EU Must Adopt ‘EU English’ as Its Official Working Language after Brexit. Here’s Why
The UK’s bewildering decision to leave the European Union, the so-called Brexit, has so many unimaginable ramifications that for decades UK and EU citizens will keep discovering new ones, and the fate of the English language, including the likely rise of “EU English”, is just one of them.
Two years after the close Brexit referendum, it seems safe to say that, on the whole, Brexit is going to be a negative development, if not a curse, for the UK (clearly, it already is), while for the EU itself it might be a mixed blessing.
More specifically, Brexit’s silver lining for Europe might have to do with unleashing the deepening of European integration in a whole bunch of areas where the Brits have been reluctant to go. After Brexit, they won’t have to, and the rest of the EU will be freed of the British veto and able to get as integrated as it wishes.
The emerging English Language Question – as I choose to refer here to the fate of the English language in the EU after Brexit – epitomizes both of the above points.
First, it is just one more of the many consequences of Brexit that nobody had really thought about before the Brexit referendum.
Second, by extension, it is one area where the departure of the Brits might unlock some liberating developments for the entire EU.
The fact of the matter is that, with the British voluntarily out of the picture,
the European Union must formally adopt its own form of English as its official working language:
EU English, European English, or European American English, if you please.
The pros of such a wise policy move – the EU adopting its own kind or brand of the English language – will be manifold:
It will finally give all Europeans an official working language that is nobody’s mother tongue (nobody in EU 27 will be “a native English speaker”, well, except for Ireland and Malta, but they are both enough of a special case). The future “EU English” or “European English” will be a neutral territory, a level playing field, and that will be fair to all Europeans.
It will be taking advantage of a situation in which the language in question, the European form of American English, is already spoken by pretty much everybody. This is thanks to the omnipotence of US popular culture, the language side of the “We’re All Living in America” syndrome, as the German heavy metal band Rammstein put it more than a decade ago. In any case, in 21st century EU there’s no need for fun experiments such as Esperanto, i.e., no need to teach everybody an artificial made-up language so there are no “language winners” or “language losers”.
It will rid the French or the Germans of the temptation try to make their language the dominant one in the post-Brexit EU. (That would be a lost cause for objective reasons, but they still can try it). Respectively, it will strike out the possibility of widespread resentment and hard feelings among the rest of the EU nations towards the French or the Germans for attempting that.
It will rid the Europeans of some of the oddities of British English which make it a tiny bit more complex but unnecessarily so.
It will give the Europeans some “closure” with the Brits (as in, “We are using your native language, sure, but you’ve lost your monopoly over it a long time ago, and it’s got other, more flexible forms, too. So, guess what, we’re now going for one of our own.”)
It will give the EU a chance – by codifying, developing, and promoting “EU English” or “European English” – to finally make widely understood some of the terms and notions that are specifically EU / European but are nowhere to be found in British or American English. You know, sort-of what the Americans did with the English language after the American Revolution.
It will give the EU a chance, with its newly codified and officialized “EU English” or “European English”, to gain a stronger popular culture position on the world stage.
It will further enable the EU’s communication with the entire rest of the world – because guess what (working) language they already speak. That’s right! (“English”, “American English”, “bad English”, “broken English”, or “British-tilt English” for the residents of the former British Empire; and, of course, not to forget the former “dominions” with their form of English as their native language such as the Kiwis and the Aussies.)
A recent article in The Wall Street Journal, aptly entitled “The Ultimate Démarche: France Wants to Oust English from the EU”, cites some useful stats:
With the UK as an EU member state, English (British English, that is) is the official language for 12.8% of the EU’s 511 million people. With the UK gone after Brexit, “it will be just the second official language in just two countries: Ireland and Malta. Combined they represent 1.2% of the EU’s post-Brexit population.”
“Over 80% of primary-school children and over 95% of secondary-school students across the bloc learn English before any other foreign language.”
“The bloc’s main translating body says 81% of EU documents are drafted in English, 5% in French, 2% in German and the rest in the 21 other languages.”
English is already the language of the EU so it is more than clear than any open or surreptitious attempt on part of the French or the Germans (sorry, they are the “usual suspects” in that regard for understandable reasons) are going to cause trouble where there isn’t any. It would bring back all kinds of painful historical recollections, not to mention present-day unfeasibility. Nobody in the EU of today, including the French and the Germans, really needs any of that!
Going back to the other side of the English Channel / La Manche, sure it is highly deplorable to see the Brits go, in so many ways! But they’ve made their choice.
Now the EU should seize the window of opportunity that will be opened when the British veto goes away to make progress with sensible integration to the benefit of the rest of its hundreds of million Europeans.
A few years back I was in charge of Bulgaria’s largest international media, an English-language publication, for several years.
I insisted that we switch in our writing and reporting from British to American English. No offense to the Brits, that’s what global reality necessitated. So we did. But we would joke around with my colleagues that it’s not even American English we actually use but, rather, “German English” or “Belgian English”. You know, the type of grammatically correct, rich language which is perfectly fit for the educated international who speaks English as a second language, and is also decent enough for the native speaker.
Sure, British English is awesome, fun to learn, fun to know, fun to communicate in, and fun to be amazed at its various accents.
Yet, oftentimes some of its expressions, idioms, etc. can be too specific, or “too British”, or “too English”, and, with so many “English languages” out there (“Do you speak any [kind of] English?”, Chris Tucker asked Jackie Chan when meeting him at LAX in “Rush Hour” back in 1998), quite often those might be misunderstood or even completely missed out. Occasionally, that might be true of American English as well, but to a substantially lesser extent.
So “EU English” or “European English” is exactly what the EU needs right around Brexit. Not the least, in order to make a point.
Note that my suggestion that the EU make its own English its official working language refers to just that: an official working language! That is not to say that the EU languages should lose their official EU language status – far from it!
In fact, if I am allowed to make one more suggestive prediction in this article, in addition to the upcoming, post-Brexit rise of “EU or European English”, it is that “rare” languages, i.e. languages with fewer native speakers will be the fashion trend of the future, especially among the elites.
Since everybody will be speaking “some kind of English”, the elites, the upper and upper-middle classes, the educated classes of the future, will seek out to distinguish themselves by learning and practicing such “exotic” languages the old-fashioned way.
EU English is definitely the way to go if the EU is to last and make a difference in this world after it gets shaken up by Brexit.
And if at some point, Britain, or England, might want back in the EU, nobody in Europe will go back to British English as the norm because the European English language will already be in place, and will remain so.
If the EU is going to be just and fair to all of its hundreds of millions of citizens, nobody’s mother tongue should be the dominant language.
Brexit and the departure of British English is the golden opportunity to guarantee that!
Book your EUropean English class now.
Unless you already speak it.
(Banner image: Pixabay)