Is the Eurovision Song Contest damaging minority languages?

The Eurovision Song Contest was founded in 1956 with the intention of bringing countries together in order to provide an opportunity for each nation to showcase its pride, culture and talent through song.

For many years this was achieved, with all participating countries singing in their native language. But over time this changed, resulting in an on and off rule that made performing in native languages obligatory. However, since 1999 this rule has been lifted, which has led to the majority of countries abandoning their own language in favour of English.

Why are so many countries singing in English?

The English language is thought to be the most prominent in the EU, as studies suggest that almost 40% of Europeans speak English as a foreign language. This puts English way above any other European language, as it has almost four times as many foreign speakers as French and German, the next most popular languages in Europe.

There is clearly more exposure in Europe to English than any other European language, and this is reflected by the Eurovision song contest as songs sung entirely or predominantly in English have won 26 times. The fact that French is one of the next most popular languages in Europe makes it unsurprising that songs in French are the second most popular in the competition, having won 14 times. Since the rule change itself, all winning songs, bar one, have been sung in English.

Visibility for Europe’s endangered languages

Having so many countries singing in English is incredibly limiting to their European exposure. The Eurovision song contest provides an opportunity for each nation to showcase its pride through its native music, both traditional and contemporary. Favouritism towards the English language is having potentially damaging effects on minority languages.

For many languages Eurovision is a rare opportunity to showcase their culture and language on a huge platform, with 200 million watching the show last year. Singing in English may increase chances of a win, historically, however losing out on this opportunity to promote a country’s native tongue can be hugely damaging, especially to Europe’s lesser known languages.

There has been ongoing discussion on how best to preserve the world’s endangered languages, and Europe is home to many. The Eurovision Song Contest would be the perfect opportunity to raise awareness about these languages. The Belarusian language for example, has been categorized as vulnerable by UNESCO, even though it is an official language of Belarus and is also spoken in Ukraine, Russia and Poland. Using platforms like Eurovision can help raise awareness of the language both at home and abroad.

Not everybody in Europe speaks English

Although many Europeans speak fluent English as a second language, it is in no way true that the whole of Europe does. There are some countries where the majority of people are unable to speak a foreign language including Hungary with 65% and Italy with 62% unable to speak another language.

The issues presented by the overwhelming use of English in Eurovision affect more than just endangered languages. It also helps to enforce the often made assumption that English is the language everyone speaks. This not only breeds a culture of ignorance but can also do damage to business profits. If businesses subscribe to this notion they are likely to not take the necessary steps in translation and interpretation. This can not only cause a business to look ignorant and alienate clients or associates, but also causes huge communication issues.

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