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Review of  The Languages and Linguistics of Europe

Reviewer: James Costa
Book Title: The Languages and Linguistics of Europe
Book Author: Bernd Kortmann Johan van der Auwera
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
History of Linguistics
Language Family(ies): Indo-European
Issue Number: 23.1163

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EDITORS: Kortmann, Bernd and van der Auwera, Johan
TITLE: The Languages and Linguistics of Europe
SUBTITLE: A Comprehensive Guide
SERIES TITLE: The World of Linguistics (volume 1)
PUBLISHER: De Gruyter Mouton
YEAR: 2011

James Costa, Laboratoire ICAR, Institut français de l’éducation, Ecole Normale
Supérieure de Lyon, France


This volume consists of forty-nine chapters (911 pages) and seeks to provide an
up-to-date overview of linguistic research in Europe. This includes chapters on
descriptive linguistics, sociolinguistics, historical linguistics and the
history of European linguistics. The book is intended for use as a handbook for
advanced students and researchers, and presents not only established research,
but also areas of investigation that are more ‘controversial or
under-researched’, as the editors claim on the back-cover. This volume is
conceived as the first one in a series that will ultimately encompass other
major geographical areas throughout the world.

Given the size of the volume, this review will present sections rather than
individual chapters (especially for the first section on language families), but
will draw on examples taken from several chapters. The first section (I) deals
with the typology of European languages, and includes chapters on Indo-European
languages (e.g. Baltic, Celtic, Germanic, Romance and Slavonic languages as well
as Albanian and Greek) and also on other European linguistic families and
languages (e.g. Turkic, Uralic, Basque, Maltese, Romani). There is also a
chapter on Caucasian languages (that includes languages from several families)
and one on European signed languages. Those chapters are conventional in their
presentations, and include information on phonetics, morphology, and syntax. The
chapters on Baltic and Caucasian languages include sections on perspectives or
suggestions for future research that might be of interest for prospective
doctoral students. Some chapters include maps of the areas where the languages
described are spoken (e.g. Romance and Caucasian languages, Basque).

The second section is concerned with areal typology and language contact. The
areal typology subsection (II.1) comprises chapters on standard average European
(a term first used by Whorf in 1956 but which gained currency after the
‘EUROTYP’ research project in the 1990s established Western Europe as a
‘Sprachbund’, or a coherent linguistic ensemble where contact is ancient and
frequent, and where several typological features are shared as a result), the
Balkan Sprachbund, languages of the Baltic area, and Mediterranean languages.
These chapters bring together linguistic and sociolinguistic elements on
language contact, and also include some elements of reflexion on the very notion
of linguistic areas. According to Andrea Sansò (Chapter 18), for example,
Mediterranean languages cannot be considered a Sprachbund in the same way as
linguistics accepts the existence of a Balkan Sprachbund: “While there are
several contact phenomena at the micro-level, involving only two or three
languages at a time, very few (if any) linguistic traits qualify as truly
Mediterranean while being, at the same time, typologically not commonplace or,
at least, rare or absent in the neighbouring non-Mediterranean languages” (p. 341).

The next subsection on language contact (II.2) has geographically-organised
chapters treating Northern, Eastern, Northeastern, Southwestern, and
Southeastern Europe, and a final chapter on a comparison between minority
language situations in Central and Southern Europe. Language contact in this
subsection is treated from a historical point of view, but the works include
short sections on contemporary processes, such as what Peter Hill (Chapter 22,
‘Language contact in South-Eastern Europe’) calls ‘Anglomania’, i.e., linguistic
pressure from English (pp. 424-5), or what Jan-Ola Östman (Chapter 19, ‘Language
contact in the North of Europe’) terms ‘globalisation’, i.e., “a countermove
against self-colonisation [from English]” (p. 378). This chapter insists that
“...[c]ontact is not a secondary phenomenon. It is too essentialist to think
that L1 and L2 exist, and then come into contact with one another […] Variation,
variability and adaptability are central concepts for understanding contact, and
have always been. Besides, convergence is just one aspect of contact; divergence
as a strategy is just as important” (p. 377). Chapters are thus not only
descriptive, but also provide critical elements of reflexion to understand the
processes they describe. A comparative chapter (Chapter 23, by Walter Breu)
touches upon several instances of contact in Central and Southern Europe, e.g.,
Slavic/Romance, Slavic/Germanic, Albanian/Romance, and presents suggestions for
future research, in particular, regarding structural change in minority dialects
of majority languages compared to contact-induced change in minority languages.

