Organized by Pia Lane
Standardising Minority Languages – policy and practice
More than 60 European minority languages have been granted protection through the European Charter for the Protection of Regional or Minority Languages under the auspices of the Council of Europe. Now, these languages are seen as a part of Europe’s cultural heritage; thus, they have been transferred from the domain of ‘the Others’ to a domain of belonging. Several of these languages are in the process of being standardised.
Studies of minority language standardisation typically focus on language revitalisation by addressing topics such as types of domain where the minority language is used, identifying domains in need to be strengthened and development of vocabulary, grammars and textbooks (Ricento 2000). Recently, the focus has been extended to issues of power and identity and discussions of whether standardisation transfers nation state ideologies to minority languages (Wright 2004, Gal 2006).
Developing a standard for a minority language is not a neutral process; this has consequences for the status of the language and how the language users relate to the new standard. An inherent problem with standardisation is whether the users themselves will accept and identify with the standard chosen. When standardising minority languages one risks establishing standards that the users do not identify with. Thus, standardisation which was supposed to empower minority language speakers may create a new form of stigma for those who feel that they cannot live up to the codified standard (Lane 2011).
This questions will be addressed through case studies of six European minority languages: Övdalian (Sweden), Menänkieli (Sweden), Scots and Gaelic (Scotland), Limburger (Netherlands), and Kven (Norway). Focus will be on social actors and users, addressing issues such as the political role of standards, how the users of the standards are configured, to what extent and how users identify with or reject proposed standards.
The political and practical importance of standardization
Sigve Gramstad, vice-chair of the Committee of Experts in The Council of Europe that is dealing with The Charter for Regional or Minority Languages
The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages is an important tool in the protection and promotion of regional and minority languages (rml) in Europe. So far 25 countries are party to the treaty. The Charter contains general and concrete rules governing the written and oral use of rml, predominantly in public life.
A written standard of the rml is a great advantage in relation to Charter protection and promotion. It facilitates a uniform approach to the use of the rml in education, public administration and economic and social life, as well as in other parts of public life. In addition, a written standard forms a better protection against the disappearance of the rml.
In my intervention I will, by concrete examples from the practice of the Committee of Experts under the Charter, point to the advantages of a written standard and to the problems in protecting minority languages that are not standardised.
Övdalian – a minority language without a minority?
Piotr Garbacz, University of Oslo & Henrik Rosenkvist, Gothenburg University
The speakers of Övdalian have struggled for at least 25 years to get Övdalian recognized as a Swedish minority language. In this talk, we present a legislative/administrative background to the fact that Övdalian has gained no official status in Sweden, and we also describe the ongoing standardization process.
European definitions of minority languages are linguistic, but in Sweden only ethnic/religious/cultural minorities are entitled to minority languages. Therefore, no traditional Swedish dialect was considered when the current legislation was prepared, even if some dialects (Övdalian being the most prominent example) from a linguistic viewpoint seem to qualify quite well. Struggling to rescue their language from extinction, the Övdalians have taken a numbers of measures. A prescriptive grammar, a dictionary, and a standard alphabet have been devised to codify the language and boost its status. However, several aspects of the standardisation process are problematic for the intended users, the Övdalians. The current situation is thus that the language is highly appreciated among the Övdalians, but it is increasingly less used by them.
Framing Users: The Case of Limburgish in the Netherlands
Diana M. J. Camps, Center for Multilingualism in Society across the Lifespan, University of Oslo
Drawing on a framework which analyzes standardization as technology, this paper examines the relationship between language standardization and its users; i.e. those who choose to accept, but also reject, the new standard (Oudshoorn & Pinch, 2003). In doing so, I wish to answer the following questions: how is a new language standard framed by social actors, and how does this framing impact the use of the standard?
For this presentation, I draw on interview data collected in the Limburg region of the Netherlands, where what was formerly considered a dialect of Dutch was recently acknowledged by the local and national authorities as a distinct language. This language, which consists of six main regional variants, is currently undergoing a standardization process leading to a number of tensions locally in terms of usage of the new standard (Gal, 2006; Lane, 2011). The distinctly different varieties of Limburgish pose a challenge for standardization and provide an interesting context for examining how standards are taken up by various users.
