Europe’s other languages

If we are a Union, why don’t we share a common tongue?

In the modern age, the European peoples developed in close contact with one another, forming a collective civilisation whose material and cultural foundations they progressively came to share. Yet this historical convergence did not lead to the creation of a single, common language.

On the contrary, Europe’s linguistic unity, a legacy of the great cultural languages of ancient times – Latin in the West and Ancient Greek in the East – became progressively fragmented with the formation of the modern-day, official national languages.

Not only did the continent’s three major linguistic traditions (Romance, Germanic and Slavic) fail to merge into one, they actually underwent further diversification, triggering a process that would last through the 19th and 20th centuries. For example, Norwegian became an official language in 1814; Bulgarian had to wait until 1878; Ukrainian in 1923, during the Soviet era; Romansh, in Switzerland, in 1938; Macedonian, a southern Slavic language, in 1944; and Galician, in Spain, in 1981.

Nevertheless, the three main linguistic traditions cover most of the population of today’s European Union.

They share distant common origins in the Indo-European language family, which extends from Bengal to Europe’s Atlantic coast, where the languages of the subsequent colonisation of the Americas originated. By and large, it is the most widespread linguistic family, both in geographic and demographic terms, in the contemporary world.

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