European Day of Languages: The Top 5 languages that haven't won Eurovision
Happy European Day of Languages! Every year on the 26th September, this day is celebrated, and its aim is to encourage language learning across Europe. Although many languages have won the Eurovision Song Contest, from English and French to Portuguese and Crimean Tatar, today we are shining a spotlight on those languages that have come close to winning but were unfortunately pipped at the post. This year marks the 20th European Day of Languages and to celebrate, we’re counting down the best of the rest – here are the top 5 languages to have never won the Eurovision Song Contest.
This list was decided primarily using the highest-placing song from each language in its respective contest, followed by percentage of available points scored to determine the final ranking of each song. Even though songs in Greek, Icelandic and Hungarian have a higher percentage of available points scored than some songs on this list, they unfortunately did not place high enough in their respective contests to have made the list.
5. Turkish - ‘Dinle’ - Şebnem Paker & Grup Etnic - 3rd place (Turkey 1997)
42.01% of available points (121 points out of 288 – average score 5.04 points)
Turkish is the most widely spoken of the Turkic languages (about 40% of all speakers of Turkic languages are native Turkish speakers), with around 70 to 80 million speakers, mostly in Turkey. Turkey is an official language of Turkey and Cyprus, and is also a native language in Azerbaijan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Kosovo, North Macedonia, and Bosnia & Herzegovina. ‘Dinle’ achieved Turkey’s best result in the Eurovision Song Contest until their victory in 2003. ‘Dinle’ translates to “listen” and this is not the only time we have had a song in a language other than English translate to this – ‘Kuula’ (“listen”) was Estonia’s 2012 Eurovision entry.
4. Bosnian - 'Lejla' - Hari Mata Hari - 3rd place (Bosnia & Herzegovina 2006)
51.58% of available points (229 points out of 444 – average score 6.19 points)
Bosnian is the official language of Bosnia & Herzegovina, and is an officially recognised minority language in Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Kosovo. The language is closely related to Serbian and Croatian, and there are an estimated 2.5-3 million native speakers (as of 2008). 'Lejla' is Bosnia & Herzegovina’s best result in the Eurovision Song Contest to date.
3. Udmurt - ‘Party for Everybody’ – Buranovskiye Babushki - 2nd place (Russia 2012)
52.64% of available points (259 points out of 492 - average score 6.31 points)
Udmurt is the native language of the Udmurt people, whose homelands in Udmurtia lie west of the Ural mountains in Russia. Given that the Ural mountains serve as a continental border of Europe, technically, Udmurt is a European language. Though linguistics nerds may disagree, seeing as the language does not have Indo-European roots, but rather, is distantly related to Finno-Ugric languages such as Finnish, Estonian and Hungarian. In a Russian interview, when a member of the Buranovskiye Babushki was asked what the Udmurt lyrics of ‘Party for Everybody’ meant in English, she replied:
"We sing about lighting the oven, kneading dough, and spreading out a tablecloth while waiting for the children to come home. And we say when our children come home, we will have fun and dance."
2. Russian - ‘Ne ver’, ne boisya’ – t.A.T.u. - 3rd place (Russia 2003)
54.67% of available points (164 points out of 300 – average score 6.56 points)
Russian is an official language of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, as well as being widely spoken throughout the Baltic states, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. Russian is one of the six official languages of the United Nations, and in 2010, there were 259.8 million speakers of Russian in the world, making it the 7th most spoken language by number of native speakers and the 8th most widely-spoken language by number of total speakers. ‘Ne ver’, ne boisya’ translates to “don’t trust, don’t fear”, which is based on a Russian prison saying. This marks the first time that Russia sent an entry in Russian to the Eurovision Song Contest since the language rule was lifted in 1999.
Honourable mention: Imaginary language - ‘Sanomi’ – Urban Trad - 2nd place (Belgium 2003)
55% of available points (165 points out of 300 – average score 6.6 points)
This song technically makes it onto the list despite not being a real language! However, because it isn't real language, we must give it only an honourable mention. This was the first occasion that a song not in a natural language has been performed at Eurovision, and resulted in one of the closest finishes ever, finishing just 2 points behind the winner of that year’s contest, 'Every Way That I Can' by Sertab Erener.
1. Polish - ‘To nie ja!’ – Edyta Górniak - 2nd place (Poland 1994)
57.64% of available points (166 points out of 288 – average score 6.92 points)
Polish is one of the official languages of the European Union, as well as being the official language of Poland and the native language of the Poles. There are over 50 million Polish-language speakers around the world. Poland’s impressive debut at Eurovision marks their best result in the contest to date. ‘To nie ja!’ translates to “it wasn’t me!” – the song is a dramatic ballad where Edyta sings about not being Eve, referring to the Biblical figure, and to not blame her for the sins of that person.
The Polish language has been more successful at Junior Eurovision, with the most recent 2 winners of the contest to date ‘Anyone I Want To Be’ and ‘Superhero’ both featuring the Polish language. Can Poland replicate the same success with the Polish language in the adult contest in years to come?