For EU institutions, having a single internal working language – for which English is the only candidate – would be the most efficient solution and, to all appear- ances, in the best interests of each member state and language community whose language is excluded as a working language. However, for member states from the large non-anglophone language communities, such a solution seems barely acceptable and, in addition, would not correspond to the EU’s official language policy on the preservation of language diversity.
This is because “English only” is expected to inevitably transcend the borders of internal institutions and further limit the function of the remaining widely- spoken languages, especially as a lingua franca and in foreign language teach- ing. This contribution presents the conflict of interests between the smaller and the larger language communities in having only one or several institutional working languages for the EU and sketches out a possible solution which would serve both political and communicative demands. Keywords:
European Union, institutional working languages, language interests, language conflicts Fur die EU-Institutionen w a re eine einzige interne Arbeitssprache, fur die nur Englisch in Frage k a me, am effizientesten, und sie lage allem Anschein nach auch im Interesse derjenigen Mitgliedstaaten und Sprachgemeinschaften, deren Sprachen von den Arbeitssprachen ohnehin ausgeschlossen sind. Fur die Mitgliedstaaten der gro? en Sprachgemeinschaften (au? er Englisch) erscheint eine solche Losung aber kaum akzeptabel, und sie entsprache auch nicht der offiziellen EU-Sprachenpolitik des Erhalts der Sprachenvielfalt.
Es ist namlich damit zu rechnen, dass “English only” unvermeidlich uber die internen Institutionen hinaus wirken und die ubrigen gro? en Sprachen funktional weiter einschranken wurde, vor allem als Lingua franca und im Fremdsprachenunterricht. Der Beitrag stellt die Interessenskonflikte zwischen den kleineren und den gro? eren Sprachgemeinschaften der EU bezuglich nur einer oder aber mehrerer institutioneller Arbeitssprachen dar und skizzi- ert eine mogliche Losung, die sowohl politischen als auch kommunikativen Erfordernissen gerecht wird. Stichworter: Europaische Union, institutionelle Arbeitssprachen, Sprachinteressen, Sprachkonflikte 320 w Ulrich Ammon ©
The Author Journal compilation © 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd Preliminary remark The following is in part a reply to Theo von Els’ (2005) proposal in this journal for a solution for the European Union (EU) working language problem, especially his suggestion to reduce institutional working languages for informal oral consultations to a single one, English: “in oral – and particularly informal – consultations . . . a restriction to a single working language could be the best solution”; “such a reduction is politically desirable”; it “is in the interests of the EU but also of all individual citizens”; and “ Without any doubt, English will be the working language ” (2005: 277f, italics in the original).
I refer in the following to the member states of the EU as well as to its language communities (some of which comprise several and others only parts of member states) and I allege that not only the former but also the latter have particular language interests. Thus, interests diverge with respect to the EU institutional working languages between the smaller and the larger language communities (smaller or larger within the framework of the EU). Theo van Els and I happen to be members of the smaller (Dutch) and the larger (German) language communities respectively, and each of us argues, in my judgment, in line with the particular interests of his (type of) language community but tends to perceive his view as coinciding with more general EU interests.
This seems to be worth pointing out, though I am convinced that we both, in our scholarship, try to abstain from personal involvement and to maintain a neutral, “objective” perspective. We may, however, both sense problems for our own language community more acutely than outsiders. Therefore even on the scholarly level, the presentation and discussion of views from different backgrounds seems important for arriving at a fair solution. Outline of the EU language situation Not every reader will have seen van Els’ article, so it may be helpful to sketch once more the EU language situation as far as it seems relevant for the present discussion.
Some more recent data is added here, and emphasis differs somewhat in both cases. Since its foundation with six countries in 1952, the EU has continuously expanded and changed its name several times. In May 2004, ten countries joined at once, increasing the total number of member states to 25. Two more will join in 2007, and preparatory talks are going on with still others, especially with the successor states of Yugoslavia and of the western Soviet Union, and with Turkey.
Most of the newcomers have added their own national official language to the official EU languages, which amounted to 20 in 2006 (with three more to come in 2007 and 2008 among which, belatedly, Irish). According to the EU language charter (Council Regulation No. 1), each member state has the right to request that any of its national official languages be given the status Language conflicts in the European Union w 321 © The Author Journal compilation © 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd of official EU language. This status entails, among other privileges, that all EU “regulations and other documents of general application” are translated into the language.
