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, September 2, 2019

Between the State and the Charter: The Precarious and Dangerous Situation of the Co-Official, Regional, and Immigrant Languages in Spain

By Nick Ortiz

Nick Ortiz is a graduate student in History at The University of Illinois. Nick’s future plans include finishing his research. Nick wrote this blog post in the 418 ‘Language and Minorities in Europe’ course in spring 2019.

A map of Castilian dialects in Spain, with northern and southern dialects in two shades of purple, and bilingual areas marked along the borders.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
It has been twenty-seven years since the writing of the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages (ECRML) and eighteen years since its ratification in Spain. Since then, the Spanish government has cultivated its own image: one of a country that guarantees the protection of regional languages required by the Statutes of Autonomy in the Spanish Constitution and by the ECRML. However, this image can be deceiving. Every language, even the co-official ones, remain suppressed and marginalized to various degrees in Spain due to the neglect and the weakness shown by the Charter and the central government in Madrid. There are numerous marginalized languages that span across almost every region of Spain: Leonese in Castile-Leon, Asturian and Galician-Asturian in Asturias, Portuguese and Galician in Extremadura, Valencian in Murcia, Aragonese in Aragon, Dariya in Ceuta, Tamazight/Amazige (a variety of Berber) in Melilla, and Polish and Romanian in the largest urban centers such as Madrid and Barcelona. If one compares the protection of these languages to those that enjoy a co-official status or a higher level of recognition (like that of Catalan, Galician, Basque, Valencian and Aranese), their protection leaves much to be desired.

Up until now the language situation regarding Catalan, Galician, Basque, Valencian, and Aranese has definitely improved due to support from the ECRML, the Statutes of Autonomy, and regional policies. However, the protection and preservation of these languages have experienced their own obstacles with respect to their scope and implementation. Since the promulgation of the Statutes of Autonomy in 1978, the use of Catalan, Galician, Basque, Valencian, and Aranese has spread in their own regions as co-official languages: Catalan in Catalonia and the Balearic Islands, Galician in Galicia, Basque in the Basque Country, Valencian in Valencia, and Aranese in the Aran Valley (Catalonia). The ECRML has played a key role in this process through a procedure in which it oversees the Spanish government. The main European institutions responsible for this monitoring are the Committee of Experts and the Council of Ministers that direct the process in the name of the Council of Europe. The pressure exerted by the Committee of Experts and the Council of Ministers has produced suggestions and recommendations (that combined with the regional policies) has pushed the Spanish government into action with respect to language policies. There are now more primary and secondary schools that teach exclusively in the co-official languages and the languages themselves have been given an elevated status in politics and administration.

These noteworthy successes have hidden the structural problems that still threaten the further spread of the co-official languages. According to the reports of the Committee of Ministers, the use of co-official languages continues to be limited in social domains especially in provinces (such as the Balearic Islands and Valencia) where a trilingual model has been introduced to encourage the teaching of English. This system threatens the teaching of Catalan and Valencian at a time where there still exists a dearth of bureaucrats, judges, lawyers, and officials that do not know the co-official languages. The number of translations relating to legal, national, and public policies in co-official languages has not kept up with the demand. On top of that, the majority of media in Spain continues to be transmitted in Castilian despite the quotas that have been put in place in favor of co-official languages. The languages concerned are protected but they are not privileged. According to experts, such as F. Xavier Vila i Moreno, the Spanish government has taken a position that favors and protects the privileged status of Castilian in the media, public administrations, and businesses. It gives only a limited autonomy to regions within a centralized structure that reduces the chances of co-official languages of escaping from their subordinated position (Vila i Moreno, 157-179).

If the situation of the regional languages is bad, the situation of the other languages that do not enjoy the same status is even worse. According to various sociolinguistic surveys and the 2011 census, there are 250,000 Asturian speakers (1/4 of the regional population) in Asturias, 54,481 Aragonese speakers in Aragon, and 50,000 Galician speakers in Castile-Leon. Despite the protests of the Committee of Experts, Asturian officials to this day have not recognized Asturian as a co-official language and their Aragonese and Leonese counterparts have not taken the necessary steps to increase the use of Catalan, Aragonese, and Galician outside private domains. Compared with languages that have more attention and more protection because of their co-official status, the presence of these languages in primary schools is poor in comparison. There are no available statistics regarding the presence of Leonese, Galician-Asturian, and Portuguese, but these languages also suffer from the same neglect.

One can see a worser situation in the case of Tamazight/Amazige, Dariya, Polish, and Romanian. Regarding Amazige, estimates on the number of speakers in Melilla range from 20,000-35,000 (40% of the city’s population) according to studies done by local institutions. The presence of Amazige in Melilla is similar to that of Dariya in Ceuta. According to the recent census, estimates on the number of Dariya speakers range from 40.5%-45% of the total population. This means that there are around 30,000-36,000 Dariya speakers in Ceuta. Despite the large presence of these two languages that are spoken by a quarter of the population of Melilla and Ceuta, Amazige and Dariya do not have the recognition and respect they deserve. Regardless of the big step that was taken in 2013 where local officials in Melilla passed the Intercultural Social Pact that gave a level of protection to Amazige as a traditional language in Melilla’s heritage, Amazige’s future in the city is still far from secure. The population of Polish and Romanian speakers is currently greater than that of Amazige and Dariya. According to experts such as Ruth Ferrero Turrión, in 2008 migrants from Eastern Europe composed 25% of the foreign population in Spain. From this group, 664,880 are Romanian and 76,050 are Polish (Ferrero Turrión, 58).

Despite their tremendous demographic presence, the aforementioned languages suffer from the weaknesses of not only the Spanish state but also the ECRML itself. The ECRML only recognizes languages that are “protégées traditionnellement sur un territoire d’un État.” This definition implies the exclusion of dialects of the official language and migrant languages. This territorial definition has been used to claim protection for Amazige and Dariya with mixed results by the Committee of Experts. However, in spite of their large presence in Spain, this same definition under the ECRML has completely abandoned Polish and Romanian since they are considered to be migrant languages. It seems apparent that both the ECRML and the Spanish central government to varying degrees ignore or devalue languages that do not fit their standards of what constitutes Western European culture, co-official status, or Spain’s heritage.

