Top Minority Languages of Europe.

This map is worth a few minutes of your attention. As was immediately pointed out on the related Reddit thread, the top minority language in Belarus is Belarusian (or “Belarussian,” as the map has it), and in Ireland it’s Irish. Pleasingly, in Finland it’s Swedish and in Sweden it’s Finnish. In Germany it’s Polish and in Austria Turkish; in Czechia (I’m tired of writing “Czech Republic”) it’s Slovak and in Slovakia Hungarian. And in Portugal it’s Mirandese, which I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard of (at least I’ve never mentioned it on LH, which is my first-order approximation of my mental history).

Comments

  1. Such maps must always be taken with a grain of salt, but this one is worse than most. If Polish or Turkish are to be considered the top minority languages of Germany and Austria, respectively, this must mean that immigrants’ languages are considered. Like many Reddit readers I cannot believe that there are more German (even if we count Alsatian as German) than Arabic speakers in France, or Welsh than Polish or Hindi-Urdu speakers in the United Kingdom. I might add that Mirandese, in Portugal, only has a few thousand speakers, and I would guess that Cape Verdean Creole (for instance) has far more speakers in Portugal than Mirandese does. Sami, in Norway, can’t have more than a few tens of thousands of speakers, and considering the economic boom the country has been enjoying thanks to its oil I am certain several immigrant languages have more speakers. And are there really no immmigrant languages in Ireland with more speakers than Gaelic?

    Even without this issue (immigrant languages) some other points of the map are dubious. Are there really more Russian than Mingrelian speakers in Georgia? Romani as the first minority language of Hungary seems credible, but considering how undercounted in offical census data Romani speakers are I wonder whether they might outnumber Hungarian speakers in Romania, for example. Oh, and finally, there is no such thing as a “Daghestanian” language family: there is a North-East Caucasian language family, to which most of the languages of Daghestan (including Lezghian) belong.

  2. Excellent points all! One wonders who created the map and why they were so sloppy.

  3. John Cowan says:

    Eh, different sources probably say different things. Turkish in Austria must indeed be an immigrant language, but Ethnologue considers Polish to be a native language in Germany with 241,000 speakers. That is far fewer than the six million who speak Bavarian (out of 13 million in all countries), but presumably the mapmakers preferred to use languages with substantial Abstand from the national language(s). By contrast, Croatian, which is listed as an immigrant language, has 641,000 speakers.

    A similar map of North America would show French as the largest minority language in the U.S. (if we exclude Spanish, which is official in Puerto Rico and co-official in New Mexico), Plautdietsch in Canada, and Yucatec Maya in Mexico.

  4. The claim that Polish is the “top” minority language of Germany is inexcusably false. Where do the people come from who claim such a thing, what data have they cobbled together from what dustbin of ignorance ?

    Turkish is the non-German language most spoken by non-Germans in Germany. In 2012 there were 1.6 million Turkish nationals living here – in addition to the tens of thousands of Turks who have become German citizens.

    There are three times as many Turks as Italians and Poles in Germany (as Italians and Poles taken together ? The link doesn’t make that clear).

  5. Ethnologue considers Polish to be a native language in Germany with 241,000 speakers.

    Yeah, maybe along the border with Polen, but hardly anywhere else – though in recent years the number of Poles roughing it in the woods around Cologne has increased. That’s 241,000 of over 80 million German national speaking German, compared with 1.6 million Turkish nationals speaking Turkish. French might count as a native language in corners of Elsaß-Lothringen, spoken by a few tens of thousands.

  6. A similar map of North America would show French as the largest minority language in the U.S. (if we exclude Spanish …

    So tell me now, John – why would one exclude Spanish, since it is the minority language spoken by the most people in the USA ?

  7. Presumably because, as he wrote in the part you lopped off, it’s “official in Puerto Rico and co-official in New Mexico.”

  8. But Polish is official in Poland, so how comes it – in definitional terms – that the map.makers regard Polish as a minority language in Germany ? John’s points may be apposite in another context, but not the one which is the subject of your post.

  9. The map is about “minority languages”, not about “official languages”.

  10. @Etienne:

    And are there really no immmigrant languages in Ireland with more speakers than Gaelic?

