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Multilingualism, EU languages and languages in Europe

Multilingualism, EU languages and languages in Europe

The EU has the only language policy of its kind in the world. The EU has many official languages, and all 24 official languages have the same status and value, making the EU’s language policy unique.

Published 10/8/2015

The very first EU ordinance, Council Regulation No. 1, lists the first official languages and describes how they should be used. New languages have since been added as new countries have joined the EU. The background to the legislation on multilingualism is the EU as a democratic organisation, and it was decided right from the outset that the local languages are important for the democratic process. This process is based on

  • communication between inhabitants and authorities
  • citizens’ opportunities to contribute towards society
  • accessibility and understanding of the EU’s legislation and regulations.

Naturally, this originates from Europe’s multifaceted history and an active democratic choice: a firm conviction that multilingualism leads to a more democratic, more open and more effective organisation.

The current situation: 24 EU languages

At the time of writing, the EU has 24 official languages. They have become official in the following order as the number of EU member states has grown over the years:

 

Language

Official EU language since

Dutch, French, German, Italian

1958

Danish, English

1973

Greek

1981

Portuguese, Spanish

1986

Finnish, Swedish

1995

Czech, Estonian, Hungarian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Slovak, Slovene

2004

Bulgarian, Irish, Romanian

2007

Croatian

2013

 

Which languages can gain official status?

In accordance with the EU’s regulations, each individual country specifies before joining which languages it wishes to give official status. A country can change its decision subsequently if its authorities agree to this. Hence, it is not always the case that a country lists all its domestic languages, and this is also one reason why there are more European languages than EU languages.

EU languages are not the same thing as European languages

The fact that there are more European languages than EU languages is also partly because the countries do not always register their languages as official languages, and partly because not all European nations are EU members. For example, Norway and Iceland are not members (although Iceland has initiated an application and Norway has close formal ties to the EU), and several of the five national minority languages in Sweden are not official EU languages. There are therefore only 24 EU languages (listed above), but many more European languages.

A field guide to the main languages of Europe

The EU has produced an extremely interesting booklet about the languages of Europe, which I can thoroughly recommend. It includes information about the various languages, their language families and the areas in which they are spoken. But best of all, it also includes useful tips such as the characters that are specific to each language, enabling a language to be identified using the booklet. It also shows how to differentiate between closely related languages, and provides all manner of fascinating facts. The publication is called A field guide to the main languages of Europe, and can be found here.

 

The guide covers the following European languages: 

Albanian

Galician

Maltese

Slovak

Armenian

Georgian

Montenegrin      

Castilian Spanish

Azeri

Greek

Dutch

Swedish

Basque

Irish

Norwegian

Czech

Bosnian

Icelandic

Polish

Turkish

Breton

Italian

Portuguese

German

Bulgarian 

Catalan

Romani

Ukrainian

Danish 

Croatian

Romanian

Hungarian

English

Latvian

Russian

Welsh

Estonian         

Lëtzebuergesch     

Sámi

Belarusian

Finnish

Lithuanian

Serbian

Yiddish

French

Macedonian

Scots Gaelic

 

Faeroese

 

 

 

 

Further reading

More information is available from the EU and other organisations:

  • The EU’s original legislation on multilingualism from 1958, COUNCIL REGULATION No. 1, determining the language to be used by the European Economic Community can be found here.

  • You can find out how the EU itself deals with translation by reading Translating for a multilingual community.

  • If you want to see examples of texts and listen to EU languages, you can do so here.


  • An overview of the key areas for multilingual EU policy, funding opportunities and language initiatives from around Europe can be found here.

  • More information about European languages and where they are spoken can be found on the BBC’s website

  • Omniglot has a more comprehensive review of the world’s spoken and written language on its website.

  • If you are interested in the coding behind specific languages and characters, you can find out more here.  

Visit the following sites for a little light reading about various languages:

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