English as threat or resource in continental Europe.

Posted on in Politics and languages 3 view

 

 

 

English as threat or resource in continental Europe

Robert Phillipson

Copenhagen Business School

The internationalisation and commodification of European higher education mean that Danish universities, such as the one where I work, are increasingly expected to run like businesses, to profile and market themselves competitively. One symptom of this is an increasing use of English. This trend in communication in the university world dovetails with comparable developments in commerce, politics, the media, and youth culture, due to the impact of the interlocking processes of Americanisation, globalisation and europeanisation. The expansion of English is central to these processes, and influences local, national and international languages and linguistic identities. I shall explore some of the implications of this by reporting on some historical aspects of European unification and Americanisation, some of the intrinsic paradoxes of language policy in Europe, which account for its relative neglect, on whether the expansion of English constitutes a threat to other languages, and the need for more pro-active language policies that strengthen linguistic diversity.

In principle the European Union is strongly committed to maintaining the cultural and linguistic diversity of Europe. This principle is articulated in treaties and in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU (2000): “The Union shall respect cultural, religious and linguistic diversity” (Article 22). In theory eleven languages have equal rights as official and working languages in the supranational EU institutions, but the reality is more complicated, for reasons that will be explored briefly. The management of multilingualism is very complex, and the imminent enlargement of the EU with additional states and languages will make matters even more complicated. Just as the political integration process blurs the borderline between national sovereignty and shared supranational policies, languages do not respect national borders and their use at the supranational level reflects hierarchies of language nationally and internationally.

One of the motive forces behind bringing the economies of European states together was to establish forms of interdependence that would render military aggression impossible. This was to be achieved by settling territorial disputes between France and Germany and by ensuring that the re-industrialisation process after the destruction of the 1939-45 war should address the needs and mutual suspicions of these countries and of the countries that the Nazis had occupied. Investment from outside Europe was essential for this, and could only come from one source, namely the USA. The Marshall Plan was part of a strategy to position America as the pre-eminent force globally through the Bretton Woods agreements on trade, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations, and NATO. A successful economy in western Europe was seen as an essential bulwark against the communist bloc.

American goals have been explicit and consistent since World War II. In 1948, the State Department’s senior imperial planner, George Kennan, wrote: “We have 50 per cent of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3 per cent of its population. In this situation, our real job in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which permit us to maintain this position of disparity. To do so, we have to dispense with all sentimentality… we should cease thinking about human rights, the raising of living standards and democratisation”. President Bush II is visibly cast in this mould, as clearly articulated by Condoleezza Rice, his foreign affairs adviser: “The rest of the world is best served by the USA pursuing its own interests because American values are universal”.

The formation of the first EU institutions thus involved a mixture of American and European motives. Some on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1940s had plans for a “United States of Europe”, an idea which pacifist visionaries like Victor Hugo had mooted a century earlier. Ernest Renan, famous for stating that the nation is a daily referendum, wrote in 1882:.”No state or nation is eternal. Sooner or later all will be supplanted by something else, possibly a European confederation.’(1) The USA insisted, as a condition for Marshall aid, on the economies of European states being coordinated and integrated. American pressure was therefore decisive for the form of European collaboration that was put in place from the late 1940s, the European Coal and Steel Community (1952), and the European Economic Community (1958). The first sketch of a European Political Community, with an Executive Council, a Court of Justice, and a Parliament was produced in 1953.

The principle of parity for the languages of the participating states was established at this time, initially four, and now eleven. The relative strength of French in EU affairs is attributable to its earlier use in international relations, to the location of EU institutions in cities in which French was widely used, Brussels, Luxembourg, and Strasbourg, and to speakers of French, along with the Germans, occupying the political high ground in shaping the new Europe.

 

The British were ambivalent about joining the EU because of their imperial links, and their belief that they have a special relationship with the USA. De Gaulle blocked British entry in the 1960s because he saw Britain as a Trojan horse for American interests. When President Pompidou agreed to Britain “joining Europe” in 1972, it is reported that one condition he insisted on was that the pre-eminence of French as the dominant language of EU institutions should remain unchallenged. Although nominally  there was parity between the EEC official languages, French was primus inter pares. Pompidou’s worries about the risk of the French language being eclipsed by English were fully justified, as English is growing like a linguistic cuckoo in the main EU nests.

