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Europe at Present [Spring 2003]

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Basque (Euskera)

Euskera, or the Basque language, is nowadays written with Latin alphabet. There are about 600,000 speakers in the north of Spain, the entire province of Guipúzcoa, in addition to the provinces of Vizcaya and Navarra and some areas in Alava, and in the western part of the French Atlantic Pyrenees (approximately 100,000 speakers).

With regard to the origin of the Basque tongue, there have been a number of hypotheses. It has been suggested that the language of the ancestors of the Basques was introduced into this part of Europe by immigrants from Asia Minor at the beginning of the Bronze Age (i.e. round about the year 2000 BC).

Basque and Castilian entered History together, since the first text preserved in Castilian, the Código Emilianense, c.977, is also written in Basque.74 Euskera is the official language of the Basque provinces since 1982, together with Castilian. The orographic features of the region have contributed to maintaining its linguistic diversity, which cause some linguists, based on the intercommunicative difficulties, to claim the existence of seven different Basque languages. To overcome this fragmentation the Royal Academy of the Basque Language was created in 1919, and in 1968, a standardized Basque grammar called batúa was adopted for official purposes.

As far as regional nationalists in Catalonia and the Basque country are concerned they claim to have histories that run separate to a Spain dominated by Castilian monarchs. However, Mr Aznar's government, has mounted a vigorous campaign against the Basque proposals for a referendum on self-determination.75

Kingdom of Belgium

Main information about Kingdom of Belgium

Kingdom of Belgium is quite a small country with a territory of 30,518 sq km and a population of 10,2 millions. Belgium is a constitutional parliamentary monarchy. Over 55% of the population are Flemish (of Teutonic origin) 33% are Walloons (French Latin) and about 10% are foreigners. Over 75% of the population are Roman Catholic. The main languages are Flemish, French and German, and to a much lesser extent Luxembourgish and Walon. 76

The languages spoken in Kingdom of Belgium

Belgium's tangled tongues date back to when Christ was a toddler and Franks were forcing Celts and Gauls into the land's southern regions, making an early form of Dutch the norm in the north. And so it remains, with French the accepted language in the south. Brussels, stuck in the middle, is one of the world's few officially bilingual capitals.77

From the time of the Franks through to the post war period, the dominant language politically and culturally had been French. This is the native tongue of the Walloons (there is also a Walloon dialect), who are to be found in French Brabant and the provinces of Hainaut, Ličge, Namur and Luxembourg, whose neighboring namesake, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, also has French as its official language.

Most Belgians have some knowledge of French, which is taught nationwide, but the number of native speakers is now down to 40 percent of the population and that minority has lost its pre-war intellectual and social predominance.78 Thus the French language is somewhat cushioned by the linguistic enclave of Brussels (which accounts for 8 percent of the native French speakers).

The Flemings speaking Flemish now constitute 60 percent of the Belgian people due to a high birth rate coinciding with a tremendous growth in regional economic prosperity. Though the Flemish language movement dates from the end of the last century, its continuous rise in status essentially started in 1932, when French was ousted as the official language in Flanders. Originally Flemish was a collection of dialects varying from region to region, but now although the Flemings are said to speak Flemish, Dutch is its proper title, because the language, its grammar, spelling and vocabulary, is shared with that of the neighboring Netherlands. The Provinces of East and West Flanders, Antwerp and Limburg are Dutch speaking, as is newer Flemish Brabant. In Brussels, with some 10 percent of the total population of Belgium, about 15 percent are Dutch speaking.

