Friday, January 11, 2013

This house would establish English as an official language in all EU member states - moderator's introduction

What comes to mind when you hear European Union? Don’t you think of presidents who have to make a decision, but all they do is argue to push through national interests? Imagine them in a meeting desperately grabbing onto their earpieces so that they can hopefully understand what the others say by listening to the delayed translation! If you consider that no translator can be perfect, the question arises: how it can be possible for EU officials to understand each other properly? To solve these kinds of problems and finally integrate Europe this house would establish English as an official language in all European member states.

[Continues below the fold.]

by MJ

The technical part sounds simple. Eurostat says, 51% and 90%. Nevertheless the EU has 23! That means that requests can be sent to and must be replied by the EU institutions in any of these languages. Furthermore all the laws and regulations have to be translated into all official languages. To simplify the situation, most often only English, German and French are used as working languages. But still 1%! A pretty penny! Is multilingualism worth all this money?
There is a project of a constructed lingua franca, easy to learn for all Europeans: Esperanto! The European party “Europe – Democracy – Esperanto”, which is presently in the European Parliament, promotes the recognition of Esperanto as a working language in the EU as well as the teaching of Esperanto as a second language in schools. To present some facts, I want to mention a report written by François Grin, professor of the University of Geneva. In his study, Grin analyses the cost as well as the impact on policy and culture in three scenarios: Choosing English or Esperanto as a single lingua franca or using a three language system (English-German-French). The multilingual model currently applied in the EU has a big issue: In a meeting with 20 people speaking at least two of the three languages, the chance that at least one person doesn’t understand the working language is more than 99.9%! Is this an acceptable situation? Grin also states that adopting Esperanto as single lingua franca would be the most equal way of solving the situation. He also says that to choose English would be unfair for all non-English speaking countries in an economic, cultural and political way. Nevertheless, nothing that he has pointed out has influenced decision making in Brussels!
Facing the truth, Esperanto never had much success. Who would learn a language with no historical and cultural background and no reference of pronunciation besides some phonetics scribbled down by its creator? English is the world language! Accepting it, would give Europeans the chance to move closer together and provide them the power to speak with one voice. But would it preserve Europe’s variety of cultures? Don’t forget the motto of the EU – “United in diversity”! Establishing English as a secondary official language in all EU member states would be a serious step on the way of integration. All member states would give away some of their national power to strengthen the EU as a whole. Each culture would have to accept to become less important in order to create a more uniform European Culture. Institutions of all EU member states would have to provide documents in English. Imagine a court in Paris where only English is spoken! Everybody would have to learn English in school. Would this house set sails to such a United States of Europe?



  1. I hope you'll allow me to add that Esperanto celebrated its 125th anniversary last year. That's quite an achievement for what started as the idea of just one man. It has survived wars and strikes and economic crises, and continues to attract young learners. I'd be happy to see Esperanto as a second language for us all.

    Esperanto may not be perfect, but I've used it successfully in Africa, South America and Europe, and it does the job.

    1. Thank you for all the posts with plenty of details about Esperanto!

  2. Many ill-informed people Esperanto think "never took off" - other ignorant people say that if human beings were meant to fly, God would have given them wings.

    Esperanto is neither artificial nor a failure however. As the British Government now employs Esperanto translators it has ceased to be a hobby. More recently this international language was used to address the United Nations in Bonn.

    During a short period of 125 years Esperanto is now in the top 100 languages, out of 6,800 worldwide. It is the 22nd most used language in Wikipedia, ahead of Danish and Arabic. It is a language choice of Google, Skype, Firefox, Ubuntu and Facebook.

    Native Esperanto speakers, (people who have used the language from birth), include World Chess Champion Susan Polger, Ulrich Brandenberg the new German Ambassador to and Nobel Laureate Daniel Bovet. Financier George Soros learnt Esperanto as a child.

    Esperanto is a living language - see

    Their new online course has 125 000 hits per day and Esperanto Wikipedia enjoys 400 000 hits per day. That can't be bad :)

  3. You are right, MJ, nothing that Grin has pointed out about Esperanto has influenced "decision making in Brussels". The question is: Why so? And the anwswer may be: Those in Brussels are quite comfortable with the current situation. They earn their living translating, interpreting and using several EU languages - so why should they opt for Esperanto which could mean many of them would loose their jobs or at least they had to learn Esperanto?! For a very similar reason they are not enthusiatic about English as a general common language - they just love the multilingualism (and their jobs and the income) :-) Quite simple, no?