The promotion of English worldwide has been central to British and American global strategy since 1945 (2), the British Council playing a key role in maintaining the position of English in postcolonial states, and in the post-communist world where globalisation was preached through the trinity of the market economy, human rights, and English. As the Annual Report of the British Council for 1960-61 states:

Teaching the world English may appear not unlike an extension of the task which America faced in establishing English as a common national language among its own immigrant population.

The consequences of US language policy for immigrant and indigenous languages have been dire. It is also important to recall that national policies also determine American global strategies, and that English is central to both. This has, of course, also been true of the United Kingdom over several centuries.

According to some senior Americans, the world can simply dispense with all languages other than English. In 1997 the US ambassador to Denmark, who came straight from the corporate world, where else, was rash enough to say in my wife’s hearing at a luncheon at the University of Roskilde: “The most serious problem for the European Union is that it has so many languages, this preventing real integration and development of the Union.” A 1997 CIA report states that the following five years would be decisive in the establishment of English as the sole international language. The very idea that there is a single international language is of course nonsense. There are literally hundreds of international lingua francas in use, but the myth of the global use of English is widely believed in, especially by those who benefit from their proficiency in English, including academic cheer-leaders of linguistic globalisation.

 

George Monbiot’s book, Captive state: The corporate take-over of Britain (Macmillan, 2000), documents the many ways in which corporate power determines national and local government policy in countless fields, including agriculture, energy, the environment, urban planning, the health system, university research, and general education. The consolidation of an EU common market and monetary union has put into effect the wishes of the corporate world, coordinated by the European Round Table of Industrialists, an association of the chief executives of 46 of the biggest companies in Europe (op.cit., 320). This lobbying group is also directly involved in setting the terms for the enlargement of the EU with the countries of eastern and central Europe (ibid., 324). In negotiations on admission, all documents from applicant states have to be provided exclusively in English.

The Transatlantic Business Dialogue brings together American and European corporations, and dovetails with the G8 and related heads of state networks. There is increasingly a single state-corporate structure. There are plans for a single market incorporating Europe and North America, a Transatlantic Economic Partnership, which will develop “a worldwide network of bilateral agreements with identical conformity procedures” (cited ibid., 329). Monbiot summed up these developments two years before the Johannesburg Earth Summit, and nothing has changed to disprove his analysis (ibid., 329-330):

Before long…only a minority of nations will lie outside a single, legally harmonised global market, and they will swiftly find themselves obliged to join. By the time a new world trade agreement has been negotiated, it will be irrelevant, for the WTO’s job will already have been done. Nowhere on earth will robust laws protecting the environment or human rights be allowed to survive. Elected representatives will, if these plans for a new world order succeed, be reduced to the agents of a global government: built, coordinated and run by corporate chief executives.

Despite this powerful trend, in which English is pivotal, multilingualism is endorsed in countless EU pronouncements. Decisions emanating from Brussels, agreed on by the fifteen member states (and 70-80 per cent of national legislation involves implementing decisions taken in Brussels), are disseminated in the eleven languages. There are comprehensive interpretation and translation services in EU institutions that attempt to ensure that speakers of each of the official languages have equal voice and effect. An ever-expanding range of topics is being added to the EU’s remit, including culture. In theory the EU does not legislate on education, but it is deeply involved in agenda-setting, funding countless schemes and research, and in the reform and standardisation of higher education. This raises the question of how far language policy is still the preserve of the individual state, or can now be considered a matter for the Union. Can a member state do what it pleases, provided it pays at least lip-service to the language rights expressed in conventions, charters and EU treaties?

Such questions, as well as the management of multilingualism internally in EU institutions, have been subjected to astonishingly little scholarly research. A recent doctoral study in international law in the US concludes that French language protection measures (the Loi Toubon) are in conflict with the Maastricht Treaty and the principles of a common market with the free movement of goods, services, labour and capital. Corporate lawyers may therefore soon choose to challenge national language legislation on precisely these grounds. The American doctoral student has a solution to all that linguistic diversity:

 

It is worthwhile to consider whether the EU should answer the call for uniformity on the issue of language business transactions and further protect itself against the potential onslaught of language regulation by each individual MemberState. One potential action the EU might take would be to declare a common language in the EU market.(3)

 

