Minority Languages in Germany
Harold F. Schiffman
haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Tue Jan 6 20:08:16 UTC 2004
Eurolang, the European news agency for minority languages
All German parties for language diversity
Copenhagen 6/01/04, by Brigitte Alfter
An alliance for minority languages has been formed by members from all the
political parties in the German parliament, the Bundestag. 44 of 603
members of parliament participated in the first meeting, according to
Wolfgang Boernsen, spokesperson of the informal alliance.
The alliance intends to keep an eye on how international agreements on the
protection of regional and minority languages are implemented in Germany.
There certainly is enough to be done, especially in the fields of
education, public administration and the media, according to Boernsen. Also
the EU-enlargement will bring new tasks regarding minority languages, he
Boernsen, a member of the conservative Christian Democrats CDU, was himself
elected in the northernmost part of Germany, the Danish-German border
region, a region rich with languages. Danish, German, Frisian, Romani and
Lower German are to be found in the region. North of the border there is
also the special Danish dialect of Southern Jutland, Synnejysk.
Another member of the alliance, Maria Michalk, also CDU and a Sorbian, has
an insider knowledge of the minority organisations. She considers the
alliance a political lobby group to promote minority languages and to
heighten their status, so minority languages can gain more space in
society, she says to Eurolang.
She also considers the EU-enlargement as important in the context of
languages. As an example she mentions her own language, Sorbian, which is
a Slavonic language and can thus become a bridge into the new EU-countries
along Germanys eastern border.
The four recognised minorities, Danes, Frisians, Sinti, Roma and Sorbs,
have been requesting a standing contact committee at the German parliament
for a long time. Currently they have a regular contact with the government
but nothing inside the parliament itself. Such a committee is planned for
but still does not yet exist. Last September proposals for such a
committee was debated between the language minorities and the president of
the Bundestag, Wolfgang Thierse.
However, this voluntary parliamentary alliance may not necessarily fulfill
the needs of language minorities, according to Maria Michalk. A contact
committee would have many other tasks than just the protection of
languages, it would deal with the economy, politics and all sorts of
questions affecting national minorities. Also such a committee would be
permanent, says Ms Michalk, the alliance depends on the commitment of the
current members of parliament, she says.
One of the first activities of the alliance will be a parliamentary debate
in Lower German about the expected report of the federal government on the
status of regional and minority languages this spring.
The German initiative is of particular interest in that it may set a
precedent for the establishment of minoritised language intergroups in
other European member-state parliaments. (Eurolang)
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