It must be said that the Spanish government uses the territorial bias of the ECRML as a strategy to prevent the addition of more co-official languages and to withhold recognition and preservation of several languages that deserve the same protection as the established co-official ones. The Committee of Experts can pressure the Spanish government, but the scope of this pressure is very limited. A good example is the Social Pact that has changed the current status of Amazige to a certain extent in Melilla. This episode is reminiscent of the arguments put forward by experts such as Vila i Moreno. The Pact seems to be a local initiative in conjunction with European pressure that plays a role despite the limited territorial definition of the ECRML. When a language fits the definition of a minority language under the ECRML, the Charter itself becomes a tool to pressure authorities as in the case of Amazige. While this pressure has favored Amazige, it has been ineffective towards Dariya even though the language complies with the same territorial definition of the ECRML. The governments of Spain and Ceuta have done almost nothing for Dariya. Nowadays they continue the resist the demands of European ministers to recognize it as a territorial language even when almost half the city’s population speaks it. They also continue to ignore Polish and Romanian whose number has continued to grow every year in terms of speakers due to the increased rate of integration between the member states of the European Union.

This systematic lack of recognition (that seems to be on purpose) towards languages in Spain is part of a larger process where the Spanish government protects the dominant and privileged status of Castilian. This protection is connected to the maintenance of Spain’s image as a country that respects the linguistic diversity valued by the ECRML. It has been noted that regional initiatives and pressure from European institutions are the main factors behind the preservation of regional languages in Spain. The priorities of the Spanish government since 1978 have been to maintain Castilian as the dominant language, grant limited concessions of autonomy to co-official languages, and to withhold protection from languages considered to be non-Western, outside Spain’s heritage, and spoken by migrants. This strategy has helped to preserve the dominance of Castilian while at the same time reinforcing this image of linguistic diversity and tolerance. This is Spain’s linguistic reality. As long as the Spanish government does not consider the spread of all languages in its borders as a priority, the ECRML maintains its strict, territorial definition of what constitutes a regional or minority language, and nothing radical happens within Spain or in the European Union, this precarious situation will continue to threaten the future of not only the co-official languages but all languages that compose Spain’s linguistic landscape.

Entre el Estado y la Carta: La Situación Precaria y Peligrosa de los Idiomas Cooficiales, Regionales y Inmigrantes de España

Un mapa de los dialectos castellanos en España, con los dialectos del norte y del sur en dos tonos de púrpura, y áreas bilingües marcadas a lo largo de las fronteras.
La fuente de esta foto: Wikimedia Commons
Había sido veinte y siete años desde la escritura de la Carta Europea de las Lenguas Regionales y Minoritarias (CELRM) y dieciocho años desde su ratificación en España. Desde entonces, el gobierno español ha cultivado su propia imagen: la de un país que garantiza la protección de los idiomas regionales mandada por los Estatutos de Autonomía en la Constitución Española y por la CELRM. No obstante, esta imagen es decepcionante. Todos los idiomas, aún los idiomas cooficiales, se quedan suprimidos y marginados en varios grados en España a causa del descuido y de la debilidad exhibidos por la Carta y el régimen español. El número de lenguas marginadas es numeroso y abarca casi todas las regiones de España: el leonés en Castilla y León, el asturiano y el gallego-asturiano en Asturias, el portugués y el gallego en Extremadura, el valenciano en Murcia, el aragonés en Aragon, el dariya/árabe ceutí en Ceuta, el tamazight/amazige (un tipo de beréber) en Melilla y el polonés y el rumano en los mayores centros urbanos como Madrid y Barcelona. La protección de eses idiomas faltan mucho en comparación con aquellos que tienen un estatus cooficial o un grado más alto de reconocimiento como el catalan, el gallego, el vasco, el valenciano y el aranés.

De verdad, hasta entonces la situación lingüística del catalan, gallego, vasco, valenciano y aranés ha mejorado a causa del apoyo de la CELRM, los Estatutos de Autonomía y las políticas regionales pero la protección y salvaguarda de aquellos idiomas tienen sus propios tropiezos con respeto a su alcance y aplicación. Desde la promulgación des los Estatutos de Autonomía en 1978, el uso del catalan, el gallego, el vasco, el valenciano y el aranés ha ampliado en sus propios regiones como lenguas co-oficiales: el catalan en Cataluña y las Islas Baleares, el gallego en Galicia, el vasco en el País Vasco, el valenciano en Valencia y el aranés en el Valle de Arán (Cataluña). La CELRM ha jugado un rol clave en este proceso por medio del procedimiento en lo que supervisar el gobierno español. Las instituciones europeas principales que son responsables por la supervisión son el Comité de Expertos y el Consejo de los Ministros que encabezan el proceso en nombre del Consejo de Europa. La presión del Comité de Expertos y del Consejo de los Ministros ha producido sugerencias y recomendaciones que en conjunción con las políticas regionales ha impulsado el gobierno español a la acción con respeto a las políticas lingüísticas. Hay más escuelas primarias y secundarias que enseñan exclusivamente en los idiomas cooficiales y los idiomas se han sido concedido un mayor estatus político y administrativo.

