February 28, 2007

Glanville Price. ‘Minority Languages in Western Europe’.

San Sebastien

Price begins by making a differentiation between, ‘those languages which, though characteristic of a minority in one country, are a majority language elsewhere, and those languages […] which are nowhere the dominant language in the state’ (1). In the first character he places:
• French in Switzerland;
• Dutch in northern France;
• German in the South Tirol;
• and Danish in South Scleswig in Germany.

In the second category, Price places:
• ‘the four remaining Celtic languages’: Welsh, Breton, Irish and Scottish Gaelic;
• Basque spoken in Spain and parts of France;
• Catalan spoken in Catalonia in Spain, Andorra, the Rousillon in France and in Alghero in Sardinia;
• Occitan or Provençal;
• Romansh or Raeto-Romance spoken in Graubünden or Grisons in Switzerland;
• Frisian and West Frisian spoken in Friesland in Holland;
• Farose, ‘the Scandinavian language of the Faroe Isles’;
• Sardinian in Italy;
• Manx;
• and Scots (2).

Price sees a number of factors at work in the consideration of the situation of minor languages like those listed above. These are:
• ‘the total number of speakers’;
• ‘the intensity factor’;
• ‘the degree of official recognition they enjoy’;
• ‘the use of languages in education and the mass media’;
• ‘the success or otherwise of attempts to create a standard literary language’ (3).

Price’s mention of the need for a development of a literary language is most interesting to me:

Languages such as Welsh, Irish and Gaelic, have over the centuries evolved accepted literary standards and even if these are further removed than one might wish from contemporary spoken usage, the fact that an accepted literary language exists takes the question out of the sphere of controversy. Some other languages lack such literary norms, wither because (as with Basque, Breton or Romansch, fro example) these have never existed or because – as with Occitan in particular – the literary tradition has been broken. Consequently, if there is to be an accepted literary language, it must be deliberately created, for until this is done each writer must inevitably use his own judgement (or worse follow his own whim) and chaos ensues. (14)

How interesting that Price desires a ‘pure’ literary language. This view is so much against my own which sees the whims that make Price so anxious as interesting experiments that stretch the boundaries of language. Price admires West Frisian speakers who set up a committee to standardise the language and he praises individuals who have set down ‘orthographical and grammatical standards’ such as V.U. Hammershaimb in the case of Faroe and Pompeu Fabra for Catalan. Price is disturned however by the case of Occitan which was broken down by different speakers into dialects. Price describes the need for standardisation as ‘not pedantic but strictly practical’ (15).

Glanville Price. ‘Minority Languages in Western Europe’.The Welsh Language Today. Ed. Meic Stephens. Llandysul: Gomer, 1973. 1-17.

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