Before the discovery of America the western edge of Europe seemed like the end of the world. And it was here at the world’s precipices that the Celts, pushed out of their original homes by immigrants arriving from the East, found their final resting place. Today the six Celtic Nations- Brittany (Breizh), Cornwall (Kernow), Ireland (Éire), the Isle of Man (Mannin), Scotland (Alba), and Wales (Cymru)- are the last living reminder of a vast Celtic presence which once stretched from the British Isles to the Iberian Peninsula to Anatolia (Turkey).

The Celtic people originated in Central Europe (Austria and surrounding areas) during the Iron Age and thereafter began an immigration which took them far and wide. The letter of Saint Paul to the Galatians (the name for the Celts in Anatolia), the Galician dialect in Spain, and the Gauls who fought against Julius Caesar in what today is France are historical reminders of their ubiquitousness.

The Celtic languages once spoken across Europe and Asia Minor- known as “Continental Celtic languages”- are today completely extinct. Only on the rocky western shores of the continent has some form of the language been able to cling on to life. The six “Insular Celtic languages” have managed to carry Celtic culture into the 21st century, albeit with relatively small numbers of speakers.

The Irish (Gaeilge) and Welsh (Cymraeg) languages are the healthiest of the bunch with 1.3 million and 700,000 speakers respectively. Breton (Brezhoneg) and Scottish (Gàidhlig) are in the middle of the group with 200,000 and 60,000 speakers, while Cornish (Kernowek) and Manx (Gaelg) have less speakers than some high schools do students- 3,500 and 1,800 respectively. In all, less than 2 and a half million people worldwide speak a Celtic language- a small number but certainly respectable for a language group that has risked complete eradication by more dominant languages.

Bilingual education programs have been founded to help the languages survive in this new millennium. In the Gaelscoileanna (Ireland), Ysgolion Meithrin (Wales) and Diwan (Brittany) students study the various complexities of their ancestral languages. They learn that while Subject-Verb-Object is the correct word order in English, they must use the order of Verb-Subject-Object when speaking a Celtic tongue. They memorize the 28 letters of the Welsh alphabet- which replace j, k, q, v, x, and z with curious “double-digit” letters ch, dd, ff, ng, ll, ph, rh, and th. They learn to “conjugate” their prepositions; the Breton word for with- gant- will change depending on its object: ganin (with me), ganit (with you), gantañ (with him), ganti (with her), ganimp (with us), ganeoc’h (with you plural), or ganto (with them).

Pronunciation is surely one of the most difficult aspects of learning a Celtic language. Even just sounding out the names on road signs in Wales can be difficult for non-Welsh speakers, especially when it comes to places like Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, which translates to “St. Mary’s Church in the hollow of the white hazel near the rapid whirlpool of Llandysilio of the red cave.” Luckily for visitors, this town of 3,000 on the island of Anglesey in the north-western part of the country can also be referred to by its nickname, Llanfair PG, although that initial “double L” is always problematic for “foreigners.” It is what linguists call a “voiceless alveolar lateral fricative,” a sound which does not exist in English, although it is often approximated as “thl” or “chl” (where “ch” is as in the Scottish or Irish word “loch” or the German “ich”).

Luckily not all Celtic words will seem so foreign and difficult to the English speaker; many have entered into our vocabulary. Irish words such as banshee (bean sídhe- woman of the fairies) and galore (go leor- to sufficiency) are commonplace. Scottish has given us trousers (triubhas) and slogan (sluagh-ghairm- army shout). Penguin probably comes from the Welsh pen gwyn (white head).The French word bijou (jewel) derives the Breton bizou (finger ring- biz is the word for finger).

Though spoken by a small number of people, the Celtic languages are still quite alive in the six Celtic nations. And “small” is of course a relative description- in Llanfair PG 76% of the population speaks Welsh fluently, including 97.1% of those aged 10 to 14. At least in this small village with the long name the Celtic languages are far from being cornered into extinction.

French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese are close cousins. German and Dutch are as well, and they count Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and English among their more distant relatives. Languages can be related just like human beings are. In fact the languages of Europe can be organized into families or language groups. The most famous of these are the Romance languages and the Germanic languages; but there are many others which are less well known.