Estes éxitos notables han escondido los problemas estructurales que todavía amenazan la continua ampliación de los idiomas cooficiales. Según los informes del Comité de Expertos, el uso de los idiomas cooficiales sigue ser restringido en la esfera social especialmente en provincias (como las Islas Baleares y Valencia) donde un modelo trilingüe ha sido introducido para fomentar la enseñanza de inglés. Este sistema pone en peligro la enseñanza del catalán y del valenciano al momento que todavía existe una gran falta de funcionarios público, jueces, abogados y agentes que no conocen los idiomas cooficiales. El número de translaciones de leyes y de políticas nacionales y públicas en idiomas cooficiales ha fallado seguir el ritmo con la demanda. Además, la mayoría de las medias en España sigue ser transmitido en castellano a pesar de la imposición de cuotas a favor de las lenguas cooficiales. Los idiomas en cuestión son protegidos pero no son privilegiados. Según expertos, como F. Xavier Vila i Moreno, el gobierno español ha adoptado una posición que favorece y protege el estatus privilegiado del castellano a través del país en las medias, la administraciones públicas y las empresas. Ello solamente concede una autonomía limitada a las regiones en una estructura centralista que perjudica las chances de las lenguas cooficiales de escapar de su posición subordinada (Vila i Moreno, 157-179).

Si la situación de los idiomas cooficiales es lamentable, la situación de los otros idiomas que no disfrutan del mismo estatus es pésima. Según varios encuestas sociolingüísticas y el censo de 2011, hay 250,000 hablantes de asturiano (un cuarto de la población regional) en Asturias, 54,481 hablantes de aragonés en Aragón y 50,000 hablantes de gallego en Castilla y León. A pesar de las protestas del Comité de Expertos, los gobernantes de Asturias no han hasta la fecha reconocido el asturiano como lengua cooficial y sus contrapartes aragoneses y leoneses no han tomado los pasos necesarios de ampliar el uso del aragonés y del gallego fuera de la esfera privada. La presencia de aquellos idiomas en las escuelas primarias es pobre en comparación con los idiomas que disfrutan de más atención y de más protección a causa de su estatus como lengua cooficial. No hay estadísticos definitivos sobre la presencia del leonés, del gallego-asturiano y del portugués pero aquellos también sufren del mismo descuido.

La situación es peor por el tamzight/amazige, el dariya/árabe ceutí, el polaco y el rumano. Con respeto al amazige, las aproximaciones sobre el número de hablantes en Melilla son entre 20,000-35,000 (40% de la población urbana) según estudios mandados por instituciones locales. La presencia de amazige en Meilla hace eco con la de dariya. Según el censo más reciente, las aproximaciones del número de hablantes de dariya tiene alcance de 40.5% al 45% de la población total. Esto significa que hay cerca de 30,000-36,000 hablantes de dariya en Ceuta. A pesar de la larga presencia de los dos idiomas que son hablados por un cuarto de la población melillenses y ceutís, el amazige y el dariya no tiene el reconocimiento y el respeto que merecen. A pesar del gran paso que ocurrió en 2013 donde las autoridades melillenses han promulgado el Pacto Social por la Interculturalidad que concediera un grado de protección al amazige como lengua tradicional del patrimonio melillense, resta mucho para preservar el porvenir de amazige en la ciudad. La población que habla el polaco y el rumano es mayor que la que habla el amazige y el dariya. Según expertos como Ruth Ferrero Turrión, en 2008 migrantes del este de Europa se comprenden 25% de la población extranjera en España. De esa población, 664,880 son rumanos y 76,050 son polacos (Ferrero Turrión, 58).

A pesar de su tremendo presencia demográfica, los idiomas susodichos sufren de los defectos de no solamente del estado español sino la CELRM por sí. La CELRM solo reconoce lenguas que son “pratiquées traditionnellement sur un territoire d’un État” que no incluye los dialectos del idioma oficial ni los idiomas de migrantes. Esta definición territorial se ha sido reclamada para el amazige y el dariya con éxitos mixtos por el Comité de Expertos pero esta definición limitada ha completamente abandonado los idiomas que son considerados lenguas de migrantes aunque posean más hablantes entre la población española. Nos parece que los idiomas que no representan la cultura occidental europea, disfrutan de un estatus cooficial o no se reconocen como parte del patrimonio de España son ignorados o menospreciados como idiomas inmigrantes.

Hay que percibir que el gobierno español usa, como estratagema, la predisposición territorial de la CELRM para impedir la añadidura de más idiomas cooficiales y para denegar el reconocimiento y salvaguarda de varios idiomas que merecen la misma protección que los idiomas cooficiales establecidos. El Comité de Expertos se puede presionar al gobierno español pero esa presión es limitada. Un buen ejemplo es el Pacto Social que ha cambiado hasta cierto punto el estado actual del amazige en Melilla. Este episodio hace eco con el argumento de expertos como Vila i Moreno. El Pacto parece ser una iniciativa local con la presión europea jugando un rol a pesar de la definición limitada territorial de la CELRM. Cuando un idioma conforme con las condiciones estipuladas, la CELRM se hace un instrumento de presión con respeto al amazige. Mientras que esta presión favoreció el amazige, ha sido ineficaz con respeto al dariya aún cuando este idioma conforme con la definición territorial de la CELRM. El gobierno nacional y ceutí han hecho casi nada por el dariya. Hoy en día ellos siguen resistir las demandas de los ministros europeos de reconocerlo como idioma territorial aunque haya casi una mitad de la población citadina de Ceuta lo habla. Ellos también continúan ignorar los idiomas polacos y rumanos cuyos número de hablantes crece cada año a causa del alto grado de integración entre los estados miembros de la Unión Europea.

Esta falta sistemática de reconocimiento (prácticamente a propósito) de idiomas en España hace parte de un proceso más largo al parte del gobierno español de proteger el estatus dominante y privilegiado de castellano. Esta protección se enlaza con el mantenimiento de la imagen de España como país que respeta la diversidad lingüística valorada por la CELRM. Hemos visto que las incitativas regionales y la presión europea son los factores principales en la salvaguarda de los idiomas regionales en España. Las prioridades del gobierno español, desde 1978, son de mantener el castellano como lengua dominante, de echar concesiones limitadas a los idiomas cooficiales y de retener la protección de idiomas considerados inmigrantes, no occidentales, o no patrimoniales mientras preservando esta imagen de diversidad lingüística y de tolerancia. Así es la actualidad lingüística de España. Mientras que el gobierno no considere la ampliación de todos los idiomas como prioridad, la CELRM mantenga una definición estricta y territorial de lo que constituye un idioma regional y no pase algo radical en el entorno español o europeo, la situación, de no solamente los idiomas cooficiales pero todos los idiomas que hacen parte del paisaje lingüístico español, seguirá siendo precaria y peligrosa por todas las lenguas en cuestión.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Is France protecting the wrong language?

