See also the article "Latin in Humanist Europe" in the EHNE.
Since antiquity, the cultural memory of Europeans has been influenced by the idea that Europe is a continent of its own, even though the European consciousness based on this idea has remained extremely diffuse. Very few inhabitants of the continent have clear definitions of its geographical extent, its geopolitical subdivisions, or the distribution of languages or cultures. Some western Europeans think that the expanses of Russia start just beyond the Vistula; and even some well-educated citizens of the European Union believe that the Volga is a river in western Siberia. In Russia, on the other hand, a clear definition of where Europe ends and Asia begins has existed for a long time. In Ekaterinburg in the southern Urals, there is a square marked with a column, where, during the imperial period, those sentenced to exile were allowed one last prayer on European soil before being deported into the expanses of Siberia.
Europe as a Geographical and Cultural-historical Concept
Where to draw the boundaries of Europe and whether it is useful to make a conceptual distinction between Europe and Asia depends on one's perspective. From a geographical perspective, the division of the Eurasian landmass by the Ural mountain range is "obvious".1 One can imagine the extension of this dividing line to the Caspian Sea, the western shore of which would then be in Europe, while the eastern shore would be in Asia. However, it only makes sense from a geographical perspective to take the Urals as the dividing line. This division is not useful from the perspective of linguistic and cultural conditions. Uralic and Altaic languages are spoken on both sides of the Urals and the cultures of eastern Europe and western Asia are similar, both being historically based on animistic belief systems.2 Since the 18th century, the cultures and language communities of Eurasia have been subject to a single educational and official state language, i.e. Russian, which is an additional factor underlining the indivisibility of Eurasia.
From the perspective of the cultural sciences, it is undoubtedly more useful to stress the unity of Eurasia as a macro-region, than to divide it between continents. Demographic fluctuations within Eurasia also speak in favour of considering Eurasia collectively. The so-called "gateway of peoples" (Völkerpforte) between the Urals and the Caspian Sea, through which the nomads travelled from west to east and in the reverse direction, was already open 5000 years ago. From the first millennium BC, the history of the nomadic cultures in the Eurasian Steppe was characterized by intensive interaction between eastern Europe, central Asia and western Siberia.3 On the other hand, the degree to which modern researchers deal with Eurasia as a cultural region depends on the amount of information available. For example, a recent archaeological overview all but omitted the Eurasian Steppe for the Neolithic period, even though local cultures can be identified in the region from around 7000 BC onward.4
The drawing of European boundaries in the Mediterranean region is also a matter of definition. Malta is considered to be part of Europe, even though the Maltese speak a variant of Maghrebi Arabic. This stresses cultural historical ties to Europe – the Maltese are Christians – and, in particular, to Italy. As an island in the eastern Mediterranean, Cyprus geographically belongs undoubtedly to Asia. On the other hand, for centuries Cyprus's most important economic and cultural contacts have been those to Europe. The Cypriot population is the largest non-contiguous population of the Greek-speaking community. Malta's and Cyprus's membership in the European Union underlines the connections which both islands have to Europe.
Some outlying territories in northwestern Europe require particular mention. There is little point in debating whether Greenland belongs to Europe or America. Geographically and geologically, the island undoubtedly belongs to the American landmass. The Inuit inhabitants of Greenland have close linguistic links to groups on the American mainland, namely the Eskimos in Canada. As an autonomous region of Denmark, Greenland is geopolitically part of Europe, and the economic and cultural conditions are correspondingly characterized by links to Denmark. With its Greenlandic-Danish bilingualism, Greenland's society is socio-culturally oriented towards Europe.5 The position of Iceland as a northern outpost of Europe is less problematic. In terms of their culture and language, as well as their self-identification, the Icelanders are clearly European.
Regardless of which criteria one uses to demarcate Europe, the division of the world into continents is a universal concept. This way of thinking has been an integral part of our cultural memory for a long time,6 and this article therefore discusses the linguistic conditions of Europe as a separate macro-region. Since the political transformation of eastern Europe in 1989 and since the expansion of the European Union at the beginning of this century, the languages and cultures of Europe have received increased attention in linguistic and cultural science research. This increased interest has manifested itself in a large number of publications.7 Until the late-20th century, only the native (i.e. autochthonous) languages were taken into consideration when discussing the characteristics of the linguistic regions of Europe. In this context, it is appropriate to speak of "linguistic regions" (Sprachräume) when discussing the distribution of languages. However, the spectrum of languages in Europe has facets with non-geographical dimensions. This is demonstrated in the present day by the socio-political issue of immigrant languages.
Two aspects are fundamentally relevant for a comprehensive view of Europe's mosaic of languages. These aspects complement each other in terms of their meaningfulness. The first is the static aspect of the demographic and spatial distribution of languages in Europe. The second is the dynamic aspect of a chronological sequence of stages of development, which have given the linguistic mosaic its current form. From the 15th century, European languages were exported overseas, and the colonial history of European states is also the history of the spread of European world languages and the emergence of numerous pidgins and creole languages based on European languages. In view of the global presence of European languages in the world, the concept of Europe's mosaic of languages is somewhat relative in its geographical narrowness.8
Europe's Mosaic of Languages (Current State of Development)
The language communities in Europe consist of a total of 700 million people. These languages include autochthonous languages, such as Basque, German or Hungarian, as well as immigrant languages from other parts of the world, such as Amharic, Kurdish or Vietnamese. The numbers of speakers for the individual languages vary considerably. Top of the list in terms of number of speakers is Russian with 172 million speakers in Europe (native speakers and second language). Bottom of the list is the smallest language community of Europe, the Livonian speakers, who consist of less than ten people. These are ethnic Livonians with Latvian citizenship who have learned Livonian as a second language; the last Livonian native-speaker (Viktor Bertold, who was born in 1921) died in April 2009.
