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Spring - Summer 2004


The new member states of the European Union: linguistic demography and language policies, by Albert Branchadell

On May 1st 2004, ten European states joined the European Union (Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia). The aim of this article is to provide an overview of the linguistic complexity of these states and a general description of their current language situation, using a standard typology for language situations as a rubric for classification. We shall be looking particularly at the constitutions of these states in this respect, leaving analysis of their practice for other articles in this dossier, and for subsequent publications. To complete this characterisation, we comment on the position taken by each state with respect to the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages.

 

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Summary

1. Linguistic demography of the new member states

2. Language policy of the new member states

3. The new member states and the European Charter of Regional and Minority Languages

4. Conclusions

5. Bibliography

1. Linguistic demography of the new member states

According to Fishman (1968), a polity is linguistically homogeneous when a single language is "natively spoken" by 85 percent or more of the population, and linguistically heterogeneous either when there is one "significant" language spoken among the remaining 15 percent, or alternatively when there is no language spoken natively by 85 percent or more of the population. Other authors have suggested lower thresholds. Lijphart (1984), for example, considers a country to be homogenous when 80 percent or more of the population "speak the same language".

According to these criteria, the new member states of the European Union can be classified as appears in table 1, which is based on data obtained from the respective statistical institutes, listed at the end of the article. (1)

Table 1. Classification of the states according to Fishman’s
criteria and Lijphart’s criteria

Linguistically homogeneous Linguistically heterogeneous
Fishman (> 85%) Lijphart (> 80%) Fishman (<85%) Lijpjart (<80%)

Cyprus (GCA)
Czech Republic
Hungary
Lithuania
Malta
Poland
Slovenia

Cyprus (GCA)
Czech Republic
Hungary
Lithuania
Malta
Poland
Slovenia
Slovakia

Estonia
Latvia
Slovakia

Est˛nia
Latvia

Using Fishman’s criteria, we have seven homogenous states (including GCA Cyprus) and 3 heterogeneous states. According to Lijphart, we have 8 homogenous and 2 heterogeneous states. There is one state (Slovakia) where the proportion of speakers oscillates between 80 and 85 percent, a range which Fishman considers heterogeneous and Lijphart considers homogeneous, such that its classification is oscillating or borderline. We can summarise the situation as in in table 2.

Table 2. Classification of the states according to degree of homogeneity-heterogeneity

States clearly homogeneous States neither clearly homogeneous nor clearly heterogeneous States clearly heterogeneous

Cyprus (GCA)
Czech Republic
Hungary
Lithuania
Malta
Poland
Slovenia

Slovakia

Estonia
Latvia

In any case, it is a fact that in none of the ten states does 100 per cent of the population speak the same language. Thus, all ten present some degree of internal linguistic diversity.

Precisely the purpose of the following tables is to illustrate this internal linguistic diversity based on the latest available census data. Before proceeding to look at these data certain aspects concerning Slovenia, Malta and Poland need to be made clear.

With regard to the question on mother tongue spoken, the Slovenia census considers the responses Croatian, Serbo-Croat, Serbian and Bosnian to refer to different languages. The four-way distinction illustrates the situation current in the states that have emerged from the old Yugoslavia, where Serbo-Croat continues to be identified by some speakers as their own language, at the same time as the denominations "Croatian", "Serbian" and "Bosnian" have emerged to refer to what were formerly considered to be regional variants of the Serbo-Croat language.

In the case of Malta, the census apparently does not contain linguistic information. Given this situation, we have had recourse to the survey of cultural participation carried out by the Malta's National Statistics Officee in 2000, where there was a question on the language respondents prefer to speak. In point of fact, the percentage of Maltese who have the Maltese language as their mother tongue is greater than the 86.23 percent who state that Maltese is the language they prefer to speak.

In the case of Poland, we observe that the percentage of people who in 2002 claimed they normally used only Polish at home was as high as 96.5 percent. If we consider those who use Polish and one or two languages other than Polish, the figure would be 97.8 percent. Overall, the number of speakers who state they use one or two languages other than Polish with their family amounts to 1.47 percent of the population (563,500 speakers). The majority of these latter (510,000) use these languages together with Polish (1.34 percent of the total population).

The group stating that at home they speak these languages to the exclusion of Polish comprise some 52,500 speakers (0.14 percent of the population). The language other than Polish most mentioned (either spoken alone or in combination with Polish) is German (204,600).

Table 3. Composition of the clearly homogenous states

  Date of census and population Question Percentage of principal language Percentage of other languages

Slovenia

(31.3.2002)
1,964,036

Mother tongue

Slovenian 87.7

Croatian 2.8
Serbo-Croat 1.8
Serbian 1.6
Bosnian 1.6

Speakers of Hungarian, Albanian, Macedonian, Romany and Italian represent less than 1 percent of the population.

Hungary (1.2.2001)
10,197,119
Mother tongue Hungarian 98.7

Speakers of Romany, German, Croatian, Slovak and Romanian represent less than 1 percent of the population.

Lithuania (2)

(5.4.2001)
3,483,972

Mother tongue Lithuanian 90.9  

Malta

End of 2002
385,941

Language respondents prefer to speak (2000)

Maltese 86.23

English 11.76
Italian 1.84

Poland

(20.5.2002)
38,230,080

Language normally used at home Polish 96.5

German speakers constitute less than 1 percent of the population

Czech Republic

(1.3.2001)
10,230,060

Mother tongue Czech 94.9

Slovak 2.0
percent. Polish, Romany and German speakers constitute less than 1 percent of the population

Cyprus (GCA) (1.10.2001)
689,565
Language spoken fluently Greek 91.7 English 2.3
Russian 1.96

Table 4. Composition of states neither clearly homogeneous
nor clearly heterogeneous

  Date of last census and population Question Percentage speaking the majority language Percentages speaking other languages
Slovakia

(26.5.2001)
5.379.455

Mother tongue Slovak 83.9

Hungarian 10.7
Romany 1.8

Table 5. Composition of clearly heterogeneous states

  Date of last census and population Question Percentage speaking the majority language Percentage speaking other languages
Est˛nia

(31.3.2000)
1,370,052

Mother tongue Estonian 67.3

Russian 29.7

Speakers of Ukrainian White Russian, Finnish and Latvian represent less than 1 percent of the population.

Latvia (31.3.2000)
2,377,383
Mother tongue Latvian 59.0

Russian 3.4

Speakers of  White Russian, Ukrainian, Lithuanian and Polish represent less than 1 percent of the population.

As can be seen from the above tables, in the case of the 10 new member states of the Union, especially those that are not clearly homogeneous, there is no case comparable to Catalonia and the Catalan language. In the latter states, the main linguistic is in every case the majority language of a neighbouring state. This is the case of Russian in Estonia and Latvia and also of Hungarian in Slovakia. Leaving aside the special case of Romany, spoken by millions of Rom (Gypsies), the closest comparison with Catalan is arguably Ruthenian – the language of Ruthenia - which in any case is a language whose affiliation is a matter of controversy, since it is often considered to be a dialect of Ukrainian.


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