While the UK still is one of the current members of the EU, it still seems to be inevitable that the UK will step out of the EU at one point. When this happens, it will create the slightly bizarre situation that English will remain one of the working languages of the EU, even though Ireland will end up as the only country with English as their national language. This blog post will give some information on the topic, providing some information in the academic debate on ‘European English’, plus the personal take of the author.
What exactly is the current status of English within the context of the European Union? It is a topic that has been discussed on multiple occassions, with anti-English sentiments being echoed even before the Brexit-referendum took place, as Modiano (2017) points out. With the UK gone, there would not be a single country where English would be the only official language, since Ireland maintains the Irish language and Malta with Maltese as their official language. The anti-English sentiments are especially echoed by French quarters, yet not everybody agrees with this. Within this context, I will describe my ‘speculations’ regarding European English, which I will follow with my personal opinion on these trends.
In his response to Modiano, Robert Phillipson (2017) points out the pitfalls and flaws of Modiano’s approach to European English, hereafter Euro-English. Phillipson tells Modiano that his article is factually wrong on multiple points, such as the Ireland/Malta comment Modiano made. Phillipson’s remarks go against the points of David Crystal (2017) as well, who shares the beliefs that Modiano holds. In short, where Phillipson does not believe in an idea of Euro-English, Modiano and Crystal both believe that the English language will get a life of its own once the UK has left the EU, the Euro-English language.
My expectations? I believe that my thoughts do have more similarities with Phillipson’s less optimistic views than Modiano’s and Crystal’s. The reasons why? In the case of Phillipson, cultural influences from all remaining Member States are not neglected in the same sense as in Modiano’s and Crystal’s article. Admittedly, once the UK leaves, the English language might not necessarily maintain the same status that it has now, in which there are far more L1 English speakers with the UK in the EU than without the UK. However, that does not allow the English language to be unified in all of the remaining 26 Member States. Additionally, Phillipson states that Modiano does not prove that Brexit will indeed trigger a new European model for grammar, spelling and punctuation which, in time, will replace the current Anglo-American norms. As a result, I do not believe that English norms will change soon and replaced by a European model: it just seems not realistic.
Even though radical changes seem unrealistic, I do not disregard the fact that whenever the UK is gone, there are no ‘real’ L1-English speakers within the EU, except for, to some extent, Ireland and Malta. In some sectors, there might still be a change: languages are dynamic and ever-changing, with the English being integrated in so many levels that any radical changes not only seem unrealistic, but also unthinkable. As Phillipson says, English within a European context serves as a lingua frankensteinia, since it has been integrated in not only the business and finance (economica), also on NATO-level and within EU-discourse.
Personally, I believe that with the UK soon leaving the EU, it might be a good thing to be more open and welcoming towards other languages, even though French is still spoken within the Commission, alongside English. If I relate this topic to myself, I would not expect much trouble: with the German border close to my home, I am familiar with the German language and after 6 years in secondary school, I do have some knowledge regarding French as well. The issue that cannot be dismissed however is that while I might be more gifted regarding language knowledge, there are significantly more people that are not as comfortable with languages other than their mother tongue and English. Forcing a new language upon them by e.g. rejecting English as an official working language (which might be a consequence of the French aversion that Modiano touches upon, yet is proven incomplete by Phillipson) will only work antagonistic and would eventually bring more problems than that it would solve any.
Shortly, I believe that with the UK gone, the status quo will be the remaining status: as explained, the English language is now the used language in multiple sectors, thus being a lingua Frankensteinia. Even though the UK will not have an influence with their models for grammar, spelling etc. regarding the English language, that does not mean that the current situation is likely to drastically change any time soon. I thus believe that Phillipson’s comment is more convincingly and that we are heading to this situation rather than Modiano’s and Crystal’s situation.
Until the next post!
David Crystal (2017), The future of new Euro-Englishes, 330-335
Modiano, M. (2017), English in a post-Brexit European Union. World Englishes, 313- 327
Robert Phillipson (2017), Myths and realities of European Union language policy, 347-349