She argues along predictable lines: rapid access to information, efficiency, saving money on translation, eliminating “national technical obstacles”, all arguments that relate to the producer rather than the consumer. She pleads for the termination of the “cultural protectionism of nations”, invokes the strong role of English in the world marketplace, and English as a widely learned foreign language (which is correct), English as the “common linguistic denominator” of all European countries (which is rubbish), and “U.S. advances in the areas of technology and science” (which we in Europe are supposed to be grateful for). The EU should act so as to prevent “one nation from frustrating the fundamental principles of the supranational governing body” (a comment which reveals little insight into the principles of EU decision-making). Her parting shot is that adopting a single language would serve, “to unify, rather than divide, Member States.” (op.cit., 202). Here is the monolingual worldview of Americanisation being subtly marketed as europeanisation under cover of globalisation.

Now it may well be that European governments are not waiting to follow this advice. Several have introduced or are contemplating legislation to resist the advance of English. However, the Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law is presumably read by American corporate lawyers, who might choose to test the principle in court, and the outcome of any litigation in the European Court of Justice is unpredictable. But it appears that the Commission may be saving them the trouble and expense.

In July 2002 the Commission sent a “formal notice of complaint” (French “lettre de mise en demeure”) to the French government stating that the national requirement that food products should be labelled in French (following French legislation) is in conflict with Eurolaw. There has as yet been little litigation in this area, and the decisions are far from unambiguous (4), as indeed is the relevant Council directive (5) on the harmonisation of member states’ legislation on the labelling and packaging of food products. European case law is seen as holding that national law cannot require use of a specific language if the message can be expressed by other means, which can be another language that is easily comprehensible to the purchaser, possibly supported pictorially. The Commission’s intervention suggests that it is possible that the transition from a single market to a single marketing language has begun.

 

The Commission’s action is seen by many in France as the thin edge of the wedge. According to L’Allíance pour la souveraineté de la France, in a press communiqué (6) entitled “Europe is attacking the well-informed housewife”, the Commission is working to “impose anglo-american” throughout the EU… “the construction of Europe means its destruction for the benefit of mercantile America”. A body called “Défense de la langue française”(7) organised a public demonstration in January 2003, even though the French government has revised its regulations so as to conform to Eurolaw requirements. It has resolved the issue by issuing a new ministerial order that maintains the obligation that products are described in French, but stipulates that other languages can be used in addition (8). That will not be the end of the affair. This example of a dispute between the Commission and a national government epitomises how inadequately language policies are handled.

A second example that hit the headlines was a proposal to change one of the internal translation procedures in the Commission in Brussels, as part of a cost-saving exercise. The plan was leaked to the French government, as a result of which a joint letter was sent by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of France and Germany, Hubert Védrine and Joschka Fischer, to Romano Prodi, the President of the Commission, on 2 July 2001. The letter accused the Commission of attempting to introduce “monolingualism” in EU institutions, which was a coded reference to English being installed as the sole in-house working language, and that this represented an unacceptable departure from the current system. Prodi’s reply, dispatched in French and German, asserts that multilingualism is of cardinal importance to the EU, that nothing had been decided, but that efficiency and savings in the language services need to be looked into. The impending enlargement of the EU made action even more important.

By this stage, press coverage had identified a “plot to impose English on the EU” (Irish Times), “Fischer and Védrine against more English” (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung), “Kinnock”s language plan riles the French” (The Independent), and so on. Much of the press coverage contains inaccurate statements about the present system and its costs, and engages in fanciful and nationalistic interpretation. The exchange of letters and the press reports clearly reveal that an existential nerve had been touched. The two disputes are perfect examples of the recurrent underlying tension between national interests and supranational ones, and the absence of adequate procedures and principles for resolving the issues.

I fear this is generally the case at the supranational level, and often nationally, even in countries which have given some thought to language policy, like France. French efforts have influenced the endorsement of linguistic diversity in EU proclamations, but there tends to be more special pleading for French rather than for rights for all relevant languages (9).

Many factors account for language policy not being handled more smoothly and competently.