The following subsection (II.3) is concerned with minority languages, and
comprises two descriptive chapters, one on ‘The old minority languages of
Europe’ (Chapter 24) and one on ‘The immigrant minority languages of Europe’
(Chapter 25). In Chapter 24, Stefan Tröster-Munz proposes not a description of
each minority language situation, but rather a typology according to language
vitality. He thus classifies languages as ‘closely related’ or ‘related’ to the
contact languages, and as ‘extinct’, ‘nearly extinct’ or ‘revived’. He also
provides an account of why language groups can become a minority through
historical processes (e.g. Francoprovençal in the Aosta Valley became a minority
language when Italian became the language of the newly formed Italian state [p.
456]). Tröster-Muntz further gives two examples of minority language situations
in Europe, Rhaeto-Romance and Frisian, which have official status in the area
where they are spoken, and have access to the media, but are spoken in
contiguous areas in Switzerland and the Netherlands/Germany, respectively. He
concludes with a section on language politics, insisting that “linguists can
assist language communities in the documentation of their languages, as well as
in the development of didactic material, which is very important for teaching
both young and old non-native speakers in order to preserve the survival of the
languages” (pp. 464-5). Chapter 25 on immigrant minority languages, by Guus
Extra, focuses on the status of immigrant languages and their speakers across
Europe, the role of languages in fostering identity, and the institutional
European discourse on plurilingualism -- in this respect, the author argues that
“the increasing internationalisation of pupil populations in European schools
requires that a language policy be introduced for all school children, in which
the traditional dichotomy between foreign language instruction for indigenous
majority pupils and home language instruction for [immigrant minority] pupils is
put aside” (p. 479).

The final subsection (II.4) of Section II refers to ‘Non-standard varieties’. It
has three chapters dealing with ‘dialect vs. standard’ (Chapter 26, by Peter
Auer), ‘Border effects in European dialect continua’ (Chapter 27, by Curt
Woolhiser) and ‘Non-standard varieties in the areal typology of Europe’ (Chapter
18, by Adriano Murelli and Bernd Kortmann). Auer’s contribution (p. 487)
presents a typology of dialect/standard relations, and subsequently adds a
historical perspective to it. The typology itself consists of five types of
‘dialect/standard’ nexuses, ranging from ‘Type zero’ (‘exoglossic diaglossia’,
i.e., a situation where “the standard variety is imported and not considered by
its users to be a variety which is structurally related to the vernaculars” (p.
487)) to ‘Type D’, i.e., ‘dialect loss’. Each case is further illustrated by a
diagram. The current standard/dialect relation is characterised, according to
Auer, by the following two tendencies: While (standard) languages and nations
tend to coincide more and more, internal national language variability has
greatly increased, in terms of accents, as well as morphological and grammatical
deviations from traditional standard forms. Woolhiser focuses on various issues
relating to processes of dialect convergence and divergence in border areas,
e.g., in terms of phonological change and attitudes. He concludes that, although
officially open, national borders are likely to play an important role
linguistically in Europe for several generations. Borders strikingly bring
together linguistic and sociolinguistic concerns, an appreciation which concords
with Murelli and Kortmann’s conclusion that “dialects and non-standard
varieties, in general, should be given systematic coverage in language typology,
[…] and dialects and non-standard varieties must be given systematic coverage in
areal typology […]” (p. 541), in order to shed light on areas of small-scale
linguistic convergence.

