'Lesser-used' languages in historic Europe: models of change from the 16th to the 19th centuries

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This article charts and tries to explain the changing use of ‘minority’ languages in Europe between the end of the Middle Ages and the 19th century. This period saw the beginnings of a decline in the use of certain dialects and separate languages, notably Irish and Scottish Gaelic, although some tongues such as Catalan and Welsh remained widely used. The article develops some models of the relationship between language and its social, economic and political context. That relationship was mediated through the availability of printed literature; the political (including military) relations between areas where different languages or dialects were spoken; the nature and relative level of economic development (including urbanization); the policy of the providers of formal education and that of the church on religious instruction and worship; and, finally, local social structures and power relationships. The focus is principally on western Europe, but material is also drawn from Scandinavia and from eastern and central Europe.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)299-324
Number of pages26
JournalEuropean Review
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2003


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