Which "bilingual" countries are actually bilingual?

  • Penyafort

    Senior Member
    Catalan (Catalonia), Spanish (Spain)
    What about Aosta Valley (Valle d'Aosta/Vallée d'Aoste)? People there are really fluent in Italian, though I'm not sure about their French.
    Since French has never been native to Aosta, why should it be considered as rooted there?
     

    Sepia

    Senior Member
    High German/Danish
    Yes.
    When I was in Barcelona my feeling (but I might be wrong) was that most people could perfectly speak Spanish but just chose not to do it whereas in South Tyrol people speak Italian like German speakers from Germany, Austria or Switzerland would do if they studied it, that is, with a strong German accent.
    I live just a couple of hours from South Tyrol and I've been there countless times. Crossing the border between Trento province and Bolzano province is like crossing the Austrian border. To be fair I must also say that while there are older people who cannot speak Italian at all (or simply refuse to do it) I've never met anyone of my age or younger who couldn't speak Italian to some extent.
    Another funny example: while official road signs are bilingual, the wooden ones made by the locals are in German only...

    02_markierung_7a.jpg
    17.03.06-Sud-Tirolo-Alto-Adige-segnaletica-bilingue.jpg


    I am more surprised that I meet so many people in Catalunya who CAN'T speak Catalunyan. I have never met any who refused to speak "Spanish" (Castellano).
     

    merquiades

    Senior Member
    English (USA Northeast)
    French is considered the formal language in the areas where Franco-Provençal is/was historically spoken. For example, standard French has never been native to Switzerland either. Nowadays, French has been replacing Franco-Provençal everywhere.
    Not saying this rationale is correct but it is what it is.
     
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    Sepia

    Senior Member
    High German/Danish
    If you mean the city of Bolzano and not the province (which is South Tyrol) then yes.

    Not quite.
    South Tyrol is a largely predominant German speaking area (also for political reason I'm sure you know very well, being Catalan). Most of them speak some Italian, reluctantly. They couldn't even for a second pass themselves as Italian speakers.
    If my native language is German and I learnt some Italian as a second language at school, then I'm NOT bilingual.

    Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol - Wikipedia

    Nevertheless it is obviously a bilingual region. The official website of the is city of Bolzano/Bozen is in both languages.
     
    I am more surprised that I meet so many people in Catalunya who CAN'T speak Catalunyan. I have never met any who refused to speak "Spanish" (Castellano).
    Absolutely.
    Everyone living in a bilingual region should speak both languages, even if with different levels of proficiency.
    I've met people in South Tyrol (admittedly, older people) who would understand what I said in Italian (I don't speak any German) and still refuse to reply to my in Italian and do it in German.
     
    And how do other Italians see people (ethinc Germans) from South Tyrol? As foreigners albeit with Italian citizenship?
    Well, it's a little complicated...
    Some/Most of them don't consider themselves Italian but South Tyrolean and that's the first problem. They benefit from very favourable tax concessions and administrative autonomy and yet they'd still prefer to be re-annexed to Austria..
    I've been there countless times also because my parents used to spend a couple of weeks near Merano every summer. The owners of the Hof we stayed in were always very nice and friendly and still ask us, every bloody year, "How are things in Italy?"
    Some Italians (like me) find it just marginally annoying, others very annoying or even unacceptable.

    This BBC report portrays the situation very well

    South Tyrol's identity crisis: Italian, German, Austrian...?
     
    The Republic of Cyprus is officially and de jure bilingual (Greek & Turkish), in fact because it's an EU member, the Republic in 2016 asked the commission to make Turkish an official EU language, but the answer is still pending. De facto though, the RoC is monolingual (Greek), because of the partition of the island since 1974
     

    Penyafort

    Senior Member
    Catalan (Catalonia), Spanish (Spain)
    French is considered the formal language in the areas where Franco-Provençal is/was historically spoken. For example, standard French has never been native to Switzerland either. Nowadays, French has been replacing Franco-Provençal everywhere.
    Not saying thus rationale is correct but it is what it is.
    Rather than the formal language, the formal variety. Because Franco-Provençal was just regarded as a patois, as usual.
    Otherwise it's just as native as it is in Kinshasa.

