How many languages should the EU concentrate on?

An article at is entitled Linguists call for more diversity at EU level (what is the ‘EU level’, exactly?).

Some call for a Slavic language alongside English, French and German, some call for English only (and for the UK to subsidize English language learning in Europe – what about Ireland, I say? – I suppose Ireland is to subsidize Irish language learning).

bq. The Commission is already finding it tough to keep up with its translation commitments – particularly for complicated legal texts.

I know just how the Commission feels.

(Via kalebeul)

8 thoughts on “How many languages should the EU concentrate on?

  1. That was an interesting article; thanks for the link. I was confused by this part, though:

    Dr Hagège added that of the two Germanic working languages, English leans more toward the North American cultural sphere, while German has a more deep-rooted European “vocation”.

    I’m not really sure what that means, but I already have the feeling that I might disagree with it!!! ;-) Any idea, Margaret?

  2. The only thing I can think is that German has been a lingua franca in Central Europe. I remember using it a lot in Prague – I went there in 1966 and 1968 – although people seemed friendlier when they found out I wasn’t German.

    The terms in which he describes it – ‘more deep-rooted’ etc. – seem rather an oversell, but presumably it has been translated from the French and it may have sounded better in the original!

  3. I think “EU level” means the working langwidges:

    English overtook French as the most used language six years ago and with French and German makes up the EC’s working languages, although German has hardly ever been used.

    There’s an old Economist article which concedes defeat on behalf of German

    The limited enthusiasm for German in central Europe has been much more surprising. Even in the communist era, it was taught at least as widely as English, being the language of a ?fraternal? country, East Germany. In the post-communist era, Germany has been central Europe’s biggest export market, and a huge investor in the region. Yet only in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia does the proportion of secondary-school pupils studying German come anywhere close to the proportion studying English; and nowhere in the region is German the top choice.

    German has languished partly because Germany has been shy about promoting its language and culture in a region ravaged by Hitler’s war.

    The idea of a Slavic working langwidge is frankly silly: the only reasonable choice would be Russian, which all parties would reject, and the fate of German shows how likely it would be to catch on.

  4. Des: Well, that’s what I thought it meant too, but who would ever put it like that, ‘EU level’? That is, my question was rather rhetorical. German is OK for the time being, while there are old people like me still around. YMMV.

  5. I don’t mean German in the EU, I mean German as a lingua franca in Europe. I ran two ideas together. Let’s try again:

    German is OK for the time being as a medium of communication in Central Europe. In a few years’ time, it will be less common, because it isn’t being taught as much as English.

    (This was not a reply to your last sentence).

    As for your other enquiry: ‘Are you sure your mind isn’t going?’, it’s rather a vicious circle, isn’t it?

  6. My mind’s gone. It even left a note on the kitchen table, saying, ‘Don’t try to find me’. That’s when you know things are serious.

    In other matters: in Slovenia and the Czech Republic I communicated with the older people in German and with the younger people in English. The ones in-between offered Russian, but that didn’t work for me. I wish I could make some exciting point, but it’s all quite obvious, I feel. I just wanted to share my experience, basically!

  7. Confusion abounds here, most obviously in the BBC report which seems to mix up the working languages of the EU (i.e. all the languages), which are a matter of general concern, and the ‘working languages’ of the Commission (English, French, German), which are mainly of concern only to those who happen to work in the Commission itself.

    The general linguistic situation at EU meetings tends to reflect the real world situation and you rarely hear anybody using a *second* language other than English or – to a lesser extent nowadays – French. But the other languages are all used to varying degrees by their native speakers.

    Contrary to what may be inferred from the EUObserver article, the situation at the Court is quite different from that at the other institutions. There French is still *the* language (for judges and court officials, parties use their own language).

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