European language policy:
Why is it so difficult?
Jacomine Nortier
Utrecht Institute of Linguistics
Dpt. of Dutch language & culture
Outline
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The official situation: complex but
understandable
The actual situation: almost impossible
to handle
My aim is NOT to solve this, but only to
sketch.
Literature :
-
Official languages (based on Abram de Swaan:
Words of the World (2001, Polity)
Indigenous vs imported minority
languages Guus Extra & Durk Gorter
(eds): The other languages of Europe
(2001, Multilingual Matters)
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http://europa.eu/languages/nl/home
2007: The European Union has 27
member states
and 23 official languages:
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.
10.
11.
12.
Български (Bălgarski) BG - Bulgarian
Čeština - CS - Czech
Dansk - DA - Danish
Deutsch - DE - German
Eesti - ET - Estonian
Elinika - EL - Greek
English - EN
Español - ES - Spanish
Français - FR - French
Gaeilge - GA - Irish
Italiano - IT - Italian
Latviesu valoda - LV Latvian
13. Lietuviu kalba - LT Lithuanian
14. Magyar - HU - Hungarian
15. Malti - MT - Maltese
16. Nederlands - NL - Dutch
17. Polski - PL - Polish
18. Português - PT Portuguese
19. Română - RO - Romanian
20. Slovenčina - SK - Slovak
21. Slovenščina - SL - Slovene
22. Suomi - FI – Finnish
23. Svenska - SV - Swedish
De Swaan’s book:
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First: general
Later : focus on Europe
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Although the languages of the world
differ extremely from each other, the
speakers are tied together by bilinguals
in a tightly organized system: the
language constellation.
The position of individual languages in
the world system can be expressed by
their Q-values (a measure of
communicative value).
The language constellation:
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English (connecting the supercentral
languages)
Supercentral languages (long-distance and
international communication) [such as
Spanish, Russian, French, Chinese]
Central languages (national) [such as Hausa,
Yoruba, Igbo, Dutch, Iranian]
Peripheral languages (oral) (98% of the world’s
5/6000 languages
Q-value of a language:
“... the proportion of those who speak it
among all speakers in the constellation
and the proportion of multilingual
speakers whose repertoire includes the
language among all multilingual
speakers in the constellation.” (i.e. as an
L2)
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Value versus attitude
René Appel (Appel, 2002): AdS holds an
extreme instrumental view on language
 tool.
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The political economy of language
constellations
Language: hypercollective goods
Economic goods: the more they are used,
the less there is left of them
Language: the more you use it, the more
valuable it becomes, both collectively
and individually
Conditions - in order to be a collective
good:
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1- nobody can be excluded (true for languages)
2- Maintenance: collaboration of many but not
all is required (true for languages)
3- The efforts of a single person are not
sufficient (true for languages)
4- Utility does not diminish as new users are
added (true for languages).
Consistently, AdS consideres language as a
“hypercollective” good.
Why is there stable multilingualism in
Euope (according to AdS)?
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It costs a lot of trouble and effort to learn
a new language
But also (my addition): attitudes,
affective values attached to different
languages; different levels of importance.
Outside-value (status) versus insidevalue (solidarity)
Europe: “The more languages, the more
English”
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Initial, shortly after World War 2: French
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Why not Italian? Or German? Or Dutch?
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With the UK and Ireland: English
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Europe versus other parts of the world:
the average speaker in Europe is
relatively rich and well-educated.
Languages in Europe: robust. Support
from own government and European
Parliament; taught in school, used in
court, politics, governments: prestige,
standardization, function in education
As far as the official languages are
concerned! And within, not necessarily
between countries
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1987: 17% of the European citizens
reported to be able to converse in
English;
1997: the number has doubled.
Increase mainly caused by young people.
Nr 2 in popularity was German, except
for the Dutch where Fench was second
best.
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Some countries: officially multilingual
(e.g., Belgium). But common practice in
Europe: societal monolingualism
Europe: State = nation = national
language
States are the protectors of the official
languages.
Law, regulations, administration,
education, business, prestige and mass
media are all associated with that single
language.
Q-values in Europe:
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English: number one
French and German: second
Again: only measurable factors.
Irrespective of affective factors &
attitudes. Example: Netherlands.
