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How the dominance of English kills the European debate

58 comments

Spanishwalker has already argued some months ago that one of the problems of the European blogosphere is the dominance of English. He sees the problem in English being the gatekeeper language between blogging and writing in most other European languages.

In consequence, conversation between Swedish and Spanish bloggers would only take place if they (a) write and read in English or (b) if someone reading either language refers to them (e.g. through lining) in her English-language blog.

But there’s a second problem with English that Spanishwalker doesn’t address: It makes us (whoever “us” may be) focus too much on British debates. Daniel Hannan today blogging the same old story of why the UK would and should not be in the EU is getting 100x more attention than a Polish politician/writer writing about how the future EU agriculture should look like. [Update: A good examples is this fascinating recent Polish blog post (Google translated) on the pros/cons of the Union.]

Instead of discussing the actual problems of European politics – and to the credit of many EU-critics there are many – the dominance of English makes us have the old debates over and over again. All you need to do to understand the perpetuum mobile is to read Nosemonkey’s blog from A to Z (including the comments).

I actually don’t mind the debate about having or not having a referendum in the UK, but it’s plain boring. It’d rather be interested to understand, for the first time, what a Polish, a Romanian, a French and an Estonian farmer (or agriculture policy blogger, to stay in context) have to say about why the EU or EU policies are flawed than to read, for the 1000th time, an exchange about why UK membership in the EU is good, bad, neutral etc.

If we actually were listening to the full debate instead of just promoting blog posts and arguments that are well-known and well-understood, we’d actually be able to see why things are wrong or right. If more people (bloggers for that sake, but also journalists) would just ignore old news and see what’s new news, we’d actually go back to substantive arguing instead of yelling conventional wisdom at each other.

Instead, we leave it to national ministers and their working-level representatives discussing behind closed doors in the EU Council to make those arguments for us and to come to agreements that may be no good for anyone. As long as “the European public” (note: whatever that is) discusses meaningless generalities based on an English-language UK focus while national politicians and administrators turned EU law-makers make or prevent actual politics, those discussions of a European public are meaningless or at least waste of time.

That’s why English as a lingua franca is bad. If we were able to mute the repetitious UK debates, English would be a great tool to have more pan-European debates. But, as long as we can’t mute the UK debate, we’re doomed (note: that’s an exaggeration). So my intention for 2013 is: Ignore UK debates as much as possible, not promote related blog posts on Bloggingportal.eu and instead link to other debates instead.

All it needs is a little effort and intelligent search. Happy 2013.



58 Responses to How the dominance of English kills the European debate

  1. avatar Steve Green says:

    I agree the in/out UK debate seems sterile and can dominate. But in many respects the debating issues do bring out many pan EU issues, once you get below the xenophobia/imperial nostalgia of the little englander antis. Democratic deficit; neo-liberal economic solutions,why the rich agri business benefit from the CAP, failure to tackle corruption, a total mismatch between EU2020 strategy and the proposed MFF; and most importantly a lack of a new narrative.

  2. avatar Ronny Patz says:

    The debate indeed makes surface policy issues. But when it does, it’s not about how the Greek or the Finnish farmer profits or suffers from an open market, EU subsidies, consumer protection laws etc., it’s about the British farmer. Which makes “us” pay more attention to those on the other side of the Channel than those at the border to Belarus or Turkey.

    The point I wanted to make is: We can consciously make decisions to listen to all sides of the debate or at least not to give even more attention to those debates that already have a public. The only general question I got back in my German home village related to EU politics was whether I had any updates on whether the UK will leave the EU. So there is a European public which noticed this discussion. Now we should move on to other questions more actively… :)

  3. avatar mathew says:

    Good point – the perpetual UK in/out noise has only gotten louder as it gotten staler and more repetitive, and is drowning out many more interesting discussions. This will get worse before it gets better, if it ever does.

    But even if the UK question didn’t even exist, the dominance of one language would still pose a massive problem for the European online public sphere. Given there’s little chance of bloggers themselves building multilingual bridges across the language gulfs separating your Spanish and Swedish bloggers, machine-aided multilingual curation seems the only solution.

    But this, too, is a debate we’ve already had. The UK referendum isn’t the only topic which has been done to death.

