Multilingualism is the way through which Europeans will be able to talk to one another.
Multilingualism is the ability to speak several languages, to understand them and to master its nuances. Becoming multilingual is a long and tedious, but very useful process.
As a matter of fact, diplomatic, political and economical relations between States cannot happen without resorting to a common medium of communication.
Let’s just imagine a Greek olive trader, speaking only Greek, who would try to sell his products to a Danish supermarket, whose Danish employees only speak Danish ! Such a transaction would be either impossible or too expensive, for an interpreter would be required.
Instead of this type of difficulty, the EU, the melting pot of a rich and varied culture, can make it possible to overcome this language barrier thanks to the education system of each member State.
The Finnish language system is as developed as those of latin countries is riddled with failings.
The relations between EU members will have to use two channels: first, the dream of a common language and second, multilingualism, cornerstone of a successful European management of cultural differences.
An impossible common language
A language common to all Europeans has been discussed, and for that purpose, language experts invented Esperanto. This language, made of various grammatical roots, was to help Europeans agree with one another about rather contentious debate: which language should we use in our exchanges ? English ? German ? French ?
Those three languages come back to the forefront over and over again when the issue is discussed. But why should a language impose itself to other countries than those where it is spoken ? French, for the sake of diplomatic traditions ? English, for the sake of globalisation ? German, for the sake of the relative majority ?
And why not Italian ? It is an easy language to learn, it sounds nice, it is historically rich, close to Latin… And why not Spanish ? In a word, the question of a common language has been a long debate, which will always unleash passions, and that may stir up sleepy nationalisms. Let us thus avoid this solution which would bode ill for the future of the European Union.
Multilingualism : the most logical solution
Since, for the time being, a common language is impossible for the above reasons, we will have to satisfy ourselves with the second solution: multilingualism. This solution has already been chosen in EU Institutions. Everyone speaks in his/her own language, translators make sure the message addressee understands what has been said, and as a result everybody’s language is respected by the others.
An EU civil servant has to be fluent in three official languages. This statutory obligation is an evidence of the EU leaders’ political will not to favour a language at the expense of another. Therefore, a Polish who can speak Lithuanian and Hungarian can easily enter the EU institutions.
In fact, it does not matter which language is used, what counts is that the message between the sender and the receiver is fully understood. As far as the efficiency of multilingualism is concerned, it is actually a simple matter of time. By dint of language mixing, a day will come when the Community language will be one. Today, the EU wastes time and money by translating Treaties into some twenty official languages.
Today, when an MEP speaks out in the hemicycle and makes a joke, it takes some time for laughs to spread out to the backbenches. Tomorrow, this waste of time will bear its fruits and will probably end up to the creation of a new language. The world will have to speak it if they want to be able to trade with the world’s second largest economy after China. And it will not be a question of a Greek olive retailer selling to a Danish, but that of a Chinese seller of manufactured goods trading with a European.
One should acknowledge that learning a language can be tedious, but that it is very useful in today’s global world. Anyone who goes to university learns English. Why English? Because it is the language of the global economy. When, tomorrow, the language of economy will be Chinese, it is this language which will be taught in primary schools.
Imposing a new mode of communication
The European Union faces a challenge of the utmost importance by keeping on working with multilingualism. And it is JEF’s role to support this use. You, TNF reader, right now, you are reading English. But I am writing it in French. My dream would be that translation can be avoided as a necessary step for the understanding of my message. In other words, I would like you to understand my language when I speak and write, as I would like to understand yours when you speak and write.
This mode of communication is already there. The Franco-German cultural TV channel Arte already uses it. Editorial Board meetings take place in the two languages. Every one speaks in his/her native language and the other employees must understand what is being said without translation.
Provided that “European multilingualism” is taught in schools, this mode of communication would revolutionise language use. The snag is that the interlocutor should have followed the same class. It is therefore up to the European Union to set up in the schools of all the 25 Member States that type of system.
In the EU institutions, multilingualism may appear to be an obstacle to efficiency and a swift decision-making (or is it?), but it is inescapable. The exclusive use of a language at the expense of the others could foster the distrust towards the European Union. Already today, it isn’t much appreciated by the citizens, so let us not give them a stick to beat it with.
That is the reason why one should see this doggedness in using all languages and loosing time in translating as a step forward. One should thank the EU leaders for not pandering to the Anglo-American mermaids’ song who are pushing for the use of English.
Translated from the French by Emmanuel Vallens, Chief editor of the Jungstier, Magazin der Europabürger.