Welcome to Linguis Europae, the EUC's language blog!

Linguis Europae is dedicated to a range of topics involving official state, regional, and minority languages in the EU. Posts are written in five languages by UI students and faculty! Check back regularly for updates!

Bridging the Gap: Language and Community in Action in East Central Illinois

Skye Mclean discusses the East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center (ECRIMAC), which provides services essential to refugee and immigrant resettlement in East-Central Illinois and aids in the exchange and preservation of their respective cultures.

Place and Space: Another Perspective on Crimea

Senior Andrey Starosin offers his perspective on the current events taking place in Crimea.

French Professor Revamps Course on "Language and Minorities in Europe"

Linguis Europae's own Zsuzsanna Fagyal and her course "Languages and Minorities in Europe" were featured in a recent issue of the School of Literatures, Cultures, and Linguistics.

Un'Ode al "Dialàtt Bulgnaiś": An Ode to the Bolgnese Dialect

Kaitlyn Russell muses on her fondness for the Italian dialect, Bolognese.

Friday, 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.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Why is it Important to Celebrate a Day of Languages? – Introducing the New Linguis Europae Series of Students’ Blog Entries for 2016­-2017

Why is it important to celebrate a Day of Languages? – introducing the new Linguis Europae series of students’ blog entries for 2016­-2017 

By Eda Derhemi (PhD)

Languages are the house we as humans live in. They make us special and shape our world and ourselves. We are deeply concerned about the extinction of species, of fish, plants and animals, but we seem to feel more confident about the survival of languages, unless we live in small communities whose languages are threatened and we directly experience language death. Such communities are not rare and they show a remarkable diversity. But understandably, the more they lose their “voice” and therefore their culture, the less we hear from them or know about them; we lose forever a part of our knowledge, of our culture and our practices, and we lose the heart of what UNESCO considers “intangible heritage." With fewer languages we as humans are poorer.

The Ethnologue’s 19th edition of Languages of the World, 2016 (Lewis et al.) confirms a trend that has been already persistent for decades: languages are disappearing faster than we can expect or imagine. From 7097 languages of the world as recorded in this edition, over 6500 demonstrate different degrees of vulnerability, from level 5 to level 9 of the EGIDS scale of development and endangerment. As I am writing these lines, 2444 languages of the world are losing speakers, 923 of which are slowly disappearing as their last old speakers die.

That is why celebrating a special day for language, my language, your language, European languages, world languages, is so important. A special day is a day to raise awareness, to advance our understanding of the cultural value of languages, to fight for linguistic and cultural diversity. We should not forget though that Europe, a continent which thrives on its differences and diversity, is also the continent with the smallest number of historically spoken languages, considerably fewer than in other continents, almost five times less than Asia or Africa.

Table courtesy of Ethnologue

By having this special day, Europe not only confirms its central common values of human dignity and respect for the rights of minorities, embraced and sanctioned by all EU institutions, but also endorses the right of existence of these languages and proclaims their value for us as communities and individuals. The celebration includes not only Europe’s historical languages, large and small, but all languages spoken by European citizens and by immigrants struggling to be part of it. Let us not forget that European cities are becoming increasingly diversified linguistically. London gives a perfect example of these changes: according to a 2011 Census, some 320,000 Londoners speak English either not very well or not at all, having another language as their main or only language. Much larger is the number of bi and tri-linguals. In almost every single borough (30 out of 33) of the city, more than 100 languages are spoken. The unexciting traditional linguistic repertoires are replaced today by an enormous spectrum of sounds and cultures. These languages might not have state recognition, but a European day of Languages is a day for them and for all languages.

Moreover, besides being an institutional day, it marks a personal celebration of individuals beyond its official meaning, an embrace of their dialect or variety. Every day we witness examples that show that we genuinely care about our languages. Only a few days ago, the people of Milano celebrated for the first time the day of the Milanese dialect, a special day officially instituted this year for the first time, a day for a language with no legal recognition in Italy. The UK has a yearly dialect festival in which all speakers of different dialects in the country gather in the third weekend of October to celebrate their mother tongues. The deep concern and emotional involvement with language makes us also ideologically vulnerable. We can take this issue too far and fall prey to propaganda and political manipulations, even to violence in ethnic and religious contexts, as we have seen in Ireland and Spain, Ukraine and Russia, India and Pakistan, Croatia and Serbia, South and North Sudan. The political abuse of a right all humans have is one more reason to focus on and to reclaim the beauty of linguistic diversity on the European Day of Languages, to show that different languages do not separate us, but bring us together in joy, love and solidarity.

A European day of languages also promotes the signing and ratification of the European Charter on Regional Minority Languages (ECRML). It is unfortunate that several member States of the Council of Europe have not yet acceded to the Charter or have signed, but not ratified it.

