Multilingualism within Nation States and the Danger of Separation

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2011

9 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Worldwide, there are “almost 6,800 languages in 228 countries [and] approximately 200 languages that have more than one million native speakers”[1]. There are even less official nation states existing, according to various sources between 192 and 195[2]. Obviously, not every single country or nation state exclusively contains citizens speaking only one language and we don’t need to seek out long, but instead take a look to member states of the European Union (EU) as there are countries like Belgium, Luxembourg and Ireland that are officially tri- and/or bilingual.

On one hand, this suggests the existence of a considerately strong movement of native speakers among the respective country’s citizens that are not willing to accept merely one mother language (as is the case in Ireland, where both Irish and English are officially recognized idioms). On the other hand, it might indicate the existence of a potential language conflict situation – and indeed there are multilingual nation states in which this proves to be the case. There are many such examples throughout the world, e.g. Belgium, Spain and its various autonomous communities) or the Canadian province Québec. In fact, established nation states are threatened to break in part due to their citizens speaking utterly different languages and instead of just one with varying accents and/or dialects[3]. So how do countries deal with these issues? What are the possible consequences of using more than one official language among an established nation state and how might this shape the citizens’ perception and consciousness on a wider range?

In this essay I will at first give an overview of how the situation generally looks like in the following selected countries: Canada and its mostly francophone province Québec; the EU founding member state Belgium and the Baltic states Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania that collectively joined the EU in 2004, having faced significant language issues in the years before. What exactly had been threatening these countries and how is the linguistic question possibly intertwined with the countries’ history? At second and last I will try to answer the question of what influence the chosen countries’ linguistic situation can possibly have for the future in general – and for the political union within Europe in particular.

To begin with I shall focus on a rather classical example of bilingualism: the French Canadian province Québec. The topic is, in fact, too widesprad and complex to be met here accordingly, however, it will be helpful to have a look on how things were being handled outside Europe first of all. It is sometimes argued that before the so-called Quiet Revolution[4] in 1960, there had generally been a rather friendly and uncomplicated interaction between the anglo- and francophones within Québec, but “it should not be presumed that [the language issue] was absent before [it]”[5]. Ever since New France, as the province was labelled until 1763, had been conquered by the British, “concern started to be expressed about the preservation of the French language”[6]. It took less than a century until French became a minority language and after the 1840ies, “the French Canadian nation defined itself increasingly as a minority nation, besieged and threatened”[7] – a strong nationalistic feeling developed in the following decades, but the language struggle only began. In the middle of an ever-growing English-speaking population surrounding Québec, the French language had been threatened by anglicisms: It is said that, “a language that is static, and develops in isolation, rarely is a dynamic one, [but here] [b]orrowing was largely one-sided, as the French language became peppered with anglicisms, and the English language remained largely unaffected”[8]. Reason for this had been the British dominion: “business fell increasingly into the hands of anglophones, the English language became ever more prominent, and unable to describe business and scientific terms in their language, francophones used the English language instead”[9]. Another serious problem had been the steady decline of quality of the French language, both in terms of grammar and phonetics; the “corrupted language”[10] was even given a proper name: joual.

From the 1840ies on, the French language had been in a minority situation all over the country, except in Québec – the francophones here “saw themselves as the centre, or the mainstay, of the nation”[11], with fellow French speaking citizens in the surrounding provinces as their “vanguard, the outposts”[12] and there would be regularly problems with discrimination in the so-called diaspora. Whereas Québec saw itself as “an oasis of tolerance, going out of its way to be generous to its own anglophone minority”[13] it would soon “complain about the dominance of the minority”[14]: the anglophones within.


[1] Järve: „Language Battles in the Baltic States 1989 to 2002”, p.92.

[2] See

[3] As this is arguably the case in countries like the Netherlands, France and Germany.

[4] A period of rapid change in Québec in the 1960s. It was characterized by the rapid and effective secularisation of society, the creation of an État-Providence (welfare state) [and] a transformation of the national identity among Francophone Quebecers (from Canadien français to Québécois). See

[5] Bélanger: “The Rise of the Language Issue since the Quiet Revolution”. See

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

Excerpt out of 9 pages


Multilingualism within Nation States and the Danger of Separation
European University Viadrina Frankfurt (Oder)
Language and Identity
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ISBN (Book)
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multilingualism, nation states, language, nationalism, identity, european integration
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Gordon Wagner (Author), 2011, Multilingualism within Nation States and the Danger of Separation, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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