An Introduction to Comparing Categorizations of Minority Languages

The present study is the result of reuniting a selection of texts coming partly from materials presented at the conference “Language and Society in the 21st Century”, which was held at Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia (RUDN, Moscow) in November 2016. These texts were then reworked and complemented by others in order to correspond to the pre-established project of this collective book entitled Minority Languages from Western Europe and Russia: Comparative Approaches and Categorical Configurations. This is part of a multidisciplinary research on the categorization of minority languages, coordinated in Bordeaux as part the research project Typology of Historical Minority Languages in Europe (Typologie des langues minoritaires historiques en Europe, TLMHE). This research, which follows a previous one in the same field, is mainly based also in a multidisciplinary way on linguistic and legal approaches and primarily calls on sociolinguistics, semantics and linguistic rights. One of the main objectives of the work that ensued, and the published results of which include, among others publications, two collective works (Busquets et al. 2014; Viaut and Moskvitcheva 2014), was to specify the contours of notions that are supposed to categorize in a central way minority languages or those in a minority situation. Those are namely the notions of “regional language”, “linguistic minority”, and “own language”. Although their use is widespread, at least as far as the first two are concerned, on a very large scale, the emphasis has been placed on a space which essentially corresponds to the area delimited by all the Member States of the Council of Europe, from Western Europe to Russia and the CIS, that is, by two large and particularly productive subsets for categorizing these languages. Similarly, under this program, we have been able to confront data on the notion of linguistic minority with those prevailing in Canada, and here we will also provide comparisons of notions categorizing minority languages used in the east of the above-mentioned group, in China. We also took into account the productivity, in particular, of the ex-Soviet space in this area, whose influence has been also significant in Central Asia and China. It was, moreover, useful to identify the most detached categorizing notions. These central notions, as we will see, underline the link between minority language and nation/ethnicity, a nuanced and complex link also present in other stato-national contexts. © 2019, Springer Nature Switzerland AG.

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  • 1 General and Russian Linguistics Department and of the Foreign Languages Department, Philological Faculty, Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia/RUDN University, Moscow, Russian Federation
  • 2 Dynamics of Languages in a Minority Situation, Institute of Modern Languages, Intercultural Communication and Migration, RUDN University, Moscow, Russian Federation
  • 3 National Center for Scientific Research – CNRS France, Laboratory UMR 5478 Iker, CNRS – Bordeaux Montaigne University – UPPA, Pessac, France
  • 4 Dynamics of Languages in a Minority Situation, Institute of Modern Languages, Intercultural Communication and Migration, RUDN-University, Moscow, Russian Federation
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