people outside The Netherlands.
Beyond the broad appeal of English that compliments her desire to share her photography with as many individuals as possible, Helena has developed a personal connection to English that has led her to use the language quite often in her day-to-day life. Naturally, this has carried onto the Internet, where Dutch is largely confined to comment sections that are populated by other Dutch speakers.

Photo Courtesy of Helena van Marm Photography on imgur
The exchange between Dutch and English in the Netherlands certainly represents an interesting case of language shift by speakers of a strong, state language. Although English is not the sole language at play, its presence is felt nearly everywhere. This makes sense, as Facebook is primarily an English-language website, having been developed in the United States. For the two Dutch speakers, there were both practical and personal motives behind their language usage on Facebook. Although lingua francas are not said to be born as a result of perceived aesthetic qualities, both Britta and Helena considered English to have special value beyond its mere ability to facilitate wider communication. The vast majority of their friends on Facebook, after all, were Dutch. However, when Helena shared her excitement for the upcoming season of the English-language television series “A Game of Thrones,” it only made sense to express such in English. Considering the wide appreciation for English-language media across the globe, it comes to no surprise that English has become the language of digital culture.

Bibliography

Azevedo, H. (2013, June 19) Who Uses Social Networks in the Netherlands? ComScore. Retrieved from https://www.comscore.com/Insights/Data-Mine/Who-uses-Social-Networks-in-the-Netherlands

U.S. Census Bureau. (2007) Language Use in the United States: 2007. Retrieved from http://www.census.gov/hhes/socdemo/language/data/acs/ACS-12.pdf

European Commission. (2012) Eurobarometer 386. Retrieved from http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/ebs/ebs_386_en.pdf

Top 50 Countries with the Highest Penetration Rates. (2013) Internet World Stats. Retrieved from http://www.internetworldstats.com/top25.htm


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Monday, October 10, 2016

Exploring the Erasmus Experience: Participating on exchange may impact intercultural competency

Exploring the Erasmus Experience: Participating on exchange may impact intercultural competency

By Juliane Micoleta

Julianne Micoleta wrote this blog entry for the course “Language and minorities in Europe” (FRIT 418) in Spring 2016 as a rising senior, majoring in Political Science and minoring in Global Studies.


Boasting a budget of 14.7 billion euros and more than four million opportunities to study, train, gain experience, and volunteer abroad, the European Union’s Erasmus Program works towards providing life-changing experiences to thousands of Europeans every year.

First established in 1987 by the EU, the premise of the Erasmus program is to provide students, registered in higher institutions, within the EU foreign exchange options to study abroad, according to the Erasmus program website.

Now, nearly 30 years later and set to last until 2020, the Erasmus program does not have opportunities for just students anymore. Combining seven other programs, it now houses opportunities for a wide variety of individuals and organizations including universities, education and training providers, think tanks, research organizations, and private businesses. The overall goal of the Erasmus program is to contribute to the Europe 2020 strategy for growth, jobs, social equity and inclusion along with meeting the goals outlined of the ET2020, the EU’s strategic framework for education and training, according to the European Commission.

Since its inception, the Erasmus program, especially the higher education component, has grown significantly. With more than 4000 students involved in the program at any one time, it allows the opportunity to build cross-border cooperation between states, aid the growth of international studying, and provide hundreds of mobility options for students to build cross-cultural understanding.

According to some scholars, a possible byproduct of participating on an Erasmus exchange is an increase in intercultural competency, that is the ability to communicate effectively and appropriately with people of other cultures.

Photo Courtesy of Jare Jarvinen
Take, for instance, Jare Jarvinen, a third year Politics and International Relations student at the University of Aberdeen, who spent one year on an Erasmus exchange at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Lille in Lille, France. According to Jarvinen, he was motivated to go on exchange to further his studies on the French language and to learn more about French culture.

“I really enjoyed my Erasmus experience,” Jarvinen said. “It was the best year of my life so far. I learned so much about a different European culture and made life-long friendships with people from all over the continent. I think it also enhances my employability.”

He also agrees that his experience studying in Lille had some positive effect on his intercultural competency.

“I now know much more about other Europeans and I am more aware of what unites and separates us,” Jarvinen said.

Other studies also point out that participating on an Erasmus exchange can possibly help foment a European identity.

Photo Courtesy of Jare Jarvinen
“This experience definitely fostered my European identity,” Jarvinen said. “The whole program is genius as it creates these life-lasting connections between young people and shows us the benefits of working together.”

However, Jarvinen’s experience was not always easy. He was exposed to some cultural differences that he believes are so deeply rooted that will be difficult to overcome any time soon. He also noticed the economic discrepancies in Europe more. Despite this, he did not completely see this as a negative thing and feels that his Erasmus experience generally had a very positive impact on him.

