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Skip to 0 minutes and 9 seconds In academic literature, we distinguish different types of minority groups. The languages these groups speak can be seen as identity marker. This means that they are recognisable by their language and, because they are a minority group, they always speak another language on the side. The first type of minorities that we may distinguish are the so-called dispersed minorities. People belong to a certain minority– for instance, the Jews or the Roma– who are spread all over the world. Then there is a second related group that we distinguish. The diaspora minorities. Migrant communities living at a long distance from their home countries, but still recognisable as a group. Turkish communities in Germany are a good example of these.

Skip to 0 minutes and 56 seconds A third group that we usually distinguish are sub state minorities, also called localised minorities, or sometimes also referred to as national minorities. These minorities are part of a larger state. In Europe we find some 60 of these, all recognised and protected under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. Well-known examples are the Frisians, the Welsh, the Basques, or the Catalans. Regarding this last group, there are two reasons why they have been granted certain rights to maintain their own language and culture. Firstly, if you do not grant them rights, these groups may become a threat to the stability of the larger nation state that they are part of. This is, for instance, what happens with the Catalans in Spain.

Skip to 1 minute and 46 seconds Secondly, minority languages represent the rich cultural heritage of Europe. In fact, they have become showcases of Europe’s diversity policies.

Skip to 2 minutes and 1 second How to distinguish a minority language from a dialect. This is clearly one of the questions most often asked. On a linguistic level, there is no difference between them. Language is a means of communication always. But on an institutional level, there certainly is a difference. One could say that a minority language differs, or a language as such, differs from a dialect through the level of institutionalisation. A language, for instance, is a dialect with an educational system. Most European minorities went through the same phases to attain this. They all started standardising the language at some point in the late 18th and in the 19th century. Grammars were written, dictionaries were compiled, and literature in the minority languages was produced.

Skip to 2 minutes and 53 seconds Which kept the minority languages up-to-date. And these minorities usually demanded the right to teach their language at school. In these days of globalisation, minority languages survive by making use of the new digital means. Many of them have Google Translate machines, and all of them are subject to off language policies, be it on a local, a national, or, as we have seen, on a European level. The most important instrument to keep minority languages alive is education. Welsh is the perfect example of language revitalisation by means of education.

Skip to 3 minutes and 40 seconds Nowadays, minority languages are facing two immediate challenges, I would say. Firstly, in a time of growing mobility, majority languages increasingly interfere with minority languages. Frisian tends to become Dutch, and Breton tends to become French. Secondly, digitisation is a cause that people are using language in a more individualised way than before. And this makes that the gap between written and spoken language tends to widen. Which in its turn, weakens the standardised language. There is no easy recipe for keeping minority languages vital or maybe even revitalising them. However, one of the most important factors is the status of the language to speakers, but also to outsiders. This is exactly why commodification should be part of language policies.

Skip to 4 minutes and 36 seconds Commodification means that the language becomes part in, for instance, touristic practises of the general branding of a minority region. This will provide the speakers of such a language with a certain pride, which will make them want to keep speaking their language.

Core concepts regarding minority languages

In this video Prof. Dr. Goffe Jensma takes you though the core concepts and the current themes around minority languages.

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