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Facts & Figures

Definition minority language

As defined by the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (ECRML), “regional or minority languages” are languages traditionally used within a given territory of a state by nationals of that state who form a group numerically smaller than the rest of the state’s population; they are different from the official language(s) of that state, and they include neither dialects of the official language(s) of the state nor the languages of migrants.

European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages

The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (ECRML) is an international treaty designed on the one hand to protect and promote regional and minority languages as a threatened aspect of Europe’s cultural heritage and on the other hand to enable speakers of a regional or minority language to use it in private and public life. The charter is supervised by the Council of Europe and adopted by many EU Member States. 

Types of minority languages distinguished by the three Mercator centres:

  • Unique languages in one state, e.g. Welsh in the UK, Galician in Spain and West Frisian in The Netherlands.

  • Unique languages spread over more states e.g. Basque in Spain and France and Catalan in Spain, France and Italy.

  • Trans-frontier languages that are both minority and majority depending on the state, e.g. Hungarian in Slovakia and German in Denmark, Italy, Belgium and France. 

  • National languages at state level, but non-official working languages of the EU, e.g. Luxembourgian in Luxembourg and Irish in Ireland.

  • Non-territorial languages, e.g. Roma and Jiddish.

Number of minority languages in Europe

Taking the official definition of the language charter into account, there are approximately 60 minority languages in Europe. There are however many more, for example the German minorities which are widely spread around Europe.

Approximately 55 million people in Europe speak a minority language (rough estimate). Regional or minority languages are spoken in all European countries, except for Iceland.

Memorandum: EU Support to Regional and Minority Languages

Mercator Research Centre compiled a memorandum on the policy history of the European Union's support to Regional and Minority Languages.