Miquel Strubell



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Linguistic diversity:

Which language model for Europe?

Miquel Strubell


Humanities and Philology Studies

Universitat Oberta de Catalunya


Paper prepared for the symposium


Cultural Diversity and the Construction of Europe

Fundació Jaume Bofill i Universitat Oberta de Catalunya

Barcelona

14-16 December 2000

Introduction

We have met at this Symposium to try to “help to clarify and define the elements required for European construction to be organised on the basis of its cultural diversity and not against it.”

As those attending this Symposium will recall, it has four specific objectives: (a) To analyse and compare different present day theoretical perspectives on cultural diversity and European construction; (b) To carry out the most rigorous analysis possible of European discourses (media, institutional, etc.) and practices concerning cultural diversity; (c) To analyse the complexity of European cultural diversity in order to clarify its different levels on the basis of its different subjects; and (d) To identify the obstacles that prevent cultural diversity from being the foundation of European construction, and to formulate proposals for overcoming them on the basis of a fruitful intercultural dialogue.

“Linguistic diversity” as a sociological phenomenon that deals with the contact between languages or, more exactly, the contact between speakers of one or more languages, needs to be the object of political action (in one sense or another). However, the subject of planning languages in an integrated Europe has been more the subject of academic debate1 than the result of any long-term political proposal. Many scholars, and I myself2, have argued that languages can be planned, but that it is far easier to do so with the corpus of the language (terminology, grammar, morphology and syntax) than its social status, even if there are well-established mechanisms to bring about changes in its legal status. And so to speak of European linguistic diversity, to be specific, is a complex matter from many points of view. Not because there are a large number of languages —Europe has very few— but because the association between state and language has been forged over the centuries (according to each case) and European integration means breaking with many clichés and prejudices.

Therefore it is not surprising to discover that for some years the process of European integration, or Europeanisation, whether social, political or, most of all, economic, has worried Catalans because of the cultural and linguistic effects of one kind or another which are, and will continue to be, involved in the process. 1990 saw the publication of the results of the work of a team —a sociologist Salvador Cardús; two communication experts, Jordi Berrio and Enric Saperas; an economist, Lluís Bonet; and a philologist from Ibiza, Isidor Marí3— who took part in a broader project, convened by the European Commission on the subject Interdependence, European identity and cultural plurality in the European Community. The work, published by Fundació Bofill in 1990, is of special interest for this meeting: Isidor Marí spoke about “The organisation of linguistic diversity” and Josep Gifreu paid attention —albeit sparse— to the question of “specific language policies for the mass media”. In the introduction Salvador Cardús reviewed the foreseeable reticence towards a proposal put forward to forge a European cultural identity among the founder members of the Union: the nation-states, among which are some that have laboured for more than two centuries to construct a single cultural identity among their inhabitants.

“Just as [...] the construction of a European identity, a common feeling of belonging, inevitably involves the politicisation of culture, resistance by national cultures to any possible European politicisation is due to a fear of any possible weakening of particular national identities.” (Cardús, in Bofill 1990: 23)

Returning to the search for a “language model for Europe”, we will recall that the organisers of the Symposium have asked Professor Norman Labrie and myself to focus attention on five specific questions:


  1. What is the validity of predominant conceptions in Europe about how the linguistic diversity of the continent should be handled?

  2. With the enlargement of the European Union, will it be possible to maintain the across-the-board multilinguistic principle –the equation of official language with working language– in the European institutions?

  3. How is it possible to ensure equal participation in the construction of a common economic, political and cultural space if the conditions of access to community funds and programmes are different for Europeans who speak non-state languages?

  4. What criteria could reasonably be established to provide for "cultural exceptions", or the linguistic adjustment of the market, so that the free movement of labour does not involve the risk of disintegration for minority language communities?

  5. What satisfactory formula can be established for handling the linguistic relations between migrants, Community residents and host societies?

1. What is the validity of predominant conceptions in Europe about how the linguistic diversity of the continent should be handled?

Before considering different visions of the organisation of supra- or inter-state linguistic diversity, we should take a look at visions of the organisation of intra-state diversity. We have to start from the discourse generated —frequently over centuries— by each state.