  4. To some extent I agree, but I really do wonder whether language barriers is the reason why we’re not reading “what a Polish, a Romanian, a French and an Estonian farmer (…) have to say about why the EU or EU policies are flawed. My sense is that Romanian farmers are not big bloggers. The kinds of people who blog tend to know how to do it in English. The only question is whether they choose to do it in English (like I do), or in their own language (like, for a large part, Ralf Grahn above).

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  6. avatar Nosemonkey says:

    I think you’ve just nailed why blogging about the EU has lost so much of it’s appeal for me. I keep on getting pulled back to the same arguments I was having a decade ago. Each new eurosceptic commentator – if British, of course – insists on dragging all discussion back to.square one every damned time. I can never move on, because I have to re-explain the basics every time.

  7. avatar Nosemonkey says:

    Also, I hate commenting on blogs and blogging via mobile. Too many typos and bad autocorrelation. Could be another reason for scaling back…

  8. avatar José Couto Nogueira says:

    To think that English is the language of the UK is a bit outdated. English became a universal lingua franca – for many reasons, some god, some bad – and now belongs to the world. Even if the UK vanished, the language would remain, as much as Latin was the lingua franca after the fall of Rome. The fact that English can sustain considerable damage and still be understood makes it very practical and universal: Indians and Brazilians, say, can talk to each other, both making their own mistakes and with weird accents, and still exchange information.
    The situation of the UK in the EU is another story. The British, being the ultimate snobs, never really accepted an integration in Europe, even when it was to their own advantage. Now, that Europe has become a sort of occupation zone for Germany, they have no reason whatever to stay.

  9. avatar Craig Willy says:

    I continue to think a Presseurop-style translation platform, at least one translating major FR/DE/PL/IT/ES blogs into English, would be the closest thing to a solution to the problem you raise.

    To some extent this problem would exist in any multilingual community. If the lingua franca were French, we’d still have no idea what popular blogs are saying (inevitably) in other national languages, such as German or Polish. Genuine international debate and familiarity would be limited, as it is today, at least until *everyone* is anglophone (ha?).

    The question is: Is English a bad lingua franca, worse than French or German for example? If the lingua franca were (as in the past) French, debates would be more framed by French discourse, for example more Gaullist concern about independence from U.S. and protectionist measures for the working/middle classes (protectionism, “Polish plumbers”). There would be similar problems with German. Would this be better? In some ways, I think it would be.

    English’s particularity is that it is the language of a foreign power (the U.S.) and of the Union’s least committed member (the UK). This is potentially problematic, as you note. However, I would highlight two issues:
    1) Anglo-American discourse obviously dominates thinking about the EU, from Jeremy Rifkin’s European Dream to the eurozone debate. I happen to think this discourse is *pretty good* as a rule, often very technical and dispassionate, typically a lot better than the lyrical rubbish one finds in France anyway. In addition, its not clear this framing is troubling from a democratic perspective as EU leaders have SYSTEMATICALLY ignored the prescriptions of the Anglo-American interpretation (e.g., don’t create the euro, don’t do austerity).

    2) It is arguably good to have a “foreign” more “neutral” language as the lingua franca. In India or African countries English and French serve as useful national languages, even though or *because* they are foreign, as it means no particular ethnicity is given dominance. Asian countries often use English on purely practical grounds (ASEAN, Singapore). Arguably the use of English is valid in Europe for the same reasons.

    I don’t want to deny the problems posed by English, most obviously it often excludes anyone who doesn’t speak English from having a major role in EU politics and discourse, but it is by far the most well-known foreign language in Europe.

    In fact, I suspect English suits eurozone elites in particular: though only Ireland speaks English ALL official discussion and virtually ALL EU websites on the eurozone, by far the EU’s most powerful policy area directly affecting citizens, are in English. This is horrific from a democratic perspective but it’s very useful for eurozone Eurocrats who don’t want citizens to be too agitated (like understand if austerity is necessary or how many billions the ECB money is arbitrarily lending to countries and banks).

    There is no alternative to English today (emphasize: *today*). There is no immediate solution to the linguistic division, and therefore division of identity and discourse, in Europe today, and that is why integrationists should be humble.

