Welcome to Linguis Europae, the EUC's language blog!

Linguis Europae is dedicated to a range of topics involving official state, regional, and minority languages in the EU. Posts are written in five languages by UI students and faculty! Check back regularly for updates!

Bridging the Gap: Language and Community in Action in East Central Illinois

Skye Mclean discusses the East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center (ECRIMAC), which provides services essential to refugee and immigrant resettlement in East-Central Illinois and aids in the exchange and preservation of their respective cultures.

Place and Space: Another Perspective on Crimea

Senior Andrey Starosin offers his perspective on the current events taking place in Crimea.

French Professor Revamps Course on "Language and Minorities in Europe"

Linguis Europae's own Zsuzsanna Fagyal and her course "Languages and Minorities in Europe" were featured in a recent issue of the School of Literatures, Cultures, and Linguistics.

Un'Ode al "Dialàtt Bulgnaiś": An Ode to the Bolgnese Dialect

Kaitlyn Russell muses on her fondness for the Italian dialect, Bolognese.

Monday, November 28, 2016

What is in store for Catalonia now that it has officially declared the beginning of its independence process?

By Erin LePoire

Erin LePoire graduated from University of Illinois in Spring 2016, with a degree in Human Development and Family Studies, and Spanish.

The people have spoken, or at least voted, and the regional parliament of Catalonia decided to begin the process of secession from Spain, with hopes of completing it by the year 2017 (Time.com). The likelihood of actually accomplishing secession remains to be seen, but the fact that the process has begun is a big step in and of itself. To look at how Catalonia got here, it is important to review Catalonia’s past.

Catalonia came to be a part of the Frankish Empire in the late 9th and 10th centuries, not becoming a part of the Spanish Empire until the 15th century with the marriage of Isabella and Ferdinand. The war of Spanish secession in the 18th century was a real blow to Catalonian independence, in that the Catalonian state was abolished and Spain became a ‘unified nation’ (cataloniavotes.eu). Fast forward to Franco’s dictatorship in the 1930’s and anything associated with Catalonia was repressed. People were exiled to France, and the Catalonian culture was suppressed. When Spain began to become a democracy again in the 70’s, a reemergence of Catalonian culture occurred. What really spurred this most recent push for independence however was Spain becoming an EU member state, and the 2009 collapse of the economy. With Barcelona being one of the biggest economic powerhouses in Spain, the economic downturn hit the region of Catalonia hard.

So what does this mean for Catalonia now that it has begun unilaterally the secession process? First and foremost, it means a lot of uncertainty. While Barcelona is the economic powerhouse of Spain, the region of Catalonia actually has a lot of debt (BBC). While yes, the debt was caused by the Spanish government taxing the Catalonian region in the first place; the process of secession really only exacerbates the issue. What’s more, is that Catalonia is not in control of its finances, an autonomy that has been granted to the other region in Spain that identifies as culturally different: the Basque Country. Not being financially autonomous means that Catalonia essentially doesn’t have the (recent) experience of financial stability or accountability, a pretty large component what it takes to successfully be an independent country. But stepping away from the economic negatives that successful Catalonian secession would have, what are the positives?

I think the major benefit of an independent Catalonia would be that the vibrant cultural identity of Catalonians would now have now an official and separate matching nation, and not just the constitutionally recognized “nationality”. The cultural aspects of Catalonia are quite different than the majority of Spain. This is most clearly seen in the views on bull fighting. Spaniards in general view it as a part of their culture, which Catalonians view it as cruel and inhumane towards animals (debatingeurope.eu). By beginning the process of secession from Spain, the Catalonian region begins to remove and distinctly distance itself from traditional ‘Spanish’ culture. This distinction of cultures can be beneficial, but can also have the negative effect of cultural monotony, which could lead to a very isolated Catalonia.

Lastly, and arguably the largest, impact that the beginning of the process of secession from Spain has had on Catalonia is the language. While around 11.5 million people in Spain speak Catalan, almost all of them are also fluent in Spanish (debatingeurope.eu). This leads to two possible scenarios, the first of which is that over generations, Catalan becomes the more dominant language. The second scenario is that people within and outside Catalonia need more than just Catalan to work, and so continue to use Spanish in addition to Catalan, leading to no drastic change in the status of the language. This second scenario leads to no real benefit to Catalan from Catalonian independence.

In conclusion, the beginning of the process of secession from Spain leaves many uncertainties for Catalonia. From the economic disadvantages to the Cultural gains and losses, what secession means for Catalonia remains to be seen. But it is still a long, uphill battle before independence is even remotely secured.

