Europe? Challenging language policy
London and New York:
1. What are the language policy challenges in Europe?
Languages play a central role in the way Europe is currently being integrated. How the European
Union and its member states deal with multilingualism has serious implications
for individuals, for states, and for international relations.
The languages of European nations are being
changed by globalisation, the EU, and English. It is arguable that all
continental European languages are on a fast track to second-class status.
The book presents the historical background
of linguistic diversity in Europe, and
explores how the advance of English is impacting in the economy, science,
culture, education, and politics. It explains the policies for multilingualism
(via translation and interpretation) in EU institutions. As the EU expands to
take in new members, the challenge of coping with many languages multiplies.
Despite a rhetoric of the equality of the official languages and working
languages, currently twenty, French has always had a special status in EU
institutions, one that English is taking over. Language rights are so
politically sensitive that language policies tend to be left to ‘market’ forces.
Criteria for guiding the formulation of
language policy and maintaining the rich diversity of languages in Europe are proposed. Forty-five recommendations are made,
relating to infrastructure nationally and internationally, reform of the EU
institutions, language learning, and research needs. Equality for the speakers
of different languages is essential if the EU is to become politically and
2. Why are languages so important? Language
- Languages are the storehouses
of human experience.
- Identification with a language
is central to human culture.
- European integration is being
carried out by means of language.
- Laws, agreements and
negotiation depend on linguistic precision.
- Many concepts mean something
different in different cultures and languages.
- Most people are better at
formulating their thoughts in their mother tongue.
- Native speakers have clear
advantages over non-native speakers.
- The idea that English is a
neutral language is false.
- Translation and interpretation
are vital but can only be partially successful.
- All forms of public discourse
presuppose just and fair communication.
- The idea that we need ONE
language of European communication is false.
- Effective multilingualism can
counteract the EU’s democratic deficit.
- The ‘knowledge society’ needs
to build on multilingual diversity.
- Education systems inculcate
preferred forms of written and spoken language.
- Most 19th and 20th
century states aimed at monolingualism.
- Education, public and private
affairs can operate well in more than one language.
- Most people worldwide function
in more than one language.
- Some language rights are human
- Language rights are important
because language correlates with power.
- Globalisation and technology
can serve to promote or eliminate languages.
- Languages can serve to unite or
- The world’s diverse languages
and cultures are intrinsically valuable.
- Language use and language
attitudes are deeply personal.
- Esperantists are convinced that
Esperanto could serve to strengthen all languages.
The book has six chapters:
The risks of laissez faire language policies
languages: families, nations, empires, states
Global trends impacting on
European language policy
Languages in EU institutions
Towards equitable communication
Recommendations for action on
Each chapter is introduced by some
provocative short quotations that raise key issues. The final section of the
book contains some of the key official documents, footnotes with a lot of
bibliographic information, and an index.
4. Summary, chapter by chapter
- The risks of laissez faire language policies. The wide-ranging introduction asks whether the increased use
of English is serving to unite or divide Europe.
It cites examples of discrimination, and steps that several European
governments have taken to strengthen their languages. It refers to
Eurobarometer data on language proficiency in the mother tongue and
foreign languages, reports on ongoing measures to strengthen language
learning, and demonstrates what the challenges and competing pressures
are. It explains and exemplifies the concepts language policy and language
planning, with examples from many parts of the world. It concludes with
examples of when language policy issues are reported in newspapers.
Typically this occurs when there is a political crisis of some sort,
because a government senses that their language is being discriminated
against. Unfortunately journalistic coverage of the principles underlying
EU language policies is often inaccurate. The chapter makes a strong case
for more proactive, explicit language policies.
- European languages: families, nations,
empires, states. The myth of
the tower of Babel is analysed. The concept ‘bread’ is explored so as to
show how languages differ in both the word forms used and meanings.
‘Europe’ as a geographical and political concept is traced back to
ancestral Indo-European, Finno-Ugric and other languages. The shared
heritage of Christianity, Latin and Greek are presented, leading to
analysis of ways in which English has both similarities and differences
with the use of Latin earlier. Nationalism has a key language dimension to
it, often connected to an ideology of linguistic superiority, an idea
often associated with French. But privileging one language, such as
Serbocroat in ex-Yugoslavia, does not guarantee political harmony, and
there are risks in the way the use of English is expanding. Linguistic
identity is a powerful force. Supranational linguistic identities are
beginning to take shape. When the EU was founded, a key motive for
integrating the economies of Europe was to prevent a recurrence of war.
The equality of the languages of the member states, intially Dutch,
French, German and Italian, was established. This means that all EU
legislation is promulgated with equal force in all official languages.
Whether such texts actually mean the same in different cultures is more
debatable, because of different world views in each country with its own
legal system and cultural traditions. Thus the ‘rule of law’ forms part of
our shared European cultural experience, but how the term is interpreted
depends on several contextual factors.