Also, any official EU language may be used in EU parliamentary debates and formal Council proceedings, with interpretation provided in each case into all other official EU languages. Finally, they are meant to be used for communication between the EU institutions and the governments and other institutions of the member states. In that sense, all the official EU languages are, at the same time, EU institutional working languages, and Council Regulation No. 1, indeed, refers to all of them as “the official languages and the working languages”.
The idea is widespread that all of these languages are equal in status on the EU level, but they never have been in reality. Regulation No. 1 itself provides the legal basis for inequality in Article 6, which states: “The institutions of the Community may stipulate in their rules of procedure which of the languages are to be used in specific cases. ” Most institutions, especially their preparatory committees, use only the same small subset of languages regularly, which in practice always includes English and French, sometimes German, and occasionally Italian and Spanish (though other languages are not rigorously excluded). In some cases preference for these languages has been declared (e. g. for the Commission), and in other cases their preferred use is based on convention (i. e. based on function).
These languages, with their status declared or only based on function, have come to be referred to, informally, as the EU working languages , which implies that the remaining majority of the official EU languages are to be classified as merely official languages . I will use this terminology in what follows. It is important to keep in mind that the distinction is not always clear-cut, and that there are also hierarchies of status, i. e. working languages of different order according to frequency and taken-for-grantedness of use (English being for the most part the working language of highest order).
Nevertheless, the distinction between the working languages and the (merely) official languages has become more pronounced as the community has expanded, and it has also become an issue of growing concern. Besides the official EU languages (in the wider sense, i. e. working languages and merely official languages), there are numerous other languages in the EU which can be subsumed under various language types according to status, function and language rights of speakers but which I will not deal with here.
The overall number varies depending on definitions or, especially in the case of immigrant languages, on the number of speakers considered relevant for inclusion in the statistics. The number of indigenous languages alone is around 70 in practically any count. Official EU comments or policy guidelines regularly praise the multitude of languages as part of the Community’s cultural “wealth” and stress the need for their maintenance (this was especially the rhetoric during the European Year of Languages in 2001), while nonofficial observers occasionally characterize it as a “predicament” or source of communica- tive “chaos”. 322 w Ulrich Ammon ©
The Author Journal compilation © 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd Especially for the institutions, the latter impression is not entirely surpris- ing, in spite of the distinction between working and merely official languages, and use only of the former in many domains. The use of all the official languages for written communication with member states and for formal sessions requires translation and simultaneous interpretation, respectively, on a huge scale. The use of more than one working language for oral com- munication in informal meetings, where as a rule no interpretation is provided, can be difficult.
There is a long history of proposals for making communica- tion more efficient by reducing the number of languages employed, ideally to a single one, for which various possible candidates have been suggested, among them Esperanto and Latin, with English as the only one really taken seriously. Van Els’ (2005) proposal is in line with this history. EU linguistic diversity has also been seen as a hindrance to economic pro- gress or political integration and real democracy. To overcome it, recognized think-tanks have supported the idea of a single institutional working language, but also a single lingua franca outside the institutions to enhance the growth of regional mobility and of a common public sphere, especially through the media.
Jurgen Habermas (1998: 105, 115), among others, has supported this viewpoint in order to denationalize the EU and spearhead the emerging epoch of “postnationalism” that he envisions, and he has proposed English as the necessary unifying language for this. Andreas Beierwaltes (1998), however, has favoured continued subsidiary use of several languages, and Vivian Manz (2002: 209f) even claimed, with reference to Switzerland, that real democracy can unfold through parallel discourse in different languages.
In such discussions, the EU institutional working language(s) and its lingua franca(s) outside the institutions have often – if only tacitly – been seen as converging, at least in the longer run. Though there is no absolute necessity for such a convergence, since internal governmental or administra- tive communication can perhaps be handled as an isolated domain whose output then would be translated into other languages, such separation of domains seems difficult.
It does not function well in the present EU, where the institutional working languages serve, at the same time, for press releases (with the exception that the language of the rotating institutional presidency may also be used) and are even employed sometimes – contrary to regula- tions – for communication with member states, for which the regular protests of the German government against being addressed in English are ample proof.
Generally, convergence between a community’s institutional working languages and its lingua francas appears practical, though there are com- munities which function otherwise, especially some African countries (e. g. with English as the government’s working language and Swahili the prevalent lingua franca).
