Review of "The Other Languages of Europe"

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sat Sep 6 15:25:42 UTC 2003

Forwarded from LINGUIST List 14.2344

Extra, Guus and Durk Goter (2001) The Other Languages of Europe,

Announced at

Rev. by Petek Kurtbke, Ph.D.


All national governments are engaged in language planning and language
standardization activities, and the standard language is diffused through
the school education and other government agencies. Multilingual contexts,
however, present problems for national governments.  'Linguistic
diversity' in Europe, which has created a complex picture for centuries,
has become a top item on the agenda of the European Union, as the
linguistic situation has been complicated further with migration, assisted
or forced, changing the linguistic geography of Europe adding to the
diglossic conditions already existent in many European countries.

The aim of the volume titled THE LANGUAGES OF EUROPE seems to be the
exploration of this complex linguistic situation in Europe, where many
individuals are typically bilingual and minority groups face the problem
of acquiring proficiency in at least two languages to be able to fully
function on the national level.  Depending on the demographic
concentration of the minority group, the biggest problems to be tackled in
the European Union remain on the social and educational levels.  If the
languages of the minority and the majority are similar, the problem may be
surmountable, or the educational policy may accommodate children learning
the language of the majority by providing instruction in the children's
native language.  But, if the languages are dissimilar, or the educational
policy discourages the use of the 'non-standard' languages in school,
there may be considerable difficulties for the children of the minority.
When the school fails to provide bilingual education or support the
non-standard language, the language is maintained through the efforts of
the family and the community.  It is these perspectives that THE LANGUAGES
OF EUROPE investigates in line with the stated language policy in Europe,

accords special importance to fostering the linguistic and cultural
diversity of its member States. Its activities in the field of languages
aim to promote PLURILINGUALISM and PLURICULTURALISM among citizens in
order to combat intolerance and xenophobia by improving communication and
mutual understanding between individuals.

(Source: The Council of Europe website:


The THE LANGUAGES OF EUROPE is a meaty book with a curious layout. All the
articles follow quite closely the same plan; and the information presented
on each study case centers around DEMOGRAPHIC perspectives,
SOCIOLINGUISTIC perspectives and EDUCATION.  Almost all the articles
discuss the difficulty of obtaining the exact figures in relation to
minority languages (e.g. Germany p193), and why this has been the case:
'the census in the Netherlands has never contained a language question' (p
104).  The section on the sociolinguistic outlook discusses the media,
service providing organisations and language planning activities.
Finally, the section on Education discusses the current schooling and
bilingual education policies and their implementation in relation to the
languages in question.  The book is organised into three distinct parts,
each with 7 case studies presented.  The first part, REGIONAL LANGUAGES IN
EUROPE deals basically with two types of linguistic situations, 'local'
and 'across-the-border'.  The articles that examine the current status of
Basque, Welsh, Gaelic and Frisian deal with a local situation in the
country of investigation, which has successfully evolved, yet facing
perhaps an uncertain future.  The articles on Slovenian, Swedish and
Finnish deal with across-the-border situations with two neigbouring
countries in interaction, with substantial number of speakers on either

The second part, IMMIGRANT LANGUAGES IN EUROPE, looks at six
industrialised countries in Europe, Sweden, Germany, The Netherlands,
Great Britain, France and Spain, with a history of considerable migrant
intake (Spain being the most recent).  The current status of immigrant
languages in each country differs in terms of the demographic information
available, sociolinguistic picture and schooling.  The main point this
group of articles makes is that some of these countries are good examples
of fair treatment and the others need to improve their treatment of the
immigrant minorities.  The odd article out in this part of the book is the
diasporic Romani.  If the diaspora languages, and here I use the term in
its traditional sense limited to Jewish, Armenian, Romani, Black, Chinese,
Indian, Irish, Greek, Lebanese, Palestinian, Vietnamese and Korean
diasporas* were to have become part of this book, they could have been
allocated the space dedicated to the third part, OUTLOOK FROM ABROAD,
instead.  This part also has seven articles dealing with the minority
situations in Canada, USA, South Africa, Australia, India, Turkey and
Morocco, although it is difficult to understand why they are thrown
together in a book called THE OTHER LANGUAGES OF EUROPE.


3.1 While the detailed introduction by the editors 'Comparative
perspectives on regional and immigrant minority languages in multicultural
Europe' (pp1-41) explains their reasons for the selection of the articles
and the make-up of the book, the inclusion of this final section seems
less convincing than the preceding two. If the editors wanted two
successful examples of MULTICULTURALISM from abroad for the attention of
the European policy makers and funding-bodies, only Canada and Australia
could have been highlighted as part of a missing final section
section would have been a summary of the common problems faced by all the
minority groups regardless of the host country, in Europe and elsewhere.
These common problems have all been touched upon in the individual
articles (for example contradictory governmental policies toward minority
languages), but not put together in an epilogue.

3.2 The status of minority languages and the funding they receive are
subject to change in accordance with the economic and political
developments in a country, as well as the region it is situated in, and
global tendencies (e.g. the shift of emphasis from European to Asian
languages in Australia over the past decade).  Current influences of
importance are listed in the article on the UK as: a) membership to EU, b)
global trade, and c) shifting balance between world languages (p 253).
This variability in the status of minority languages could have been
emphasized more throughout.

3.3 Whether the case studies presented are success stories or not, they
all conclude that the greatest responsibility for the advancement of the
minority language lies with the minorities themselves (p 155, p212, p252).
While projects of all sorts promoting minority languages attract
considerable funding, it is difficult to assess the value of their
contribution to the betterment of the current situation.  The same is true
for an editorial project of this size and the seminar (28-30 Janury 2000)
that gave birth to it.  In terms of readership, a copy on each policy
maker's desk wanting to grasp the 'universals' of Minority Linguistics
would be ideal, as the case studies presented here can be generalized to
many more contexts than the ones presented here.  However, a one-off event
and one-off publication will not suffice to implement any policy changes
and follow-up is a must.

3.4 Before I finish, a word of warning may be in place.  Corpus research
has shown that frequently used words show a strong tendency to lose their
meanings.  The rapid increase in the frequency of use of such words and
LINGUISTIC DIVERSITY and so on, indicates that the research community must
keep an eye on these terms and make sure that they do not undergo semantic
loss, and gradually turn into functions.

Chaliand, G and J P Rageau 1997 The Penguin Atlas of
Diasporas. Penguin Books, NewYork.


Petek Kurtbke comes from Turkey and she has been a migrant twice.
Her first destination was Italy, Europe in 1985.  She migrated again
in 1995, to Australia, where she wrote a Ph.D thesis titled 'A
Corpus-Driven Study of Turkish-English Language Contact in Australia'
(1998).  Recently, she has published a Turkish-Italian/Italian-Turkish
dictionary (2003) in Italy (

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