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3rd International Symposium on EUROLINGUISTICS

Language Contact and Language Policy before and after the 1992 European Charter

Focus on Multilingual Domains (Administration, Education, Law and Media)


1. Internationales Begegnungszentrum (IBZ),
Universität Mannheim, L 2,2-4
27.-29. Oktober 2001
2. René Schickele Gesellschaft, Strasbourg, Dezember 2001





Réné Schickele Gesellschaft
5 bld de la Victoire
F-67000 Strasbourg
Phone: 33-3-88364830
Fax: 33-3-88363515


Dept. of Finnish
Univ. of Stockholm
S-106 91 Stockholm
Phone: 468162912
Fax: 468158871

Unnoticed by the mainstream of linguistics, a new orientation of language research has established itself the past few years: Eurolinguistics. Focusing on the bilingual or trilingual individual as being crucial for linguistic change and development, three symposia have been held so far in Glienicke, Germany (1997), Pushkin, Russia (1999) and lately Mannheim/Strasbourg (2001). These symposia are initial steps towards a dephilologisation of linguistics by liberating it from narrow national and monolingual perspectives.

The main goal of the three symposia has been to establish a new, Europe-wide, even global view of European languages, and to describe their similarities and convergence not only in the present time but also in the past. Eurolinguistics and Global Eurolinguistics go beyond the scope of national philologies and national interests in dealing with languages in a much wider sense. Eurolinguistics provides a framework for describing the spread of Europe-wide concepts (lexical and semantic) and structures (phonological, morphological, phraseological and syntactic) between and among the European languages, something which monolingual descriptions fail to do. Eurolinguistics in this sense is consequently involved with in-depth studies of the whole historical and social scenario which has given rise to the network of similarities (convergence) and dissimilarities (divergence) in European languages since time immemorial.

Forerunners of such a Europe-wide view can be mentioned, such as the proponents of Indoeuropean studies of the 19th century, of the Sprachbund theory (jazykovoj sojus) in the sense of N. Trubetzkoy (1923), the Euroasian concept (cf. Savickij 1921), and the EUROTYP-Project financed by the European Academy in 1990-1994.

Diverse and incomplete as were these approaches to a Europe-wide view, Eurolinguistics is to be regarded as the beginning of a more complex and more integrated view of the European languages in interaction, by stressing multilingualism and multiculturalism as the inner driving forces for linguistic and cultural change and adaptation in time, space and social dimensions.

The Third International Eurolinguistics Symposium in Mannheim/Strasbourg was organised by Eurolinguistischer Arbeitskreis Mannheim (ELAMA e.V.) and supported by the University of Mannheim and the Ministry of Research of Baden Württemberg. It was attended by 18 speakers from eleven counties: Croatia (3), Italy (2), Alsatia (2), The Netherlands (1), Germany (3), Ireland (2), Scotland (1), Sweden (1), Finland (1), Russia (1) and Lithuania (1). The symposium concluded with a visit to the Council of Europe and the European Parliament in Strasbourg. There the participants could learn about the background and details of the 1992 European Charter of Regional or Minority Languages, which had been focused on in the preceding sessions in Mannheim.

The main topic of the symposium was “Language contact and language policy”, with special focus on the latter in the domains of Administration, Education, Law and Media”. Most papers were given against the background of the 1992 Charter. But attention was also paid to language contact in various minority areas of Europe such as the research situation in Croatia (papers by Prof. V. Muhvic-Dimanovski, Dr. D. Brožovic-Roncevic and Dr. L. Socanac, all from Zagreb, and the historical contact between Scandinavian and Sámi, by Prof. J. Kusmenko, St. Petersburg).

The main concern was, however, the situation of minority languages after the 1992 Charter. Prof. D. Fennell, Dublin/Rome, opened the symposium wit a paper entitled “A new look at the 1992 Charter” . This scrutinised the text, analysing its aims to protect and promote regional or minority languages in Europe, as stated in the Preamble. Nine basic rules and many concrete measures proposed by the Council of Europe have so far been accepted by 27 European states and ratified by 14, without any reservations except by Croatia. Drawing upon his long experience as an activist with the minority situation of Irish in the West of Ireland, Prof. Fennell drew a picture of massive shrinkage of most of the European minority languages, whose protection and survival is the aim of the 1992 Charter. He distinguished between “secure living languages”, those which are not in imminent danger of terminal illness and “precarious living languages”, that is, those which are in this danger. He especially stressed the necessary role of “the collective will” of the minority population to preserve and maintain their language. However, it is the respective states which should act to keep all the defined minority languages alive, which are shrinking (cf. the principle of subsidiarity). Therefore, it is the task of the minority speakers themselves to maintain their languages using powers and finance supplied by the state to do so. However, if their speakers lack the will to use their languages, that is, to stop the minority languages from shrinking, neither the respective state nor the Charter is able to stop the shrinkage. The Charter’s aim is in other words, in many cases, an impossible aim. It is attempting the impossible: “If people don’t want to keep their language alive, they can’t be helped to do so.”

After Prof. Fennell, there was a paper by Dr V. Merolle, Rome, who described his difficulties of founding a multilingual European journal and in making it available to a wider Europe-minded public.

Mainly, however, the Mannheim symposium consisted of papers on the different situations of minority languages in Europe: for example, that of the Ladins in the Sella Mountains of South Tyrol (Dr Th. Rifesser, Bolzano), that of the Germans in South Tyrol (Dr L. Bernard, Strasbourg) and that of the Alemanic speakers in Alsatia (Dr Philipe Elsass). Dr O. Voronkova, Vilnius, discussed the situation the four endangered authochtonous minority languages in the City of Vilnius (Russian, Polish, White Russian and Ukranian), with special reference to the schools. Then the situation of Carelian in Russia and that of Russian in the Ukraine were dealt with by Prof. S. Pugh, St. Andrews, Scotland. Dr Delcheva-Kampf, Mannheim, spoke on Volga-Finnic and Volga-Turkic languages on the Volga-Kama rivers and gave a detailed description of their use in different domains. The present legal status of Irish in the Republic of Ireland was dealt with by Dr J. Kallen, Dublin, and the situation of Standard Dutch in Flanders by Prof. J. van Marle, Amsterdam. Dr Meng, Mannheim, described the social and pedagogical assimilation of Russian-speaking children immigrated to the Mannheim-Heidelberg area after 1990 and Dr P. Wagener, Mannheim, spoke about the present situation of Low German as a minority language in Northern Germany. Finally, the papers on European minority languages concluded with Dr B. Winsa, Stockholm, on Sámi and Meänkiele (a North-Finnish variety spoken in northern Sweden) and Prof. Ch. Laurén, Vasa, Finland, on the immersion method for the teaching of Swedish to Finnish speakers and vice versa in Finland.

P. Sture Ureland