EUROPE-LANGUAGES

Paolo Gambi, Rinascimento poetico

EUROPE-LANGUAGES
BY JANET MCEVOY
BRUSSELS, JAN 22 (REUTER) – FROM LAPP TO ALSATIAN, SORB TO ROMANI, CORNISH TO FRIULAN — ONE IN SEVEN EUROPEAN UNION INHABITANTS SPEAKS ONE OF THE BLOC’S 41 LESSER-USED LANGUAGES.
FIFTY MILLION PEOPLE SPEAK OBSCURE TONGUES. BUT EU RESEARCH SUGGESTS THEIR VOICES MIGHT DIE OUT AS EVEN MAJOR LANGUAGES LIKE FRENCH STRUGGLE IN THE GLOBAL COMPUTERISED VILLAGE OF ENGLISH.
THE EUROPEAN BUREAU FOR LESSER-USED LANGUAGES, A NON-PROFIT MAKING AND NON-PARTISAN ORGANISATION DEDICATED TO SAVING BABEL, PREFERS NOT TO BE SO PESSIMISTIC.
"MOST OF THE LANGUAGES ARE IN A WEAK SITUATION, BUT THERE’S NO INEVITABILITY (TO THEIR EXTINCTION)," SAID CHRISTIAN DEMEURE-VALLEE, A BRETON, WHO LEARNED HIS OWN LANGUAGE AT NIGHT SCHOOL BECAUSE IT WAS DENIED HIM UNDER THE FRENCH SCHOOL SYSTEM.
"A NUMBER OF ELEMENTS ARE CONTRIBUTING TO THE REVITALISATION OF THE LESSER-USED LANGUAGES," SAID DEMEURE-VALLEE, PUBLICITY OFFICER AT THE DUBLIN-BASED BODY’S BRUSSELS INFORMATION CENTRE.
SURROUNDED BY A LIBRARY AND BROCHURES ON THE LIKES OF NORTH FRISIAN AND SATER FRISIAN — GERMANY’S LEAST USED TONGUES — HE ARGUES THAT AS THE UNION MATURES, NATIONAL BOUNDARIES WILL DISSOLVE AND THE EU’S DIVERSE REGIONS WILL FLOURISH.
AS A RESULT PEOPLE WILL REGAIN CONFIDENCE IN THEIR OWN TONGUES AND CULTURES AND WIN BACK THEIR SELF-ESTEEM.
"LANGUAGE HAS BECOME MORE ATTRACTIVE," HE SAID, EXPLAINING PEOPLE WERE TRAVELLING MORE AND COMPANIES SEEING THE ECONOMIC SENSE IN ADAPTING THEIR PRODUCTS AND SERVICES TO LOCAL NEEDS.
EVEN MCDONALDS, THE BYWORD FOR UNIFORMISATION, WAS NOW ADVERTISING IN BASQUE, HE SAID.

