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Europe’s English-Speaking Peoples

The European Union has a single currency, but what about a single language? Since its inception, the EU has made each member state’s language one of its official tongues. Recently, even Irish, spoken at home by only a tiny minority, was granted full official status.

Treating all EU languages on the same footing is a direct consequence of the formal equality of member states under the founding treaties. It is also a matter of democratic principle that laws are written in the language of every land where they apply.

But the EU’s posture as a protector of linguistic diversity cannot hide the stampede toward English that is underway. The more languages, it seems, the more English. Yet, the European Commission still encourages young Europeans to learn as many different languages as possible. It would be politically lethal to acknowledge the real state of affairs, even if the official policy merely increases the chances that Europeans, after all their efforts, still may not understand each other.

Such an outcome is unlikely, but only because Europe’s language problem is well on its way to solving itself. Throughout the EU, as in much of the world, from the Indian subcontinent to large parts of Africa, English increasingly functions as the language of international communication.