English the Most Common Language in Europe? Not If the French Can Help It

Photo by Alex Azabache on Unsplash

Language is a zero-sum game for the French

France pushing back against the primacy of English isn’t new. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the French have felt threatened by the increased use of English. In her book When in French, author Lauren Collins sums up the French attitude toward English at mid-century as a “zero-sum game. Gains for English were a loss for the French.”

Linguistic purity

The general French argument concerning Euro English is not that we should all revert to French as the language of diplomacy, or use it in lieu of English. The issue is with the cobbled-together way Europeans are speaking English. It’s not “pure.” By using words or phrases derived from their own native languages, Euro English speakers aren’t talking as clearly as they could in their own languages, resulting in miscommunication, the argument goes.

How much is lost in translation?

The French argument against Euro English rests on the fact that Europeans lose something when they can’t express themselves in their native languages. That resorting to broken, less-than-native English is an aberration. And that might be true. However, if everyone spoke their own languages, rather than English, we would go from mostly understanding each other to not understanding each other at all without the help of translators.

Photo by Yuedongzi CHAI on Unsplash

Euro English in everyday life

Euro English has not only facilitated diplomacy at the EU level but it’s also made cross-border communication easier. When people can easily speak to each other, they feel more comfortable moving to other countries. As freedom of movement within the bloc is one of the core principles of the EU, wouldn’t it make sense to support the use of a language that facilitates that movement? On the other hand, the ability to speak your native language and preserve your heritage is also fundamental to the European project, and it’s on this point that some French politicians and commentators take issue with the rise of “globish.”

Pushing French as a political move?

The French argument against Euro English brings up some valid points about the preservation of culture. But I don’t think the French Euro English detractors are as concerned about cultural diversity as they are about French dominance, in this case.

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Courtney Withrow

Courtney Withrow

Writer and Blogger. International Relations, Travel, Culture. Based in Brussels, Belgium.