Europe and the politics of language

Europe and the politics of language: Citizens, migrants and outsiders. By Máiréad Nic Craith. (Palgrave studies in minority languages and communities.) New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. Pp. xii, 217. ISBN 9781403918338. $100 (Hb).

Reviewed by Madeleine Adkins, University of California, Santa Barbara

Those interested in language and politics in Europe would be wise to start with Máiréad Nic Craith’s book, Europe and the politics of language. From the historical origins of Europe, to the transnational linguistic communities of nomads, to the vagaries of the European Union’s (EU) policies and practices, this volume provides an overview of language and politics in Europe that covers a generous swath of territory in a relatively slim tome. In its range of chapter topics and its detailed case studies, this book provides a multifaceted overview of the issues, perspectives, and realities of the politics of language in Europe today, in particular, the policy challenges faced by the growing EU.

A whirlwind tour of European history, Ch. 1 (1–19) provides the historical context for the issues, exploring the conceptual perspectives and the political realities of Europe in addition to defining the key issues of inclusion, exclusion, and citizenship. Ch. 2 (20–39) examines the ideologies implicit in the concepts of language and statehood and how these ideas play into the politics of national identity and citizenship.

Ch. 3 (40–56) turns the focus to the EU, examining its official languages and the privileges these languages are accorded as well as the day-to-day realities that often trump their official status. Ch. 4 (57–80) discusses the complex range of linguistic and political situations that lead to a language receiving the inferior status of a minority language within its own country. This chapter also discusses the status of such languages within the EU as well as the various studies, proposals, and efforts of support that the EU and other European agencies have made on the behalf of minority languages.

In Ch. 5 (81–105), the author explores the issues unique to languages that are spoken in two or more nation states and provides examples of the challenges and accomplishments of cross-national efforts to support language groups. The challenges and realities of language varieties that have not been accorded recognition as languages are explored in Ch. 6 (106–25). Ch. 7 (126–46) rounds out the discussion of language within Europe, examining the unique challenges of people who have lived on the continent as nomads of one sort or another and are therefore lacking historic ties between their languages and specific territories.

Ch. 8 (147–67) lays out globalization as an issue in modern Europe by exploring the linguistic status, within Europe and the EU, of the languages of non-European immigrants. Ch. 9 (168–87) concludes the book with an evaluation of EU language policy, a discussion of the underlying challenges of the conflicting definitions of linguistic equality, and recommendations for future directions in language policy for Europe.

One of the highlights of the book is the author’s use of case studies and examples to illustrate the key issues. By focusing on specific linguistic cases, she illustrates her points and provides in-depth examples. However, given the length of the book, the author does not (and cannot) provide an exhaustive coverage of the topic; those readers who are seeking information on a particular language and its community within Europe, or on a particular language issue, may or may not find what they are looking for. This book should be viewed as an introduction to the broader issues, with occasional detailed analyses. It should also be used as a point of departure for more detailed study of specific language issues, and its generous bibliography is a useful reference for this purpose.

Given the book’s breadth, linguists may find that some statements about particular languages or linguistic analyses seem to be either misleading or simplifications. This is perhaps inevitable, in light of the fact that the book covers a wide range of topics and that its target audience is quite diverse.

For those new to the sizeable collection of abbreviations used to refer to European governmental bodies and their documents and declarations, the free usage of such abbreviations in the text can be disconcerting and confusing at times; however, the author provides a website list that will be an invaluable reference for those seeking clarification.

The author positions her book as a call to academic institutions for a greater focus on the issues of language policy as a means to improve the status of minority and immigrant languages and their communities. By laying out the many complex language policy issues faced by the EU, the author succeeds in demonstrating the varied—and extremely difficult—challenges for language communities and political leadership in Europe.