In the overview of the linguistic landscape of Europe, territorial borders must unavoidably be taken into account. For the purposes of this discussion, 44 sovereign states are included under "Europe". These include all the member states of the European Union (including the outlying island of Cyprus), as well as those states which have thus far remained outside of the EU. Three states in the Caucasus region which were non-Russian Soviet republics until 1991 and which have been sovereign states since then (Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan) are included among the states of Europe here. Only the European part of the Russian Federation is included here, while the linguistic cultures of Siberia are not taken into account.9
In a global comparison, Europe – with less than 150 native languages – is the continent with the least number of native languages. There are several states outside Europe which have more languages than all of Europe combined. These include, for example, Papua New Guinea (826 languages), Indonesia (701), Nigeria (427), India (418), Brazil (236), the USA (224) and China (206).10 The languages of Europe constitute only 2.2 per cent of the total number of languages in the world (more than 6,400). However, this percentage will rise somewhat in the future because comparatively more endangered small languages will become extinct in other regions of the world than in Europe.11
Native Languages and Immigrant Languages
A unique characteristic of Europe's mosaic of languages is the relatively high number of languages which are spoken by more than a million people. 48 European languages are included in this category (31 per cent of the total of 143). Besides Russian, this category includes German, French, English, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Ukrainian, Greek and others. On other continents, the proportion of languages with more than one million speakers is much lower: Asia comes closest to Europe with 6.6 per cent. Around half of the languages of Europe are spoken by less than a million people (e.g. Basque, Rhaeto-Romance/Romansh, Sorbian, Sami, Mari, and Ossetic). The corresponding proportion for other macro-regions such as Asia and Africa is over 80 per cent, and in the Pacific region and America it is lower than in Europe.
The figures given for the linguistic diversity of Europe refer to the languages native to the continent, i.e. languages whose speakers have lived in Europe for centuries. The figures look very different when the numerous immigrant languages are included in the overall view.12 The number of immigrant languages, i.e. the languages of the "New Europeans", exceeds 250 and is thus much larger than the number of autochthonous languages in Europe. The distribution of these languages across the regions of Europe is very uneven. With regard to the native languages, the ratio of diversity increases from west to east. The majority of autochthonous European languages are spoken in eastern and southeastern Europe. This applies in particular to the Caucasus region on the periphery of European, which has more than 50 languages, most of which are autochthonous. In the case of immigrant languages, the distribution is exactly the opposite: The majority of immigrant languages are concentrated in the countries of western Europe, while the number in southeastern Europe and Russia is considerably lower.
The special contact conditions of immigrant languages (also referred to as "community languages" in English) have been researched since the 1980s for individual countries,13 though the phenomenon did not yet have Europe-wide relevance at that stage. However, the issue of immigrant languages became increasingly acute in the 1990s with the massive influx of asylum-seekers and economic immigrants, and today the phenomenon is changing the linguistic landscape throughout western Europe and in parts of eastern Europe.14 Novel contact situations have arisen between native languages and languages that have been transferred to Europe from elsewhere. Today, the languages of African immigrants are in contact with English, French and German on European soil, thereby continuing a tradition which previously only existed in colonial history. An increasing number of "linguistic oases" is emerging, which are continuously created and expanded in the European linguistic landscape by migrants from non-European countries. In the urban setting, in particular, contact between languages of old and new Europeans is becoming increasingly complex.15
Europe is currently experiencing the emergence of new pidgins. In their interaction as "new Europeans" with the native Europeans, immigrants from overseas (particularly from Africa) in western Europe and from Asia in eastern Europe (particularly in Russia) have caused linguistic interferences which are increasingly resulting in pidgins of French (in the conurbations of Paris and Brussels), of English (in the British industrial cities), of German (in the urban milieu of the large cities) and of Russian (particularly in Moscow and St. Petersburg). The linguistic landscape of Europe is opening into a dimension of socio-linguistic fusion, and these processes are initiating continuous change.16
European Languages and European World Languages
Europe has far exceeded all other continents regarding the export of languages. There is no other continent from which so many languages have been spread around the world, taking root elsewhere in the world and giving rise to global language communities. Most world languages, i.e. languages with global communicative functions, are European in origin and belong to the Indo-European family of languages.17 The result of this language export from the 15th century onward is a vast increase in the numbers of speakers. Today, the majority of speakers of languages such as English, Spanish, Portuguese and French live in regions outside of Europe. The proportion of speakers in Europe compared to those in other continents varies considerably between the individual languages:
|Total number of speakers||Number in Europe||Number outside Europe|
|English||573 million||61.3 million (10.7%)||511.7 million (89.3%)|
|Spanish||352 million||39.4 million (11.2%)||312.6 million (88.8%)|
|Russian||242 million||172.8 million (71.4%)||69.2 million (28.6%)|
|Portuguese||182 million||9.8 million (5.4%)||172.2 million (94.6%)|
|French||131 million||62.4 million (47.6%)||68.6 million (52.4%)|
|German||101 million||96.9 million (96.0%)||4.1 million (4.0%)|
German and Russian are Europe-centred, with the vast majority of speakers of these languages living in Europe. Languages such as Portuguese, English and Spanish, on the other hand, have far more speakers overseas, and the speakers in the countries of origin constitute a minority of the total number of speakers.
Languages and States
The more than 140 languages of Europe are distributed between 44 state territories. The oldest state-like entities in the history of Europe were the Mycenaean city states (Mycenae, Tiryns, Pylos and others), which formed in the second millennium BC. The newest state is Kosovo, which achieved independence in 2008. The status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia remains unclear; they declared their independence after the Russian-Georgian war in August 2008. The United Nations continues to assume that these two regions are autonomous regions within the borders of the Georgian state, while Russia has recognized the independence of both regions.
Linguistic and state borders have never corresponded with one another. There are very few states which contain the entire language community of the national language. The island states of Iceland and Malta are the only examples of this. The relationship of the language communities of Europe to the respective state territories is that of a majority in contrast to regional minorities. For example, the German-speaking language community is concentrated in central Europe and is distributed between the territories of three states: Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Numerous communities, geographically and/or territorially separated from the central area of spread, complete the spectrum: German minorities in France, Belgium, Italy, Hungary, Poland, Russia and elsewhere. If one counts the regional speaker groups of each language separately, the total number of the regional language communities is four or five times larger than the sum of the individual languages in Europe.