German is spoken in a geographically discontinuous area which stretches for about 100 kilometres along the border with Germany and Luxembourg. When describing the situation of German in Belgium, it is necessary to make a distinction between the areas awarded to Belgium in 1918 following the Treaty of Versailles (the cantons of Eupen, Malmedy and St. Vith), and those German-speaking areas which have been part of Belgium since its creation in 1830 (Montzener Land, an area around Montzen/Welkenraedt), or since 1839, following the division of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg (Areler Land, which corresponds to the administrative district of Arlon, near the border with Luxembourg). The latter region is now generally considered a part of the Letzebuergesch-speaking area, as the local Germanic speech is effectively the same as the national language of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. According to estimates, the number of speakers ranges from between  95,000 and 100,000 (69,000 speakers in the officially recognized areas, and 20,000/25,000 speakers in the other unrecognized areas)79 .German is one of the three official languages of Belgium (alongside Dutch and French). However, it is officially recognized only in the nine municipalities of the region of Eupen and St. Vith (German-language community). Consecutive constitutional reforms in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s have given the German-language community in this area certain legal powers, similar to the other linguistic communities in Belgium, although more limited in scope. The German-language community (with its executive body and community council) can act autonomously in matters relating to culture, health, education etc. However, the German-language community forms part of the territory of the region of Wallonia, and is dependent on decisions from the regional Walloon Council in important socioeconomic matters such as economic policy, environment, public works, transport, energy etc.80 In the official German-language community all public services are carried out in German, documents are available in German and French and public officials must have a knowledge of German. The use of German is allowed in local courts and in the appeal court in LiPge. Public signs are usually in German. Some roadsigns, however, are bilingual (French-German)81.In the area around Montzen/Welkenraedt and in the municipalities of Malmedy and Waimes certain 'facilities' are given to members of the public who want to use a language other than French in their dealings with the public administration. However, this opportunity is seldom availed of. In the official German-language community education is entirely in German, from pre-primary to higher level. Primary school teachers are trained in German. There is no German-language university in Belgium. German-speaking students either go to universities in Germany or take courses at Belgian universities through French or Dutch. Those who wish to enter German-language secondary school teaching, but who studied at a Belgian university first need to pass a linguistic test. There is an extensive network of adult language classes in German.  A certain number of primary schools offer German from the third year on.There are no television services in German. There is, however, one public radio service entirely in German, and there are also a number of local radio stations which broadcast in the language. There is one daily newspaper in German. A large number of periodical publications covering a wide variety of interests are published in German.Books, theatre productions, libraries, cultural centres, museums are only some of the many cultural activities and facilities in German 82

Approach to other than official languages

Luxembourgish is of Indo-European origin: Germanic, but classified as Moselle-Frankish (West-moselfränkisch) or Luxembourgish-Frankish by certain philologists and linguists.Luxembourgish is spoken in the administrative area of Arlon/Arel (Areler Land) which is adjacent to the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. There is no diaspora. Arelerland is a historical and toponomical unit.There are no official figures on the number of speakers of Luxembourgish. Estimates mention a figure of 24,000.In 1990 a decree concerning the protection and promotion of the regional languages was passed by the Council of the French Community of Belgium. Following the adoption of the decree, a Council of Regional Languages was created to act as a consultative body in all matters relating to these languages83 . Luxembourgish is officially represented.The official language of provincial and communal administration is French. In the last few years a certain number of bilingual street signs have been erected in French/Luxembourgish or Luxembourgish only. This was done by the local authorities in response to legal obligations in this area.The official language of the education system is French. More demands are now made for the introduction of Luxembourgish in  schools. In one pre-primary school the language is used as a teaching medium as part of a pilot programme. The teaching of Luxembourgish to adults is very much in demand, especially among people working across the border in the Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg, but it is very much hampered by a lack of qualified teachers.

Walon (including the other regional languages of Oïl: Champenois, Lorrain and Picard,etc.) is of Indo-European origin: Romance.In addition to French, there are also a variety of regional languages spoken on an occasional and informal basis in the French Community of Belgium. Walloon is spoken by an estimated 600,000 people in the greater part of the province of Liège, in the French-speaking part of the province of Brabant, in the province of Namur, in the northern part of the province of Luxembourg and in the eastern part of the province of Hainaut. Picard is spoken by an estimated 200,000 people in the western part of the province of Hainaut. Lorrain is spoken by an estimated 20,000 people in the south of the province of Luxembourg and Champenois is spoken in a few villages in the west of the provinces of Namur and Luxembourg.84

