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Quiz Answer Key and Fun Facts
Bulgarian belongs to the South Slavic subgroup of the Slavic (or Slavonic) branch of the large Indo-European language family, which includes most of the languages currently spoken in Europe and the European Union. The only official language of Bulgaria, Bulgarian counts about 8 million native speakers; it is also a recognized minority language in Serbia, Albania, Moldova, Hungary, Ukraine, and the Czech Republic. Bulgarian evolved from Proto-Slavic in the Early Middle Ages; it was the first Slavic language attested in writing. Macedonian, the official language of neighbouring North Macedonia, is closely related to Bulgarian. As Bulgaria is an an Orthodox country, Bulgarian is written in the Cyrillic script. Other languages spoken in Bulgaria (though without official status) are Turkish and Romani (also a Indo-European language, though of the Indo-Iranian branch). The Romani minority in Bulgaria is the largest in Europe.
Bulgaria joined the European Union in 2007, and since then Bulgarian has been one of the EU's official languages.
Like Bulgarian, Croatian is a South Slavic language; it is one of the varieties of Serbo-Croatian, a pluricentric language that counts four mutually intelligible standard varieties (the others being Serbian, Bosnian, and Montenegrin). These varieties, however, are considered separate languages for political reasons. The only official language of Croatia, and one of the official languages of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatian is also officially recognized in the regions of Vojvodina (Serbia), Molise (Italy), and Burgenland (Austria). Many minority languages have officially recognized status in Croatia - among them, Italian, Serbian, Czech, Slovak, and Hungarian. As Croatia is a Catholic country, Croatian is written in the Latin script, using a modified form of the Latin alphabet that is also used for Slovene.
Croatian became the 24th official language of the EU in 2013, when Croatia became the 28th member of the Union. Prior to the country's admission, there were proposals to accept a hybrid of the four varieties of Serbo-Croatian as an official EU language, in order to save on translation costs; these proposals, however, did not go anywhere.
Czech is a West Slavic language known in the past as Bohemian (from the name of the historical region in the western half of the country). Like other languages in the same subgroup, it is written in the Latin script, as the Central European countries where these languages are spoken are traditionally Roman Catholic rather than Orthodox. Modern standard Czech was standardized in the 18th century, and has changed very little from that time. It is now the official language of the Czech Republic, where it is spoken as a first language by 98% of the country's population (about 10 million people). It is also widely spoken in neighbouring Slovakia, both as a first and a second language, and by immigrant communities in other parts of Europe and the US. The 14 recognized minorities that live in the Czech Republic are entitled to use their language "in communication with the authorities and in courts of law".
The Czech Republic is one of the 10 countries that gained admission to the EU on 10 May 2004 - the largest expansion of the Union to date; Czech has been an official EU language since then.
Danish belongs to the North Germanic subgroup of the Germanic branch of the Indo-European family. This subgroup also includes Swedish, Norwegian, Icelandic, and Faroese - the so-called Nordic, or Scandinavian, languages, descendants of Old Norse, the language of the Vikings. It is the "de facto" official language of Denmark, and one of the official languages of the Faroe Islands (together with Faroese), one of the Kingdom's two autonomous territories; in Greenland, the official language is Greenlandic (Kalaallisut), an Eskimo-Aleut language, though Danish has recognized status. Danish also has minority language status in the German region of Southern Schleswig, which borders Denmark to the south.
About 6 million people speak Danish as a first language. The three mainland Scandinavian languages (Danish, Swedish and Norwegian) are very similar in grammar and vocabulary, and more or less mutually intelligible in their written form; spoken Danish, however, has some peculiarities that make it harder to understand for people from other parts of Scandinavia. English is widely spoken in Denmark as a second language, while German enjoys protected status as a minority language in North Schleswig.
Danish has been an official language of the EU since 1973, when Denmark joined the EU; neither Greenland nor the Faroe Islands, however, are members of the Union.
Of all the extant Germanic languages, Dutch - after Frisian (see Q.6) - is the closest to English: indeed, it has been called the halfway point between English and German. Like the above-mentioned three languages, it is a member of the West Germanic subgroup, which also includes Afrikaans (one of the 11 official languages of South Africa, derived from Dutch), Yiddish, and Scots. Most speakers of Dutch as a first language - an estimated 25 million worldwide - reside in The Netherlands; about 5 million people speak it as a second language. Dutch is also one of the official languages of Belgium (where it is spoken by about 60% of the population), and the official language of Suriname, a former Dutch colony in South America. A number of regional languages (most of them Low German dialects) have recognized minority status; Frisian is the second official language of the northern province of Friesland. On the other hand, none of the minority languages and dialects spoken in Belgium are officially recognized. English is widely spoken both in Belgium and The Netherlands, often with a very high level of fluency.
