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Europe at Present [Spring 2003]

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2.2. The Celtic Languages

At the beginning of the Christian era the whole of the British islands were doubtless occupied by Celtic-speaking peoples, though the earlier inhabitants had by no means been exterminated.

Even at this early period Irish differed very greatly from the languages of Gaul and Britain. This old Celtic tongue belonged to the great Indo-European family of languages and showed affinity to the cognate dialects of Italy, chief amongst which was Latin.

The Celtic languages form a branch of the Indo-European family tree. In UK Celtic languages fall into two significant divisions: the Gaels of Ireland, Man and Scotland and the speakers of Welsh, Cornish and Breton. The Celtic languages which survived in modern times may be classified as follows: Goedelic [Irish, Manx, Scottish, Gaelic] and Brythonic [Welsh, Cornish, Breton]31 The original Indo-European tongue possessed a peculiar Q sound which was treated differently by the various groups. We may therefore speak of p-Celts and q-Celts, the former being also known, as far as our islands are concerned, as Brythons, the latter as Goidels.

Welsh in United Kingdom

Wales is a country with two languages: Welsh and English. Welsh is spoken by around 19% of the population. Most of the Welsh-speakers live in the north west of the country. There are several dialects of Welsh. The road signs are bilingual, giving both the Welsh and English versions of the text and place-names. The language continues to flourish within Wales thanks to Welsh-medium education, a lively media industry and the enthusiasm of people living in Wales. The rights of the language have also been helped by bilingual and language policies made by the Government. 32

The language of Wales, more properly called Cymraeg in preference to Welsh (A Germanic word denoting "foreigner"). Welsh is related to Irish and Scots Gaelic and a closely to Breton. In the Western and Northern regions, (Gwynedd and Dyfed particularly) the Welsh language remains strong and highly visible. Regional differences in spoken Welsh do not make speakers in one area unintelligible to those in another (as is so often claimed), standard Welsh is understood by Welsh speakers everywhere.

Scottish in United Kingdom

Scottish is also called Scots Gaelic, or Erse, and belongs to the Goidelic group of Celtic languages. It is spoken along the northwest coast of Scotland and in the Hebrides islands. Scottish Gaelic is a recent offshoot of the Irish language. It was introduced into Scotland about AD 500 (displacing an earlier Celtic language). However, a truly distinctive Scots Gaelic did not appear before the 13th cent Scots Gaelic is the language of about 60,000 persons in the Highlands of Scotland. Most of these people also speak English. 33

Manx is a dialect of Scots Gaelic that was once spoken on the Isle of Man, but it has almost entirely died out there. First recorded in writing in the early 17th century, Manx does not have an important literature. It is written in the Roman alphabet and shows a strong Norse influence.

The Scottish language has a wide range of dialects. In Shetland and Orkney, there is strong Norse influence, as indicated above. Mainland Scotland has three main dialect divisions: Northern, Central and Southern. Central is further divided into East Central (north and south of the Forth), West Central (Glasgow and surrounding area) and South-West (mainly Dumfries and Galloway). Southern covers most of the Borders area. Scots is also spoken in Northern Ireland, the result of many crossings of the waters by populations over the centuries, in particular from the settlements of the early seventeenth century. Many of these Scots later moved on to North America, where they were known as the Scotch-Irish; their language has added significant Scots features to some North American dialects. 34

3. Languages and ethnic groups of Eastern Europe
3.1. The Slavs

Prehistorically, the original habitat of the Slavs, as of all Indo-Europeans, was Asia, from which they migrated in the 3rd or 2nd millennium BC to populate parts of eastern Europe. Subsequently, these European lands of the Slavs were crossed or settled by many peoples forced by economic conditions to migrate. In the middle of the 1st millennium BC, Celtic tribes settled along the upper Odra River, and Germanic tribes settled on the lower Vistula and lower Odra rivers, usually without displacing the Slavs there. Actually the land at the Elbe, Odra and Vistula Rivers was all recorded as Magna Germania 1900 years ago and later. Finally, the movement westward of the Germans in the 5th and 6th century A.D. necessitated by the onslaught of people from the Far East: Huns, Avars, Bulgars, Hungarians, started the great migration of the Slavs, who proceeded in the Germans' wake westward into the country between the Odra and the Elbe-Saale line, southward into Bohemia, Moravia, Hungary, and the Balkans, and northward along the upper Dnieper River. When the migratory movements had ended, there appeared among the Slavs the first rudiments of state organizations, each headed by a prince with a treasury and defence force, and the beginning of class differentiation, who pledged allegiance to the Frankish and Holy Roman Emperors.35

