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, January 22, 2018

Argentinians Speaking Welsh? Celtic in Patagonia

By Kelly Mui

A three-masted clipper ship, in a greyscale reproduction of what may be either an ink wash or a painting.
The Mimosa, from Wikipedia
Argentina seems like the last place you would find Welsh speakers because of how far the original homeland of the language, Wales, is from South America. However, due to mass emigrations from the British Isles in the 19th century, there has been a relatively large community of Welsh speakers in Argentina for over 150 years.

In 1865, around 150 Welsh settlers arrived in the region of Patagonia from the city of Liverpool on the Mimosa (Johnson, 2010). The exact number of emigrants from Wales in the early years is unknown, but many more immigrants were encouraged to settle in this new Welsh colony a decade later when the Argentine government granted the newcomers ownership of their land. But why not settle in North America where large numbers of immigrants were moving in order to gain religious freedom and chase their “American dream”? The answer to this question is that some settlers felt that Welsh immigrants in North America adapted to English too much and too quickly so they decided to move to an even more isolated area where concurrence from English was not threatening their language and culture (Tweedie, 2012). The goal was to build “a Wales outside of Wales” and gain religious freedom and freedom to use their language (Why do they speak Welsh in South America?).

A sepia photograph of a small canvas tent, two small wagons, and curricle. In the background is the entrance to a mountain pass with a small outcropping in the middle like a large pillar. A man wearing a wide-brimmed black hat looks out of the tent opening, and a girl in a bonnet stands in front.
Settling in a new area was not an easy task. Without any knowledge of how to farm the land and, consequently, after numerous failed harvests, many settlers gave up and moved East of Argentina or to North America (Tweedie, 2012). The few who stayed found themselves rapidly outnumbered not only by Argentinians but also other immigrants. Eventually, the Argentinian government pushed for Spanish as their official language, leading to further stigma against Welsh speakers. By the 1950s, most of the Welsh speakers had given up speaking Welsh. Not only was Welsh dying out but the settlers’ traditions were also beginning to fade away.

All hope was not lost, however, as in 1965, the 100th anniversary of the Mimosa’s journey sparked a renewed interest in Welsh. The Welsh revival movement was born. From then on, there were increased efforts by the Welsh population in Patagonia and also the Welsh government in the UK to reinvigorate the language and the culture in South America (Why do they speak Welsh in South America?).

Today, Welsh culture and the outdoors are two leading themes of the tourism boom in Patagonia. Tourism, the leading economic sector in Patagonia, has also helped efforts in maintaining Welsh. But is it enough?  There have been many successful campaigns leading to the revival of Welsh, but the real question is whether or not this success can last. Can Welsh in Patagonia gain durable ethnolinguistic vitality?

A woman in a full green skirt, white blouse, and blue apron, and a man in brown trousers, a light blue shirt, and a dark blue vest are folk-dancing in a convention center. The picture is taken from ground level looking up, and the Argentinian and Welsh flags hang from the ceiling behind them.
A study conducted by Ian Johnson in 2010 explored this question. The main focus of the study was tourism and the residents’ feelings towards tourism (Johnson, 2010). The study was conducted using a vitality questionnaire in the form of interviews. The participants were of a wide variety of professions from educators to shop owners. The participants were allowed to choose which language they wished to speak as well as the location where the interview was conducted. Johnson summarizes his results by saying that tourism is just one way in which Welsh can gain ethnolinguistic vitality. The reasoning behind this conclusion is that tourists are attracted to the “other-ness” of a Welsh-Argentinian identity which leads them to visit tourist sites. These tourist sites purposefully highlight cultural differences by having bilingual signs in Welsh and Spanish (see picture below), tea-shop owners dressed in traditional dresses, people speaking Welsh to tourists, and streets decorated with symbols unique to Welsh culture. Through these actions, Spanish-Welsh bilinguals can gain an economic advantage over the Spanish-speaking locals and thus preserve the Welsh language as well (Johnson, 2010).