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  11. avatar Patrickdh says:

    Isn’t heightened divisiveness at the heart of all debates anyway, maybe that’s another explanation as to why it keeps popping up. What nations haven’t been capable of sorting out – Europe’s probable chance, is to do it in English. Although it can be uneasy to settle for the lowest common denominator tool, it shouldn’t mean that 2013 will not be for an enriched debate, now that(blogging)Citizens have become protagonists at the heart of Europe.

  12. avatar EU insider says:

    @Craig Willy
    “I suspect English suits eurozone elites in particular”

    Eh? Not so long ago press conferences were regularly in French. This changed with the Scandinavian accession in 1995 and their diplomats and officials with a preference for English. If there is a “preference” among Eurozone states, I imagine it would be German (van Rompuy, Merkel, Juncker, Ayrault). The fact is that there is quite often one language for internal discussion and another for official communication.

    “but it’s very useful for eurozone Eurocrats who don’t want citizens to be too agitated (like understand if austerity is necessary…”

    Is it the EU’s role to explain to citizens why their respective national governments are taking certain measures? Likewise, would they be communicating any better if the website was in German or French? For budgetary reasons, websites can’t obviously be translated into all 23 languages, especially as there are online automatic translation tools.

  13. Craig, why not ask Presseurope if they’d include a blog once a week or so in their translations?

  14. avatar mathew says:

    @craig: very good point that the so-called US-UK framing of the EU debate obviously has little impact, given the mess the Eurozone finds itself in (and that the Brits and Americans predicted).

    Doesn’t this in turn mean that EU leaders, huddled in the hothouse of Council meetings, ignore almost everything that doesn’t chime with their worldview? Cue posts on groupthink in the Brussels Bubble ;-)

    PS The reason I didn’t include presseurop as a solution is that it’s financially supported by the EC. But perhaps my dislike of EU-subsidised journalism is very anglocentric? ;-)

  15. avatar Craig Willy says:

    EUinsider – Well, eurozone institutions (or proto-institutions) have been working in English for decades. A eurozone citizen is not allowed to have an answer from ECB press conferences in his national language, only in English, which may suit 5 million Irishmen but not the eurozone’s 325 million other citizens. I don’t even think there is French interpretation.

    To the extent the EU becomes state-like and wields power over citizens, most obvious in the case of the eurozone, yes it becomes necessary for it to be democratically accountable, which includes (a minimum!) communicating in languages its citizens understand.

  16. avatar EU insider says:

    @Craig Willy
    Given the fact that the immediate addressees of ECB press conferences are markets and economic institutions across Europe which receive information in English on a daily basis, there is really no practical alternative. The ECB needs to speak with one voice and at present that voice is English.

    In addition, EU citizens have the right under Article 41(4) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights to write to an EU institution in their own language and receive a reply in that language. Could the same be said for the United States?

  17. avatar Craig Willy says:

    EUinsider – I consider that the ECB, if it is to claim any democratic legitimacy whatsoever, must be accountable to European citizens and not to Anglo-American “financial markets.”

    I understand that legally this may be a moot point given the über-technocratic status given to the ECB by the Maastricht Treaty: http://www.craigwilly.info/?p=1286

  18. avatar Javier says:

    My point (and theory) is that each language have a “bag of topics” that are always the same. Or at least the languages I speak (Spanish, Catalan, English, and some Swedish). Some of them are more repetitive (probably the case of English and its UK accession are the one more repetitive). But If you go to Catalan blogs and webpages, you will frequently find blogs or info about you know…an hypothetical Catalan independence, and more frequently right now because of the Irish referendum. I do not mean to point out blogs, but the general understanding of just looking the conversations and discussions is that you can feel/follow about what they are speaking. And people are doing it about the same topics again and again… I do not know the case in Germany or countries where German is used (would be interesting to know the case of Switzerland, but I guess there are some topics discussed frequently there too).

    Until certain points there is exchange of info between languages if the reader/writer understand B language, and has interest in what is being said in this B language. In this case “if someone reading either language refers to them (e.g. through lining) in her English-language blog”. But and I would add in other language. As an example, I might open a discussion about this same issue in a Spanish portal blogs and to see what Spaniards think about it, linking to this same blogpost even they do not read it. It happened already If I am not wrong with you http://politikon.es/2012/03/22/por-que-la-blogosfera-espanola-es-menos-influyente-que-la-americana/

    If you understand the comments you can see how from a certain topic, people move, in my point of view, to a classic debates we have in Spanish politics. Because honestly, from the blogs I move there is a sort of English/UK eurosceptiscim repetition, yes, but I might say in my case I am bored of old debates in Catalonia (and Spain) about the independence bla bla bla…(to point an example of repetitive topic).