In March 1999 the Nederlandse Taalunie4 organisation organised a congress on “Institutional Use and Status of National Languages in Europe: Contributions to a European Language Policy.” I had the opportunity to present a paper on “Some aspects of a sociolinguistic perspective to language planning” (now being prepared for publication in the congress minutes). I dealt with four aspects of a language policy for Europe: choosing an internal language regime for administrative purposes; another, for the conducting of meetings of MEPs and representatives of member States; an external language regime for relations with European citizens and bodies; and a language policy for supporting a multilingual Europe. Given the broad range of language policies used by the different members of the European Union at present, I said that defining a language policy which will be acceptable to all, and which is not prohibitively expensive, will be a daunting task.

Let us take a slightly more detailed look at that broad range of language policies used by the members of the Union.

France and Germany are two sides of the same coin: the monolingual state. In the first case a nation was forged from an existing state. In the second, a state was forged from an existing nation. In the first case the previous situation was linguistic diversity and in the second political diversity. The existence of internal minority languages has been ignnored in both cases, and especially in the case of France (where they were numerically very significant). The governments of both states have made an expansionist language policy, France towards the former colonies, mainly in Saharan Africa, and Germany towards Central and Eastern Europe: Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia, etc.

Generally speaking, except for the examples we shall mention now, there has been a long process of associating language with state: “One state, one language.” That can be observed in the majority of European states.

However, other states have made genuine efforts to design a language policy that would adapt the administration to sociolinguistic reality. The ones most often quoted are Switzerland, Belgium and Finland. The first two started from the principle of territoriality, and the third from the principle of personality; but I say “started” because in all three cases the principles have not been applied absolutely. The specific reasons in each case are different, but they are reflected in the political and administrative system, highly decentralised or federalised.

How do they see the organisation of European linguistic diversity? There is more than one answer. A state like the Netherlands does not seem at all concerned with the defence of its state language, and when the Danes were negotiating their entry into what was then the European Economic Community, they advocated a language regime in the Union similar to that of the Council of Europe5, in which English and French —but not German, the language of the neighbouring country— would have been the only official languages.

The large states, on the other hand, many of them with an imperial history, have been unwilling to compromise and have demanded that their languages be official and working ones (there is no distinction between the two concepts in Community legislation). That attitude is at the origin of the growth of the number of official languages of the Union, keeping pace with its expansion; we shall come back to that subject in a moment.

Therefore, the first thing we notice is that throughout the process of European construction, states have tried to minimise the impact at home of the existence of other member states with other languages. Initially, diversity meant everyone’s right (except minorities, of course) in terms of language to carry on without interference: diversity as problem or threat, but one that can be ignored.

Next came a stage at which diversity was regarded with more curiosity. Measures were taken mainly in two directions:

(a) - in education and

(b) - in industry and services.

That was the moment when the Lingua programme for pupils and students was launched: the reaction to diversity was to encourage the learning of other Community languages. A few years ago we embarked on the second phase, in which the Union considered diversity (cultural and linguistic) an opportunity with “important social implications”, and the adaptation of products and services to specific markets as a future strategy for companies. Here is a good example of that speech, related to the development of electronic commerce on Internet.

Linguistic and cultural customisation is not only essential for the content firms, but also for other industries that generate large volumes of digital information and do business over the Internet. A targeted localisation strategy can make the difference in future between global success or failure. Strategists see a clear and growing need for localisation as activities move towards electronic commerce.

The linguistic and cultural customisation of information and transactions is not just important from an economic point of view, a simple matter of customers preference, but has also important social implications. Language diversity on the Internet will increase the access to the tools of the Information Society for many European citizens, that, otherwise might have been excluded. Indeed, linguistic customisation of content products for non-English speaking customers may be an effective way to expand Internet use in Europe. The forthcoming enlargement of the Union also underlines the importance of localisation. Access to information services in their mother tongue will help the citizens of the new Member States during the process of their full integration within the Information Society and the EU.

The key question here is how to grasp the opportunities offered by linguistic customisation and to make sure that the content flows between language blocks. This implies the availability of services that can manage and deliver multilingual content. Efforts should be directed to ensure the widest adoption of tools scanning the whole horizon of information delivery, from full translation through summarisation to keyword abstracting. Commercial partnerships between the digital content and the language industries providing the necessary tools and services are essential. This should be complemented by the presence of a solid basic linguistic infrastructure (e.g. lexicons) networked and readily available that can facilitate the customisation work in all phases of the process, whether it be ex-post translation or multilingual authoring6.