The Romance languages are designated as such because they trace their origins to the Roman Empire and the language imposed within its dominion. The academic Latin spoken in the Senatus Romanus took on a less rigid form in the everyday use of the Vulgus, the people. Vulgar Latin remained long after the Romans were deposed and evolved very differently across the lands which they once had ruled. Today the most widely-spoken children of Vulgar Latin are Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian and Romanian (in order of number of native speakers). In addition, minor languages such as Catalan and Friulian and dozens of dialects- particularly of Italian and Spanish- have a similar heritage.

While the intrepid armies of Rome had their way in Gallia (France), Hispania (Spain and Portugal), and Dacia (Romania), they encountered significant difficulties in the vast area of Northern Europe which they christened Germania. In fact the vast majority of modern day Germany never fell under Roman rule, as is evidenced by the distinctly non-Romance language spoken in Deutschland today. The very word Deutsch, which derives from the Old High German diutisc (“of the people”), was used to distinguish the language spoken by the Germanic tribes from Latin and her children.

Today German is the flag-bearer of the Germanic family of languages, which is grossly-organized into two branches. The principal West Germanic languages are German, Dutch, Afrikaans, and English, but the Frisian, Scots, and Yiddish languages are part of this part of the family as well. The North Germanic languages are often known more simply as Nordic languages, and are spoken in Scandinavia —  Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Icelandic and Faroese are the cardinal representatives.

However, just like with any family, relationships between languages don’t stop at the level of first or second cousins; the more distant linguistic relationships become evident as the genealogical tree is expanded. In reality the Romance and Germanic languages are members of a much broader language family known as Indo-European. Their common ancestor, the hypothetical Proto Indo-European language, may have been spoken around 3700 BC, but this is just a hypothesis based on linguistic reconstruction.

Traces of common Indo-European heritage can be found in the modern Romance and Germanic languages. Consider the aforementioned Latin word vulgus, which has a resemblance to the German word Volk, familiar to us under guise of a car brand- Volkswagen means “car of the people.” And just change the “v” to “f” and you have the English word folk.

Simple substitutions of letters can frequently result in interesting linguistic transformations. The English “f” often becomes “v” in German or “p” in the Romance languages. Father turns into vater (German), and pater (Latin). In the other Romance and Germanic languages we have: père (French), pai (Portuguese/Galician), pare (Catalan), padre (Italian/Spanish), vader (Dutch/Afrikaans), far (Swedish/Norwegian/Danish), and faðir (Icelandic).

The Proto Indo-European language left other children as well. The Balto-Slavic branch of the family includes the Slavic languages such as Russian, Polish, and Serbian as well as the Baltic languages of Latvia and Lithuania. The Celtic branch includes languages such as Irish and Welsh, while the Hellenic (Greek), Armenian, and Albanian branches contain essentially one language each.

Finally, the largest branch of the Indo-European family, with more than a billion speakers, explains the “Indo” prefix in the family name. The Indo-Iranian branch includes Hindi, Urdu and Bengali as well as Punjabi, Persian and a host of other South Asian languages.

The first speakers of Proto Indo-European brought their language far and wide- from Scandinavia to the Iberian Peninsula to the Indian Subcontinent. Today the approximately 439 Indo-European languages and dialects are spoken by more than three billion native speakers, making them by far the most represented language group.

However, there are many other language groups out there, and it isn’t necessary to go as far as China to find them. Europe itself is home to some non Indo-European languages. Do you know any?

Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres

If you recognize the quotation “All Gaul is divided into three parts”- congratulations! But can you name the three parts that Julius Caesar divided Gaul into in the famous introduction to his De Bello Gallico (On the Gallic War)?

Caesar continues:

 … quarum unam incolunt Belgae, aliam Aquitani, tertiam qui ipsorum lingua Celtae, nostra Galli appellantur. Hi omnes lingua institutis legibus inter se differunt.

“…one of which the Belgae inhabit, the Aquitani another, those who in their own language are called Celts, in ours Gauls, the third. All these differ from each other in language, customs, and laws.”

Caesar’s observation of the linguistic differences between the three populations was astute; however while both the Belgae and the Gauls both spoke some sort of Celtic language, the Aquitani spoke a language with absolutely no resemblance to them at all.

