Supporting lesser used languages in Europe

Protecting European minority languages
Promoting use of lesser known European languages

In addition to the 10 working languages of the EU, there are 41 minority languages -- a mixture of Romance, Germanic, Celtic, Slavic, Albanian, Greek, Turkish, Basque and Finno-Urgic tongues. Nearly 50 million EU citizens -- about one in seven people -- speak a language other than their nation's official one. Some are spoken by only a few hundred people. For example, in addition to Belgium's three official languages (French, Dutch and German), there are five other tongues spoken also: Walloon, Picard, Lorrain and Champenois -- all Romance languages that belong to the 'Oïl' group, a variation of French -- and Luxembourgish (Lëtzebuergesch), which is spoken in the Arlon region. Europe's most obscure languages include Sámegiella (Lapp) in northern Sweden, Occitan in southern France and Fresian (Seeltersk) in Lower Saxony.


In 1981, the European Parliament adopted its first Resolution on the issue of lesser-used languages, or the the Arfe Resolution -- on a Community charter of regional languages and cultures and on a Charter of rights of ethnic minorities. A European Parliament group for minority languages has been meeting regularly since 1983. In 1987, the Kuijpers Resolution dealt with the language and cultures of regional and ethnic minorities in the European Community. In 1992, the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages supplemented and tied together the various ideas which had come to maturity in the course of time, including the Kililea Resolution of 1994 (on the linguistic and cultural minorities in the European Community). Since then, and before, the linguistic communities have worked at State, regional and local levels to obtain full recognition of their right to use their own language. In 1994, the Council of Europe adopted the so-called 'framework convention for the protection of national minorities', which recognizes that linguistic freedom is a fundamental human right.

The Bureau for Lesser Used Languages was founded in 1982. It collects and disseminated information on education, the media and linguistic rights, organizes study visits, maintains a database on cultural activities and publishes a quarterly newsletter and booklets. It aims to help minority communities to feel appreciated on a European, if not a national, level.

Romany or Gypsy is a language is related to the North Indo-Aryan (Indic) languages, spoken on all five continents by Gypsies. The main concentrations of Romany speakers are in Eastern Europe. The Romany language, like Gypsies (Roma) as a minority group, seldom has received any legal recognition. It is likely, based on the evidence of comparative linguistic, that Romany separated from related North Indian languages in about AD 1000. Modern Gypsy dialects all over the world have been classified according to their European originals: Greek, Romanian, Hungarian, Czech, Slovak, German, Polish, Russian, Finnish, Scandinavian, Italian, Serbo-Croatian, Welsh, Spanish, etc. Based on language, it is possible to divide Romany population into three groups. These are the Domari of the Middle East and Eastern Europe (the Dom), the Lomarvren of Central Europe (the Lom), and the Romany of Western Europe (the Rom). There is no universal written Romany language in use by all Roma. However, the codification of a constructed, standardised dialect is currently in progress by members of the Linguistic Commission of the International Romany Union (1999).


Caring about minority languages is a good example of a regional and cultural, rather than a national and political approach to geographical areas. Less centralized countries, like Belgium and Germany, are usually more supportive of minority languages. Citizens of small countries also tend to be more open-minded because they have to speak other languages to communicate internationally. Signatories of the Council of Europe's framework convention include Estonia, Iceland, Slovenia and Liechtenstein.

There is a social argument for safeguarding lesser-know languages: Europe today is a wide space in which you encounter many cultures. How can you appreciate this diversity if you can't even appreciate different cultures within your own state? The whole notion of European citizenship automatically implies respecting such diversity.

Type Classification:
E: Emanations of other strategies