  • There are major differences in the ideologies underpinning the formation of states, and in the role ascribed to language in these (the national romantic tradition, jus sanguinis, Herder, as in Germany, and the republican tradition, jus soli, citizenship, as in France). Language issues are therefore understood differently in different countries, including such basic notions as language and dialect, this impeding a shared understanding of language policy issues.
  • Levels of awareness about language policy issues range widely between and within each EU country. They tend to be relatively high in, for instance, Finland and Greece, but often with a very selective focus, and low in Denmark and England.
  • There is a poor scholarly infrastructure at European universities and research institutes for the analysis of language policy, multilingualism, and language rights, reflecting a lack of investment in this field.
  • Responsibility for language policy in each country tends to be shared between ministries of foreign affairs, education, culture, research, and commerce. They each tend to have little expertise in language policy, and between them there is inadequate coordination, if any. In countries with a federal structure, responsibility is even more diffuse.
  • As English is used extensively by native and non-native speakers from different parts of the world, there is no simple correlation between English and the interests of a particular state. The connection of English to the dominant economic system, and its entrenchment as the most widely learned foreign language in schools (much more successfully in northern than southern Europe), and to global networking remains.

A laissez faire policy thus involves major risks for all languages other than English. Leaving language policy to market forces, nationally and in the supranational institutions, is a recipe for more English and less of the other languages.

Clarifying whether the advance of English entails the submerging of other languages would require exploration of a range of language functions and contexts. As eleven languages are being used and developed in parallel in EU institutions, one can argue that all are being strengthened internationally, though not necessarily in equal measure, and without the hierarchy of languages being challenged.

I won’t go into the tricky question of the functioning of the translation or interpretation services, but merely mention that they are generally branded as excessively costly, whereas they in fact currently account for only 0.8 per cent of the total budget for all EU institutions, meaning 2 euros per year for each European citizen (which is peanuts compared with agricultural subsidies). This is a modest price to pay for a principle that use of the languages of each member state is an obligation, especially when preparing and agreeing on a constant stream of documents with the force of law in each member state.

 

The parity of the 11 official languages of the EU is a complex question, which journalistic coverage of language issues, typically triggered by a crisis of some sort, seldom does justice to (10). Language policies in Europe reflect many unresolved and interlocking paradoxes and tensions:

  • a legacy of “nation” states, “national” interests and languages, BUT supranational integration, and the internationalisation of many domains, commerce, finance, education, science, politics, and civil society in EU member states;
  • the formal equality of EU member states and their languages, BUT a pecking order of states and languages, currently visible in the shift from French to English as the primary working language in EU institutions. The figures for draft documents reflect a dramatic shift over the past twenty years from mainly French to mainly English (11);
  • the onward thrust of americanisation, cultural homogenisation (“McDonaldisation”), and the hegemony of English, BUT the celebration of European linguistic diversity, multilingualism, cultural and linguistic hybridity, and some support for minority and national language rights;
  • languages seen as purely technical, pragmatic tools, BUT languages as existential identity markers for individuals, cultures, ethnic groups, and states;
  • language policy as a matter of practical functioning, BUT language policy as “politically sensitive”, a coded way of politicians, eurocrats and diplomats acknowledging that they do not know how to reform the present regime, or improve EU internal and external communication, an issue which enlargement complexifies;
  • Germanyas a demographically and economically dominant force in Europe, BUT German progressively marginalised in scholarship, commerce, youth culture, and in the global linguistic marketplace, in similar ways to a reduction in the power of French internationally. The emergence of English as the foremost foreign language in Europe, because of its obvious functional utility, entails the submergence of other languages as foreign languages, and few education systems are seriously addressing the question of ensuring diversity in language learning, whether of foreign, regional minority or neighbouring languages;
  • English being promoted as a linguistic panacea, BUT of the 378 million citizens of the member states, only 61 million speak English as a mother tongue, less than half of the rest are proficient in English as a foreign language, and the proportion speaking it confidently varies greatly from country to country (12). It is ironic that states invest heavily in the learning of a language that symbolises cultural imperialism, and awareness of the forms and mechanisms of cultural and linguistic imperialism is very patchy and often non-existent.

