Catalan is a “medium-sized” Romance language spoken by over 10 million speakers, spread over four nation states: Northeastern Spain, Andorra, Southern France, and the city of L’Alguer (Alghero) in Sardinia, Italy. Catalan is divided into two primary dialectal divisions, each with further subvarieties: Western Catalan (Western Catalonia, Eastern Aragon, and Valencian Community) and Eastern Catalan (center and east of Catalonia, Balearic Islands, Rosselló, and l’Alguer). Catalan descends from Vulgar Latin. Catalan expanded during medieval times as one of the primary vernacular languages of the Kingdom of Aragon. It largely retained its role in government and society until the War of Spanish Succession in 1714, and since it has been minoritized. Catalan was finally standardized during the beginning of the 20th century, although later during the Franco dictatorship it was banned in public spaces. The situation changed with the new Spanish Constitution promulgated in 1978, when Catalan was declared co-official with Spanish in Catalonia, the Valencian Community, and the Balearic Islands. The Latin vowel system evolved in Catalan into a system of seven stressed vowels. As in most other Iberian Romance languages, there is a general process of spirantization or lenition of voiced stops. Catalan has a two-gender grammatical system and, as in other Western Romance languages, plurals end in -s; Catalan has a personal article and Balearic Catalan has a two-determiner system for common nouns. Finally, past perfective actions are indicated by a compound tense consisting of the auxiliary verb anar ‘to go’ in present tense plus the infinitive. Catalan is a minoritized language everywhere it is spoken, except in the microstate of Andorra, and it is endangered in France and l’Alguer. The revival of Catalan in the post-dictatorship era is connected with a movement called linguistic normalization. The idea of normalization refers to the aim to return Catalan to a “normal” use at an official level and everyday level as any official language.
Frisian is a West Germanic language that is indigenous to the southern coastal region of the North Sea in the Netherlands and Germany. In the early 21st century, it was spoken by around 400,000 inhabitants of the Dutch province of Friesland, by up to 1,000 speakers in the German municipality of the Saterland, and by an estimated 4,000 people in the German district of Nordfriesland. Corresponding to the geographical separation of these areas, which is the result of a complex historical process involving several migration events and language shifts, the Frisian language is traditionally divided into three dialect groups: West Frisian, East Frisian (Saterlandic), and North Frisian. They share common Frisian features, like the presence of two classes of weak verbs. Nevertheless, they are also characterized by individual innovations and various degrees of influence from different contact languages, which explains why they are no longer mutually intelligible. All three dialects are fully recognized as minority languages but differ in terms of their sociopolitical status. While West Frisian appears to occupy a moderately strong position in society—as it is not only recognized as the second official language of the Netherlands but also has access to higher domains and enjoys a considerable amount of constitutional support—the same does not apply to the other dialects. North Frisian and Saterlandic are mostly, if not entirely, confined to lower domains and attempts to extend their use have been only moderately successful. Considering the number of speakers, West Frisian is a relatively vital language as opposed to North Frisian and Saterlandic, which are both severely endangered.
(High) German is both a group of closely related West Germanic varieties and a standardized language derived from this group that comprises a wide range of dialects and colloquial varieties in addition to its standardized form. The two terms have related, and to an extent overlapping, but distinct meanings: German refers to a Standard Average European language spoken predominantly in Central Europe by some 96 million speakers and by minority speech communities around the globe. High German has a double meaning: On the one hand, it is another term for Standard German. On the other hand, it refers to the High German linguistic group within West Germanic, the linguistic basis for the German language. As such, it is defined by the High German consonant shift, a sound change that affected Germanic obstruents and set it apart from its immediate neighbors within (West) Germanic, that is, Low German and Low Franconian. The High German consonant shift around the 7th century, together with the onset of written transmission in the 8th century, marks the beginning of the history of (High) German. Traditional dialects perpetuate patterns of areal variation that arose in the wake of this sound change. Standard German developed out of High German written varieties, especially based on East Central German, through processes of leveling, koineization, metalinguistic reasoning, and codification. During that process, the emergent supra-regional norm superseded Low German in northern Germany and Upper German regional norms in the south, as well as influencing spoken registers, but (Standard) German remains a pluricentric and pluriareal language. Today, colloquial, regional varieties that combine features of Standard German and traditional dialects dominate oral language use, and in social media the written language, too, is developing new colloquial forms that build on standard orthography as well as on regional, informal forms of spoken language usage.
David M. Bunis
The Ibero-Romance-speaking Jews of medieval Christian Iberia were linguistically distinct from their non-Jewish neighbors primarily as a result of their language’s unique Hebrew-Aramaic component; preservations from older Jewish Greek, Latin, and Arabic; a tradition of translating sacred Hebrew and Aramaic texts into their language using archaisms and Hebrew-Aramaic rather than Hispanic syntax; and their Hebrew-letter writing system. With the expulsions from Iberia in the late 15th century, most of the Sephardim who continued to maintain their Iberian-origin language resettled in the Ottoman Empire, with smaller numbers in North Africa and Italy. Their forced migration, and perhaps a conscious choice, essentially disconnected the Sephardim from the Spanish language as it developed in Iberia and Latin America, causing their language—which they came to call laðino ‘Romance’, ʤuðezmo or ʤuðjó ‘Jewish, Judezmo’, and more recently (ʤudeo)espaɲol ‘Judeo-Spanish’—to appear archaic when compared with modern Spanish. In their new locales the Sephardim developed the Hispanic component of their language along independent lines, resulting in further differentiation from Spanish. Divergence was intensified through borrowing from contact languages of the Ottoman Empire such as Turkish, Greek, and South Slavic. Especially from the late 18th century, factors such as the colonializing interests of France, Italy, and Austro-Hungary in the region led to considerable influence of their languages on Judezmo. In the 19th century, the dismemberment of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires and their replacement by highly nationalistic states resulted in a massive language shift to the local languages; that factor, followed by large speech-population losses during World War II and immigration to countries stressing linguistic homogeneity, have in recent years made Judezmo an endangered language.
We discuss here the considerable amount of phonological variation and change in European French in the varieties spoken in France, Belgium, and Switzerland, the major francophone countries of Europe. The data discussed here derive from the perceptual and especially behavioral studies that have sought to extend the Labovian paradigm beyond Anglo-American variable linguistic phenomena to bear upon Romance. Regarding France, what emerges is a surprisingly high degree of uniformity in pronunciation, at least over the non-southern part of the country, and most Southern French varieties are also showing convergence to the Parisian norm. Pockets of resistance to this tendency are nevertheless observable. The Belgian and Swiss situations have in common the looming presence of a supralocal and indeed supranational norm playing a role often attested in other discussions of standard or legitimized languages, that of the variety representing what commonly corresponds to the nonlocal. Indeed, it may be that Belgium and Switzerland typify the local–standard relation most often reported, while the French situation, because of its relatively leveled character, is less easily described as one of standardization.