    At the end seems English is the only channel to communicate, even inside a country where English is not the official language. Probably you know already the news website thelocal.de, and its version for Sweden thelocal.se The bloggers I interviewed pointed out also this problem, how hard is to reach people outside the English bubble, if they do not write in English.

    My point is that in the hypothetical case German, Spanish, or lets say Romanian will prevail in Europe, they might have a “bag of topics” that would be always in the front line, and supported by the media.

    Or we just can impose Latin as the official language (a joke, or maybe not).

  19. avatar overhere1 says:

    Interesting post. For us English speakers, the problem is that many of us assume that because you post in English, your thoughts are English. I think English is less of a Lingua Franca than we all assume but a series of versions that can be misunderstood. Having been the native English speaker at seminars where English has been the main language, I have found myself interpreting between say, Swedish/English and Polish/English. Perhaps we all need to recognise -especially the English- that a lingua \Franca is a bridging language between 2 other different languages and not a replacement for those languages nor a replacement for the thought patterns that create and inform those languages.

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  21. All good points, Ronny – but I think the questions in the UK debate aren’t exclusive to Britain. Rather, they are questions that everyone in Europe should be asking at the moment.

    http://liberaleurope.eu/european-debate-britain/

  22. avatar Ronny Patz says:

    I actually agree, Joe. See my comment below your post (awaiting moderation right now). :)

  23. avatar Ralf Grahn says:

    @Joe Litobarski @Ronny Patz

    Sadly, the UK debate is not about constitutional issues in a sense which would make the European Union or a smaller set of countries (eurozone) to resolve the fundamental flaws of lack of democracy, credibility and real connection with citizens.

    Much of the UK “debate” is obsession with secession, with little or no concern for the rest of Europe.

    British media hell-bent on secession are the main reason for the toxic and jingoistic atmosphere in the UK, but the political class as a whole has failed – if it ever tried – to make people understand what constructive European integration entails.

    However, as long as the national leaders who “own” the EU refuse to accept the necessity of real representative democracy, they keep supplying the anti-EU populists and ultra-nationalists unlimited amounts of ammunition, even if those secessionists have done their utmost to preserve the intergovernmental, eurocratic, anti-democratic, unaccountable and opaque character of the EU, which has done much to deepen and to prolong the crisis (as long as they can sabotage from the inside).

  24. avatar Bill Chapman says:

    I am one of many people who for decades have argued quietly that institutional support for Esperanto as a lingua franca could bring many benefits to Europe.

    Esperanto is a planned language which belongs to no one country or group of states. I would like to argue the case for its wider use.

  25. I left this comment on my own blog, but I think it’s worth copying again here:

    One important point that I completely failed to make [in my post] (and perhaps the most important point from a UK perspective) is this: whilst a small bubble of Europe watchers have gone over these arguments time and time again, the greater public definitely has not. And, if a referendum is indeed offered in the UK, then they will hopefully want to hear the arguments (old as they may be) being made.

    If the blogosphere gets bored of the UK debate now, when it actually has meaning, then it would be like a theatrical production getting bored during rehearsals and not bothering to turn up for the opening night.

  26. avatar david says:

    Esperanto, agghhhhhhh. What a daft idea. It sounds Ok for about 2 seconds, but when you give it 3 seconds thought, you realise how un-useful it would be. If you don’t want English, at least pick a language that is already spoken in Europe. Otherwise, why not just revert to Latin. Or neanderthal.

  27. avatar Bill Chapman says:

    Sorry, David. Esperanto is not just an idea. It is more than a good idea. It has been bringing ordinary Europeans together for 125 years. It is, of course, a language already spoken in Europe, as a quick search of the net will soon make clear. I find it thoroughly useful.

  28. avatar david says:

    Latin it is then.

  29. avatar david says:

    Over 1.5 billion people speak English, with over 375 million speaking it as their first language. In what way does Esperanto even compare? And how much research is published in Esperanto, i.e. that isn’t talking about the language itself? Does Esperanto even crack 10 million speakers?