The Netherlands and Belgium were among the six countries (the others being Italy, West Germany, France, and Luxembourg) that signed the Treaty of Rome on 25 March 1957, creating the European Economic Community (EEC). Dutch has been used as one of the official languages of European institutions since that date.
One of the world's two most widely spoken languages (the other being Mandarin Chinese), English belongs to the West Germanic subgroup. Though closely related to Dutch and German, modern English has taken a somewhat different route, having been heavily influenced by French and Latin after the Norman conquest of 1066. The English currently spoken by about 2 billion people worldwide developed from the late 15th century onwards; its closest relative in the West Germanic subgroup is Frisian, spoken in parts of the North Sea coast of The Netherlands and Germany.
In recent times, the higher status of English as one of the three procedural languages of the European Commission (together with French and German) has become the object of controversy. In fact, after the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the Union on 31 January 2020, English is now spoken as a native language by a much smaller number of people than German, French, Italian, or Spanish. As of February 2020, English was spoken as a first language by 1% of the EU population (about the same percentage as Finnish of Lithuanian) - mostly concentrated in the Republic of Ireland and Malta, where it shares official language status with Irish and Maltese. It is, however, spoken as a second language by about 43% of the EU population, where it is also the most common foreign language learned in schools, and also widely used in higher education.
Estonian is one of the three languages of the Uralic family that have official status in the European Union. Like Finnish (Q. 8), it belongs to the Finnish branch of the family also known as Finno-Ugric, which also includes a number of other languages (most of them endangered) mainly spoken in western Russia. Compared to "Ugro-Finnic", Uralic is now considered a more accurate definition, as it emphasizes the geographical origin of these fascinating but very complex languages, characterized by a high degree of inflection.
Spoken by over 1 million people, Estonian is Estonia's only official language. However, the country is home to a sizable Russian-speaking minority, and many of the older members of the Estonian population also speak Russian as a second language Estonian has been one of the EU's official languages since 2004, when Estonia joined the Union together with the other two Baltic countries, Latvia and Lithuania - all of them formerly part of the Soviet Union.
Spoken by most of Finland's population, Finnish belongs to the Finnic branch of the Uralic family, together with Estonian and a few minority languages spoken in Russia, such as Karelian, Veps, and Ingrian. With about 5 million speakers, Finnish is the most widely spoken language of the branch. It is the official language of Finland together with Swedish, which, however, is spoken by no more than 5% of the country's population, concentrated on the coasts. Finnish also enjoys the status of minority language in Sweden and Norway. Finland also has a number of recognized national languages, which include Karelian, Finnish Kalo (a Romani language), Finnish and Swedish Sign Languages, and Sámi. The latter - spoken by the Sámi people of Lapland - is also part of the Uralic family, and closely related to Finnic languages.
Finnish has been one of the EU's official languages since Finland joined the Union in 1995. Even though Finland is often referred to as part of Scandinavia, Finnish is not related to any of the Scandinavian languages (which are all Indo-European).
Part of the Western subgroup of the Romance languages, which evolved from Vulgar Latin in the Early Middle Ages, French is one of the three procedural languages of the EU, together with English and German; it is spoken as a native language by almost 20% of the European population, and often taught in schools as a second language. It is also one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, numbering almost 80 million native speakers, and enjoying official status in 29 countries, many of them in Africa; a number of French-based creoles also exist, the most notable of which is Haitian Creole. A number of minority languages are also spoken in France, such as Occitan, Catalan and Corsican (also Romance languages), Breton (a Celtic language), and Basque, which is not related to any other of the world's languages.
In the 17th century, modern French became the "lingua franca" of international relations, and kept this important role until it was replaced by English after WWII. In the EU, besides its status as official and national language of France, French is also one of the official languages of Belgium (alongside Dutch and German), Luxembourg, and the Aosta Valley region of Italy - as well as Switzerland, which is not part of the EU, but participates in the Schengen Area and the European Single Market. French has been one of the official languages of the European Union since its inception as European Economic Community in 1957.
Like English and Dutch, German is a West Germanic language. With over 90 million native speakers, it is the most widely spoken language in the European Union; around 20 million speak it as a second language. Modern German is derived from the Standard High German that developed in the 16th century with the Luther Bible. The sole official language of Germany, Austria, and Liechtenstein, German is also one of the official languages of Switzerland, Belgium, and Luxembourg, as well as the autonomous Italian region of Alto Adige (South Tyrol). It is also a recognized minority language in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Poland and Denmark. Various German dialects are also spoken outside Europe, most prominently in the US, Brazil, Namibia, and South Africa. A number of native minority languages (most of them also Germanic) enjoy protected status in Germany; Turkish is the most commonly spoken immigrant language.
