In my previous blog I discussed how local languages have been perceived in recent history and their relationship with national politics. With the development of the European Union, however, the political approach tended to bend towards a recognition of the role and the importance of local languages.
Globalisation, making habits and social behaviours more uniform among different societies, has provoked as a reaction a sense of alienation from people’s local identities. Postmodern sociologists and philosophers like Jean Baudrillard and Frederic Jameson assumed that in the era of late-capitalism people would seek in their past scraps of history that could be used as pillars of their cultural identity. These historical traditions, though, are no longer part of their context and create a strange anacronism with the everyday life of the present.
This could be an interesting perspective from which to look at the recovery and rehabilitation of local languages that were going to be lost. On one hand, this recovery presents ambivalent issues. Most of these languages never had a codified grammar, though some of them might have had important literary traditions in the past. Languages are live things, and even the codified ones include differences between different areas or social classes. Codifying a local language can be very tricky as you are certainly going to disappoint someone.
The European Union has 24 official and working languages, which are official languages in the 28 countries of the Union. They are: Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovene, Spanish and Swedish.
Apart from these official languages, the European Union has more than 60 indigenous regional or minority languages, that are regularly spoken by as many as 40 million people. Among these we find: Albanian, Alsatian, Aragonese, Asturian, Basque, Breton, Catalan, Corsican, Frisian, Friulian, Gaelic, Galician, Ladin, Occitan, Romani, Sami, Sorbian, Welsh and Yiddish. The most widely spoken is Catalan, with 7 million speakers in Spain, France and the town of Alghero in Sardinia. Most speakers live in Spanish communities where Catalan is spoken by the majority and has official status alongside Spanish. Many other languages may only be usually spoken within the family.
European treaties define regional or minority languages as “those traditionally used by part of the population in a state, but which are not official state language dialects, migrant languages or artificially created languages”. EU supports local languages with a number of initiatives, and pays a lot of attention to language diversity. As a result, the translation office of the European institutions is the largest employer for translators and interpreters in the world.