    You asked: "Who would learn a language with no historical and cultural background and no reference of pronunciation besides some phonetics scribbled down by its creator?" Maybe it would be a help for you to read a book about the history of Esperanto? Or have a look on the "Concise Encyclopedia of the Original Literature of Esperanto"? Or just have a look around about the pronuciation of Esperanto to get more insight about the current state of Esperanto...

    And who learned that language Esperanto? Five nobel laureates did so. Chinese people do. The Chinese government publishes daily news in Esperanto on ; there Esperanto is one out of ten languages which means 19 out of the 23 EU languages are not used there...

    About 4500 hungarians speak Esperanto (census 2001, ). This does not seem to be a lot? Well, it is difficult to understand the statistics of Esperanto as there are Esperanto speakers in more than hundred countries.

    Maybe you would like to have a look on to understand, why Esperanto did quite will. It's in Esperanto, Google Translate will help you...

  4. I don't know if it should be Esperanto or English, but an official language in all EU member states could prevent diplomatic incidents. Indeed there is no denying that translation mistakes still exist even in the most eminent institutions. I would like to mention a dramatic fact that occured in the United Nations but which could naturally have taken place in the European Commission, because of the many languages spoken by its members.

    In this article, from dated 02/02/2010, the journalist relates how a translation error led to an international incident. It happened when Sudan, Africa's largest country, was about to split into two different nations. "We'll work hard to avoid a possible secession," the Agence France Presse issued. As Colum Lynch (the author of the article) says : « Ban's remarks were little noted in Washington, but they have set off a major international incident in Sudan, prompting Sudan's southern leaders to accuse the secretary-general of interfering in the South's decision to determine its own political future » . Indeed it was seen as "an erroneous description of the U.N.'s role as a guarantor".

    In reality, Ban told the French reporter that he was in favor of a unified Sudan, saying : « We will try to work hard to make this unity attractive." He never said he would actively work actively to oppose it. This AFP mistake trigered a huge scandal in the international press and U.N officials had to publicly contest this statement:

    "In order to clarify erroneous reports about remarks attributed to the Secretary-General concerning Sudan, the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General would like to reaffirm the Secretary-General's position, which is in accordance with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and the United Nations mandate in Sudan.
    The Secretary-General made clear that the United Nations would work to support the parties in their efforts to "make unity attractive" as well as the exercise by the people of Southern Sudan of their right to self-determination in a referendum. In this connection, he made clear that that the United Nations would work to avoid any potential negative consequences following next year's referendum.
    Any suggestion that the United Nations may have taken a position that may prejudge the outcome of such a referendum is incorrect."

    Do we want to prevent such incident to happen inside the EU? The only solution, is a single language because no translater is infallible!

  5. You do not need the whole bunch of ignorant changes their mind to gain control on your life and children's fate about languages using Esperanto.
    Have a look at this guy, travelling the world from one famiy to other to meet children who speak esperanto

  6. Yes if every president speaks English during a meeting it would be very convenient. But why would we favour one country in the EU? What would it mean?
    We all know that England, France and Germany are the three main countries that enable the others to keep the head above water. Here we are not asking ourselves if we have to learn English but if we have to impose to learn English as an official language, it is far more important.
    This could lead England to think they have more power and can take the decision. How would you deal with that?

    Moreover, I don’t see the point to make English the official language because it would jeopardize all Latin languages and our culture. We could oblige students to learn English as the first language so that they are able to speak fluently if they reach high responsibilities in the future.

    1. There are process for the UK not to any take decision without consulting the rest of the EU... There is no question of power, speaking english is already a professional advantage and changing it in an official language doesn't mean that it'll be the only official one and can't be learn as well as the "original" native one. Actually it's already the case in more and more schools. Why not making this situation official and adapt our laws to reality (as far as this reality is not endangering anyone or in opposition with other pre-existing laws)? The matter is to build a new and shared culture not to mix it or to favour one. Understanding each other would be a fisrt step to more integration

  7. Making English an official language in each and every Member State is
    a, a completely different issue than using it or not in EU institutions and other EU contexts;
    b, never going to happen.
    Istvan Ertl, translator with the EU Court of Auditors

    1. Thank you for your comment. Could you precise why it is never going to happen?

    2. For a language to be official in a state, it should be spoken as a native language of most citizens. There is currently no major shift in that direction in any EU country, even those (DK, NL, SE) where knowledge of English is most wide-spread. It is also conceivable that English is added as a second/third/etc. official language for political reasons, but I do not see much support even for that.

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