West Germany was one of the founders of the European Economic Community in 1957, so German has been an official language of the EU since its beginnings. Austria, on the other hand, joined in 1995, together with Sweden and Finland.
One of the three official languages of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, and closely related to German, Luxembourgish is one of two official languages of EU countries that are not recognized as official languages of the European Union - the other being Turkish, official in Cyprus.
The modern descendant of one of the world's most influential languages, Greek is one of the few Indo-European languages to form its own independent branch (named Hellenic). Modern Greek, or Neo-Hellenic, is derived from Medieval (Byzantine) Greek, which in turn stems from Koine Greek, the first common Greek dialect of antiquity, the language of the New Testament. With its numerous dialects, Greek is spoken as a first language by about 13 million people; it is the sole official language of Greece, and one of the two official languages of Cyprus, alongside Turkish (see Q.10). It is also recognized as a minority language in Albania, as well as in the Southern Italian regions of Apulia and Calabria. There is also a sizable community of Greek speakers in Turkey, but - like other language minorities in the country - their language rights are restricted. Modern Greece is fairly homogeneous in linguistic terms, and speakers of other languages (such as Turkish, Romani, and Bulgarian) amount to a very small percentage of the Greek population; those other languages, with only a few exceptions, have no formal recognition.
Greek has been one of the EU's official languages since Greece joined the Union in 1981. Cyprus, on the other hand, joined in 2004; besides Greek and Turkish, English (which was the island's only official language until 1960) is widespread.
The third member of the Uralic family among the European Union's official languages, Hungarian belongs to a different branch of the family than Finnish and Estonian - the proposed (and disputed) Ugric, or Ugrian, branch, which also includes Mansi and Khanty, two languages spoken in Siberia. Though Hungarian and the Finnic languages share many phonological and morphological features, they are quite different in lexical terms.
With about 13 million speakers, Hungarian is by far the most widely spoken Uralic language. It is the official language of Hungary, and also one of the official languages of the multi-ethnic Serbian province of Vojvodina; it is also recognized as a minority language in Austria, Croatia, Slovakia, Romania, and the Zakarpattia province of Ukraine. In addition, there are several Hungarian-speaking communities outside Europe - mostly in the US, Canada, and Israel. Hungary also recognizes a number of languages (including German, Armenian and Romani) as minority languages. Hungarian has been one of the EU's official languages since 2004, when Hungary joined the Union.
Also known as Gaelic ("Gaeilge"), Irish is the only Celtic language with the status of official national language in a European nation. Indigenous to Ireland, it belongs to the Goidelic subgroup of the Celtic branch of the Indo-European family, which also includes Scottish Gaelic and Manx. Irish was the island's first language until the late 18th century, and is still spoken as a first language in parts of the country, especially in the west. However, it is the only one of the EU's official languages spoken by a minority of its country's population. Daily users of Irish outside the education system are only around 70,000 - barely over 1% of the current Irish population. There are also communities of Irish speakers outside Ireland, mostly in the US and Canada. The second most spoken language in Ireland after English is Polish, due to immigration.
Irish is Ireland's first official language (English being the second), and recognized formally as a minority language in Northern Ireland under the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. Though the Republic of Ireland joined the EU in 1973, Irish had the lower status of "treaty language" (meaning that only EU treaties were translated into Irish) until 1 January 2007. Full recognition of Irish as one of the official languages of the EU became effective on 1 January 2022.
Spoken as a first language by the vast majority of Italy's population, Italian is one of the major Romance languages, evolved from Latin in the Early Middle Ages. It is the official language of Italy and San Marino, one of the four official languages of Switzerland, and also the primary language of Vatican City. It also has minority status in the Istria peninsula (shared by Italy, Croatia and Slovenia), and is spoken by sizable immigrant communities throughout the world; on the other hand, Italian's presence in its former African colonies has declined in recent times.
The standard variety of Italian developed from the Tuscan vernacular of the late 13th century; many of the so-called "dialects" still spoken routinely by millions of people (such as Venetian, Neapolitan, and Sicilian) are considered separate languages, though they have lost their former status of national languages. In fact, Italy is known for its linguistic diversity. French and German have official status in the regions of Aosta Valley and Alto Adige; other minority languages with official recognition at the local level are Sardinian, Ladin, Friulian, Catalan, Occitan and Franco-Provençal (also Romance languages), Albanian (an independent Indo-European language), Slovenian (Slavic), and Greek (see Q. 11).