In 1990 a decree concerning the protection and promotion of these regional languages and granting them co-officiality was passed by the Council of the French Community. Following the adoption of the decree, a Council of Regional Languages was created to function as a consultative body in all matters relating to these languages.The aim of the decree is to develop the presence of the regional languages in the education system. At present, the languages are offered as voluntary subjects in various primary and secondary schools, and in third-level non-university establishments. 85 It is, however, not possible (and not intended by the decree) to introduce the regional languages as languages of instruction, as this would be against the Belgian language acts. Adult courses are being set up in many places, and Walloon is offered as an optional subject in Romance Philology at several universities (Brussels, Liège and Louvain-La-Neuve).The French-language public radio and television service (RTBF) broadcasts some programmes in the regional languages. There are also a number of local radio and television stations doing the same. Some articles appear in the French-language press in the regional languages. Several local associations publish periodicals dealing with the literature and linguistic make-up of these languages.There is a great theatrical and literary tradition in Walloon: there are now two Walloon theatres and numerous publications appear in the language.


Main information about Switzerland

Switzerland is a small country, situated in the heart of Europe. The area of the country amounts to 41 290 sq. km., while its population accounts for 7 301 994 (in July 2002)86. Although the territory of the country is rather small, it is populated by four main ethnic groups: German (65%), French (18%), Italian (6%) and Romansch (Rhaeto-Romanic) (1%)87. Each of these groups has different mother tongue: German (spoken as a native language by 65,9 % of population), French (19,5%), Italian (6,6%) and Romansch (called also Rumantsch or Rhaeto-Rumantsch) (0,5%). More than 9 % citizens of Switzerland use another language as their mother tongue (English, Croatian, Serbian etc.)88. Multilingualism is one of the main features of the country. This result in four official names of the country: “Die Schweiz” in German, “La Suisse” in French, “La Svizzera” in Italian, “La Svizra” in Romansch, as well as “Confederatio Helvetica” with its origin in ancient Latin. In principle all four main languages have equal rights. However, French, German and Italian are Swiss official languages, whereas Romansch is used in the official communications with Romansch speakers, who in turn have the right to use their native language in addressing the central authorities.89

When we are likely to understand Swiss multilingualism, we have to acknowledge some facts from the history of Switzerland. The Swiss Federation appeared in 1291, when the three states Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden - the so called "Ur-Kantone" united against the surrounding aggressors. A citizen of each state sweared on august, 1st 1291 on a small mountain named "Rütli": "we will be a one and only nation of brothers ...". This lead to the term confederation ("Eidgenossenschaft"). However, within the next three centuries Switzerland was dependent on the Holy Roman Emperors. The situation changed in 1648, when Switzerland declared independence. From 13th to 19th century the country territory was growing, next cantons were joining the federation, until it reached its final boundaries in 1815. Since this time new cantons have appeared only through division of the existing ones.

Swiss population by mother tongue

22 from among 26 Swiss cantons are monolingual. German is native language for citizens of 17 cantons in northern, central and eastern Switzerland. French-speaking cantons are Geneva, Jura, Neuchatel and Vaud in the western part of the country. Italian is spoken in Ticino.

Three cantons in western Switzerland are bilingual, French and German. These are Bern, Fribourg and Valais. In these cantons sometimes the language barrier reaches across a town, for example, Fribourg/Freiburg and Biel/Bienne, where even street signs are bilingual. The only trilingual canton is Grisons. Most of its inhabitants speak German, however there are Italian-speakers and Romansch-speakers living in the alpine valleys.

There are many foreigners resident in Switzerland, who brought with them their own languages, which taken as a whole outnumber both Romansch and Italian. In 2000 the census showed that speakers of Serbian/Croatian are the largest foreign language group with 1.4% of the population. English was the main language for 1 %90.

The German-speaking region

The term "German speaking Swiss" is not really correct, they actually speak Swiss-German ("Schweizerdeutsch"). Swiss-German is very different form the German spoken in Germany or Austria. Even more surprisingly, there is no written Swiss-German at all. People in Austria, Germany and Switzerland share the same written German language, known as "High German" ("Hochdeutsch") - however, the term "written German" ("Deutsche Schriftsprache") is far more accurate. The written German is very different form the Swiss-German, it is almost a foreign language. The German-speaking Swiss learn “written German” at school, however it always retains an element of strangeness for them.

