Thursday, April 06, 2017

Can English as an EU language survive Brexit ?

Brexit was one of the topics we discussed in the last Monday Forum.

As a piece in Nature points out, EU agencies based in the UK will now need to move. One such is the European Medicines Agency (EMA). Currently in London, the EMA assesses new medicines for suitability to enter the European market. But where should it go to?

There is more at stake than the prestige of being the headquarters of a major European institution. The EMA brings with it some 900 staff and holds an average of 10 meetings a week, which it claims draw 65,000 visitors a year, all of whom need somewhere to sleep and eat. So countries are lining up.

The Nature piece links the shift to a second question, the role of  English as an official EU language. The EU presently has 24 official and working languages, a real tower of Babel. The first official language policy of what was then the European Community identified Dutch, French, German, and Italian as the official working languages of the EU. Since then, other languages have been steadily added.

As I understand it, each EU country can nominate one official language. English is an official language because it has been nominated by the UK. The two other predominantly English speaking member states, Malta and Ireland, have nominated Maltese and Irish (Gaelic) respectively. This means that under current rules, English will cease to be an official EU language once the UK exits.

The apparent linkage between EMA and language policy appears to be that English is EMA's current working language. This may need to be phased out once English ceases to be an official language. The Nature article wonders if Ireland or Malta might be prepared to alter their official language nomination to English to obtain EMA for their countries. Probably not is the conclusion.

I hadn't thought of the impact of Brexit on the role of English in the EU until I read the Nature article. Language policy within the EU is a sensitive issue because of the way language interacts with national and ethnic divides.

English is currently the most common EU lingua franca. No doubt this will continue in commercial terms. However, there is likely to be some diminution in the use of English in an official sense, opening possibilities for other languages to expand their reach.  .


Anonymous said...

And so it begins. I wonder what President Trump said to President Xi Jinping regarding Nth Korea?


Jim Belshaw said...

Morning, kvd. I do wonder too

Anonymous said...

And for answers, the people consulted the Book of Faces, and the Tweet of Twits,
Wherein there was much lols and wtf, but also several cat videos,
So it was not a compleate waste of thyme – yea, even some myrrth.

With apologies, and with reverence, to Himself Just Passed – JC.

More here:


Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks, kvd!

2 tanners said...

With regard to English, the pride and nationalism that countries (and parts of countries) have in their languages shouldn't be underestimated. Language nationalists will refuse to recognise the lingua franca status of English now (and soon, I suspect, mandarin and/or hindustani) which will make business that bit more complicated. I see no winners in that one.