Italy is one of the six countries that signed the Treaty of Rome in 1957, and Italian has been one of the EU's official languages since then. In terms of number of native speakers (15% of the EU population), Italian comes third in the Union after German and French.
Latvian, or Lettish, is part of the Baltic branch of the Indo-European family; the branch is also referred to as Balto-Slavic, because of the many unique traits shared by Baltic and Slavic languages. As the name implies, Baltic languages are spoken in the Baltic region of Northern and Eastern Europe; most are extinct, and at present only two (or possibly four) remain. The official language of Latvia, Modern Latvian has about 2 million speakers; interestingly, it has a relatively large number of non-native speakers (around 700,000 people) among the minority and immigrant communities that live in Latvia. As in the other two Baltic states, the most widely used minority language in Latvia is Russian, which, however, lost its prominent status after the country became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991. The only two languages that have protected status in Latvia are Latgalian (a dialect of Latvian considered by some to be a separate language) and Livonian, a technically extinct Finnic language; all other minority languages are considered foreign.
Latvian has been one of the official languages of the EU since the country joined in 2004.
Lithuanian is a Baltic language, and the official language of Lithuania, the largest and southernmost of the three Baltic states. Spoken by over 3 million people worldwide, it is said to be the most conservative of any of the extant Indo-European languages, retaining some archaic features that are found in ancient languages such as Ancient Greek or Sanskrit. Communities of ethnic speakers of Lithuanian are present in the neighbouring countries (including the Russian semi-exclave of Kaliningrad Oblast). Most of the current population of Lithuania speak Lithuanian either as a first or a second language. One of the two dialects of Lithuanian, Samogitian, is often classified as a separate language - one of the four surviving Baltic languages. Various minority languages are spoken in Lithuania, and are taught in the schools of the areas where minorities are present - Polish being the most common.
Like the other two Baltic states, Lithuania joined the EU in 2004, and Lithuanian became one of the Union's official languages.
The official language of the island nation of Malta (alongside English), Maltese is the only official EU language that belongs to the large Afro-Asiatic family, which includes Arabic, Hebrew, and the ancient languages of Egypt and Mesopotamia. Spoken by about 90% of Malta's population, Maltese is also spoken by a sizable diaspora community in Australia; the total number of Maltese speakers is around 500,000. Maltese has a fascinating history, being descended by the dialect of Arabic spoken in the Emirate of Sicily between the 9th and the 11th centuries. The language, however, became increasingly Latinized after the end of the Arab domination, and has been influenced by Sicilian and standard Italian. In fact, Maltese also has the distinction of being the only Semitic language written exclusively in the Latin script. Because of Malta's geographical proximity to Sicily, and the pervasive Italian cultural influence, Italian is spoken to some degree by over 60% of the Maltese population.
Maltese became the official language of Malta in 1934, when the island nation was still a British colony; it became one of the EU's official languages when Malta joined the Union in 2004, though it reached fully recognized status on 1 January 2007.
A Western Slavic language, related to Czech and Slovak, Polish is the official language of Poland, and a recognized minority language in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Lithuania, Romania, and Ukraine. With about 45 million native speakers, it is spoken by 9% of the EU population - 10% including second-language speakers. The overwhelming majority of Poland's population speak Polish as a first language; sizable communities of Polish speakers are found in the UK, Israel, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, and the US. Compared to Czech and Slovak, Polish has been deeply influenced by German, French and Italian in terms of vocabulary and grammar.
Though Poland is one of Europe's most linguistically homogeneous countries, it is also home to a number of linguistic minorities. Kashubian, a closely related West Slavic language spoken in the region of Pomerania on the Baltic coast, is recognized as an official regional language. Among the languages that enjoy minority status in Poland there are Yiddish and Hebrew, a reminder of the prominent role of the Jewish community in the country's history.
Polish has been an official language of the EU since 2004, when Poland joined the Union together with other 9 countries.
One of the five major extant Romance languages, Portuguese is spoken as a first language by about 250 million people - most of whom live outside Europe (especially in Brazil and parts of Africa). In the European Union, speakers of Portuguese (Lusophones) amount to 2% of the Union's population (3% if second-language speakers are also taken into account). The sole official language of Portugal, Portuguese is a Western Romance language of the Ibero-Romance group, which also includes Spanish, Galician, and Catalan. The only regional language recognized in Portugal, Mirandese, is also a member of this group; Portuguese and Galician (spoken in northwestern Spain) are mutually intelligible. There are also quite a few Portuguese-speaking immigrant communities found around the world.