LESSER LANGUAGES DEMAND OFFICIAL HELP
LESSER-USED LANGUAGES, THE BUREAU EXPLAINS, CAN MEAN ONE OF SEVERAL THINGS. IN SOME CASES A NATIONAL OFFICIAL LANGUAGE IN ONE COUNTRY, FOR EXAMPLE SWEDISH, CAN BE A MINORITY ONE IN ANOTHER LIKE FINLAND.
IN SOME CASES, SUCH AS BASQUE, THE LANGUAGE SPANS PEOPLE IN TWO DIFFERENT COUNTRIES, WHILE OTHERS LIKE WELSH ARE PARTICULAR TO A PARTICULAR REGION. SOME, LIKE ROMANI AND YIDDISH, ARE SPOKEN EVERYWHERE.
WHAT THEY HAVE IN COMMON IS THEY ARE ALL MARGINALISED AND IN MANY CASES FIGHTING FOR SURVIVAL.
ENCOURAGED BY A COUNCIL OF EUROPE DECISION TO MAKE LINGUISTIC DIVERSITY A FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN RIGHT THE BUREAU IS PRESSING THE EU FOR MORE HELP — FINANCIAL, LEGAL AND MORAL.
AS THE FIFTEEN EU GOVERNMENTS REWORK THE EU TREATY THE BODY IS SEEKING A STRONGER EMPHASIS ON LINGUISTIC AND CULTURAL DIVERSITY AND TRYING TO SECURE A LONG-TERM FUNDING PLAN AFTER FRANCE AND GREECE FORCED A CUT IN ITS GRANT FOR THIS YEAR.
THE BUREAU’S POLYGLOTS FIND IT IRONIC THAT TWO COUNTRIES FIGHTING FOR THE GLOBAL SURVIVAL OF THEIR OWN VERNACULAR ARE THE MOST UNHELPFUL WHEN IT COMES TO MINORITY LANGUAGES.
"THEY FIGHT FOR THE NATIONAL LANGUAGE IN THE WORLD BUT THERE’S A HYPOCRISY. FRANCE DEFENDS OUTSIDE WHAT IT IGNORES AT HOME," SAID BUREAU MANAGER MYRIAM ALKAIN, AN ITALIAN SLOVENE.
FRANCE HAS EIGHT REGIONAL LANGUAGES WHICH ARE STILL SPOKEN IN EVERYDAY LIFE — ALSATIAN, BASQUE, BRETON, CATALAN, CORSICAN, FRANCIQUE MOSELLAN, FLEMISH AND OCCITAN.
THE BUREAU COMPLAINS THAT ITS CORRESPONDENT IN GREECE, WHICH HAS SIX MINORITY LANGUAGES INCLUDING ARVANITE, AROUMANIAN AND SLAV-MACEDONIAN BUT RECOGNISES ONLY TURKISH, WAS QUESTIONED BY POLICE FOR 24 HOURS.
IN BELGIUM, A COUNTRY WHICH LIVES WITH BITTER LINGUISTIC CONFLICT BETWEEN ITS FLEMISH AND FRENCH-SPEAKING COMMUNITIES, THE PICTURE IS DIFFERENT. ALL FIVE MINORITY LANGUAGES — CHAMPENOIS, PICARD, LUXEMBOURGISH, LORRAIN AND WALLOON ARE OFFICIALLY RECOGNISED.

EU BODY FIGHTS FOR LINGUISTIC DIVERSITY
WITH THE CARDS STACKED AGAINST SURVIVAL, WHY BOTHER?
THE ORGANISATION SEES THE EXTINCTION OF SOME OF THE OLDEST AND RICHEST LANGUAGES IN THE WORLD AS DISASTROUS.
"WHAT WE ARE DEVOTED TO IS THE IDEA OF A MULTICULTURAL SOCIETY THAT RESPECTS MINORITIES, WHICH IS THE OPPOSITE OF NATIONALISM WHICH IS MONOLINGUAL," DEMEURE-VALLEE SAID.
"WHERE MINORITY RIGHTS ARE RESPECTED — LIKE THE SOUTH TYROL — THAT CONTRIBUTES TO DEMOCRACY. WHERE THEY ARE STIFLED, AS IN THE FORMER YUGOSLAVIA, THERE ARE PROBLEMS," SAID ALKAIN.
"IT’S ALSO A QUESTION OF KNOWLEDGE AND CULTURE AND A LOSS OF POTENTIAL IN TERMS OF IMAGINATION AND CREATIVITY — EACH LANGUAGE HAS ITS OWN WAY OF THOUGHT," SAID DEMEURE-VALLEE.
BUT WILL THE GLOBAL USE OF ENGLISH ON COMPUTER NETWORKS NOT FORCE MINORITY SPEECH INTO THE DUSTBIN OF HISTORY?
THE BUREAU POINTS TO HTTP://WWW.SMO.UHI.AC.UK/SAOGHAL/MION-CHANAIN — THE WEB SITE IN GAELIC.
DEFYING THE SEEMING INEVITABILITY OF AN ENGLISH-ONLY WORLD OF COMPUTER NETWORKS THE EU’S LESSER-KNOWN LANGUAGES ARE FIGHTING BACK WITH THE SAME TECHNOLOGY — CREATING WEB SITES TO HELP ENSURE THEIR 21ST CENTURY SURVIVAL.

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