Friday, September 19, 2014

The Languages of Separatists in Europe: Part 1

Yesterday Scotland went to the polls to vote on their independence from the United Kingdom. We don't write this blog to promote a political agenda, just the agenda that languages are awesome and we love them. Since there are plenty of separatist movements in Europe, we thought we'd take a look at which ones speak a language different to the prominent language or languages spoken in the country that they are seeking to separate from.

While we're trying to keep language and politics apart, you'll quickly see how difficult defining a language is when politics gets involved. For the most part, we have attempted to go with a linguistic consensus rather than a political one, but if we've slipped up and missed something, please tell us in the comments. We're not indicating that every speaker of these languages is a separatist either. Finally, we're only covering a few select separatist movement in Europe with languages that fascinate us.


Northern Epirus is part of a historical region that is currently part of Albania. The people in this region speak Greek, which as you can guess, is not the majority language of Albania. That title belongs to the Albanian language.

The canal in Brussels, a battleground for Belgium's two separatist groups.

As you may know, Belgium has two main languages. 56% of the population speaks Dutch or Flemish, while 38% speak French. However, the "separatist" movements in Belgium have another element to them: some wish to join other countries.

The Walloons, the French-speaking inhabitants of Wallonia, have a movement to join with France or to make Wallonia its own state. On the other hand, the Flemish and Dutch-speaking inhabitants of Flanders wish to separate from Belgium and make Flanders its own state, with a small minority wishing for the region to become part of the Netherlands.


The separatist movement in Cyprus already has its own sovereign state, if you happen to be the Turkish government. The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is primarily inhabited by the ethnically-Turkish peoples of the region and considers Turkish its official language. The region declared its independence from Cyprus in 1983, though Turkey was the only nation to recognise it.


The Faroe Islands are inhabited by the Faroese people, who also happen to have their own language, Faroese. There are around 66,000 speakers of Faroese in the world, with nearly three quarters of them residing on the Faroe Islands.


It appears that almost every minority language spoken in France has its own separatist movement. The movement to make the Basque Country a sovereign nation is complicated as it is currently an international region that is part of both France and Spain. Of course, Basque, the language isolate, is the main language of this movement.

The separatist movement in Brittany has the Breton language, a Celtic language more closely related to Scottish Gaelic and Irish than the national language of France, French.

The official language of the Catalan separatism movement is Catalan, a Romance language. The proposed nation that unites Catalans in this group is made up of the Països Catalans, an international region in northeast Spain and southwest France, the Rousillon region in particular.


The Bavarians in Germany have a separatist movement to make the Freistaat Bayern its own sovereign state. The Bavarians also have a few dialects and languages of their own: Bavarian, Swabian, and East Franconian German.

East Frisia has ambitions of becoming its own nation. The native language of the region is Saterland Frisian, a language in decline with an estimated 1,000 native speakers.


There is a movement for independence on Italy's island of Sardinia. The island is home to the Sardinian language, which while being a Romance language, is incomprehensible to speakers of Italian.

Certain people in Veneto also feel the region would be better off if it was its own sovereign state. The Venetian language has around 2 million native speakers in Veneto, the surrounding regions, Slovenia, and Croatia.


Much like East Frisia in Germany, Frisia in the Netherlands has both a language and a separatist movement that seeks to make the region independent from the Netherlands. In addition to the Saterland Frisian language spoken in East Frisia, the Frisians in the Netherlands speak the other closely-related varieties of the Frisian language: North Frisian and West Frisian.

We'll be back after the weekend with more separatist movements and their languages. If there are any fascinating languages favored by European separatist groups that we missed, please tell us about them in the comments below.

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