Indeed we see two different uses of the term “diversity”. The first is descriptive: cultural and linguistic reality is diverse (and the larger the framework, the more diverse it is). Moreover it is something valued, to be protected. That vision is reflected in the following quotations. The first is from the European Parliament.

Whereas Europe must retain its cultural diversity, conveyed through its multilingualism, in the use of the new technologies too7.

The second, longer as you can see, is from the European Commission.

In recent years, the new media have proven to be particularly fit to promote Europe’s cultural heritage and diversity, involving large groups of citizens in cultural issues. The Internet has the potential to strengthen the European cultural identity while at the same time reinforcing the expressions of Europe’s cultural diversity. More European digital content is needed to counterbalance the market penetration of products and services with an American background. Bringing European cultural content to the Internet will reinforce Community actions in the cultural field8.

“Unity in diversity” is an expression which reflects this double trend quite accurately9. That slogan has gone down well in Europe because it offers a neat solution to the dilemma: are we heading for equality (uniformity, with the cultural impoverishment that involves) or equity (which means mutual respect between equals and the maintenance of diversity)?

The second sense is strategic: it is a recommendation for behaviour by institutions and companies in order to communicate better with the people who make up that diverse reality. Moreover, it is seen as a way of avoiding the perpetuation of the absolute predomination of English in areas such as Internet:

The presence of content in different languages promotes citizens’ equal access to the Information Society. It should not be necessary to master the English language to find interesting content on the Internet. In addition the presence of different languages on the World Wide Web helps preserving the linguistic diversity within the European Union. At the same time, the necessity of linguistic and cultural customisation opens export markets for further exploitation by the content industries10.

It would be a mistake to attribute the penetration of English in Europe to the process of European integration, structured through the institutions of the European Union. A number of anecdotes clarify the matter at once: according to the eminent Romance scholar Georges Lüdi, there are signs that English is beginning to be used for oral communication between Swiss who are speakers of different languages. In Norway, the discovery of the large deposits of petroleum beneath the North Sea meant that for the first few years, in the absence of a specific terminology for that new industrial sector, relations between government and companies —even though they were often Norwegian ones— were entirely in English. In conclusion, the expansion of English is driven by engines outside the European Union, engines which are so powerful that we might wonder to what extent Community policies will be able to halt the phenomenon.

And so linguistic diversity, and the promotion of a knowledge of other languages, is in danger. Isidor Marí (in Bofill 1990: 130) quotes Heinz Kloss in his proposal for a language policy for European diversity:

“In the unification of Europe, which is the wish of us all, we have to perform two completely different tasks: we have to improve the possibilities of oral and written comprehension between the language communities of Europe, and we have to prevent medium-sized and small language communities from being consciously or unconsciously discriminated and damaged in that unification.” (Kloss 198211)

Georges Lüdi, Peter Mühlhäusler and others have identified another value in linguistic diversity as a source of creativity and adaptation to changing environments:

“The maintenance of linguistic pluralism is not only desirable from the point of view of the threatened languages, but especially necessary in a more global interest. Just like the destruction of biodiversity, language homogenisation and the loss of minority languages would have unforeseeable negative consequences for humanity12.”

2. With the enlargement of the European Union, will it be possible to maintain the across-the-board multilinguistic principle –the equation of official language with working language– in the European institutions?

Even with the present number of official languages, there is increasing pressure to reduce the range of possibilities in certain specific functions. The languages that will be admitted to the new European Patents Office will certainly be only English, French and German.

There is considerable reticence in the more important countries —accustomed to virtually monolingual13 environments­— in the face of the growing evidence for the need to reduce the diversity of language options in some spheres of activity of the European institutions. Ironically, the idea that the number of languages used for certain functions should be limited for pragmatic and cost reasons is the same argument used by Spain, for example, to continue to sideline languages other than Spanish in many state functions.

Spain has just scored a spectacular own goal. On behalf of the whole team, Alejo Vidal-Quadras, a member of the ruling Partido Popular and vice-president of the Europe Parliament, has backed the disappearance of Spanish in the Strasbourg chamber’s relations with the media, as our correspondent pointed out in a juicy report yesterday. An own goal that leaves the Spanish language on the brink of its definitive elimination from the European competition, where English and French are already the champions of the Union, whilst German, now introduced as a European Commission language, has every chance of coming third in the classification.

