Everything is in the title.

For instance in Switzerland, the Romansh are considered an ethnic minority, even though only 36'000 people speaks the language (or I should say the languages since it is almost a different language in each valley it seems).

However, since the 1990s Yugoslav wars massive waves of refugees came to the country and kept their language and culture, despite a good portion of them now wearing Swiss passports. In 2000 there was approximately 103'000 Serbo-Croatian people, 95'000 Albanians, 90'000 Portuguese, etc., but all of those numbers probably doubled since. There is today as much Kurdish speakers than Romansh speakers in Switzerland (that is, 35 thousand people), which is interesting since those are both endangered languages/cultures.

All of them are much more numerous than the Romanshs, but they are not considered to form an ethnic or national minority at all.

If the reason for so is that they arrived in the country recently, at which point will be they considered to have been here for long enough so that they become a national minority ?

  • 2
    So you question is what is needed for a government to recognize a minority and by recognize you mean give them some sort of privilege (e.g. make their language an official one)? I'd guess that is dependent only on the relationship between the Gov and that minority, and not dependent on any objective criteria.
    – user45891
    Aug 24, 2015 at 12:14
  • @user45891 No, I don't ask what is required for a goverment to give some sort of privileges, as this is a purely political question. I ask what is needed for them to be considered a minority at all by independent (non governemental) observers. For example the Kurds in Turkey are obviously a minority even if they aren't reconized. The serbo-croats, albanians, portugueese, etc... living in Switzerland aren't even considered to be an ethnic minority, they are considered either completely foreign or completely Swiss based on their passport, with no regard to their language or culture.
    – Bregalad
    Aug 24, 2015 at 12:51
  • I tried to make it clearer with my last edit.
    – Bregalad
    Aug 24, 2015 at 12:52

1 Answer 1


That's not something that's defined in such a rigid way. Some people also object to the understanding of ethnicity as a set of discrete and mutually exclusive categories (think for example about the children of bilingual couples but also about societies where language, ethnicity and occupation were linked and people could “switch” as they changed their position in society).

You also have to consider who considers which group a minority. I certainly think Kurdish people can be considered a minority in Switzerland and perhaps some academics or activists describe them as such (I don't know any specific example in this particular case but I would not be surprised). As with many other complex social realities, you won't necessarily find a single agreed-upon definition.

On the other hand, when there are some specific (even if relatively “soft”) legal consequences, there is usually an effort to define minorities in such a way that it excludes recent migrations.

For example, the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages starts with this:

Article 1 – Definitions

For the purposes of this Charter:

"regional or minority languages" means languages that are:

traditionally used within a given territory of a State by nationals of that State who form a group numerically smaller than the rest of the State's population; and

different from the official language(s) of that State;

it does not include either dialects of the official language(s) of the State or the languages of migrants;

So for this specific purpose, the Kurdish language was deliberately excluded but not on the basis of the number of speakers.

  • It is not clear by how many years and/or generations the migrant qualifier will apply. In your particular example, the kids of Kurdish people who are Kurdish natives but never set foot of Europa, are they migrants ? What about their grandchildren and so on ?
    – Bregalad
    Aug 24, 2015 at 15:39
  • 1
    @Bregalad I almost added a note about that. To an extent, “traditionally” is a bit of a cop-out, of course everything came from somewhere at some point. So that's just as much about perception as anything else. Presumably it means something like before the 20th Century.
    – Relaxed
    Aug 24, 2015 at 16:04
  • On the flip side, I am not sure it's useful to describe children who grew up in Switzerland as “Kurdish natives”. There are many distinct situations but the fact that beliefs/attitudes/practices change from one generation to the next is well documented. Typically, the language is not transmitted beyond the second or third generation.
    – Relaxed
    Aug 24, 2015 at 16:04
  • Only time will tell whether those languages are still transmitted past the third generation. Before the 80s there was a culture of assimilation, migrants did everything to hide their foreign origin and certainly didn't speak their native language in public, certainly not to their kids. Nowadays it tends to be different and even in the case of interethnic marriages it's common that both parents transmits their own languages to their kids (sometimes resulting in trilingual kids if both parents are migrant, rare but I can name people in that case :) )
    – Bregalad
    Aug 24, 2015 at 16:53
  • 1
    @Bregalad I don't think there is any strong evidence that this is the case, the idea that recent migrants would be somehow more difficult or less willing to assimilate is a common claim (especially among people who oppose it, harbour some specific hostility or aren't used to immigration in general) but people easily forget how contentious, say, early Italian immigration in France actually was. It takes time, that's all.
    – Relaxed
    Aug 24, 2015 at 17:18

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