Europe is still reeling from the effect of #brexit, but is the English Language in jeopardy?
A few weeks ago, Britain held a referendum to decide whether it should remain within the EU or whether it should leave. In awe, 49% of the country woke up to the disappointing news that the other 51% voted to leave and now a whole new can of worms has been opened.
The dust has not yet begun to settle as political unrest in Britain grows- the Prime Minister stepped down and resigned as soon as the vote came through, and the current opposition party is dealing with its own crisis of leadership. Many Brits, at home and abroad, find themselves left in limbo and Europeans everywhere have questions that don’t yet have any suitable answers. One question among so many: where does this leave the English language in the EU or in Europe on the whole? Will English still be continue to remain the lingua franca of Europe?
Firstly, for those unaware, lingua franca refers to a language that is used as a common language between speakers whose first language is something different. The European Union uses English as one of its official languages—there are 24 all together. Each of the 28 member states of the Union is allowed to nominated one official language. English is often heard in Brussels, where the European Union headquarters is located as well as Strasbourg, where the European Parliament is located. Despite the popularity of English, other nations like Germany and France are debating and lobbying for their languages to play a more significant role in Brussels and in other EU Institutions, and they have been for years now. With the Brexit result finally in, it is now widely up for debate as to whether English will play the major role it once did, before the the referendum.
Despite the fact that many nations with the EU use English, Britain is the only country that notified English as its choice for an official language within the EU. Ireland chose Gaelic, and Malta (another major English speaking nation) chose Maltese. That means that when/if Britain officially leaves the EU, there would be no EU member to claim English as an official language.
English is only considered the native language of 13% of EU citizens, though 40% claim to have enough English knowledge to conduct a conversation. Despite those figures, English is considered to be the most commonly spoken foreign language in 19 out of 28 EU countries. It’s obvious then, that English plays a significant role in the lives of many Europeans. We must also consider that currently there are around 1.2 million Brits living abroad in the EU, many of them ESL teachers, retirees, volunteers and students and many of whom rely on English in their daily lives. So where does that leave them?
All of the EU’s official languages are used for communication and they are all recognized by the institutions within the EU. This means that all documents and discussions held within the European Parliament or any other EU institution must be translated into all 24 languages. It would depend on the other member states as to whether English was removed from the list of official languages, and at the moment English is still used exclusively in the European Central Bank, and it is one of only 3 official working languages used in the European Commission (the others being French and German). Based on this exclusivity of sorts with English in these institutions, it’s clear that English holds a great significance within the EU, or at the very least, it did.
Like every issue that’s bubbled up since the fateful results of the referendum, there is absolutely no clear answer to this question. Britain has (as of writing this article) not yet begun to trigger Article 50- the official proposal for leaving the EU. Many of that 49% (and even more, if reports are to be believed) still cling to hope that yet another referendum will be held with a different result, or that the government simply won’t put Article 50 into effect. The referendum results are not legally binding, though a vote so narrowly split is bound to carry a heavy weight of emotion with it. At this point, absolutely nothing is clear and the role English will play is even blurred. Just like John Mayer, for now, we’re just waiting.