[...]

Dropping one’s guard over the use of Spanish in Brussels or Strasbourg, as happened in the chamber on Wednesday, means weakening a key front for the defence of our language in the world. All the public budgets and bodies designed to spread Spanish around the universe will be of little use in Europe, which is already home from home, if we allow our language to be pushed into the dark corners of the Community rooms, like the harp the poet sang… in the language the once belligerent Vidal-Quadras voted against with total docility. (ABC 2000)14



Therefore, we see that predominant conceptions do not coincide very much above and beyond the will of all states to encourage learning the other state and official languages of the Union. When we enter into institutional language uses, we immediately find ourselves with a clash of wills, with habits consolidated over many years which will be almost impossible to alter.

The internal reality of the European Commission is quite different, as everyone knows. Between oral and written use, English has come to dominate most communications, followed by French and, at some distance, German. The use of other Community languages is almost token. There is therefore an official discourse about whether or not to maintain integral multilingualism and a reality which goes its own way, aside from principles and regulations. That reality, ironically, is the reverse of the Council of Europe, where there is official bilingualism but, in practice, more working languages.

That functional differentiation within a plurilingual organisation has had a name for many years: diglossia. The term is alarming because of its pejorative overtones towards the language relegated to more official and formal functions.

If there is pressure on the institutions to differentiate between official language and working language (another way of saying that some functions would be performed only through a limited number of languages from among the official ones), we can imagine what pressure there will be when the first round of candidates are admitted to the European Union (let us not mention the second): Slovenian, Estonian, Hungarian, Polish, Czech. Moreover, reports I have not been able to confirm go so far as to say that as a gesture in favour of a solution to the Cyprus question, the (Greek-speaking) government had asked the Community negotiators for Turkish to be an official language of the Union15.

The eleven current official languages16 could then become sixteen or seventeen within a period of three to four years, and over the following five years Bulgarian, Croat, Slovakian, Latvian and Lithuanian could be included.

There is no need to be a prophet, therefore, to say that the principle of multilingualism cannot be maintained indefinitely. What the solution will be is another matter, of course. We will consider alternatives later on. Right now, however, we only want to emphasise one thing: that the working language system is only one of the linguistic aspects that need to be examined in the process of European integration. Its effects go far beyond that one, however emblematic it may be.

We should add that we can sometimes observe a certain irritation in Brussels in the face of the demands of the minority language communities, which are moving in the opposite direction to the pressure to reduce the number of languages recognised by the Union. There are cases where Commission bureaucracy is looking for problems: with the rule book in hand, Frédéric Mistral, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, could not have been a candidate for the European Literature Prize!

3. How is it possible to ensure equal participation in the construction of a common economic, political and cultural space if the conditions of access to community funds and programmes are different for Europeans who speak non-state languages?

This third question, in my opinion, is misleading. I say that because the basic question is not the language in which the Commission writes the papers17.

Each minority language community is deprived in some way of access to power18. The word “minority” itself is an indication. Perhaps the more relevant question may be: Do Community funds and programmes take account of those language communities? Are they suitable for them?

But first a few words about the attitude of the European Commission towards any language which is not “official” in the Union. Reservations have always been considerable for all the discourse of diversity. We need only look at the list of procedures that had to be gone through for the Socrates programme to be allowed to include a reference to the universities where some teaching is done in a non-official language: the Catalan ones first of all (Strubell 1996).

The patent truth is that neither the Commission nor the Council have taken any measures to promote or defend those minority language communities. The European Parliament has taken an interest on occasion and not just “to quiet its conscience” (Gasòliba 1995: 113). Recent reports show that the idea of presenting the Commission with a proposal for such a programme has been adjourned because of the likely veto by some states (such as Greece and France) of any initiative of that type. The lawyers on the Commission have insisted that the programme would have to be set not within the framework of education (for which a unanimous vote is not needed) but in the sphere of culture. Therefore the Directorate General of Education, Culture and Youth has had its “pilot project” held up; over more than 15 years it has given 3 million ??? in the form of subsidies. And that when the commissioner is Mme. Reding (responsible for the resolutions at the plenary session of the European Parliament on languages in the Community and on the Catalan language, December 1990), who is clearly sympathetic.

Meanwhile, any citizen who wants to present a petition to the European Parliament is reminded that:

This form must completed in one of the official languages of the European Union.