By Gwyneth Dixon

Gwyneth Dixon is a junior in Global Studies and Political Science at The University of Illinois. Gwyneth’s future plans include pursuing a JD. Gwyneth wrote this blog post in the 418 ‘Language and Minorities in Europe’ course in spring 2019.

Stock photo of the Union Jack and the French flag.
Source: Pxhere
With 300 million speakers worldwide (BENCHMARKS), French owes most of its popularity to France’s history. In the seventeenth century, the nation-state benefitted from an influential role in the arts, a strong economy, and a powerful, successful military (“Studies on translation,” 2010, p. 13). Combined, these factors ultimately resulted in the nation’s prominent role as one of “the main political powers” of the world (“Studies on translation”, 2010, p 13). With this influence and power, French soon became the language of commerce, arts, and academics, and as more and more people recognized the benefits of learning French, the language became a global lingua franca (Wright, 2016). With France’s continued dominance, French remained largely unchallenged for centuries (“Studies on translation”, 2010, p 14), but as France began to lose influence and power as a result of the World Wars, the world’s attention shifted to a new language, English. While scholarship argues that the widespread use of English results in increased use of indigenous languages for identification purposes (House, 2013, p. 4), this is not the case for France. Threatened by the displacement of French as the dominant lingua franca, France’s anti-English sentiment, conveyed in its language policies, instead further marginalizes and endangers the nation’s regional and minority languages.

A leading sociolinguist in France, Louis-Jean Calvet, argued that French should be strengthened against the “global dominance of English and the unreasonable demands of minority languages” (Kasuya, 2001, p. 249), and French legislation and language policies seemed to achieve these goals. In an attempt to “defend…against the monopoly of English” (Kasuya, 2001, p. 235), the ideology of “Francophonie” emerged to unite French-speaking nations. In its traditional sense, Francophonie refers to the French-speaking community worldwide, but the Francophonie ideology is also imbued “with colonial motives” that try to compensate for the “lost international status” and economic influence of French (Kasuya, 2001, p. 247). To counter this loss of status and prestige, there have been various efforts initiated by the government to promote French and to limit the influence of English. One example was an amendment to France’s Constitution, which stated that “the language of the Republic is French” (Määttä, 2005, p. 173). While this amendment worked to strengthen and solidify the status of French, it also hindered the protection of the nation’s multiple regional or minority languages. In 1999, the Constitutional Council of France determined that the nation could not ratify the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages because it would undermine this very amendment (Blanchet, 2004, p. 127-128). French language purism has also produced similar consequences. While language purism works to “cleanse” a language of outside influences by discouraging nonstandard language use and promoting the language as independent and of high-status, these same efforts also threaten the “ethnic or national identity of [a] society” (Shapiro & Jernudd, 1989, p. 54)  because they alter the recognition and prestige of various dialects and regional languages in a nation. In the case of France, where “in order to progress in the French social order, one must get rid of any perceived regional stigma” (Joubert, 2015, p. 172), such policies greatly discourage minority language use.

Simply put, France’s efforts to preserve French as a relevant, dominant language at home and around the world can be counterproductive. Although France continues to struggle with the fact that English is the new dominant lingua franca, French is not under any kind of threat. As the International Organization of La Francophonie’s website boasts, French is still the fifth most widely spoken language on the planet. Additionally, scholars have shown that English lingua franca users maintain attachment to their first languages (House, 2013, p. 6); thus, even if France were to promote English as a lingua franca, the usage of French in domestic affairs would remain largely unchanged. Instead, what seems to be at stake is the global status of the language, yet even from this perspective, France must consider how lingua francas are subject to change. Lingua francas are learned for utilitarian purposes (Wright, 2016), such as increased opportunities, and as the sociopolitical climate of the world changes, English itself might be replaced by another language as the dominant lingua franca. Thus, instead of pursuing initiatives that prevent the spread and influence of English, France should instead focus on maintaining the integrity of all of the languages in its territory to assure inclusion and social cohesion for its citizens. While regional or minority languages spoken in French territory are truly threatened by shrinking domains of use, the policies that work to protect French from English only further limit these domains of use and thus are likely to further endanger regional or minority languages.


BENCHMARKS. (n.d.). Retrieved April 17, 2019, from https://www.francophonie.org/welcome-to-the-international.html

Studies on translation and multilingualism. (2011). Luxembourg: European Union.

Blanchet, P. (2004). Provençal as a distinct language? Sociolinguistic patterns revealed by a recent public and political debate. International Journal of the Sociology of Language doi:10.1515/ijsl.2004.037

House, J. (2013). English as a global lingua franca: A threat to multilingual communication and translation?. Language Teaching, Available on CJO 2012 doi:10.1017/S0261444812000043

Joubert, A. (2015). Occitan: A language that cannot stop dying. Policy and Planning for Endangered Languages,171-187. doi:10.1017/cbo9781316162880.013

Kasuya, K. (2001). Discourses of linguistic dominance: A historical consideration of French language ideology. International Review of Education, 47: 235. https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1017993507936

Määttä, S. K. (2005). The european charter for regional or minority languages, french language laws, and national identity. Language Policy,4(2), 167-186.

Shapiro, A., & Jernudd, B. (1989). The politics of language purism. Berlin: De Gruyter.

Wright, S. (2006). FRENCH AS A LINGUA FRANCA. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics,35-60.

Monday, July 22, 2019

To be (politicized), or not to be (politicized): That is the question

By Seyoung Jung

Seyoung Jung is a graduate student in Political Science at The University of Illinois and wrote this blog post in the 418 ‘Language and Minorities in Europe’ course in spring 2019. Seyoung’s future plans include continuing the Ph.D. program.