Image courtesy of the Daily Mail
Only a few days ago Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, showed his deep concern about his own language, in his case about the health of English. As a linguist, I smiled at his worries about English, his rancor for the social media that he thinks are destroying the language (and thoughts) of young speakers of English, and with his Quixotic pride in resisting the tide of online communication. He should instead look deeper into the UK’s social system, at its class and economic divisions, and at the qualities of schooling, to find the real evil that might hurt the thinking and the language use of the young of his country at this moment. I see how he shows his human side and care for his own language, but it is not social media that destroy a language. In fact there is evidence that social media as a channel can help protect dialects and languages that are shrinking or dying, and enhance their use challenging traditional channels.

The EUC blog Linguis Europae itself is proof that electronic media can enhance public discussion on languages and the connections they have to societies, politics, institutions and cultures. As a discussion site dedicated to issues of language policy and planning, acquisition, education, and the sociology of languages in Europe, Linguis Europae also provides a space in which our students can try themselves to face the challenges of public writing. The students’ works of this year, as in previous years, show the many concerns and interests that young people have regarding languages. The reader should take into account that these entries are produced a few months in advance (the end of academic year), and do not necessarily reflect the most recent linguistic and political events. The works are also the first effort and the first success in publication for most of the young student­ authors. The texts are the result of Spring 2016 semester work on one of many requirements for the course “Language and minorities in Europe” (FR/IT 418). We launch this year’s series with an opening essay on the status of English after the Brexit, which highlights the immediate connections between political and linguistic events, as well as the complexities of each of these systems as separate living entities.

I wish all the readers of this site, a rewarding experience! And Happy European Day of Languages!


Number of languages spoken in each continent ­- http://www.ethnologue.com/statistics

Status of languages in relation to vitality -­ http://www.ethnologue.com/statistics/status

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

“I social media distruggono la lingua" http://www.huffingtonpost.it/2016/09/08/principe­carlo­social­network­sono­la­morte­della­lingua_ n_11904310.html

“The languages of London” - http://www.lexiophiles.com/english/the-languages-of-london-a-look-at-the-worlds-most-linguistically-diverse-city

Milanese dialect Day http://www.milanotoday.it/eventi/dialetto-15-settembre-2016.html

ECRML – CoE http://www.coe.int/t/dg4/education/minlang/AboutCharter/Promoting_Ratification_en.asp


Monday, September 19, 2016

Population exchange and the historical moment of migrant languages in Lesbos, Greece

By Jessica Nicholas

Jessica Nicholas is a PhD Candidate in the Department of French and Italian. Specializing in French Linguistics with a concentration in Romance Linguistics, she has a particular interest in language ideologies, variation, and education.

Map highlighting Lesbos

In the past few years, the Greek island of Lesbos has been featured in the international news as a frequent first stop on the path to Europe for refugees fleeing war in the Middle East and North Africa. Lesbos (also spelled Lesvos) is an island in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, only six miles from the Turkish mainland. Now a part of Greece, Lesbos has been continuously inhabited for thousands of years, with ruins dating from as long ago as 3200 BCE. Due to its location, it changed hands many times between kingdoms and empires of the Mediterranean, most recently the Ottoman Empire and finally Greece (Mavridis, 2016). This means that the island was routinely multilingual and religiously diverse, at least until the 1920’s and the later language reforms of the 1970’s. Once again, Lesbos is now a center of population movement for people speaking different languages and practicing different religions.

Lesbos has become a symbol of the refugee crisis in Europe, labeled “An Island of Refugees” and receiving a visit by Pope Francis (Miglierini, 2016; Niarchos, 2015). The current population of Lesbos is a little more than 90,000 people, while it has already hosted over 90,000 refugees arriving by sea in the first half of 2016 alone (Amin, 2016; Mavridis, 2016; UNHCR, 2016). Residents of the island were even nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize because of their efforts to rescue and care for refugees arriving on their shores, even when doing so was forbidden by law (Amin, 2016; Kingsley, 2015). Although the linguistic element is not discussed in the popular press, the refugee crisis necessarily forces languages, religions, and cultures into contact with one another.

A monastery in Lesbos

In March of 2016, the European Union signed an agreement with Turkey wherein Turkey would take back asylum seekers who arrived in Greece. For each Syrian refugee deported to Turkey, the EU promised to welcome a Syrian refugee from a camp in Turkey (Kingsley, 2016). A very controversial plan, since these deportations from Lesbos began in April, the new procedure has not always been adequately communicated to the people would who be affected by it (Ap, Tuysuz, McLaughlin, & Hume, 2016; Kingsley & Smith, 2016). Confusion and frustration about the deal have led to unrest that has at times become violent (Alkousaa et al., 2016; Smith & Kingsley, 2016). One reason for this lack of communication is a lack of staff and funding, while another consideration is that the migrants and the locals of Lesbos do not necessarily speak the same languages. Many Syrian refugees are highly educated and multilingual, but Syrians are most likely to speak Arabic as a mother tongue, while Greeks (including those who live in Lesbos) are most likely to speak Greek (Alkousaa et al., 2016). Therefore, volunteers and aid workers have to contend with a potential language barrier while addressing the complicated legal and human rights situation.