Works Cited


Monday, November 14, 2016

Swedish language policy in action: legal rights of migrant languages during the European refugee crisis

Poster for the anti-refugee Swedish Democrat party,
a growing political group (source).
By Sonja Brankovic

Sonja Brankovic is a senior studying mechanical engineering at U of Illinois. She took ITAL 418 this past spring as a part of her International Engineering Minor in Germanic Studies. Sonja says: “This class has been unlike any other in European history and culture in that it has opened my eyes to marginalized perspectives I have never encountered before (even in personal travel and studying abroad). The course gave me a foundation to analyze historical language topics—the evolution of Basque’s codification, the ongoing linguistic de-Russification in the Baltic countries—as well as the ability to assess how the current refugee crisis will have an impact on the European linguistic landscape. This assessment is the main theme of my blog entry, and will hopefully give an idea of why the influx of Middle Eastern languages to Sweden is such a complex issue, and will continue to be so over the next few generations.”

Swedish language policy in action: legal rights of migrant languages during the European refugee crisis

Figure 1: Total number of asylum applications in
2013, 2014, and 2016 [1] (source).
“The most generous country in Europe” has become a common boast about Sweden’s 2015 open-door policy for accepting Syrian and Somali war refugees. After Germany, Sweden is the destination of choice for many asylum-seekers—and as Figure 1 shows, the number of asylum applications is only increasing. But what are Sweden’s refugee policies once the initial welcome is complete? Where do refugees settle, and what are their daily activities? How do their children integrate into the Swedish educational system?

These questions reveal a complex web of answers that can only be found in Swedish policies for refugee settlement, employment, and schooling. After accepting tens of thousands of migrants in 2014 and 2015, the country has been filled nearly to its breaking point. The Swedish Migration Agency has become reliant on available housing in more urban areas and the attitudes of those recipient communities, which has resulted in large clusters of refugees living near larger cities. Södertälje, a town just outside of Stockholm, has a population that is 50% Syrian, Somali, and Afghan refugees [2]. The children living in such areas are being slowly introduced to Swedish schools; what languages will they learn there? Swedish, of course—but what of their mother-tongues and the history and traditions of their families and culture?

There are a few factors that distinguish Sweden’s reception of these war refugees:
  • Sweden is actively trying to provide a permanent home for these refugees, rather than just a temporary residence for the duration of the Syrian Civil War. Assistance is provided to procure housing, find jobs, and send refugee children to Swedish schools. This is a stark contrast to other European countries’ attitudes: Spain, the Netherlands, and now nearby Denmark have tightened border security and are not eager to accept more refugees [3], [4].
  • The populations of Syrian, Somali, and Afghan migrants in Sweden already outnumber the older, now-established migrant populations (many of which still speak their mother-tongue) [5]. This more than anything implies that refugee rights (including language rights) will become a point of educational contention in the future.
  • Sweden has liberal language policies for migrant/refugee tongues; Swedish schools are required to provide mother-tongue language classes if more than five students request the instruction and teaching materials/resources can be found [6]. This policy is much more generous than the ECRML (European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, which Sweden ratified in 2000), which has no provisions for migrant languages or any language that cannot establish historical roots in the country [7].

All of these factors suggest that Swedish government is going above and beyond the minimum duty of EU countries to welcome and settle these refugees (at least linguistically). But these liberal policies are not easily translated into the classrooms—or even into the minds of Swedish natives, who have grown increasingly wary of accepting refugees as readily as they did during 2015, when 1000–3000 asylum application were granted per month [8].

In November 2015, Prime Minister Stefan Löfven announced that Sweden was reversing its open-door policy; after that point, any arriving migrants would no longer receive automatic permanent asylum and the associated benefits. Later in December, the country backtracked even further and announced that Sweden would from then on only accept the EU-negotiated refugee minimum.

These cautious decisions are the product of increasing pressure on Swedish schools and a highly competitive job market, as well as social pressure from growing anti-refugee political parties. The burgeoning group of Swedish Democrats, which boasts 20% popular support by recent polls, has seized on recent sexual assaults and violence at refugee centers as reasons to stem the flow of migrants; a related point is that most refugees do not socialize with native Swedes (as seen in Södertälje) and the welcoming atmosphere perpetuated by the Swedish government belies the fact that most refugees live in their own communities; these communities are now being treated with suspicion and distaste by many Swedes (especially those associated with the SD, who claim that refugees have “muddied” the waters of a homogeneous Sweden) [9].

Moreover, and ignoring all of these social and political forebodings, these language instruction guarantees for refugee/migrant languages are clearly negative rights; while the government’s policies do not prevent refugees from staying connected with their cultures, there are virtually no government-sponsored televised programming in Arabic, and none of the refugee/migrant languages have been given the same formal municipal power as the traditional minority languages (which in the ECRML include rights within the judiciary, local administration, and cultural programming).

