Dominated Languages in the 21st Century

Key Note Speakers

Joseph Marko

University of Graz, Austria

Minority language rights in Europe

Following the last round of enlargement, the EU has ca. 500 million inhabitants living in 27 Member States with 23 official languages to be used, but many more European languages are in use, namely about 250. Hence, multilingualism is an undeniable fact. However, there are some states in the EU which follow the French, Jacobin constitutional tradition and prohibit the use of any other language than French in public affairs, in particular vis-à-vis state authorities and in the public educational system. On the other hand, with even smaller cities like Graz with 300.000 inhabitants in which approximately 150 languages are spoken, it is simply impossible to give every person, even if long-term resident, the right to use his or her mother-tongue in dealings with the authorities and to expect to meet a civil servant being able to respond in this language. In between these two extreme positions are, however, various possibilities how to protect the use of minority languages and how to foster multilingualism against all right-wing populist policies which do not accept cultural and linguistic diversity as a value guaranteed by Article 22 of the EU Fundamental Charter of Human Rights.

Languages and language rights affect every aspect of living together. They are part of the processes of socialization in the family and public educational system and thereby essentially contribute to individual as well as collective identity formation. They are also the most important instrument of communication in all spheres of life, private and public, not the least for state administration. Hence, a plethora of conflicts may arise which have to be – peacefully - settled in a law suit. Just to enumerate a few problems which had to be settled by case-law: May a citizen require the spelling of his name in the passport different from the alphabet of the official language ? How many children of minority membership must be registered in a school to teach them in the minority language? How many members of a minority must live in a municipality to be entitled to use the minority language before administrative authorities and courts or for the establishment of bi-lingual topographical indications? Can minority members effectively participate in public affairs and the economic system or is the use of a minority language discriminated against in the labor market?

In order to understand these conflicts in European states, but also their settlement by national as well as supranational courts, legal as well as political discourses and their underlying ideological premises have to be dealt with. Legal discourses until the very day divide the scholarly community as well as legal practitioners because of the wrong dichotomy of individual versus group rights. Political discourses as well as more specific debates on the further development of immigration law in Europe are haunted by electoral successes of right-wing populist parties and their anti-immigration agendas, thereby cementing again a dichotomy between the rights of “old” minorities versus “new” minorities stemming from immigration.

Anne Pauwels

SOAS, University of London, Great Britain

The future of multilingualism and future multilingualisms in Europe

In one of the first volumes dealing with language and globalization Block & Cameron (2002: 1) note that “globalization is nothing if not a fashionable term – it pervades contemporary political rhetoric and is a keyword of both academic and popular discourse on economy, technology and culture.” A decade later the use of the term has intensified as well as become omnipresent in societies around the world. Its centrality in exploring, examining and understanding developments and events is taken as self-evident. Globalization is seen as a process that impacts on everyday life, including our communication modes and language practices. It overcomes geographical constraints potentially reducing other boundaries or differences (e.g., social, cultural, linguistic, economic). The factors that facilitate globalization include vastly enhanced communications and transportation technologies, that have allowed for a massive increase in short-term and long-term transnational mobility of people, as well as economic and trade systems that require access to resources world-wide and that are increasingly service-based.

These enhanced communication technologies and the increased mobility associated with globalization have been most influential in shaping new multilingual constellations and practices. They have brought about new forms of language contact and given rise to multilingual situations which are very dynamic, constantly changing and, which often involve a much greater number of languages and speakers. For example, it is no longer exceptional to find well over 100 languages being used regularly in many cities of Europe.  It is also not surprising to find a large number of speakers of Asian and African languages among the student population in European primary schools. Although Europe is not a stranger to language contact, multilingualism and minority languages, given its linguistic past, the more recent multilingual constellations emerging in Europe as a result of globalization pose significant challenges to the concepts of minority language and langage maintenance as well as to managing these ‘new’ multilingualisms. Employing a case study approach I will explore some of these challenges and also discuss the consequences for the management of the new multilingualisms in Europe 


Block, David/Cameron, Deborah eds. (2002): Globalization and language teaching. London: Routledge.

Indrajit Banerjee

UNESCO, Paris, France

Promoting cultural and linguistic diversity in cyberspace: challenges and opportunities

Over the last few decades, much attention has been allocated to technological advancement and understanding of its tangible and intangible implications to a society at large. From one side, the growing globalization of technologies offers new opportunities for a transmission of information and knowledge as resources in education, science, culture, politics and economics. However, it does not automatically guarantee and ensure that everybody would be able to participate, contribute and benefit equally. On the contrary, it is seen as a powerful stimulator of digital divide among nations, communities and individuals. Particularly, it raises a range of concerns among governments, professional community and users of minority and lesser-used languages.  

Dr Banerjee intervention’s underpinning aim is to explore and share with participants of the international conference how UNESCO addresses cultural and linguistic diversity in cyberspace issues. The speaker will outline the challenges and obstacles faced promoting cultural and linguistic diversity within the international agendas, frameworks, and programmes. The key emphasis of the intervention will be placed on an unique normative instrument “UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Promotion and Use of Multilingualism and Universal Access to Cyberspace” adopted by UNESCO General Conference in 2003.  

The intervention will draw on UNESCO’s work and experience gained implementing projects, as well as collaboration with diverse academia, policy, industry and civil society stakeholders around the world.

Walter Schicho

Department of African Studies, University of Vienna, Austria

The Power of Languages under Domination

Hegemonic power justifies its rule through “enlightenment” (vs. “barbarism”), “knowledge” (vs. “ignorance”) and “competence” (vs. “inability”). There is not much difference between colonisers, superpowers, national governments or bureaucracies, transnational companies and global players in development aid when it comes to establish and to secure power over others. Language (in its broadest sense) is the most efficient tool to do this. The hegemonic discourse consists not only of rules which decide What can be said by Whom, but also How it can be done, by the use of which languages, styles and genres.

African societies are marked by an extremely asymmetric distribution of power. This equally applies to internal and external relations. The role former colonial languages are attributed, the control over the flow of information and the distribution of knowledge, and finally the imposition of concepts guiding politics, education and development are strongly marked by asymmetric power relations.

But the exercise of power and strategies of control also met and meet resistance and counterstrategies of the “subalterns”. The “power of languages under domination” is rooted in multilingual competence and repertoires, in code switching, language use characterised by opaqueness and ambiguity, the richness of the “own” language compared to the “aridity” of the dominating code, verbal skills to play with premises and implications, the familiarity with local contexts and knowledge, the art to translate and finally the different ways how to refuse to communicate.

African linguistics, in its essence a colonial discipline, did not much care about the resistance of the subaltern. Therefore, the description of resistance and counter-strategies relies on narratives, anecdotes, side notes in documents, and especially on African literature and participant observation. An alternative or complementary approach uses critical discourse analysis of colonial and postcolonial descriptions of languages and the mainstream discourse in African linguistics.

In “Discipline and Punish” Michel Foucault describes what he calls “microphysics of power” as a net of social relations marked by conflicts, struggle and “at least temporary reversal of power relations”; it is this “reversal” my contribution is focussing on.

Programmierung: Copyright (c) 2012 Michael Herold. All rights reserved.