Let’s imagine the following situation. We have a main character named Lang and she is in a dangerous situation. One day, a candidate in a political campaign approaches Lang about her representing the very fundamental problem of our society. He brings a crowd of reporters and gives a passionate speech about Lang. She immediately becomes the most controversial topic of the election. On one hand, she is glad people are finally recognizing the issue that deserves attention, but she is also feeling overwhelmed now that people are deeply invested, and the tension keeps escalating. Lang now feels the conversation is no longer about her but something greater, and she is not sure she wants to be the catch-all term for all the problems that do not necessarily pertain to her.

The election is now over. It was a brutal fight for both the winning and losing sides. The town is trying to regain its peace. Lang notices something. On one hand, she feels free, now that the fierce debate around her is over. On the other hand, people tiptoe around her and look as if they never want to bring up the issue. She finds herself confused and asks: can I not be something in between neglected and politicized?

This anecdote could be a rough analogy for the status of the Irish language in Northern Ireland. For a while, Northern Ireland was a well-known example of an intragroup conflict that occurred over language. After the partition of the island between Ireland and Great Britain, the Irish language became a highly political issue, as it was seen on both sides of the border as a symbol of nationalist aspirations (Crowley, 2005: 180). The teaching of Irish in schools was the first focus of Ulster Unionism’s disdain for the language. By 1923, funding for the Irish language teacher-training colleges was withdrawn. Consequently, Irish as an ordinary subject was reduced to no more than an hour and a half per week to children of the third grade and higher, and Irish could only be taught as an extra subject outside school hours (Crowley, 2005: 181). This issue continued to be a focal point of Unionists’ contempt towards Nationalists, and in 1933, all fees payable for the teaching of Irish as an extra subject were finally abolished.

Nonetheless, the use of Irish in Northern Ireland by individuals was treated with suspicion and hostility and its official use was forbidden (Crowley, 2005: 182). The BBC banned the language for fifty years and the Stormont parliament proscribed street signs in Irish. On the other hand, despite the official interdiction on Irish, the language was taught in Catholic schools and fostered by voluntary organizations. After partition, a northern branch of the Gaelic league, Comhaltas Uladh, was set up in order to negotiate with education authorities on behalf of the language and it has remained active ever since. Furthermore, various organizations appeared, including Glún na Buaidhe, Fal, independent sporting clubs (as well as the Gaelic Athletic Association), an Irish-medium credit union, a shop, prayer groups such as Cuallacht Mhuire and Réalt, a choir, and various literary groups (Maguire 1991: 30-2). Unfortunately, such small-scale organizations amounted to little more than a token presence in the face of official disregard. These phenomena reinforced segregation of Nationalists and Unionists in Northern Ireland.

Irish speakers in the 2011 census in Northern Ireland
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Signs and symbols invested with cultural and political significance for one section of the divided community were met with distrust, resistance, and often hatred by the other. The Irish language was one such symbol (Crowley, 2005: 187). Republican opposition to the British policy led to protests and in 1981 to the Hunger Strikes. Moreover, as part of a prison campaign, the prisoners engaged in learning and using the Irish language and deployed it both as an expression of their identity and as an anti-British symbol. Over a period of time, the Irish language came to be understood as part of their struggle. Politicized by the mass mobilization of the Hunger Strike campaign, some joined Sinn Féin and helped set up the Cultural Department which was largely concerned with language issues. Many saw in the language revival a way of expressing their identity and their political antagonism to British rule which remained non-violent and culturally based. The state’s hostility to the language lasted for more than seventy years (Crowley, 2005: 196).

It is fair to say that since the 1990s, Irish has regained some of its cultural capital and has lost the stigma associated with it for so long. This in turn has fed into a second stage in favor of revitalizing the language. This stage tried not only to preserve the connection between the language and the identity of the nation, but also to accommodate growing pressures for pluralism. The Belfast Agreement became a turning point, switching stagnant and repetitive conflict into a sustainable peace process. In the section of the agreement regarding rights, safeguards, and equality of opportunity − particularly with reference to economic, social, and cultural issues − the text declared that: “All participants recognize the importance of respect, understanding and tolerance in relation to linguistic diversity, including in Northern Ireland, the Irish language, Ulster-Scots and the languages of the various ethnic minorities, all of which are part of the cultural wealth of the island of Ireland” (Belfast Agreement 1998: 19).

The British government declared that it would:
“take resolute action to promote the language; facilitate and encourage the use of the language in speech and writing in public and private life where there is appropriate demand; make provision for liaising with the Irish language community, representing their views to public authorities and investing complaints; place a statutory obligation on the Department of Education to encourage and facilitate Irish medium education in line with current provision for integrated education; and etc.”.
Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement (1998), the promotion of the Irish language throughout the island (i.e., funding, publications, and support for Irish language education) was launched.

There are also still to this day projects going on to promote the Irish language in Northern Ireland. One notable one is the Scríobh Leabhar (Write a Book) Project. It invites students to create, design, and publish their own books in Irish. Pupils from 17 schools in Northern Ireland took part in 2016. They wrote their own stories in Irish on many subjects and awards were presented to some of the 1500 pupils from Northern Ireland in June 2016.

Another project is the East Belfast Mission. In 2015, support for three years was granted to the East Belfast Mission, which focusses on raising awareness and empowering the Protestant community regarding the Irish language. The Civil Leadership Award was presented to Linda Ervine for the work she has done for the teaching of the Irish language in the Turas Language Center of the East Belfast Mission.

A final project involves funding a community-based network for Irish Language Development Officers that implements a Program of Activities. This project aims to promote, develop and preserve Irish on a public basis. The current period started in January 2011 with a budget of up to €3.6 million. It operates at a community level in conjunction with voluntary committees who have knowledge of the local circumstances and who know Irish speakers.

