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, September 19, 2016

Population exchange and the historical moment of migrant languages in Lesbos, Greece

By Jessica Nicholas

Jessica Nicholas is a PhD Candidate in the Department of French and Italian. Specializing in French Linguistics with a concentration in Romance Linguistics, she has a particular interest in language ideologies, variation, and education.

Map highlighting Lesbos

In the past few years, the Greek island of Lesbos has been featured in the international news as a frequent first stop on the path to Europe for refugees fleeing war in the Middle East and North Africa. Lesbos (also spelled Lesvos) is an island in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, only six miles from the Turkish mainland. Now a part of Greece, Lesbos has been continuously inhabited for thousands of years, with ruins dating from as long ago as 3200 BCE. Due to its location, it changed hands many times between kingdoms and empires of the Mediterranean, most recently the Ottoman Empire and finally Greece (Mavridis, 2016). This means that the island was routinely multilingual and religiously diverse, at least until the 1920’s and the later language reforms of the 1970’s. Once again, Lesbos is now a center of population movement for people speaking different languages and practicing different religions.

Lesbos has become a symbol of the refugee crisis in Europe, labeled “An Island of Refugees” and receiving a visit by Pope Francis (Miglierini, 2016; Niarchos, 2015). The current population of Lesbos is a little more than 90,000 people, while it has already hosted over 90,000 refugees arriving by sea in the first half of 2016 alone (Amin, 2016; Mavridis, 2016; UNHCR, 2016). Residents of the island were even nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize because of their efforts to rescue and care for refugees arriving on their shores, even when doing so was forbidden by law (Amin, 2016; Kingsley, 2015). Although the linguistic element is not discussed in the popular press, the refugee crisis necessarily forces languages, religions, and cultures into contact with one another.

A monastery in Lesbos

In March of 2016, the European Union signed an agreement with Turkey wherein Turkey would take back asylum seekers who arrived in Greece. For each Syrian refugee deported to Turkey, the EU promised to welcome a Syrian refugee from a camp in Turkey (Kingsley, 2016). A very controversial plan, since these deportations from Lesbos began in April, the new procedure has not always been adequately communicated to the people would who be affected by it (Ap, Tuysuz, McLaughlin, & Hume, 2016; Kingsley & Smith, 2016). Confusion and frustration about the deal have led to unrest that has at times become violent (Alkousaa et al., 2016; Smith & Kingsley, 2016). One reason for this lack of communication is a lack of staff and funding, while another consideration is that the migrants and the locals of Lesbos do not necessarily speak the same languages. Many Syrian refugees are highly educated and multilingual, but Syrians are most likely to speak Arabic as a mother tongue, while Greeks (including those who live in Lesbos) are most likely to speak Greek (Alkousaa et al., 2016). Therefore, volunteers and aid workers have to contend with a potential language barrier while addressing the complicated legal and human rights situation.

This current population exchange between Greece and Turkey occurs in an odd parallel with another population exchange between the two countries nearly a century ago. At the beginning of the 20th century, approximately half the population of Lesbos was Muslim. Most of these residents spoke Turkish, and there was even a village on the island that was monolingual in Turkish. In what is now Greece, Turkish was the most common language associated with the day-to-day tasks of Muslims (Popovic, 1986). Classical Arabic, of course, was the language of religious practice.

In 1923, following the Greco-Turkish War, the new government of Turkey signed an agreement with Greece in Lausanne, Switzerland, which required that Orthodox Christians be deported from Turkey to Greece, while Muslims would be deported from Greece to Turkey (Popovic, 1986). This strategy did not take into account the cultural or linguistic backgrounds of the people affected by moving to a new country, as religious affiliation was seen to be the most important identity (Cooper, 2006). Although it is uncertain how many people from Lesbos were involved in the compulsory population exchange of 1923, an estimated 60% of the current population of the island are descendants of the Greek Orthodox Christians who were deported from Turkey during that time (Amin, 2016; Popovic, 1986). In a distressing repetition of the religious tensions of the 1920s, untrue rumors have circulated on social media that Muslim refugees vandalized Christian churches (Kingsley, 2015).

Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew pictured in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. These religious leaders, along with the Prime Minister of Greece, met in Lesbos to discuss the refugee crisis. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Although both the Greek and Turkish languages are protected in other Council of Europe member states under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, Greece has not signed the Charter (Council of Europe, 2015). Therefore, the government is not required to support speakers of other languages apart from Greek, including heritage speakers of Turkish or Arabic with ancestral ties to the land. Twice in one century, half of the people in Lesbos have been Muslims who spoke another language, and twice in one century, they have been sent to Turkey.