Before the Indo-European languages (which include the Celtic languages) arrived in Europe, a number of pre-Indo-European languages were spoken on the continent. These include Etruscan- the language spoken in what is now the Italian province of Tuscany before the Latin of the expanding Roman Empire replaced it- and the Paleohispanic languages Iberian and Tartessian, spoken in modern-day Spain and Portugal.

The Roman invasion of Hispania spelled the end of these languages as well. Around 7 B.C. the Greek geographer Strabo writes of the Turdetani (Tartessians) that they “have so entirely adopted the Roman mode of life, as even to have forgotten their own language.” Iberian had much the same fate.

However, while the Romans invested heavily in the development of their colonies in the salubrious climates of Hispania and in the fertile Gallia, the harsh character of the Pyrenees probably kept them less interested in the mountainous border between the two regions. Moving southwest across the Pyrenees into modern day Spain the Aquitani and their descendants have managed to keep their anomalous language alive long enough for it to morph into the last remaining pre Indo-European language in Europe- Basque.

Today, the Basque language is spoken by an estimated 700,000 people in Euskal Herria (Basque Country), a territory which runs along the point of the aptly-named Bay of Biscay in Northern Spain and Southwestern France. It belongs neither to the large extended family of Indo-European languages (which includes the Romance, Germanic, Slavic, and Celtic branches, among others) nor to the smaller Uralic family (which includes Hungarian, Finnish and Estonian).

Like the Uralic languages, Basque is agglutinative. 17 cases exist in Basque- just one less than the 18 of Hungarian. Considering that within each case a noun may be singular or plural, definite or indefinite, Basque nouns have a total of 68 possible forms. However, unlike the Uralic languages Basque is distinguished by ergativity, in which the transitivity or intransitivity of a verb is reflected in its arguments (subject and direct object). This explains how the Basque verb hil can be translated either as “to die” (if it is intransitive) or “to kill” (if it is transitive).

This complex language is far from extinction, but neither is it is terrific shape. It is spoken by only about 27% of all Basques in Basque Country. Although there are dialectical variations in the language, a standardized form known as Euskara Batua (Standard Basque) developed in the late 1960s is used in education, the media, and in most written productions of the language. In particular, Batua is used in Spain’s bilingual education programs, known as Models A, B, and D. In Model A, Basque is studied as a subject- much as foreign languages are in U.S. schools. In Model B, education is 40% in Spanish and 60% in Basque. In Model D, Spanish is the only subject which is not taught in Basque. Where it has been adopted, Model D education provides the best chances of preserving the future of a bilingual society.

In more than 2,000 years the Basques have successfully resisted Roman, Visigoth, Arabic, Frankish, English, French, and Spanish domination. Will they be able to resist the onslaught of globalization in the 21st century?

Although Indo-European languages represent the vast majority of languages in Europe, they are not the only language group on the Old Continent. Finland is certainly part of Scandinavia, but the Finnish language is not at all a relative of its Nordic neighbors to the west. Nor is it a cousin, not even a distant one, of the mother of all Slavic tongues spoken by its eastern neighbor. The Uralic language family which includes Finnish, Estonian, and Hungarian is not related in any significant manner to other European languages.

Hungarian, Finnish and Estonian seems like an odd mix- while Finland and Estonia are Baltic Sea neighbors, Hungary is a landlocked Eastern European country with Germanic (Austria), Romance (Romania), and Slavic (Slovakia, Slovenia, Serbia, Croatia and the Ukraine) neighbors. Slovakia, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia lie between Hungary and its closest linguistic relative, Estonia, and it is even farther from its ancestral linguistic homeland in the Ural Mountains, the spine of mountains which is traditionally considered to be the natural Eastern boundary of Europe.

Today the area just to the west of the Ural Mountains is still home to a number of minor Uralic languages, each spoken by approximately half-a-million people, all of which have official language status alongside Russian in their respective regions.

According to some linguists, the ancestral homeland of the Uralic languages was not confined to the Ural Mountains but extended westward all the way to the Baltic Sea. The Karelian language spoken in the Russian Republic of Karelia along the Finnish border and the Saami languages of Northern Scandinavia join Finnish and Estonian in testifying to this past.