The case of Northern Ireland shows us how a language can become highly politicized and promote conflict when attached to group identity. However, unlike other cases in Europe where regional groups have encouraged stronger identity in order to promote an endangered language, the case of Irish in Northern Ireland requires some separation between issues of language and identity. The Irish language in Northern Ireland will have to go through a normalization process and a process of protection and promotion simultaneously. It continues to face progress and backlash at the same time. For example, in 2015, Sinn Féin attempted to introduce an Irish language bill but failed. In the following years, the Irish language once again became the center of attention when the introduction of the Irish Language Act (Acht na Gaeilge), aimed to grant Irish equal status alongside English, reportedly led to “political deadlock in Northern Ireland”. While more than ten thousand people took to the streets of Belfast to campaign in favor of the Act, others expressed concerns and accused the protesters of politicizing the language. The Irish language in Northern Ireland will probably never be apolitical, as it embodies social and political significance for the population. However, going back to Lang in our anecdote, we should probably let her – and the language issue − continue to be a happy medium between neglect and obsession.


Crowley, Tony. Wars of words: the politics of language in Ireland 1537-2004. Oxford University Press on Demand, 2005.

Maguire, Gabrielle. Our own language: An Irish initiative. Vol. 66. Multilingual matters, 1991.
The Belfast Agreement, 1998

Wikimedia Commons

“Who ‘Politicised’ the Irish Language?” By Ciarán Mac Giolla Bhéin (02/14/2019) http://www.rebelnews.ie/2019/02/14/who-politicised-the-irish-language/

“Why is Irish language divisive issue in Northern Ireland?” By Jennifer O'Leary (09/2014) https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-30517834

“Irish Language Act: Laws not threatening says Welsh commissioner” By Robbie Meredith (03/15/2019) https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-47575607

“A New Protestant Beginning for the Irish Language in Belfast” http://www.pri.org/stories/2013-04-10/new-protestant-beginning-irish-language-belfast

Monday, July 1, 2019

Portugish: linguistic differences and shared legacies

By: Nidhi Shastri

Nidhi Shastri is a senior in Environmental and political Science at The University of Illinois. Nidhi’s future plans include graduating and working is Chicago regarding communications. Nidhi wrote this blog post in 418 'Language and Minorities in Europe' in spring 2019.

Screenshot of a young man with dark hair and beard, wearing a black tshirt and sunglasses. He is creating red and blue squiggles by gesturing with a large match and his left hand. The YouTube interface is visible at the edges of the frame.
Figure 1: Joe Penma, also known as MysteryGuitarMan
Source: YouTube
"E aí, galera! Tudo bem?” These are the famous (Portuguese) words of Brazilian filmmaker, musician, and youtuber Joe Penna, also known as, MysteryGuitarMan. He typically says this phrase at the start of each video, and it roughly translates to: “What’s up guys! Is everything good?” in English, and “¿Qué tal? ¿Todo bien?” in Spanish. For many years I watched his videos and tried to figure out what exactly he was saying, and as a Spanish speaker, it took a few tries to parse out exactly what the similar phrasing would be in Spanish. As I explored the relationship between the language of one of my favorite stars, Joe Penna, and the language I speak and study, Spanish, I began to gain a deeper understanding about the linguistic, social, and political ties between the languages offered up by Penna in his peculiar mixtures of Spanish and Portuguese. What I discovered, is that the gap between the two is as much a social one as a technical one.

During my time as a Spanish speaker, I have always wondered about its sister language—Portuguese. Spain and Portugal are intertwined by economy, trade, and culture. The two countries share more than just a border; their languages have linguistic similarities and differences that are hard to ignore.  It is not rare to hear people who speak Spanish claim to understand large parts of Portuguese, and vice-versa. I myself, as a Spanish speaker, have been meaning to begin to learn Portuguese, as I have heard their similarities time and time again. Let’s draw out a bit of the history and linguistic similarities of these languages.
Chart showing the origins of several modern languages. Spanish and Portuguese are shown as Ibero Romance languages, which are descended from Western Romance languages, which are descended from Italo-Western Romance languages, which are descended from Continental Romance languages, which are descended from Vulgar Latin, which is descended from Latin.
Figure 2: The family tree of Romance languages that descended from Latin
Source: Wikimedia Commons

A map showing present-day languages of the Iberian Peninsula. Portugal is shown speaking predominantly Portuguese and Galician. Spain is shown speaking predominantly Spanish, with areas dedicated to Leonese, Basque, Aragonese, and Catalan; and smaller pockets speaking Mirandese, Aranese, Fala, and Extremaduran.
Figure 3. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Both languages, Spanish and Portuguese, are considered “Ibero Romance Languages.” In fact, they are the only two that fall under that distinct classification. Both languages also originated in the Iberian Peninsula, which is currently still shared by both Spain and Portugal. They are both decedents of Latin, and though they are similar to Catalan, Occitan, and even French, they are intertwined much more with each other. This is because Portugal historically is a bit cornered by Spain, and the rest of it is bordered by the North Atlantic Ocean. The two languages were able to converge in isolation to a certain extent, for long periods of time. The language’s evolutions to what we now know of them as can be traced as far back as 27 BCE, a time when there were many different languages emerging from Latin (Wong, 2015). Similar words can be easily traced out today, “constitución becomes constituição… Lengua is lingua, and idioma is idioma,” (Wong, 2015). Even as we saw in MysteryGuitarMan’s greeting, “todo” in Spanish is “tudu” in Portuguese and “bien” in Spanish is “bem” in Portuguese. Though emphasis and pronunciations differ, many words are still spelled and accented in the same way.

However, their differences are an important part of their history too. The most distinctive split came with the fall of the Roman Empire in 5th Century CE (Wong, 2015). This was a pivotal point in history, where Arabic colonizers (the Moors) would characterize the fabric of Portuguese, and Roman colonizers the fabric of Spanish. This small but distinct difference in influence led to a big difference in the two languages, and thus made it so that the languages are still pretty hard to cross-understand even by native speakers today. So, although both languages are technically similar and have their roots in the same land, they are distinct, and many people argue they are hardly the same thing.

