Standard languages and multilingualism in European history

Standard languages and multilingualism in European history. Ed. by Mattias Hüning, Ulrike Vogl, and Olivier Moliner. (Multilingualism and diversity management 1.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2012. Pp. ix, 339. ISBN 9789027200556. $149 (Hb).

Reviewed by Katherine McDonald, Pembroke College, University of Cambridge

This book explores the historical development of European standard language ideology and its impact on attitudes about multilingualism and multiculturalism in modern Europe. The book’s authors argue that there is a tension in Europe between the prestigious forms of multilingualism actively promoted in the European Union and the less prestigious forms of multilingualisms found across Europe. These include bilingualism in undervalued regional languages, in new national languages whose nations are only a few decades old, and in non-European languages, particularly where recent immigrants to Europe are not fluent in any European language. According to the authors, the development of standard languages in Europe, both in the past and in the present, is a key factor contributing to this dual view of multilingualism.

The book is divided into two main parts. Following an introduction by Ulrike Vogl, the authors of the first part explore the theoretical considerations and historical background that inform the book, including myths about language usage in modern culture (Winifred V. Davies), multilingualism in political theory (Yael Peled), and the relationship between language and ethnicity in Europe up to the present day (Harald Haarmann). The second part consists of a number of case studies presenting the development of standard language ideologies in different countries, areas, and speech communities. The authors deal with Iceland (Alexander Haselow), Greece (Peter Mackridge), Finland (Mirja Saari), France (Georges Lüdi), Spain (Kormi Anipa), Dutch-speaking Belgium (Johan De Caluwé), the languages of the Caucasus (Harald Haarmann), and Macedonia and Moldova (Matthew H. Ciscel). Quotations and examples from languages other than English are generally translated, although Lüdi’s chapter requires knowledge of French. The strongest emphasis is on developments from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries onward, but case studies where relevant standardization phenomena appear earlier include more information on prior periods, particularly in the chapters on Iceland, Greece, and Spain.

There are occasional inaccuracies. For example, Vogl dates the earliest written documents in Greek to the fourth century B.C. (19), but this seems to be a misunderstanding of Mackridge’s overview of the development of the standardized forms of Greek. In addition, unhelpful terminology is occasionally used. For example, the term ‘monolingual multilingualism’, meaning fluency in more than one high-status European language, is far from transparent. Haarmann also uses phrases such as ‘people of Indo-European stock’ when ‘speakers of Indo-European languages’ might be more appropriate to the context (289–90, 304).

However, these are minor issues in a book that will be of considerable interest to scholars in a number of fields: the sociolinguistics of language contact, historical sociolinguistics, the history of ethnicity in Europe, and modern language policy. This book argues persuasively that the perceived problems of multilingualism/multiculturalism in modern Europe have been created by the ideologies of recent centuries as much as by actual social or demographic change, and it makes a strong case for further study of standard language ideologies from a historical perspective. Overall, it is positive to see multilingualism presented as a phenomenon with a long and varied history across Europe.