    According to the 2011 census, the top non-anglophone countries of birth for Irish residents were:

    Poland 115,193

    Lithuania 34,847

    Latvia 19,989

    Nigeria 19,780

    Romania 17,995

    India 17,856

    Philippines 13,833

    Germany 12,980

    China 11,458

    Slovakia 10,695

    France 10,070

    The closest proxy for L1-Irish speakers is the presumably larger number of those aged 3 or over who “speak Irish daily outside the education system”, who numbered 77,185. So the answer is that there is certainly one, i.e. Polish, but probably no more than that.

  11. It seems clear to me now that the map-makers merely wanted to stir up irate conversation. Their map is like a report that Obama was kidnapped and brain-washed by aliens while in Hawaii.

  12. John Cowan: different sources give different data, but there is no consistency here. Official status seems not to play any role: Swedish is taken to be the first minority language of Finland, or French in Belgium and Switzerland, despite the minority language being official nationally in all three countries. Nor is Abstand a consistent criterion: Sicilian is taken to be the most important minority language of Italy, after all. But not Bavarian in Austria, Alemannic in Switzerland, Scots in the UK, or Nynorsk in Norway.

    Stu: As for Polish in Germany: after World War II the westward shift of the border between Poland and (East, at first) Germany meant that Polish-German contact areas were on the Polish (or Soviet, in the case of that part of East Prussia which became Russian) side of the border: the only Slavic languages spoken indigenously in the former East Germany are Upper and Lower Sorbian. Thus, Polish is unambiguously an immigrant language in post World War II Germany, whatever ETHNOLOGUE claims.

    Also: one complication involving Turkish nationals in Germany is that a sizeable percentage are in fact native speakers of languages of Turkey other than Turkish, chiefly Kurdish.

  13. Ah, Etienne, you’re right to bring up Kurdish. I didn’t think of that just now. Over the last 10-15 years, the many protest demos held on Saturdays (in front of the cathedral, or down on the Ebertplatz near where I lived for 10 years) were almost always organized by Kurds.protesting against the Ankara government. To my shame now, I had noticed this, but never really cared one way or the other.

  14. Also, I have no idea what Kurdish is. I had imagined it to be an ethnic grouping, more than a language of its own. Do tell a little more !

  15. Stu: Kurdish is an Iranian language, or minor language family, spoken indigenously in Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria and possibly other neighboring countries. Another Iranian language of Turkey, Zazaki, is sometimes, for socio-linguist reasons (i.e. its speakers consider themselves Kurdish), lumped together with Kurdish.

    Minor correction on my point above: as a result of the border changes I spoke of some Polish- and German-speaking areas ended up in Soviet Lithuania after World War II: I seemed to be saying above they had ended up in Soviet Russia and Poland only.

  16. Polish is official in Poland

    But not in Germany, the country in question. Try to restrain your Grumbliness.

  17. there is no such thing as a “Daghestanian” language family: there is a North-East Caucasian language family, to which most of the languages of Daghestan (including Lezghian) belong.

    I’ve certainly seen references to “Nakh-Dagestanian” as a language family, though maybe that term is falling out of favor. Wiki thinks “Northeast Caucasian” and “Dag(h)estanian”) are synonymous, for what that’s worth.

  18. The graphic style of the map reminds me of Yanko Tsvetkov’s Atlas of Prejudice. Lots of funny ones there, including my favorite, Berlusconi’s map of Europe.

  19. Perhaps the map only counted languages spoken by citizens of each country?

  20. David Eddyshaw says:

    The map has Serbian as the main minority language of Croatia and Bosnia. As Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian are not only the the same language but even the same dialect of the same language, this evidently has nothing to do with reality as dealt with in actual linguistics (or Bavarian would indeed have a splendid claim on the German part of the map …)

    More on a level with the official PRC Chinese line that Cantonese is a dialect of Mandarin, though the error is the other way round.