As we so often see, society plays a large role in how people perceive similarities and differences between themselves and others. This is exhibited in Spain and Portugal as well. Language is a part of national identity for both places, and it is something both countries have spread around the world as a symbol of their colonialization of different lands. First, let’s explore a bit about these two countries’ political relation, and then expand that to their colonies. This can show us how the similarities and differences are social, I would argue, possibly more so than they are linguistic. Then, we will take a look at how this plays out in their colonial past.

As for the current day relationship between Portugal and Spain, between the period of 1580 to 1640, the two countries lived as “Siamese twins joined at the back,” (Chislett, 2014). Now, they operate closely together in the European Union. Since 30% of Portugal’s total imports come from Spain, their economies are deeply intertwined (Chislett, 2014). Both of these factors show that the two countries are politically and economically cohesive, even if they do have minor conflicts from time to time. However, seeing language as a piece of their identities socially separates the people of these two countries. Each sees their language as the rifting factor that holds them apart. It is good for national identity, however, it put strains on the connectivity that can be harnessed between these two countries and groups of people.

A map showing the Spanish-speaking countries of the world in green, including Spain and much of Central and South America.
Figure 4: Hispanic Countries
Source: Wikimedia Commons
If we expand this to the colonies of Spain and Portugal, it is even more interesting. For starters, there is great linguistic differences between Spain and its colonies. For example, Latinx countries pronounce the letter “y” as the sound “j.” So, as a Spaniard would say “yo” straight, a Latinx person would say, “j-yo.” Furthermore, different words are significant, too. While “fresa” means strawberry in Spain, it can be used to refer to a rich, snobby person in countries like Mexico. This is just one linguistic and translation difference in the many different Latinx countries. As for places that have been colonized by Portugal, there is even more linguistic differentiation. For example, India has many people with Portuguese names, heritage, and language, which causes different variations of the language mixed with Indian ones. The most commonly known colony, Brazil, is its own linguistic beast. Surrounded by Latinx countries, it too differs in the influence it has had by the different types of Spanish surrounding it, as well as the evolution of the language itself in Brazil as opposed to the Portuguese spoken in Portugal.
A map showing the countries in the world that speak Portuguese, including Portugal, Brazil, India, and several additional countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia.
Figure 5: Countries that speak Portuguese

These linguistic differences further a political and social separation. While distinction is important and powerful, there is still a big gap between the people of the Portuguese language and those who speak Spanish. However, the two languages are very similar, and it does beg the question: if these countries’ governments invested in the learning of each other’s languages, would a new, trilingual population arise? Would that provide more autonomy in the “lingua franca” scene across the globe? While there is great power in acknowledging differences, I do believe it would be cool to see linguistic similarities and differences give rise to a new generation of speakers, or even possibly a new hybrid language, that can bridge people from all around the world.

“Ya sabemos algunas cosas sobre el lenguaje de los políticos. Es un instrumento de dominio, que nace en el mismo momento en que nace la primera sociedad” (Mellizo 1990: 135). This quote translates to, “We already know a few things about the language of politicians. It is an instrument of dominion, that is born at the moment when the first society is born.” Language and politics are both crucial to the dynamics of countries such as Spain and Portugal. When looking at their shared linguistics, it is amazing to see the possible links that can occur within a new language of politics, one that emphasizes the rich similarities between Spanish and Portuguese. With that, the world can become more connected under this new generation of Lingua Franca speakers.


Wong, Kevin. “Iberia's Children: A Short History of Why Portuguese and Spanish Are
Different” Unravel Magazine.” Unravel, 2015, unravellingmag.com/articles/portuguese-and-spanish/.

De Cock, Barbara. Spain, Portugal and Europe in Spanish international relations discourse: a l
linguistic approach to group and identity construction/España, Portugal y Europa en el discurso español sobre relaciones internacionales: un enfoque lingüístico de la construcción de identidad y grupo. In: Michel Dumoulin, Antonio Ventura Díaz Díaz, Portugal y España en la Europa del siglo XX, Fundación Academia Europea de Yuste  : Yuste 2005, p.279-300

Chislett, William. “Strategic and International Studies.” Real Instituto Elcano, Fundación Real
Instituto Elcano, 2004, www.realinstitutoelcano.org/wps/portal/rielcano_en/contenido?WCM_GLOBAL_CONTEXT=%2Felcano%2Felcano_in%2Fzonas_in%2Fdt46-2004.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Beyond the Borders: Being Polish in Chicago

By Weronica Dabros

Weronica Dabros was a senior majoring in Integrative Biology and minoring in Polish when she wrote this blog post in 418 ‘Language and Minorities in Europe’ in spring 2019. She was planning on applying to dental schools to continue her career in health.

They have been named the za chlebem (“For Bread”) migrants from a damaged country. They are the land hungry immigrants; the peasants, the censored, the opportunists. They are the low-skilled wage laborers. They are, as far as their origins in this country are concerned, the Polish of Chicago.

A black and white photo of Chicago showing a number of industrial buildings.
Chicago 1950 (Source: wikimedia commons)
In the 19th century, Chicago was a growing city with industrial companies that provided many immigrants with greater opportunities to achieve their own ‘American Dream’. With the influx of various immigrants from Eastern Europe in the 1890’s, Chicago lured more Poles than any American city (Radzialowski 1976). Chicago became ‘Poland elsewhere’ beyond the borders of the Republic of Poland. Consequently, the Polish have made a significant impact on the culture, landscape and success of industrial Chicago. They have slowly made their way up from the peasantry of Poland to the urban working class of America.

So, what was the cause of this immense wave of Polish immigrants into the land of economic opportunities - the land of industrial Chicago? There was a period of time where Poland was removed from the European map and was not considered a distinct political entity. The Polish were deprived of their country, language and cultural expression. The Republic of Poland has endured a very complex and rich history that in some cases required the Poles to emigrate out of their home country to search for better opportunities for freedom, land ownership, status, education and lifestyle. The initial place of landing for the Poles was the south side of Chicago in the Back of the Yards neighborhood. Over time, the Polish neighborhoods shifted from the Back of the Yards to Humboldt Park/Logan Square and eventually up to the Belmont Cragin/Portage Park area where the majority of Polish people live today.