    What I wonder is, had Savoy remained an independent country, what language or languages would the official ones be today.

    Absolutely.
    Everyone living in a bilingual region should speak both languages, even if with different levels of proficiency.
    Everyone raised in Catalonia can speak Catalan. Whether they decide to do it or not, it's a different story.
     

    Pedro y La Torre

    Senior Member
    English (Ireland)
    Rather than the formal language, the formal variety. Because Franco-Provençal was just regarded as a patois, as usual.
    Otherwise it's just as native as it is in Kinshasa.

    What I wonder is, had Savoy remained an independent country, what language or languages would the official ones be today.
    Presumably French. French became the official language in the Valley of Aosta before (the then Kingdom of) France itself.
     

    Sepia

    Senior Member
    High German/Danish
    Absolutely.
    Everyone living in a bilingual region should speak both languages, even if with different levels of proficiency.
    I've met people in South Tyrol (admittedly, older people) who would understand what I said in Italian (I don't speak any German) and still refuse to reply to my in Italian and do it in German.

    That is indeed rather odd - is that the normal way of going about things there? Speak your primary language and expect that the other person understands and does the same. I only know that habit when people from Scandinavian countries meet. But it certainly is more practical when Swedes living or working in Denmark actually speak Danish and vice versa. I have never experienced anything similar in the region where I grew up which is widely German-Danish bi-lingual. Either you speak Danish or you speak German. Or you switch languages in the middle of the conversation. But both speak the same language at the same time.
     
    That is indeed rather odd - is that the normal way of going about things there?
    I've always perceived it a passive aggressive reaction - I'm in south Tyrol, my language is German and you can't force me to speak Italian..
    I believe it's more of an elderly thing, people who have always refused to speak the language of the "invader".
    To some extent I've notice the same attitude in Ukrainian people who do understand Russian but refuse to speak it.
     

    merquiades

    Senior Member
    English (USA Northeast)
    I wouldn't necessarily take it as an aggression? Did you ask them if they spoke Italian before speaking to them?
    They may not have known you wanted or needed them to speak only Italian. In bilingual worlds they could assume everyone around them is more or less bilingual and that you were from Merano or Bolzano...
     

    Dymn

    Senior Member
    Sometimes you hear bilingual conversations in Catalonia, probably increasingly so. Each one speaks their native language and they get along just fine. It's true though that most frequently one adapts to the other.
     

    Pedro y La Torre

    Senior Member
    English (Ireland)
    I wouldn't necessarily take it as an aggression? Did you ask them if they spoke Italian before speaking to them?
    They may not have known you wanted or needed them to speak only Italian. In bilingual worlds they could assume everyone around them is more or less bilingual and that you were from Merano or Bolzano...
    I'd say that's unlikely. I took a quick look and the Austrian state broadcaster ORF has news programmes dedicated to South Tyrol, which are relayed by the local Rundfunk Anstalt Südtirol. Essentially these speakers can live as Austrians in Italy. They get their news from Germany and Austria, they speak and are educated in their own language and have their own extensive autonomy statute which Austria helped negotiate for them.

    If someone speaks to you in Italian and you respond in German, either you don't know any Italian (unlikely given that ST is part of Italy) or you just don't want to speak it. It'd probably be easier to just hand the territory back to Austria and make some arrangement for the native Italian speakers in Bolzano but for reasons of national prestige that surely won't happen.
     