Alkousaa, R., Christides, G., Müller, A.-K., Müller, P., Popp, M., Schult, C., & Wiedmann-Schmidt, W. (2016, May 26). “Disaster in the Making”: The Many Failures of the EU-Turkey Refugee Deal. (C. Sultan, Trans.), Der Speigel Online. Retrieved from http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/the-refugee-deal-between-the-eu-and-turkey-is-failing-a-1094339.html

Amin, L. (2016, March 24). Lesbos: a Greek island in limbo over tourism, refugees- and its future. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2016/mar/24/lesbos-greek-island-in-limbo-tourism-refugee-crisis-future

Ap, T., Tuysuz, G., McLaughlin, E., & Hume, T. (2016, April 4). Greece sends first migrants back to Turkey under new EU deal. CNN. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2016/04/04/europe/eu-turkey-refugee-deal/

Cooper, B. (2006, September 17). Trading Places. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/17/books/review/Cooper.t.html?_r=2&

Council of Europe. (2015, May 1). Languages covered by the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. Retrieved from http://www.coe.int/t/dg4/education/minlang/AboutCharter/LanguagesCovered.pdf

Kingsley, P. (2015, July 9). Greek island refugee crisis: local people and tourists rally round migrants. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/08/greek-island-refugee-crisis-local-people-and-tourists-rally-round-migrants

Kingsley, P. (2016, March 18). Refugee crisis: What does the EU’s deal with Turkey mean? The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/mar/18/eu-deal-turkey-migrants-refugees-q-and-a

Kingsley, P., & Smith, H. (2016, April 4). First boats returning migrants and refugees from Greece arrive in Turkey. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/apr/04/first-moves-to-deport-refugees-from-greece-to-turkey-underway

Mavridis, I. E. (2016). History and Culture of Lesvos (Lesbos) island, Greece. GREEKNET.com: Lesvos Island Travel Portal. Retrieved from http://www.greeknet.com/history1.htm

Miglierini, J. (2016, April 16). Why is Pope Francis going to Lesbos? BBC News. Rome. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36053880

Niarchos, N. (2015, September 16). An Island of Refugees. The New Yorker. Retrieved from http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/an-island-of-refugees

Popovic, A. (1986). L’Islam Balkanique: Les musulmans du sud-est européen dans la période post-ottomane.

Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz. Smith, H., & Kingsley, P. (2016, April 8). Greece resumes migrant deportations to Turkey. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/apr/08/second-ferry-leaves-lesbos-for-turkey-eu-migrant-deal

UNHCR. (2016, May 28). Refugees/Migrants Emergency Response- Mediterranean. Retrieved from http://data.unhcr.org/mediterranean/country.php?id=83

Monday, June 13, 2016

Effective Educational Evolution: Spain’s Application of Article 8 of the ECRML

by Cathy Swanson

Cathy Swanson is a Masters student in Accounting with a Minor in Spanish. She is planning on working full-time at Ernst & Young’s Financial Services in Chicago and is interested in traveling in the near future. She wrote this text as a student enrolled in 418 ‘Language and Minorities in Europe’ in the spring of 2015.

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It is impossible to summarize the progress made by Catalan, one of the regional minority languages of Spain, in the areas of culture, officialdom, and formal uses (Pons and Vila 2005). In fact, in many respects, Catalan might no longer considered a minority language in Catalonia and the Balearic Islands, as it has become the predominant language of education from kindergarten to university and the local government in the autonomous region of Catalonia (Vila i Moreno 2008). The criteria used by the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages to define regional or minority languages include historicity, territoriality, linguistic difference, and numerical inferiority in a State, but the wording also suggests that effective minority status “justifying the adoption of the various protective and promotional measures” also plays a role. In the case of Catalan, it can be argued that thanks to thoughtful acquisition planning and the 1978 Constitution that designated Castilian and Catalan co-official languages of Spain, Catalan might be considered less of a minority language today than three decades ago.

This progress is due in large part to the implementation of the Charter.

Regional/Minority Languages of Spain & Portugal [Image Source]
So what is this document, exactly? The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (ECRML) is a European treaty adopted in 1992 by the Council of Europe. Its primary objective is to protect and promote historical regional and minority languages in Europe. Spain, a country hosting a variety of minority languages such as Aragonese, Basque, Catalan, Valencian, and Galician, to name a few, ratified the Charter on April 1, 2001. Following the ratification, Spain issued a series of periodic reports documenting its progress in support of the Charter. The Committee of Experts acts as a monitoring mechanism to evaluate each State’s application of the Charter by publishing periodic evaluation reports. The Committee is comprised of one member from each State Party with an emphasis on independence.

Spain submitted its periodic reports in 2002, 2007, 2010, and 2014 in accordance with the Committee of Experts’ 1st – 4th monitoring cycles, respectively. In response, the Committee of Experts published its evaluation reports in 2005, 2008, and 2011 (the 4th cycle evaluation report has not yet been adopted). Within these reports, the Committee of Experts evaluated Spain’s fulfillment of specific criteria of the Charter, focusing on each regional or minority language spoken in Spain. Part III of the Charter discusses measures to promote the use of regional or minority languages in public life, with Article 8 specifically focusing on education.