Ironically, the only place where the European Union seems to take the subject of minority languages seriously is in the negotiations for the enlargement of the Union. That is done in accordance with what is called “the Copenhagen Criteria”, a document from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which has specialised in the subject of national minorities19.

As stated in Copenhagen, membership requires that the candidate country has achieved:

* stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities […]20

The reasoning is clear: a national minority that feels mistreated, especially if its nationality has a neighbouring state that supports it, is a potential source of conflict. For that very reason the OSCE and the Council of Europe keep a close watch on the issue. But always outside the Union, never inside (in spite of the pressures for it to finally concern itself with the dismal situation of language minorities in Greece, which is a member of the Union).

As we know, the Council of Europe has been more aware of these issues for some time and more active. (That may seem paradoxical since the Council has very few official languages, as we have seen). By way of example, we should mention its European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, whose lax application does not, however, guarantee that a language community can withstand the pressures to which it is submitted today. Moreover, the number of states which have ratified it is still very small, and the Council of Europe points the finger at Spain in its latest Report on Spain by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), dated 6 March 1998:

Spain has ratified all of the relevant international instruments in the field of combating racism and intolerance, except the Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. It is considered that ratification of this instrument should be effected as soon as possible21.

A response more respectful of diversity would certainly appeal to the need to place the management of all European Union programmes that can be efficiently implemented according to the principle of subsidiarity in local or regional hands. A good precedent to bear in mind: the transfer from the central administration to the Catalan government of many services in the framework of the Statutes of Autonomy in the 80s, meant just that: the linguistic adaptation of those services to the reality of Catalonia.

Therefore, given that it is possible to accede to the European Charter while removing from many of the articles any paragraphs that might represent even the least commitment, in terms of real action, by each state, it is disgraceful that such a small number of the member states of the Council of Europe have ratified it so far.

Returning now to the question posed at the beginning of this section (How is it possible to ensure equal participation in the construction of a common economic, political and cultural space if the conditions of access to community funds and programmes are different for Europeans who speak non-state languages?), we should say that the Jacobin answer is quite simple: give the speakers of unofficial languages all necessary support to be able to use one of the official languages of the Union as well as if they were native speakers.

And so: our response must be categorical. Any exclusion of a European language sidelines the group it belongs to. Whether or not that exclusion is felt by the speakers of the language depends on many factors, of course, among them the language treatment they receive from their state, which will continue —let us not forget— to be the main intermediary between the Union and each language community.

4. What criteria could reasonably be established to provide for "cultural exceptions", or the linguistic adjustment of the market, so that the free movement of labour does not involve the risk of disintegration for minority language communities?

Let us recall, first of all, that the term “free movement” refers to the movement of people, goods and services, and capital. There is a close relation between them all. The new work places are usually created by capital, and one or another of them produces the goods and services consumed or used by people and companies (inside or outside the society in question).

That free movement has been operating inside states for some time. The creation of a unified market (which in the case of Spain, as confirmed recently by the Consejo Económico y Social, is full of dysfunctions through the fault of the State of the Autonomies introduced by the Spanish Constitution in 1978, to judge from the reports that appeared in the newspapers on 29 June 200022) has brought about the disproportionate growth of most of the capital cities and metropolitan industrial zones of those European countries, and the depopulation and desertion of large areas of the countryside.

As for exceptions specifically and directly related to language, I only know of one in the framework of Community legislation: the case of the Åland Islands, which are Swedish in terms of language and culture, but part of Finland. When Finland was negotiating its entry into the Union, the people of Åland demanded the right to continue with positive discrimination measures which in fact run counter to Community legislation, especially concerning property rights and founding a company or business:

When Finland joined the European Union, the consent of the Åland Lagting was required for Åland to join the EU too. Membership of the Union means that some of Åland’s legislative competence is transferred to the legislative body of the EU. Åland's special relationship to the rules of the EU is regulated in all important respects in a separate protocol included in the Accession Treaty. Under the protocol Åland as a member of the EU stands outside the EU tax union. The Union has also consented to Åland retaining its special provisions for the purchase of real estate and the right of carrying on business in Åland. In addition, a note in the protocol confirms Åland’s special status under international law. (from Åland website)

It seems natural to deduce that it would have been possible to negotiate special entry conditions for other minority language communities larger than Åland, with its 25,000 inhabitants. However, it seems ingenuous to suppose that the Union can be reformed from inside when the states are not very sympathetic to the needs of their own minorities.