  30. I’m sorry you’re totally wrong with almost everything. Pinkback is set and here my opinion to this blogpost:

    “Euroblogging, British debate and language – strange conclusions”

    http://kielspratineurope.eu/?p=1152

  31. avatar Neil Blonstein says:

    David, It is hard to convince most intelligent people that their native language, rumored to be spoken or learned by everybody, that is English, is not being used by MOST people and that a language with one or two million people speaking it–Esperanto—is SO MUCH more effective in producing FRIENDS than their native English. I have traveled the world (34 countries on 4 continents), lived abroad for some 16 years and assure you that more people will welcome you in their homes in Brazil, Cuba, Israel and Vietnam who speak in Esperanto than who speak in English. I will note that the entire youth movement of Esperanto speakers in Vietnam have college degrees in English or French literature or perhaps International Studies but during the my recently summer in Vietnam NOT ONE preferred speaking to me in English. Thousands of Esperanto speakers are at my Facebook account weekly awaiting my responses. There are barely any countries left in the world with which I have not corresponded in Esperanto. What do I write about. Politics, bicycling, vegetarianism, peace, friendship, education, families, gardening, music which are my main interests. There are specialty groups for most of these subjects as well. As a retired English teacher for immigrants I created a blog EnglishTeachersforEsperanto at Blogspot. I am not alone. My main blog about Esperanto with English clarification/summaries is at EsperantoFriends.

  32. Hi David, no problem with 1,5 billion people speaking (some words in) English – but are you going to speak to all of them? You won’t. Esperanto has enough speakers for a lifetime of interesting conversation. Enough books to find the pleasure to read. Enough to love the language.

    The question is not, if Esperanto can be the language for this year. The question is, should we offer optional Esperanto courses in schools and universities. Or, even better as a first step: Should we offer information about Esperanto to pupils at the age of 14. Then it will be up to them to decide, if they want to learn the language. In Hungary some of them want.

  33. avatar Penny Vos says:

    There’s a good infographic here:
    on how much of the world speaks English to any degree- you’ll probably be surprised because, as an English-speaker, your experience is not typical.
    Something that the language teaching establishment never likes to talk about is how long languages take to learn. For one thing it depends how bright you are and how hard you’re trying, but these are not good enough reasons to sweep under the carpet the fact that English-speakers take 600 hours to learn French or German and 2200 hrs to learn Japanese or Chinese to the same basically functional standard. (And languages are perishable so you have to keep going or you’ll lose it). Esperanto takes 100 hours to reach the same standard.
    So, if you care about equal access for the time and/or money poor, Esperanto is the best choice available.
    If you think that the world has things to attend to that are a bit more important than wasting 6 billion times 600 hours-2200 hours learning someone else’s language, then Esperanto is the answer to that too.

  34. avatar Penny Vos says:

    Ahhh, the site deleted my link! If you want to see the graphic, please google “Mondeto Blog”.

  35. avatar Ronny Patz says:

    In the light of the latest comments, I feel it’s important to turn back to the initial arguments.

    I think that English is a good de facto bridging language, simply because so many are at least able to passively use it. Turning the discussion to whether we need Esperanto or not isn’t really helpful. Multi- and Plurilingualism aren’t going to go away in Europe – and that is great. And the dominance of English as the most used second language is hardly to be broken in the mid-term future.

    With this post, I was trying to add another angle to a point Spanishwalker has already made at length, namely that the dominance of English gives a “privilege” to those bloggers/journalists who blog about Europe in English. My point was that it also privileges a certain type of topical debate, namely why it’s good/bad/neutral for the UK to be an EU member or why the EU has advantages/disadvantages/no effect for UK business, citizens, farmers, fishermen and -women etc.

    Having followed these discussions for several years now, I felt that most arguments have been exchanged up to now and that the debate was turning in circles (cf. Nosemonkey) while being quite visible for anyone following the Euroblogosphere. If you have read the blog posts promoted on Bloggingportal.eu over the last year, quite a high number were about the UK debate. My feeling is that there is not much need to give more visibility to this debate, because it is already quite at the centre of attention.

