Eurocrats Resent The Spread Of The English Language

Posted on Fri 05/26/2017 by


By Daniel Hannan ~

Never before has the world had a common language. English is not the first imperial lingua franca: Aramaic, Greek, Latin, Persian, Arabic, Spanish, French, Dutch and Russian were all spread by conquest and settlement. But none of them continued to expand beyond their old borders after the colonists had departed.

English is different. An Inuit in Indonesia or a Chechen in Chad will use it to communicate. It has been adopted by almost every international association, from APEC to OPEC. It is the official language even of most global bodies that contain no English-speaking countries, such as the European Free Trade Association.

To get a sense of how Anglobalization is spreading, consider the Eurovision Song Contest. If you haven’t lived in Europe, you might be lucky enough to have escaped this kitschy monstrosity. Since 1956, European TV companies have run a joint music competition that is broadcast simultaneously to participating nations, whose viewers then vote by phone for the winner. Countries tend to vote at least as much on the basis of national prejudice as of content – Greece and Cyprus always give each other full marks, for example – which is bad news for Britain.

But if the U.K. loses electorally, it wins linguistically. This year’s contest, which has just taken place in Kiev, featured 42 songs of which 35 were sung wholly in English, the highest proportion in the contest’s history. In 1956, not a single piece was entered in Shakespeare’s language, and there was something of a stir in 1965 when the Swedish entrant became the first to discard his native tongue. By 2014, 75 percent of the entries were in English. This year it was 83 percent – or 90 percent if you count songs that were partly in English and partly in another language.

That spread has been commercial, not political. The reason contestants are singing in our tongue is not as some sort of tribute to Churchill and Eisenhower; it’s to maximize their chances of being understood.

You can see why the phenomenon annoys Eurocrats. Earlier this month, the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, began a speech by saying “English is gradually losing its importance in the EU, so I will speak in French.” I suppose it’s to Juncker’s credit that he has that facility. Like all Luxembourgers, he was educated partly in French (the official language in the Grand Duchy) and partly in German (the language of business and of most newspapers). Counting his native idiom, Luxembourgish, that makes English his fourth language.

Still, what a bizarre thing to say. English, as the Eurovision Song Contest underlined a few days later, is not losing ground in Europe. Au contraire, regardless of Brexit, it is becoming universal. Indeed, it has become so widespread as a medium between nonnative speakers that a new kind of creole, a Euro-English, has evolved in EU institutions.

Euro-English is a meager dialect – functional, short of adverbs and largely present-tense. It has its own peculiar vocabulary and syntax, generally lifted from other European tongues. For example, the Euro-English for “current” or “contemporary” is “actual,” borrowed from, among others, the Dutch “actueel” and the French “actuel.” Similarly, when a speaker of Euro-English says “foresee,” he doesn’t mean “predict,” he means “plan for” or “anticipate” (again, based on the French “prévoir,” the German “vorsehen” and others).

I have heard native English speakers, once they have been in Brussels long enough, dropping into the dialect. Where they might say, in standard English, “Shall we have a coffee?” they will, when speaking Euro-English, say, “We take a coffee, no?”

Brexit will, of course, mean that there are fewer native speakers in the EU institutions. Ireland and Malta are Anglophone, but have small populations. Linguists will no doubt enjoy watching the sparse vernacular draw further away from the language in which you are reading these words.

Still, I can’t help feeling that Juncker’s petulant outburst was a symbol of something else – a perfect demonstration of what is wrong with Eurocrats’ thinking. Juncker’s linguistic protectionism, his determination to stand in the way of what people want, is the authentic expression of the Euro-federalist doctrine: illiberal, anti-British, anti-American, backward-looking and ultimately doomed.

It was that ideology, mes amis, that Britain voted to break away from last year. We love Europe, and we love Europeans, but we have had enough of being dictated to by unelected officials whose worldview – whose Weltanschauung, we might say, in the spirit of European linguistic harmony – is stuck in the 1950s. Contributor Daniel Hannan is an British writer and journalist, and has been a Conservative MEP (Member of the European Parliament) for South East England since 1999. He speaks French and Spanish and loves Europe, but believes that the EU is making its constituent nations poorer, less democratic and less free. He is the winner of the Bastiat Award for online journalism.

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