There were two theories in history about original homeland of Slavs: first, called autochtonic, was based on assumption that Slavs had lived north of the Carpathian Mountains since 1000 BC. Second, called allochtonic, assumed that Slavs came there in 5th-6th century AD. Both theories were used as tools of political propaganda by Germans and different Slavic nations, with great harm to science. Some scientists consider both theories absurd, because they think that Slavs as such appeared and differentiated from other tribes after AD. There is theory that there were two waves of Slavs: Proto-Slavs, called Wenetes or Veneds, and Slavs proper, and that two groups created today's Slavs. That theory at least tries to deal with very complicated question arising from archeological findings in the area. Nobody also is sure where was Slavic homeland before they start their big expansion. Slavs have first been recorded in the Pripjet Marshes area.

In religion, the Slavs traditionally divided into two main groups: those associated with the Eastern Orthodox Church: (Russians, most Ukrainians, some Belarusians, Serbs, Bulgarians and Macedonians Slavs) and those associated with the Catholic Church (Roman Catholic Church and Greek Catholic Church): Poles, Sorbs, Czechs, Slovaks, Croats, Slovenes, some Ukrainians, and most Belarusians). The division is further marked by the use of the Cyrillic alphabet by the former (but including all Ukrainians and Belarusians) and the Roman alphabet by the latter. There are also many minority religious groups, such as Muslims, Protestants, and Jews.36

3.2. Slavic Languages

Slavic languages are a subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages. The Slavic group of languages seems to be closer to the Baltic group than to any other, that is why some scholars combine the two in a Balto-Slavic subfamily of the Indo-European languages. The total number of people for whom a Slavic language is the mother tongue is estimated at more than 300 million; the great majority of them live in Russia and Ukraine.

The Slavic peoples are the most numerous ethnic and linguistic body of peoples in Europe, residing chiefly in eastern and south-eastern Europe but extending also across northern Asia to the Pacific Ocean. Slavic languages belong to the Indo-European family.

The Slavic subfamily has three divisions: East Slavic, West Slavic, and South Slavic. Members of the East Slavic branch are Russian, or Great Russian; Ukrainian, also called Little Russian or Ruthenian; and Belarussian, or White Russian. Together they claim close to 225 million native speakers, almost all in the former USSR. The West Slavic branch includes Polish, Czech, Slovak, Lusatian, Kashubian, and the extinct Polabian. The living West Slavic languages can claim approximately 56 million speakers, chiefly in Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia. The South Slavic tongues consist of Serbo-Croatian, Bulgarian, Slovenian, and Macedonian, together with the liturgical language known as Church Slavonic. The first four are native to more than 30 million people, largely in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Hercegovina, Yugoslavia, Macedonia, and Bulgaria.37

All Slavic tongues are believed to have evolved from a single parent language, usually called Proto-Slavic, which, in turn, is thought to have split off much earlier (possibly c.2000 B.C.) from Proto-Indo-European, the original ancestor of the members of the Indo-European language family. Proto-Slavic was probably still common to all Slavs in the 1st cent. B.C., and possibly as late as the 8th A.D., but by the 9th century A.D. the individual Slavic languages had begun to emerge. In the opinion of linguists, probably even in X-XII century all Slavs spoke generally the same language, with very slight differences.