The distribution of languages and ethnic groups in the states of Europe is the result of varied historical processes. Some of these processes began in antiquity. Other processes reflect more recent developments and can be attributed to periods in the last 1500 years. The contours of language distribution in Europe have continued to change up to the present. The constant fluctuations result not only from the different rates of growth of the language communities, assimilation tendencies or migration flows, but also from shifts in political borders.
Since antiquity, the states of Europe have been faced with the issue of aligning linguistic and state borders. In spite of repeated attempts – often in the form of shifting borders through war – to achieve correspondence between national and cultural-linguistic borders, all the various models of uniformity have remained an ideal and none have existed in reality for any length of time. The states of Europe have been subject to continuous changes to border outlines since antiquity. Older state entities have disbanded or collapsed, new states have emerged. Particularly susceptible to the vagaries of political conflicts were states with multi-ethnic and multilingual populations, which invariable did not endure for very long.
The large kingdom of Poland-Lithuania lost its political significance in the 18th century. The weakening of this state was so enduring, that the powerful neighbouring states were able to achieve the partition of Poland in three phases (1772, 1793, 1795). The Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, the borders of which stretched far beyond the German settlement region, existed nominally up to 1806 when it was dissolved by Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821) and split into a multitude of regional principalities and kingdoms. The multi-ethnic states of the 20th century no longer exist either. In 1918, the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary was divided into nation states. In 1991, the Soviet Union dissolved without any pressure from outside. It was replaced by numerous nation states with ethnic majorities and majority languages. The dissolution of the former Yugoslavia was the result of successive wars between 1991 and 1995.
The concept of the uniformity of church institutions, as represented by the linguistic symbol of the Latin language, was an important impetus for the idea of state organization in a culturally uniform area. Indeed, since the beginning of the modern era, part of the history of the formation of states is the history of projects aimed at eliminating ethnic and linguistic diversity. "The ethnically mixed societies of the European peripheries existed in a wider European culture that seems to have been moving, over the course of the medieval period, towards an ever-higher estimation of uniformity".18
This striving for uniformity was essentially driven by political power concerns and primarily aimed at keeping multiculturalism and multilingualism away from state affairs. The stronger the central governments became in the states of Europe, the more intense the pressure exercised by dominant languages on non-dominant languages. The institutionalization and functional expansion of state languages as the exclusive media in all areas of public life had long-term repercussions for regional languages, the functional realm of which was increasingly restricted, resulting in many of the speakers of such languages assimilating and changing to the state language.19
The struggle for existence of non-dominant languages and the resistance of speakers of such languages against the imposition of the state language was successful in some regions, while in others language communities increasingly dissolved. In most states with a natural majority language, however, the standardization process, which was motivated by concerns of political power, generally remained an ideal which the holders of power strived for, but never achieved. The constant tension between central state power (and the majority language) and regions with interests opposed to those of the central state (and minority languages) makes the history of Europe more multifaceted.20
The complex process of change of linguistic and state borders continues right up to the present. The largest changes in the language-state relationship were caused by the population displacements and "ethnic cleansings" of the Second World War and the immediate post-war period. This included the literal "dehumanization" of the Yiddish language community (whose members overwhelming fell victim to the Holocaust), the deportation of the Volga Germans from the Volga region to Kazakhstan in the late summer of 1941, and the "de-Germanification" of the states bordering Germany in the 1940s and 1950s.21
After the final setting of political borders and the recognition of the status quo of the state system in Europe in the agreement of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe of 1975, it looked for a few years as though there would be no more big changes in the future, either with regard to linguistic borders or with regard to state borders. However, the repercussions of the transformation in eastern Europe in 1989 and the long-term consequences of the military confrontations in the Balkans (1991–1995: dissolution of the Yugoslavian state; 1999: Kosovo crisis) demonstrate to us that the constellation of languages and states will continue to change. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Russian-speaking population experienced a historic change: For the first time in history, millions of Russians live beyond the borders of their native country of Russia.22
Languages and Language Families
With the exception of the Basque language, Indo-European languages are spoken in western Europe. The languages of the various regional groupings within this family are concentrated in particular areas. In the northwest, Celtic languages are spoken. Germanic languages are spoken in the north (England, Scandinavia) and in central Europe. In the west and south, Romance languages predominate. On the southern periphery, we find an outpost of the Afro-Asiatic language family, the Maltese language. Surrounded by Indo-European languages in central Europe, the Hungarian language constitutes a Finno-Ugric enclave isolated from other related languages.
The situation in the eastern half of Europe is considerably more complex. The languages spoken there belong to four different language families. In fact, more than four families are represented if you take into account that the Caucasian languages are divided into a number of different language families. Of the Indo-European macro-grouping, it is the Slavic languages that predominate in southeastern and eastern Europe. The Uralic languages are represented in eastern Europe by the Finno-Ugric branch of the family. The group of western Turkic languages spoken in eastern Europe and the Caucasus represent the Altaic family of languages. The autochthonous languages of the Caucasus region do not belong to any of the language families mentioned.
The area in which Indo-European languages are spoken in Europe is very small in comparison to the distribution of this language family outside the European continent.23 The Indo-European languages with the most speakers (Hindi: over 420 million, Bengali: over 200 million) are spoken in southern Asia. The speakers of Indo-European world languages are also predominantly situated outside of Europe (see above). Taking into account the distribution of European world languages and the historical migration of Europeans to regions outside Europe, Indo-European languages can be found in almost all countries of the world.
