Monday, July 23, 2007

English & the EU

Anyone interested in the dynamics of language in the EU institutions should read the Economist's Charlemagne column in the July 21st edition . Interesting stuff. Is the dominance of English in Brussels good for the institutions? Is it good for the native English-speakers in Brussels (British and Irish EU officials, British, Irish, American, Australian, Kiwi, Indian, South African etc journalists, lobbyists, and diplomats)?

It's a complex question that doesn't lend itself to a simple answer. But my experience is that being a native English speaker has been a tremendous advantage in one area, at least. And that is in the preparation of documents. I have lost count of the times that non-native English-speaking colleagues, friends, or contacts have come to me asking me to check the grammar, the style, and the spelling of their position papers, letters, press releases, etc.

Every time I do such proof-reading, I have an opportunity to subtly change shades of meaning, and probably do so unconsciously. If you extrapolate this experience to the whole Brussels EU policy community, you come to the inevitable conclusion that among EU citizens, the Brits and Irish have a distinct advantage in this department. Over time, the cumulative effect of this extra input must be significant. If you have any specific examples of changes that have occurred as a result of this process, I'm interested!

1 comment:

Maya said...

This is a very interesting point of view on the use of English in the EU. I myself have always thought that using English/French as a working language would always give certain advantage to some and disavdantage to others. However, in the case of a multilingual organisation like the European union, I can not propose a better solution. It is already quite a hassle having to translate each official document to all 23 official languages, imagine if the process is doubled by translating proposals and discussion papers as well (not to mention the financial burden).It is a tough questions I agree. Personally, I hope that within some years to come we will be able to agree on some variation from English RP (Standard English), which will become sort of a European English, where maybe grammar and spelling will be simplified to serve the single purpose of lingua franca, a tool for communication.