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    vince

    Senior Member
    English
    The Republic of Cyprus is officially and de jure bilingual (Greek & Turkish), in fact because it's an EU member, the Republic in 2016 asked the commission to make Turkish an official EU language, but the answer is still pending. De facto though, the RoC is monolingual (Greek), because of the partition of the island since 1974
    If the majority of people in the Republic of Cyprus can't speak BOTH Greek and Turkish fluently then for the purposes of this thread, it is NOT a bilingual region / country. For the purposes of this thread, a bilingual region is one where I can go into any neighborhood cafe or corner store and pick one of the two languages and start talking to the person working there, or to a random person on the street, and expect to be understood. They may however, as some people have pointed out, be inconvenienced and want to reply back in the other language, but if they speak both languages fluently, even with an accent, it counts as bilingual.
     

    Perseas

    Senior Member
    76% of people of Cyprus speak English as L2, according to Eurobarometer. So in that way these people might be considered bilingual.
    Source: Languages of Cyprus - Wikipedia

    Some information from the source above:
    Proficiency in English is high (higher than in many other European countries), and Cypriots that receive education in English might code-switch between Cypriot Greek and English. English features on road signs, public notices, and in advertisements, etc. English was the sole official language during British colonial rule and lingua franca (until 1960) and continued to be used (de facto) in courts of law until 1989 and in legislature until 1963.
     
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    Red Arrow

    Senior Member
    Dutch - Belgium
    For the purposes of this thread, a bilingual region is one where I can go into any neighborhood cafe or corner store and pick one of the two languages and start talking to the person working there, or to a random person on the street, and expect to be understood.
    In that case many parts of Europe are bilingual English/local language.
     

    merquiades

    Senior Member
    English (USA Northeast)
    Bilingual is not being able to go into a café and saying "I want a coffee", being understood and getting the answer "large or small, with milk?" That is just getting by in a given situation. In this case Greece and Sweden are bilingual in English. This is of course fantastic.

    Bilingual is being capable of abstract thought in a language without translating, speaking on most common subjects, listening to radio, being understood and expressing oneself effortlessly, not making serious non-native grammar mistakes, reading articles written for native speakers, using a rich vocabulary... A bilingual place is where most people living there are able to do this in two given languages.

    Luxembourg yes, Brussels no
     
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    Bilingual is being capable of abstract thought in a language without translating, speaking on most common subjects, listening to radio, being understood and expressing oneself effortless, not making serious non-native mistakes, reading articles written for native speakers. A bilingual place is where most people living there are able to do this in two given languages.
    So, according to your definition of "bilingual", which countries/regions are bilingual?
    Definitely NOT South Tyrol.
    Can I order a coffee in Italian in South Tyrol and be served what I actually ordered? Of course, but I'm also likely to get a "Bitte" in response to my "Grazie".
     

    Terio

    Senior Member
    Français (Québec)
    Bilingual is being capable of abstract thought in a language without translating, speaking on most common subjects, listening to radio, being understood and expressing oneself effortlessly, not making serious non-native grammar mistakes, reading articles written for native speakers, using a rich vocabulary... A bilingual place is where most people living there are able to do this in two given languages.
    To do so, a person needs a very high degree of education in both languages. So that could happen only in a very educated society.

    Here, in Quebec, if you come from a French speaking family, chances are that you will go to a French school. They will teach you English as a foreign language. If you come from an English family, it will be the opposite. Unless you seriously study the other language in college or univesity, you will probably not reach the level you are speaking about. Most people will learn only what they really need. Actually, the communities live parallel lives.

    If you come from a bilingual family, chances are you will choose one of the languages as yours. I've worked with some French speaking Quebecers who had attended English schools from the beginning. I realized that the had a basic knowlege of French from their parents, but it's English they had studied day after day at school. To them, French was no for "abstract thought" or to write articles.

    Even our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (his father was French Canadian, but not his mother), chief of government of an officially bilingual country, don't really master French. As he speaks, you can notice that he thinks in English and tries to translate into French.
     

    Pedro y La Torre

    Senior Member
    English (Ireland)
    I agree that Justin Trudeau speaks (really) bad French. For a native speaker, he often makes horrendous mistakes or translates literally from English. That said, in Montreal, plenty of people are perfectly bilingual. You can walk into any café in French-speaking Outremont and be served in perfect English. Outside Montreal, this isn't the case. In Quebec City I once had to translate for Americans who tried to order in English but weren't being understood by the waitress.
     

