State Secretary Anders Bals' speech at ICRL opening
Knowledge of the sociolinguistic situation of the minority language – and attitudes towards the language – is vital for our planning processes to secure minority languages, says State Secretary Anders Bals.
State Secretary Anders Bals (Photo: John Hughes, Millimeterpress)
It is a great pleasure for me to attend this conference here in Oslo.
I am State Secretary for the Minister of Local Government and Modernisation, and I am responsible for Sami and Minority affairs. As a Sami myself, I have experienced what it can mean to have a minority language as my mother tongue.
The Norwegian Roma and Romani people/Taters, as well as Kvens/Norwegian Finns, Jews and Forest Finns, are recognized as national minorities in Norway. And Norway has ratified the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention on National Minorities and the European Charter for Regional and Minority languages. Romani, the language of the Romani people/Taters, and Romanes, the language of the Norwegian Roma, are considered two different languages in Norway. Both these languages are recognized as minority languages in Norway.
As this conference will show us, Romani language is spoken in most European countries. The speakers at this conference are from a wide range of countries – and you all have different experiences. Your studies and research are based on the differences – and the fellowship – of the Roma in Europe. Language is the most important tool of communication among us. We all learn to understand and interpret the world around us through our mother tongue. Our mother tongue is vital for our conception of ourselves and our identity, and it is crucial to express our thoughts and feelings.
It therefore worries me that minority languages around the world are seriously endangered. UNESCO has estimated that half of the world's 6,000 languages will disappear, if no action is taken. Although Romani language is the mother tongue of millions of people in Europe, it is also seriously endangered. The languages that belong to minorities without a nation state are especially endangered.
For a language to survive it has to be used. The best way to ensure a language is to pass it on to the next generation. Parents pass on their language to their children, and kindergarten and school are important language domains.
There are examples of success in revitalization of minority languages: We know that the number of people speaking Cymraeg in Wales has increased. Experiences from Wales show us that it is possible to reverse the language shift process. However this requires good planning – based on knowledge of the language itself and the social situation of the speakers.
The work you do to create new knowledge and insight in the Romani language is therefore of great value for future work on Romani language. Negative attitudes among the majority – towards the minority language play an important role in language shift processes. It is therefore important to raise awareness and knowledge of the value of the language among both majority and minority. Knowledge of the sociolinguistic situation of the minority language – and attitudes towards the language – is vital for our planning processes to secure minority languages.
For many of us dialect is closely connected to identity. Many speakers of minority languages fear that their dialect might disappear through the standardization process of the language. Research in dialects, both differences in words and grammar, can be vital to ensure that differences in the spoken dialects are taken into consideration in standardization processes. Dialectology also ensures knowledge of regional dialects for the coming generations. Systematized knowledge of grammar and language corpora is essential for the development of grammars and dictionaries.
In our modern society media also plays a vital role for spreading knowledge and attitudes. The use of minority languages in media can play an important part in the efforts to revitalize a language. Use of minority language in political debates, and public services, enhances the status of the language. The need to develop terminology can therefore be crucial. Systematized knowledge of the language is an important basis for terminology development.
I am certain that the knowledge you will share during these days, will bring the understanding of the Romani language further. I am also sure that the discussions you will have – and contacts you will make – at this conference will be an inspiration for your further research in Romani language and its dialects.
I wish you good luck with the conference.
Thank you for your attention.
State Secretary Anders Bals of the Norwegian Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation gave this speech at the opening of the 11th International Conference on Romani Linguistics (ICRL) on September 15, 2014, at Litteraturhuset in Oslo. Published with permission.