The third section of the book (III) deals with language politics and language
policies in Europe. Its eight chapters cover areas such as minority language
planning (Chapter 29, by Jeroen Darquennes), with an example at the
Germanic-Romance border in the area between Belgium, France and Luxembourg
(Chapter 30, Peter Gilles); language and religion (Chapter 35, John Myhill) or
language and education (Chapter 36, Joachim Grzega); the role of English in
Europe (Chapter 32, Juliane House and Chapter 33, Päivi Pahta and Irma
Taavitsainen); multilingual states in Europe and the European Union (Chapter 34,
Ruth Wodak and Michał Krzyżanowski); and feminist language politics in Europe
(Chapter 31, Antje Lann Hornscheidt). This last chapter provides a fairly
unusual angle for language policy in general handbooks. Hornscheidt challenges
the view that feminist language politics in contemporary Europe is a monolithic
block, and insists that several types of politics regarding issues of gender aim
at making different voices heard and seek to challenge naturalisations.

The next section (IV) presents European languages from a historical perspective,
from prehistory (Chapter 37, Robert Mailhammer), a period rarely considered in
volumes aimed at a large audience, to the constitution of Nation-states and the
invention of ethno-linguistic nationalism in the 18th century (Chapter 44, Sue
Wright). This section also includes chapters on the impact of historical
migrations on the following: The linguistic landscape of Europe (Chapter 38,
Paolo Ramat) from the arrival of Indo-European-speaking populations to large
migration movements in the middle ages; the Renaissance period (Chapter 39,
Heidi Aschenberg), where we see an important section on the role of translation
in the humanist programme of Renaissance Europe, which led to “the consolidation
of the vernacular languages in many speech communities” (p. 701); multilingual
empires and states in Central Europe (Chapter 40, Jan Fellerer) and Eastern
Europe, including the Ottoman Empire (Chapter 41, Lars Johanson -- this chapter
deals more specifically with the linguistic consequences of the progressive
demise of the Ottoman Empire and the birth of modern Turkey), the Russian Empire
(Chapter 42, Dieter Stern), and Yugoslavia (Chapter 43, Christian Voß).

The final section (VI) treats issues connected with research traditions in
Europe, centering on formal linguistics rather than sociolinguistics. The first
two chapters deal with the period from Ancient Greece to the 18th century
(Chapter 45, Nicola McLelland, including a brief summary of controversies about
the origin of language and languages), and the 19th century (Chapter 46, Pierre
Swiggers). The final chapters of the book are concerned with theoretical
currents such as structuralism (Chapter 47, Jörn Albrecht), functionalism
(Chapter 48, Rosanna Sornicola) or generative grammar (Chapter 49, Martin
Everaert and Eric Reuland). Chapters 46 and 57 emphasise the role of historical
linguistics and philology in the constitution of modern linguistics, but all
five chapters remain very descriptive, contextualising major schools of thought
(e.g. in Chapter 47, the Prague, Geneva, Copenhagen, Russian, London schools)
and theoretical issues (e.g. debates between American and European structuralism
(Chapter 47, p. 839)). Important concepts are also outlined and briefly defined,
e.g., Albrecht, in Chapter 47, defines ‘synchronie’ and ‘diachronie’, ‘langue’
and ‘parole’, ‘signifiant’ and ‘signifié’, etc. All chapters conclude with the
idea that it is extremely difficult to define different schools and theoretic
strands such as functionalism as separate from one another, or as easily
identifiable, since all schools are intertwined with each other. As Sornicola
puts it for functionalism, “the history of functionalism is the history of
individuals, no less than of cultural and ideological contexts” (p. 847), which
is a phrase that is also valid for all of European linguistics. This is
particularly obvious from Everaert and Reuland’s article on generative grammar
in Eastern and Western Europe; more than a European brand of generative grammar,
there are “generative grammarians in Europe” (p. 881).