    Terio

    Senior Member
    Français (Québec)
    I agree that Justin Trudeau speaks (really) bad French. For a native speaker, he often makes horrendous mistakes or translates literally from English. That said, in Montreal, plenty of people are perfectly bilingual. You can walk into any café in French-speaking Outremont and be served in perfect English. Outside Montreal, this isn't the case. In Quebec City I once had to translate for Americans who tried to order in English but weren't being understood by the waitress.
    Plenty of people are perfectly bilingual, for sure, but it is on an individual basis and it remains a privilege of intellectutals, not most people. (Outremont is a rather rich neighbourhood.) Most people learn a second language because they need if to get a job or because it is useful for them.

    On the other hand, not so long ago (the sixties, the early seventies), few English Quebecers spoke French. They were the boss and did not condescended to learn it.

    A few weeks ago, the president of Air Canada, a former federal public company privatized but obligated by law to provide services in both languages, made a speech in the Montreal Trade Board in English only. It was a scandal. People felt humiliated. He was said to act "as in the fifties". He apologized saying that he was to busy to learn and said he had lived in the Montreal region for fourteen years and never felt necessary to learn it, which only added fuel to the fire.

    Maybe there are places where bilingalism is viewed as « the normal way to be » (Luxembourg ? Macao ?), but you must not forget that in many other places the need to speak more than one's own native language is due to a long history of political, cultural, economical oppression or domination not as a personnal cultural enrichment.
     
    you must not forget that in many other places the need to speak more than one's own native language is due to a long history of political, cultural, economical oppression or domination not as a personnal cultural enrichment.
    That's very true.
    In all those places there are two official languages but people still learn one of them as a second language just because they have to or it is convenient.
     
    Isn't Bolzano majority Italian-speaking?
    In the city of Bolzano the majority of people are Italian native speakers (roughly 3 out of 4) but in the province, which is South Tyrol, is the other way around. In general, the larger the town, the more people who can speak both languages you will find, being German their first language. In small villages up the mountains is where I met older folks who'd barely understand or speak any Italian.
     
    If the majority of people in the Republic of Cyprus can't speak BOTH Greek and Turkish fluently then for the purposes of this thread, it is NOT a bilingual region / country. For the purposes of this thread, a bilingual region is one where I can go into any neighborhood cafe or corner store and pick one of the two languages and start talking to the person working there, or to a random person on the street, and expect to be understood. They may however, as some people have pointed out, be inconvenienced and want to reply back in the other language, but if they speak both languages fluently, even with an accent, it counts as bilingual.
    Well there are Turkish-Cypriots who chose to live in the Republic of Cyprus and are bilingual, they speak Greek and Turkish fluently. As there are Greek-Cypriot villages in the north (at the Karpas Peninsula mostly) with bilingual residents.
     

    Linnets

    Senior Member
    In Bolzano most people can speak Italian well enough to have casual conversation, but cannot "express themselves effortlessly, not making serious non-native grammar mistakes"
    In the city of Bolzano the majority of people are Italian native speakers (roughly 3 out of 4)
    Isn't this a contradiction? I've met some Italian-speakes from Bolzano and they all could speak a decent Italian and were able to "express themselves effortlessly, not making serious non-native grammar mistakes"; they had a rather strong accent, but, to my Tuscan ears, it was not stronger than most Northerners. Of course it is not the case of rural South Tyrol.
     

    Thersites

    Senior Member
    Swiss German - Switzerland
    Switzerland has four languages, German, French, Italian and Rhaeto-Romansch - but not much bi- or multi-lingualism.
    Right - or at least not in the way that the OP stated.
    22 of the 26 cantons are officially monolingual.
    And even in the others the towns or regions are belonging to one side of the language border. There are a few exceptions. Towns like Biel/Bienne and Freiburg/Fribourg are bilingual to a high degree. If you watch their local TV stations you will see the journalist asking a question in French and getting his response in German.

