Occitania, the southern half of France, is inhabited
by 12-13 million people, of whom an estimated 2 million
are able to hold a brief conversation in their mother
tongue. One of the dialects, Provencal, was a Medieval
language of chivalry, courtly love, and law. Like so
many of France's minority languages, it is now virtually
moribund. Although the elderly often speak Occitan amongst
themselves, they suffer from a sense of shame instilled
at school, when speaking their language was a punishable
offence. This lack of prestige inhibits its revival.
Occitan receives no encouragement, financial or political,
from the state.
Alsace lies on the French side of the Franco-German
border, but during its history has frequently been on
the German side. Alsatian is a German language spoken
by around 75% of Alsatians, mostly in rural areas. Historically,
Alsatian towns were the first to adopt German as an
official language during the Lutheran reforms, and the
first Bible in German was published in Strasbourg, capital
of Alsace, in 1466. Alsatian is not officially recognised
in France, and is referred to in Ministerial documents
as an 'Alsatian dialect whose written form in German.'
The 1951 Deixonne Act permitted teaching of most minority
languages in France, but Alsatian was excluded, and
not given official status in primary schools until 1982.
One problem is that it is the language of a country
long seen as the enemy, and this still impacts on its
status. French now dominates in education, politics
and the media.
Of the 6000 Åland Islands, which link
Sweden and Finland across the Gulf of Bothnia in the
Baltic, only a handful are inhabited. Most of the 25,000
inhabitants live in the capital, Mariehamn. Ålanders
are Finnish, but Swedish-speaking. Finland is officially
bilingual with Finnish and Swedish - and in the far
north trilingual with Sami too - but the Ålands
are monolingually Swedish. Swedish is used in schools,
law, administration, the church and the media. The Ålands
even have a law of domicile which allows people to buy
property there only if they are Finnish citizens who
have lived at least five years on the islands, and can
demonstrate their command of Swedish.
Samiland covers 400,000 square kilometres across
the northernmost tips of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and
the Kola Peninsula of Russia. The Sami, traditionally
nomadic reindeer herders, number 70-101,000 people,
approximately 0.5% of the total national populations.
There are numerous different Sami dialects, but 70%
of Sami speak North Sami. Despite being condemned during
the eighteenth century as 'the Devil's tongue', then
during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries deliberately
assimilated by the majority languages, Sami has now
been formally legitimised as a language of instruction
in schools. However, there is little political and financial
support, and with the decline of nomadism it is difficult
to see how it can be sustained.
Frisian is like Ladin, Basque, Catalan and Sami
in that its speakers are spread across state frontiers,
but there is very little communication between the different
communities. North Frisian (Friisk) is spoken by 10,000
people on the North Sea coast of Schleswig-Holstein
in Germany; East Frisian is spoken by a dwindling 2000
in the Saterland of north west Saxony; West Frisian
(Frysk) is spoke by a healthy 400,000 people in the
northern Netherlands. Emigration of Frisians, mostly
across the Atlantic, and immigration of Germans and
'Hoolanders' have lowered the status of the language.
While national governments have a policy of repressive
tolerance towards Frisian, the provincial Government
of Friesland in the Netherlands does actively promote
the language and culture.
Basque is spoken by around 650,000 people, of
whom 80,000 live on the French side of the border, and
the rest on the Spanish side. Basque is a unique language,
unrelated to any other, either living or dead. Following
repression under Franco, Basque is now co-official with
Spanish within the Basque Autonomous Region in Spain.
Basque can be used in government documents and publications.
By contrast - and predictably - Basque does not enjoy
such rights in the French Basque Country. Only since
1993 have French Basques been permitted to give their
children Basque names.
Flemish is a dialect of Dutch spoken across the norther
half of Belgium. Traditionally Flanders was a
land of workers, while the educated elite spoke French.
Now the roles have reversed as Flanders is experiencing
an economic revival, while Frencophone Wallonia has
succumbed to post-industrial recession and unemployment.
Walloon, a Romance language traditionally spoken in
Wallonia, is rapidly dwindling. There is also a substantial
German minority in Belgium. Since the 1960s Belgium
has seen a process of 'cultural federalism', with each
language region increasingly independent of the other,
with the mother tongue the main language of instruction,
government and media in each region.
Catalan has seen a dramatic renaissance in recent
years. Following Franco's repression, Catalan has bounced
back to such an extent that of the 6 million inhabitants
of Spanish Catalonia, 94% understand Catalan, and 40%
can write it. Most Catalan-speakers use the language
daily, and are served by numerous Catalan newspapers,
periodicals, radio and TV. This is not the case in French
Catalonia, where French dominates.
Corsica, part of France for two hundred years,
has seen a dramatic decline in the use of its native
tongue. A Romance language, Corse is closer to Italian
than French. In 1951 the Deixonne Law legalised the
teaching of France's four minority languages - Basque,
Breton, Catalan and Occitan - but this was not extended
to Corsican until 1974. Today there are 11 bilingual
primary schools, and since 1987 teachers have been encouraged
to teach Corse for one to three hours a week. Nevertheless,
by the mid-1990s only half the population could hold
a conversation in Corse, a loss of 30% since 1977. Only
10% now consider it their first language.
