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Should English be the EU’s official language?

Translation and interpreting are complicated – and expensive – processes in the European Union. Each year, the EU translates a staggering 1.76 million pages, at a cost of £357 million. In recent years, the number of translators has risen from around 200 to an estimated 3,000.

Recent new members have helped the number of official languages soar to 23, rising to 24 when Croatia joins next year.

When the Treaty of Rome set out the “language parity rule” there were just 10 languages. The idea that they should all be treated equally  fair – and manageable. But could they have envisioned the complications that would occur when it grew?

The EU recently decided to cut part of its translation service to save £7.27 million per year. From this December, the EU legislative will only record proceedings in the original language, but will translate them if requested by a member state.

However the German president Joachim Gauck has proposed much more radical cost-cutting by suggesting English could be the official language.  Speaking  on the future of European integration in Berlin in  February, he suggested that the nations needed a common language.

He argued that using a common language for communication could still be compatible with supporting multilingualism. He believes  better communication will improve integration, and also suggested a dedicated Europe-wide television channel (in English of course!)

Not surprisingly, his suggestion didn’t meet met with universal approval, with some French diplomats feeling their own language was under threat. Their language was a central one in the early days of the European Union, but as it has expanded, English is becoming more commonly used as an informal lingua franca. A French journalist recently boycotted an EU conference in Dublin, because it was held only in English.

Using a single language wouldn’t be easy, with legal obstacles to be overcome. At the moment, English, French and German are often used as “working languages”, but members can request translation into their own languages.

Some  commentators have suggested using Latin or Esperanto as a  common language, so all members are on an equal footing.

And in David Bellos’s book Is that a fish in your ear: Translation and the meaning of everything, he notes multilingual EU lawyers have started to pick up words and even grammatical structures from each other’s languages,  resulting in a kind of “Eurospeak”. Could this result in a common language that is a mishmash of multiple tongues?

Do let us know what you think! Would a single official  language improve integration – as well as saving money? And find out more about our translation services into all European languages – and many more. Or get in touch with us.

Hazel Mollison

Hazel Mollison edits and writes for the Lingo24 blog. After studying Italian and German at Cambridge University, she worked as a journalist for five years with regional and national newspapers. She enjoys writing about languages, translation, online marketing, and helping small businesses explore new opportunities.

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