Within the EU, however, contacts across governments and administrations – central (EU), national (member state), regional (autonomous region) and communal (town) – and the economy, the media and citizens are so intensive that such a functional division seems difficult to maintain. Language conflicts in the European Union w 323 © The Author Journal compilation © 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd Even now, there is no doubt about the growing predominance of a single language, English, inside and outside the EU institutions (for data of various kinds, see Berns 1995a,b; Ammon 1996; de Swaan 2001: 144–75;
Phillipson 2003; van Els 2005; Seidlhofer, Breiteneder and Pitzl in press). The smaller language communities are not entirely opposed to the predominance of a single language, since it simplifies their choice of foreign language studies and use. The large language communities, however, tend to be concerned, since the spread of English entails, with some likelihood, the attrition of functions of their own language, especially as regards the EU institutional working language or lingua franca.
Concern is not really about language “death”, at least not for official national languages, not even in the case of the smaller language communities, let alone the larger ones; this kind of fear is dramatically overstated in van Els (2005: 270f). Fear of loss of function is, however, widespread among the large language communities or their linguistically sensitive citizens and is not based on mere imagination. The dilemma of promoting English: the example of Germany All the EU member states have themselves furthered the predominance of English, including those with large languages of international function.
The latter especially, however, have started to have mixed feelings about English predominance, fearing that, as a consequence, the international standing of their own language may suffer. Germany has this problem – and also Austria with the same national official language – and so do other EU member states with large languages, namely France, Italy and Spain. Germany has been more eager than the others to promote English (as a foreign language) within the own country. As early as 1937, during the Nazi period English was generally upgraded, partially for racial reasons (it was a language of the “Northern race”) to replace French as the first foreign language in school curricula.
Further upgrading was unavoidable in US- controlled West Germany after the war. The role of English as the primary foreign language was extended to the east after unification in 1990, and its functions were extended across the entire country beyond mere foreign language and peripheral domains like air traffic control. The deep entrenchment of English in German society was pointed out e. g. by Margie Berns (1995a,b) in her studies of the role of English in the EU, which she specified in terms of Braj Kachru’s three-circle model of World Englishes (e. g. Kachru 1985). This can be depicted as follows:
1) the “inner circle” countries with English as a first language and a private function, which are also “norm-providing” (e. g. Britain and also Ireland); 2) the “outer circle” countries with English as a second language and an official function, which are at the same time “norm-developing” (e. g. Singapore – but no country in the EU); and 324 w Ulrich Ammon © The Author Journal compilation © 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd 3) the “expanding circle” countries with English as a foreign language and only an international function, which are “norm-dependent” (e. g. France).
There seem to be mainly three sets of criteria involved in this typology with three largely parallel features, moving from the inner circle outwards, namely: a) individuals’ order of learning English together with, presumably, different degrees of identity function: as a (1) first, (2) second, (3) foreign language; b) the communicative function of English for individuals and institutions: (1) private, (2) official, (3) international; there may be an implicational order, so that ‘private function’ implies ‘official’, which in turn implies ‘interna- tional’, but not vice versa; c) society’s normative capacity with respect to English: (1) norm-providing,(2) norm-developing, (3) norm-dependent.
These criteria are not meant to be clear-cut, and operationalization may vary. Berns (1995a) found Germany together with Luxemburg and the Netherlands closest to the inner-circle countries within the former EU of twelve states, though she did not put it squarely next to them (into the outer circle) but suggested “creating an area of overlap of the outer and expanding circle”, where she placed Germany and some other EU countries. Her reasons for finding Germany closer to the English-speaking core countries than the expanding circle were “the functions it [English] serves .
. . in various social, cultural, commercial and educational settings” (Berns 1995a: 9). She also envisioned the possibility for countries like Germany of moving further towards the inner-circle countries in the future and even developing their own norms of English, i. e. German English, which would allow for an identity function (Berns 1995a: 10; also 1995b). The advantages would be that citizens would have functional command of English and no longer be hampered in participating in global communication, or much less so than today.
The potential downside of such a development has long been overlooked but has begun to be perceived recently. Parallel to the upgrading of English within the country, Germany has continued to promote its own language abroad (cf. e. g. Ammon 1992), because it also values it as a channel for international relations, in addition to English and other foreign languages. However, as Germany’s capacity to communicate internationally in English grows, the international function of its national language might diminish. Promotion of English may thus have the undesired side-effect of undermin- ing the international standing of German with the disadvantages this entails.