Another way in which Welsh maintains its vitality is through support from the Welsh government. In recent years, Welsh language teachers were trained to live in Patagonia for one year or even longer in order to teach people the language. In recent years, a large number of religious ministers have also relocated from Wales to Patagonia to manage church and religious affairs. Besides direct support from the motherland’s government, there has also been an increase in tourists who visited Patagonia or, conversely, moved to Wales for longer periods of time, to work or even to study Welsh (Johnson, 2010). This type of transnational contact and population exchange between Wales and Patagonia also effectively increases Welsh’s ethnolinguistic vitality by showing the economic advantages that the Welsh language and culture can bring.

A black and white road sign gives place names in Spanish and Welsh. Trees and a mountainside are glimpsed behind it.
From Johnson’s (2010) study, it seems like Welsh is in a good place and is unlikely to die out any time soon. However, things are not perfect. Many residents have also expressed concern that while Welsh now flourishes in Patagonia, it is mainly due to support and contact with Wales, the motherland in the UK. What would happen if Wales decided to stop sending their teachers or stop providing economic support to Patagonia? A number of residents in the study doubted that their distinctive culture would be able to survive without this external support. Another concern is that English has a huge influence all over the globe and Patagonia is no exception. Numerous younger residents expressed their dilemma of language learning that sounds familiar in many minority language speaking regions around the world: put more effort into Welsh instead of English or focus on the most wide-spread international language and minimize investment of time and effort in Welsh? Most Patagonians of Welsh descent believe that maintaining the Welsh language and culture is important. However, since English holds so many commercial advantages, they also believe that they must learn English first (Johnson, 2010). These dilemmas are not limited to Welsh speakers in Patagonia. As in other regions around the world that wish to maintain their distinctive cultural heritage, dependency on external sponsorship is not a viable long-term solution for preserving ethnolinguistic vitality.


  1. BBC iWonder - Why do they speak Welsh in South America? (n.d.). Accessed in January 20, 2018, from http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/z9kr9j6
  2. Johnson, I. (2010). Tourism, transnationality and ethnolinguistic vitality: the Welsh in the Chubut Province, Argentina. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 31(6), 553-568. doi:10.1080/01434632.2010.511228
  3. Tweedie, N. (2012, March 28). The Welsh Argentine who fought the British. Retrieved April 30, 2017, from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/southamerica/argentina/9169222/The-Welsh-Argentine-who-fought-the-British.html


Kelly Mui was a senior in East Asian Languages and Cultures when she wrote this text in 418, ‘Language and Minorities in Europe’ in spring 2017.


Monday, January 15, 2018

Irish as an Ornament

by Laura Ther

Curved green lines interlaced in a pattern similar to Celtic knotwork.
It is commonly believed in Ireland that knowing a handful of words in Irish is enough to consider oneself fluent. There is a well-established cultural pretense that "a few words will do" and only a few basic pleasantries in Irish are needed. It seems that those few words are learned primarily in childhood, as the number of adult Irish speakers reporting to speak the language tends to decrease rather precipitously with age (Figure 1). Knowing no words in Irish at all can also condemn someone as a complete cultural outsider, which might bring us to conclude that the Irish language is of primary importance to its people.

This assumption is correct, but it is not necessarily reflected in everyday practice. Everyday communication in Ireland has been conducted exclusively in English for at least two centuries, which led to the relative neglect of Irish. After generations of British interference, Irish had all but disappeared from public life. The events leading up to its disappearance were described by Monaghan in the late 19th century as, “the most rigorous laws [that] were enforced against the use of the Irish language [and over time] the dominant influence of the English people over Ireland resulted in the discontinuance of the Irish spoken tongue” (Monaghan, 31). Thanks to the efforts to maintain the relevance of Irish in a culture that exclusively relies on English for commerce and daily communication, the language has indeed remained a key aspect of Irish culture and identity.
Figure 1: Shows very high numbers of Irish speakers in an education setting, with an abrupt drop at age 18 and a steady decline in overall use of the language from that point forward.
Fig. 1. (Bliain Na Gaeilge » Facts & Figures)

