EBLUL hold conference on linguistic diversity in the European Parliament
Bruxelles / Brussel 14/10/03, by Davyth Hicks
Held under the auspices of the European Free Alliance group in the European Parliament, the Documentation Centre of the European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages (EBLUL) led by Emese Medgyesi, hosted a prestigious conference yesterday entitled ‘Focusing on Linguistic Diversity in the new Europe’.
Chaired by irredoubtable Plaid Cymru MEP, Eurig Wyn, the packed conference featured a host of experts in the language field from across Europe.
Professor Baetens Beardsmore from Brussels discussed the mother-tongue-plus-two theory, which is found underpinning the Commissions’s action plan for linguistic diversity. He said that there’s ‘no such thing as a market for diversity, there’s a need for public intervention.’ He added that, ‘it would be dangerous to leave language policy to laissez-faire market forces’.
Sylvia Vlaeminck, head of the EU Commission’s language policy unit, spoke on creating a climate favourable for language learning and pointed to the limitations of the EU and what it can do with the Member States: 'the Commission cannot give orders to the Member States to do one thing or another'.
Referring to Michl Ebner’s resolution, Mrs Vlaeminck said that: 'the European Commission (EC) has already given an opinion on the report but will take an official position'. Speaking on the possibility of having an agency for language learning and linguistic diversity, Mrs Vlaeminck concluded that the EC welcomed that idea but stressed the importance of doing a feasibility study on that proposal as a first step.
Pál Csáky, Deputy Prime Minister of Slovakia, described briefly the language groups in his country stating, ‘we see linguistic diversity as one of the fundamental values of our society, we need new forms of protection’. Later he also supported a call for an EU Commissioner for human rights and linguistic diversity.
Regina Jensdόttir, from the Council of Europe Secretariat for the ECRML, outlined the present state of play for the Charter with 17 states ratifying and 12 having signed it. She stated that it was 'regrettable' that some states hadn't ratified, pointing to countries like France 'where the ratification process is basically blocked', or to Greece where no steps are at present being taken to initiate the ratification process.
She added that: 'There are many reasons for being disappointed about France's position when one looks from a European perspective. In France many regional languages exist, which are in need of protection and ... several European countries still look at France as a model and risk drawing arguments using the French position in order to avoid taking on obligations at the European level in this field'.
Francois Grin, a Professor of Economics from Geneva, noted how bilingual education, according to his studies, only cost 3% more than monolingual education thus undermining many of those who claim that bilingual education and the teaching of stateless, and regional languages, is too costly. Summing up, he said that ‘linguistic diversity is not expensive; people’s valuation of diversity will typically exceed these costs,’ and that, ‘non diversity implies very unfair transfers to a privileged group’.
Among the other contributions was a discussion of the work of UNESCO and a future Charter of Endangered Languages,from Frisian Tjeerd van der Graaf. His paper ended with an apt reminder from a Navaho elder: ‘If you don’t breathe there is no air; If you don’t walk there is no earth; If you don’t speak there is no world’.
However, some delegates commented that the conference did not directly address some of the problems facing the ‘new Europe’. No specific mention was made, for example, of the new inequalities that will arise as Maltese with 300,000 speakers and Estonian, with over a million speakers, become new official EU languages, while some of the languages of nations without states – Catalan with up to eleven million speakers and Welsh with over half a million, for example, will remain unofficial.
In addition, a recurring theme, as evidenced in Eurolang articles, was that linguistic diversity means different things to different people. It is this term that needs to be defined and that enshrined within a legal concept of it is that linguistic diversity refers to all European languages - not just those of the Member States.
Eurig Wyn, concluding, called for a legal base to be made in EU Law for the European stateless, regional and minority languages. (EL)