The most distinctive feature of the Uralic languages is agglutination. To understand agglutination- which literally means “gluing together”- it is first necessary to understand inflection- the practice of specifying the syntactical role of a word through affixes (prefixes and suffixes) rather than relying on auxiliary words and word order. In English inflection is used only in a few instances, for example when we form the plural (usually by adding “-s”), turn an adjective into an adverb by adding “-ly” (happy -> happily), or say “he”, “him” or “his” depending on whether we are talking about a subject, object or possessor.

Other languages rely much more heavily on inflection. Those who studied Latin will certainly remember the torture of memorizing cases and declensions. A “house” is casa when it is a subject (nominative case), casae when it is possessive (genitive case), casam when it is a direct object (accusative case), and so on. The high level of inflection in Latin allows for much greater liberty in word order, making the poetry of Horace, Catullus, and Vergil that much more interesting and that much harder to translate.

Agglutination takes inflection to its extreme consequences by instating a one-to-one relationship between syntactical category (i.e. subject, direct object, possession) and affix. The result is a vast number of possible prefixes or suffixes and highly specific syntactical categories. Hungarian has 18 noun cases, while Finnish has 15 and Estonian has 14.

So while “house” in Hungarian is Ház when it’s the subject of the sentence (nominative case), it is Házat when it is the direct object (accusative), Háznak when it is “of the house” (dative-genitive), Házzal when it is “with the house” (instrumental), házastul when it is “with the house and its parts” (essive-modal), házzá when it is “into a house” (translative), házért when it is “for the house” (causal-final), házba when it is “into the house” (illative), házra when it is “onto the house” (sublative), házhoz when it is “to the house” (allative), házban when it is “in the house” (inessive), házon when it is “on the house” (superessive), háznál when it is “at the house” (adessive), házból when it is “out of the house” (elative), házról when it is “from (top of) the house” (delative), háztól when it is “from (nearby) the house” (ablative), házig when it is “as far as the house” (terminative), and házként when it is “as a house” (formal). In addition, there is a temporal case which cannot be illustrated with the word house- “house o’clock” isn’t an actual time, even in Hungary.

Features like agglutination make Hungarian, Finnish, and Estonian difficult for a speaker of an Indo-European language to learn. Have you had any experience with a Uralic language?

The “th” sound is one of the most distinctive of the English language. For many foreigners it is also one of the most difficult- “fire ze cigarettes missiles!” declared the Frenchman in the viral video “End of Ze World?” The reason that pronouncing the definite article is ornery for most French speakers is that the “th” sound simply does not exist in the French language. Although the “z”, “d”, or “f” sounds used by non-English speakers from across the globe may be close approximations of “th”, “zese”, “dose”, and “fis” will always sound slightly foreign to the English ear.

Like all sounds, the production of “th” can be reduced to a physical process. It is made by sticking the tongue slightly beyond the upper front teeth and pushing air through the space. When we activate our vocal cords during production of this sound we call it “voiced”; if they remain inactive it is “unvoiced.” If you want to check if you are making a voiced or an unvoiced sound simply place your hand on your throat- vibration indicates vocal cord activity.

Although they are designated the same way in written language, voiced and unvoiced “th” are distinctive sounds; the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) refers to them as ð and θ, respectively. The second symbol will be familiar to many people from high-school trigonometry courses; although it does not represent an angle here but rather the Greek letter “theta.” In fact, the Greek language possesses the unvoiced “th” sound and uses it in words such as θεωρία (theory).

Those who have completed more advanced mathematical studies may have seen the other “th” symbol as well; ð is sometimes used in partial derivatives, although this operation is more commonly represented by the lower-case Greek “delta” δ. In fact while in Ancient Greek δ represented a “d” sound, in the modern version of the language it is pronounced as the voiced “th” ð sound– such as in Δαίδαλος (Daedalus).

