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Regional and minority languages

What is it about?

The European Union has over 60 indigenous regional and minority languages, spoken regularly by up to 40 million people.

They include languages spoken by a majority in one country but a minority in others, and the languages of minority groups, e.g. Yiddish and Romany.

Nearly all regional and minority language communities face difficulties in ensuring the survival and development of their languages. For instance, the Saami languages of northern Finland, Sweden, Norway and the Kola Peninsula (Russia) have only a few hundred speakers in some communities and are in danger of dying out.

National governments are the main decision-makers on language policy. This includes the languages covered by the Council of Europe’s European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.

However, decision-making in this field also falls to education providers, regional and local authorities, employers' organisations, trade unions and the media.

What is the EU's role?

The European Commission works with national governments and interest groups of all kinds to establish shared goals, and supports their efforts, especially by encouraging the sharing of good practices.

It also helps fund projects and partnerships designed to raise awareness of minority languages, promote their teaching and learning, and thereby help them survive. For instance, it funded the Euromosaic study, which provided an overview of the variety of languages within the EU.

What is being done?

Projects funded include:

  • CRAMLAP (Celtic, Regional and Minority Languages Abroad Project) - evaluated support for Celtic and other regional languages through higher education.
  • NPLD (Network to Promote Linguistic Diversity) - language policy and planning for constitutional, regional and small-state languages in Europe.

Erasmus+ offers opportunities to support new strategic partnerships in the field of teaching and learning regional and minority languages.