Clarity when discussing EU language policy is elusive because many of the central concepts are muddled and used inconsistently. I will give you three examples:

  • In theory all eleven languages have the same status as official and working languages. In practice there tends to be a restriction of “working language” to French and English, and for certain purposes, German too. This terminological confusion (which is present in the letter written to Romano Prodi by the French and German foreign ministers referred to earlier) is symptomatic of an acceptance of a hierarchy of languages. Some languages are more equal than others.
  • Secondly, “lingua franca” tends to be used as though there is equality between users of the relevant language, but is it likely that native and non-native speakers of French or English perform on a level linguistic playing-field? The innocuous label conceals the power dimension that privileges some and disadvantages others. Use of the mother tongue does not, of course, guarantee intelligibility. People who function regularly in several languages are more likely to be sensitive in their use of language in intercultural communication than monolinguals.
  • Thirdly, the designations “native/non-native” take some users of the language as being authentic and infallible, and stigmatise others as not being the real thing. Work has begun in English as a Foreign Language teaching circles to describe and upgrade the English of continental Europeans, for several reasons (13). English is used effectively by countless people for whom it is not a first language, so the “ownership” of English is changing, and perhaps these users should be seen as fluent users of a non-national, post-national language rather than as deficient users of mother-tongue English. This is an attractive principle, but whether it has any implications for language pedagogy is unclear. The assumed virtues of native speakers currently give them a colossal advantage, not least on the job market, and not only as language teachers. The Commission and the Council of Europe have been taken to task for illegitimately favouring native speakers of English when advertising posts that all EU citizens should have had equal access to. Monitoring this practice should be undertaken by the EU Ombud institution, but as yet its powers are tightly constrained.

So some of our basic concepts in language policy are misleading. Permeating the structural and ideological factors that snarl up analysis at the supranational level of language policy, there is the banal reality of people talking at cross-purposes, with or without the assistance of interpreters. The unresolved paradoxes remain. The challenge of more equitable, visionary language policies has yet to be met.

Participation in EU activities by vast numbers of civil servants, experts, academics, teachers, and NGOs, adds a supranational linguistic identity to the existing national linguistic identities. Confident users of English and French, whether as a first or second language, are in a privileged position. And needless to say, foreign languages can be learned successfully, even by the British and the French. In continental Europe, English has traditionally been learned additively, and until recently it has been difficult to imagine that speakers of German or Swedish run any risk of their mother tongues being marginalised or atrophying at the individual or group level. This picture may well be changing. This is due to the inroads English is making in many domains.

The cover of the European edition of Business Week of 13 August 2001 asked in a banner headline “Should everyone speak English?”. The inside story was flagged as “The Great English divide. In Europe, speaking the lingua franca separates the haves from the have-nots”. The cover drawing portrays twin business executives: one communicates successfully, the English speaker; the other is mouthless, speechless. Competence in English is here projected as being imperative throughout Europe in the commercial world. By implication, proficiency in other languages gets you nowhere. The article describes how more and more continental European companies are switching over to English as the in-house corporate language. It also describes how English for business is big business for English language schools. It has been described as second in importance to the British economy after North Sea oil.

 

English as the Tyrannosaurus Rex of scientific communication (14) is no extinct beast. In some faculties in Norway, scholars are rewarded for publications in English by a large bonus, whereas anything in the local language triggers a paltry one. The tendency is for “international” publication to be seen as intrinsically superior, even in countries with a long history of national scholarship, and this influences employment criteria and choice of research topic. The dominance of English as a language of science, both in publications and in postgraduate training, is increasingly under scrutiny, with alarm bells ringing in Austria(15), Denmark, Germany and elsewhere.

 

Two recent developments in the Nordic countries deserve special mention (16). The Nordic Council of Ministers commissioned research in 2001 on possible domain loss in the Nordic languages, a laudable exercise, because while everybody seems to have an opinion on language policy, there is often a dearth of hard data actually documenting trends. The reports suggest that there is a risk of the Nordic languages suffering attrition in some domains, particularly in scientific and technological activity. The Swedish government also established a parliamentary commission to evaluate whether Swedish was under threat from English, and to elaborate an action plan to ensure that Swedish remains a complete language, learned and used well by its first and second language speakers, and retains its full rights as an EU official and working language. The plan also aims to ensure that Swedes are equipped to function well in foreign languages, particularly English, and that Swedes from a minority language background enjoy language rights. A massive national consultation process is currently under way, to lead to legislation in 2004. This nation-state is apparently shifting from monolingualism to a differentiated spectrum of multilingualism.