Committee of Experts [Image Source]
According to the longitudinal evaluations of the Committee of Experts, Spain has shown continued progress in applying Part III Article 8 of the Charter. In the 2005 evaluation report, the Committee of Experts concludes that Spain has effectively fulfilled its undertakings; however, “not all the aspects of the educational system in use in Catalonia are entirely clear, especially as far as pre-school education is concerned” (Committee of Experts evaluation report 2005). Despite this lack of clarity, the Committee of Experts applauds Spain in its “impressive reversal” of the trend following Francisco Franco’s thirty-year dictatorship. Subsequent to this period of maximum submission for the Catalan language, Catalan has become the default language in the educational system in its territory and the language of instruction for the larger part of the last generation of young people who have been educated in Catalonia (Committee of Experts evaluation report 2005).

Aules d’acollida [Image Source]
The Committee of Expert’s 2008 evaluation report discusses Spain’s progress during the 2nd monitoring cycle. According to the report, Spain provides additional clarity by describing the bilingual or “linguistic conjunction” system, and the Committee of Experts understands that this is the system prevailing at all levels of education, including pre-school (Committee of Experts evaluation report 2008). Spain has described “linguistic conjunction” as an educational system that ensures teaching of the language, provides children with basic opportunities for socializing in Catalan and facilitates the integration of pupils outside Catalonia (2007 Spain Periodic Report). This model has proved to be critical for Catalan teaching and the social integration of increasing numbers of foreign pupils. The new transformation of the educational system includes aules d’acollida (welcoming classes) and plans d’entorn (environmental plans) that integrate immigrant children in their local environment and raise awareness in the community of the need to help newcomers to learn the local language (Vila i Moreno 2008).

Overall, Spain is making tremendous strides in applying Article 8 of the Charter within its borders, especially in the autonomous region of Catalonia. The application of the Charter across Europe will inevitably continue to evolve over time. That being said, it is the responsibility of Spain, as well as the other ratifying countries, to monitor and evaluate the programs and legislation currently in place in order to ensure the continuous promotion of protection of their regional or minority languages.


http://www.coe.int/t/dg4/education/minlang/Report/default_en.asp#SpainSpain’s Periodic Reports & Committee of Experts’ Evaluation Reports

Pons, Eva and F. Xavier Vila i Moreno. 2005. Informe Sobre la Situaci6 de la Llengua Catalana (2003-2004). Barcelona: Observatori de la Llengua. http://www.observatoridelallengua.org/arxius_documents/informe6_ ok.pdf

Vila i Moreno, F. Xavier. 2008. “Catalan in Spain.” in Multilingual Europe: Facts and Policies edited by G. Extra and D. Gorter. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, p. 157-183.


Monday, June 6, 2016

Fest-noz and Breton: Why Dance to Preserve the Language?

by Alexis March

Alexis March is a Junior in French and Anthropology. After graduation, Alexis is planning on continuing her graduate education in French and International Law. She wrote this blog post as a student in 418 ‘Language and Minorities in Europe’ in the spring of 2015.

At first glance, it may not seem that traditional Breton dance has much to do with Breton language revitalization. After all, how can dancing possibly help a moribund language? For starters, understanding Breton as a “range of social practices” and as an activity reveals the potential of community centered language initiatives, such as traditional dances, in language revitalization (Le Nevez).

Fest-noz serves an important function in the transmission of Breton culture and language. It is “a festive gathering based on the collective practice of traditional Breton dances, accompanied by singing or instrumental music” (UNESCO). Regional dance, music, language, and gastronomy all play a part in making fest-noz important for cultural and linguistic revitalization. Fest-noz gatherings are held across Bretagne and bring people of all ages and backgrounds together. At these gatherings, you are likely to see children, teenagers, parents, and grandparents all dancing together in dances such as the petits doigts (pictured just below), in which dancers intertwine little fingers and form a large circle (Dołowy-Rybińska). Many dances date back to Breton rural traditions during the Middle Ages, but today’s fest-noz is a relatively modern tradition that traces its origins to the mid-twentieth century. Music at fest-noz is traditionally Celtic and draws on the rich tradition of Irish Gaelic music. One is also sure to find crêpes and a plentiful supply of cidre Breton. Communes, cities, and villages across Bretagne have local cultural associations that organize fest-noz. According to Brittany’s official tourism website, “around a thousand fest-noz are organized in Brittany every year.” That means there is an average of two to three fest-noz gatherings in Brittany every day!