“In a way, I leaned that the European integration process is much longer than I expected and somehow also felt unsure if the differences are too big to really integrate in the near future,” he said. “But it's not necessarily a bad thing. I think that we don't really need a single European culture, but that these cultural differences are what make us special. Like the EU motto goes ‘United in diversity,’ it's definitely true.”

Sources:

Erasmus Programme. (n.d.). Retrieved April 15, 2016, from http://www.erasmusprogramme.com/

Erasmus - European Commission. (n.d.). Retrieved April 15, 2016, from https://ec.europa.eu/programmes/erasmus-plus/about_en#tab-1-0

European CommissionEurope 2020. (n.d.). Retrieved April 15, 2016, from http://ec.europa.eu/europe2020/index_en.htm

Schartner, A. (2015). The effect of study abroad on intercultural competence: A longitudinal case study of international postgraduate students at a British university. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 37(4), 402-418. doi:10.1080/01434632.2015.1073737

Jacobone, V., & Moro, G. (2014). Evaluating the impact of the Erasmus programme: Skills and European identity. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 40(2), 309-328. doi:10.1080/02602938.2014.909005


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Friday, October 7, 2016

Internet Interference: The Linguistic Ambidexterity of the World Wide Web and the Dying Languages

Internet Interference: The Linguistic Ambidexterity of the World Wide Web and the Dying Languages

By Rebecca Demski

Rebecca Demski wrote this blog entry for the course “Language and minorities in Europe” (FRIT 418) in Spring 2016. She is a sophomore in Communications at UIUC, and is particularly interested in telecommunications and linguistics.

It’s no mystery that the introduction of the Internet in the 1990s revolutionized the world; its genesis was akin to that of the printing press. Communications were an obvious target susceptible to change and with communications, so to, languages. Approximately 3 billion people have access to the Internet (Chang). A little less than half of the global population has formed and made a digital footprint, so to speak, simply by means of existing. What about the other three-fifths?

The other excluded 4.2 billion people are threatened because they have no voice in the ‘conversation’ amongst users taking place. Only about 300 of the 7,100 languages in existence are present on the Internet according to a report from the United Nations Broadband Commission in 2015 (21). Of the 10 million most popular websites, the English language is utilized for 55% and the remainder of the majority are in Russian, Japanese, German, Spanish and French for about 6% of websites. What about the rest?

At-risk languages are estimated, according to UNESCO’s website, to be around 2,500 and approaching 3,000 in total. In order for a language to be resurrected, or at best preserved, it requires utilization and documentation. The modern tool which allows this is the Internet. In order to nurture languages and prevent digital language death, an environment must be established first for viability. “The classical studies of language death lay down one absolutely unbreakable rule: no community, no survival” (Kornai 5).

Image Courtesy of Language in the News
The unfortunate reality of digital linguistic ascension is that over 95% of languages no longer have this capacity (2). But all is not lost! Manx was declared ‘extinct’ since 1974 when its last native speaker died. Within the last five years there have been efforts to resuscitate it. The linguistic revival of Manx is an example other dying languages should follow.

Manx has not graced the realm of the Internet until recently. A revival project through Viki, a global television site on par with Wikipedia, and the Living Tongues Institute explores the current state of the language on the Isle of Man. Children are learning Manx and are the seedlings for revival. Despite a very limited number of speakers, the Internet allows for linguistic maintenance regardless of the speaker’s location, age, and affluence. Essentially, the introduction to the global conversation by means of the Internet can resurrect languages. The potential for digital preservation, as in the case with Manx, dramatically impacts the vitality of a language.

Image Courtesy of Isle of Man Department of Education & Children
Increasing global Internet access would help to quell the threat of losing more languages and potentially help restore the status of many endangered languages. Although the bulk of the responsibility for improving technological capabilities and development rests in the government, the remainder of the burden falls on websites of the Internet.

Google took initiative to fund the Endangered Language Project in 2012. The web portal allows contributions from worldwide users such as esteemed linguistics or even high-school freshmen. Contributions include alphabets, photos and videos, history, vocabulary, and sound bites. Over 3,000 languages are recorded on the website. Whether this has any long term benefits is unknown at this time but for the time being it increases linguistic awareness and learning.

Image Courtesy of Ethnos Project
Twitter is a social media website that potentially could shift interpersonal communication if it made the right adjustments. Features such as language selection would help to improve communications. Twitter currently “does not offer support for translation or features for strengthening connections between language groups” (Eleta & Golbeck, 431). If linguistic modification to unite communities were afforded by website developers and computer scientists, then perhaps the digital linguistic disconnection would be eliminated.