However unlike θ, ð comes to us not from the balmy blue waters of the Aegean but from the icy North Sea. In the Icelandic language the letter is known as “Eð” and is used in words such as bróðir (brother). In Faroese the symbol appears for more etymological reasons and actually indicates a glide between two vowels- in the expression góðan morgun (good morning) the ð simply indicates a transition sound between the “o” and the “a”, in this case with the semi-vowel “w.” ð can therefore be considered a type of “false friend” in the Faroese language, which does not have the voiced “th” sound. In fact, most of the Northern Germanic languages no longer have the ð (aside from Icelandic, the other exception is the Elfdalian dialect of Swedish); the symbol was eventually replaced by the letter “d” and the “th” sound was lost, except for in Danish.

The ð was a letter in Old English as well. The letter which the Anglo-Saxons referred to as ðæt survived in written Old English until around 1300. Another symbol- þ, known as “thorn”- was used interchangeably with ð in Old English texts and survived somewhat longer. It eventually morphed shape to look something like a Y, leading to signs such as “Ye Olde”, which really should be pronounced “The Old.”

The adoption of printing presses limited to Latin characters was probably a major reason behind the disappearance of þ from the English alphabet (although it continues to be used in Icelandic to represent θ), but the sounds which it denoted have continued to be an important part of the language. They are also fairly unique; few major languages use the θ and ð sounds. The Arabic language is an exception; it uses both ð and θ- written as ﺫ and ﺙ, respectively.

Additionally, although the “th” sounds do not officially exist in Spanish or Portuguese, many speakers use them anyway in words such as “Sevilla”- a habit that is often mistaken for a lisp. Although the Spanish “lisp” is sometimes the butt of jokes, it certainly comes in handy in making a command such as “fire the missiles!” No matter how it is written- θ, ð, þ, Y, ﺙ, ﺫ, or s- pronouncing the “th” sound correctly is an imperative part of learning to properly speak English.

Is the foreign language you are studying regulated? Many countries have bodies which officially govern their national language.

The most famous of these is probably the Académie Française, the French language moderator whose role is “to work, with all possible care and diligence, to give our language definite rules and to make it pure, eloquent, and capable of dealing with art and science.” However don’t try to tell French Canadians that they have to follow the Académie’s rules- in Quebec the Office Québécois de la Langue Française holds forth on how the language should be spoken.

French is not the only language to have multiple standardization bodies. Portugal’s Academia das Ciências de Lisboa, Classe de Letras (Lisbon Science Academy, Class of Letters) is trumped in Brazil by the Academia Brasileira de Letras (Brazilian Academy of Letters). The National Language Authority governs Urdu in Pakistan, while the National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language makes the rules in India. The bad blood between mainland China and Taiwan is carried into linguistic governance- the People’s Republic of China has the State Language and Letters Committee and the Republic of China (Taiwan) has the National Languages Committee.

However, aside from these few cases, international collaboration seems to be the rule in language regulation. The Rat für deutsche Rechtschreibung (Council for German Orthography) is composed of 18 councilors from Germany, 9 from Austria, 9 from Switzerland, and 1 each from the South Tyrol in Italy, the German-speaking community of Belgium, and Liechtenstein. The Odbor za standardizaciju srpskog jezika (Board for Standardization of the Serbian Language) was founded in 1997 as a collaborative effort between institutions in Serbia, Montenegro, and the Republika Srpska (one of the two main political entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina). The Baraza la Kiswahili la Taifa (National Swahili Council) of Tanzania regulates the Swahili language and works in partnership with the Chama cha Kiswahili cha Taifa (National Association of Kiswahili) in Kenya. The Academy of Persian Language and Literature includes members from Iran, Tajikstan, Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan while the Academy of the Arabic Language has an even broader reach, uniting councilors from Algeria, Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Iraq, Tunisia, Sudan, Israel, and Somalia.

Governance of the Spanish language, meanwhile, is a truly global effort involving 22 countries and one territory. The Asociación de Academias de la Lengua Española (Association of Spanish Language Academies) is, as the name suggests, a council which unites regulatory institutions from across the Spanish-speaking world. Founded in 1951 in Mexico, the Association brought in the historic Real Academia Española (Royal Spanish Academy) and has welcomed such newcomers as the United States’ Academia Norteamericana de la Lengua Española (North American Academy of the Spanish Language), founded in 1973 in New York.