Figure 2: Mother-tongue instruction statistics
in Swedish schools [7] (source).
The question out of all of this becomes: will refugees in Sweden, despite its accommodating language policies, be able to take advantage of these opportunities to learn their mother-tongue? (“Do they even want to?”—as Figure 2 shows, migrant language instruction accounts for a large portion of mother-tongue education in Sweden). Is there legal recourse for refugees if they are denied this right? As of now, the answer falls within a murky territory of available school resources and community attitudes toward migrants. Despite the social and political blowback in the last few months, the refugees currently settled in Sweden will acculturate (not necessarily assimilate) to the country’s culture in the upcoming years; they will still retain their own religion and language, and the latter will have to account for a measurable rise in Arabic and Somali instruction in Swedish schools. Now is the time that refugees will have to establish their right to mother-tongue instruction if they hope to preserve (at least through their children) this major bridge to their past lives.

Works Cited

1. "Statistics." Swedish Migration Agency. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2016. <http://www.migrationsverket.se/English/About-the-Migration-Agency/Facts-and-statistics-/Statistics.html.

2. Harress, Christopher. "Syrian And Iraqi Refugees Are Half The Population Of This Swedish City." International Business Times. N.p., 03 July 2014. Web. 28 Mar. 2016. 


3. Pabst, Sabrina. "How EU Countries Handle the Refugee Crisis | Europe | DW.COM | 12.08.2015." DW.COM. N.p., 12 Aug. 2015. Web. 4 Apr. 2016. <http://www.dw.com/en/how-eu-countries-handle-the-refugee-crisis/a-18646316>.

4. "Protection and Asylum in Sweden." Swedish Migration Agency. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Apr. 2016.  1. <http://www.migrationsverket.se/English/Private-individuals/Protection-and-asylum-in-Sweden.html>.

5. "Statistical Database." Statistical Database. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2016. <http://www.statistikdatabasen.scb.se/pxweb/en/ssd/?rxid=f27ec97e-43e0-4a1c-9092-f7a2289ac255>.

6. Segerhammar, Amor, and Ann-Charlotte Karnermo. "Language Policy for Migrant Children in Sweden." Language Policy for Migrant Children in Sweden. Language Center Gothenburg, Sweden, 10 Nov. 2015. Web. 5 Apr. 2016. <http://www.slideshare.net/Rutufoundation/language-policy-for-migrant-children-in-sweden>.

7. "European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages." Treaty Office. The Council of Europe, n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2016. <http://www.coe.int/en/web/conventions/full-list/-/conventions/treaty/148>.

8. Traub, James. "The Death of the Most Generous Nation on Earth." Foreign Policy The Death of the Most Generous Nation on Earth Comments. N.p., 10 Feb. 2016. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.  <http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/02/10/the-death-of-the-most-generous-nation-on-earth-sweden-syria-refugee-europe/>.

9. Crouch, David. "Sweden Slams Shut Its Open-door Policy towards Refugees." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 24 Nov. 2015. Web. 4 Apr. 2016. <http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/24/sweden-asylum-seekers-refugees-policy-reversal>.


Monday, November 7, 2016

When and Why Did Greek Become Irrelevant?

By Constantine L. Davros

Constantine Loucas Davros graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in Spring 2016 with two degrees, one in Physics and the other in Italian. He is a Greek American from Chicago. Constantine studied abroad in Verona, Italy in the spring of 2015, and is back there this year to teach in a high school in Crema. In this essay, Constantine examines the differences in prestige and use of ancient and Modern Greek in today’s Europe, referring to scholarly analyses and also to his own experiences as a Greek American.

When and Why Did Greek Become Irrelevant?

As a young Greek American I often wonder why more people do not learn to speak Greek, as frequently as were the circumstances in days past. The contention could be made that due to its infrequent use, the Greek language has slowly faded into obscurity. How could this be though? At one point in history the Greek civilization was regarded as the zenith of academia, as well as the cultural gold standard. Granted, that point may reside deep within the annals of history, but nonetheless the Greek language’s infrequent use deserves explanation.

Knowing Greek isn’t something to be frowned upon, nor is it useless. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. From personal experience I can corroborate the benefits of having knowledge of the language, but for more concrete evidence it’s important to know that, “over 70% of all English words are derived from Greek and Latin. Knowing Latin and Greek prefixes, roots and suffixes will not only help one remember word definitions but will also make it easier to determine the meaning of a new word” (Ruccolo). However, unlike Latin, Greek is an official language of the European Union, as well as a recognized minority language in other member states such as Hungary, Italy, and Romania. With that in mind, it would seem that knowing Greek would serve as an invaluable tool for Europeans trying to learn English.

