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Review of  The Other Languages of Europe

Book Title: The Other Languages of Europe
Book Author: Guus Extra Durk Gorter
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Issue Number: 14.2344

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Date: Wed, 03 Sep 2003 05:26:12 +0000
From: petek kurtboke
Subject: The Other Languages of Europe

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

Reviewed by Petek Kurtböke, 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

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
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 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.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER Petek Kurtböke 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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