Policy, planning and perceptions in the European Union: a comparative perspective on minority language vitality
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Over the last few decades, minority language issues have been attracting increasing attention in the media, among academics, and in the affairs of national governments and international organizations. Nowhere has this been truer than in the European Union, where concern over the ‘endangered languages crisis’ has led to an increasing awareness of Europe’s small languages and of the challenges they face in a globalised, English-dominated linguistic marketplace. A more tangible outcome of this concern has been a growth in rhetoric within EU institutions advocating a general respect for multilingualism and linguistic diversity, and a series of support measures and resolutions designed to guarantee this. Despite the widespread rhetoric of concern and support, however, in terms of concrete legislation there is still a wide gap between debate and policy in Europe, and until now it has been left unclear to what extent this gap is actually affecting the vitality and prospects of individual minority languages. This dissertation addresses this question by analysing how the European Union, both in the by-products of the integration process and in its deliberate rhetoric of support, is impacting the vitality of three specific minority language communities: Galician in Spain, Corsican in France and Sorbian in Germany. Drawing upon research collected via sociolinguistic surveys in these communities, it attempts to gauge whether Europe as an integrated entity is positively or negatively affecting the prospects of minority languages within its borders; if member state policies toward their minorities have been positively swayed by European rhetoric; if minority language speakers themselves see a positive effect on language use from European policy and promotion; and whether the role of English as a necessary lingua franca inside and outside Europe is eroding the position of the minority languages as the second language of choice. Quantitative and qualitative analysis on the survey results indicate that unfortunately, despite the amount of attention these minority languages receive from both government and media, language decline seems to show no sign of abating in any of these communities, and indeed the actions of the EU are apparently having very little impact on individual language situations. In addition, the survey indicates that hostile or indifferent member state policy is continuing to be one of the biggest stumbling blocks to minority language maintenance in Europe. From this perspective it seems reasonable to assess that the EU has in effect failed at what it claims to be trying to achieve, namely to provide a social and political climate that is favourable to minority language maintenance, and to assume that if this is the case in these three communities it is likely to be the case across Europe. With this in mind, the study concludes with the recommendation that the EU reconsider its involvement in language matters across the board, particularly in its current working-language structure and the reluctance to put some force of law behind its minority language support, and cautions that without this, the EU will likely face the imminent erosion of much of the very diversity upon which it has been built.