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Elements of context


Language issues – including language legislation, the choice of the language of education or the language to be used in legislation and the judiciary etc.– have always been linked to the peculiar political situation of the Republic of Cyprus, established in 1960, and more specifically, to the coexistence of two communities, the Greek and the Turkish community and their subsequent separation. As languages are not independent of those who speak them, the two community languages in Cyprus have followed the fortune of their speakers, namely their political and geolinguistic separation, which unavoidably also had consequences for  the language legislation itself.

From the point of view of language management –but also from the point of view of political management– the Republic of Cyprus has been a quite early example in the history of recognition of minority linguistic rights (Turkish community) and clearly illustrates the political will to ascribe an equal status to the two community languages, despite their numeric difference. Indeed, the Greek language was spoken, at the time, by a strong majority of 80%, whilst the Turkish language was spoken by a minority of 18% of the population.

The recognition of Greek and Turkish as official languages of the Republic of Cyprus as set in article 3 of the 1960 Constitution, was, therefore, a political act aimed at recognizing the two communities on the basis of an equality principle with absolute value. To be realistic, this initial provision of linguistic sharing needed to be sustained by a set of parallel measures which rendered linguistic competence in the two languages necessary in order to communicate in everyday life: this was obtained by imposing a quantitative distribution in public administration where Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots were present, according to a 7/3 ratio. This recognition applied the principle of individuality, as each citizen could use the language of their choice to communicate with public administration, a right established by article 3§8 of the Constitution.

Cyprus’s geolinguistic division, which started as early as 1963/4 and was completed after 1974, has also had important consequences on the geodemographic situation of the two official languages, in so far as they now have completely distinct areas of use: Greek is used in the free part of Cyprus, Turkish in the occupied area. The Turkish language retains, however, its official status in the non-occupied part of Cyprus, although it is not actually used any more. Its official use remains, thus, of a limited and symbolic nature: it is found in official documents, birth certificates, passports, identity cards, money etc. or –since the opening of the demarcation line between the two parts of the island in 2003– in administrative documents prepared for the benefit of Turkish Cypriots. By contrast, the Greek language has no official status in the occupied area and its use by the few hundred enclaved Greek Cypriots who are still living under Turkish administration is controlled and even sometimes prohibited.

Because of the political partition that has affected the island for more than four decades, an important part of the recent linguistic legislation applies only to Greek.


 Legal framework


The Constitution


In the text of the Constitution a certain number or articles prescribe the use of Greek and Turkish:

  • in legislative, administrative and executive documents (3§2/3)

  • in judicial proceedings (3§4)
  • in the symbols of the Republic (3§7)


On the other hand, several articles recognise the right of a citizen who is arrested (3§8), brought to court (11§6) or accused (12§5(a)) to be informed of the reasons of his or her arrest/accusation in a language they understand or, otherwise, to be able to benefit (without charge) from the services of an interpreter (12§5(e) and 30§3(e)).

Article 189 stipulates that English could be used in the judicial system, both in legislation and in court, for a period of five years starting in 1960. This period of time was deemed necessary for the translation of the legislation from English into the official languages. However, due to political problems and the gradual geopolitical separation of the Greek and Turkish communities, in 1965 the Cypriot Parliament decided to extend the five-year period until the translation of all the laws was completed. English continued to be used until 1988. Then, after a long debate, the Parliament voted law 67/1988 reaffirming the official status of Greek and Turkish and setting as a requirement the immediate translation of all the laws and the use of Greek in all procedures by 16 August 1989 at the latest. English ceased indeed to be used in courts on the expected date, but the translation of the laws was not completed until 1996. Given the political separation of the two communities, the translation related only to the Greek language. The translation of legislation into Turkish is still pending.

Since the 1980s, several laws have been voted to safeguard/promote the use of Greek in a variety of domains. Apart from the above-mentioned law (67/1988) which prescribes the use of Greek in legislation and in the courts, law 143/1989 concerns the compulsory teaching of Greek to all students attending tertiary education establishments where English is the medium of instruction. Law 5/1987 (§14) on Commercial Descriptions authorises the Minister of Commerce to intervene at any time he considers it necessary with the purpose of demanding changes “in the form” or “in the way” the information that accompanies goods or/and services is conveyed, in order to facilitate access of information to the consumers. Law 29/1985 imposes the use of Greek (and at least another foreign language) in tourism. A further bill concerning the compulsory use of Greek in advertising and commercial signs displayed in public places was discussed on several occasions but was never voted into law, because it contravened both article 19 of the Cyprus Constitution (Freedom of Speech) and article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights.