It has always been difficult for the Union to touch on cultural issues. One of the architects of the Treaty of Rome regretted afterwards that the issue of culture was the major omission. Cardús points out that the text of the Treaty of Rome only makes one mention of the word “culture” (Cardús, in Bofill 190: 16). The reluctance of states to deal with the subject has meant that the assumption of Union competence in the field (the Treaty of Maastricht first, then the Treaty of Amsterdam) has been conditioned to the unanimity of the member states. That means that any initiative in the cultural field can be simply torpedoed by a block by any of them. This is not a minor matter: hopes that the European Commission would take a proposed programme for the protection and defence of “regional and minority” languages to the Parliament and the Council of Ministers were nipped in the bud when the Commission lawyers decided that it could not be processed according to the articles that regulate educational issues (where programmes can be decided by qualified majority, not unanimity).

But the control of cultural markets is an indispensable tool for forging a common identity project, as has been the case in the United States (Cardús, op. cit.: 29).

There are other obstacles to be overcome. We might wonder, for example, if this is the right moment —one in which neo-liberal discourse, favourable to the free market, is dominant— to put these issues on the table. But there are arguments and concepts that are both pertinent and valid in the present context.

Diversity as a value

The variety and diversity of Europe is one of our most precious assets, no less in education and training than in other fields23.

The Council of Europe is negotiating a decision to recognise the asset that linguistic diversity represents for Europe and to incorporate respect for multilingualism in actions to promote the Information Society24. For diversity to be seen as an obstacle but not as a threat is obviously interesting for us.

Therefore, this document proposes EU action in three crucial areas:

- Stimulating the exploitation of public sector information;

- Enhancing linguistic and cultural customisation;

- Supporting market enablers.

The goal is to help create an environment favourable to business initiatives where European creativity, cultural diversity and technological strengths can be commercially exploited. The Lisbon European Council specifically underlined the importance of the content industries that “create added value by exploiting and networking European cultural diversity”25. The political challenge is to unleash the market potential of untapped resources and to turn perceived weaknesses into strengths. (op. cit., p. 2)26

The need to take proactive measures on diversity. Once the principle has been accepted (although it has sprung from an inter-state vision of Europe), it is understood that specific measures can be taken to protect the weaker. When I refer to the weaker it must be quite clear that, for all the European language communities with a language made official by the Union enjoy formal equality, not even in such cases do they necessarily have the same future prospects. All the more so in the case of the communities with non-official languages. Therefore:

Only by bringing out the relevant objective distinctions between (sociolinguistic) situations can we lay the foundations for a truly egalitarian application of (language) law, i.e., one which respects the pluralism of society (Marí 1995: 44).

Indeed, Marí is quoting a phase from Witte (1988), who states that “a pluralist vision of linguistic equality [...] is expressed in the famous Aristotelian dictum according to which equality consists of treating equally what is equal and unequally what is unequal (Marí, idem; see also Solé i Durany 1995: 89; Strubell 1999a).

We owe another elegant formulation of the same principle, according to some authors to Henri Lacordaire (e.g., the lawyer Joan Ramon Solé i Durany on different occasions; the French Socialist Party27, or Didier Coeurnelle28), and according to others, Jean-Jacques Rousseau29.

Between the weak and the strong, it is freedom that oppresses and the law that frees.

Halting monopolies. Just as the authorities intervene to prevent an excessive concentration of power in a particular subsector, they may have to intervene to prevent the same thing in a language context. We have a good example in the recent mergers of large French food chains.

We have seen this concept exploited by lawyers in a context where the subject under discussion was language policy. A language monopoly should be as rebarbative to public opinion as any other.

Approaching the citizen. There is great concern that “Brussels” should not be seen as a distant, opaque organisation whose only purpose is to make life more complicated for the citizen. A use of language accessible to everyone could be one of the factors in overcoming that problem.

h) Citizenship, Transparency and Accountability

It is widely recognised that one of the main weaknesses of the present European Union is the ‘democratic deficit’, which has resulted in Europeans feeling increasingly alienated from the integration process. To realise the objective of true citizenship, the decision-making process in the Union must be more open, transparent and accountable. This applies to the development of policy, the implementation and evaluation of programmes and the provision of reports and information. Such openness is essential in the evolution of more democratic and responsive European institutions30.

