Languages, identities and collective emotions in the EU

Co-funded by the European Commission, the Jean Monnet Chair FELICE aims at bringing European multilingualism and multiculturality closer to students of Humanities, the general public and professionals in various fields (language teaching, translation, linguistic services, etc).

United in diversity

The official motto of the European Union reads In variate concordia (i.e. United in diversity).

During the last decades, the number of studies aimed at promoting around the world the knowledge and understanding of this unique process of integration has continuously increased all around the globe. These studies have traditionally focused on the ongoing process of legal, political and economic union, which could be mistakenly interpreted as an indicator of the prominently commercial nature of the Union, hindering our understanding of the European Union as the result of a process of human integration in diversity. In fact, nowadays it is more than obvious that what started in 1957 as a European Economic Community (EEC) has now become a fully-fledged and highly integrated Union of European citizens first, and of member states second. But in order to promote a better understanding of the European Union, we also need full awareness of the exact nature of European human and cultural diversity and of its prominent role as a factor of integration.

On the tracks of European identity

As Europeans, we are united not only by centuries of shared history, as reflected by our contemporary European cultures and languages, but also by a wide set of idiosyncratically shared stake, interests, values and goals that are at the basis of our European identity. Briefly put, the European Union is not to be seen as the mere result of an artificial union of political or economic interests (a vision frequently, but by any means uninterestedly, promoted by numerous representatives of populist, anti-Europeanist currents). Rather, the European Union is a natural union of citizens who have finally become aware of the fact that what they share in common is much more substantial than their regional or national differences (which, nevertheless, are to be seen as another important factor of integration).

This human-centred vision of the European Union becomes much more relevant in a period when, as now, nationalism and regionalism have become a major ground of concern in our continent, and the parties and leaders that represent these currents require less Europe and more power back to the nation states, as a magical and immediate solution to the very complex problems faced by today’s world. Many contemporary processes illustrate the rise of these currents in today’s Europe. Furthermore, these processes represent important challenges to ongoing European integration, in so far as they indicate that relatively large parts of the population of Europe are not completely aware of the exact nature of the European Union and that this lack of information (or even misinformation, as in the case of fake news) is a perfect crop field for populisms of any kind, with their emotional-loaded discourses. This challenge needs immediate action not only from politicians but also from the civil society, and this obviously includes the academic world.

Europe as a linguistic hotspot

Europe is an open continent. Constant interaction with other languages and cultures is an integral part of our history and of our future. Due to this openness and interaction, multiculturality is tightly woven into the fabric of the EU. The continuous flux of people and languages that characterizes our continent has changed every single European region, bringing people from very different cultural backgrounds together.

In a situation of growing cultural complexity, it is urgent to avoid the emergence of new, invisible borders within our societies by enhancing mutual understanding. This requires new approaches to intercultural dialogue, that take into consideration the various ways in which cultures relate to one another, awareness of cultural commonalities and shared goals, and the identification of the challenges to be met in reconciling cultural differences.

Within this context, one main aim of the Council of Europe is the promotion of linguistic diversity and language learning. Not only the official languages of the EU, but also regional, minority and inmigrant languages, are promoted within this language policy in order to expand plurilingualism, understood as the lifelong development of the individual’s plurilingual skills. Plurilingual education promotes not only the study of other languages, but also an awareness of how a language is learnt and a respect for the cultures embodied in languages.

The European Union: An emotional community?

The idea of this Jean Monnet project arises from a personal concern about the alarming rise of populism in contemporary Europe. As a lecturer and a researcher, I have devoted most of my carrier to topics related to language and cultural variation in Europe: in line with the EU postulates, for nearly 30 years of teaching and research (since 1990) in a European university, I have tried to emphasize a vision of language and cultural diversity in Europe not only as an added value, but also as a strong factor of identity development.

Moreover, given my specific interest in the study of the linguistic and visual expressions of emotions (both diachronically and synchronically) in a variety of cultural and linguistic areas around the European continent, I have maintained frequent discussions on this topic with students and colleagues (some of which are also participating in this proposal), which has led us to the conclusion that emotions and their expression have become a most powerful tool of social and political influence, especially in terms of the development of shared identities. Very much in line with Moïsi’s (2009) Geopolitics of Emotions, such negative feelings as anger, hatred, fear or shame are more present than ever in public communication (numerous big data companies are now developing very sophisticated methodologies of analysis of these emotional expressions in, for example, social media, with political purposes; Trump’s 2016 electoral campaign is a clear illustration of this trend).

Given this background, the Jean Monnet Chair described here opens an academic debate on the role of linguistic variation, identities and shared emotions as important markers of distinct European identity and, consequently, as important human factors of European integration. In order to do so, we have organized and will be delivering (between 2019 and 2021) the varied set of activities desbribed in this web (aimed not only at an academic audience but also at the general public), where we will try to stress the existence of a common set of ‘feelings’ (in the broadest sense of the word) that amply justify a re-definition of modern Europeans either as a large, multilingual and multicultural emotional community or as a succession of intimately linked communities.