However, despite being home to a linguistic council for Spanish, the United States has no regulatory body for the English language. In fact English is not a regulated language in any country in the world. English speakers rely on dictionaries such as Merriam-Webster’s and Oxford English, high-quality publications, and the speech of the Queen of England as sources of “proper” language, but even these sources are up for disputation. The English language is governed directly and democratically by its hundreds of millions of speakers, and it seems to be doing just fine.

Did you know that the English language has at least 15 vowels? The pure vowels in English, technically known as monophthongs (from the Greek mónos “single” and phthóngos “sound”) are:

/iː/, /ı/, /ε/, /æ/, /ɜ:/, /ə/, /Λ/, /u:/, /ɔ:/, /ɑ:/, /ʊ/, /ɒ/, /a/, /oː/, /e/

These strange-looking symbols which come from the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) are more precise than the A, E, I, O and U (and sometimes Y and W) which we use in written English. In fact the five written vowels themselves can be transcribed (in their “long” form) with IPA symbols as:

/eɪ/, /iː/, /aɪ/, /oʊ/, and /ju:/

As can be seen, the letter E is the only real pure vowel (the two dots after the “i” mean that it is long); the others are combinations of multiple sounds. All syllables and words in English- or any other language- are built up of combinations of vowels with consonants and with other vowels. This makes a working knowledge of phonetic symbols a great boon for two categories of people- those who are learning a foreign language and those who are teaching their language to foreigners.

Imagine teaching the word “stood” to a Spanish-only speaker. You are trying to get him to say /stʊd/ but what comes out is /stu:d/- which usually corresponds to the written word “stewed.” The smart ESL teacher will realize that her student is having a problem because the Spanish language only has 5 monophthongs:

/a/, /e/, /i/, /o/, /u/

The /ʊ/ – a sound which we use in words like “good”, “should”, and “hook”- is just not part of a Spanish speaker’s repertoire. Likewise, an English-only speaker learning Spanish will find difficulty in pronouncing the Spanish “o”, which we usually read as a diphthong, a combination of two monophthongs. In the United States “o” is generally /oʊ/ while in England it is /əʊ/. We might consider ourselves fortunate if we’re from Minnesota, where “o” is said in the same way as it is in Spanish; the state that is /mɪnɨˈstə/ for most of us is /mɪnɨˈsotə/ for the natives.

The Italian language is phonetically very similar to Spanish; however it has two extra vowels- /ε/ and /ɔ/- which we refer to as “short E” and “short O”. These vowels give the Italian-speaker a significant aid in learning English as they are used in many words, such as bed (/bεd/) and cot (/cɔt/). The Italian-speaker from Naples has an additional advantage, as her dialect contains the vowel /ə/ as well. This vowel, also known as the “schwa”, is the most common vowel sound of all in the English language. It is generally used in unstressed syllables, such as in the second syllable of “sofa” /`soʊfə/ or in the definite article “the” whenever it appears before a consonant.

English speakers find that the tables are turned when they are learning a vowel-rich language such as German, which has 17 pure vowel sounds, including the distinctive /ø/ sound, which appears in such common expressions as dankeschön (thank you very much).

Being aware that the language you are studying has not only different grammar and vocabulary, but a different set of sounds as well can help accelerate the learning process. Foreign language teachers and students are only doing themselves a favor by getting to know the symbols of the IPA.

In 2002 the National Security Education Program, a division of the U.S. Department of Defense which collaborates with educational institutions, launched a pilot version of the Language Flagship as part of an effort to enhance language skills in “critical need” languages identified by the U.S. State Department as Arabic, Azerbaijani, Bangla/Bengali, Chinese (Mandarin), Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Punjabi, Russian, Turkish, and Urdu. The Language Flagship is a challenge to U.S. universities to endow students with professional proficiencies in these languages; generous funding and additional resources at the K-12 level are part of the program.

Arabic is at the top of the list alphabetically but is certainly near the top in importance as well. Interactions with the Arab world are important commercially, politically, and militarily, and this importance will only continue to grow. The United States needs professional capabilities in Arabic in many sectors, and it seems only natural that it should try to develop these capabilities in the Arab capital of America.