Moreover, it has become standard practice for the European Union “to conduct its official business in English, French, and German” with English being the “most widely spoken and used language in the administrative domain” (Kachru & Smith). Thus, the latter two language’s roles in both the financial and political domains are diminishing. Couple that with the fact that one of the main objectives of the EU is that “every European citizen should master two other languages in addition to their mother tongue” (EU Parliament), it would seem that there is a perfect storm to learn Greek as the second secondary language; assuming English would be the first secondary language.

However, statistics show that both in Europe and in the United States, there is no real interest in learning Greek as a foreign language. According to Eurostat, the most studied foreign languages in Europe at the upper secondary level of education are as follows: English 94%, French 23%, Spanish and German 19%, Italian 3%, and Russian 3%. It is clearly visible that there is no space for Greek to fit into the European landscape. In the United States, enrollments in Ancient Greek language classes are on a steep decline. According to the MLA from 2006 to 2009 enrollment dropped by 12.2 % and from 2009 to 2013 enrollment dropped an even further 35.5% (Flaherty).

A graph of the decline in language enrollments for major languages (Source)

A painting by Theodoros Vryzakis of
Bishop Germanos blessing the Greek flag
at the beginning of the Greek Revolution on
March 25, 1821. (source)
Thus, we’re still left with the unanswered question, why isn’t Greek getting learned? The answer isn’t a simple one. We could quickly shift blame back through the centuries to the fall of the Byzantine Empire followed by the capture of Constantinople, by the Ottoman Empire in 1453. Later, Athens fell in 1458, subsequently followed by an occupation that lasted until the Greek War of Independence, which began on March 25, 1821, and which lasted until 1832 ending with the Treaty of Constantinople. However, it would be easy to attribute all blame on the Ottoman occupation. The Greek language has been plagued by a diglossic debate, between Demotic Greek, spoken by the public, and Katharevousa, considered to be pure Greek (Frangoudaki), for centuries. At the same time, the Greek government, throughout its various political regimes, has made multiple miscues when it comes to policy making. Such issues persisted through the 19th century after Independence was achieved, into the 20th century. “Linked to the national ideology, it was a recurrent debate in the history of contemporary Greece, with many steps forward and backward, always interrelated with the political power in government, until 1976 when, after the fall of the junda, popular Greek was voted as the official language” (Dendrinos, 2).

The combination of both external and internal forces seems to have seriously damaged the use and prestige of the Greek language over the centuries. However, under current circumstances it doesn’t seem as though Greek will become the trending language to learn. As David Crystal contends in a video for Macmillan Education ELT, “A language becomes a global language because of the power of the people who speak it. It’s nothing to do with the structure of the language…It’s all to do with power, but power means different things at different times…And then in the 19th century economic power; money talks always” (Macmillan Education ELT). In the 19th century Greece wasn’t an economic powerhouse, and today it is quite the opposite. The Greek Debt Crisis that began in 2010 coincides almost perfectly to the MLA’s reported drops in enrollment. Perhaps a coincidence, but the statistics reflect on the nation as a whole. Nonetheless, the true power and resurgence of the Greek language is inextricably tied to Greece fixing its economy. As we know though, the Greek language is still useful; it just needs to be made relevant once more. Perhaps after the financial crisis in Greece is resolved, efforts can be made to restore the prestige of the Greek language, but only time will tell.

Works Cited

Macmillan Education ELT. “Global English with David Crystal.” YouTube. YouTube, 01 Nov. 2009. Web. 15 May 2016.

Dendrinos, Bessie. “Language Issues And Language Policies In Greece.” (2012): 1-17. Web.

European Parliament


Flaherty, Colleen. “MLA Report Shows Declines in Enrollment in Most Foreign Languages.” Inside Higher Ed. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 May 2016.

Frangoudaki, Anna. “Diglossia And The Present Language Situation In Greece: A Sociological Approach To The Interpretation Of Diglossia And Some Hypotheses On Today’s Linguistic Reality.” Language In Society 21.3 (1992): 365-81. ERIC. Web. 15 May 2016.


Kachru & Smith


Monday, October 31, 2016

Is Sicilian Italian?

Image: Erin O'Malley on Flickr
By Elizabeth Lorentzen

Elizabeth Lorentzen is a senior from Arlington Heights, Illinois, studying Speech and Hearing Sciences. She is also completing a minor in Italian Studies.

With approximately 5 million speakers, the Sicilian language is vigorously used throughout Sicily and its satellite islands (Lewis, 2016). However, there are still numerous people who believe Sicilian is merely a dialect of Italian, not its own distinct language; the Italian parliament has failed to ratify the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, and Sicilian is not recognized by the national law 482 which recognizes and protects 12 languages and dialects spoken in Italy.