Groupings in Europe:
- West Germanic: German, English, Frisian, Dutch, Yiddish, Luxembourgish
- North Germanic: Danish, Faeroese, Icelandic, Norwegian, Swedish
- Language with most speakers: German (96 million in Europe)
- Smallest language community: Faeroese (47,000)
- Western Romance: Gallo-Romance (French, Occitan); Ibero-Romance (Spanish, Portuguese, Galician, Catalan); Rhaeto-Romance (Romansh, Ladin, Friulian)
- Eastern Romance: Italian, Corsican, Romanian
- Sardinian is a special case, being between Western and Eastern Romance. Language with most speakers: French (62 million in Europe)
- Smallest language community: Ladin (30,000)
- Insular Celtic: Goidelic/Gaelic (Irish, Scottish Gaelic); Brythonic/Brittonic (Welsh, Breton)
- Language with most speakers: Irish (1.1 million, including primary language and second language)
- Smallest language community: Scottish Gaelic (58,000)
- West Slavic: Polish, Kashubian, Czech, Slovak, Sorbian
- East Slavic: Russian, Belorussian, Ukrainian, Ruthenian/Rusyn
- South Slavic: Slovenian, Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian, Bulgarian, Macedonian
- Language with most speakers: Russian (172 million in Europe)
- Smallest language community: Sorbian (67,000)
- Eastern Baltic: Lithuanian, Latvian
- Language with most speakers: Lithuanian (3.5 million)
- Smallest language community: Latvian (1.6 million)
(constitutes a separate branch of Indo-European)
(constitutes a separate branch of Indo-European)
(constitutes a separate branch of Indo-European)
- West Iranian: Kurdish (in Armenia and Georgia)
- East Iranian: Ossetic, Tat, Talysh
- Language with most speakers: Ossetic (0.55 million)
- Smallest language community: Tat (3,000)
- Indic (Indo-Aryan)
- Romani (only representative of this language branch in Europe)
Romani, the language of the Sinti, Roma and other regional groups, was brought to Europe from outside. Romani has been spoken in southeastern Europe since the 12th century and is generally considered as belonging to the spectrum of native European languages because the history of Romani is closely linked to the history of the European languages through its contact with those languages. This contact has not only resulted in Romani being influenced by other languages, Romani has also left traces in other languages, most notable a number of Balkan languages.24
Like the Indo-European languages, the Uralic languages are not only present in Europe, but in Asia also (in western and northern Siberia).25 Of the two main branches of the Uralic language family – the Finno-Ugric and the Samoyedic – the languages of the first branch are better known. Three of the Finno-Ugric languages (Finnish, Estonian, and Hungarian) are official state languages in independent states. The other Uralic languages are minority languages in the Russian Federation, Romania, Ukraine and Slovakia.
Groupings in Europe:
- Finnic (Finno-Permic: Komi, Permyak, Udmurt; Finno-Volgaic: Mari, Mordvin; Baltic Finnic: Finnish, Karelian, Estonian, Izhorian, Votic, Veps, Livonian)
- Ugric: Hungarian (the other Ugric languages are spoken in Siberia)
- Sami (these include ten regional languages in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia)
- Samoyedic: Nenets or Yurak (the other Samoyedic languages are spoken in Siberia)
- Language with most speakers: Hungarian (15 million)
- Smallest language community: Livonian (10)
The Caucasus Mountains form a barrier between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, dividing Europe from Asia. The region is divided between the territories of four states: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Russia. The de facto independence which Chechnya enjoyed after the first Chechen war (1995–1996) was removed by the second Chechen war (1999–2000).
The native Caucasians are descendants of the original population of the region, who already lived there before the last ice age. To be precise, the term "Caucasian languages" is a collective term for all the autochthonous languages of the region.26
Only a few of the more than three dozen Caucasian languages are used as a written medium. Among these are Abkhaz and Kabardian (Northwest Caucasian), Chechen and Ingush (Northeast Caucasian) and Georgian (South Caucasian). The oldest of these literary languages is Georgian, the earliest texts of which come from the 5th century AD.
Groupings in Europe:
- Northwest Caucasian (West Caucasian): Abkhaz, Kabardian, Cherkess and others
- Northeast Caucasian (Dagestani languages): Nakh, Avar, Lezgic and others
- North Caucasian (Vainakh languages): Ingush, Chechen and others
- South Caucasian (Kartvelian languages): Georgian, Mingrelian, Svan and others
The Altaic family of languages is represented by two branches in Europe, the Turkic and the Mongolian. There are numerous Turkic-speaking peoples between the Urals and the Balkans, each with their own individual language.27 The linguistic landscape of eastern Europe has changed considerably since the early medieval period. Turkic tribes from Siberia migrated to Europe across the plane that is bordered by the Ural Mountains in the north and the Caspian Sea in the south. From an early stage, they established empires, such as that of the Khazars (7th century) just to the north of the Caucasus and that of the Volga Bulgars (8th century). Subsequently, the Tatars of Kazan dominated, who in alliance with the Mongols ruled over half of the lands of the Rus between 1245 and 1480.
One might be inclined to ascribe the status of "imported languages" to Altaic languages present in Europe. It must be remembered, however, that the ethnogenesis of various Turkic peoples – such as the Tatar, Chuvash and Gagauz peoples – occurred on European soil and their languages must therefore be considered as much native to Europe as the languages with which they came into contact (i.e. Russian, Bulgarian and Moldovan).28
Groupings in Europe:
- Western Turkic: Tatar, Bashkir, Chuvash, Nogai, Karachy-Balkar, Kumyk, Gagauz Southern Turkic: Azerbaijani, Crimean-Tatar
The Kalmyk language is the most eastern European language and the only representative of the Mongolian language branch in Europe.29 The Kalmyks are also referred to as European Oirats. The closely related Asiatic Oirats live in northern China. The settlement region of the Kalmyk people is on the northwestern shore of the Caspian Sea, Kalmykia (Hal´mg Tanghch), where most Kalmyks live. This territory is an autonomous republic within the Russian Federation. The Kalmyks migrated from their original settlement region in northern Mongolia and settled in the lower Volga region in the 17th century. The Kalmyk language is not counted among the languages of Asia.
Of the branches of this family, the Semitic branch is represented in Europe. Four Semitic languages have become native to Europe: Hebrew, Arabic, Maltese and Neo-Aramaic (Assyrian).