The book ends with three thorough indices: languages and language varieties,
names and subjects, and each article ends with a thorough bibliography on the
topic the article is concerned with.


Overall this hefty volume offers exactly what it claims to; a wide panorama of
European linguistics, presented by experts in their fields, with a clear
emphasis on formal linguistics, yet with some occasional sociolinguistic
concerns. It is clearly an invaluable resource for students or scholars needing
essential information on a specific topic they are not well acquainted with, and
with relevant bibliographic elements to go further if needed. The historical
dimension is essential throughout the volume, and ensures the global coherence
of the book. Essential bibliographic details are also a precious asset for
students who might wish to enter a subject or field through any of the
contributions in this volume. This is undoubtedly an excellent and essential
book which should be featured in any library that offers a linguistics section.
Despite its size, it remains easy to work with and consult, with the indices
being of particular use. At the end of each chapter, the editors also refer
readers to other relevant chapters in the book, thus enhancing its general
coherence and helpfulness. Of particular personal interest was the analysis of
the relation between standard and dialect, by Peter Auer (Chapter 26), for its
bringing together dialectological and sociolinguistic concerns. The increased
tolerance regarding some forms of internal variability within standard languages
(in particular regional dialects) raises several questions as to the evolution
of the role of language within the framework of contemporary Nation-states, and
would require further research.

No review would, however, be complete without some level of criticism, and as
any other volume, this book does raise some issues which I shall mention now.
The way linguistics is understood and conceptualised in this volume is clearly
oriented towards formal and historical linguistics. While this is of course
perfectly acceptable, it fails to consider entire currents of linguistic thought
that have been particularly influential in European linguistics, in particular,
in its final (historical) section. I am thinking particularly of
sociolinguistics, discourse analysis or conversation analysis (although to be
fair, the chapters on language policy do shed a slightly different point of view
on linguistic issues and include some sociolinguistic or sociological aspects).
Yet, from a historical point of view, sociolinguistics emerged under various
names (in particular as ‘sociology of language’) in different parts of Europe
throughout the 20th century, and scholars such as Marcel Cohen are totally
absent from the book. Other scholars such as Lluís Aracil in Catalonia and
Robert Lafont in Languedoc, who are important figures in the development of
European sociolinguistics, are also notably absent from the book. While some may
argue that sociolinguistics is closer to sociology than to formal linguistics,
one might also point to the fact that their dismissal leads the book to ignore
such linguistic trends as (critical) discourse analysis, as practiced in
Britain, and praxematics, developed in Montpellier by Robert Lafont in the 1970s
and 1980s (see for instance, Lafont 1978). While Ruth Wodak (one of the main
figures of Critical Discourse Analysis [CDA]) co-authors a chapter (Chapter 34),
there is no specific chapter on discourse analysis and its history in Europe.
Those are important developments in European linguistics, yet they are
conspicuously absent from this book. Their absence leads to an implied general
definition or characterisation of linguistics that is ultimately very
restrictive, limited to formal and systemic linguistics. This approach may
partly be the result of the choice of contributors, who overwhelmingly come from
Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. A larger choice of contributors from other
areas would certainly have resulted in a fairly different perspective. This,
however, only means that there is room for other general volumes on European
linguistics with different perspectives.


Cohen, Marcel 1971 [1956]. Matériaux pour une sociologie du langage, vol. 1 & 2,
Paris: FM/Petite Collection Maspero.

Lafont, Robert 1978. Praxématique et sociolinguistique. Lengas, 3, pp.77-85.

James Costa is currently a researcher at the Institut français de l’éducation, a department of the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon, and works within the ICAR laboratory. He defended his thesis on language revitalisation in Provence and Scotland from a critical perspective in 2010, and is currently looking at the tendencies within the Occitan revitalisation movement in late modernity, in particular, in terms of how language is framed to construct new categories of belonging and autochthony.