Minority languages: Catalan, Rusyn and Meänkieli

In early December I published this article where I discussed what constitutes a language and what doesn’t. I ended up concluding that it is harder than first assumed to determine what is and isn’t a language, since languages are inseparably linked to culture and politics of countries and individuals. Ouch. So today I choose to set this entire discussion aside and simply tell you about three European minority languages that may or may not be considered dialects and/or languages!

Catalan is a co-official language in Spain, where it is spoken in Catalonia, on the Balearic Islands, and in the Valencian community, where it is known as Valencian. Catalan is also spoken in Northern Catalonia in France, Alghero in Italy and is the only official language of Andorra. In 2006 there were about 11.5M native speakers of Catalan, which makes it larger than Swedish (8.5M) and Czech (9.5M). Catalan is a pluricentric language with two standard forms: Catalan and Valencian.

Rusyn or Ruthenian is by some linguists considered a separate language, while others treat it as a dialect of Ukrainian. Partly because of this, there is no standard form of Rusyn, but the two main versions are Carpatho-Rusyn and Pannonian Rusyn, which is also an official language of Vojvodina, an autonomous province in Serbia. Rusyn is considered a minority language in Croatia, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia and Ukraine, but is also spoken in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. Because of the controversy surrounding the status of Rusyn it is difficult to say how many people consider Rusyn their native language, but an estimate is about 6-700,000 speakers all in all.

Meänkieli literally means „our language” and is a dialect of Finnish spoken in the Torne Valley area of Sweden and Finland. It’s an official minority language of Sweden. The number of speakers varies quite a bit depending on the source, but a qualified estimate is around 40-70,000 speakers. Like Finnish, Meänkieli is an agglutinating language featuring no less than 13 cases – two less than in Finnish.


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