Color photo of a red and white storefront in Polish Village. The name of the shop in English is "Little Poland's Dollar Plus Store." A number of additional signs in Polish advertise the wares available within.
Polish Village (source: wikimedia commons)
Throughout the displacement, Polish communities have continued to maintain their culture and traditions. These Chicago neighborhoods flourished with Polish culture, music, and food because the Poles were finally able to express themselves culturally without political repression and government censorship unlike in their homeland. The many institutions such as churches, grocery stores, and Polish schools allowed the Polish people to continue to be active members of their national and ethnic customs in the neighborhoods they occupied.

One of the most popular Polish neighborhoods was located in Avondale and was named Jackowo, best known as “Little Poland”. This area was a hotspot for the Polish community in the late 1900’s, so much so, that if you were a passenger on the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) taking the Milwaukee bus up North, the bus driver would regularly announce "YATS-KO-VO" over the loudspeaker as the next destination (LaTrace, 2016). There was a strip of Polish businesses such as bakeries, restaurants, churches, and pharmacies where Polish presence was unmistakable. The Poles came to Chicago with nothing but a suitcase and their hopes for opportunity and turned bitter lemons into sweet “cytrynówka”, a Polish lemon liqueur.

As the Polish community grew like red poppies (Poland’s national flower) in the garden that was Chicago, they established various institutions that are still used to this day. One of the many institutions is the Polish Museum of America, established in 1935 and located in Chicago’s West Town area. It holds a compilation of Polish artifacts such as art, embroidery, and folk costumes. The museum organizes frequent exhibitions to maintain remembrance of Polish origins and educate the public on Polish history and culture.

A hand-tinted postcard of a brick building in the Romanesque Revival style. A number of small, indistinct figures in white shirts and black pants are standing in front. A Model T Ford is passing by on the street.
St. Hyacinth Polish School and Temporary Church,
Avondale, Wolfram St., Chicago
(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Additionally, there are 15 Polish parishes located in Chicago that are still fully functioning today. These parishes are combined with Polish ethnic Saturday schools where language and cultural maintenance is accomplished. Students in Polish schools are taught Polish history, grammar, literature, and geography, as well as religion. These Polish schools are held from preschool to the third level of high school. At the end of the students’ junior year, they are required to pass a written Matura (“exit exam”) on their knowledge of Polish history, grammar, geography and literature. Students must also successfully complete an oral presentation about a topic relating to Polish history in front of a committee. Afterwards, students receive a diploma and close the chapter of their lives that has provided them with a deeper connection to their Polish roots and stronger sense of nationalism.

A color photo of a dinner table set with candles, white plates painted with orange flowers, and a number of unidentified foods in serving dishes.
Wigilia (source: Wikimedia Commons)
Many religious holidays are also maintained due to the presence of the Polish churches in Chicago. Wigilia (“Christmas Eve dinner”) and Wigilia Mass, containing 12 vegetarian dishes, is still held in the majority of households, and the majority of Poles still attend Pasterka (midnight mass) before Christmas Day. Orszak Trzech Króli, a procession from one Polish parish to another through the streets of Chicago to honor Three Kings day followed by Mass, is still held in some parishes. Around Easter time, Poles create extravagant palms to be blessed on Palm Sunday. There are many religious traditions that are more common in Poland but do take place in Chicago due to the large Polish population and their dedication to Catholicism.

Modern Chicago has significantly changed since the industrial era and the Polish community has evolved along with it. Various cultural events and traditions are held in dedication to Polish immigrants who continue to create a life for themselves in the growing city.

A color photo of the Polish Day Parade in 2015, showing many people in red and white, accompanied by cars, banners, and policemen in bright yellow vests.
Polish Day Parade (source: Wikimedia Commons)
An annual Polish Constitution Day Parade is held in downtown Chicago as the Polonia of Chicago march down the streets to display their morphological Polszczyzna (the connection of Poles to their state language) and their Polska duma (“Polish pride”). All 35 Polish ethnic schools in Illinois take place in the parade hosted in Chicago in order to represent the diaspora of Poles throughout the state of Illinois. In addition, Zespół Wici (Chicago based Polish Folk Dance Company) performs Poland’s rich folk dance and presents its colorful folk costumes amongst the sky-high buildings of downtown.

Color photo of men and women in traditional costume folk-dancing. The men's clothes are blue breeches and jackets with red accents, a white shirt, and black hat and boots. The women are wearing full blue or red skirts, white aprons, black bodices with colorful embroidery, white blouses, and black boots. The womens' hair is braided with red bows and red or blue flowers.
Polish dancing (source: Flickr)
A cultural event called “Taste of Polonia” also takes place yearly at Copernicus Center as the Poles of Chicago along with other members of the community gather to share a weekend of pierogi, piwo (beer), music and dancing.

Just last year in May, the president of the Republic of Poland, Andrzej Duda traveled to Chicago to announce Polish Heritage Day (May 19th) in Millenium Park. The park was filled with the Polish community and even attracted some Poles living in areas outside of Chicago. It is clear that even in Poland and cities outside of Chicago, the city of Chicago is recognized as one of the greatest epicenters of Polish culture and history.

Being Polish in Chicago has created a foundation for Polish Americans to maintain their Polish roots and nurture their language by creating a community. This community provided Polish immigrants that were forced to leave their motherland for a chance at a better life with a second home and more opportunities for the future generations of Polish immigrants.


Latrace, AJ. 2016. The People's Guide to Avondale, Chicago's Polish Village. Curbed Chicago. https://chicago.curbed.com/2016/4/12/11414228/chicago-avondale-neighborhood-guide-polish-village

Radzialowski, T. 1976. The Competition for Jobs and Racial Stereotypes: Poles and Blacks in Chicago. Polish American Studies 33(2): 5-18.

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