Portuguese has been an official language of the EU since 1986, when Portugal joined the EEC. Even if in Europe it is a relatively minor language in terms of number of speakers, it is considered one of the ten most influential languages in the world.
The most prominent member of the Eastern Romance group, Romanian developed from the Vulgar Latin spoken in the Roman provinces of the Balkan Peninsula; it has been heavily influenced by Hungarian and the South Slavic languages, which has resulted in some grammatical peculiarities. Spoken by around 25 million people as a first language, Romanian is the official language of Romania and Moldova (where it is also referred to as Moldovan), and one of the official languages of the Serbian province of Vojvodina; it also has recognized minority status in some of the neighbouring countries, such as Hungary. There are also numerous Romanian-speaking immigrant communities in Europe and elsewhere: in Italy, Romanians are the largest immigrant group. On the other hand, some closely related languages (such as Aromanian and Megleno-Romanian), as well as Hungarian, Romani, German, Ukrainian, and Russian, have been granted a measure of rights as minority languages in Romania.
Romanian has been an official EU language since 2007, when Romania (together with Bulgaria) joined the Union.
Closely related to Czech, Slovak is the official language of Slovakia, the Central European nation created in 1993 after the dissolution of Czechoslovakia. Spoken by about 5 million people, it also has official status in the Serbian province of Vojvodina, and is a recognized minority language in the Czech Republic, Poland, Croatia, Hungary, and Ukraine. Like Czech, it is a West Slavic language written in the Latin script. Though, generally speaking, Czech and Slovak are mutually intelligible, some dialects of Slovak are closer to Polish than to Czech. Hungarian, the language of the largest ethnic minority in Slovakia, has co-official status in some of the municipalities where Hungarian speakers live.
Slovak became one of the official languages of the EU when Slovakia joined the Union in 2004.
A South Slavic language, Slovene (or Slovenian) is the official language of Slovenia; Italian and Hungarian also enjoy official status in the border regions where they are spoken. Slovene is the native language of about 85% of Slovenia's population, and counts about 2.5 million speakers worldwide. In spite of this rather small number of speakers, Slovene is a very diverse language, with a large number of dialects (according to some sources, up to 50). Like Croatian, it is written in a modified form of the Latin alphabet. Slovene has official status in the Italian region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia and the Austrian regions of Carinthia and Styria, and is recognized as a minority language in Hungary.
Slovene has been one of the official languages of the EU since Slovenia became part of the Union in 2004.
Like its close relative, Portuguese, Spanish is spoken by a relatively small percentage (9% as a first language, 17% including second-language speakers) of the EU population. It is, however, second only to Mandarin Chinese in terms of number of native speakers (about 500 million, most of whom live in the Americas): in fact, Spanish has more first-language speakers than English. A Western Romance language of the Ibero-Romance group, Spanish is also called Castilian, since the first systematic written use of the language occurred in the Kingdom of Castile in the 13th century. In Spain, where it is the official language, it is spoken as a native language by about 74% of the population. Spain, however, is a multilingual country, where a number of languages related to Spanish (the most prominent of which being Catalan), as well as the totally unrelated Basque, enjoy territorial recognition as official languages.
Spanish has been one of the EU's official language since the country, together with its neighbour, Portugal, joined the union in 1986. Outside Europe, it is the official language of 20 countries in the Americas, and counts over 40 million native speakers in the US.
Like Danish and Norwegian, Swedish is a North Germanic language, one of the three mainland Scandinavian languages. The official language of Sweden since 2009, and one of the two official languages of Finland (see Q. 8), it also has official status in the Ĺland Islands, a province of Finland in the Baltic Sea the majority of whose inhabitants are Swedish speakers. With about 10 million native speakers, and an additional 3 million second-language speakers, Swedish is the most widely spoken of the North Germanic languages. Modern Swedish developed with the advent of the printing press and the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century; the standard form of the language spoken today dates from the early 20th century.
Outside Scandinavia, Swedish speakers are found mostly in the UK, Spain, Germany, and the US.
Besides Finnish, four minority languages are recognized in Sweden: Meänkieli (a Finnish dialect spoken in northern Sweden), Sámi, Romani, and Yiddish. Many other languages are spoken by the numerous immigrant communities that live in the country - Arabic being the most widespread. As in the other Scandinavian countries, English is widely used in education and society in general.
Swedish has been an official EU language since 1 January 1995, the date on which Sweden (together with Finland and Austria) joined the Union.