How Meänkieli language users relate to the standardisation process of their language: Language users’ views on authenticity
Elina Kangas, Center for Multilingualism in Society across the Lifespan, University of Oslo
The topic of this presentation will be a part of my doctoral thesis for the project “STANDARDS – Standardising Minority Languages” at the University of Oslo. My PhD project looks at how Meänkieli language users relate to the standardisation process of their language. Meänkieli is a Finnic language variety, and one of the five official national minority languages in Sweden. The traditional area of Meänkieli in Northern Sweden is multilingual, but nowadays Swedish is the dominant language in the entire area.
The main focus of this presentation is the link between language standardisation and the language users’ views on authenticity. The standard language can be seen as a technology, and the language users are users of that technology, and in order to analyse this, I will drawn on theories Social Studies of Science and Technology and Sociolinguistics. The data of my study consists of individual and focus group interviews gathered in the ELDIA project (European Language Diversity for All) in 2010–2012.
The term authenticity has been used a lot in Sociolinguistics, and according to Bucholtz (2003) the concept of “real language” has remain central in the fragmented field of Sociolinguistics. Standardising a minority language is not a neutral process (Lane 2011), and one of the crucial aspects in the process is how the language users relate to standardisation: will they perceive the new standard as authentic and accept it.
Bucholtz, M. 2003. Sociolinguistic Nostalgia and the Authentication of Identity. Lane, P. 2011. The birth of the Kven language in Norway. Emancipation through state recognition. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 57- 74. Oudshoorn, N & Pinch, T. 2005. How Users Matter. The Co-Construction of Users and Technology.
Do we need a standard? Introducing Scots in a school in Central Scotland and the relocation of authority
James Costa, Center for Multilingualism in Society across the Lifespan, University of Oslo
While the term “Scots” usually refers to the vernacular of central and eastern Scotland, it may in fact denote many things. Scots may thus be one or a collection of dialects of English as spoken in Scotland, or it can be understood as an indigenous Germanic language as recognized by the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. Accordingly, Scots may be spoken by 30,000 people, or by 1.5 million. A number of standards have been proposed, regional or national, but none has thus far been widely adopted. In fact, in the context of an experiment led by the education sector of the Scots language publisher Itchy Coo, a choice was made not to adopt any particular standard for the purpose of introducing Scots in schools, in order not to delegitimize the varieties which pupils were believed to already speak. In other words, authority and legitimacy were consciously shifted from language (in the case of a standardized language) to the pupils.
In this presentation, I therefore ask what are the consequences of the rejection (or postponed adoption) of a standard for Scots both in terms of teaching practice and for the pupils.
Based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Central Scotland, I first question the underlying assumptions of the Itchy Coo initiative, in particular the understanding of general underperformance of Scottish students in cultural terms: pupils fare worse than in England because their ordinary language is not English. I then show that, under the influence of the language endangerment/revitalisation international discourse, this assumption is reframed in terms of identity, which in turn removes agency from the pupils as well as the authority that they were entrusted with.
Users and non-users. The standardisation of Kven
Pia Lane, Center for Multilingualism in Society across the Lifespan, University of Oslo
In Europe there has been a rise of concern for cultural and linguistic diversity, and legal frameworks offer protection to languages seen as a part of European heritage (Arzoz 2008). The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages has been one of the key instruments of these processes and illustrates how the ratification of a Charter on the European level may have an impact on the recognition and inclusion of a minority language on the national level.
Several of Europe’s Regional or Minority Languages (RMLs) have been or are in the process of being standardised. Language standardisation can be seen as a form of technology, and theories from the tradition of science and technology studies (STS) bring new perspectives to the analysis of the standardisation of historical minority languages. STS has dealt with different aspects of the standardisation of technologies (Bowker and Star 2000). These insights will be applied to the case of standardisation of Kven to address issues such as: how the users of the standard are configured (Woolgar 1991), the exclusionary effects of standards (Star 1991, Gal 2006), the positions of non-users (Wyatt 2003), and the political role of standards (Irvine and Gal 1995, Gal 2006).
In order to address these issues, I will analyse how users relate to the standardisation of Kven, a Finnic minority language spoken in Northern Norway. Kven got recognised as a language in 2005. Influenced by the global focus on language revitalisation and the new status of Sámi and minority languages in neighbouring countries, many Kven wish to reclaim their language, and currently, a written standard is being developed.
An analysis of social practices show how language users embrace, accept and contest discourses of revitalisation and language standardisation to varying degrees and for a wide range of reasons (Lane 2011).