The spoken Slavic tongues resemble one another more closely than do those of the Germanic and Romance groups; yet, although Slavic languages have much in common in basic vocabulary, grammar, and phonetic characteristics, they differ with regard to such features in many instances. One feature common to most of them is the relatively large number of consonant sounds. Grammatically the Slavic languages, with the exception of Bulgarian and Macedonian, have a highly developed inflection of the noun, with up to seven cases (nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, locative, instrumental, and vocative). The Slavic verb usually takes one of three simple tenses (past, present, and future), but it is further characterized by a complex feature called aspect, which can be either imperfective (showing continuous or repeated action) or perfective (denoting a completed action). Participles and gerunds are often employed where in English clauses would be used. The article is lacking in all Slavic languages except Bulgarian and Macedonian. Members of the Slavic subfamily are more conservative and thus closer to Proto-Indo-European than languages in the Germanic and Romance groups, as is witnessed by their preservation of seven of the eight cases for the noun that Proto-Indo-European possessed and by their continuation of aspects for the verb. The vocabulary of the Slavic languages is substantially of Indo-European origin; there is an important Balto-Slavic element as well. Loan words or loan translations can be traced to the Iranian and Germanic groups and also to Greek, Latin, and Turkish. More recently, Italian and French have had some measure of influence. Slavic languages have also borrowed from each other. They tend, however, to translate and imitate foreign words rather than directly absorb them. It is in writing, perhaps, that the most dramatic differences among the Slavic languages occur. Some Slavic languages (notably, Czech, Slovak, Slovenian, and Polish) are written in differing versions of the Roman alphabet because their speakers are predominantly Roman Catholic. Other Slavic languages (such as Russian, Ukrainian, Belarussian, Macedonian, and Bulgarian) use variations of the Cyrillic alphabet as a result of the influence of the Orthodox Eastern Church. The single language Serbo-Croatian is called Serbian when it is written by Serbs in the Cyrillic alphabet and Croatian when it is written by Croats in the Roman alphabet.

3.3. Languages of Slavic countries

Languages of Ukraine

National or official language: Ukrainian. 50,861,000. The number of languages listed for Ukraine is 11. Of those, 10 are living languages and one is extinct.

Ukrainian is an East Slavic language closely related to Russian but with some regular differences. The Ukrainian language is currently emerging from a long period of disuse. Although there are almost fifty million ethnic Ukrainians worldwide, including roughly 38-39 million in Ukraine (three-quarters of the total population), only in western Ukraine is the Ukrainian language commonly spoken. In Kyiv and central Ukraine Russian is spoken almost as much as Ukrainian, although there is a shift towards Ukrainian; in eastern Ukraine, Russian is dominant and a Russified Ukrainian spoken in some circles, while in the Crimea Ukrainian is almost absent. Use of the Ukrainian language in Ukraine can be expected to increase, as the rural population of Ukraine (still overwhelmingly Ukrainophone) migrates to Ukrainian cities and the Ukrainian language enters into wider use in central Ukraine.38

Languages of Russia (Europe)

National or official language: Russian, 153,655,000. The number of languages listed for Russia (Europe) is 59. Of those, 58 are living languages and 1 is extinct.

Russian39 (Russian Русский язык) is the most widely spoken of the Slavic languages. It is primarily spoken in Russia and other nations of the former Soviet Union, and was also widely taught in schools in member countries of the Warsaw Pact. In Soviet times, Russian was often strongly promoted to the detriment of other local languages. While many of the countries of the former Soviet Union are now promoting their local languages rather than Russian, Russian remains widely spoken in these areas and is often used for intercommunication between these countries.

Russian is written using the Cyrillic alphabet.

Russian speaking population totals in all countries 167,000,000 as first language speakers (1999); 277,000,000 including second language users (1999 ).Russian is one of the official languages of the United Nations.

Languages of Belarus

National or official language: Belarusan. 10,315,000 (1998 UN). The number of languages listed for Belarus is 1. Belarusian, spoken in and around Belarus, is one of the three East Slavic languages. It is also written "Belarusan", "Belorussian", "Byelorussian", and other ways. The present government prefers "Belarusian".

The Belarusian language has evolved considerably from its early roots, as the dialects of Ruthenian (East Slavic Orthodox) spoken in the territory of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. A standardized version of Ruthenian became the official language of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. By the 16th century, the term "Ruthenian" referred to the language spoken in modern-day Ukraine and Belarus; a process of divergence that accelerated in the 17th century created a new division between the languages spoken in the south (Ukraine) and north (Belarus) of Ruthenian-speaking territory.

Like Ukraine, Belarus and the Belarusian language has been subject to heavy Russification. Unlike Ukraine, Belarus has historically lacked a strongly nationalistic population, which tends to identify itself as a close associate of Russia (if not Russian outright). This lack of a strong ethno-linguistic identity, along with the popular association of Belarusian dialects as rural peasant languages as opposed to Russian's modern/urban connotations, is seen by some to threaten the eventual extinction of the Belarusian language in Belarus. The Russophile foreign policy orientation of Aleksandr Lukashenko’s government in Belarus is seen as further threatening the Belarusian language.