Additionally, Sicilian is not standardly used in schools, nor is it commonly written or read by the people who use it in daily life. According to the UNESCO rankings, Sicilian is a vulnerable language, meaning there is limited language use at home by a portion of the population; meanwhile, Italian is the national language of Italy, used in schools, government, business, media, etc. (Moseley, 2010). Sicily’s history consists of many different groups ruling its land, leading to many different languages being brought to the island. With influences from Latin, Arabic, French, Catalan, Spanish, Albanian, Greek, and more, do the people of Sicily speak their own language or simply a dialect of Italian?

Considering that Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, separated from Italy by a body of water, it should not be surprising that this land has developed a unique language. Throughout the years, Sicily was populated by many different groups, most notably the Greeks, the Romans, and the Arab people. During the Greeks’ rule over Sicily, a variety of dialects were spoken on the island. These Greek influences are still largely reflected in present day Sicilian words. Some examples of these language similarities can be seen in the following words: ‘cherry,’ in Sicilian ‘cirasa’ and ‘boy’ in Sicilian is ‘carusu.’ In addition to strong Greek language influences, when the Roman Empire took over Sicily, Latin swept through the land. Latin and Greek influenced each other, creating new vocabulary and grammar rules, but Greek still remained the dominant language in general (Mallette, 2003, p. 155). Eventually, Arab settlers arrive, and so did their language, further mixing with the already existing Greek and Latin. The Arab people played a large role in Sicilian language and cultural development; many Sicilian words related to cooking and agriculture have an Arabic base, for example, ‘zaffarana’ for saffron (Bonner, 2003, p. 33).

The Italian language has greatly influenced the Sicilian language, specifically in recent history. Since Sicilian is not used in schools, it is becoming more common to hear standard Italian on the streets, specifically among younger generations (Cruschina, 2013, p. 25). This is an example of how the 2 languages influence each other, continuous mixed use. Over the years, it seems as though Sicilian will continue being modified due to strong use of Italian in schools, mass media, and young people overall.

Based on its vast differences in syntax, vocabulary, and grammar, Sicilian seems to be its own, unique language, not simply a dialect of Italian. The history behind how the language was formed also makes its case for why Sicilian should be considered a stand-alone language. Although Sicily is a region of Italy, more specifically the fifth most populated and largest in geographic size, there has been a long history of cultural disconnect and lack of nationalism for the Sicilian people; many people who live in Sicily think of themselves first as Sicilians while, their Italian identity takes second rank. There is also a widespread phenomenon in Italy that the Northern Italians view themselves as superior to the Southern Italians. This plays a role in negative attitudes about the Sicilian language, people claim it is a dialect of the superior language, Italian, and that it is spoken by the poor and uneducated. In more recent times, the connection between Sicily and Italy has grown stronger, mainly in the younger generations, due to mass media, improved education systems, business, increased travel, and more; however, the languages still have unique traits that maintain that Sicilian is its own, minority language, not a dialect.


Bonner, J.K. (2003). Principal differences among Sicilian dialects, Part 1. IUANA (4) 29-38.

Cruschina, S. (2013). The expression of evidentiality and epsitemicity: Cases of grammaticalization in Italian and Sicilian. Probus 27 (1) 1-31. De Gruyter Mouton: NY.

Lewis, M. Paul, Gary F Simons, and Charles D Fennig (eds.). 2016. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Nineteenth edition. Dallas, Texas: SIL International. Online version: http://www.ethnologue.com.

Mallette, K. (2003) Translating Sicily. Medieval encounters, (9.1) 140-163.

Moseley, Christopher (ed.). 2010. Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, 3rd edn. Paris, UNESCO Publishing. Online version: http://www.unesco.org/culture /en/endangeredlanguages/atlas


Friday, October 21, 2016

Could sound-change in language contact situations threaten a language? The case of Spanish-Catalan bilingualism

Photo by Jorge Guerrero, courtesy of Yahoo!

Could sound-change in language contact situations threaten a language? The case of Spanish-Catalan bilingualism

By Stephanie Landblom

Stephanie Landblom wrote this blog entry for the course “Language and minorities in Europe” (FRIT 418) in Spring 2016. She is a graduate student in Linguistics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research interests include second language acquisition with a focus on second language phonological acquisition.
Despite the fact that bilingualism and multilingualism is a common phenomenon across the world, it is often mired in controversy. For instance, much has been said about whether being bilingual puts speakers at a cognitive advantage or disadvantage, which is especially relevant to parents trying to raise their children in a global society, immigrant parents, as well as for governments considering linguistic educational policies. Decades ago, it was widely believed that being bilingual only put speakers at a disadvantage. Nowadays, however, research arguing for cognitive advantages have been increasingly popular in the media (eg. The New York Times' article, "The Bilingual Advantage" and Psychology Today's article, "When Does Bilingualism Help or Hurt?").