AdS: Dutch prefer French because of
communicative value (!)
European linguistic dilemma:
Maintenance of the languages
Effective and sucessful communication
In the European language constellation four
levels of communication can be distinguished:
1.
2.
3.
4.
Domestic communication (central and peripheral
languages). Threatened: by (1) the supracentral Ls for
communication across borders and (2) minority languages
within the borders.
The level of transnational communication, where English
competes with French and German.
The level of the European Parliament and the European
Commission, all official languages of the members of the
Union have the same status. Decisions should be
translated into all official Ls.
The level of the Commission’s internal bureaucracy where
there are more or less informally adopted a few working
languages.
Four levels of communication (repeated)
1.
2.
3.
4.
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Domestic communication: powerful relation
nation-state   language: maintenance
Transnational communication: 1: English; 2:
French and German
European Parliament: all languages will keep
their position
European Commission internal
communication: English and French
(Spanish: world wide more important than
F/G but within Europe spoken in only one
country)
Minority languages in Europe (based on
Extra & Gorter)
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In short, there are three groups of
languages:
Official languages (‘robust’)
Non-official indigenous (‘regional’)
languages with lower status
Imported languages with low status
Regional languages restricted to one state:
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Breton
300,000
France
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Mirandes
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Corsican
160,000
France
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Galician
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North-Frisian 8,000
Germany
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Aragonese
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Saterfrisian 2,000
Germany
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Asturian
450,000 Spain
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Sorbian
60,000
Germany
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Scottish
Gaelic
67,000 UK
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Friulian
550,000
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Scots
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Ulster Scots 100,000
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Welsh
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Cornish
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Ladin
35,000
Sardinian1,000,000
Frisian
450,000
15,000 Portugal
2,300,000 Spain
30,000 Spain
Italy
1,500,000 UK
Italy
UK
Italy
500,000 UK
The Netherlands
200
UK
Regional languages spoken in more than
one state:
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Basque:
565,000
70,000
Catalan:
6,376,000
102,000
20,000
Occitan:
4,000
3,500,000
50,000
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Spain
France
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Spain
France
Italy
Spain
France
Italy
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Sami:
18,000 Sweden
3,000 Finland
Low-Saxon:
1,800,000 Netherlands
8-10,000,000 Germany
Limburgian:
1,000,000 Netherlands and
Belgium
Exceptional positions:
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Luxemburgish: national language but it doesn’t
have the status of an official working language
in the EU.
Romani and Yiddish are non-territorial
minority languages.
Regional indigenous languages always function
as an L1 for children. Usually they are not
learned as L2 (de Swaan would call them
peripheral Ls).
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Most official Ls are minority Ls outside
their own nation-state
Examples: Croatian in Italy; German in
Belgium and Denmark; Swedish in
Finland; Finnish in Sweden.
Official languages, but without the
protection as in ‘their’ nation states
Immigrant languages (from outside
Europe):
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immigrant workers and their
descendants; refugees; ex-colonials.
1993: 368 million people in Europe;
4.8% (18 mln) were not citizens of the
countries they lived in
Exact numbers: difficult
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Sometimes no data
Illegals
Nationality and country of birth?
Residents of former colonies
BCPMF: Birth Country Criterion of
Person and/or Mother/Father
Problems:
 what would we want to call the grandchildren
of e.g. Chinese immigrants: Chinese or Dutch?
 What to do with people with different
ethnicities from one country (such as Kurds) or
the opposite:
 same ethnic groups from different countries
(Chinese from China and Vietnam)?
 And ethnocultural groups without territorial
status? (Roma)
Immigrant languages in the Netherlands:
Groups
BCPMF criterion
Nationality criterion
Dutch
12,872,000
14,768,000
Turks
272,000
154,000
Moroccans
225,00
150,000
Surinamese
282,000
15,000
Antilleans
94,000
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Greeks
11,000
5,000
Italians
32,000
17,000
Former Yugoslavs
56,000
34,000
Portuguese
13,000
9,000
Spaniards
29,000
17,000
Capeverdians
17,000
2,000
Tunisians
6,000
2,000
Based on CBS 1997
Conclusion:
How can we talk about European
language policy when we don’t even
know how to carry out initial fact
finding?
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European language policy?