Sardinian, a Romance language close to Italian,
is virtually unrecognised not just in Italy but in Sardinia
itself. With no official support, Sardinain plays a
dwindling role at every level of society. Despite being
the largest linguistic minority in Italy with 1.3 million
speakers, there is no Sardinian media. One problem is
that traditionally Sardinian (or Sard) is associated
with backward, rural life, while italian is the more
socially prestigious language. There is no scholling
in Sard, and though it is officially protected by the
state, the precise nature of that protection has never
Macedonia is a hugely complex region in the
Balkans, traversing northern Greece and the Former Yugoslav
Republic of Macedonia. It once also included most of
Bulgaria, with a mixed population of Slavs, Greeks,
Turks, Jews, Albanians, Vlachs, Poles and Gypsies. Despite
huge exchanges of populations during the first half
of the twentieth century, and early forms of ethnic
cleansing, we still find Slav-speakers on the Greek
side of the border, and Greek-speakers on the Macedonia
side. The Slavo-Macedonians in Greece claim they are
discriminated against. Legally the Slavo-Macedonian
language (very similar to Bulgarian) is not recognised,
and there is no media , although people in and around
Florina in norther Greece can pick up broadcasts from
Skopje. There is no Slavo-macedonian education in greece,
since throughout the 20th century there was seen to
be a need to Hellenise an otherwise culturally disparate
region, and thus create a coherent Greek state. There
have been Slavo-Macedonian demands for the return of
political refugees who went to Yugoslavia or the USSR
after the Greek Civil War, and for rights to preserve
their language and culture, but to little effect.
After the First World War the South Tyrol was
ceded to Italy. Overnight a region that had been Austrian
became Italian. Mussolini pursued a policy of deliberate
Italianisation, leading eventually to discontent and
terrorism. Today jobs, state housing and schooling in
the mother tongue are apportioned to Italian and German-speakers
according to a quota system, which has helped to allay
fears of discrimination.
30,000 Ladin people live in the Italian Dolomites.
Their Romance language, a mix of Latin, Rhaetian, Celtic
and Germanic, struggles to survive. One problem is that
the narrow valleys where it is spoken are cut off from
each other by vast mountain ranges. Although state support
is limited, Ladin is recognised in the South Tyrol as
one of three official languages, alongside Italian and
German. Ladin is also one of the official languages
of Switzerland, where it is known as Rhaeto-Romansch,
and is psoken in Friuli in Italy where it is called
Eastern Ladin or Furlan. The Autonomous Statute for
Bolzano and Trentino (1972) gives Ladin certain status
in Bolzano Province, including proportional representation
in the provincial government, but like the Frisians,
they suffer from being dispersed over a wide area, and
have virtually no media in their mother tongue.
The west coast of Brittany is one of the last hide-outs
of Breton. A Celtic language similar to Welsh
and Cornish, it is spoken in the most Breton parts of
Cornouaille by around one in five of the population.
Some Breton-medium nursery schools are opening, and
folk festivals have helped to revive traditional Breton
music, but like all French minority languages, its future
is not bright. During the 20th century Bretons felt
increasingly ashamed of the peasant associations of
their language, and the upwardly mobile strove to speak
French. Breton's reputation was also tarnished during
World War II by association with Nazi occupiers. However,
this is now being shaken off and young urban activists
have adopted Breton as a cause. A few Breton-language
nursery schools have opened, and the frist Breton language
teacher qualified in 1992.
Wales has around 500,000 Welsh speakers, around
18.6% of the population. Despite being dominated by
English, Welsh media has flourished in the last decade,
thus increasing the language's prestige, which in turn
has encouraged younger speakers. Welsh, a Celtic language,
is one of Europe's oldest literary languages, but conquest
by the English in 1282 made it a stateless language.
Today, Welsh is taught at all educational levels to
varying degrees, and over 500 Welsh language books are
published annually. Generally it is quite dynamic, with
a growing band of enthusiastic supporters.
Gaelic in Scotland Scotland is home to c. 65,000
Gaelic speakers, of whom 40% live in the Western Isles
and Skye and Lochalsh. Gaelic came to Scotland in c.
500AD from Northern Ireland an soon dominated all of
present-day Scotland and northern England, but it theng
retreated until the break-up of the clans, and the outlawing
of highland dress and music after the Jacobite defeat
at Culloden in 1745, and the final blow of the 19th
century highland clearances. Economic pressures have
traditionally seen the migration of Gaelic speakers
to urban lowland Scotland, which continues today, although
there have been valiant efforts to keep the language
alive. By 1994 there were 42 primary schools offering
Gaelic-medium education. Its current legal position
is indeterminate, but much support has been provided
both by the Scottish government, and the EU.