The very few of these are recognised officially

The political and social status of minority languages rests a widely
discussed topic amongst linguists, but what actually are minority languages? According
to Grenoble and Roth Singerman, if a language in any given area or country is
spoken by approximately less than half of its population, then it is a minority
language. However, they continue to say that when defining minority languages,
it is crucial to take geographical regions into account, as what is considered
to be a minority language in one place may be a majority language elsewhere
(Grenoble and Roth Singerman, 2014). In the European Union, there are around
sixty-five minority languages altogether, and very few of these are recognised
officially (Hornsby, 2012). This essay will focus on the reasons why minority
languages are declining, and then reasons why they may not be declining, whilst
comparing language policies in both France and Britain.

 

 

Firstly, it is necessary to analyse the reasons why minority languages
are declining. According to Eric Garland, it has been predicted that in the
next century, around 3000 languages in the world may disappear (Garland, 2006).
He also gives a reason for this: when nation-states were created and became more
concentrated, regional languages were ruled by the moderate vernaculars of the leading
decision parties, e.g. Cornish has been replaced by English, and so on
(Garland, 2006). In analysing the research, it can be noticed that French
regional languages in particular have declined over the nineteenth and
twentieth centuries. Such research includes the work of Dennis Ager, who says
that a contributing factor to the decline in French regional languages includes
the development in business relations between semantic territories, as well as the
fact that during the First World War and the war of 1870, conscription was
enforced, thus making young men leave home and use French to communicate. After
World War Two, Alsace and Brittany not only experienced great pressure to raise
the status of French but also to lower the status of minority languages (Ager,
1996). In addition, another reason includes the law of the 1970s, which prohibited
the use of French regional languages in the public square. In January 1951, the
“Loi Deixonne” was established, a law created with the intentions of promoting
regional languages; it included the teaching of minority languages in schools.
However, only one hour a week was devoted to the teaching of minority languages
– showing that the law actually demoted rather than promoted regional
languages, despite its original intentions (Beer and Jacob, 1985).

 

 

Secondly, minority languages are dying, as Louarn – one Breton speaker
amongst the roughly 200,000 Breton speakers – said in a 2012 article by Simon
Hooper, that “the number (of Breton speakers) is going down because of the
policy of the state” (Hooper, 2012). Not only this, but according to Marliere
in the same article, national unity is also a contributing factor, in that “the
French revolutionaries (those of the French revolution of 1789) wanted one
regime over one territory, but they also thought that to make the unity of the
nation a reality you needed one language” (Hooper, 2012). Breton is also not
promoted at all by the French government, including in the media. David Hicks
quoted in the same article that “France is a rogue state in terms of how it
promotes its languages”, referencing the fact that France has not signed the
European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages (Hooper, 2012), a point
which proves France’s seemingly hostile approach to its minority languages.

 

 

These points provide weight and depth to the argument that minority
languages, especially in France, are fading – and not only this, but they are also
not necessarily promoted or given any official status or protection. But what
about the minority languages and the state language policies of Britain?

 

 

In Britain, minority languages are given more status and promotion –
which differs greatly from the situation in France. An example of this is that
in Scotland, Gaelic television programmes were set up by a Gaelic Television
Fund (Ager, 1996). Education in Gaelic has also been funded, as well as the
Gaelic Television – £8.7 million was provided for this. Gaelic festivals are
also increasing in popularity. (Ager, 1996). Interestingly, a language that
does not appear to be declining at all is Welsh, which has been well preserved;
these days the population of youths who speak Welsh has grown by almost a third
(Jones, 1993, cited in Ager, 1996). Welsh language primary schools are supported
and many universities in Wales offer courses in Welsh. Wales has been
recognised by the state as officially bilingual since 1993, when the Welsh
Language Act of 1993 was established (Ager, 1996). In fact, the percentage of
people in Wales who speak Welsh fluently is at over 20%. (Garland, 2006). This is
a compelling piece of evidence for argument that minority languages may not
actually be diminishing, contrary to popular belief.

 

 

Let us now analyse another set of evidence against the decline in regional
languages by taking another regional language. Corsican, for example, has now
become a compulsory subject (albeit only two years’ worth of study), and
Corsican culture and identity are both heavily associated with the language
(Palgrave MacMillan, 2014). An even stronger example is that of Quebec, which
has proven that languages with a lower status or population of speakers can
still survive, despite the many pressures from external forces like globalisation
and strong linguistic forces or ‘threats’ like English. During the twentieth
century the locals of Quebec gravitated more towards English instead of being
educated in French; the linguistic situation became so grave that it seemed as
though Canadian French would disappear altogether (Garland, 2006). Nowadays,
however, and returning to our evidence arguing against the deterioration in
regional languages, French in Quebec is heavily defended and supported, and
English, on the contrary, has been given a much lower status. Migrants are also
advised to converse in the vernacular of the district. Despite the fact that
the number of Breton speakers has decreased a lot over the twentieth and
twenty-first centuries, the language’s popularity is on the increase and is
becoming more widely accepted even though there are fewer speakers than before.
It could be said that Breton is not diminishing as the language is being
conserved in schools via the means of teaching in the language (Garland, 2006).

 

 

However, although it has already been argued that minority languages of
the U.K. appear to be better protected and in less of a dwindling state, it
could be said that these languages are still endangered and are facing risks of
complete death. Cornish, for example, now has around four hundred speakers
remaining, and Manx, a language spoken on the Isle of Man, may have only one
hundred speakers (BBC News, 2010). A writer and broadcaster, Kenan Malik, says
in the BBC News article that changes in culture are the reasons for the reduction
and even extinction in a language, and that governments should not dwell on the
past and try to maintain a clearly waning language (BBC News, 2010).

 

 

What is to be said for the future of minority languages? It is unclear
what exactly the future will hold for minority languages. As their numbers of
speakers are generally rather low, it appears that many will fall away
completely, such as Breton or Manx from the Isle of Man. In spite of this, the
future of any minority language also depends on how well it is preserved by the
government and other external forces (if at all). Minority languages that have
been well promoted in the past rest entirely on gaining support from the rest
of the nation in order to survive (Hornsby, 2012). In addition, with the certainty
of further technological advancements in the future, teachers will be able to
use educational resources from one language and translate them easily into the
regional language with more ease. If minority languages are used in advertising
and business, it is far more likely that they will survive and perhaps even
prosper. Nonetheless, due to the increase of globalisation, many will completely
die out (Garland, 2006).

 

 

In conclusion, given all the evidence that has been highlighted upon in
this essay, minority languages are fading as the numbers of most regional
language speakers have fallen significantly over the past few centuries. Nevertheless,
the key issue is not just whether or not minority languages are declining, but
rather, the way in which they are maintained. Britain’s minority languages are
well-preserved, such as funding Gaelic television channels and offering
university courses in Welsh, even though they are still declining. Furthermore,
France’s regional languages are viewed with a hostile attitude, particularly in
regards to upholding them.  All in all, it
is true that regional languages are ebbing, and some may become fully extinct
within the next few decades (e.g. Manx, as mentioned earlier), but attitudes
and opinions regarding preserving minority languages differ greatly from each
other.