Perhaps the largest center of Belarusian cultural activity in the world, in the Belarusian language, is in the Polish city of Bialystok, home to a long-established Belarusian minority. 40

Languages of Bulgaria

National or official languages are Bulgarian and Turkish. The number of languages listed for Bulgaria is 12. Of those, 11 are living languages (Albanian, Bulgarian, Crimean, Turkish, Gagauz, Macedonian, Romani and others).

Bulgarian (български) is an Indo-European language, a member of the South branch of the Slavic languages, along with Macedonian, Serbo-Croatian, and Slovene. It is the oldest written Slavic language. Historically it is divided into Old Bulgarian (9th to 11th century), Middle Bulgarian (12th to 15th century) and Modern Bulgarian (16th century onwards). Present-day written language was standardised in the 19th century. In the past, Bulgarian was written in the Glagolitic alphabet but during the Old Bulgarian period it was replaced by the Cyrillic one, which is still in use, in its modern form.41

Languages of former Yugoslavia

The Serbo-Croatian language (Srpsko-Hrvatski or Hrvatsko-Srpski) is a language of the Western group of the South Slavic languages. It is the main language of Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro and is also spoken and understood in Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Slovenia. The language is also spoken by Serbian and Croatian minorities in Austria, Hungary and Romania. There are currently four standard written versions of the language, Croatian, Serbian, Bosnian and BCS (Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian, a version used at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia). A fifth, Montenegrin version is emerging.

Serbo-Croatian is the common name for three large dialect groups, Shtokavian, Kajkavian and Chakavian. These have nothing to do with various standard versions, which are all based on the Shtokavian dialect. Furthermore, differences in the usage of dialects and variants is geographical, not ethnic. They have enough differences to be at times mutually unintelligable, but all share the same basic grammar.

The language can be written in both the Latin and Cyrillic alphabets. Serbian and Bosnian standard version use both alphabets, while Croatian uses only Latin.

In Yugoslavia there is also Romano-Serbian language which comes from Western group of South Slavic languages. It is spoken by Gypsies in Serbia. It is related to Serbian with influences from Romani.

Spoken Living Languages on the territory are: Albanian, Bulgarian, Hungarian, Romani, Romanian, Romano-Serbian, Serbo-Croatian, Slovak, and others.42

Languages of Macedonia [FYROM]

National or official language is Macedonian (1,999,000). Spoken Living Languages in Macedonia are: Adyghe, Albanian, Balkan, Gagauz, Turkish, Macedonian Romani, Romanian, Serbo-Croatian, Turkish.

The Macedonian language is a language in the Eastern group of South Slavic languages. It is spoken by two million people in Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Bulgaria, Serbia and other countries where Slavic emigrants of this region live. A modified Cyrillic script is used for writing.

Languages of Czech Republic

National or official language is Czech with 10,282,000 speakers (1998 UN). Spoken Living Languages are: Bavarian Czech German Polish Romani Silesian.

The Czech language is one of the West Slavic languages, along with Slovak, Polish and Sorbian. It is spoken by most people in the Czech Republic and Czechs dispersed all over the world (about 11 million native speakers in total).

Due to its complexity is said to be a difficult language to learn.

Slavic Languages of Germany

The Polabian language was a group of Slavic dialects spoken in present-day northern Germany - Mecklenburg, Brandenburg, Saxony-Anhalt, eastern parts of Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein. Became extinct in the 18th century. There are known Polabian texts writen in Hanover Wendland (Luechow-Dannenberg) in XVII and XVIII centuries. Polabian was one of the Lekhitic languages.

The Sorbian language is a member of the West Slavic branch of languages. It is also known as Wendish. It is similar to Czech, Polish and Slovak, but still it is a completely different language that has kept some of the elements of the old language of the Slavs. It is spoken in a small area in Germany called Lusatia (Luzica or Lausitz). Therefore the name of its speakers is Luzicki Srbi. There are 2 important dialects which are sometimes described as separate languages, Upper Sorbian and Lower Sorbian language.

Sorbian is also spoken in a small Wendish settlement in Lee County, Texas, and until recently newspapers were published in Wendish there. It has been heavily influenced by surrounding speakers of German and English.

  • Sorbian, Lower - 14,000 or fewer speakers (1991 Elle) out of a larger ethnic group in Niederlausitz (Dolna Luzica) in eastern Germany, Cottbus (Chosebuz) the main town. The ethnic group has over 60 towns and villages.