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These regular gatherings emphasize the cultural aspect of the Breton language that is not necessarily transmitted to students in Diwan schools. These bilingual schools in which children learn Breton alongside French have been instrumental to reviving the language. Diwan schools have introduced Breton to the educational setting in order to combat the reality that parents and grandparents aren’t passing the language down at home. This has been important for increasing the number of Breton speakers. However, the Breton taught in schools is a standardized written version of a primarily spoken language with significant variation and regional diversity. The standard Breton of the Diwan schools is not a variety that has been traditionally spoken in family and community contexts. The dissonance between traditionally spoken Breton and the new standard Breton has created anxieties about where the language is headed. Cultural initiatives like fest-noz promote community among Bretons, which can help stem anxieties about the future of the language and connect younger speakers to an older generation of speakers who can expose them to the richness and diversity of the language.

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When Diwan schools were founded in the 1970s, fest-noz became a way to raise money for these schools that were not supported or subsidized by the French government (Dołowy-Rybińska). Fest-noz serves the dual purpose of promoting the Breton language and culture by creating a community of practice and financially contributing to the language revitalization efforts of Diwan schools. These gatherings provide an opportunity for a generation of adults who did not grow up speaking Breton to reconnect with their identity. Attitudes about minority languages are crucial to revitalization efforts. The creation of cultural identity among Bretons who do not speak the language is important in the formation of positive attitudes about Breton. This can precipitate a desire to see the language kept alive and spoken by future generations. Breton’s Celtic counterpart across the channel, Welsh, has benefited from an increased perception of the language’s status. Hopefully, the popularity of fest-noz among Bretons of all generations will increase the perceived status of the language.

In 2012, fest-noz was added to UNESCO’s “Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.” Breton language revitalization comprises one part, and at that a significant one, in the overall revitalization of Breton culture and regional identity. Unlike Corsica, Bretagne has relatively little regional autonomy. Breton music and dance have become ways to assert a cultural identity that is not French. Many Bretons proudly identify themselves as Breton before French. Thus, a broad promotion of forms of Breton identity is central to language revitalization efforts.


Brittany Tourism: http://www.brittanytourism.com/things-to-do/events/latest-news-and-events/brittany-s-fest-noz-officially-designated-part-of-humanity-s-cultural-heritage

Dołowy-Rybińska,  Nicole. “The Fest-noz: A Way to Live Breton Culture.” www.academia.edu/5776836/The_Fest-noz_A_Way_to_Live_Breton_Culture

“Fest-Noz, festive gathering based on the collective practice of traditional dances of Brittany.” http://www.unesco.org/culture/ich/RL/00707

Le Nevez, Adam. “The social practice of Breton: an epistemological challenge.”International Journal Of The Sociology Of Language, 2013(223), 87-102. doi:10.1515/ijsl-2013-0046


Monday, May 30, 2016

Les écoles Gaelscoileanna et leur rôle particulier dans la revitalisation de la langue irlandaise

by Soffia H. Kuehner Gray

Soffia H. Kuehner Gray is a junior in Communication and French Studies at the University of Illinois. She is planning on attending law school and completing a Master’s degree in Communication. She wrote this blog text while enrolled in 418 ‘Language and Minorities in Europe’ in the spring of 2015.

La rivière Chicago est teinte verte pour la Saint Patrick [Image Source]

Si on marche dans la rue dans une ville aux États-Unis dans le mois de mars, il se peut qu’on voie un étalage de trèfles, de lutins et de pots d’or. Tous ces bibelots sont affichés pour la Saint Patrick. Centaines de milliers de personnes vont aux défilés comme le Défilé des Irlandais dans le sud de Chicago pour honorer leur héritage irlandais. En fait, n’importe quand dans l’année, on peut acheter les anneaux de Claddagh, les pulls d’Aran et du thé irlandais. Alors que les bibelots et les festivals qui font partie de la culture irlandaise gagnent en popularité, la langue irlandaise baisse en popularité.

% de personnes qui parlent l’irlandais dans leur vie quotidienne  [Wikimedia Commons]
Auparavant, beaucoup de gens parlaient l’Irlandais. Cependant, UNESCO a dénoté la langue irlandaise comme «  certainement en voie de disparation. » Par conséquent, la langue irlandaise n’est plus apprise comme langue maternelle dans la maison irlandaise (Moseley). L’Irlandais en tant que langue maternelle est pour les résidents de l’Irlande du Nord, mais on apprend l’Irlandais comme deuxième langue partout en Irlande et en Irlande du Nord (Moseley). En fait, l’usage de la langue irlandaise est principalement confiné à la Gaeltacht– les régions d’Irlande où au moins 75 % de la population parle irlandais. Ses frontières sont constamment réévaluées toutes les sept années (Comisiún Na Gaeltachta 10).

Pour revitaliser la langue irlandaise, on a établi des écoles d’immersion linguistique, ou Gaelscoileanna, partout dans la République d’Irlande et l’Irlande du Nord (tous les deux sont Irlande après cela). La première école Gaelscoil a été établie en Irlande en 1973 pour « établir et soutenir un niveau élevé…de l’éducation irlandaise…[et] pour développer et renforcer la communauté de la langue et la culture irlandaises » (« Gaelscoileanna »). Les écoles Gaelscoileanna qui sont primaires et les écoles Gaelscoileanna qui sont post-primaires existent dans les quatre provinces qui composent l’Irlande : Connacht, Leinster, Munster et Ulster ( « Schools »). Il y a 45373 étudiants qui sont inscrits dans les écoles Gaelscoileanna partout en Irlande (« Statistics » ).

Ces écoles sont autonomes et elles ne sont pas affiliées avec les autres écoles irlandaises. Chaque école Gaelscoil est gérée par un conseil (Ó Baoill 413). Dans les écoles Gaelscoileanna, les cours sont enseignés en irlandais et, par conséquent, les étudiants deviennent bilingues en irlandais et en anglais (« What is Immersion »).

Le logo des écoles Gaelscoileanna [Image Source]
Bien que ces écoles donnent la priorité à l’acquisition de la langue irlandaise, c’est important de considérer si elles sont vraiment efficaces dans la revitalisation de la langue irlandaise. Les enfants qui sont inscrits dans les écoles d’immersion peuvent certainement apprendre la langue irlandaise. Cependant, l’accès à ces institutions est limité. En général, les écoles d’immersion de la langue irlandaise représentent moins de 8 % des écoles primaires (Parsons 493). En outre, c’est difficile de suivre le progrès des étudiants d’une façon complète. Par exemple, il y a un « nombre limité de mesures d’évaluation disponibles pour l’accomplissement de la lecture en irlandais » alors qu’il y a beaucoup de façons par lesquelles les éducateurs peuvent suivre le progrès des étudiants en anglais (Parsons 497). Cela souligne le fait que, alors que l’Irlandais est enseigné comme langue maternelle dans les écoles d’immersion, il est toujours une langue minoritaire hors de l’école. Par conséquent, pour revitaliser la langue irlandaise d’une façon effective, il faudrait qu’on travaille pour augmenter le nombre de personnes qui parlent l’irlandais dans leur vie quotidienne. Cependant, bien que les écoles Gaelscoileanna ne semblent pas réussir à première vue, c’est important de comprendre que, sans ces institutions, il y aurait 45373 enfants irlandais qui iraient à l’école sans l’avantage de l’immersion dans la langue irlandaise tous les jours.

Une langue survit seulement si elle est transmise entre les générations. Un enfant peut apprendre l’Irlandais. Cependant, pour que la langue soit en mesure de s’épanouir et revenir à sa popularité originaire, il faut que la langue soit partagée avec la génération suivante. Pour renverser la disparition de la langue irlandaise, il faut que la langue soit parlée dans la maison, pas seulement à l’école. Une fois, la langue irlandaise a été beaucoup parlée dans la maison et il serait avantageux pour les locuteurs d’imiter cette tradition du passé (Comisiún Na Gaeltachta 4). Jusqu’à ce que cette revitalisation ne soit accomplie, il se peut que l’usage de la langue irlandaise continue à baisser.


Coimisiún Na Gaeltachta. Report of the Gaeltacht Commission. Rep. N.p.: n.p., 2002. Print.

"Gaelscoileanna." Gaelscoileanna – Irish Medium Education. Gaelscoileanna Teo, 2015. Web.24 Mar. 2015.

Moseley, Christopher (ed.). 2010. Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, 3rd edn. Paris,UNESCO Publishing. Online version.

ÓBaoill, Dónall P. "Origins Of Irish-Medium Education: The Dynamic Core Of LanguageRevitalisation In Northern Ireland." International Journal Of Bilingual Education &Bilingualism 10.4 (2007): 410-427. Academic Search Complete. Web. 24 Mar. 2015.

Parsons, Christine, and Fiona Lyddy. "The Sequencing Of Formal Reading Instruction: ReadingDevelopment In Bilingual And English-Medium Schools In Ireland." InternationalJournal Of Bilingual Education & Bilingualism 12.5 (2009): 493-512. Academic SearchComplete. Web. 24 Mar. 2015.

"Schools." Gaelscoileanna – Irish Medium Education. Gaelscoileanna Teo, 2015. Web. 24 Mar.2015.

"Statistics." Gaelscoileanna – Irish Medium Education. Gaelscoileanna Teo, 2015. Web. 24 Mar.2015.

"What is Immersion Education." Gaelscoileanna – Irish Medium Education. GaelscoileannaTeo, 2015. Web. 24 Mar. 2015.


The Gaelscoileanna Schools and Their Particular Role in the Revitalization of the Irish Language

by Soffia H. Kuehner Gray

Soffia H. Kuehner Gray is a junior in Communication and French Studies at the University of Illinois. She is planning on attending law school and completing a Master’s degree in Communication. She wrote this blog text while enrolled in 418 ‘Language and Minorities in Europe’ in the spring of 2015.

