WERLs (Western European Regional Languages) as a configurational type of societal multilingualism: A project towards parametrized comparison

The frequent attempts at systematizing comparisons between linguistic minority situations (cf. Haarmann 1979, Hinderling 1986, Ammon 1987, Edwards 1990, Anderson 1990 and Eichinger 1996) bear witness to a general consensus among sociolinguists and sociologists that such an endeavour is in principle worthwhile and interesting; at the same time, the relatively small number of actually successfully completed comparisons shows the important problems that have to be overcome in order for such a comparison to yield interesting and at  the same time scientifically tenable results.

The WERL project constitutes a new attempt at such a comparison. In order to control the degree of complexity, it is suggested that, in a first step, the set of situations to be compared should be kept as homogeneous as possible. The comparison will therefore be limited to a highly particular type of linguistic minority situations in Western (and Central) Europe, which we will henceforth call WERL (Western European Regional Languages).

The definition of this type will be non-discrete and multi-factorial and will follow the principles of categorization developed in cognitive linguistics and applied to the field of sociolinguistics following suggestions in Janicki (1990). Thus, WERLs will prototypically have the following characteristics:

1. They are autochthonous, rather than languages of immigrant minorities.
2. They are strictly stateless, rather than out-groups of neighbouring states.
3. They are spoken within the area of influence of the Latin Church during the middle ages, where Medieval Latin was the lingua franca of educated people, and where the vernacular languages developed into written languages under the influence of and in competition with Latin.
4. They have developed important R(eversing) L(anguage) S(hift) activities (cf. Fishman 1989 et passim), rather than being pseudo-dialectised Abstand languages (cf. Kloss 1967 et passim).

We are thus only interested in those language minorities which actually use a genuine „minority language“. This set of defining features yields a group of minority languages that will be considered to constitute a sociolinguistic areal type. They all were subject to parallel historical processes, were relegated to an existence as mere vernaculars while the languages of their  respective nation states developed into full-fledged national languages (Phase of Substitution) and they all experienced a rediscovery and emancipatory language movement under the influence of the Romantic era (Phase of Recuperation).

A working-list od WERLs might therefore include Aragonese, Asturian, Basque (Spanish Basque Country, French Basque Country, Navarre), Breton, Romansh, Ladin, Friulan, Frisian (West-), Galician, Gaelic, Irish, Catalan (Catalonia, Valencia, Balearic Islands, France), Corsican, Welsh, Mirandese, Occitan (Val d’Aran, France), Sardinian, Sardisch, Sorbian (Upper and Lower).

The project will try to establish an abstract protoype of a WERL and use this as a Tertium comparationis. A set of historical, sociolinguistic and sociological parameters will be established and fashioned into a questionnaire which will then be submitted to experts on each of the contact situations in question. The resulting data is to serve as input for computer-generated graphics that will allow for immediate comparison between any set of WERLs.

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