The practice of Irish, however, is often purely ornamental. According to "Language Policy and Language Governance: A Case-study of Irish Language Legislation" by John Walsh, in Irish, “the expression ‘cúpla focal’ (literally, ‘a few words’) is widely used by those ‘speakers’ who do not know that much Irish at all but who, to varying degrees, consider themselves part of the larger Irish speaking community.” The ideology of ‘the few words (will do)’ signals the widespread belief that “a minimal level of Irish suffices in all circumstances” (Walsh, 13), which can create a vicious circle of lack of incentives for advanced language learning. For instance, in order to be culturally accepted, it might be necessary to learn how to greet people in Irish. However, selecting the proper greeting requires advanced language skills that are informed by the context of the interaction. Knowing a few words in Irish might be regarded as a symbolic or tokenistic display of the language similar to an adornment, but few seem to realize that even the symbolic use of Irish can be more complex than wearing ‘something Irish’ on occasions…

Picture 1: A bilingual road sign showing both English and Irish place names in black text on a white sign.
Picture 1. Bilingual road sign in Ireland
(Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Recently, the Irish Government has made several attempts to revitalize the Irish language. The Official Languages Act of 2003, for instance, was an important step in this direction. It set out some clear rules regarding the use of Irish in public and established the Office of the Language Commissioner (Coimisinéir Teanga) that monitors and enforces the use of the language in public administration. While most signage in Ireland is bilingual in Irish and English, there have been attempts to include more Irish in the media, politics and schools. In the Irish-dominant territories of the Gaeltacht, for instance, Irish on public signs is primary while English is considered a translation (Picture 1). Irish-only signs and posters are also common (Picture 2).

The Irish government’s many attempts at encouraging language learning through education were also quite successful (see again Figure 1). One such attempt was described by Thomas Sheehan in his article, “Reviving a Dying Language”. Sheehan argues that the government’s initiative to strengthen “the national fiber by giving the language, history, music and tradition of Ireland their natural place in the life of Irish schools” (Sheehan, 215) was well-received in Ireland. However, one of the immediate concerns was that “most teachers knew little or nothing of the Irish language, it was necessary to teach the teachers” (Sheehan, 215). Many more attempts have been made since the late 20th and early 21st centuries to expand Irish within the education system. The number of people capable of speaking Irish is now on the rise. As of the 2011 census, “[t]he total number of persons (aged 3 and over) who could speak Irish in April 2011 was 1,774,437. This was an increase of 7.1 per cent on the 1,656,790 persons who could speak Irish in April 2006” (Bliain Na Gaeilge » Facts & Figures). This growth is due in large part to the inclusion of Irish as a bilingual and main medium in primary education.
Picture 2: An Irish-only placard in green and white, attached to the pole of a street light on an urban street.
Picture 2.
Irish-only sign inviting the Irish to vote for marriage equality in 2015.
(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Despite the fact that the Irish language still nearing extinction in everyday public life, it remains a great source of pride for the Irish. It is part of their collective identity and serves as a symbolic form of linguistic rebellion against its historical oppressors. Although the revitalization effort has become a rather complicated form of cultural resistance, the Irish language has been a tether to Irish heritage and culture. Recent attempts by the government to revitalize the language have been embraced by the Irish who realize that language is part of what makes Ireland unique from its neighbors. While the belief that a few words will suffice is still common, it is starting to be replaced with a more widely spread and widely acclaimed literacy, as a new generation of Irish people have grown up.  If anything, their pride and confidence may save the Irish language from being forever reduced to the status of an occasional cultural ornament.

Works Cited

Kelly, Aoife. "Bliain Na Gaeilge 2013- Bigi Linn." Bliain Na Gaeilge » Facts & Figures. N.p., 2012. Web. 10 Mar. 2017. http://gaeilge2013.ie/en/about/irish-language/facts-figures/

Monaghan, Charles P. “The Revival of the Gaelic Language.” PMLA, vol. 14, 1899, pp. xxxi-xxxix., www.jstor.org/stable/456448.

Sheehan, Thomas W. “Reviving a Dying Language.” The Modern Language Journal, vol. 29, no. 3, 1945, pp. 215–217., www.jstor.org/stable/318734

Walsh, John. "Language Policy and Language Governance: A Case-study of Irish Language Legislation." Lang Policy. Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012, 24 Feb. 2012. Web. 9 Mar. 2017.

Laura Ther was a senior in Political Science at the University of Illinois when she wrote this text in 418, ‘Language and Minorities in Europe’. Laura was planning on going to Law School and was interested in International and Constitutional Law.


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