Delineation of languages in Europe.

I was just wondering to myself about how people use language at the borders of countries in Europe. Here in U.S. we have Canada on one side, which pretty much speaks the same language except for French Canada. And then we have Mexico on the other side, which I gather most of the people on the border towns end up at least learning basic English. I also note that this is not reciprocal.

So I was wondering, at least in Europe, there are many different countries speaking different languages very close to each other. I could see people in the middle, isolated part of the country speaking one language, but it would seem that being on the border it would be an obstacle.

How do the language borders fare in Europe?

The language map of Europe can look like a patchwork quilt, even after the excesses of empires and reichs. Countries may have a national tongue, but that doesn’t stop ethnic minorities (sometimes majorities) from speaking their own language in their own communities.

An example would be the Balkans. And if you extend “Europe” to mean the European half of Russia … well. Happy counting.

Most people in (Continental) Europe speak more than one langauge. The language of the land in which they live, usually, often English, and often the language of any land they may live near.

For instance, in France, children usually learn French, English, and either Italian, Spanish, or German depending where they live.

Switzerland is like France; English, German, French, and Italian are all common (moreso, depending on your region).

Belgium, to my understanding, is predominantly French and German.

Most people I met in Rome, particularly the teenagers, spoke English to varying degrees of fluency. Some also spoke French; some spoke French instead.

Perhaps some of the Eurodopers can give you better information…

Oh, and one note on language borders in North America:

Yes, English is fairly common near the Mexican border. Also, many people in Quebec (particularly in Montreal, although not outside it so much, IME) speak English.

Most Americans along the borders speak neither Spanish or French. Perhaps this is for economic reasons (our dollar is the most valuable of the three currencies), perhaps this is for sociological reasons (Americans are self-centered (jk!)), perhaps something else…

Being from Switzerland (as I am constantly fond of pointing out), I’ll tell you that the solution is simple: you learn at least the most common words of the other language. If you’re exposed to several languages as a child it’s not difficult to attain a working knowledge of the bordering country’s language. Also you learn to use your hands a lot. :wink:

P.S. Also some countries make more efforts than others to accomodate non-native language speakers. e.g. in Switzerland which has four national languages, almost everything is labelled in three or four languages. In Austria, on the other hand, I was surprised to notice when visiting a museum in Salzburg that the only language used on the displays was German.

French and Dutch (Belgian dialect thereof: Flamand).

Thanks for the info, but Collounsbury, I think everybody wishes they were a cheesemaker.

The boundaries between languages in Europe are still pretty organic, unlike in North America where they reflect fairly recent colonization. So as you approach the border between, say, the Netherlands and Germany, the local speech does not abruptly switch from Dutch to German. Instead you’ll find dialects that more and more closely approach German, and then German dialects that gradually move away from Dutch. This is changing somewhat with compulsory education, national television and radio channels, and so on, but hasn’t completely disappeared.

In some cases the similarities go even deeper; it doesn’t take much effort for the average Norwegian to understand the average Swede. Danes often claim they can’t tell the difference between Norwegian and Swedish.

In areas where the languages are very dissimilar, as others have already said, it isn’t unusual for children to pick up at least some basic knowledge of the neighboring language. Pidgins have also been used, such as Russonorsk, a Russian/Norwegian pidgin used when trade between the two countries was more common and less restricted (i.e. pre-USSR). I’m unaware of any European pidgins in use today, but that doesn’t say they don’t exist.

(Oh yeah, for the record, Belgium has three official languages. French in the south, Flemish/Dutch in the north, and a small pocket of German near the border. Brussels is officially bilingual French/Flemish.)