It would be nearly impossible to rescue every endangered and dying language from digital death but the possibilities with the naissance of the Internet bring hope. The Internet functions in two ways: one, it kills off weak languages and accommodates the thriving ones, or two, it includes the old and feeble languages and ensures a greater chance of linguistic diversity and most importantly, survival.

References:

"Atlas of Languages in Danger | United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization." Atlas of Languages in Danger | United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. N.p., 2010. Web. 14 Apr. 2016.

Chang, Lulu. "On the Web Right Now? You’re in the Minority — Most People Still Don’t Have Internet." Digital Trends. N.p., 24 Sept. 2015. Web. 14 Apr. 2016. http://www.digitaltrends.com/web/4-billion-people-lack-internet-access/

Eleta, Irene, and Jennifer Golbeck. "Multilingual Use of Twitter: Social Networks At The Language Frontier." Computers In Human Behavior 41. (2014): 424-432. Academic Search Complete. Web. 5 Apr. 2016.

Kornai, András. "Digital Language Death." Plos ONE 8.10 (2013): 1-11. Academic Search Complete. Web. 15 Apr. 2016.

"Manx: Reviving a Language: Official Viki Channel." Viki. The Living Tongues Institute, n.d. Web. 13 Apr. 2016. https://www.viki.com/videos/1061865v-manx-reviving-a-language

The Broadband Commission for Digital Development, comp. "The State of Broadband 2015." (2015): 1-100. Web. 13 Apr. 2016.

"The Endangered Languages Project." Endangered Languages Project. The Alliance for Linguistic Diversity, n.d. Web. 13 Apr. 2016. http://www.endangeredlanguages.com


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Friday, September 30, 2016

Ripple effect or what’s with English after the Brexit?

Ripple effect or what’s with English after the Brexit?

By Zsuzsanna Fagyal

The United Kingdom’s referendum in favor of its withdrawal from the European Union, also known as Brexit, was undoubtedly the biggest news about the European Union this summer. Its lesser-known ripple effect was the intense speculation in the immediate aftermath of the vote that English could lose its prominent position in Europe as a result of the Brexit.

Such speculations were unexpected, to say the least. Before the Brexit, discussions about English in the European Union tended to focus on the opposite: a possible take-over of other languages by English. “Should English be the only official language of Europe?”, asked the Debating Europe blog space two years before the Brexit vote, eliciting thousands of passionate comments from experts and citizens who gave this question a serious consideration. Speculations about English’s purported loss of status in Europe were also surprising in light of statistical data on language use. English is not only the most widely spoken foreign language in the Union, it is three times more likely (38%) to be selected for such purposes than French (second, with 12%) and German (close third, with 11%). If an otherwise monolingual European can hold a conversation in a language other than his/her mother tongue, that language is likely to be English in 54% of all cases (Eurobarometer, Europeans and their languages, 2012). Thus, the question is: how did we get from imminent take-over by English to imminent loss of English virtually overnight? Could the status of English in Europe be at risk after the Brexit?

To answer these questions, we first need to get our terminology straight. Exactly what function of English are we talking about? Is it English as an official language, a working language, a prominent foreign language, or a global lingua franca preferred by individuals anywhere around the world, including Europe, because they do not share the same mother tongue and still wish to communicate with each other? In the immediate aftermath of the vote, nobody seemed to care about such nuances. All of a sudden, the idea of a world turned upside down seemed possible and the wildest speculations started rippling through the media…

Image Courtesy of Wall Street Journal
It all started with a simple comment. Discussing the UK referendum at a press conference four days after the vote, the Head of the European Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee, Polish MEP Danuta Hübner, stated in the simplest possible terms: “If we don’t have the UK, we don’t have English”. Then she pointed out that the United Kingdom’s exit would leave only Ireland and Malta as member states with English as an official language.

Since member states notify only one official language for the purposes of communication with the EU and the Irish selected Gaelic and the Maltese chose Maltese, there might be no legal ground for the continued use of English as an official language in the Union.

Hübner’s speculations went viral overnight. Most major news outlets relayed her comments using confusing terminology. Reuters’ headline feared dropping “English as an official tongue”. For the Wall Street Journal, English would lose currency as Europe’s lingua franca. The Irish Times presented English as an “EU language”, while the same Debating Europe blog space that once wondered about the invasion of European tongues by English now asked the question whether English will “remain the de facto EU official language”. French politicians, left and right, were also quick to join in. The right-wing mayor of the southern French town of Béziers, Robert Ménard, for instance, questioned the legitimacy of “English in Bruxelles” in one of his tweets. This piece was subsequently reported in The Sun and The Daily Mail, as Ménard also declared that Irish Gaelic could become much “more relevant” in EU matters in the near future. Adding to the growing story-line, left-wing presidential hopeful Jean-Luc Mélenchon tweeted that English can no longer be “the third working language of the European Parliament”. His comment was portrayed by the Sunday Express as a future ban of English: “English should be BANNED in Brussels after Britain leaves”.