    Agree with Etienne it’s unlikely Welsh speakers outnumber Hindi/Urdu speakers in the UK, although one should bear in mind that lots of Brits with Indian or Pakistani roots speak Punjabi or Bengali or Gujarati or Kashmiri etc etc and not Hindi or Urdu, so the thing is possible, depending largely on how much you regard the self-reporting of Welsh-speakingness as reliable. The numbers are rather higher than a monoglot English speaker would imagine – even here in Swansea, not a great stronghold of Welsh (alas) you don’t really find out whether people are Welsh speaking without trying it out on them, and there are more than you would think, especially (alas, again) among the older generation.

  21. Lucia Vargas says:

    Amazing! How can they do that? Now that’s a joke … By the way, what language is spoken in the Canary Islands? Who knows?

    Thanks, I laughed a lot.

  22. marie-lucie says:

    Ethnologue is designed to be encyclopedic, but it is not wholly reliable. Its aim in compiling the list is to discover how many Bible translations are required in order that each language group should have its own translation. Ethnologue errs on the side of detail rather than parsimony in classifying many dialects of a single language as languages in themselves, thus requiring very similar translations. The data included in the list are collected from many individuals, not all of them qualified to make a decision. In cases like the Welsh one, where most speakers of a given language are actually bilingual in the minority and the dominant languages, they could be over- or underrepresenting their proficiency in the minority language in question. Ethnologue is still a useful resource, but it cannot be fully relied on.

    As for grouping languages into families (see the Wikipedia entry), the word “family” is very loosely defined, so one gets “Afro-Asiatic” (including Semitic and a variety of African languages) or “Austronesian” (which includes around 1000 languages) on the same level as “Maiduan” (three languages of California) or “Mapudungu” (a language of Chile). (In my opinion, the number of American families, at least for North America, is grossly exaggerated).

  23. Speaking of Poles, the butt of many a being-able-to-laugh-at-oneself joke:

    Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra kept this one in the act for a quarter-century. On stage, Dino used to have a bit of business where he’d refill his tumbler and ask Frank, “How do you make a fruit cordial?” And Sinatra would respond, “I dunno. How do you make a fruit cordial?” And Dean would say, “Be nice to him.”

    Happy Holidays Hat, should I duck?

  24. marie-lucie says:

    LV: The language currently spoken in the Canary Islands is Spanish. Before being conquered by Spain, the islands were inhabited by the Guanches, a population most likely of Berber origin, given the similarities of the (poorly known) Guanche language with the Berber ones.

    The Canaries are also known for their peculiar el silbo, which is not a separate language but a whistled version of Spanish, used in the past to communicate across narrow valleys.

  25. ‘those aged 3 or over who “speak Irish daily outside the education system”’: if I affectedly replace “cheers” by “slàinte” am I speaking Scots Gaelic?

  26. John Cowan says:

    Dearieme: Only for an instant.

    Etienne: You’re certainly right that there is no true consistency. However, there are more Poles scattered about Germany than you think. In particular, a hundred years ago some 30% of the population of the Ruhr were Polish, about a third of them native born. The figure is now down to 3%, and probably not very many of those actually speak Polish today. Unfortunately, the Third Reich revoked the status of Poles as a German national minority in 1939–40 that the Weimar Republic had granted, and the Federal Republic has several times refused to restore it, so figures are hard to come by.

    Note, however, that I spoke of native languages rather than indigenous ones. An immigrant/indigenous opposition is too simplistic: English and French are not indigenous to North America, but it would be grossly misleading to call them immigrant languages after being passed down from parents to children for four centuries. Indeed, the Lakota are truly indigenous, but have been in their present territory for less than three centuries. In the same way, it’s clear that the Polish presence in present German territory has existed for only 250 years (since the Partitions of Poland), but that is not the same as “since World War II”.

  27. Irish is an official language in Ireland.

  28. Etienne: Sami, in Norway, can’t have more than a few tens of thousands of speakers, and considering the economic boom the country has been enjoying thanks to its oil I am certain several immigrant languages have more speakers.