- Global trends impacting on European language policy. Multilingualism is becoming more widespread, partly as a
result of more continental Europeans using English as a foreign language
actively. The factors which have contributed to an increased use of
English, and to inertia in formulating language policy, are analysed in a
table under 15 headings, ten of which are structural and five ideological
or attitudinal. Some are supply factors (investment by Anglo-Americans),
some reflect demand (investment in learning English in schools). Language
policy experience in Canada,
Australia and South Africa
is drawn on, so as to show that the management of multilingualism benefits
when the goals of language policy are made explicit. The chapter has four
sub-sections, on commerce, on science, on culture, and on education, with
rich exemplification of ongoing processes for each of them, and
exploration of what is involved when territory traditionally occupied by
national languages (Finnish, German and Swedish are exemplified) is being
taken over by English. Key EU initiatives to strengthen language learning,
particular in general education, are reported on. These policy measures
are at the interface between the elaboration of recommendations agreed on
at the supranational level and national implementation goals and
- Languages in EU institutions. This
chapter goes through in considerable factual detail how the language
services of EU institutions are organized, including the question of
costs. It explains the various ways that interpretation is organized, and
explores the concepts official language and working language. It quotes
Regulation 1, the ‘Language Charter’ of the EU. It cites some experimental
studies on the use of languages and attitudes to them. It analyses many of
the problems that result in inefficiency, explains how English performs
many of the functions that were carried out in French earlier, and
considers whether alternatives to the present hierarchy of languages could
be envisaged. The world’s most complex system of multilingual translation
and interpretation has been built up over the past half-century, with
these services at the cutting edge of multilingual language policy and
developments in language technology. However, there are complaints about
inadequacies in the present system, which is under pressure to make
economies. It is important to distinguish between the needs of those
working for the EU, parliamentarians, the general public, and legislation.
The system has never been subjected to an overall review.
- Towards equitable communication. As
a basis for more proactive language policy, this chapter summarizes the
research evidence and the experience of several countries. It identifies
the goals that language policy serves, and many of the relevant variables
that impact on language policy. It draws parallels between economics and
language, and relates these to investment in language learning, and the
role of the British English teaching industry. It explains which language
rights can be considered linguistic human rights, drawing on the work of
the OSCE, the Council of Europe and the UN in promoting minority language
rights. It sums up a number of cases decided in the European Court of
Justice on language issues. These have clarified when complete
multilingualism may not be required in the running of an EU institution,
and the requirement by member states that products should be described in
a particular language. Many of the language policy dimensions are brought
together in two competing ways of conceptualizing the modern world, a
Diffusion of English paradigm and an Ecology of Language paradigm. One
aspect of this deals with whether English now functions as a ‘lingua
franca’ and is no longer dependent on native speaker norms. Analysis of a
BBC interview shows how native- and non-native speaker communication can
be asymmetrical and basically unfair. One way of introducing more justice
in international affairs is by using a non-national language. Esperanto is
a living language for those worldwide who have chosen to learn and use it,
and could contribute to the EU achieving the multilingual goals that it
espouses, and to strengthening equality between speakers of different
languages - and save money.
- Recommendations for action on language policies. The final chapter stresses that EU language policy must be
based on sociolinguistic realities, matters of cost and principle,
practicability and efficiency, and political will. It sketches out
worst-case and best-case scenarios, and pleads for language issues to be
taken much more seriously by member states and the Union
at a time of historic change. Forty-five specific recommendations are made
for achieving this, grouped under four headings: National and
supranational policy infrastructure, EU institutions, Language teaching
and learning, and Research. These concrete proposals bring together much
of the evidence of the book into a coherent plan for how language policy
can be taken forward in an informed way. There are major national and
global interests at stake. Leadership on language policy is needed. Active
language policies can avert an American-English only Europe.
5. These endorsements appear on the cover of
Globalization and EU enlargement mean that
languages from the whole of Europe are coming
into even closer contact. This perceptive book makes a sweeping Grand Tour of
the political, cultural and economic issues that we all consequently face, and
I hope that those who frame language policy will be influenced by it.
Kinnock, Vice-President of the European Commission
An important and timely book, containing a
rich and wide-ranging set of ideas about the ‘on the ground’ reality of
language policy in Europe. The book is very
engaging, and will appeal to a wide range of readers.
Joseph Lo Bianco, Director,
Language Australia: The
National Languages and Literacy Institute of Australia
Absolutely essential reading if we are to
prevent a linguistic catastrophe in a rapidly anglicizing Europe.
Dafydd ap Fergus, Secretary General of the
European Esperanto Union
6. About the author
Robert Phillipson is a Professor at the
Faculty of Languages, Communication and Cultural Studies, Copenhagen Business
School. His publications
include Rights to language: Equity, power
and education (2000), Linguistic
human rights: Overcoming linguistic discrimination (1994) and Linguistic imperialism (1992). For CV
and publications, see www.cbs.dk/staff/phillipson
7. Book orders
Hardback: 0-415-28806-1: £50;
paperback: 0-415-28807-X: £14.99
Routledge customer hotline: 44 1264 343071
The book also exists in a translation into
Esperanto by Istvan Ertl
nur-angla Eŭropo? Defio al lingva politiko.
Rotterdam: Universal Esperanto Association