Is Luxembourgish an endangered language?

An estimate of 390,000 people speak Luxembourgish.
Photo: LW Archive

(MSS) The Luxembourgish language is vulnerable, claims the UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger, but experts in the Grand Duchy say it is very much alive and kicking.

Looking at the criteria used to define whether a language is safe, vulnerable or at what level it is endangered, this means that most children speak the language, but that it is restricted to certain domains, like for example at home or at school.

UNESCO estimates that 390,000 people speak Luxembourgish, but only one third of children entering kindergarten in Luxembourg actually speak Luxembourgish as their mother tongue.

This means that for a majority of children, the use of the Luxembourgish language is restricted to the time spent at kindergarten and later on free time with friends, as classes in local schools are mainly taught in German or French.

Additionally, at home most youngsters will speak their native language with their parents.

However, Luxembourgish is not dying out, which the current elections posters testify to. Even though most official and government documents are published in French and German, the Grand Duchy's other two official languages, all parties have chosen Luxembourgish slogans for their campaign posters.

According to Marc Barthelemey, President of the Permanent Council of the Luxembourgish Language, this has not always been the case:

“Using Luxembourgish in writing and in formal settings is something new. For 50 years, Luxembourgish was never used at the Chamber of Deputies, for example. They only spoke French,” he explains.

“I believe that Luxembourgish has many years ahead of it, even if it's still to become a language used in writing too,” he said.

Worldwide some 3,000 languages are believed to be endangered. In Europe, Swiss German and Yiddish join Luxembourgish on the list of vulnerable languages.

At least Luxembourgish doesn't look like it will be joining the list of the 230 languages that have gone extinct since 1950 any time soon, with immigrants adding to the number of people speaking "Lëtzebuergesch" and initiatives underway to promote the use of the language.

For example, the first ever online Luxembourgish dictionary with translations to Portuguese, French, German and English is currently available from letters A to R, and is expected to be completed soon.

Check it out at lod.lu

With reporting by Virginie Orlandi

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