There is nothing new about functional differentiation among several languages. Christian Wilster, a poet who was the first person to translate Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey from Greek into Danish, wrote in 1827: “Every gentleman who took his education seriously only put pen to paper in Latin, spoke French to the ladies, German to his dog, and Danish to his servants.” Since that time we have experienced the heyday of the monolingual nation state throughout Europe, a stranglehold that is being eased apart by Americanisation and Europeanisation. We are now experiencing the erosion of the monopoly of a unifying and stratifying national language in nation-states. This raises many language rights issues (17). It is possible that access to the dominant international language will be the key distinction marking out haves and have-nots in continental European countries, in a much broader sense than Business Week intended. Broadly speaking this is the role of English intranationally in postcolonial states, where English opens doors for the few and firmly closes them for the many. In much of Europe, competence in English is becoming a prerequisite for access to higher education and employment, in tandem with preferred forms of communication in the national language. States are adjusting to globalisation, which impacts on language policy overtly and covertly. It is not at all clear to what extent states are deciding on national language policy, or whether the initiative has already passed to EU institutions, the boardrooms of transnational corporations, and English-using gatekeepers in countless domains.

 

The EU has basically steered clear of the issue, apart from needing to address the functioning of its institutions internally and externally in a selected set of languages. The Copenhagen summit in December 2002 was primarily concerned with reaching agreement on terms for the accession of new member states. At the press conference with heads of state from the existing and potential states when agreement was reached, the banner headline behind the politicians read “One Europe” in one language only. This prompted the Spanish Foreign Secretary, Ana Palacio, to write in El País on 16 December 2002: “The motto ‘One Europe’, solely in English, requires a reflection. Even though Copenhagen did not face the question of languages, this is one of the pending subjects that sooner rather than later must be debated for the very survival and viability of this project of Europe with a world vocation. Within it, Spanish, one of the official UN languages, spoken by more than 400 million people in more than 20 countries, must take on the place it is entitled to.”

Precisely what this “place” should be is unclear because the issue of languages at the European level has not been openly addressed. The topic is “explosive”, according to the chair of the group of French members of the European Parliament, Pierre Lequiller, at a meeting called to discuss on 11 June 2003 a Rapport sur la diversité linguistique au sein de l’Union européenne, prepared by Michel Herbillon.

The Convention on the Future of Europe did not address language policy issues, even if the goals of recent EU reforms include increasing accountability and better communication between EU institutions and citizens. The Convention chose to ignore “Linguistic proposals for the future of Europe”, submitted by the Europa Diversa (18) group, which pleads for more active policies to strengthen linguistic diversity, for funding for all autochthonous European languages, for the subsidiarity principle to ensure that power and self-regulation in language affairs should be as decentralised as possible, and for a public debate on reform of the language regime in EU institutions. The Convention also chose to ignore a submission from Le droit de Comprendre – Groupement d’associations pour l’action (Avenir de la langue française, Association pour la sauvegarde et l’expansion de la langue française, Défense de la langue française, Résistance à l’agression publicitaire) to the effect that

 

• Un domaine fondamental de la culture et de l’identité des peuples a été passé sous silence par les autorités politiques, celui des langues.

• Ce terrain abandonné a été investi par les commissaires et les fonctionnaires de la Commission, ou des autres institutions, pour imposer un choix linguistique, sans souci de l’avis des citoyens et de leurs représentants. Ce choix se porte d’une manière évidente sur l’anglais, langue unique de l’Europe.

 

On the European Day of Languages, 26 September 2003, the Comité de coordination pour la démocratie linguistique en Europe (which includes a substantial number of NGOs in France, Germany and elsewhere) launched the Appeal L’EUROPE SERA MULTILINGUE OU NE SERA PAS. Apart from some French government activity early in 2003 stressing the use of French, the political world seems to be paralysed in the field of language policy.

 

This immobility on the language issue is extremely worrying, as inaction can only serve to strengthen English and weaken other languages. In the internal affairs of EU institutions there are constant pressures to make savings in the administration of the translation and interpretation services. These pressures are increasing because of the imminent arrival of the languages of new member states. Different policies are need for the various functions and services that the EU provides. There is nothing odious about a restricted number of languages being used by permanent employees of an institution that brings together people from different backgrounds. Eurocrats can be expected to function in three languages, the mother tongue and two others, and this should be demanded particularly of those who have French or English as their mother tongue. In such employment, a higher level of proficiency can be expected in reading and listening than in writing or speaking. By contrast, it is unreasonable to expect representatives of member states, national politicians, civil servants and experts, to function as well in a foreign language as in their mother tongue. In theory they are not expected to do so, since interpretation and translation serve to facilitate interaction across language borders, and often do so impressively, but in practice there are many logistic problems in drafting complex texts in parallel in several languages, and having texts ready on time.