    Not quite right, although you’re on the right track. The Sami live in Sápmi, a region of the world that is intersected by (in order of population size) Norway, Sweden, Finland & Russia. And then there are many Sami living outside that area, in Oslo, Trondheim or Helsinki. I can’t find the total number of Samisk speakers within Norway, only that the total Sami population within Scandinavia is said to be between 85,000 and 135,000. From 2012, the largest immigrant population in Norway by country of origin is Polish at 82,000; second is Swedish at 37,000. Norway has some national and local television programmes in Samisk. I used to sometimes watch Samisk-language news and children’s TV on NRK when my daughter was young. We get some great Swedish TV, but as far as I know there’s no likelihood that we’ll ever get Polish-language TV programmes being made in Norway.

    Sicilian is taken to be the most important minority language of Italy, after all. But not…Nynorsk in Norway.

    Nynorsk isn’t a language, it’s a way to write down several different Norwegian dialects. Bokmål is the other written form of Norwegian.

  29. @Etienne – “Alemannic in Switzerland” – isn’t that actually the majority language in Switzerland?

  30. According to the 2010 census, most spoken language in Russia was Russian (137,494,893 speakers) followed by English (7,574,303 speakers).

    Tatar was the third most spoken language with 4,280,718 speakers, German fourth (2,069,949) and Chechen fifth (1,354,705)

    The least spoken languages in Russia were Bakwe, Baoule, Bihari, Wai, Nias, Sesotho, Simeulue, Sranan Tongo, Themne, Tigre, Hiri motu, Edo, Yugh and Yaghnobi with single speaker each.

    Almost all of these are spoken by foreigners from very exotic countries, but Yugh language is native in Russia, so it appears to be dying out unfortunately.

  31. “Dearieme: Only for an instant.” That’s pretty much the point I was making about Irish – someone who says only “cheers” in Irish might claim to “speak Irish daily outside the education system”.

  32. This map is one of those that have been making the rounds of FB for a couple of weeks now. I stopped paying attention when one of them claiming to show the most common surnames in Europe gave “Horváth” as the most common surname in Slovakia citing an outdated and questionable source.

  33. Irish is an official language in Ireland.

    Excellent point. I guess there isn’t even an attempt at consistency.

  34. most spoken language in Russia was Russian (137,494,893 speakers) followed by English (7,574,303 speakers)

    Likewise few people would doubt that English is more widely spoken in Germany than Turkish, Kurdish, or Polish. Or that Danish is more widely spoken in Iceland than Polish – although wait a second, Icelanders probably wouldn’t admit in the Census that they speak Danish after like 15 years of school. The point there is that it may be a whole lot easier to count residents’ origins, or even ethnicities, than languages spoken. Because although there are quite a few people who aren’t happy to admit, or to reveal, who they are than to accurately describe what languages they can speak?

  35. Just for fun, I checked the results of the latest census, category Native language:
    Slovak: 4 240 453
    Not answered: 405 261
    Hungarian: 508 714
    Romani: 122 518
    Ruthenian: 55 469
    And apparently, we also have 460 speakers of Yiddish or Hebrew. Why or? Because the questionnaire apparently doesn’t make the distinction. *facepalm*

  36. “followed by English ”
    the map is about top minority languages, not secondary languages that people can speak, i rather liked the gigantic red tatar on the map which seemed like a bit illustrative as if like of the historical processes underneath, funny maps, all in all

  37. marie-lucie says:

    I too am puzzled by English being classified as a minority language in Russia. Perhaps many people declare that they can speak English, but it is not as if they was a population of seven-plus million speaking English in their families.

  38. marie-lucie says:

    Etienne: Arabic speakers in France: I don’t know whether that is mentioned, but many so-called Arabic speakers actually speak a Berber language (Kabyle or Tamaseq).

    Similarly, in the US many “Hispanic” immigrants actually speak a Mayan or other language of Mexico rather than Spanish.

  39. In the comments, the mapmaker says s/he wanted to show the largest native minority language rather than immigration patterns. I assume the map is as good as the sources, there’s no reason to assume the author has any special expertise or any agenda other than curiosity.

  40. marie-lucie says:

    s/o: If the purpose was to show “native minority languages”, English would hardly have been placed among such languages in Russia! Perhaps several people contributed to the map, each with a different idea of what to include, and with different sources to consult. The result seems to be what can be described as an “unholy mess”.