Chicago River on St. Patrick’s Day [Image Source]

If you walk down the street of nearly any city in the United States during the month of March, chances are that you will encounter an array of shamrocks, leprechauns, and pots of gold all displayed in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. Hundreds of thousands swarm to parades like the South Side Irish Parade in Chicago to honor their Irish heritage. Indeed, no matter the time of year, Claddagh rings, Aran sweaters, Guinness beer, and Irish tea are all readily available for purchase at local gift shops. While the trinkets and festivals that are a part of Irish culture are only increasing in popularity, the Irish language is decreasing in popularity.

% of persons who speak Irish in their daily life [Wikimedia Commons]
Once widely spoken, UNESCO has marked the Irish language as “definitely endangered.” Consequently, the Irish language is no longer learned as a first language within the Irish home (Moseley). It is extinct as a first language for residents of Northern Ireland, but it is still learned as a second language there as well as throughout the Republic of Ireland (Moseley). In fact, the use of the Irish language is primarily confined to the Gaeltacht– areas of Ireland in which at least 75% of the population speaks Irish. These boundaries are constantly being reevaluated every seven years (Comisiún Na Gaeltachta 10).

In an effort to revitalize the language, Irish language immersion schools, or Gaelscoileanna, have been established throughout the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (hereafter both referred to as Ireland). The first Gaelscoil was founded in Ireland in 1973 for the purpose of “establish[ing] and sustain[ing] a high standard of Irish…education…[and] to develop and strengthen the Irish speaking community and culture” (“Gaelscoileanna”). Both primary and post-primary Gaelscoileanna schools exist in each of the four provinces that comprise Ireland: Connacht, Leinster, Munster, and Ulster (“Schools”). There are currently 45,373 students enrolled in the Gaelscoileanna schools across Ireland (“Statistics”).

These schools are freestanding units that are unaffiliated with other schools in Ireland. Each Gaelscoil is run by a board-of-management (Ó Baoill 413). In the Gaelscoileanna, classes are taught in Irish and, as a result, students enrolled in the schools become fluent in both Irish and English (“What is Immersion”).

Logo of the Gaelscoileanna schools [Image Source]
While these schools certainly prioritize the acquisition of the Irish language, it’s important to consider whether or not they are truly effective in the revitalization of the Irish language. Children enrolled in these immersion schools are certainly able to learn the Irish language. However, the access to these institutions is limited. In general, Irish immersion schools for children comprise less than 8% of primary schools (Parsons 493). Furthermore, it is difficult for the progress of students to be comprehensively tracked. For example, there is a “limited number of assessment measures available for Irish reading attainment,” while there are innumerable ways in which educators can measure students’ progress in English (Parsons 497). This underlines the fact that, while Irish is being taught as a primary language within the immersion school, Irish is still a minority language outside the school. Consequently, in order to effectively revitalize the Irish language, additional steps need to be taken to increase the number of speakers of Irish who use the language as a matter of course in their daily lives. However, while the Gaelscoileanna may not seem successful at first glance, it is important to understand that, without these institutions, there would be 45,373 children in Ireland that would go to school without being immersed in the Irish language on a daily basis.

A language only survives if it is transmitted from generation to generation. A child can learn Irish. However, for the language to flourish and return to its original popularity, the language needs to be shared with the next generation. To reverse the endangerment of the Irish language, it needs to be spoken at home. The Irish language was once widely spoken in the home, and it would be beneficial for current speakers to emulate this practice that has now waned (Comisiún Na Gaeltachta 4). However, until such revitalization is realized, it is quite likely that the use of the Irish language will continue its decline.

Works Cited

Coimisiún Na Gaeltachta. Report of the Gaeltacht Commission. Rep. N.p.: n.p., 2002. Print.

"Gaelscoileanna." Gaelscoileanna – Irish Medium Education. Gaelscoileanna Teo, 2015. Web.24 Mar. 2015.

Moseley, Christopher (ed.). 2010. Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, 3rd edn. Paris,UNESCO Publishing. Online version.

ÓBaoill, Dónall P. "Origins Of Irish-Medium Education: The Dynamic Core Of LanguageRevitalisation In Northern Ireland." International Journal Of Bilingual Education &Bilingualism 10.4 (2007): 410-427. Academic Search Complete. Web. 24 Mar. 2015.

Parsons, Christine, and Fiona Lyddy. "The Sequencing Of Formal Reading Instruction: ReadingDevelopment In Bilingual And English-Medium Schools In Ireland." InternationalJournal Of Bilingual Education & Bilingualism 12.5 (2009): 493-512. Academic SearchComplete. Web. 24 Mar. 2015.

"Schools." Gaelscoileanna – Irish Medium Education. Gaelscoileanna Teo, 2015. Web. 24 Mar.2015.

"Statistics." Gaelscoileanna – Irish Medium Education. Gaelscoileanna Teo, 2015. Web. 24 Mar.2015.

"What is Immersion Education." Gaelscoileanna – Irish Medium Education. GaelscoileannaTeo, 2015. Web. 24 Mar. 2015.


