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European language

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European language

For the populations of Europe by country and the population overall, see Demographics of Europe.

Most of the languages of Europe belong to the Indo-European language family. This family is divided into a number of branches, including Romance, Germanic, Baltic, Slavic, Albanian, Celtic, Armenian and Greek. The Uralic languages, which include Hungarian, Finnish, and Estonian, also have a significant presence in Europe. The Turkic and Mongolic families also have several European members, while the North Caucasian and Kartvelian families are important in the southeastern extremity of geographical Europe. The Basque language of the western Pyrenees is an isolate unrelated to any other group, while Maltese is the only Semitic language in Europe with national language status.

Indo-European languages

The Indo-European language family descended from Proto-Indo-European, believed to have been spoken thousands of years ago. Indo-European languages are spoken throughout Europe, but particularly dominate Western Europe.


Albanian

Albanian has two major dialects, Gheg and Tosk. It is spoken in Albania, Kosovo (Kosovar Albanians) and parts of Montenegro (Albanians in Montenegro), Serbia (mainly in Preševo Valley), Turkey, southern Italy (Arbëresh), western parts of Macedonia, Greece (Arvanitika and Cham Albanians) and Albanian diaspora.

Armenian

Armenian has two major dialects, Western Armenian and Eastern Armenian. It is spoken in Armenia, where it has sole official status, and is also spoken in neighboring Georgia, Iran, and Azerbaijan (mainly in Nagorno-Karabakh Republic). It is also spoken in Turkey by a very small minority (Western Armenian and Homshetsi), and by small minorities in many other countries where members of the widely dispersed Armenian diaspora reside.

Baltic languages

The Baltic languages are spoken in Lithuania (Lithuanian, Samogitian) and Latvia (Latvian, Latgalian). Samogitian and Latgalian are usually considered to be dialects of Lithuanian and Latvian respectively.

New Curonian is nearly extinct: it was spoken in the Curonian Spit which is now divided between Lithuania and the Kaliningrad Oblast. There are also several extinct Baltic languages, including Old Prussian and Sudovian.

Celtic

There are six living Celtic languages, spoken in areas of northwestern Europe dubbed the "Celtic nations". All six are members of the Insular Celtic family, which in turn is divided into:

Continental Celtic languages had previously been spoken across Europe from Iberia and Gaul to Asia Minor, but became extinct in the first millennium AD.

Germanic


The Germanic languages make up the predominant language family in northwestern Europe, reaching from Iceland to Sweden and from parts of the United Kingdom and Ireland to Austria. There are two extant major sub-divisions: West Germanic and North Germanic. A third group, East Germanic, is now extinct; the only known surviving East Germanic texts are written in the Gothic language.

West Germanic

There are three major groupings of West Germanic languages: Anglo-Frisian, Low Franconian (now primarily modern Dutch) and High German.

Anglo-Frisian

The Anglo-Frisian language family has two major groups:

German

German is spoken throughout Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, the East Cantons of Belgium and much of Switzerland (including the northeast areas bordering on Germany and Austria).

There are several groups of German dialects:

Low Franconian

North Germanic

The North Germanic languages are spoken in Scandinavian countries and include Danish (Denmark, Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Norwegian (Norway), Swedish (Sweden and parts of Finland), Elfdalian or Övdalian (in a small part of central Sweden), Faroese (Faroe Islands), and Icelandic (Iceland).

Greek

Main article: Hellenic languages

Indo-Iranian languages

The Indo-Iranian languages have two major groupings, Indo-Aryan languages including Romani, and Iranian languages, which include Kurdish, Persian, and Ossetian.

Romance languages


The Romance languages descended from the Vulgar Latin spoken across most of the lands of the Roman Empire. Some of the Romance languages are official in the European Union and the Latin Union and the more prominent ones are studied in many educational institutions worldwide. Three of the Romance languages (Spanish, French, and Portuguese) are spoken by one billion speakers worldwide. Many other Romance languages and their local varieties are spoken throughout Europe, and some are recognized as regional languages.

The list below is a summary of Romance languages commonly encountered in Europe:

Slavic

Slavic languages are spoken in large areas of Central Europe, Southern Europe and Eastern Europe including Russia.

Languages not from the Indo-European family

Basque

Main article: Basque language

The Basque language (or Euskara) is a language isolate and the ancestral language of the Basque people who inhabit the Basque Country, a region in the western Pyrenees mountains mostly in northeastern Spain and partly in southwestern France of about 3 million inhabitants, where it is spoken fluently by about 750,000 and understood by more than 1.5 million people.

Basque is directly related to ancient Aquitanian, and it is likely that an early form of the Basque language was present in Western Europe before the arrival of the Indo-European languages in the area. The language may have been spoken since Paleolithic times.