Ironically, we could not find that very text, at least on Internet, in French or Spanish.

It seems clear that the need to inform and relate to the public must involve consequences for language. However, that fact needs to be stressed, because it is often taken for granted (because the official languages of the Union are the official languages of the member states, except for Irish and Luxembourgeois which, as everyone knows, have special regimes).

An apparent discourse in favour of pluralism. Current discourse must be exploited, even though its motivation often comes from an interest which is language-centred at heart:

Created in October 1994, “the Right to Understand” aims to coordinate and increase the effectiveness of the measures and actions of all the associations working to develop French speaking and the right to clear, trustworthy information for consumers and users of public services.

To that end, “The Right to Understand” supports all initiatives aimed at extending the radius of the French language and ensuring that the language rights of citizens in the country and in Europe are respected within the framework of current legislation.

“The Right to Understand” states that it is also in favour of respect for all national languages in the European Union and for the development of a balanced plurilingualism in the European institutions to make them more democratic31.

A closer example to the motivation we are interested in (because it aims to foster active acceptance of linguistic and cultural diversity) is to be found in a Commission white paper:

Proficiency in three Community languages: a quality label. Proficiency in several languages has today become essential for getting a job. This is particularly true in a single European market without frontiers. It is also an asset which makes it easier to move towards others, to discover different cultures and mentalities, to stimulate one's intellectual agility. While being a factor of European identity and citizenship, multilingualism is at the same time a cornerstone of the knowledge-based society32.

Alongside the pressure on the Commission to make all states undertake to promote the learning of at least two foreign languages by all pupils in compulsory education, there are more specific kinds. One initiative incorporated into Community policy as a Council Resolution is the agreement of 16 December 1997 on early teaching of the languages of the European Union33.

For which products, we might ask, should we provide cultural or linguistic let-out clauses in an integrated Europe? To put it another way, can the use of one or more particular languages be imposed on certain products?

Those questions are redundant. The European Union has had such clauses for a long time, for example in the regulations on the labelling of consumer products.

Thus, in a regulation that covers the labelling of wine, we can read some quite juicy linguistic “whereas”:

Whereas it is important that the description of wines and grape musts may be made in each of the official Community languages so as to ensure compliance with the principle of the free movement of goods over all its territory; whereas it is, however, necessary that the required information be provided in such a manner that the end user can understand it even if it appears on the label in a language other than the official language of his country; whereas the names of geographical units should be indicated solely in the official language of the Member State where the production of the wine or of the grape must has taken place, so that the product thus described is put on the market under its traditional name; whereas, taking into account the particular difficulties of understanding information in Greek which stem from the fact that it is not written in the Roman alphabet, authorization shall be given for such information to be repeated in one or more other official Community languages34.

The regulation in question is so complicated as to be almost incomprehensible when it comes to describing the whole permitted or forbidden linguistic casuistry. We need not say that the legal position of the label in Catalan was frankly dubious. The result, no doubt, of Catalan pressure in 1999 for the approval of a new regulation that recognises the vitality of languages other than the official ones:

In the case of products obtained and put on the market in their territory, Member States may allow the information referred to in the second subparagraph also to be given in a language other than an official language of the Community, if use of that language is traditional and customary in the Member State concerned or in part of its territory.

And so we have regulations that apply linguistic exceptions in the sense of not leaving the issue up to the free market, but regulating it. We have seen how a regulation can be transformed to be favourable to Catalan, even if not in similar conditions to the official languages of the Union. But our discourse has to go farther and insist on the need to regulate the weaker languages.

At all events, let us note the extract from the most recent regulation: it does not authorise the use of languages without qualification: what it does is empower the member states to do so. Therefore the “inclusion” of Catalan, or Languedoc, in the regulation may be “excluded” by the state, which continues to carry out an important task as intermediary… through the collective will of the members of the Union, of course.



5. What satisfactory formula can be established for handling the linguistic relations between migrants, Community residents and host societies?

By using the term “formula” we are thinking of a legal regulation, when in fact language communities have a greater or lesser capacity to assimilate people from outside according to whether or not the host society takes it for granted that the new population will be linguistically integrated. Obviously we are talking about social control and power, which derives from the political power —or sovereignty— of each society. But it has often been recalled that Ireland, with a language policy strongly favourable to the recovery of the national language, has not been able to win the battle on the streets.