Image Courtesy of Bridgewater Mercury
When the The Irish Times pointed out ironically that “Irish MEPs might have to brush up on their Irish language skills after it was claimed that English would no longer retain its status as a working language in the EU”, the European Commission got involved.

In an official statement, qualifying the media reports “incorrect”, the Commission’s Representation in Ireland explained, evoking Article 342 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, that “any change to the EU Institutions’ language regime is subject to a unanimous vote of the Council of Ministers, including Ireland”. In other words, constitutional headache or not, English can remain a working language in EU institutions even in the event of a UK withdrawal from the Union.

The Commission was right. English still has quite a lot of staying power due to its multiple functions in the European Union. As a lingua franca, English is solidly anchored in the European linguistic landscape as both a national and a widely favored second language. Its status is further supported by its role as a global language of official and business communication. As a working language, one that is used in EU institutions, English could not be easily side-stepped either. Regimes of working languages are typically subject to strict regulations in every institution and do not – cannot – depend on changing political will, the current state of the economy, or the daily news. As far as the official status of a language in the EU is concerned, the situation can be more complicated and this might be one reason why speculations about the future status of English had generated so much attention after the Brexit vote.

In reality, what counts as an official language in the EU is not based on a single criteria. There is no explicit regulation or ruling on exactly how many languages can a member state notify as its official language(s) and whether and how that/those language(s) can be dropped or added. It has been customary to notify one, but not mandatory. Also, official languages vary in number, status, and even support given by their member states. Some states share a single official language for the purposes of official communication with the EU. This is the case of German in Austria and Germany. However, German is also used in official translations and communications with Belgium, Denmark, Italy, and Luxembourg where the language is co-official with one or several other languages. Also, member states are not required to notify their own national language as an official language in the Union. Luxemburg, for instance, chose not to declare Luxemburgish as an official language in the EU, preferring to fall back on its more widely shared co-official languages (French and German) to do the job. Irish Gaelic is much less frequently used in formal communication than English in Ireland, and yet as an important national symbol, this endangered Celtic language has been promoted to the status of an official language both in Ireland (1937) and in the EU (2007). This means that, in addition to using English, Ireland also receives treatises and official documents translated into Irish Gaelic.

Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
In short, if there is a political will and continued state support, in principle any European language can acquire some degree of official status within the Union. But the opposite can also be true. “English is about to lose its crown in Europe”, wrote linguistic historian Nicholas Ostler in the Financial Times the day after the controversy over English’s imminent demise in Europe had finally ended. He proposed that the loss of Great Britain as a member state could mean that the scope of English as a business lingua franca in Europe can be more easily undermined by political regulations weighing in favor of the other working languages, primarily French and German. And that, of course, would send more than just ripples through the linguistic landscape of Europe…

Sources (in the order of citations):

Debating Europe: http://www.debatingeurope.eu/2014/12/09/should-english-be-the-only-official-language-of-the-eu/#.V9YRp_krJmM

EUROBAROMETER: Europeans and their languages http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/ebs/ebs_386_en.pdf

Dunton-Downer, Leslie. 2011. The English is Coming!: How One Language is Sweeping the World. New York: Touchstone.

Reuters: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-britain-eu-language-idUSKCN0ZD2AC

WSJ: http://www.wsj.com/articles/eu-to-say-au-revoir-tschuss-to-english-language-1467036600

The Irish Times: http://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/europe/european-commission-rejects-claims-english-will-not-be-eu-language-1.2702734

Debating Europe: http://www.debatingeurope.eu/2016/07/28/eu-keep-english-official-working-language/#.V9YezvkrJmM

Robert Menard: https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/1349335/french-want-english-language-kicked-out-of-europe-after-brexit-saying-it-has-no-legitimacy/

Melanchon Daily and Sunday Express : http://www.express.co.uk/news/world/683980/english-banned-brussels-britain-leaves-jean-luc-melenchon-brexit

EU languages: Statement on behalf of the European Commission Representation in Ireland https://ec.europa.eu/ireland/news/teangacha-aontais-eorpaigh-r%C3%A1iteas-thar-ceann-ionada%C3%ADocht-choimisi%C3%BAin-eorpaigh-%C3%A9irinn_en

European Commission rejects claims English will not be EU language http://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/europe/european-commission-rejects-claims-english-will-not-be-eu-language-1.2702734

Ostler, Nicholas. 2010. The Last Lingua Franca: English until the Return of Babel. Walker Publishing: New York.
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