Basque is also spoken by immigrants in Australia, Costa Rica, Mexico, the Philippines and the United States, especially in the states of Nevada, Idaho, and California.[1]

Kartvelian languages

The Kartvelian language family consists of Georgian and the related languages of Svan, Mingrelian, and Laz. Proto-Kartvelian is believed to be a common ancestor language of all Kartvelian languages, with the earliest split occurring in the second millennium BC or earlier when Svan was separated. Megrelian and Laz split from Georgian roughly a thousand years later, roughly at the beginning of the first millennium BC (e.g., Klimov, T. Gamkrelidze, G. Machavariani).

The group is considered as isolated, and although for simplicity it is at times grouped with North Caucasian languages, no linguistic relationship exists between the two language families.

North Caucasian

North Caucasian languages (sometimes called simply "Caucasic", as opposed to Kartvelian, and to avoid confusion with the concept of the "Caucasian race") is a blanket term for two language families spoken chiefly in the north Caucasus and Turkey—the Northwest Caucasian family (including Abkhaz, spoken in Abkhazia, and Circassian) and the Northeast Caucasian family, spoken mainly in the border area of the southern Russian Federation (including Dagestan, Chechnya, and Ingushetia).

Many linguists, notably Sergei Starostin and Sergei Nikolayev, believe that the two groups sprang from a common ancestor about 5,000 years ago.[2] However this view is difficult to evaluate, and remains controversial.

Uralic

Main article: Uralic languages


Europe has a number of Uralic languages and language families, including Estonian, Finnish, and Hungarian.

Turkic

Main article: Turkic languages


Mongolic

The Mongolic languages originated in Asia, and most did not proliferate west to Europe. Kalmyk is spoken in the Republic of Kalmykia, part of the Russian Federation, and is thus the only native Mongolic language spoken in Europe.

Semitic

Main article: Semitic languages

Cypriot Maronite Arabic

Cypriot Maronite Arabic (also known as Cypriot Arabic) is a variety of Arabic spoken by Maronites in Cyprus. Most speakers live in Nicosia, but others are in the communities of Kormakiti and Lemesos. Brought to the island by Maronites fleeing Lebanon over 700 years ago, this variety of Arabic has been influenced by Greek in both phonology and vocabulary, while retaining certain unusually archaic features in other respects.

Hebrew

Hebrew has been written and spoken by the Jewish communities of all of Europe in liturgical, educational, and often conversational contexts since the entry of the Jews into Europe some time during the late antiquity. Its restoration as the official language of Israel has accelerated its secular use. It also has been used in educational and liturgical contexts by some segments of the Christian population. Hebrew has its own consonantal alphabet, in which the vowels may be marked by diacritical marks termed pointing in English and Niqqud in Hebrew. The Hebrew alphabet was also used to write Yiddish, a West Germanic language, and Ladino, a Romance language, formerly spoken by Jews in northern and southern Europe respectively, but now nearly extinct in Europe itself.

Maltese

Maltese is a Semitic language with Romance and Germanic influences, spoken in Malta.[3][4][5][6] It is based on Sicilian Arabic, with influences from Italian (particularly Sicilian), French, and, more recently, English.

It is unique in that it is the only Semitic language whose standard form is written in the Latin alphabet. It is also the smallest official language of the EU in terms of speakers, and the only official Semitic language within the EU.

General issues

Lingua Franca—past and present

Europe has had a number of languages that were considered linguae francae over some ranges for some periods according to some historians. Typically in the rise of a national language the new language becomes a lingua franca to peoples in the range of the future nation until the consolidation and unification phases. If the nation becomes internationally influential, its language may become a lingua franca among nations that speak their own national languages. Europe has had no lingua franca ranging over its entire territory spoken by all or most of its populations during any historical period. Some linguae francae of past and present over some of its regions for some of its populations are:

First dictionaries and grammars

The earliest dictionaries were glossaries, i.e., more or less structured lists of lexical pairs (in alphabetical order or according to conceptual fields). The Latin-German (Latin-Bavarian) Abrogans was among the first. A new wave of lexicography can be seen from the late 15th century onwards (after the introduction of the printing press, with the growing interest in standardizing languages).

Language and identity, standardization processes

In the Middle Ages the two most important defining elements of Europe were Christianitas and Latinitas. Thus language—at least the supranational language—played an elementary role. The concept of the nation state became increasingly important. Nations adopted particular dialects as their national language. This, together with improved communications, led to official efforts to standardise the national language, and a number of language academies were established (e.g., 1582 Accademia della Crusca in Florence, 1617 Fruchtbringende Gesellschaft in Weimar, 1635 Académie française in Paris, 1713 Real Academia Española in Madrid). Language became increasingly linked to nation as opposed to culture, and was also used to promote religious and ethnic identity (e.g., different Bible translations in the same language for Catholics and Protestants).

