Free Essay On Lack Of A Common European Language
Type of paper: Essay
Topic: Europe, Language, European Union, Culture, Identity, Linguistics, Formation, Integration
AND ITS INFLUENCE ON THE FORMATION OFA EUROPEAN IDENTITY
The City and State
Cultural integration of European countries is one of the most discussed questions of the last few decades. It is now seen as the mean of furthering integration beyond that which has been achieved in the spheres of economics and politics. Cultural integration isthe key important preconditions of the formation of a European identity, which basically implies that all European nations should develop the feeling of belonging to the same community. Identity has an individual component of active choice coupled with a collective component where individuals orient themselves to one or more aggregate groups or collectivities. The main obstacle that restricts the process of formation of a European identity is the lack of a common European language. A common language was dramatically important for the creation of the first nations, and the practice shows that it still remains a crucial factor that influences the possible formation of a European identity.
The development of European integration processes is one of the major factors that influenced the world economic and political balance in the 20th century. Formation of the European Union and its great achievements on the ground of economic and political integration have led to the idea of making further steps in this direction, which imply integration on the cultural level and the formation of a common European identity.
There is an opinion that culture differences result in reduced possibilities for further European integration. This view was supported by the cultural theorists such as Zetterholm (1994) and communitarian theorists such as Walzer (1970), who focus their attention on the cultural difference as a source of resistance to integrating processes. Thus, this point of view is the main motivation behind the idea of the reducing this cultural differences and creation of a common European culture and European identity.
The two most influential EU members – Germany and France – are interested in the creation of a common European culture and identity in order to provide a stable basis for further integration. At the same time, they wish to avoid the development or adoption of Anglo-Saxon popular culture. The key question here is: “Whose culture is to become the basis for the future common European culture?”. Of course, this question can’t be answered without identifying the dominant European language.
Language is a very important issue for cultural politics of the European Union. A lot of scientists and politicians expressed the opinion that existence of numerous national languages is a major barrier to European cultural integration. For example, Edye argues that due to the lack of a common language EU lacks one of the main components of culture (1997). Haller points out that the diversity of languages in Europe constitutes a barrier to the development of a common European culture (1994). In 1994, by the time of Haller’s research, there were 11 official languages of the EU. Nowadays, in 2015, this number equals 24 and that obviously doesn’t make the problem disappear.
There is also another view at the question of common European language. It bases on a statement that European culture and identity only exists in a variety of different cultures, and the implementation of the common language will simply ruin all that we call European. This theory refers to one of the mottos of the European Union – “Unity in Diversity”) – and states that it conflicts with the idea of European lingua franca – a common language for all European nations. But since this opinion is quite unpopular and is refuted by the existing facts, it will not be taken into consideration in this work.
It should be mentioned that the practice of the last years shows the tendency of English language developing as a de facto lingua franca in Europe. Nevertheless, the problem is not even that Europe does not have a de facto common language, but that there is strong resistance to the acceptance of this situation, mostly for political reasons. France and Germany oppose the idea of English as the official common language of the EU. One of the reasons for this is the fear of Anglo-Saxon cultural hegemony, as mentioned above. National prestige and ambitions are also important factors. Since Great Britain wasn’t one of the UK founders, Germany and France don’t even consider English as the lingua franca, lobbying their own national interests.
These facts depict all the complexity of current situation around the language question in Europe. For deeper analysis of the matter, it is important to determine the benefits of possible implementation of the European common language. Among these are the following:
simplification of conducting the interstate negotiations;
possible establishing of the common European mass media;
facilitation of communication between EU citizens, that may result in further growth of tourism and service industry in general;
powerful incentive for the formation of a common European identity;
activation of the integration processes in economic and political spheres.
This list includes only key positive effects that can become an outcome of the potential implementation of the common EU language. Thus, it can be argued that the lack of the common European language is directly connected with the formation of a European identity and significantly restricts it.
Although there is a disagreement about what language should become the lingua franca, English is definitely one of the main candidates on this vacant place. The importance of the English language is undisputed as it is often being referred to as ‘the most powerful medium of communication in the world’ (Wells, 1998). In addition, it has a status of the de facto common language of Europe. And it is not the clarity, flexibility or ease of learning of English that makes it so popular, but its global importance and value: people learn it to improve their future prospects and career possibilities, to be able to access and share information, become more internationalized, and to feel part of the world community.
The 2012 survey ‘Europeans and their languages’ issued by the European commission is full of interesting statistical facts that depict the attitude of the EU citizens to the language question. Some of these facts are listed below:
In accordance with the EU population, the most widely spoken mother tongue is German (16%), followed by Italian and English (13% each), French (12%), then Spanish and Polish (8% each).
The majority of Europeans (81%) agree that all languages spoken within the EU should be treated equally. Even if around seven in ten (69%) think that Europeans should be able to speak a common language this view does not extend to believing that any one language should have priority over others.
Slightly more than half of respondents (53%) agree that EU institutions should adopt a single language when communicating with citizens, whilst more than two in five disapprove of this idea.
There is a broad consensus among Europeans that everyone in the EU should be able to speak at least one foreign language, with more than four in five (84%) agreeing with this view.
Despite the fact that EU citizens generally look positively at the multilingual approach, it is obviously that choosing English as the common EU language would be a great advantage to the native English speakers, while all the other EU population (87%) would not be in such a comfortable position. This might provide a new source of conflict between the member states and EU citizens.
