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, 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.

Cookie Settings