The first languages for which standardisation was promoted included Italian (questione della lingua: Modern Tuscan/Florentine vs. Old Tuscan/Florentine vs. Venetian → Modern Florentine + archaic Tuscan + Upper Italian), French (the standard is based on Parisian), English (the standard is based on the London dialect) and (High) German (based on the dialects of the chancellery of Meissen in Saxony, Middle German, and the chancellery of Prague in Bohemia ("Common German")). But several other nations also began to develop a standard variety in the 16th century.

Scripts


The main scripts used in Europe today are the Latin and Cyrillic; Greek also has its own script. All of the aforementioned are alphabets.

History

The Greek alphabet was derived from the Phoenician and Latin was derived from the Greek via the Old Italic alphabet.

In the Early Middle Ages, Ogham was used in Ireland and runes (derived the Old Italic script) in Scandinavia. Both were replaced in general use by the Latin alphabet by the Late Middle Ages. The Cyrillic script was derived from the Greek with the first texts appearing around 940 AD.

Around 1900 there were mainly two typeface variants of the Latin alphabet used in Europe: Antiqua and Fraktur. Fraktur was used most for German, Estonian, Latvian, Norwegian and Danish whereas Antiqua was used for Italian, Spanish, French, Portuguese, English, Romanian, Swedish and Finnish. The Fraktur variant was banned by Hitler in 1941, having been described as "Schwabacher Jewish letters".[12] Other scripts have historically been in use in Europe, including Arabic during the era of the Ottoman Empire, Phoenician, from which modern Latin letters descend, Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs on Egyptian artefacts traded during Antiquity, and various runic systems used in Northern Europe preceding Christianisation.

Language and the Council of Europe

The most ancient historical social structure of Europe is that of politically independent tribes, each with its own ethnic identity, based among other cultural factors on its language. For example, the Latini speaking Latin in Latium. A Linguistic conflict has been important in European history. Historical attitudes towards linguistic diversity are illustrated by two French laws: the Ordonnance de Villers-Cotterêts (1539), which said that every document in France should be written in French (i.e., neither in Latin nor in Occitan) and the Loi Toubon (1994), which aimed to eliminate Anglicisms from official documents. States and populations within a state have often resorted to war to settle their differences. Attempts have been made to prevent such hostilities: one such initiative was the Council of Europe, founded in 1949, whose membership is affirms the right of minority language speakers to use their language fully and freely.[13] The Council of Europe is committed to protecting linguistic diversity. Currently all European countries except France, Andorra and Turkey have signed the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, while Greece, Iceland and Luxembourg have signed it, but have not ratified it. This framework entered into force in 1998.

Language and the European Union

Official status

The European Union designates one or more languages as "official and working" with regard to any member state if they are the official languages of that state. The decision as to whether they are and their use by the EU as such is entirely up to the laws and policies of the member states. In the case of multiple official languages the member state must designate which one is to be the working language.[14]

As the EU is an entirely voluntary association established by treaty — a member state may withdraw at any time — each member retains its sovereignty in deciding what use to make of its own languages; it must agree to legislate any EU acceptance criteria before membership. The EU designation as official and working is only an agreement concerning the languages to be used in transacting official business between the member state and the EU, especially in the translation of documents passed between the EU and the member state. The EU does not attempt in any way to govern language use in a member state.

Currently the EU has designated by agreement with the member states 24 languages as "official and working:" Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish and Swedish.[14] This designation provides member states with two "entitlements:" the member state may communicate with the EU in the designated one of those languages and view "EU regulations and other legislative documents" in that language.[15]

Proficiency

The European Union and the Council of Europe have been collaborating in a number of tasks, among which is the education of member populations in languages for "the promotion of plurilingualism" among EU member states,[16] The joint document, "Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment (CEFR)", is an educational standard defining "the competencies necessary for communication" and related knowledge for the benefit of educators in setting up educational programs. That document defines three general levels of knowledge: A Basic User, B Independent User and C Proficient User.[17] The ability to speak the language falls under competencies B and C ranging from "can keep going comprehensibly" to "can express him/herself at length with a natural, effortless, unhesitating flow."[18]

These distinctions were simplified in a 2005 independent survey requested by the EU's Directorate-General for Education and Culture regarding the extent to which major European languages were spoken in member states. The results were published in a 2006 document, "Europeans and Their Languages", or "Eurobarometer 243", which is disavowed as official by the European Commission, but does supply some scientific data concerning language use in the EU. In this study, statistically relevant samples of the population in each country were asked to fill out a survey form concerning the languages that they spoke with sufficient competency "to be able to have a conversation".[19] Some of the results showing the distribution of major languages are shown in the maps below. The darkest colors report the highest proportion of speakers. Only EU members were studied. Thus data on Russian speakers were gathered, but Russia is not an EU member and so Russian does not appear in Russia on the maps. It does appear as spoken to the greatest extent in the Baltic countries, which are EU members that were formerly under Soviet rule; followed by former Eastern bloc countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic, and the northeastern part of Germany (former socialist East Germany).

Notes

See also

External links

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