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, March 20, 2017

Language and Terrorism: The Case of ETA

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Language and Terrorism: The Case of ETA

By Melissa Wagner

Melissa Wagner is a senior studying Communication and Spanish. After graduating, she will pursue a career in Human Resources. She studied abroad in Bilbao, Spain in the Spring of 2015, where she was immersed in the Basque culture and was surrounded by the unique language. This blog entry is based on her experiences and research on the interface of political and linguistic issues regarding Basque.

For forty years, the terrorist group Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) brought violence to the Spanish Basque Country (Bieter, 2013). Even five years after a permanent cease-fire was announced in 2011 (Bieter, 2013), graffiti in Euskera, the ancient Basque language that now holds co-official status in the region (Heidemann, 2004), supporting the ideals of ETA can be seen around the streets of Bilbao, Spain. Like elsewhere in Europe, nationalistic ideals among Basque people grew in the late 19th century, especially with the activity of Sabino Arana (Pereltsvaig, 2011). There was an industrial boom when iron deposits were found around Bilbao, and the industrialization of the area brought many migrant workers, causing what Arana and others believed to be a threat to the Basque people (Putnam-Pite, 2012). Arana started a Basque nationalist movement to “preserve Basques’ unique identity – their language, their rural, agricultural traditions, even their physical characteristics” (Bieter, 2013) as a solution to combat the effects of industrialization. The goal of ETA aligns with these ideals, working towards “an independent Basque Country that included the three provinces lost to France… using all means possible, including violence” (Bieter, 2013). The biggest difference between the ideals of Arana and ETA is that ETA shifted away from emphasizing race and ethnicity as the foundation of the Basque nation, and replaced it with the use of the Euskera (Putnam-Pite, 2012).

Additionally, the ETA terrorist group, listed as the fourth most active terrorist group in the world from 1970 to 2010 in the University of Maryland terrorism database (Bieter, 2013), has rightfully been criticized by many. One of those critics is journalist Stephen Mackey (2008, May) who argued that ETA was causing harm to the Basque language by turning it into an ideological choice instead of an open language. Their broad concept of nationalism tends to create a divide that excludes “others” or those who do not speak the language. This is the type of exclusion created the extreme unity that ETA emphasized in order to justify their cause. Euskera provided a source of togetherness that Basque people could rally behind since many would condone the extreme violence. Mackey (2008, May) also wrote about different instances where the younger generation had been taught to support ETA using the Basque language in the settings of privately-owned Basque language centers. In one center, students were given directions in Basque on how to create Molotov cocktails, while in another they wrote letters in Basque to prisoners who had been convicted for terrorist activities. Conducting extremist behavior in a minority language gives the impression that these young citizens are part of an exclusive club, and encourages the use of Euskera when supporting the agenda of ETA.

Continuing on, the ability for Basques to speak their language is a right that had been confiscated numerous times throughout history, most notably during the Franco regime of 1936 to 1975 (Putnam-Pite, 2012). One of Franco’s governors was first to enact the public use of Euskera. The reasoning behind this act was to prohibit the public use of Euskera, and hefty punishments were used to enforce this prohibition (Putnam-Pite, 2012). This lack of respect undoubtedly inspired a unified people, who were denied a piece of their freedom; ETA utilized the leftover unified populous to rally support for their agenda. Language in general makes up a significant part of a national identity; as such it was a smart decision by ETA to pick Euskera as a unifying factor for the Basque people who backed their ideological goals. For ETA, Euskera was their only sense of togetherness due to the fact that many of their other objectives were extreme; anyone who could speak Euskera became a Basque, and was included in their movement for an independent and unified Basque Country (Pereltsvaig, 2011). This inclusiveness and unity of a large group of unique people is almost admirable, if it were not for the violent ways they attempted to achieve their goals. These atrocious behaviors distracted the public from their unified vision; branding ETA as a terrorist organization rather than a group fighting for a national identity.

In this picture, the ETA symbol has been spray painted on a building. The symbol consists of an axe, which represents armed struggle, and a snake which represents either watchfulness or politics. The slogan “bietan jarrai” means “go forward both ways” which is sometimes interpreted as ETA will pursue both violent and political routes to get Basque independence (Tremlett, 2010).

Works Cited

Bieter, M. (2013, November). The rise and fall of ETA. https://thebluereview.org/rise-fall-eta/

Heidemann, K. (2004). Education and minority language revitalization: Stories of struggle and success from the basque country. Conference Papers – American Sociological Association, 1-30. doi:asa_proceeding_34313.PDF

Mackey, S. (2008, May). Basque language schools in ETA row. https://www.tes.com/article.aspx?storycode=75740

Pereltsvaig, A. (2011, December). Linguistic nationalism among the basques. http://www.languagesoftheworld.info/student-papers/linguistic-nationalism-among-the-basques.html

Putnam-Pite, C. (2012, July). Terrorism in the basque country: Violations and protections of human rights. http://prospectjournal.org/2012/07/09/terrorism-in-the-basque-country-violations-and-protections-of-human-rights/

Tremlett, G. (2010, September). ETA’s ceasefire statement decoded. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/sep/06/eta-ceasefire-statement

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Monday, March 6, 2017

Is Yiddish on a path to extinction?

Is Yiddish on a Path to Extinction?

By Juliana Ramirez

Juliana Ramirez recently graduated with an Accounting degree and French minor from the University of Illinois. In the Spring of 2016, Juliana took French 418 to learn about the minority languages in Europe and finish her French minor. In the near future, she will start a summer internship at an Accounting firm in Chicago and come back to Champaign in the Fall of 2016 to pursue a Masters in Accounting.