    But Joe’s point that by being dismissive about this debate now when it’s most relevant cannot be ignored because Joe is right. And as I can see from Martin’s comment and Karsten’s follow-up blog post, having used agricultural policy as an example has not helped my argument.

    So let me rephrase my argumentation:

    I would like to see a more European debate about how the political Europe should be (in the blogosphere and beyond) – this is why I am a Bloggingportal.eu editor. I believe that the debate is “more European” when it takes into account a variety of viewpoints and the complexity of arguments that comes from listening to a Greek blogger arguing why the EU is a problem for democracy as much as listening to a Danish farmer who thinks that EU subsidies are important. It is as much important to listen to an Estonian who doesn’t agree with EU data protection rules as it is important to listen to a Bavarian businesswoman who doesn’t want that her taxes favour her competitors in France.

    And a more European debate is one that looks at the meta-level (“membership yes/no”, “federalism yes/no”, “directly elected president yes/no” etc.) and at the more down-to-earth level (“border controls yes/no”, “ecological standards at level x everywhere yes/no”, “more money for education or more money for research in surveillance technology” etc.).

    And I agree with Martin that some of these topics are not really blogged about, neither in English “Euroblogs” nor in blogs written for a local/regional/national audience. But as I’ve argued in the past (not undisputed, I admit), there is more European debate out there if we just look for it. And I hope that, in 2013, I’ll be able to help to bring more visibility to this/these debate/s.

    This will not make the UK debate less visible or less relevant. In the best case, this can actually add new arguments for the UK debate, because I am sure there are more eurosceptic arguments available around Europe that UK eurosceptics have ignored so far while there are probably also more good arguments out there why a UK leaving the Union would negatively effect business inside and outside the UK, creating a lose-lose situation for Europe.

    In the end, this might (or might not) engage the wider European public in saying to the UK: “Hey, please stay with us, we like you the way we are and together we will reform Europe and have a bright future you couldn’t even image some years ago.” And it would be said in 21+ languages. Just because we had listened a little more to Europe as a whole. But maybe I’m exaggerating a little here.

  36. avatar Ed Robertson says:

    Sorry Ronnie, but English just isn’t fit for the job. Other than England and some of its its present or former colonies, it works UP TO A POINT for a small elite who’ve had the time and education to acquire a relative fluency, maybe some wider social circles in northern Europe, and some of the higher end tourist facilities elsewhere. It has nowhere near the penetration that is claimed for it. It’s TOO DIFFICULT to learn properly, without spending a lifetime on it. I’m a bit of a polyglot, and I can get by without English in quite a few countries in Europe, but the only language in which I’m really fluent, other than my native English and German, is Esperanto, and my German is a bit rusty because I don’t live there.

    Yes, not enough people speak Esperanto, but with Esperanto you can acquire fluency in months rather than decades, and where it really comes into its own is around a table with half a dozen or a dozen people all from different backgrounds, some of whom you could maybe speak to individually UP TO A POINT in a language one of you might have learned a bit of. But with Esperanto, even though you’re usually all learners (there are only a couple of thousand native speakers), you make a joke, or a subtle nuance, everybody gets it. I know, I’ve done it. I can’t do that with English unless they’re all native speakers. I know, I’ve tried.

    It’s not time wasted. Learn Esperanto. Just google it.

  37. avatar David Hardisty says:

    I realise the focus here is on content on blogs in the English language but I am surprised not to see mention of a very important variable in terms of agenda setting, which is the simple fact of the continuing importance of English language news agencies in terms of agenda setting for news, notwithstanding more alternative news agencies and the blogosphere. Ultimately it is the media power of these organizations that determines their agenda setting. We all know that there are parts of the world and stock issues reported in excess to others and this is a reflection of power to agenda set rather than lingustic issues per se.

    Having said that, as a British person living in another EU country (Portugal) I continue to be dismayed at the ignorance on which most UK citizens form their opinions (prejudices?) of the European Union. I also felt when the present UK coalition government was formed including Nick Clegg, one of the more aware British politicans regarding Europe, that it was a chance to improve awareness of the EU, but sadly this does not seem to have been the case.

  38. If I understood well, Ron, you made a contrast between Esperanto on the one hand and multi- and plurilingualism on the other hand. But, there is no contrast at all!

