Review of
Extra, Guus and Durk Goter (2001) The Other Languages of Europe,

Rev. by Petek Kurtbke, Ph.D.


All national governments are engaged in language planning and language standardization activities, and the standard language is diffused through the school education and other government agencies. Multilingual contexts, however, present problems for national governments. 'Linguistic diversity' in Europe, which has created a complex picture for centuries, has become a top item on the agenda of the European Union, as the linguistic situation has been complicated further with migration, assisted or forced, changing the linguistic geography of Europe adding to the diglossic conditions already existent in many European countries.

The aim of the volume titled THE LANGUAGES OF EUROPE seems to be the exploration of this complex linguistic situation in Europe, where many individuals are typically bilingual and minority groups face the problem of acquiring proficiency in at least two languages to be able to fully function on the national level. Depending on the demographic concentration of the minority group, the biggest problems to be tackled in the European Union remain on the social and educational levels. If the languages of the minority and the majority are similar, the problem may be surmountable, or the educational policy may accommodate children learning the language of the majority by providing instruction in the children's native language. But, if the languages are dissimilar, or the educational policy discourages the use of the 'non-standard' languages in school, there may be considerable difficulties for the children of the minority. When the school fails to provide bilingual education or support the non-standard language, the language is maintained through the efforts of the family and the community. It is these perspectives that THE LANGUAGES OF EUROPE investigates in line with the stated language policy in Europe, which:

accords special importance to fostering the linguistic and cultural diversity of its member States. Its activities in the field of languages aim to promote PLURILINGUALISM and PLURICULTURALISM among citizens in order to combat intolerance and xenophobia by improving communication and mutual understanding between individuals.

(Source: The Council of Europe website:


The THE LANGUAGES OF EUROPE is a meaty book with a curious layout. All the articles follow quite closely the same plan; and the information presented on each study case centers around DEMOGRAPHIC perspectives, SOCIOLINGUISTIC perspectives and EDUCATION. Almost all the articles discuss the difficulty of obtaining the exact figures in relation to minority languages (e.g. Germany p193), and why this has been the case: 'the census in the Netherlands has never contained a language question' (p 104). The section on the sociolinguistic outlook discusses the media, service providing organisations and language planning activities. Finally, the section on Education discusses the current schooling and bilingual education policies and their implementation in relation to the languages in question. The book is organised into three distinct parts, each with 7 case studies presented. The first part, REGIONAL LANGUAGES IN EUROPE deals basically with two types of linguistic situations, 'local' and 'across-the-border'. The articles that examine the current status of Basque, Welsh, Gaelic and Frisian deal with a local situation in the country of investigation, which has successfully evolved, yet facing perhaps an uncertain future. The articles on Slovenian, Swedish and Finnish deal with across-the-border situations with two neigbouring countries in interaction, with substantial number of speakers on either side.

The second part, IMMIGRANT LANGUAGES IN EUROPE, looks at six industrialised countries in Europe, Sweden, Germany, The Netherlands, Great Britain, France and Spain, with a history of considerable migrant intake (Spain being the most recent). The current status of immigrant languages in each country differs in terms of the demographic information available, sociolinguistic picture and schooling. The main point this group of articles makes is that some of these countries are good examples of fair treatment and the others need to improve their treatment of the immigrant minorities. The odd article out in this part of the book is the diasporic Romani. If the diaspora languages, and here I use the term in its traditional sense limited to Jewish, Armenian, Romani, Black, Chinese, Indian, Irish, Greek, Lebanese, Palestinian, Vietnamese and Korean diasporas* were to have become part of this book, they could have been allocated the space dedicated to the third part, OUTLOOK FROM ABROAD, instead. This part also has seven articles dealing with the minority situations in Canada, USA, South Africa, Australia, India, Turkey and Morocco, although it is difficult to understand why they are thrown together in a book called THE OTHER LANGUAGES OF EUROPE.


3.1 While the detailed introduction by the editors 'Comparative perspectives on regional and immigrant minority languages in multicultural Europe' (pp1-41) explains their reasons for the selection of the articles and the make-up of the book, the inclusion of this final section seems less convincing than the preceding two. If the editors wanted two successful examples of MULTICULTURALISM from abroad for the attention of the European policy makers and funding-bodies, only Canada and Australia could have been highlighted as part of a missing final section RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE FUTURE OF IMMIGRANT LANGUAGES IN EUROPE. Such a section would have been a summary of the common problems faced by all the minority groups regardless of the host country, in Europe and elsewhere. These common problems have all been touched upon in the individual articles (for example contradictory governmental policies toward minority languages), but not put together in an epilogue.

3.2 The status of minority languages and the funding they receive are subject to change in accordance with the economic and political developments in a country, as well as the region it is situated in, and global tendencies (e.g. the shift of emphasis from European to Asian languages in Australia over the past decade). Current influences of importance are listed in the article on the UK as: a) membership to EU, b) global trade, and c) shifting balance between world languages (p 253). This variability in the status of minority languages could have been emphasized more throughout.

3.3 Whether the case studies presented are success stories or not, they all conclude that the greatest responsibility for the advancement of the minority language lies with the minorities themselves (p 155, p212, p252). While projects of all sorts promoting minority languages attract considerable funding, it is difficult to assess the value of their contribution to the betterment of the current situation. The same is true for an editorial project of this size and the seminar (28-30 Janury 2000) that gave birth to it. In terms of readership, a copy on each policy maker's desk wanting to grasp the 'universals' of Minority Linguistics would be ideal, as the case studies presented here can be generalized to many more contexts than the ones presented here. However, a one-off event and one-off publication will not suffice to implement any policy changes and follow-up is a must.

3.4 Before I finish, a word of warning may be in place. Corpus research has shown that frequently used words show a strong tendency to lose their meanings. The rapid increase in the frequency of use of such words and phrases as MULTICULTURALISM, PLURILINGUALISM, LINGUISTIC PLURALISM, LINGUISTIC DIVERSITY and so on, indicates that the research community must keep an eye on these terms and make sure that they do not undergo semantic loss, and gradually turn into functions.

Chaliand, G and J P Rageau 1997 The Penguin Atlas of Diasporas. Penguin Books, NewYork.


Petek Kurtbke comes from Turkey and she has been a migrant twice. Her first destination was Italy, Europe in 1985. She migrated again in 1995, to Australia, where she wrote a Ph.D thesis titled 'A Corpus-Driven Study of Turkish-English Language Contact in Australia' (1998). Recently, she has published a Turkish-Italian/Italian-Turkish dictionary (2003) in Italy (