An EU-funded team of researchers is targeting the development of a vitality barometer for European languages. This barometer would offer Europeans a reliable method to determine which languages are in danger of becoming extinct. The ELDIA ('European language diversity for all') project has received EUR 2.7 million in EU support.
The researchers from 8 universities in 6 EU Member States are gearing up to launch investigations of 14 Finno-Ugric languages. 'These languages are particularly well suited to the investigations as they cover the entire spectrum of the different minority languages, starting with autochthonous languages such as Meänkieli in Sweden right through to the language of new migrant workers such as Estonians in Germany,' said project coordinator Professor Anneli Sarhimaa of the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz in Germany.
An expert in Northern European and Baltic languages, Professor Sarhimaa said the project's results will be used to generate a universally bound European language vitality barometer. All minority languages would be able to use this barometer.
The team said the European Language Vitality Barometer 'EuLaViBar' will be similar to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List, which is the world's most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of animal and plant species. The EuLaViBar will provide indications of the current status and extent of the danger to languages. The EU will also be able to use the tool to monitor the implementation of the EU policy for the protection of minorities.
The ELDIA team, consisting of 12 academics and 20 PhD students and postdocs, will conduct several field tests and evaluate text documents in the 14 minority languages and relevant majority languages.
Linguists participating in the study will examine the language of the Seto people in eastern Estonia and the language spoken by the Hungarian population living in Slovenia. Sociologists will evaluate how the public perceives the ethnic groups and statisticians will develop the methodological structure for the collection and evaluation of the material. The role of the legal experts involved in the study will be to assess the legal position of the minorities as regards EU legislation.
'Multilingualism is a part of our great European heritage,' Professor Sarhimaa pointed out. 'In Europe, 46 million people are brought up with both a minority language and the main language spoken in the area.'
One of the objectives of the ELDIA project is to preserve and protect this heritage, according to the researchers. They will also investigate the Karelian, Vepsian and Seto ethnic groups in Russia, and the Northern Sami population in Norway.
The vitality barometer, according to the team, is to demonstrate that no competition is needed between the minority and majority groups. Also, the languages of each group can co-exist. The researchers speculate however that the future does not look bright for the languages spoken by fewer than 1 million people.
The researchers participating in the ELDIA project are from Finland's Helsingin yliopisto, Oulun yliopisto, and Ålands fredsinstitut, the University of Vienna in Austria, Mälardalens Högskola in Sweden, Estonia's Tartu Ülikool and Univerza v Mariboru in Slovenia.