One of the most predominant languages of the Jews up until a century ago is on a path to extinction. Yiddish, which originated as early as the 9th century, provided the nascent Ashkenazi community with an extensive Germanic based vernacular fused with elements taken from Hebrew and Aramaic, as well as from Slavic and Romance languages (Jewish Generation) of the particular linguistic environment. The language is primarily native to Central, Western, and Eastern Europe, Israel, and regions with high Jewish populations. As part of the Indo-European language family, Yiddish has roughly 2 million speakers worldwide, according to the Council of Europe (Zaagsma). However, because of its vulnerability to extinction, Yiddish is officially recognized as a minority language by the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Israel, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Sweden, and Ukraine.

Source: BBC News
The population of Yiddish speakers decreased tremendously during WWII due to the killing of native speakers by the Nazis and the assimilation of Jews into linguistic communities; nonetheless, the language itself had already been on a decline before the war. On the eve of WWII, there were 11 to 13 million Yiddish speakers; this number decreased by roughly 85 percent by the end of the war (Katz). The majority of Jews able to escape throughout the WWII period migrated to Israel or to the United States, where they found Yiddish to be an impractical language and thus learned English and other prevailing languages. For those unable to escape, like the Yiddish population in the Soviet Union, found their language outlawed by Stalin during and after the Holocaust (Shyovitz). As a result of the Holocaust and repressive measures in place by governments, Yiddish came to an almost immediate standstill and continued to do so for decades. However, there have been movements by Jewish organizations and cultural centers to revive Yiddish in modern day.

Source: Pew Research
In unstable, bilingual or multilingual speech communities, languages lose their last native speakers quickly and thus leading to language death. Sudden, radical, gradual, and bottom-to-top are all types of language death. In the case of Yiddish, it is not yet dead, but it is on the path to extinction. Yiddish experienced sudden, radical and gradual language declines during some years throughout its history. Sudden language decline occurred primarily during the Holocaust because of the significant and rapid loss in population. On the other hand, radical language decline, which occurs abruptly due to the threat of political or social persecution, transpired throughout the course of the Yiddish language’s history. Many Yiddish-speaking communities abandoned their culture, traditions, and way of life in order to avoid acts of violence or discrimination. Consequently, after WWII many found Yiddish to be the language of their ancestors and thus obsolete. During this time, Yiddish experienced gradual language decline, arising when minority languages are in contact with dominant languages, and the native speaking population gradually shifts to adopting a new language. Sometimes the use of a language is not considered advantageous, parents do not pass it on to their children, or its use is discouraged by society or by the government (Rozovsky).

Source: Wall Street Journal
As for Yiddish today, 76 percent of Yiddish speakers in the US live in the New York metro area, with another 6 percent in the Poughkeepsie metro area, 4 percent in the Miami metro area, and 2 percent in the Los Angeles metro area (Basu). This goes to show how the majority of Yiddish speakers live in just four metropolitan areas in the entire US, making it more difficult for the language to gain recognition and expand; however, there are efforts to improve the usage of the language. Likewise, the 2007 American Community Survey on Language Use counted just 158,991 people who spoke Yiddish at home in the United States, a drop of nearly 50 percent from 1980 to 2007 (Basu). Like in the US, Yiddish populations continue to reside in small communities throughout Europe and mainly Israel.

When languages die, entire cultures, communities and identities vanish as well. In the world today, there are 6,800 languages spoken. However, almost half are endangered, and nearly 90 percent of languages will disappear by the end of this century (Rozovsky). Throughout history, languages have been born, developed and discarded; yet, only Basque, Egyptian, Chinese, Greek, Hebrew, Latin, Persian, Sanskrit and Tamil have had lives of more than 2,000 years (Rozovsky). As economic and cultural globalization and development continue to push forward, growing numbers of languages will become endangered and eventually extinct. With increasing economic integration on national and regional scales, people find it easier to communicate and conduct business in the dominant lingua-francas of world commerce: English, Chinese, Spanish and French (Malone). Only time will tell if and when Yiddish will face extinction along with other languages.

Works Cited

Basu, Tanya. “Oy Vey: Yiddish Has a Problem.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 9 Sept. 2014. Web. 15 Apr. 2016. http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2014/09/yiddish-has-a-problem/379658/

Katz, Dovid. YIDDISH, the Historic Language of Ashkenazic (central and East European) Jewry, Is the Third Principal Literary Language in Jew (n.d.): n. pag. Web Archive. Web. 15 Apr. 2016.

Malone, Elizabeth. “Research Areas.” Language and Linguistics: Endangered Language. National Science Foundation, n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2016. http://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/linguistics/endangered.jsp

Rozovsky, Lorne. “Path to Extinction - The Declining Health of Jewish Languages.” Chabad. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2016.

Shyovitz, David. “Yiddish: History & Development of Yiddish.” History & Development of Yiddish. Jewish Virtual Library, n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2016. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/yiddish.html

“The Unity and Diversity of Human Language.” 29 Apr. 2009. Middlebury. Web. 15 Apr. 2016.  http://cr.middlebury.edu/public/usoltan/intd0111a-s09-html/content/lecture22_language_death.pdf

“YIDDISH DIALECTS.” Jewish Generation. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2016. http://www.jewishgen.org/databases/givennames/yiddial.htm

Zaagsma, Gerben. Public History beyond the State: Presenting the Yiddish past in Contemporary Europe. Public History beyond the State: Presenting the Yiddish past in Contemporary Europe. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2016.


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