English Dominance In The EU: Is It An Effect Of Globalization? – Analysis

The familiar biblical Tower of Babel narratives begin after Noah’s Deluge, humans attempted to rebuild the civilization, where they decided to construct the tower reaching to the heavens, and this displeased God. “The Lord said, ‘if as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other’ (Genesis, 11: 6-8, NIV)”. The story of the confusion of tongue and the failed construction of the Tower of Babel serves as an allegory depicting the trauma of human’s inability to communicate with each other because they speak different languages.

It is also an apt metaphor for the world currently under the tide of anti-globalization. The inherent essence of globalization is to enhance exchanges and communication and to cooperate under a common understanding. However, there are always anti-globalization forces to divide humans from each other. The use of language in this case, is a unique window that reflects the environment of globalization.

The European Union is one of the largest international organizations in Europe. After Brexit, it currently has 27 member states, next to the World Trade Organization (WTO) which has 164 member states and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) which has 30. Out of cultural, diplomatic and political considerations, the official languages used by all member states within the EU are its official languages. This means that the EU has 24 official languages. However, the main “working languages” are French, German and English. In European Community, the predecessor of the EU, the “working languages” were Dutch, French, German, and Italian. In the 1990s, French gradually became the most important language in Brussels, the capital of Belgium. Only French is allowed in the press conferences of the European Commission, and most of the legal provisions are drafted in French. One cannot work in this city without knowing French.

Most meetings and documents of the EU will be simultaneously interpreted or translated into all 24 official languages. Some local languages, such as Catalan and Welsh, have achieved the status of the “common official language” of the European Union. However, the official use of these languages must first be approved by the European Council and the administrative arrangement of the member state. The European Commission’s policy stipulates that any citizen of an EU member state has the right to request EU documents in any of the 24 official languages. In high-level meetings between member states, participants can speak in their own language instead of being restricted to certain languages. This policy is based on the principle of mutual respect between countries, and it also represents cultural diversity in the EU community.

These beliefs all reflect the cornerstone and core values established by the EU. The caveat is that it is expensive to keep multiple languages. In EU institutions, the cost of maintaining the “common official languages” alone is as high as one billion euros per year, and the ever-expanding EU territory will make this cost even greater. Public information shows that the European Commission alone has supported 1,750 full-time language-savvy staff, 600 supporting staff, plus 600 full-time and 3,000 freelance interpreters. Therefore, the European Commission operates one of the world’s largest translation services, with the other one being the United Nations.

Although the EU abides by multicultural values, from a practical perspective, the most important and widely used working language within the EU is actually English. Although French once enjoyed a high status in Europe, evidence shows that English is the language of the present and the future. On average, four out of every five Europeans think it is important for their children to master English, while only 20% think that they should master French, a drop of 13% compared to a decade ago. A seemingly paradoxical phenomenon is that after Brexit, the use of English within the EU is actually very disproportionate to the status of the EU’s English-speaking countries. After Brexit, Ireland has become the only country in the EU member states whose official language is English. However, this does not affect English’s status as the most widely used working language in the EU.

Is the EU increasingly inclined to monolingualism, dominated by English? This possibility cannot be ruled out. According to 2012 Eurobarometer statistics, 38% of Europeans can speak English, but only 12% can speak French and 11% German. A quarter of the respondents said that they could read English newspapers, understand English news reports, or communicate in English on the internet; while only 5% of them could do so in French according to the same survey. More than two-thirds of the respondents believe that English is more useful than French. Only 17% agree that German is more useful, and less than 16% agree that French is more useful. At the same time, the statistics also found that 69% of Europeans feel that Europe should communicate in the same language. The survey shows that the top 5 languages of EU citizens are English (51%), German (32%), French (26%), Italian (16%), and Spanish (15%).

Some important signs of globalization include mutual openness, common rules, common standards, and seamless communication and exchanges. In terms of language, the most widely used global language in the world is undoubtedly English. As an artificially established cross-country alliance, the EU hopes to form a unified market and national organization through consultations and regulatory arrangements. This remarkable practice of international consultative governance not only gave birth to the EU organization but also promoted and established the use of English within the EU.

Final analysis conclusion:

A diversified and multilingual Europe will continue to develop in the future, but the most widely used language of the EU will not be the official language of its main member states. Rather, it will be English, the most widely used language in the world. This is certainly an indication of globalization’s tenacious vitality. For China, which is advocating the “dual-circulation” of expanding domestic demand while remaining open to the outside world, it is especially crucial to look at the global vitality of working languages from a long-term perspective.

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