    Most of the Esperanto speaking people do love languages. They speak their mother tongue, Esperanto and in the mean two more foreign languages (following several studies). So if you say that multi- and plurilingualism “is great”, we totally agree. We don’t see a role for Esperanto much different to that English has now: a bridging language that may be used, when people want to do so. But they should be free to use their mother tongue and so many other languages as they want to learn.

    Maybe English is a “good de facto bridging language” (I think rather, it’s good to have a bridging language, even if it’s a national language). Anyhow, I think Esperanto is a better bridging language. Because it’s just not the language of only some nations – it’s the language of everyone who decided to learn it and speak it. (And it’s much easier to learn.)

    Your are right, “the dominance of English as the most used second language is hardly to be broken in the mid-term future”. But it’s also true that the dominance of the nuclear industry and the coal, oil and gas industry is “hardly to be broken in the mid-term future”… If we want change in the world, we have to think what world we want and then we should begin to change the world – if it will take a long time or a shorter time. In the meantime, no doubt, let’s use English. A language I love.

    (The source of the misunderstanding about Esperanto and plurilingualism may be the EU commission itself. In their FAQ about multilingualism they put a misleading question: “Would one language for all be a solution?”. I commented on that, in German.)

  39. avatar mathew says:

    Rather than contribute further to the hijacking of this comment thread by Esperantists, I thought I’d temporarily bring my blog out of retirement to make a constructive suggestion regarding the use of Esperanto in the EU online public space.

    Apart from that, I still largely agree with Ronny’s arguments.

  40. avatar Penny Vos says:

    Hi Matthew, you’re right- we’re a bit off topic here. Sorry. If anyone is interested in the question “Should Esperanto be the language of Europe?” just google the question and you can see a really good exploration of the topic by many people for and against the idea for a variety of reasons.
    Happy New Year everyone!

  41. avatar Rubén Fernández Asensio says:

    Mr. Patz, your remarks are truly enlightening. I agree that the international debate on EU politics is one-sided and biased towards UK-topics, but you fail to realize that if you carry that debate by means of a national language (whatever language, don’t mind English) it is bound to be so. You yourself nail the reason: “I think that English is a good de facto bridging language, simply because so many are at least able to passively use it” (My emphasis). That’s the key word in discussing English as an international language: it doesn’t matter how many people can read English and how scattered they are, because the majority of people that can actively write in aceptable English are overwhelmingly concentrated in a specific region: the British Isles. I can’t see how that’s going to change in the future regardless of how foreign language teaching improves in continental Europe, unless the UK and Irish governments institute some sort of “compulsory illiteracy” law (just joking now).
    And Matthew, I take issue at your comment about Esperantists “hijacking” this thread. For any of the EU-debates you guys prefer (“membership yes/no”, “federalism yes/no”, “directly elected president yes/no” etc.) to take place, first you have to go through this one: “neutral common language yes/no”. Any attempt to build an European citizenry while bypassing this stage is much more utopian and doomed to fail than Esperanto. And thinking that the bias that is built in English can be avoided just through a concerted effort is whishful thinking.

  42. avatar mathew says:

    Rubén, sorry if you take issue with my throw-away remark, I didn’t mean any offense by it.

    I don’t remember saying we can avoid the topic bias through a concerted effort, or that Esperanto was doomed to fail, either. I do remember trying to make a quick, constructive suggestion with my post. Based on the nature of some of the reactions, particularly yours, I suspect I wasted my time, but that’s OK, no harm done.

    Anyway, good luck with all those ideological, social and judicial biases you complain about, as well as that clearly criminal lack of public funding which you so clearly deserve … it all sounds rather frightful! ;-)

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  46. avatar jixiang says:

    @ Jose’ Couto Nogueira

    It is a myth that “English can sustain considerable damage and still be understood makes it very practical and universal”. English has no such special property that other languages don’t have. In fact, the rather unclear pronunciation of lots of English words makes it quite disadvantageous from this point of view. As soon as someone’s accent is weird or unclear, it becomes very hard to understand them.

    If English is the most popular lingua franca worldwide, it’s not because of some particular property it has which makes it easier. It is because of the historical power of the UK first and especially the US later.

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  50. avatar Kaj says:

    Why not German, I’m not German and i do not speak German but i would learn it when it would become the main European language, Did you know that all scientific papers where written in German before the Second World War.

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