    Many people will still master one or more of the other languages out of patriotism. And even if they don't, there is still a sense of togetherness. Per example, when our health minister speaks on Covid, I'd rather hear him speak in French than have him overdubbed with a German translation, even if that means that I will only understand about three quarters of what he's saying.

    Any serious politician will speak two languages, with accents that are easy to imitate and lovingly made fun of on both sides of the language border.
    Each canton in Switzerland behaves pretty much like a separate country.
    It is actually not that bad. Inter-cantonal political relationships have been surprisingly sane. It is still widely acknowledged that it was federalism that made our country.
     

    raamez

    Senior Member
    Arabic (Syria)
    In Syria the Kurds, Turkmans and Syriacs who majorly live in the north are for the most part bilingual or sometimes trilingual as some also speak Arabic and Turkish beside their mother tongue. Those who live in northwest of Syria speak also a different dialect than those in the northeast. They usually adapt the native Arabic dialect to that specific area.
     

    merquiades

    Senior Member
    English (USA Northeast)
    Luxembourg never ceases to intrigue me.
    Two waiters were chatting away in Lëtzebuergesch when I went into a restaurant. They said Moïen and then we talked in French, nothing unusual there. But then after I took my seat and ordered they went on with their conversation in French. It had nothing to do with me. Do they see Lëtzebuergesch as a private language to be used when no one else is around? In many other (fairly) bilingual areas people will talk to you in your favorite language but they don't feel the need or want to change when they are talking to one another.

    Later in the restaurant a middle aged man and a millenial were talking. They did about three minutes in Lëtzebuergesch followed by three minutes in French and went on back and forth with no rhyme or reason non-stop. They spoke to the waiters in French, one of the waiters served them in Lëtzebuergesch.

    Another group of four young people had a more integrated bilingual conversation. I don't know if they were speaking Lëtzebuergesch laced heavily with French words in every sentence or French with Lëtzeburgesch words. They spoke Lëtzebuergesch to the waiters who only answered in French.

    There were also some other people in the restaurant who just spoke French, and some northern Europeans who spoke English. They could handle the English but a lady came out of the kitchen and served them in French.

    The people in the kitchen were speaking Lëtzebuergesch.
    The faint radio show in the background was in German with French songs. The menu was in translated French-German-English. There were some mistakes in the English part: wrapp, burgerbread.

    This society is bilingual/multilingual because several languages are used at any given time by most people, and they find that normal.
     
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    Red Arrow

    Senior Member
    Dutch - Belgium
    Luxembourg never ceases to intrigue me.
    Two waiters were chatting away in Lëtzebuergesch when I went into a restaurant. They said Moïen and then we talked in French, nothing unusual there. But then after I took my seat and ordered they went on with their conversation in French. It had nothing to do with me. Do they see Lëtzebuergesch as a language to be used when no one else was around? In many other (fairly) bilingual areas people will talk to you in your favorite language but they don't feel the need or want to change when they are talking to one another.
    This happens regularly to me as well. I am speaking in Dutch to someone, someone else joins the room that doesn't understand Dutch well, so we switch to English. Then when she is gone, we continue talking in English for a while until we realize there is no need for that, and then switch back to Dutch.

    This wouldn't happen to me in French, because speaking French requires an effort. I also never daydream in French.
     

    merquiades

    Senior Member
    English (USA Northeast)
    @Red Arrow But the question is, would you speak to your friend in Dutch or English if she were present in the room but not taking part in your conversation at all or not even really paying attention?

    You mean English is never an effort for you?
     

    Red Arrow

    Senior Member
    Dutch - Belgium
    @Red Arrow But the question is, would you speak to your friend in Dutch or English if she were present in the room but not taking part in your conversation at all or not even really paying attention?
    It depends on whether it could be of interest to her.
    You mean English is never an effort for you?
    Fictional books are somewhat of an effort, as are topics that I am not interested in. On this forum, I rarely use a dictionary, not even a spell checker.