Cognitive advantages or disadvantages may not be the only issue of importance in deciding when to raise children bilingually or to foster a bilingual society, and it may not even play a role at all. More importantly, identity may play a role, especially when a group feels their cultural and linguistic identity may be threatened by a larger, more dominant ethnic or linguistic group. Sometimes it is not so important that a society is not bilingual, but rather not bilingual in their regional language and the other language perceived as a threat.

We can see this to an extent in Spain. Pau Vidal, a philologist, has published a book entitled El Bilingüisme Mata (Bilingualism Kills). In an interview he gives to infowelat.com, he describes bilingualism as a transitional stage to substitution, specifically believing that Spanish-Catalan bilingualism in Catalonia is paving the way for Spanish to replace Catalan. Also, because all Catalan speakers will speak Spanish, it will be contaminated from contact with Spanish. It is well established that languages in contact tend to change, but how does this happen? One linguistic level on which this can occur is at the level of pronunciation. The knowledge of other languages can influence how you speak a second language, and in some cases can even change your pronunciation of your mother tongue. There has been a lot of interest and research carried out in Spanish-Catalan bilinguals in order to answer some of the questions about bilingualism. We will now take a look at what those studies show, specifically regarding bilinguals’ pronunciation of Catalan.
Photo Courtesy of Amazon

There are vowel contrasts present in Catalan and not in Spanish. For example, the words néta (granddaughter) and neta (clean) in Catalan are differentiated by the pronunciation of the ‘e’, a difficult contrast for Spanish speakers. Researchers have examined how bilinguals can hear, pronounce and process words with this sound. One factor affecting their ability to hear the contrast is language dominance, by which I mean whether the speaker was raised in mainly a Spanish speaking or Catalan speaking environment, despite the fact they may be quite proficient in both languages. There are Spanish-dominant Catalan speakers, who have perhaps grown up in Spanish speaking homes and were exposed to Catalan at a slightly older age than Spanish. Conversely, there are Catalan dominant bilinguals, who speak Spanish at a native or near-native level but were exposed to Catalan at birth. Although these speakers may have similar fluency in Catalan and speak predominantly Catalan at home, Bosch & Ramon-Casas (2011) have shown that there are differences in the two groups. They had participants complete a production task, in which they were asked to record sentences with words with this vowel contrast. Results showed that both groups did produce two different vowels, however, the pronunciation of each group was slightly different. They also found that when producing words, the Spanish-dominant speaker group often produced the wrong vowel for that word. That is, it seemed as though they were unsure which vowel was supposed to occur in specific words, much more so than the Catalan-dominant groups.

This can extend into processes of lexical recognition, or the recognition of words in spoken speech, as well. Pallier, Colomé & Sebastián-Gallés (2001) showed that Spanish-dominant bilinguals, but not Catalan dominant bilinguals processed minimal pairs (words differing in only one sound) in Catalan as homophones when they contain such vowel contrasts as the one discussed above. This means that they did not differentiate between words with these two different vowels, but rather heard them as the same word, or as a homophone.

Such studies do not seem to represent a bleak outlook for bilingualism killing a language, especially if the threatened language is most speakers’ dominant language. If it is not, however, it seems that language change could indeed occur. However, as mentioned before, it is undeniable that language contact can induce language change. Therefore, more studies than these presented would have to be examined. Additionally, other linguistic areas would have to be examined, such as how bilingualism can affect the sentence structure or vocabulary. While it is important to preserve languages, we must be cautious in determining the true threats to the language, and be cautious by carefully measuring the pros and cons of bilingualism.


Dreifus, Claudia. “The Bilingual Advantage.” The New York Times. N.p. 30 May 2011. Web 15 Mar. 2016.

Bosch, Laura, and Marta Ramon-Casas. "Variability in vowel production by bilingual speakers: Can input properties hinder the early stabilization of contrastive categories?." Journal of Phonetics 39.4 (2011): 514-526.

Olson, Kristina R. & Guirgis, Sara. “When does bilingualism help or hurt?” Psychology Today. N.p. 27 April 2014. Web. 15 Mar. 2016.

Pallier, Christophe, Angels Colomé, and Núria Sebastián-Gallés. "The influence of native-language phonology on lexical access: Exemplar-based versus abstract lexical entries." Psychological Science 12.6 (2001): 445-449.

“Pau Vidal: Bilingualism Kills.” Infowelat.com. May 06, 2015. Web. 1 Apr. 2016.


Monday, October 17, 2016

English Usage by Dutch Speakers on Facebook

English Usage by Dutch Speakers on Facebook

By Andrew Van Marm

Andrew Van Marm wrote this blog entry for the course “Language and minorities in Europe” (FR/IT 418) in Spring 2016. He is a senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign majoring in Political Science, and has a special interest in the geographic and linguistic history of the European continent. Minority languages are particularly interesting to his work, as they represent the cultures of Europe that were once widespread.