People in each canton have their own, very distinct dialect. The dialects vary so much that it is possible to determine where a speaker comes from, but generally they are not so different as to be incomprehensible to other Swiss-German speakers. The dialects which give the most difficulty are those spoken in the southern canton of Valais, but with a bit of effort from both sides even these can be understood by speakers of other Swiss-German dialects. The language changes gradually from north to south and from east to west. Even though the French and the Italian spoken in Switzerland are not absolutely the same as in the neighboring countries, they are not as different as the Swiss-German from the German-German or the Austrian-German. This poses a problem within Switzerland: French and Italian speakers who learn German at school are taught the standard language, and find they still cannot communicate with their compatriots.

Radio and television allow the dialects plenty of scope, and they are also used to a certain extent in churches and schools.91

The French-speaking region

French-speaking part of Switzerland is called “Romandie”. It also used to have its dialects, but the church and schools suppressed them in the rural districts. The French spoken in western Switzerland has some regional characteristics, but otherwise the Romands (French-speaking Swiss) speak French as it is spoken in France. In fact, it is the Geneva reformer Jean Calvin who played a decisive role in shaping the cultural and linguistic identity of these cantons.

The Italian-speaking region

In Italian-speaking Switzerland, however, dialects are part of the citizens` linguistic repertoire. The standard language is used in writing and in public, whereas the dialect is mainly reserved for the private sphere. While the construction and development of international traffic routes (St.Gotthard Pass) and tourism from the north brought economic prosperity to what used to be the impoverished southern part of Switzerland, it also resulted in a threat to the region's cultural identity. The rich local dialects have remained intact, particularly in rural areas. Artists and writers tend to look toward nearby Milan, the cultural center of northern Italy. Of course, Italian is also spoken in other parts of Switzerland by a relatively large Italian population which migrated to Switzerland as guest workers especially in the '50s and '60s.92

The Romansch-speaking region

The many valleys of Rhaetia (today's Grisons) were conquered in 15 B.C. by the Romans, and this resulted in the latinization of the original inhabitants. The isolation of the numerous valleys led to the development of at least five distinguishable idioms besides Italian (each with its own written tradition and each with several dialects) in three southern valleys--a unique linguistic phenomenon in such a small area with no major cultural and commercial center. Rural migration around 1200 by the German-speaking “Walser” from Valais, and in the 19th and 20th century large migration to the economic centers of German-speaking Switzerland, as well as the influx of tourists have constituted a great threat to this linguistic phenomenon. In order to protect the language and culture of Romansch-speakers, there was established an organization, the Lia Rumantscha93.

An artificial standard Romansch language, "Rumantsch Grischun", was created in 1982, as a compromise between the existing idioms. It is used mainly for administrative purposes. However, in the media and for literary works, most speakers prefer to use their own idiom. In 2001 a cantonal referendum in Grisons approved Rumantsch Grischun as the form to be used in official election material and the legal code.

Romansch is considered to be “dead” language, because it doesn`t change anymore. They don`t introduce new words for new things, instead they borrow terms from the German.

The multilingual approach

Language rights are enshrined in the Swiss constitution. German, French, Italian and Rhaeto-Romansch all have the status of national languages (but only the first three are considered as official). Everything from the list of the ingredients on the package of the groceries to the manual of the most complicated TV set has to be printed in at least three different languages.

Foreigners usually assume that the fact that there are four national languages in Switzerland means that every Swiss speaks four languages, or at least three. However, the reality is very different. Although there are no central regulations for education, traditionally children in schools learn their mother tongue (its official version) and one of other national languages. In German-speaking region this second language is usually French, while in Italian- and French-speaking regions it is German. In Romansch-speaking areas both French and German are learned during compulsory schooling. In German-speaking cantons children have traditionally started French from the age of 9.