  • Sorbian, Upper 55,000 (1991 Elle). 15,000 are reported to be primary users. 40,000 to 45,000 others have some knowledge of it (1996). Upper Saxony, eastern Germany, principal towns Bautzen (Budysin, Catholic) and Kamenz (Protestant). Perhaps a few in Texas, USA. 43

Languages of Poland

The Polish language (together with Upper and Lower Sorbian, and other Lekhitic languages) as well as Czech-Slovak, belongs to the West Slavic branch of Slavic languages. It has several dialects that correspond in the main to the old tribal divisions; the most significant of these (in terms of numbers of speakers) are Great Polish (spoken in the northwest), Little Polish (spoken in the southeast), Mazovian, and Silesian. Mazovian shares some features with Kashubian, whose remaining speakers (estimations vary from 100,000 to over 200,000) live west of Gdansk near the Baltic Sea. Elsewhere, Polish has been influenced by contact with foreign languages. In Great Poland and especially Silesia the inimitable regional patois contains a mixture of Polish and German elements. Since 1945, as the result of mass education and mass migrations, standard Polish has become far more homogeneous, although regional dialects persist. In the western and northern territories, resettled in large measure by Poles from the Soviet Union, the older generation came to speak a language characteristic of the former eastern provinces. Small numbers of people also speak Belarusian, Ukrainian, and German as well as several varieties of Romany.

Kashubian is one of the Lekhitic languages. In 2000, it has some 200,000 speakers mainly in north central Poland

The Slovincian language became extinct in the 20th century. It was one of the Lekhitic languages. Its users lived in parishes of Schmolsin and Garde in Pomerania in present-day Poland. Slovincian was so closely related to Kashubian that it must be regarded as its dialect, but it is conventionally treated separately. Slovincians regarded themseves as Kashubs-Lutherans and their language as Kashubian.

Spoken living languages are Belarusan 230,000, German, Standard 500,000, Kashubian A few thousand speakers. Most of the ethnic group of over 100,000 speak a regional variety of Polish. Population total both countries 3,000 or more, Polish, 36,554,000 in Poland, 98% of the population (1986). Population total all countries 44,000,000, Romani, Baltic 30,000, Romani, Carpathian, Romani, Sinte, Romani, Vlax 5,000 Lovari in Poland, Silesian, Lower Dolny Slask (Lower Silesia), Ukrainian 1,500,000 in Poland 44

Languages of Slovakia

Slovak language (Slovenčina) is a West Slavic language spoken in Slovakia. It is closely related to Czech in written form, but differs both phonetically and grammatically. Slovak uses a modified Latin alphabet.

Spoken Living Languages are: German, Hungarian Polish Romani Rusyn Serbo-Croatian Slovak Ukrainian

Languages of Slovenia

Slovene language is the westernmost language in the south Slav branch of the Slavi languages group. It is spoken by about 2.2 million people, the Slovenes who live mostly in Central Europe in their native land Slovenia, plus the Slovenes in Venetian Slovenia (Beneška Slovenija) in Italy, in Austrian Carinthia (Avstrijska Koroška) in Austria, in Croatian Istria (Hrvaška Istra) in Croatia, in some southern parts of Hungary and the Slovenes dispersed all over the world (specially American Slovenes, or even Kansas Slovenes, Argentinian Slovenes, Canadian Slovenians, Australian Slovenes, South African Slovenes). It is one of the rare Slavic languages that have preserved the dual grammatical number (like the Upper and Lower Sorbian language) and it has a very difficult noun case system.

Spoken Living Languages are Hungarian, Italian, Slovenian.45


Europe with more than 700 million people is the third (after Asia an Africa) most populated continent in the world. As we look on the map of Europe we can see many countries with many ethnic groups which speak many different languages. But only about 3% of living languages of the world is spoken in Europe.

Across the centuries ethnic groups and their languages have been modifying. Wars, natural disasters, economic migrations and many others factors influenced on the present view of Europe. That is why the nations of Europe range nowadays from ethnically homogenous (like in Poland) to ethnically pluralist (such as in Belgium) and to ethnically heterogenous (such as in Spain and Italy).

Probably in the future the map of European ethnic groups and languages, due to heavy migrations, integration and globalisation processes, will be changing more quickly and only the strongest cultures will not have problems in keeping their ethnic and language identity. On the other hand EU countries try to help minorities in cultivating their habits and learning their languages and this can be a chance for them to resist.

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