Legal provisions concerning the linguistic integration of migrants and public provisions for linguistic training available to them


Prior to 2010, Cyprus did not have a clearly stated policy concerning the linguistic integration of its immigrant population. However, the teaching of Greek as a second language to non-Greek-speaking pupils has been gradually introduced in primary and secondary public schools since 2008/9, first in the form of individual support courses then organised as an Intensive programme of learning Greek as a second language. The teaching was done in separate support classes of approximately 8 hours a week which took place within mainstream schooling. The pupils joined regular classes for the rest of the time. Since 2013, a linguistic immersion programme in welcome classes was introduced on a pilot basis. It consists of 15 hours of learning Greek and 3 hours of in-school study. The pupils join regular classes for Physical Education, Arts and Music.

In the National Action Plan 2010-12 prepared by a committee of experts to allow for the integration of immigrants who are legally resident in Cyprus, one of the eight priority pillars concerns Education and Language learning. The NAP is based on the relevant European documents, the 11 Common Basic Principles for the integration of immigrants, the Common Integration Program, the Stockholm Program and the Immigration and Asylum Pact. It lays emphasis on “… the educational needs of minors and to the development of professional skills by the adults, including learning of the Greek language. Speaking Greek contributes to social integration and better understanding of the civilisation and the different culture where the immigrant lives” and includes a certain number of actions such as organising special Greek language courses for third-country pupils and adults, using bilingual teachers or/and interpreters for the support of immigrant pupils at school, in order to facilitate learning and promote communication between pupils, teachers and their families. The programme is part of “Employment, Human Capital and Social Cohesion 2007 – 2013” funded by the European Social Fund Unit.

The body responsible for the implementation and the management of linguistic requirements is the Ministry of Education and Culture through its Adult Education Service (Epimorfotika) for support courses addressed to adult learners and through its Primary Education and Secondary Education Service for pupil courses. The Ministry of the Interior is responsible for organising and supervising the programme of teaching Greek to asylum-seekers.

The project of adult teaching of the Ministry of Education and Culture will cover the school years 2010-15, with training programmes for individuals aged 15 years and over to be offered from November to May in each school year. The Greek language programmes are offered in fifty 90-minute teaching sessions, twice a week.



Principal legal provisions in force concerning the use of regional or minority languages


The Armenian, Roman Catholic (called Latin) and Cypriot-Maronite Arab communities living on the island are recognised as religious minorities. There is no recognition of specific linguistic rights for these communities in the Constitution nor are there any specific legal measures regarding the use/protection of regional/minority languages.

Both Armenian (4/8/2005) and Cypriot Arabic (12/11/2008) – the latter quite reluctantly – were recognised as minority languages within the framework of the Charter for Regional and Minority Languages of the Council of Europe signed by Cyprus in 1992 and ratified in 2002.

The Cyprus Government partially finances the Armenian and Arab primary schools. It also partially covers the expenses of those members of the minority communities – including Turkish Cypriots living permanently in the Republic whose educational expenses are entirely covered by the Cypriot state – who wish to enrol in private educational establishments. The Ministry of Education and Culture regularly supports the cultural activities of the Armenian and Maronite communities, including – since 2007 – Cypriot Arab language courses for children and adults and the children’s summer camp that takes place every year in Kormakiti village. Since September 2012, the Ministry has also funded research with a view to the creation of an Oral Archive for Cypriot Arabic as a part of a wider revitalisation Action Plan.

In the absence of an officially recognised body responsible for language legislation, the task of putting in place and controlling the implementation of language legislation for regional/minority languages is undertaken by the Ministry of the Interior and, especially, by the Ministry of Education and Culture.



Teaching foreign languages within the education system



Foreign language teaching in public education starts as early as the first grade of elementary school (Educational Reform of 2011) with the teaching of English and continues throughout primary and secondary education conforming to the EU directive “mother tongue + 2 foreign languages”. The teaching of English continues throughout primary and secondary education (first (Gymnasio) and second (Lykeio) cycle) (number of years: 12). The teaching of French is also compulsory for the first four years of secondary education. During the fifth year, pupils – who still learn English – can choose another foreign language from the following: French, German, Spanish, Italian, Turkish and Russian (number of years: 2).

In public higher education, the teaching of 2/3 language modules is compulsory for all students. These language modules are often specialised courses (in literature, marketing, computer science etc.) in relation to the programme of studies pursued by students.

There is no provision for the teaching of immigrant languages.


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