Languages of Europe: Typology, History and Sociolinguistics
The Center for Postgraduate Education and Research on “Languages of Europe: Typology, History and Sociolinguistics” (LETiSS) has been the first center in Italy (and in Europe) specifically dedicated to the linguistic situation of Europe, approached from a variety of perspectives.
Three thousand years of uninterrupted linguistic and historical documentation make Europe a particularly favourable observatory on language change and language contact phenomena. The considerable amount of economic and cultural exchanges that characterized the history of the European society has determined patterns of linguistic convergence, which in turn have led to the formation of the so-called Standard Average European, defined as a bundle of typically “European” linguistic features, which characterize European languages in opposition to languages spoken outside Europe.
Convergence, however, should not conceal the great typological variation that characterizes the languages of Europe, nor the existence of mechanisms of preservation of language-specific idiosyncratic features. The co-existence of a significant typological diversity and language contact phenomena attested through centuries allows for both synchronic and diachronic comparative analyses, which may hardly be possible in other linguistic areas. Furthermore, the massive immigration wave of the last fifty years has deeply changed the linguistic constellation of Europe, leading to the formation of alloglot communities more or less integrated in the local social (and sociolinguistic) fabric.
The LETiSS center aims to become partner of other centers of excellence in and outside Europe, as well as a reference point for international discussions concerning the languages of Europe.
Why a center specialized on the linguistic situation of Europe?
In the last years, International institutions such as the European and the UNESCO are paying increasing attention to the linguistic situation of Europe (e.g. see the program Languages and Multilingualism promoted by UNESCO and the European Commission’s Action Plan for Language Learning and Linguistic Diversity ). In January 2007, the European Commission nominated the Rumanian Leonard Orban as the first Commissioner for Multilingualism. The United Nations declared 2008 the International Year of Languages with the slogan Languages matter!.
The problems and the opportunities that linguistic integration posits to Europe constitute the starting point for a deeper understanding of linguistic diversity and language itself. This specialized observatory on the languages of Europe, on their history and on their destiny, is bound to become a place of discussion, education and research on the dynamics of convergence (and divergence), integration (and isolation), change (and death) of languages.
The research areas of the Center include the following topics:
- Linguistic typology: the nature and complexity of cross-linguistic variation in Europe; Europe as a linguistic area; “exoticity” of European languages in a world-wide perspective; under-described languages and the preservation of cultural heritage.
- Historical linguistics: 3000 years of uninterrupted linguistic documentation and their importance in the understanding of language change; long-lasting contacts among languages and cultures in Europe and their impact on the linguistic profile of today’s Europe.
- Sociolinguistics: linguistic consequences of immigration phenomena; preservation of dialects and non-standard varieties; problems of obsolescence and language death; the emergence of new urban varieties.
Aims of the Center
The Center’s mission includes the following goals:
- creating a reference point for research on the linguistic dynamics of Europe (in the present and in the past);
- favoring international cooperation on language change and linguistic integration phenomena in Europe;
- making European citizens aware of the linguistic diversity that characterizes Europe, through the interaction with local and national institutions (schools, local organizations, foundations, etc.).
Activities of the Center
The activities of the Center will include:
➢ Spring/Summer Schools (see below Appendix 1).
➢ Seminars, conferences, and workshops on various topics:
o The destiny of European languages: diversity and globalization
o Field work methods and documentation
o European languages and the languages of the world (typology of European languages; linguistic areas in Europe; the Standard Average European)
o Linguistic history of Europe (contacts among peoples and languages; language change and evolution)
o The European linguistic heritage
o Standard and non-standard languages (e.g. vitality of dialects in Europe)
o New (socio-)linguistic scenarios in today’s Europe: immigration and integration
Workshops will be conceived of as exploratory workshops, with a view to gathering together researchers from all over the world and maximizing interaction among them. Ideally, workshops should lead to the establishing of new research networks as an outcome of these fruitful interactions between European and non-European researchers.
➢ Participation in national and international research programs.