The role of Hebrew is that of a sacred language of the Jewish people. This applies to the Jewish population with European identity markers, the Ashkenazi Jews and the Sephardi Jews.30
Sephardic Jews (or Sephardim) refers to the Spanish Jews (after the Hebrew name for Medieval Spain, sepharad). The Jews in the Iberian Peninsula experienced their cultural blossoming under Moorish rule in Spain. Sephardic Jews were particularly concentrated in the cities of Seville, Cordoba and Granada.31 In this multicultural milieu, the culturally important languages of Hebrew and Arabic flourished and, in written form, were preferred to the Romance vernacular language, Mozarabic. This milieu gave rise not only to a rich variety of original literature in the Hebrew language, but also to a large volume of translations. The traditional language of the Sephardim is Ladino (Judaeo-Spanish), a variant of medieval Spanish replete with borrowings from Hebrew, which was transferred to southeastern Europe by refugees when the Sephardim were expelled from Spain in 1492.32
The native language of the Ashkenazi Jews is Yiddish. Yiddish, which refers generally to the language of the Ashkenazim since the 16th century, is a fusional language based on Middle High German with very strong influences from Hebrew, Polish and Russian.33 The term Ashkenazim referred in the medieval period to Jews in western Europe (Germany, France, England). Between 1050 and 1300, the Jews in the German-speaking territory were the largest and culturally dominant group. Subsequently, after the Jews had been expelled from western Europe and had established a new home in Poland and Russia, the term Ashkenazim came to refer to all the Jews in Europe (with the exception of the Sephardim in the Iberian Peninsula).
Arabic is used as the sacred language in Islamic communities and it is also spoken as the native language of economic migrants and asylum seekers from Arabic countries (Algerians in France, Moroccans in Spain, Italy and Germany, Egyptians in Britain). Around five million Muslims live in France alone. Arabic has played an important role as a language of learning and high culture in Europe since the medieval period. Its presence is not attached to a particular region, but it shifted over time from western Europe to eastern Europe.
The Iberian Peninsula as an Arabic Cultural Province
From the 8th century up to the year 1492, Arabic was the language of culture in large parts of Spain. While the southward advance of the Christian kingdoms of the north (the Reconquista, or reconquering of previously Christian regions) continuously decreased the territory under the control of the Moorish rulers, the Arabic spoken and written language retained significance in the Christian centres of culture. In 1130, a translation school was founded under the patronage of Archbishop Raymund of Toledo, with the task of translating the most important Arabic works into Latin. In particular, learned Christians were interested in Arabic literature as a means of "discovering" the works of classical authors, the original Greek or Latin versions of which had been lost in Europe. Among these were various works of Aristotle, such as his treatise De anima, which was translated from Arabic to Latin in the 12th century. This translation activity has been praised as the "Renaissance of classical Greek thought in the West",34 and important works of classical antiquity were thus "brought home" to Europe through the medium of Arabic.
Sicily, the Volga Region and the Balkan Countries as Arabic Cultural Provinces
Arabic cultural influence became strong during the reign (1210–1250) of the Hohenstaufen emperor Frederick II (1194–1250). At his court in Palermo, both Latin Christian and Arabic Islamic culture were cultivated.35
The Islamicized cultures of the Turkic people in the middle Volga region have been under Arabic influence from the medieval period. Arabic was and remains the sacred language of the Turkic Muslims. The writing system of the Tatar, Bashkir and other Turkic languages was based on the Arabic alphabet up to the beginning of the Soviet era.36
During Ottoman Turkish rule in southeastern Europe, Arabic became to be widely used as a written language. Spoken Arabic was limited to the Koran schools and the Mosques (Koran texts and prayers). The Arabic alphabet, which was used to write Turkish until the 1920s, was also adapted for a number of local languages in the Balkans. Literature in the Albanian, Serbian, Bosnian and Tatar languages emerged, which was written using Arabic letters.
An Arabic script, the arebica, was developed for writing Bosnian (in addition to an alphabet derived from Cyrillic), which was adapted to the phonetic system of this South Slavic language. Today, the Bosnian language is primarily written using a variant of the Latin alphabet, though the Cyrillic alphabet is also in use.37
Maltese, the national language of Malta, is a local variant of the Arabic language which differs from the other variants of Arabic due to the distinctive cultural development of the archipelago between Sicily and North Africa.38 The Maltese people are Roman Catholic and, as a result of their religious orientation, have primarily been influenced by cultural developments in western Europe.
Assyrian or Neo-Aramaic is a modern variant of Aramaic, the native language of the historical character Jesus.39 Small groups of speakers (about 15,000) of this language, which is spoken by a total of 0.33 million people in many enclaves in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey, live in Georgia and Armenia, and also in some cities in Russia (Moscow and St. Petersburg). Speakers of Assyrian are oriental Christian, most of whom live as minorities in majority Muslim populations. In Georgia and Armenia, the Neo-Aramaic speakers are a Christian minority with its own traditions within a majority population (Georgians and Armenians) that belongs to a different Christian denomination. Assyrian is also referred to as Neo-Aramaic because of the script used to write this language. The Estrangelo script is a variant of the old Nestorian script, which was used in the early Christian period in Syria.
The region in which the Basque language is spoken (referred to as the Basque Country) consists of a French zone and a Spanish zone. In previous centuries, the region of distribution of the Basque language was larger (see below). Basque is closely related to the Aquitanian language, which became extinct in the antique period. It is not possible to prove a direct link between Basque and any other living language in the world. Basque is therefore genealogically isolated.40 Basque-speakers have been in the minority in the Basque provinces for more than a century. In 1868, 54 per cent of the population of the Basque provinces spoke Basque. This percentage fell to 23.7 per cent by 1991. Of a total of 2.873 million inhabitants of the seven Basque provinces (Labourd, Basse Navarre and Soule on the French side; Vizcaya, Guipúzcoa, Alava and Navarra on the Spanish side), 0.681 million speak Basque.41
Europe's Mosaic of Languages (Development Phases)
A large majority of the languages spoken in Europe belong genealogically to macro-groupings (language families) which are autochthonous. That is, these language families came into being on European soil, and the differentiation of the individual languages within these families occurred in a number of development phases in Europe.