The most democratic solution would be that everybody learned a language that was nobody's mother tongue (e.g. Latin). If the member countries were able to agree on one language, it should be possible to make Europe more or less bilingual in a generation or two, depending on the quality of the language education, books and not least, teachers. The lingua franca would have to be made compulsory at all levels in the school system, and probably also in the central administration of the Union. A common language is probably a minimum prerequisite for a European identity to form (Bakke, 1995).
Obviously, it is unlikely that one of the existing languages will prevail within the European Union in the sense that it will become everybody's mother tongue. And if the European identity depends on that, it is not reachable in the near future. Bakke states that the question is what role language plays in these theories – is it language as a cultural expression of national uniqueness or is it language as a means of communication we are after (1995)? If we believe that languages form identities mainly by making us proud of what is ours, obviously, the lack of a European language is a severe obstacle to the formation of a European identity. On the other hand, if we believe that the function of language in the nation forming process is to further communication, give us a common horizon, a common world outlook, there are ways to compensate for the lack of a shared European language (Bakke, 1995).
Even brief analysis of the information and facts given above shows that the question of common European language is deeper than it appears to be. On one hand, current situation with the lacking lingua franca restricts further integration processes in the European Union (as already shown).On the other hand, existing resistance to the status of English as informal common language of EU demonstrates that the attempts of the official implementation of the lingua franca can possibly cause severe conflicts between the EU member countries. Therefore, following analysis of the lack of a common European language and its influence on the formation of a European identity will not take into consideration any theoretical scenarios and will focus on the existing initial data only.
Since it is clear that the lack of common European language affects the formation of European identity, the next logical step is the determination of the direct consequences and the level of such influence. With regard to all the facts and statistical information given above, it is possible to list key effects caused by the lack of European lingua franca. Some of them are the following:
Serious communication barriers that tend to make people from different EU countries feel separated from each other.
Psychological barriers that express in subconsciously formed conception which implies that the core of national identity and its culture can be formed only by the people that speak one common language.
Considerable obstacles to deeper understanding of the cultural heritage of the European nations (e.g. Englishman is unable to fully understand and appreciate French poetry, folklore or music without skills in French language).
Restricted possibilities for the implementation of common EU education system that could possible serve as a basis for bringing up the future generations – EU citizens with the strongly pronounced feel of belonging to the European nation.
Obstacles to the technical and economic progress.
It is also important to go in detail and find out how exactly the effects listed above are connected with the lack of a common language. Communication barriers do really exist and they result in reduced possibilities for the EU citizens to interact on the social, cultural, economic and all the other imaginable levels. Concerning mentioned psychological barriers, it should be said that here some customs and traditions come into play. As far as the formation of nations and their unique identity is historically connected with the common language, the formation of a common European identity may seem unnatural since there is vast majority of the languages spoken in Europe.
Besides the common language, one of the most significant aspects that form the nation’s identity is its culture. As have already been said, Europe is incredibly rich in various cultures. Thus, culture convergence is dramatically important for the formation of the European identity. Once again, such convergence is very hard to achieve without common language that could help EU citizens with learning, understanding and appreciation of the other nations’ culture. So it is a kind of a vicious circle: cultural convergence depends on the existence of the common language, while the establishment of the common language is impossible without further cultural convergence.
Mentioned negative effects in the economic and technical spheres are also directly connected with the lack of common EU language. They come to life due to the fact that leading scientists and economists of the member countries often have difficulties with expression of their thoughts and explaining their position to each other. This fact significantly reduces their productivity and lowers synergistic result of their work. Thus, European Union bears considerable economic losses caused by the lack of a common European language.
After the great achievements in the spheres of economic and political integration, European Union faced the question of further cultural convergence and formation of the European identity. The main obstacle that restricts these processes is the lack of a common European language.
Establishment of English as lingua franca in Europe was met with the strong resistance of German, France and other EU members that fight for their prestige and lobby their own national interests. At the same time, Europeans are widely in favor of people in the EU being able to speak a common language, and majority agree that EU institutions should adopt a single language to communicate with European citizens. But they also think that choosing one of the existing languages as a common language is unfair. Thus, the question of a common European language is very complicated.
Nevertheless, the lack of a common language limits the possibilities of the EU on all the levels: political, economic, technological, educational, cultural etc. It is natural that such a situation prevents the formation of a European identity. Taking into consideration the fact that European Union heads for a deeper level of integration, it is logical that EU considers assuming the measures to solve the question of a common language in the nearest future.
Bakke, E., 1995. Towards a European Identity? Arena Working Paper, 10, pp.1-28.
Edye, D., 1997. Citizenship in the European Union: the Post-Maastricht Scenario. The Future of Europe, pp.63-80.
European Commission, 2012. Europeans and Their Languages. [pdf] Available at:<http://www.ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/ebs/ebs_386_en.pdf> [Accessed 18 March 2015].
Haller, M., 1994. Toward a European Nation? Epilogue, 1, pp. 239-243.
Walzer, M., 1970. Obligations: Essays on Disobedience, War and Citizenship, New York: Clarion.
Wells, P., 1998. The Tasman Triangle. The Australian Review of Books, 2, p. 24.
Zetterholm, S., 1994.Why is cultural diversity a political problem? A discussion of cultural barriers to political integration. National Culture and European Integration ,pp.65-82.