The Catalan case is a good example: the —social— language rules are clearly unfavourable and have not substantially improved since the end of the Franco regime. They oblige Catalans, who are assumed to have a good mastery of Spanish, to speak Spanish to any foreigner and/or Spanish-speaker (whether tourist or business person, resident or son or daughter of immigrants born in Catalonia).

In my paper at the congress organised by Taalunie Neerlandse in Brussels (March 1999), I had the occasion to talk about what is happening in the Balearic Islands, with the gradual arrival of tourists who, in many case, are gradually becoming new residents, with an attitude which is more one of language demands —typical of tourists from many countries— than respectful integration. I talked about the sociolinguistic effects of geographical mobility.

One exception has to be made to [the] rejection of the idea that these incursions of other languages pose a threat to the medium-sized national languages that this Conference is addressing. The exception, geographic mobility, has already been mentioned. People move around more and this makes linguistic demands on them: their linguistic repertoire may no longer be adequate, or appropriate, in a new setting. Others may settle abroad not directly for professional reasons, but to form linguistically mixed families. However, if and when the movement is large-scale, it may be the host population that is expected to make the linguistic adaptation. Look at what is happening to Catalan in Ibiza (and increasingly, in Majorca too): having been the only language spoken there for about seven hundred years, in the space of under 30 years it has become the language spoken by fewer than half of the schoolchildren, on account of the massive influx of non-Catalan-speakers. With few notable exceptions, the newcomers do not learn the language of the island, but rather impose their own, wherever they can, on the local population: a real colonial attitude.

This is not the direct result of political and economic integration in Europe (the Swiss and the Norwegians, who are not in the European Union, are equally involved, for instance), but rather of the growing wealth and general mobility of Europeans. (Strubell, in preparation).

That said, we cannot forget that there are often obstacles of all kinds to the integration of immigrants from the Third World. Here we have a case reported recently in the newspapers:

There is still administrative blockheadedness which has prevented an Iranian schoolgirl in Poblenou, considered to be the best student in the school, from receiving her diploma or being admitted to the university because, since she was fleeing persecution in her country, she cannot be given a residence permit as she does not have a passport35.

Unfortunately, the movement of people in Europe takes place in a context which only creates more stereotypes. We Catalans have been able to see that for ourselves for many years on the Costa Brava and in other tourist areas. The tourists expect to find (and obviously the traders are canny enough to meet the demand) flamenco shows, bullfights, swords from Toledo and even Mexican hats… all because they are in “Spain”. They do not expect to find the elements of Catalan culture and for that reason they are unlikely to find any such thing on offer. More than that: we shall tend to be dealing with a growing number of people who, for lack of information or education, cannot differentiate between a Castilian, a Catalan and a Basque. On the contrary, under the influence of the stereotype, they will bundle us all into a single uniform package.

By way of illustration, a good example of the transmission of clichés is to be found in the current catalogue of the French Novotel chain, which fills up pages talking about the euro and then, in the files for each country, puts down the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Sweden and Spain as monolingual!

Obviously the peoples who have been able to assimilate immigrants over the centuries, recruiting them linguistically and culturally from the first or second generation, have been strengthened demographically and have achieved internal cohesion. The metaphor, inspired in the United States, of the “melting pot” is as vivid as it is deceptive: the Anglo-Saxon ingredient has imposed itself for two centuries on the cultures of people who have arrived from other parts of Europe over the same period, in spite of the absence (until quite recently) of any laws making English the official language (with the exception of the few states with an historical presence of Spanish). It is also fascinating how Italian emigrants to Argentina in the early 20th century were easily integrated into Spanish, although they were superior in numbers to the Spanish population. In short, those integrations respond rather to the expectations of the agents and the host population than to the presence or absence of legislation on language. Therefore in the present context the outlook is not favourable for European language communities that do not have a state apparatus to (re)legitimate their own language. That includes the Catalans, decimated as we have been for 70 years by a very low birth-rate and only partially compensated by the recruitment of people with other linguistic origins who have adopted the habitual use of our language. That phenomenon certainly exists (it has been studied in Catalonia by Paul O’Donnell, for example), but on a small scale, especially because of language regulations that the policy of the Catalan government has been unable to redress.

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