However, the approach has been changing within the last years. Although the Swiss can be proud of their linguistic proficiency and many understand the other languages of their fellow countrymen very well. However, proficiency in the national languages is decreasing in favour of English. Quadrilingual Switzerland is apparently becoming a two-and-a-half-language Switzerland. People speak their mother tongue and English and understand a second national language.94 In 2002 Ticino (Italian-speaking canton) deided to make English a compulsory subject, alongside French and German. In 2000 Zurich`s education minister provoked a wide debate by announcing that his canton intended to make English the first foreign language rather than French. He argued that English is more useful in the world and moreover, since the motivation is an important ingredient in language learning, pupils are likely to learn English more successfully than the do French. Opponents see that idea as a threat to the unity of Switzerland. Moreover, they fear that French- and Italian-speakers will be disadvantaged because they will still need a good standard of German to rise in their careers within Switzerland95.

Learning other national languages than the mother tongue is the necessity especially for the minorities, such as Romansch- and Italian-speakers. The 50000 Swiss, whose mother tongue is Romansch all speak German too. Thev have no other choice, as they form only a small language enclave within the Swiss-German region (Chur – the capital of Grisons is German-speaking). The numerical and economic superiority of the German-spaeking region of Switzerland increasingly means that Italian-speakers are also forced to speak German if they want their region to have a say and survive economically.

Although for national languages are officially equal, there can be observed the growing domination of German. Nearly all citizens of Switzerland speak or at least understand German. The investigation into the proportion of non-German-speakers employed in federal offices and agencies revealed that German was the usual working language. Moreover, research has shown that earnings are considerably affected by a worker`s mother tongue, with Italian-speakers at a particular disadvantage. This facts cause that linguistic minorities consider their cultures to be threatened by German-speakers. The evidence show, that some dialects are dying out: for example the Ticinese-Italian dialect, which has been spoken there since centuries, now is used only by 6% of school children in the region96.

Cultures together or side by side?

Switzerland lies at the intersection of three great European linguistic cultures. Language regions have easy access to the culture of the neighbour countries, but at the same time they have also access to the culture of other parts of Switzerland. Radio and TV programs in all four languages can be received across the whole country. However, people usually tune the programs in their mother tongue. Moreover, Swiss writers complain that very few books have a readership outside their own language region.In fact, language boundaries in Switzerland are not cultural or denominational boundaries. For some issues – a new abortion law, for example – different boundaries apply. Then, the Catholic populations (46% of Swiss are Catholics97) stick together, whichever part of Switzerland they live in. In some cases there are also fewer differences between the language regions than between urban and rural regions. Language boundaries run between villages which celebrate the same festivals and whose houses look similar. They run straight through the centers of towns with centuries of history. The fact that boundaries and interests overlap holds Switzerland together and instills its people the sense that they can only exist and retain their sovereignty collectively.

Is there such a thing as Swissness?

Here arises another vivid question: is there such a thing as Swissness. Switzerland is in the highly unusual situation of being the home of three of Europe's major languages, but apart from Rumanstch - spoken by only 0.5% of the population - it has no language of its own. Whichever language group they belong to, the different Swiss communities have linguistic and cultural ties with one of their larger neighbours. It's easier for someone from Geneva to speak to a Parisian than to a fellow Swiss from Berne, or for a native of Ticino to read Milan's Corriere della Sera than the Neue Zürcher Zeitung.

The language communities eat different things and have different traditions and customs. Even their shared history only goes back about two centuries. Before the Napoleonic invasion of 1798, some of the cantons even ruled other parts of Switzerland. The inhabitants of what is now Canton Vaud, for example, were the subjects of Berne, and did not enjoy the same rights as the Bernese.

The Swiss themselves are sometimes puzzled about what they have in common apart from their passport, what it is that makes them Swiss. The Swiss say they are held together by the desire to stay united. The general attitude is summed up in the formula "unity, but not uniformity."

Elżbieta Łupkowska, Magda Kaczmarczuk, Jakub Borowiec, Michał Markowski /the Editor/
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