LINGUIST List 14.2344

Fri Sep 5 2003

Review: Sociolinguistics: Extra & Goter (2001)

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  1. petek kurtboke, The Other Languages of Europe

Message 1: The Other Languages of Europe

Date: Thu, 04 Sep 2003 14:43:12 +0000
From: petek kurtboke <>
Subject: The Other Languages of Europe

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

Announced at

Petek Kurtb�ke, 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, which:

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 side.

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


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 RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE FUTURE OF
IMMIGRANT LANGUAGES IN EUROPE. Such a 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
the research community must keep an eye on these terms and make sure
that they do not undergo semantic loss, and gradually turn into

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


Petek Kurtb�ke 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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