Fighting the Eurovision Norm

December 2, 2011 by totalityservices

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The prohibition of English and the exposure of rare languages?

Most of us will be familiar with the Eurovision Song Contest which graces our screens offering up cheesy Euro Pop tunes, which are ever increasingly in English. In essence, singing songs in English in a European song competition seems to defeat the purpose. Whilst many Europeans can, and do, speak English very well (probably better than a lot of people in the UK), if they choose to sing in English instead of their national language this could be seen as a snub to their linguistic identity. However, many justify it with the reason of not wanting to exclude anyone and to increase the exposure of their songs.

Some Europeans, however, are doing the opposite and fighting to save their linguistic heritage and cultural roots through the art of music by performing at the Liet International Song Contest. This is a vocal competition with a difference in that the contestants are singing in endangered or minority languages, incidentally singing in English is prohibited. Many of the musicians are well known in their region, but, often, rarely beyond and have now been given this opportunity to not only promote themselves but also their minority language.

The Liet song contest was established in 2002, and has since enjoyed increasing success, with the latest event attracting a 2000 strong audience. The competition was created so as to provide minority language speakers an outlet for their music. Musical genres vary from rock, to pop, to hip-hop with a sprinkling of folk, traditional and electronica. In November of 2011 the competition was held in Udine, Italy and was won by Janna Eijer, a young soloist singing her own songs in the Frisian language.

UNESCO has estimated that there are around 7000 languages spoken worldwide, 2500 of which are classed as ‘endangered’. And it is also estimated that there over 40 million people in Europe who speak one of these endangered languages. Some of the minority languages featured in the competition were Irish, Croatian, Gaelic, Sápmi, Ladinian, Vepsian,  Udmurtian, Friulian, Rumantsch, Basque and Asturian.  The contestants are making a conscious effort to promote these languages and to prolong their existence – which is vitally important if these tongues are not to face the same fate as the dodo.

It may not be as glittery and shiny as its mainstream counterpart but the Liet competition is equally important, if not more so. Its aim isn’t for commercial success or exposure but as one Frisian rapper succinctly put it “If you want to be a big success you don’t perform in a small language. These acts are playing for the music’s sake and for their own people. It’s a very different mindset.”

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