Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR)

Linguistic diversity in Europe: a societal challenge

22 November 2018

There is a tension between two goals that are key to the European ideal, namely mobility and the possibility for its citizens to move freely across internal boundaries, and diversity as the recognition of European cultural and linguistic diversity. A just completed international research project (MIME) including social science researchers from the University of Amsterdam examined this tension and how language policies can help combine mobility and inclusion.

The European Union promotes free movement of citizens for work, study, leisure or retirement. This calls for easy communication among people with different linguistic backgrounds. At the same time the plurality of languages spoken in Europe is a crucial part of its diversity and acknowledged as a core EU value.

MIME is an international consortium of researchers that studied linguistic diversity in Europe and how the potential trade-off between mobility and inclusion can be alleviated. The team produced a toolbox that helps shaping language policies.

Language Diversity

Plurality of languages and mobility

Language pervades all aspects of human experience, on individual and collective levels. It enables cognition, communication and identification. The plurality of languages, both individual and societal multilingualism, is neither good nor bad in itself but it carries advantages and drawbacks.

Globalization and Europeanization have dramatically increased the linguistic diversity in any locality. How can we achieve communication for the sake of mobility and also ensure a sense of inclusion of all EU residents in localities and member states, when the range of languages spoken in Europe is a crucial part of its diversity and a core value of the EU?

Individuals and families, employers and employees, citizens and policymakers are challenged by this potential trade-off and need tools to maximize the material and symbolic advantages of language diversity while minimizing the drawbacks.

The MIME project: Mobility and Inclusion in a Multilingual Europe

The MIME project is the first research project on linguistic diversity that combines a wide array of disciplinary approaches, well beyond linguistics and sociolinguistics, including pedagogical, sociological, geographical, economic, philosophical inquiries . It set out to study the diversity of languages in a context of political change and challenges language diversity poses for Europeans and share expert knowledge with stakeholders that enable to shape the policies that suit them most, as there is no on-suits-them-all solutions to the challenges of multilingualism.

MIME Vademecum

A toolbox for policy making: The MIME Vademecum

One of the results of the MIME project is a toolbox that collects 72 linguistic policy questions, called the MIME Vademecum. This toolbox aims to help people confronting multilingualism issues, to familiarise themselves with the latest advances in research, to gain knowledge from actual cases and to develop their own responses to the challenges of linguistic diversity.

The collection is primarily intended for people who, through their professional or political activities (for example civil servants or parliament members at local, national or international level), are involved in questions of linguistic policy and are called upon to take a stand in this regard.

Contibution from the UvA researchteam to the toolbox

The UvA team at AISSR contributed three questions to the Vademecum:

  1. Is English sufficient to reach out to newcomers before they learn the local language(s)?
  2. How should municipalities collect and share data about the linguistic profiles of their resident communities?
  3. Should municipalities regulate language use in public space?
Class room

Education as focus

Linguistic diversity is particularly topical for education, posing specific challenges to parents, teachers and schools. While in the past the attention was directed to teaching the state’s language at the expense of others, pedagogical insights have demonstrated the importance of acknowledging and welcoming all children’s languages at school and the positive impact on both their wellbeing and their cognitive performance in the school language.

How do we organize schooling for an increasingly diverse school population?

The Amsterdam MIME teams (at AISSR at the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences and at ARTES at the Faculty of Humanities) have organized with Karijn Helsloot (Studio Taalwetenschap) a series of expert meetings on multilingualism and education over the past two years. The last one entitled From preschool to university took place in the University Library in June 2018. At this occasion the MIME Vademecum was presented to a large group of stakeholders, including the dean of the Faculty of Humanities, teachers at all level of education, pupils, parents, migrant language schools and more. NOMinA, the Netwerk Onderwijs en Meertaligheid in Amsterdam, was established to continue to serve as a discussion platform and stakeholders network to advance language diversity and education.

MIME

More about the MIME project

The MIME project received 5 million Euros in the European Commission’s 7th Framework Programme for Research and Development  and was coordinated by Prof François Grin at the University of Geneva (UNIGE). MIME consisted of twenty-five teams from sixteen countries, bringing together researchers from eleven different disciplines.

UvA researchers in the MIME project

From the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences Virginie Mamadouh, associate professor of Political and Cultural Geography and Nesrin El Ayadi, PhD student, participated. They are both members of the research group Geographies of Globalizations at the Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research.

Published by  Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences