European Journal of Language Policy

The elephant in the room: Language issues in the European Union

European Journal of Language Policy (2009), 1, (2), 93–119.

Abstract

Communication policy in the EU requires strict adherence to the principle of equality for speakers of all the official languages of member states and rejects the idea of a lingua franca. This position has been constantly reaffirmed, and within the last two years official commitment to the principle seems to have strengthened since a commissioner for multilingualism has been appointed and a High Level Group on Multilingualism formed, both charged with promoting multilingualism. There is, however, a mismatch between policy and practice; lip service is paid to multilingualism, while there is ever greater use of English as a lingua franca. This anomaly is under-researched, perhaps because the constituency using English as a lingua franca does not feel there is an issue to discuss, while those who support multilingualism do so from convictions and beliefs, which they are reluctant to interrogate. In this paper I argue that we need to examine the genesis of the EU's strict adherence to linguistic equality. The causes seem to be linked to the ideological legacies from nation building and colonial empire. Better understanding may help us to resolve the policy/practice dichotomy and address outstanding questions of justice.

La politique de la communication dans l'Union européenne exige le maintien strict du principe de l'égalité pour tous les citoyens qui parlent une des langues officielles des états-membres. Elle rejette l'idée d'une langue véhiculaire. Cette position a été constamment réaffirmée et semble être renforcée par la création d'un commissaire et d'un Groupe de haut niveau sur le multilinguisme. Il y a, pourtant, une disparité entre la politique et la pratique. On se dit engagé dans le multilinguisme mais on utilise de plus en plus l'anglais comme langue véhiculaire. Il manque de recherches sur cette anomalie, peut-être parce que ceux qui utilisent l'anglais comme lingua franca le considèrent comme une évidence, alors que les défenseurs du multilinguisme agissent à partir de convictions et de croyances, qu'ils hésitent à interroger. Dans cet article, nous soutenons qu'il faut examiner la genèse du maintien strict de l'égalité linguistique. On en tracera les causes dans les héritages idéologiques de la construction des nations, et de l'époque des empires coloniaux. En comprenant mieux ces origines, nous pourrions peut-être mieux résoudre la dichotomie entre la politique et la pratique et mieux confronter les questions de justice qui demeurent.

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Wright, Sue