Monday, May 16, 2016

The Basque Educational System Close Up: A, B, D, OR X?

by Jamie Ryan

Jamie Ryan is a senior, majoring in Global Studies and Spanish. Jamie is planning on getting professional work experience in Chicago and continuing her education in the health care system in the future. She wrote this text as a student enrolled in SPAN 418 ‘Language and Minorities in Europe’ in the spring of 2015.

Ikastola in Getxo (town outside Bilbao) [Image Source]
After studying abroad in Bilbao, an industrial city in the Basque Autonomous Community, I learned an interesting aspect of their educational system: children in the Basque Country attend immersion programs that teach them through different language models depending on parental preference. These different kinds of models differentiate the time spent speaking the language at school.

Model A is when teaching in done predominantly in Spanish, but there is a required Basque class students must take (Lasagabaster 2001).

Model B is teaching in both Basque and Spanish. In the children’s younger years, they are taught in Basque, but more technical subjects, such as math, are typically taught in Spanish (Lasagabaster 2001). The reason for this is that most children speak Spanish at home with the family, and ingraining Basque in conversational language at a young age is more meaningful – it reinforces the language and makes it possible for children to talk with their friends in Basque, which in turn, makes them practice the language and maintain it.

Model D is teaching predominantly in Basque with a required Spanish class (Lasagabaster 2001). When I was in Bilbao, I met with a lady twice a week and spoke English with her. Her nephew attended a model D school. While he spoke Spanish at home, he spoke Basque at school. She told me that he would sometimes spell Spanish words wrong, using letters like ‘k’ that would be used in Basque! For a young child, it may seem normal to use a transfer in linguistic features when learning two languages. It seems this child is using Basque and understanding it; he just has not quite fully grasped the differences between the languages when writing and spelling. Spanish is more familiar to him since he speaks it at home, but Basque has been made visible in his language understanding and writing.

And finally, Model X, which comprises of “less than 1% of the schooling population,” is teaching only in Spanish, according to Lasagabaster who explains it in his 2001 paper that discusses the different types of schooling in the Basque Autonomous Community and the benefits of the immersion language programs. While this type of schooling is uncommon now, it was the educational norm not very long ago.Despite being an American student studying abroad in Bilbao, I was able to see the language discrepancy between older community members and students. Not initially knowing much about the Basque culture, I asked the 61-year-old lady I lived with for five months if she knew Basque. She answered “no” as if it was not surprising, but I was surprised. I knew that it was a very proud culture, but I was not entirely aware of its history.

Basque had a difficult time thriving due to political factors suppressing it. Lasagabaster discusses in his paper reasons why the Basque language declined to begin with. One of the first reasons is that Spain’s Absolute Monarchy encouraged Castilian to be the dominant language, later forbidding minority languages all together (2001). In time, Spanish became significantly more useful than Basque in society.

This bilingual education system is a recent adjustment to the Basque culture that was primarily voiced in the Spanish language due to the higher value and common use of the latter in society. Franco’s regime (1939-1975) also had a negative impact on the growth of the Basque language. However, while still under his leadership, “Basque language loyalist groups” created immersion schools, called ikastolak, in the 1960s to revitalize the language (Azurmendi, Larrañaga & Apalategi 2008).

Now, how do students really feel about this type of bilingual education?

In recent years, the educational system in the autonomous region has changed drastically. Students are learning Basque while their parents and older generations are not learning nearly as much. Azurmendi, Larrañaga & Apalategi mention that “by age, the youngest are either the most favorable or the most indifferent” (2008). Lasagabaster’s study shows similar findings when the study’s youngest group’s attitudes are significantly more positive than the older groups (2005). This is due to their growing up with the language. As they can speak it well, they are more likely to have positive attitudes towards Basque.

However, the policy of letting parents choose where to send their children has significantly altered school enrollment. The percentages of children attending different models have drastically changed between the ages of 3 and 14 between 1983 and 2000. Model A went from about 73% of students to 11%. Model B grew from nearly 11% to 32%. Amazingly, model D grew from almost 17% to 57% of students, according to Lasagabaster’s data form 2001.

As children get older, some parents move them to Model A schools “because they are afraid of dealing with a greater cognitive effort in Basque”. Nevertheless, due to the significant enrollment increases, Lasagabaster affirms that a new generation of parents is strongly in favor of the immersion programs.

From my own perception, Basque identity is important to both young and old in Bilbao. They would always speak of the Basque Country with great admiration. One Basque student asked an American friend of mine where she was studying, and she replied very puzzled, “Spain?.” He said, “No, you are in Basque Country.”

The strong Basque identity contributes to the extent of how people feel about the educational system. In 2003, a study was done in the BAC to ask young people between the ages of 15 and 29 if they “feel Basque,” and 69% of them said yes, according to Azurmendi, Larrañaga & Apalategi (2008). This strong Basque identity is important for this language revitalization – there must be a positive connection between the language and the people’s identity for it to thrive.