The ongoing promotion of English in Germany has recently met with criticism of various sorts, among which concerns about the negative impact on the international standing of German have become increasingly pronounced. Language conflicts in the European Union w 325 © The Author Journal compilation © 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd The most conspicuous recent steps for upgrading English in Germany have been the following: a) In school, English has become a general subject, starting in most of the country’s 16 states at primary level – while it was formerly a subject only of the more elitist streams ( Gymnasium , Realschule) and of higher education. b) At the tertiary educational level, so-called ‘International Study Programs’ or ‘International
Degree Programs’ (mostly with British spelling: Pro- grammes) were introduced in 1997 with English as a medium of teaching or co-medium with German (cf. Ammon and McConnell 2002). These programs, which are still expanding, are another step along the path towards English as the working language of German scientists which they took years ago when they started to choose English as their additional and often main language of publication. c) In business, English has become the official company language or is co-official with German in German firms, especially for global players. While these changes seemed initially widely acceptable, they have recently run into criticism from various sides.
As to (a), introducing English as a general school subject from primary school has officially been defended as meeting the need to prepare youngsters for the linguistic and cultural diversity of Europe. 1 Such reasoning was questioned as not being consistent with the actual policy of preference for just a single language. Imposing English on all pupils as their first foreign language – with the exception of western border regions which offer French – hardly serves linguistic diversity. A more defensible justification would be preparation for globalization or international communication in Europe, for which English could be claimed to be the most useful language.
While warnings of linguistic confusion if children were confronted with a second, or in the case of immigrant children a third, language as early as in primary school were easily dismissed; others – not much better founded – received more attention, like concerns about growing language mixing ( Sprachvermischung, Denglisch ). They were sometimes combined with fears, alluded to rather than expressed explicitly, about the German people’s dwindling loyalty to their own language or a loss of national identity tied up with it.
Thus the Verein Deutsche Sprache , Germany’s most popular private language organisation, demanded that English should be accompanied at the primary level “by additional teaching content which could stabilize students’ [national! U. A. ] identity”. 2 This sort of criticism was, however, only supported by a few conservative politicians and not taken seriously by academics. It was also not supported by the smaller but more prestigious private language organisation Gesellschaft fur deutsche Sprache, which counts many professional linguists among its members. In the case of the latter, the concern is more about undermining the international standing of the German language by teaching too much English 326 w Ulrich Ammon ©
The Author Journal compilation © 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd and at too early an age. Would foreigners not lose interest in studying German as a foreign language under the impression that communication with Germans, at least those engaged in international contacts, would in future entirely be possible in English? Teachers and professors of German as a foreign language in particular expressed such concerns, though often privately rather than in public. Around 15 to 20 million people study German as a foreign language world-wide, and it is a school subject in over a hundred countries (StADaF 2005–2006).
Professors and teachers of this subject are worried about the potentially negative impact on it from the ever more intensive teaching of English in Germany. They form a substantial section of the 22,000 members in 90 countries of the Verein Deutsche Sprache. 3 Teachers and professors of other foreign languages (except English), especially of French, tend to harbour similarly adverse feelings against any promotion of English. As to (b), the tertiary educational level, in the winter semester of 1997/98, ‘International Study Programs’ with English as the language of instruction started at German universities, supported by the German Academic Exchange Service ( DAAD ) and the Federal Ministry of Science and Education, and have since expanded.
The main reason given for their introduction was to make German universities more accessible to foreign students by using the language most of them know. Other European countries, especially the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries, introduced English for university teaching even earlier for similar reasons. The ‘International Study Programs’ in Germany are also offered to German students, who, as well as German professors, should benefit by improving their English language skills (for an overview of such programs in Europe, see Ammon and McConnell 2002).
These programs came under heavy fire for their language choice early on. Some scientists objected for practical reasons, such as feeling excluded by not having acquired sufficient English language skills themselves or, in the case of the applied sciences, needing to use German with clients. Others warned against the possibility of a foreign language being a handicap for studies and research, with the president of the Verein Deutsche Sprache , Walter Kramer, even claiming that a preference for English instead of their own language was among the reasons why German scientists’ share of Noble Prizes has declined.
An objection based on the Humboldt-Sapir-Whorf hypothesis stressed the superior cognitive potential of linguistic diversity over just one language, English. Occasionally, feelings of national humiliation surfaced from an awareness that German, too, once ranked among the prominent international languages of science. An objection related to the latter point was again raised by the departments of German as a foreign language, namely that many foreigners learned the German language because they wanted to study at a German university.