  41. Marie-Lucie – Tatar is on the map for russia, not english, unless I’m missing something?

  42. marie-lucie says:

    s/o, I have not been able to look at the map on my (now ancient) computer, so I was not talking about true minorities in Russia. What I was referring to is a mention somewhere in these comments of 7 million plus English speakers in Russia.

  43. If the purpose was to show “native minority languages”, English would hardly have been placed among such languages in Russia!

    No question about it, but what about Danish in Iceland or French in Canada? They are both historic minority language and second languages of residents for whom they aren’t native (and likely languages of recent immigration too). How do you untangle who’s of an interrupted line of Quebecois Francophones, who has French Canadian ancestry but learned French as a second language, who’s from the former French colonies, etc.?

  44. I was trying to think of a European country without a majority language and failed. Technically, Bosnia qualifies but that requires distinguishing Bosnian from Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Croat.

  45. LH: I think Mirandese was one of the languages in that “Guess what these languages are” game that you brought to our attention so while ago, so you probably have heard of it…

  46. …some while ago … (I second the desire to have a Preview button.. )

  47. David Marjanović says:

    Apparently, Dag(h)estanian and Nakh (Chechen, Ingush) aren’t mutually exclusive, but Nakh is nested within Daghestanian.

    Sicilian is taken to be the most important minority language of Italy, after all. But not Bavarian in Austria

    To be fair, if Bavarian were counted separately, it would be the native language of the vast majority of Austrians. It would be a minority language in Germany and Italy (and Switzerland* and the Ukraine** and the Czech Republic*** among others), but not in Austria by far.

    * One valley.
    ** A few valleys, I think. Put there in the 18th century.
    *** A few old people in a few villages.

    Kurdish is an Iranian language, or minor language family, spoken indigenously in Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria and possibly other neighboring countries.

    Armenia is of particular historical importance, having hosted a Kurdish republic for a year.

    Yugh language is native in Russia, so it appears to be dying out unfortunately

    I had thought it had died out in 1988 or so. Wikipedia agrees with you instead: “By the early 1990s there were only two or three non-fluent speakers remaining, and the language was virtually extinct. In the 2010 census only one ethnic Yugh was counted.”

    The only surviving Yeniseian language is Ket, spoken by 210 people according to (Wikipedia’s reporting of) the 2010 census.

  48. To be fair, if Bavarian were counted separately, it would be the native language of the vast majority of Austrians.

    But, in Vienna at least, Bavarian appears to be in rapid decline. Most school children use Hochdeutsch as their daily language with their peers, and a sizable percentage acquire German as a second language and speak a Slavic language, Turkish or Romanian at home. Even when those children assimilate to the German speaking world, they won’t be speaking Bavarian.

  49. David Marjanović says:

    But, in Vienna at least, Bavarian appears to be in rapid decline.

    In Vienna, yes; not outside. When we moved to Vienna in 1993, I was completely flabbergasted that anyone would actually speak Schriftsprache in normal situations.

    What my generation (and younger) actually speaks, though, is Not Very Standard German: the Bavarian clitics are intact, so is the diminutive, the indefinite article is nearly so, the simple past is only making inroads for a few irregular verbs that are particularly common, the Standard German phonemes are realized by specifically eastern Austrian sounds (meaning that diphthongs are completely absent – sometimes, even announcers of the TV evening news slip up and carry this over –, that vowel length is not phonemic, and that [p t k] have a rather tenuous existence)… it’s essentially dialect without [ɒ̈]. I’ve called it a mesolect before.

    I think the reason this is happening in Vienna but not elsewhere is that Vienna has an upperclass that can be imitated.

  50. David Marjanović says:

    a sizable percentage acquire German as a second language and speak a Slavic language, Turkish or Romanian at home. Even when those children assimilate to the German speaking world, they won’t be speaking Bavarian.

    Not in Vienna. But in 1992/3, in Linz, I had a classmate who had arrived from Hungary when he was 6 and spoke dialect just like everyone else.

  51. And we have among our number the redoubtable Dearieme, who by his own testimony came into this life speaking English (albeit of a Scottish variety) and learned Scots on the playing fields, not of Eton but of Whae’er.

  52. In Georgia the top minority language probably is Megrelian: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Megrelian , http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zan_languages

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