The University of Michigan and Michigan State University have both received funding for their Arabic programs; in addition State has launched a partnership with the Dearborn Public School District to “develop a national K-12 model for Arabic foreign language instruction that flows smoothly across all grades and builds on previous learning.” Starting in Kindergarten, children in the school district will be taught Arabic by highly qualified teachers.

Many children are already native Arabic speakers- the approximately 32,000 Arab Muslims in Dearborn are nearly one-third of the city’s population and in some public schools the Arab population is as high as 90 percent. Given quality instruction all the way through the 12th grade, students will graduate with a respectable knowledge of Arabic. They will then be eligible for one of forty university scholarships to continue their studies of the language at a higher level.

The push for Arabic language instruction by the federal government is in direct contradiction with some currents of popular sentiment in Dearborn. A 2009 report by the Wayne County Regional Education Service Agency recommended that Fordson High School prohibit all non-English use except in circumstances where it was absolutely necessary-“To do otherwise reinforces a perception by some that Fordson is an Arab School in America rather than an American school with Arab students.” In 2010 the United States Department of Education had to step in to ensure that the Dearborn Public School District would fulfill their obligation to provide limited English proficient (LEP) parents with information about the children’s education in Arabic. The Department’s Office for Civil Rights also found that the school district was denying English language learner (EL) students access to “non-academic and extracurricular programs, services and activities such as guidance and counseling” on the basis of their national origin.

The complete integration of Arabs into the community in Dearborn and the greater Detroit area while encouraging them to preserve their language is no simple task. However it is clear that as the world economy undergoes massive changes, Detroit will no longer be able to survive on its faded industrial glory. It can transform itself for the future by taking advantage of another part of the heritage left behind by Henry Ford- the country’s largest Arab-American population.

On the streets of Dearborn, Michigan, just outside of Detroit, you can count on hearing the Arabic language at least five times a day. From its telltale location on Ford Street, the Islamic Center of America broadcasts its calls to prayer from a loudspeaker, calling out to the city’s Lebanese, Yemeni, and Iraqi residents in the language which unites them.

The Islamic Center of America- the largest mosque in America- and the Arab-American Museum are testimony to what any visitor to Dearborn would probably quickly gather by way of the Arabic signs throughout the city- Dearborn is the heart of Arab-America.

Part of the mission of the brand-new museum- the first of its kind- is to educate people about the role that Arab-Americans have had in our country since its founding. Most people are not aware that it was Henry Ford to first call the Arabs to Michigan. According to the Ford Motor Company, “Upon landing in America, many immigrants were not headed for Detroit, but changed their paths when they heard about Ford Motor Company’s wage of $5 for a day’s work.” Many of the immigrants who came first to Highland Park- the site of Ford’s first factory and the birthplace of the Model T- and then to Dearborn’s South End to work at the Ford Rouge plant- which with its 90,000 employees would soon become the world’s largest industrial complex- came from Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.

The beginning of the 20th century saw the rise of many Lebanese Maronite Christian churches in the area as well as what were perhaps the first Muslim Mosque and Chaldean Catholic Church in the United States- the former in Highland Park in 1921 and the latter in Detroit in 1947.

Arab Christians far outnumbered the Muslims among the early immigrants and aside from professing different faiths, the immigrants from the large area generally known as the “Middle East” had linguistic differences as well. The Levantine dialects of Arabic spoken in Lebanon and Syria are quite different from Yemeni Arabic even though many of the immigrants would have also spoken the Modern Standard Arabic which linguistically unites the Arabic world. The language of the Chaldeans, on the other hand, Christians from modern-day Iraq, is an eastern dialect of Aramaic, the “language of Christ,” although many- especially modern-day refugees of the Gulf and Iraq Wars- have learned Arabic at school.

The Chaldeans, not a well-known population anywhere in the world, are an important part of the Detroit Metropolitan Area, which is now home to “the largest single concentration of Chaldeans, Assyrians, and Syriacs in the Western Hemisphere,” estimated to be from 100,000 to 120,000 strong. Chaldeans are Detroit’s merchants- they own 75 of the city’s 84 supermarkets.

Interest in the Chaldeans’ ancient language- a form of which many Americans may have heard in Mel Gibson’sThe Passion of the Christ- is palpable in the Detroit area. Mother of God Chaldean Catholic Church offers Chaldean language courses from the basic (101) to the advanced fluent (501) level- free while the University of Detroit- Mercy offers courses in Aramaic open to any and all college students. evens offers tips on how to teach the language to the family pet.