The oldest languages still spoken in Europe today are located at the peripheries: the Basque language in the west and the Caucasian languages in the east. The Caucasian languages came into being in the Caucasus region.42 A number of other languages belong to this group of oldest European languages, but all of them became extinct during the antique period. These languages were primarily spoken in the Mediterranean region. These pre-Roman languages probably belonged to an ancient Mediterranean language family. From east to west, these languages were as follows:43
- Eteocypriot in Cyprus
- Minoan in Crete
- Lemnian on the island of Lemnos in the Aegean Sea (related to Etruscan)
- Etruscan in Etruria
- Remnants of pre-Indo-European languages in Sicily
- Palaeo-Sardinian in Sardina
- Camunic in the northern Italian Alps
- Rhaetian in the Swiss Alps
- Ligurian in the region of Genoa
- Aquitanian in southwestern France
- Iberian in northeastern Spain
- Cantabrian in northern Spain
- Tartessian in southern Spain
- Lusitanian in southern Portugal
The Indo-Europeanization of Europe
The formative period of the Indo-European language family lies in the period between about 7000 and about 5000 BC. This is roughly the same period in which the Uralic language family formed. The region of origin of the Indo-European languages is in eastern Europe in the southern Steppe belt between the Volga and Don rivers.44 The original home of the Uralic-speaking populations was in the forest zone to the north of the original home of the Indo-Europeans and west of the Ural mountain range, which gave this language family its name.45 The Indo-European complex and the Uralic complex formed in close geographical proximity to one another from a common older layer of language, which is the oldest that can be identified for Eurasia. This oldest layer is referred to as Nostratic or Eurasiatic. A number of very old convergences in the vocabulary and grammatical structure of Indo-European and Uralic, which did not result from borrowing, point to this common language layer.46
For a long time, there were differences of opinion concerning the origin of the Indo-Europeans and the differentiation processes of the Indo-European languages. This is due to the fact that these complex questions cannot be comprehensively answered using the knowledge provided by a single academic discipline. Historical linguistics is not sufficient for the formation of a conclusive theory of the prehistoric processes which Indo-Europeans underwent. The evaluation of knowledge from a variety of disciplines – linguistics, archaeology, cultural science and human genetics – is required for the formulation of a conclusive theory regarding the prehistoric processes that brought about the emergence of the Indo-European family of languages. Today, it is possible to discount – for various reasons – the assumption that the original home of the Indo-Europeans was Anatolia and the idea that the Indo-Europeans had been present in western Europe from the beginning.47
The linguistic, archaeological and human genetic facts which have been established up to the present can be coherently combined with one another if one assumes that the old Indo-European (i.e. proto-Indo-European) culture developed in the Steppe zone of what is now southern Russia, and that small groups of nomads from the western periphery of this region subsequently advanced into regions with agrarian populations, where they established themselves as elites. In subsequent waves, migrants from the Steppe settled in regions where agriculture had established itself and gradually became accustomed to the agrarian life. The Steppe nomads exercised considerable influence as elites, and the agrarian population adopted the language of the rulers, i.e. Indo-European.48 Later waves of migration transferred these early forms of Indo-European, which had resulted from cultural and linguistic fusion, further westward. The prehistoric migrants who spoke regional variants of Indo-European were native Europeans who had been assimilated and acculturated Indo-Europeans. The Celts, who spread throughout western Europe in the first millennium BC and migrated to the British Isles, already lived from agriculture.
The history of Europe is the history of its Indo-Europeanization. Today, most of the languages in Europe are affiliated to the Indo-European language family. The spectrum of individual Indo-European languages has changed considerably over time. Many of the languages spoken in pre-Roman times became extinct in antiquity or in the early medieval period at the latest. Of the numerous Italic languages, only Latin has survived, the spoken version of which subsequently transformed into the Romance languages. Thracian, Dacian, Ancient Macedonian, Illyrian, Venetic, Lepontic, Gallic and numerous other early forms of Indo-European have become extinct.
In the course of the Indo-Europeanization of Europe, many native Europeans assimilated. The assimilation processes that occurred in pre-Roman times can only be partially reconstructed from the surviving remnants of pre-Indo-European languages. For example, the vocabulary of ancient Greek contains a broad range of borrowings from the language of the pre-Greek population of southeastern Europe, whom the Greeks referred to as Pelasgians. Among these are many expressions from the areas of weaving, plant cultivation and pottery, as well as metal-working and the natural world.49
More is known about the process of language shift for the Etruscans, who assimilated to Latin by means of a long period of bilingualism. Before disappearing as a spoken language, Etruscan left noticeable traces in Latin.50 These include not only borrowings in the specialist vocabulary, such as the Latin term histrio (actor) or atrium (entrance hall of a Roman house), but also very common elements of the cultural vocabulary, such as caerimonia ([religious] ceremony), columna (column), persona (person, individual) and others, which are of Etruscan origin. Through Latin, these remnants of the Etruscan language have been transferred to the cultural vocabularies of our modern languages in phonetically modified forms (e.g. Latin: populus, Italian: popolo, French: peuple, English: people, etc.). We are unaware of the Etruscan origin of so many words – even in our everyday vocabulary and not just terms from the higher registers – because our school education does not impart such knowledge and our cultural memory does not contain it either. Who would suspect that terms such as "cheese", "cistern", "tavern" and "number" are of Etruscan origin?
The Basques are the only European people which has retained its language since antiquity, and this in spite of centuries-long pressure to assimilate from Indo-European languages (Latin, French, and Spanish). However, the Basque-speaking language community has seen its region of distribution shrink considerably since the medieval period. The origins of the Basque ethnic identity reach back to pre-Roman antiquity, and Basque is the oldest living language in Europe. In the linguistic material (names, appellatives) which has survived from northern Hispania in Roman times, we find the typical phonetic and morphological characteristics of the Basque language.
