Regional and minority languages in the European Union

Briefing 26-09-2016

Nearly half of the approximately six thousand languages spoken in the world are vulnerable or in danger of disappearing. In the EU, 40 to 50 million people speak one of its 60 regional and minority languages (RMLs), some of which are at serious risk. RMLs account for linguistic diversity and belong to humanity's intangible cultural heritage. International organisations, such as Unesco, the Council of Europe and the OSCE, are concerned with the risk that RMLs face and undertake actions to protect their linguistic rights. Non-respect for regional or minority communities' linguistic rights is qualified as racial discrimination, a breach of human rights. While language policy is an exclusive competence of its Member States, the EU can support actions promoting and protecting RMLs. However, the current complex political and economic situation in the EU is not favourable for such efforts. Nevertheless, over the years, the EU has undertaken education-related initiatives at all levels of teaching, including with regard to research that facilitates the production of RML teaching materials, the presence of RMLs in cyberspace, and the work on modern-world RML terminology. It has also recognised the need for RMLs to be taught to non-native speakers and has supported their media dissemination. The European Parliament has supported the promotion of RMLs and called for the protection of endangered languages.