    I am somewhat "privileged" as a Dutch speaker because it is very easy to retain English vocabulary for me. I recently had to use the word "sole" and I am not sure I ever even encountered that word in this meaning (the thing your foot rests on inside your shoe), yet I got it right. I simply made an estimated guess based on Dutch "zool".
     

    Pedro y La Torre

    Senior Member
    English (Ireland)
    It depends on whether it could be of interest to her.

    Fictional books are somewhat of an effort, as are topics that I am not interested in. On this forum, I rarely use a dictionary, not even a spell checker.

    I am somewhat "privileged" as a Dutch speaker because it is very easy to retain English vocabulary for me. I recently had to use the word "sole" and I am not sure I ever even encountered that word in this meaning (the thing your foot rests on inside your shoe), yet I got it right. I simply made an estimated guess based on Dutch "zool".
    While Dutch-speakers usually possess an excellent grasp of English, I don't think it can really be compared to Luxembourg. Luxembourgers change language on a sixpence and often in mid-conversation. I'd be astonished to find native Dutch-speakers conversing in English among themselves. Even in South Africa where Afrikaners almost all speak English, this wouldn't really occur.
     

    Penyafort

    Senior Member
    Catalan (Catalonia), Spanish (Spain)
    Do they see Lëtzebuergesch as a private language to be used when no one else is around?
    I've only seen that happening with some Aragonese speakers: them changing into Spanish as soon as 'foreigners' got into the village bar. So I'm surprised to hear about it in a better positioned language like Luxembourgish.
     

    merquiades

    Senior Member
    English (USA Northeast)
    I've only seen that happening with some Aragonese speakers: them changing into Spanish as soon as 'foreigners' got into the village bar. So I'm surprised to hear about it in a better positioned language like Luxembourgish.
    Lëtzebuergesch is in a good position in that people know it and use it. Not like Aragonese which seems to be fading away. It's informal though, the national but not official language. So you wouldn't find much of anything written in it. All street names are only in French, for instance. I guess people switch languages because they feel that the languages belong to them and they can use them as they see fit. The ease and coolness with which they change in and out of French and Lëtzebuergesch and sometimes others shows deep knowledge and lack of concern about the issue.
     
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    merquiades

    Senior Member
    English (USA Northeast)
    Isn't it "Luxembourgish" in English? :confused:
    Well according to Wikipedia it can be both but I do not anglicize it because in Luxembourg the nationals don't. It's also pronounced something like Lutsanboyiss. (About like the u as in luck, the a as a schwa and the i as in miss). Sorry for no phonetic symbols or links as I'm on a mobile. Honestly people talk so little about this language in English it sounds weird to me to anglicize it but some people would probably do so, I suppose.

    They also talk about Luxembourgian too in this article which sounds like a classy option to me.

    Edit: IPA [ˈlətsəbuəjəʃ]
     
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    Pedro y La Torre

    Senior Member
    English (Ireland)
    So you pronounce Luxembourg as burg and not bourg?
    In fact, I pronounce it as "Luxemberg". I certainly don't say "bourg", which is reflective of the French ou sound. Do you?
    If we were to write Luxemburg, then we'd have to write Luxemburger and that would seem like some weird excuse for a sandwich. :D
    I actually thought we spelled it as Luxemburger until I looked up the dictionary and found that French has penetrated even here. Then again, we hardly ever talk about Luxembourg's citizens; the country is too small.
     

    merquiades

    Senior Member
    English (USA Northeast)
    @Pedro y La Torre Yes, I say Luxembourg like bourg, but not with a French accent, with English r and hard g, and an or-like vowel as in "or". First syllable with a "u" as in luxury.

    Yes, I agree. We are so unsure about things because we hardly ever talk about Luxembourg, its people and language.
    In French, Luxembourg and Luxembourgeois flow better because people are more likely to talk about the duchy.
     
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