Evidence provided by modern human genetic research strongly suggests that present-day Basques are remote descendants of the ice age population. That is to say, the people who painted the walls of the caves in Altamira, Lascaux, Pech-Merle and elsewhere were remote ancestors of the present-day Basque population.51 Therefore, the pride in their particularly old roots and traditions, which is a feature of the national self-identification of the Basques to the present day, has a basis in historical fact. The relationship between the Basque and Aquitanian languages has not yet been completely explained. Aquitanian may be a dialect of the Basque language which became extinct. Alternatively, however, Aquitanian may be an older language from which Basque subsequently developed. There is some evidence to support the latter assertion.
Since late antiquity, the Basque population has shrunk continuously, meaning that the region of distribution of the Basque language has contracted and that the number of Basque speakers has fallen. However, it would be premature to predict the extinction of the Basque language. Two hundred years ago, the German researcher Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767–1835), the founder of the academic study of the Basque language, expressed scepticism about the survival chances of this language. Humboldt calculated that Basque would become extinct by 1900, a prediction which proved totally wrong. Today, more than a century after Humboldt's predicted "expiry date", only alarmists speak of the possible extinction of the language.
The Manipulation of Linguistic Diversity in Europe in the Cult of National Languages
Europeans have always been aware of the diversity of their languages and cultures. It was inevitable – in view of the concrete reality of linguistic barriers – that these barriers would enter the purview of political and state interests. Since the medieval period, the linguistic diversity of Europeans has been discussed in relation to the various language communities. Isidore of Seville (ca. 560–636), who is referred to as the "schoolmaster" of medieval Europe, noted: "Races arose from different languages, not languages from different races".52 Herein lies the nub of the subsequent discourse on the relationship between languages and peoples. The medieval concept of gens was transposed into the concept of "nation", and the latter concept was understood from an early stage as being linked to language.
Up to the present, there is a widely-held view that the historiography of national languages in Europe began in the 18th century as one of the currents of the Enlightenment, that it experienced its first blossoming in the cult of the national languages and was politicized in the 19th century in the ideology of nation states. This view is badly in need of revision. The intellectual preparation for the nationalization of European language cultures began centuries before the Enlightenment discussions of the intrinsic value of the history and language of a people. Additionally, the role of national languages is not limited to their communicative aspect, but extends far beyond into the realm of the cultural identity formation of the speakers.53
An early politicization of the concept of national languages is characteristic for the countries on the European peripheries, for Russia in the east and Spain in the west. The Russian principalities were freed from the control of the Tatars (who pursued the political interests of their allies, the Mongols) by the principality of Moscow, which had established a position of dominance among the principalities. In the period between 1380 and 1480, the Russian vassals rebelled repeatedly against the Tatars and finally brought an end to their political control over Russia. In this period, Moscow gained the position of protector of all Russians, and the Christian mission which the Muscovite state performed was part of the "unification of the lands of the Rus" (obъedinenie russkikh zemel' in Russian).54 At that time the Russian people was defined as including all those who spoke Russian and were Christian – the same definition would later be employed by the Russian tsars. Ideally, the borders of the unified Russian lands should be identical to the region settled by Russians. However, Russia had already become multicultural and multilingual during the period of the unification of the lands of the Rus, as many Russians had already settled in regions with Finno-Ugric populations.
Language and religion also became central symbols of nation state formation on the western periphery of Europe, in the Iberian Peninsula. For centuries, the struggle between the Moorish rulers who controlled most of Spain for a long time and the Christian Kingdoms of northern Spain was a struggle between worldviews. Representing European Christendom, the Christians of Spain confronted Islam and, in the Reconquista, pushed the Muslims further and further southward. In 1492, the united kingdoms of Castile and Aragon finally succeeded in defeating the Moors of Granada. This ended the era of the Arabic presence in western Europe.
Even before victory over the Arabs, the monopoly of the Roman Catholic church in the area of religion was accompanied by a monopoly of language. The Castilian language had replaced all other regional written languages, and, in 1479, Castilian also replaced Catalan as the official language in Aragon. The nascent Spanish nation state also performed the first acts of ethnic cleansing of the modern era, culminating in the mass expulsion of the Sephardic Jews. In this way, a third monopoly was added to the other two: "purity of blood" (pureza de sangre in Spanish).55 The roots of European racism can be found in this struggle between worldviews in Spain.
The rise of the French language to become the national language of France was also accompanied by much conflict. This was an extremely complex process, in which French (i.e. the northern French variant of Romance, the langue d'oïl) gained a monopoly position by means of two separate processes. On the one hand, the Francien dialect (dialect of the Paris region) replaced the regional literary and official languages throughout northern France. However, of central importance in the establishment of the monopoly of the French language was the suppression of the Occitan language (langue d'oc), the sophisticated common language used in southern France. A series of language ordinances prescribed the exclusive use of French as the uniform language of France. The Ordonnance de Villers-Cotterêts of 1539 sealed the monopoly position of French. In the text of this ordinance, it says regarding the use of language: "... en langaige maternel françois et non autrement" ("in the French mother language, and none other").
In the traditional European historiography, periods are named after particularly conspicuous features or events. To this day, the era of the confessional struggles in the 16th century is referred to as the "age of the religious wars". However, the collision of Protestant and Catholic value systems brought about much more than the division of Europe into a traditional Catholic and a new Protestant sphere of influence. The promotion of the vernacular languages as the appropriate media for biblical texts by the Protestants expanded the spectrum of the written languages in Europe and gave the impetus for an early nationalization of literate cultures. From this point on, the adherents of the new doctrine found their religious and cultural identity in their native language, in one of the numerous regional languages.
For many languages, this raising of their prestige provided a solid basis upon which to place the idea of identity formation relating to national languages, which became prominent in a later period. This was the case, for example, with Finnish, Estonian and the Baltic languages. Initially, the Catholic church vehemently opposed the removal of the monopoly of Latin as the universal language of Christendom and the "profanization" of the biblical text by translation into vernacular languages. However, scarcely a generation after the first full German-language Bible translation by Martin Luther (1483–1546) was printed in 1534, the Catholics followed suit. In 1561, the first complete edition of the Bible in Polish was published.
