Though estimations vary but there are around 225 indigenous European languages spoken in Europe today. However, out of the estimated 225, only five languages are spoken by the majority of Europeans. English, Russian, Italian, French and German are the most widely spoken European languages. Though many countries on the continent operate with several different languages. The only exception to this is small states like Holy See (Vatican) and Liechtenstein. Though even in these small states there are many second languages.
The status of regional languages in the ECC
The European Cultural Convention has 49 member states with 41 official languages with many given special status. It goes without saying that many countries in Europe have numerous minority or regional languages spoken for centuries. Though the Russian Federation has perhaps the highest number of these secondary regional languages totaling at around 200, though estimates vary.
Minority Regional Languages with Official Status
Some of the minority regional languages like Basque, Galician, and Catalan are spoken in various regions of Spain and have gained official status. In the UK Welsh enjoys protective language rights in addition to Frisian spoken in the Netherlands as well as Norway, Finland, and Sweden’s Sámi languages.
The extinction of regional European Languages
It is estimated that 50% of at least six thousand regional languages are vulnerable to extinction. Around 40 to 50 million Europeans speak one of the 60 regional and minority tongues, some of these are at risk of being rubbed out. Organizations like UNESCO, the OSEC and Council of Europe are concerned about the threat that these languages face and have undertaken actions to protect their rights. One of the measures taken is disrespect of these regional or minority languages qualify as racial discrimination which is a breach of international human rights.
The EU has been working on educational initiatives for teaching the languages in schools and converting the existing material into these languages. Non-native speakers may also be taught these regional languages. The promotion of regional languages is supported by the European Parliament which offers a number of incentives to those who work towards their promotion.
What do regional languages mean for businesses in Europe
Businesses in Europe are encouraged to target ethnic minorities in their native regional languages. Marketing and advertising material can be translated into languages like Basque, Corsican, Occitan. The wide array of translation services now make it possible for businesses of any size to laser focus their efforts on specific communities by communicating with them in a language they feel comfortable.
Larger businesses will also benefit from employing native speakers in regional languages which can smooth over the process of understanding the culture and identifying a market accordingly. It goes without saying that many businesses operating in Europe already take advantage of their great relationship with native speakers of these languages to gain market dominance. That said any business that wants to go beyond just targeting the majority of Europeans would have to start communicating in traditional regional languages to ensure better communication to bridge the cultural gap.