This current population exchange between Greece and Turkey occurs in an odd parallel with another population exchange between the two countries nearly a century ago. At the beginning of the 20th century, approximately half the population of Lesbos was Muslim. Most of these residents spoke Turkish, and there was even a village on the island that was monolingual in Turkish. In what is now Greece, Turkish was the most common language associated with the day-to-day tasks of Muslims (Popovic, 1986). Classical Arabic, of course, was the language of religious practice.

In 1923, following the Greco-Turkish War, the new government of Turkey signed an agreement with Greece in Lausanne, Switzerland, which required that Orthodox Christians be deported from Turkey to Greece, while Muslims would be deported from Greece to Turkey (Popovic, 1986). This strategy did not take into account the cultural or linguistic backgrounds of the people affected by moving to a new country, as religious affiliation was seen to be the most important identity (Cooper, 2006). Although it is uncertain how many people from Lesbos were involved in the compulsory population exchange of 1923, an estimated 60% of the current population of the island are descendants of the Greek Orthodox Christians who were deported from Turkey during that time (Amin, 2016; Popovic, 1986). In a distressing repetition of the religious tensions of the 1920s, untrue rumors have circulated on social media that Muslim refugees vandalized Christian churches (Kingsley, 2015).

Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew pictured in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. These religious leaders, along with the Prime Minister of Greece, met in Lesbos to discuss the refugee crisis. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Although both the Greek and Turkish languages are protected in other Council of Europe member states under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, Greece has not signed the Charter (Council of Europe, 2015). Therefore, the government is not required to support speakers of other languages apart from Greek, including heritage speakers of Turkish or Arabic with ancestral ties to the land. Twice in one century, half of the people in Lesbos have been Muslims who spoke another language, and twice in one century, they have been sent to Turkey.


Alkousaa, R., Christides, G., Müller, A.-K., Müller, P., Popp, M., Schult, C., & Wiedmann-Schmidt, W. (2016, May 26). “Disaster in the Making”: The Many Failures of the EU-Turkey Refugee Deal. (C. Sultan, Trans.), Der Speigel Online. Retrieved from http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/the-refugee-deal-between-the-eu-and-turkey-is-failing-a-1094339.html

Amin, L. (2016, March 24). Lesbos: a Greek island in limbo over tourism, refugees- and its future. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2016/mar/24/lesbos-greek-island-in-limbo-tourism-refugee-crisis-future

Ap, T., Tuysuz, G., McLaughlin, E., & Hume, T. (2016, April 4). Greece sends first migrants back to Turkey under new EU deal. CNN. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2016/04/04/europe/eu-turkey-refugee-deal/

Cooper, B. (2006, September 17). Trading Places. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/17/books/review/Cooper.t.html?_r=2&

Council of Europe. (2015, May 1). Languages covered by the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. Retrieved from http://www.coe.int/t/dg4/education/minlang/AboutCharter/LanguagesCovered.pdf

Kingsley, P. (2015, July 9). Greek island refugee crisis: local people and tourists rally round migrants. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/08/greek-island-refugee-crisis-local-people-and-tourists-rally-round-migrants

Kingsley, P. (2016, March 18). Refugee crisis: What does the EU’s deal with Turkey mean? The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/mar/18/eu-deal-turkey-migrants-refugees-q-and-a

Kingsley, P., & Smith, H. (2016, April 4). First boats returning migrants and refugees from Greece arrive in Turkey. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/apr/04/first-moves-to-deport-refugees-from-greece-to-turkey-underway

Mavridis, I. E. (2016). History and Culture of Lesvos (Lesbos) island, Greece. GREEKNET.com: Lesvos Island Travel Portal. Retrieved from http://www.greeknet.com/history1.htm

Miglierini, J. (2016, April 16). Why is Pope Francis going to Lesbos? BBC News. Rome. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36053880

Niarchos, N. (2015, September 16). An Island of Refugees. The New Yorker. Retrieved from http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/an-island-of-refugees

Popovic, A. (1986). L’Islam Balkanique: Les musulmans du sud-est européen dans la période post-ottomane.

Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz. Smith, H., & Kingsley, P. (2016, April 8). Greece resumes migrant deportations to Turkey. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/apr/08/second-ferry-leaves-lesbos-for-turkey-eu-migrant-deal

UNHCR. (2016, May 28). Refugees/Migrants Emergency Response- Mediterranean. Retrieved from http://data.unhcr.org/mediterranean/country.php?id=83

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