The Enlightenment of the 18th century was decisive in popularizing the cultivation and appreciation of native languages. In as far as they dealt with the issue of language, representatives of the Enlightenment rationalized the formation of community through language, and stressed that languages are governed by historical context. The ideas of German Enlightenment thinkers such as Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716) and Johann Gottfried Herder (1744–1803), and French thinkers such as Denis Diderot (1713–1784) and Jean-Baptiste le Rond d'Alembert (1717–1783) paved the way for the linking of language and its speakers, which were now conceptualized as a community which realizes itself through cultural production. The French Revolution of 1789 helped to spread the concept of the cultural value of the native language for community formation to the broader society, which was demanding political rights. Language was at that time proposed as the source of unity of the nation, to which its members actively pledged allegiance as politically empowered individuals.
Only inhabitants of France whose native language was French were seen as being French. The speakers of minority languages such as Breton, Basque, Occitan or German (in Alsace) were seen as possibly disloyal and were not granted the right to vote in the referendum on the foundation of the Republic. The French language was conceptualized as the national symbol of the French people and was declared as the medium of communication with exclusive public functions in the society of France. Thus, on the one hand, the idea of the language as an essential marker of the nation (linguistic nation, corresponding to "linguistische Nation" in 18th century diction or "Sprachnation" in modern German sociolinguistic terminology) was enshrined in law, and, on the other hand, a state was established in which more than one-third of the population had a native language which was not French.
The ideas of the French Revolution thus contained two core concepts: the linking of the language to the concept of the politically aware nation ("Sprachnation") and the linking of the idea of the state with the nation (nation state in accordance with the statist principal). The idea of the nation bound together by language coexisted from the end of the 18th century with the reality of France as a state nation.56
In the context of resistance to Napoleonic hegemony, a movement began, in which the representatives of the intellectual elite (of "German Romanticism" at the beginning of the 19th century) in the German-speaking territory sought the political realization of their nation. They dreamed of the establishment of a unified state in which every citizen would be German, that is, a member of the German language community (deutsche Sprachgemeinschaft). Equally utopian – if the demography of Europe was taken into consideration – was the demand that everyone whose native language was German should be a citizen of the German nation state. Otto von Bismarck (1815–1898) played on these ambitions in the wars fought by the most powerful German state, Prussia, against Denmark (1864), Austria and Bavaria (1866), and France (1870–1871). However, the final result of the process of nation state formation fell far short of the ideal. The German Empire founded in 1871 by no means united all German-speakers within its borders. The political solution was a compromise, as "the 1871 Empire stood halfway between a Prussian dynastic and a modern nation state".57 Further wars with devastating consequences were fought for the revision of the borders, i.e. the First and Second World Wars.
The national unification of Italy proceeded under the same ideals as those of the German national movement. The Italian language was viewed as the unifying element of the Italian nation, and to be an Italian meant cultivating the Italian linguistic culture. However, the standard Italian language, which was based on the Tuscan dialect, was initially unfamiliar to many Italians, as the regions of Italy had cultivated their own regional languages (Neapolitan, Venetian, Piedmontese, Lombardian, and others) up to the political unification of the country in 1861, and these regional languages are held in high regard up to the present.58
The smaller linguistic nations of Europe appeared somewhat later on the political stage. As was the case with the large nations, the smaller linguistic nations also engaged in wars in their efforts to establish nation states, for example, Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria in the 19th century, and Finland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia in the 20th century.59 The dissolution of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s provided another example of the fact that nation states that are based on language communities are to this day invariable formed by means of war: Slovenia (1991), Croatia (1991), Bosnia-Hercegovina (1991–1995), Kosovo (1999 and 2008).
The development of Irish as the national language of Ireland deviates considerably from other cases of linguistic nations achieving statehood. At the time of the founding of the Republic of Ireland (1937), the Irish language only held symbolic value for the majority of the population, which had assimilated to the English language. Most of the approximately one million speakers of the Irish language today learned the language at school.
Aspects of the nation state ideology have – through the insistence that linguistic nations have the right to protect their political interests – often triggered wars over attempts to make political territorial borders correspond with linguistic borders. In spite of this, even the smaller nation states of Europe – each with its own history of progress and setbacks – have experienced a continuous raising of their political status since the 19th century. Today there is a general recognition of the intrinsic cultural value of regional languages throughout Europe (as shown in the European Charter of Regional or Minority Languages of the Council of Europe in 1992) and also globally (as shown in the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of Diversity of Cultural Expression of 2005).
In states with multi-ethnic populations – this includes the vast majority of states in Europe – the minority group is taught the language of the majority as a second language in school, although the acquisition of the majority language often also occurs outside school. Through bilingualism, the communicative potential of Europeans is interconnected. Bilingualism also establishes a connection between the culture of the home, in which the linguistic identity of the individual is anchored, and a linguistic medium that extends beyond the regional level. This is the case, for example, with many of the citizens of the neighbouring states of Russia (Latvia, Ukraine and others), who – in spite of their independent statehood and the increased prestige of the national language as the language of the state – continue to appreciate the communicative power of the Russian language, which was learned by the non-Russian Soviet peoples during the Soviet era.
In the network society of our times, a particular variant of bilingualism has become the primary type of communication, i.e. national language-English bilingualism, with the national language as the primary language (e.g. German, Spanish, Swedish, Russian) and English as the second language, and the functions of the global language component (i.e. English) range from verbal interaction to virtual communication in the digital sphere (internet, e-mail and other electronic media). In some regions of Europe, virtual communication extends to a combination of three elements (e.g. Catalan-Spanish-English; Tatar-Russian-English; Sami-Finnish-English).
All who live with linguistic diversity – whether in multilingual contact zones, in the urban milieu shared by native "old Europeans" and immigrant "new Europeans", or on the level of the European Union with its more than 20 official languages – are confronted in one way or another with the concept of a European identity. It is frequently assumed that the European identity is a substitute for existing national-linguistic identities. Some reject the idea of a European identity for this reason, while others support it on the condition that it helps to overcome traditional forms of identity formation. Both standpoints are extremely distorted, because the concept of a European identity is far more multi-layered than a simple cultural blending of Europeans.60