Pre Brexit, English was one of the three working languages of the EU alongside French and German. However, will the outcome of June’s Brexit referendum alter the future of the English Language?
How the English Language looks at the moment
Alongside English, French and German a further 21 official languages are currently recognised by the EU. However, a survey from 2012 found that 38% of Europeans speak English.
Globally, the number of non-native speakers of English took over the number of native speakers 15 years ago. This includes countries such as Singapore and India where English, despite being a non-native language, holds the status of official language. There are now an estimated 1.5 billion English speakers worldwide.
French may become the new diplomatic language of the EU
For some EU countries, a British exit makes way for the potential success of their own country. French was formerly used as the diplomatic language until English took over, and many in France are keen to see French restored to its former glory.
Robert Menard, Mayor of the southern french town Beziers, called for the EU chiefs to say au revoir to the English Language, arguing English no longer has “any legitimacy”.
Menard tweeted (in French): “The English Language has no more legitimacy in Brussels #Brexit.” Furthermore, Jean-Luc Melenchon, a left-wing presidential candidate, said: “English can no longer be the third working language of the european parliament.”
Each member state of the European Union has the right to nominate a primary language in Brussels. Naturally the UK nominated English. Now that the UK has left the EU, Ireland and Malta are the only remaining countries with English as the official language; together they make up less than 1% of the EU population.
Other EU countries are less hostile to the English Language
However, not all countries are as eager to see the back of English as France is. Gunther Oettinger, the German EU commissioner, said: “English is the world language which we all accept.”
And he is right, English is used as the intermediate language within the official body of the EU, meaning document translation and simultaneous translation all use English as the intermediate language. The Germans, whose language is the most spoken in the EU, have been happy to let French and English be the prominent languages of the union.
Moreover, English is used extensively as a Lingua Franca owing to its organic growth as a common language for business and travel. It is used extensively to communicate with business partners and suppliers in European countries as well as in meetings and video conferences with the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary and India.
English is too important for the EU to ditch completely
The globalisation of English makes it the common linguistic currency that gives the world the opportunity for global partnerships and collaborations on individual, group and societal levels. Without English, the EU may find maintaining global relations more time consuming and tricky. For example, India, a nation of over a billion people, tend to conduct business mostly in English.
Whilst English could be spoken less and less in Brussels, as an international language, however, English is invaluable to businesses in and out of the EU.