Among the countries of the European Union, English holds a special place in the Netherlands. According to the European Commission (2012), "at a national level English is the most widely spoken foreign language in 19 out of the 25 [EU] Member States." Out of these 19, the Netherlands has one of the highest proportions of English speakers at 90%. In comparison, the percentage of English speakers in the United States is 94%. (U.S. Census Bureau, 2007) This makes the Netherlands a particularly unique case when it comes to English usage on the Internet. Furthermore, the Netherlands has one of the highest Internet penetration rates in European Union (94%), which accounts for 16 million of their 17 million population. (Internet World Stats, 2014) Of this approximate sum, 9 million are reported to have visited the popular social networking website Facebook. (Azevedo, 2013)

Image Courtesy of comScore MMX
According to the demographic profile presented above, the proportion of Dutch Facebook users is fairly evenly split among different age groups. (Azevedo, 2013) This is relevant, as it is assumed that older users would be less accustomed to using English. However, as no official statistics appear to exist on the subject of language usage by Dutch Facebook users, I shall embark on my own investigation.

Many years ago when I had first created my account on Facebook, I happened to search my last name on Facebook. Unlike other surnames, such as 'Brown' and 'Smith,' the name 'Van Marm' is entirely unique, which means all those with it are at least somewhat related. Although the Van Marm's of the United States are few in number (originating with my great-grand father Cornelius who came over through Ellis Island), a significant number remain in the "old country" of the Netherlands. Surely enough, some of my Dutch relatives happened to turn up on the social media site. Over time, more and more of them created accounts, and though I had yet to speak to a majority of them, I was quick to establish contact.

The very first of the Dutch relatives I had spoken to was Britta, who is a student not much younger than myself. As with the others, she is assumed to be a cousin of some sort. Naturally, she speaks excellent English, as the language was taught and used extensively throughout her education. However, while surveying her Facebook page for the purposes of this blog post, it was observed that a significant majority of her Facebook statuses were in Dutch while a few others were in English. One day was "Sunday funday with the flamingos" while earlier she had "even twee dagen relaxen!" (only two days to relax!) In brief, she appeared to flip between the two languages, using Dutch for longer, more complex statements and English for shorter, casual ones. The comment sections, on the other hand, remain exclusively the domain of Dutch. This is because communication is directed towards specific friends and family. According to Britta, there are a few factors that affect her choice of language:
Actually, for me it depends on the thing I am posting. Since I'm having more and more international friends on Facebook, I post more things in English, but if I write something that is especially for my Dutch friends, I will do it in Dutch. Besides that, the most important thing for me is: in which language can I express with better verbage. Sometimes things sound better in Dutch or English.
In summary, the factors involved are her audience, which contains international, non-Dutch speakers (such as myself), personal social interaction between her friends, and the perceived aesthetic differences between Dutch and English. She further stated that her own age plays a role, as her parents would not be comfortable enough with English to use it extensively on the Internet.

It is especially curious that Britta mentioned age as a factor, as her aunt Helena (who is about twice her age) represents the most prolific English user among my Dutch Facebook family. As a semi-professional photographer with a Facebook page dedicated to her work, Helena uses English in almost every single one of her statuses. When I asked why she used English so extensively, she responded by saying,
That's because I've a lot of foreign friends! And sometimes for me it is easier to say it in English than in Dutch. Although I've been born in The Netherlands I think more in English than I do in Dutch. I know it's weird haha. And because I use Facebook as a platform for my photography I also want to reach a lot of people outside The Netherlands.
Beyond the broad appeal of English that compliments her desire to share her photography with as many individuals as possible, Helena has developed a personal connection to English that has led her to use the language quite often in her day-to-day life. Naturally, this has carried onto the Internet, where Dutch is largely confined to comment sections that are populated by other Dutch speakers.

Photo Courtesy of Helena van Marm Photography on imgur
The exchange between Dutch and English in the Netherlands certainly represents an interesting case of language shift by speakers of a strong, state language. Although English is not the sole language at play, its presence is felt nearly everywhere. This makes sense, as Facebook is primarily an English-language website, having been developed in the United States. For the two Dutch speakers, there were both practical and personal motives behind their language usage on Facebook. Although lingua francas are not said to be born as a result of perceived aesthetic qualities, both Britta and Helena considered English to have special value beyond its mere ability to facilitate wider communication. The vast majority of their friends on Facebook, after all, were Dutch. However, when Helena shared her excitement for the upcoming season of the English-language television series “A Game of Thrones,” it only made sense to express such in English. Considering the wide appreciation for English-language media across the globe, it comes to no surprise that English has become the language of digital culture.