“Bilingualism, Identity, and Citizenship in the Basque Country.” Bilingualism and Identity:Spanish at the Crossroads with Other Languages. Ch. 2 (2008): 35-62. Web. 28 Mar. 2015.

Lasagbaster, David. “Bilingualism, Immersion Programmes and Language Learning in theBasque Country.” Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 22:5 (2001): 401-425. Web. 28 Mar. 2015.

Lasagbaster, David. “Attitudes Towards Basque, Spanish and English: An Analysis of the MostInfluential Variables.” Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 26:4 (2005): 296-316. Web. 11 Mar. 2015.


Monday, May 2, 2016

La lingua fatta dalla television or the language created by the television (?)

by Amanda Oster

Amanda Oster is a senior in Mathematics and Italian. After graduation she is continuing her education in graduate school to study cryptography. She is planning on using her language and mathematical skills in code-breaking for international organizations. She wrote this text as a student in 418 ‘Language and Minorities in Europe’ in the spring of 2015.

Image Source
Italy is a country full of dialects, languages, outsiders. A common Italian language was virtually non-existent until a specific dialect was chosen to be taught in schools and used throughout the public spheres of Italian life. Italian illiteracy was uncommonly high in the first half of the 20th century, but sits today at only 1% (Homolaicus). The whole process was expedited immensely by the introduction of television.

In 1954, 48% of the Italian population had access to television, and seven years later it increased to 97% (Homolaicus). Reaching this much of the population was enormous, and the Italian government saw it as a real opportunity to educate their citizens. They had chosen a “standard” Italian after Italy unified in 1871 [officially we consider the unification to have taken place in 1861, but it’s true that Rome became part of Italy only in 1870; still, I’d prefer to see 1861!], naming Tuscan Italians as their winner. The Tuscan, and specifically Florentine, dialect was the front contender simply because of its cultural and economic importance to the Italian people. Dante, Boccaccio, and Petrarch, the fathers of Italian literature, used the Florentine dialect. Florence was the flourishing capital of the Italian Renaissance. The Florentine choice was an intentional one, to underline a part of Italian history that Italians were proud of.

Image Source
The Italian dialects are, to this day, extremely diverse. Most Italians [today, less and less people would identify a dialect as their native tongue, though] would say their native tongue is not the standard that they use in the public domains, but the small minority dialect they speak at home. There are hundreds of varieties of Italian dialects, some specific to small villages. Some dialects are so different that they are mutually unintelligible. Hardly any Italians actually spoke the Tuscan dialect even into the 1940’s. But when television became available in the 1950’s, it changed the linguistic landscape of Italy. Italians, mesmerized by the hum and purr of their new home technology, had to learn the standard to understand the programming. They had to comprehend spoken and written Standard Italian, since text was also part of television especially early on. The first mission of television to spread the use of the new standard was a huge success. Its second mission concurrently succeeded…

The illiteracy rate in Italy in the early 1900’s was very high, close to 13% (UNESCO Institute for Statistics). Television was introduced first and foremost as a form of education for the Italian public, as a way to spread the new standard, and also to fight illiteracy. Radio shows and movies had existed for years before television was implemented, but neither really effected the Italian literacy rate. Radio shows were simply audial, and did not effect the reading ability of Italians simply because they didn’t have to read to comprehend the radio. In movies, rarely was the plot uninterpretable because of not being able to read: one could use context clues from the actions of the actors to understand the words on the screen. And anyways, movies were only an occasional activity, often no more than once a month. The introduction of TV provided Italian families with a new familial tradition: they could watch it a little bit every day, often right before the children went to bed. This prompted a huge opportunity to comprise reading, speech, and divertimento (having fun) in the same slot of time. Another selling point was that watching television involved everyone in the family, therefore educating the youngest children to the oldest grandparents with the same technology.

As time went on, Italian programs became less overtly educational and more entertainment-based. However this did not destabilize the initial mission of television, since even trash television could at least help foreigners learn how to speak standard Italian, help spread the standard in general, and increase literacy nation-wide with very little effort. Many foreigners immigrate to Italy for work, and most of them are coming from Northern Africa, Albania, and the Middle East, where they don’t speak a language even remotely similar to Italian. Television, however, helped them learn Italian faster, giving them an outlet to practice Italian before they arrived and after they settled in.

In short, the piece of technology that most people use now for gossip, entertainment, and time wasting was an instrumental part of the education of the Italian public. The nation-wide introduction of television in Italy changed peoples’ lives: it taught them what was a new language for them, the standard, decreased illiteracy, and helped foreigners learn the language. A common language and new-found fascination for television helped unify Italy further, bringing a country of what seemed like disjoint nations together into one state, with a common language, and almost all of the population able to speak and read it.


Homolaicus. (2014). http://www.homolaicus.com/linguaggi/tv.htm

UNESCO Institute for Statistics.