This motivation for studying German would be destroyed by study programs in English, which thus dealt a blow to the departments of German as a foreign language abroad and the international standing of the German language. Language conflicts in the European Union w 327 © The Author Journal compilation © 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
Such reasoning was taken seriously by the German Academic Exchange Service as well as by universities, and language requirements for the programs were modified. Foreigners are once again expected to learn the German language before or during their studies. The reasons publicly offered for re-establishing the German language requirements are students’ need to survive in their German- speaking surroundings and for access to classes taught in German. Perhaps the more important but less publicised reason was, however, to avoid damaging German departments abroad and the international standing of the German language.
The German language requirements guarantee the continued value of preparatory German language studies abroad (cf. contributions to Motz 2005). As to (c), the domain of business, most large German firms have made English their official company language, some as the sole official language, like Daimler- Chrysler, others co-official with German, like BMW or VW, though smaller firms, even those the size of Porsche (to stay with the automotive industry), have often maintained German as their sole official language. The choice of English as the company language has mostly been seen as a matter of practicality and as such has been widely accepted in Germany. However, objections have been raised, too.
Employees feared devaluation of their qualifications if they could not meet the foreign language requirements. But national political concerns also played a role, as in the case of a Lufthansa employee who refused to use English at Frankfurt Airport (“on German soil in a German company”) but lost his law case against his employer. Again, complaints were made by German departments abroad, who expressed concern that knowledge of German lost its value for applicants to German companies if they abandoned German as their official language.
Recently, the German government also seems to have perceived company language as a political issue. There seems to be a growing feeling in Germany in various quarters about the incompatibility between the country’s endeavours to maintain German as an international language, on the one hand, and the upgrading and expansion of English on the other. Thus, when Prime Minister Ottinger of the state of Baden-Wurttemberg demanded, during a public panel discussion, that more Germans should be provided with solid skills in English to prepare them for globalization, he raised a storm of protests from various sides.
The continued upgrading of English and its growing role within the country have nourished an aversion to further steps in that direction. It has also increased concerns about the greater predominance of English as the EU institutional working language, especially as the sole working language. Other EU member countries with large and international languages, especially France but also Italy and Spain, seem to nourish similar reservations. The attraction of English as the sole EU working language Theo van Els (2005: 276) convincingly argues that in the case of “only a single working language . . .
the language handicap of non-natives, as opposed to 328 w Ulrich Ammon © The Author Journal compilation © 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd . . . a number of working languages, is significantly reduced. ” The reason is not just that they then “only need to develop competence in one foreign language”, but that “this one foreign language will also become – and to an increasing extent – the property of the non-natives. ” This “appropriation of the working language by non-natives does not take place when there are two or more working languages, and in that case native speakers would not need to give up the ownership of their language.
” “Ownership” of the single working language, English, would come with the increased mastery as well as with the fact that, in the EU institutions, the non-natives would form a clear majority vis-a-vis the natives if there were one instead of several working languages. Other advantages would be comparatively small as long as the reduction in the number of working languages was limited to informal oral use. These advantages could, however, provide strong motivation for expanding the reduction of working languages beyond informal oral use.
The EU employs thousands of translators and interpreters (in 2006, there were 1,650 permanent plus an uncounted but large number of freelance translators, as well as 500 permanent plus 2,700 freelance interpreters), more than any other government or political organisation world-wide.
They are mainly needed for the parliamentary debates and formal meetings, as well as for written communication with member states. Part of their work, however, appears superfluous in light of the reasons for reducing the number of working languages for informal oral use; formal and written communication could also be enhanced in many a situation by the choice of a single language, whereby participants would increasingly become its “owners”; and extending the reduction in working languages beyond informal oral use could thus save the EU a large amount of money (figures for costs in Gazzola 2002, 2006; a detailed list of working languages in Gazzola 2006: 67;
Carli and Felloni forthcoming). Outside the political institutions, the market, similarly, exerts pressure towards the reduction of the number of lingua francas. Reduction to only one language would entail similar advantages as in the case of institutional working languages. Communication would be enhanced, costs of translation, interpretation and foreign language studies would be reduced (for business, academia, diplomacy, etc. ), and the non-natives would need to develop competence in just one foreign language. In the long run, this language would change from a lingua franca (in the sense of a foreign language) to a native tongue of wider communication.
In light of these attractions of a single working language, one wonders why institutional multilingualism has continued so long. An explanation, or an important part of it, is – in my view – a conflict of interests, which van Els does not seem to be aware of. His proposal is most appealing to the smaller language communities, which see no chance for their language functioning as an institutional working language. T