Azevedo, H. (2013, June 19) Who Uses Social Networks in the Netherlands? ComScore. Retrieved from https://www.comscore.com/Insights/Data-Mine/Who-uses-Social-Networks-in-the-Netherlands

U.S. Census Bureau. (2007) Language Use in the United States: 2007. Retrieved from http://www.census.gov/hhes/socdemo/language/data/acs/ACS-12.pdf

European Commission. (2012) Eurobarometer 386. Retrieved from http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/ebs/ebs_386_en.pdf

Top 50 Countries with the Highest Penetration Rates. (2013) Internet World Stats. Retrieved from http://www.internetworldstats.com/top25.htm


Monday, October 10, 2016

Exploring the Erasmus Experience: Participating on exchange may impact intercultural competency

Exploring the Erasmus Experience: Participating on exchange may impact intercultural competency

By Juliane Micoleta

Julianne Micoleta wrote this blog entry for the course “Language and minorities in Europe” (FRIT 418) in Spring 2016 as a rising senior, majoring in Political Science and minoring in Global Studies.

Boasting a budget of 14.7 billion euros and more than four million opportunities to study, train, gain experience, and volunteer abroad, the European Union’s Erasmus Program works towards providing life-changing experiences to thousands of Europeans every year.

First established in 1987 by the EU, the premise of the Erasmus program is to provide students, registered in higher institutions, within the EU foreign exchange options to study abroad, according to the Erasmus program website.

Now, nearly 30 years later and set to last until 2020, the Erasmus program does not have opportunities for just students anymore. Combining seven other programs, it now houses opportunities for a wide variety of individuals and organizations including universities, education and training providers, think tanks, research organizations, and private businesses. The overall goal of the Erasmus program is to contribute to the Europe 2020 strategy for growth, jobs, social equity and inclusion along with meeting the goals outlined of the ET2020, the EU’s strategic framework for education and training, according to the European Commission.

Since its inception, the Erasmus program, especially the higher education component, has grown significantly. With more than 4000 students involved in the program at any one time, it allows the opportunity to build cross-border cooperation between states, aid the growth of international studying, and provide hundreds of mobility options for students to build cross-cultural understanding.

According to some scholars, a possible byproduct of participating on an Erasmus exchange is an increase in intercultural competency, that is the ability to communicate effectively and appropriately with people of other cultures.

Photo Courtesy of Jare Jarvinen
Take, for instance, Jare Jarvinen, a third year Politics and International Relations student at the University of Aberdeen, who spent one year on an Erasmus exchange at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Lille in Lille, France. According to Jarvinen, he was motivated to go on exchange to further his studies on the French language and to learn more about French culture.

“I really enjoyed my Erasmus experience,” Jarvinen said. “It was the best year of my life so far. I learned so much about a different European culture and made life-long friendships with people from all over the continent. I think it also enhances my employability.”

He also agrees that his experience studying in Lille had some positive effect on his intercultural competency.

“I now know much more about other Europeans and I am more aware of what unites and separates us,” Jarvinen said.

Other studies also point out that participating on an Erasmus exchange can possibly help foment a European identity.

Photo Courtesy of Jare Jarvinen
“This experience definitely fostered my European identity,” Jarvinen said. “The whole program is genius as it creates these life-lasting connections between young people and shows us the benefits of working together.”

However, Jarvinen’s experience was not always easy. He was exposed to some cultural differences that he believes are so deeply rooted that will be difficult to overcome any time soon. He also noticed the economic discrepancies in Europe more. Despite this, he did not completely see this as a negative thing and feels that his Erasmus experience generally had a very positive impact on him.

“In a way, I leaned that the European integration process is much longer than I expected and somehow also felt unsure if the differences are too big to really integrate in the near future,” he said. “But it's not necessarily a bad thing. I think that we don't really need a single European culture, but that these cultural differences are what make us special. Like the EU motto goes ‘United in diversity,’ it's definitely true.”


Erasmus Programme. (n.d.). Retrieved April 15, 2016, from http://www.erasmusprogramme.com/

Erasmus - European Commission. (n.d.). Retrieved April 15, 2016, from https://ec.europa.eu/programmes/erasmus-plus/about_en#tab-1-0

European CommissionEurope 2020. (n.d.). Retrieved April 15, 2016, from http://ec.europa.eu/europe2020/index_en.htm

Schartner, A. (2015). The effect of study abroad on intercultural competence: A longitudinal case study of international postgraduate students at a British university. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 37(4), 402-418. doi:10.1080/01434632.2015.1073737

Jacobone, V., & Moro, G. (2014). Evaluating the impact of the Erasmus programme: Skills and European identity. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 40(2), 309-328. doi:10.1080/02602938.2014.909005