The Chaldean language is an important part of world history and a source of pride for the Motor City. Oppressed for millennia in the Middle East, the Chaldean community has flourished in Detroit. Practicing a Christian faith has made their integration into the city’s fabric much more seamless than that of their Muslim brethren, who are nonetheless a crucial part of Michigan’s present, and future.

The Hungarians and Cubans who fled communist regimes were the first of a special class of immigrants who have had particular importance in our country over the past half-century: refugees. Since the enactment of the Refugee Act in 1980 the United States Refugee Resettlement Program has provided government assistance to refugees of “special humanitarian concern.”

For the small, homogeneous state of Vermont (which has a strong French-Canadian culture), the arrival of refugees through the Resettlement Program has created a diverse community, especially around its population center, Burlington. In the words of City Councilor Clarence Davis, “There are 27 languages spoken in Burlington, and Bosnians make up Burlington’s biggest immigrant community.”

The Bosnian language which has risen to a place of prominence in this small Northern New England community officially came into existence only about 20 years ago. In 1992 the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and the bloody war which followed prompted the mass exodus of refugees to Western Europe and North America. At the end of the war Bosnians found themselves independent for the first time since the 14th century.

Present-day Bosnia is surrounded by its former Yugoslavian compatriots- Croatia, Serbia, and Montenegro. Each of the four countries boasts a distinct language which is however mutually intelligible with the others. In fact the four languages are so close that until the breakup of Yugoslavia they were generically known as a single language- Serbo-Croatian.

The four South Slavic languages are an example of what linguist Heinz Kloss defined Ausbausprache- meaning that they have acquired independent language status as a result of having been developed from a common base. Norwegian, Swedish and Danish are another example of this phenomenon, which also known as “elaborated language.” Political factors are usually important in the formation of a situation of Ausbausprache. When Yugoslavia existed as a united country it was considered that one national language and various dialects were spoken; but now that they are independent we recognize four distinct languages.

There are some differences between Bosnian and its former Serbo-Croatian fellows- in fact the Balkans are home to a great deal of vocabulary and pronunciation variations. However the most interesting difference may be in the script; while in Croatia only Latin characters are used (Croatia: Hrvatska), and in Serbia Latin and Cyrillic characters are used alternatively (Serbia: Srbija, Србија), in Bosnia Arabic script was historically at least until the 1940’s (Bosnia: Bosna, Босна, البوسنة), a relic of the more than 400-year Ottoman rule of the Balkan nation. In fact, although the Arabic script might have fallen out of use, most ethnic Bosnians continue to practice Islam.

Religion was just one of the differences which contributed to the great tension between ethnicities in the former Yugoslavia, a tension which reached its tragic climax in a terrifying program of ethnic cleansing.

In 2011 Burlington’s main pedestrian thoroughfare, Church Street, became home to a commemoration to the most gruesome massacre of the Bosnian War, the genocide of more than 8,000 civilians in the city of Srebrenica in 1995, at war’s end. The creator of the memorial, Aida Sehovic, fled Bosnia with her family in 1992 and arrived in Vermont by way of Germany and Turkey in 1997. Her exhibit- which she has named Što Te Nema? (Why are you not here?)- has been shown not only in her new “hometown” but in Bosnia, New York City, The Hague, and Stockholm as well.

Many Bosnians like Sehovic now feel at home on the green shores of Lake Champlain. Bosnian Vermonters have a soccer club, FC Bosnia VT, offer their traditional foods to the greater public in various restaurants and markets such as the Euro Market, and have even organized a film festival, the Bosansko Vermontski Filmski Festival.

The Vermont Bosnian community is young and growing. Groups like The Bosnian Lilies focus on the youngest members; its objective is to “provide opportunities for Bosnian girls and boys, ages two to early teens, to come together, interact with each other, learn about their heritage, traditions, and native language, and above all maintain their native culture. Almost every child speaks ‘broken’ Bosnian and good English.” Far from the scene of the bloody Balkan wars, Burlington may offer the Bosnian language a place to blossom anew.


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