Change must tackle the fundamental paradoxes in EU language policy, clarify the criteria that can lead to equitable multilingual communication, and implement policy and practice that respect linguistic human rights and strengthen linguistic diversity. There is therefore an urgent need to bring together all the relevant stake-holders in language policy. There is a lot of relevant experience worldwide, though far too little is known to decision-makers nationally and supranationally. Most of the books by social scientists on European integration devote very little space to language policy and reveal gross ignorance. They tend to regard an expansion of English as unproblematical. The issues are, in my view, so complex that they need book-length treatment. My book English-only Europe? Language policy challenges (Routledge, 2003) (19) attempts to move from describing the past and present of languages in Europe to a set of 45 specific recommendations that are designed to ensure language a higher profile and more competent treatment. They are grouped into four categories covering:

  • national and supranational language policy infrastructure,
  • EU institutions,
  • language teaching and learning,
  • research.

 

Hopefully recommendations will not merely remain informed speculation until the political will is generated bottom-up and top-down to move away from laissez faire and crude national agendas to a more inclusive agenda that converts the EU rhetoric of maintaining diversity into reality. No language is intrinsically evil or good. English can be used to ensure the emergence of a more equitable European linguistic order.

 

————————————————–

1) Cited in Davies, Norman 1996. Europe: a history. London: Pimlico.

2) Phillipson, Robert 1992. Linguistic imperialism. Oxford: Oxford University Press

3) Feld, S.A. 1998. Language and the globalization of the economic market: the regulation of language as a barrier to free trade. Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, 31: 153-202. The citation is from page 199.

4) The relevant cases are summarised in English-only Europe? Language policy challenges, Robert Phillipson, London: Routledge, 2003, 157-160.

5) 2000/13/EF, of 20 March 2002.

6) On 28 July 2002, , see also <www.voxlatina.com>.

7) www.langue-francaise.org.

8) Décret no 2002-1025 du 1 août 2002 art 1, Journal Officiel du 2 août 2002. It is known as the “Decret Dutreil”.

9) The ideology of French as a uniquely significant language, and France as “la mère des arts, des armes et des lois” (Joachim du Bellay, 1525-1560), passing by Rivarol and Voltaire, can be seen in French government circles, see Phillipson 2003, 45-47. On plans for strengthening French in EU institutions, under Francophonie auspices, see Phillipson 2003, 133-4.

10) For instance, The Guardian on 20 March 2002: “The French language meets its Waterloo. Enlarging the EU is good news for the English language, confirming its victory over French as the classic medium of European integration”.

11) A further symptom is that publications in other languages are being dropped, e.g. the Annual Reports on competition policy were available in all official languages until 1995, the 1996 report was published in Dutch, English, French and German, and it is now published exclusively in English. .

12)  See Eurobarometer Report 54 of 15 February 2001 for a (very selective) study of foreign language competence in all member states. These reports are on http://europa.eu.int/comm/dg10/epo/eb.html.

13) Seidlhofer, Barbara 2001. Closing a conceptual gap: the case for a description of English as a lingua franca, International Journal of Applied Linguistics 11/2: 133-158.

14) This is John Swales’s term, in an article in World Englishes in 1997.

15) See the Vienna Manifesto, appendix 5 of Phillipson 2003.

16)  Both are summarised in Engelska språket som hot och tillgång i Norden (The English language as a threat or resource in the Nordic countries), Copenhagen: Nordic Council of Ministers, 2002. This small book contains a 15-page résumé in English.

17) See Tove Skutnabb-Kangas 2000, Linguistic genocide in education – or worldwide diversity and human rights?, Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

18) Fourth draft, 1 July 2002, approved by an international conference convened by five Catalan bodies in Barcelona, May 31-June 1.

19)  The book has been translated into Esperanto.

 

 

 

 

 




0 Comments

No comments yet
Leaving the first to comment on this article.
You need or account to post comment.