"European Language Diversity for All" research project aims at the study and protection of minority languages

Academics at eight European universities tasked with preparing a European Language Vitality Barometer in the next three years


Academics from seven European countries met in Mainz today to celebrate the initiation of the ELDIA - European Language Diversity for All - Project which is funded by the European Commission to the tune of EUR 2.7 million over the next 42 months. The researchers will be looking at 12 languages of the Finno-Ugric family that are spoken by 14 language communities in Northern Europe, Russia, Slovenia, Austria, and Germany (by migrant Estonians in the latter case), and which are, in some cases, critically endangered. The results are to be used to develop a European Language Vitality Barometer (EuLaViBar) which is to reliably register the actual situation of dominant and minority languages and reveal those potentially at threat. The Vitality Barometer will be a universally applicable tool with which it will be possible to analyze the status of languages worldwide, not merely of the minority languages of Europe.

Dr. Andreas Obermaier, who is managing the project on behalf of the European Commission, emphasizes the fact that ELDIA is one among a group of EU-financed projects aimed at preserving the language diversity of Europe in the face of encroaching globalization. The purpose of ELDIA is to collect new data and develop new research tools, and thus provide support to the EU in the development of its pioneering linguistic policies.

For Professor Dr. Ulrich Förstermann, Vice President for Research at the Johannes Gutenberg University, the fact that academics based in Mainz will be participating in the ELDIA Project is clear evidence of their academic abilities and of their capacity to collaborate effectively with other international research groups. The project is a good example of how the JGU Mainz has become a center of academic excellence and cutting-edge research within Germany. "The project also illustrates our university's strong international orientation," he adds.

With reference to the start-up of the project, the Dean of the Department of Philosophy and Philology, Professor Dr. Mechthild Dreyer, explains that there are two important aspects associated with the ELDIA Project: "On the one hand, it shows that what is often considered a minor humanities discipline can attract considerable outside financing when there are extensive international links. On the other hand, the whole profile of a major department will be singularly enhanced as a result of the project."

The launch of the ELDIA Project means that, in the next few years, more than 30 academics working in the fields of applied linguistics, sociolinguistics, law, sociology, and statistics will be involved in the accumulation and analysis of data. Participating are the universities of Helsinki, Oulu, Tartu, Vienna, Maribor, Stockholm and Mainz as well as the Åland Islands Peace Institute. They will be considering, inter alia, the langages spoken by the Seto community in eastern Estonia, the Hungarian community in Slovenia, the North Sami community in Norway, and the Estonian community in Germany.

The Finno-Ugric language minorities in Europe are representative of almost the whole spectrum of European linguistic diversity. "They include large and small language communities, languages that have an already centuries-old literary tradition and languages that have only recently been alphabetized, autochthonous minorities and minorities that have been migratory since ancient times or have been created by the new mobility within the EU," explains Professor Dr. Johanna Laakso of the University of Vienna.

On an international level, ELDIA is the most extensive project dedicated to researching Finno-Ugric languages ever conducted. It is the hope of Professor Dr. Anneli Sarhimaa, an authority on Nordic and Baltic languages at the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz and the Coordinator of the EU project that "one consequence of the project will be the enhancement of the visibility of the Finno-Ugric languages within the overall cultural and political context." Also to be involved in the project are local language practitioners themselves, representatives from NGOs, and other stakeholder groups.