Today is the European Day of Languages, when Europe celebrates its rich linguistic heritage: the EU’s 23 official languages, the 60 or so regional languages, and the languages spoken by people who’ve come to Europe from other parts of the world. But can the EU function as a multi-lingual democracy? This question has come up several times on Debating Europe (it’s one of the questions we put to the European Commission’s spokespeople last week during their online #EUChat).  In last week’s interview with Nigel Farage, the UK Independence Party leader argued that:

Multilingual democracy is a near contradiction in terms: any attempt at it, within a centralised political unit, leads to central dominance through a process of ‘divide and rule’. You can tell one nation one thing, and another nation something else, because there is no real communication between the media-circuses of the two, let alone adequate discussion between electorates.

Does Nigel Farage have a point? On the one hand, countries like India seem to manage it (with Hindi and English as the two official languages, and over 30 regional languages with more than a million native speakers) whilst countries like SpainCanada and Belgium have struggled in recent years (though none of these countries have disintegrated just yet).

What do YOU think? How many languages do you speak? Do you think Europeans can overcome the “language barrier” and work together in the EU, or is multi-lingual democracy a near contradiction? And if you blog in one European language, would you consider switching to another for the European multilingual blogging day? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below!

Image Credits: CC / Flickr – pakec

39 comments Post a commentcomment

  1. avatar
    Zoétán Jenei

    sajnos a mi orszgunkban jelentsen cskkent a demokrcia plda a mai nap a birosg hozott egy itletet a klubrdio gyben s a mdia tancs nem hajtja vgre az itletett

    • avatar

      Kedves Uram, az Ön hozzászólásának SEMMI köze SINCS a témához. Így aztán fölösleges kommentálnom mennyit is ért Ön a demokráciából, meg abból ami ma Mo.-on történik.

  2. avatar
    Omar Mateiro

    Yes sure, language has never been a barrier in what concerns to migrations, marriages or work related issues why should it be a barrier for europeans live together!

  3. avatar
    eusebio manuel vestias pecurto

    Sim os europeus podem superar as barreira da lingua e também trabalharem juntos dentro de qualquer pais da UE é uma questão de hábito aos primeiros dias o trabalho custa duas vezes mas com o passar do tempo as coisas mundam

  4. avatar

    i know several Language,but my most favorite language American English language.


  5. avatar
    Nikolai Holmov

    Europe has always had many languages and it always will and has got to where it is on that foundation. The question must therefore be asked, in what way has language been a barrier so far?

    Mr Farage has a point about central control but that really has very little to do with language and much more to do with organisational structure, where power lays and the games within.

    After all HM the Queen of the UK at every single state banquet still produces all the menus in French. We still have diplomatic “de marches”, “communiques”, “Charges deAffairs” etc, all French words which are often used by Mr Farange’s UK diplomats.

    The idea of a common language goes against every statement I have ever heard from MEPs who always publicly value the differences between national histories, cultures and languages that apparently make Europe what it is.

    Of course they may be lying and have other views personally, but publicly they want to celebrate the diversity that makes up Europe – to a man/woman.

    I presume that a common language would very much not go down well with Mr Farange’s constituents either – unless it was English.

    As for how many languages I know – French, German, English, Russian, Ukrainian and Spanish. But I can also understand, to some degree, Czech and Polish due to enough similarities to the languages I do know.

    When it comes to blogging, tweeting and such things then I do so in English, Russian and Ukrainian.

    I am fairly sure that if anybody was remotely interested in what I write they would translate it via the Internet one way or another if they didn’t understand it.

    I am no different when I get emails in Italian or Danish.

    Quite what the relevance is to how many languages I know or blog/tweet in I am not sure however.

  6. avatar
    Albert Saxén

    Well, multilingual democracy no, but then again english is not a but THE intl lang. :p
    It’s the same w French (no offense to my french friends. ;) DOn’t need it but if you do know it ..’tis a bonus.
    It’s a dipl language.

  7. avatar
    Christos Mouzeviris

    Language is not the problem. Look at Switzerland! The political system is, the interests and how we deal with issues. We do need a common language to communicate though, perhaps a second official language for all in Europe. And at the moment, the English language is the most appropriate candidate, as most of Europeans speak it. Once we achieve that, and work on democracy in Europe, but also on equality, transparency, solidarity and stability, then we can all be happily bilingual or multilingual. The more languages one speaks, the better. I wish I had more time and money to learn more languages. For now, I have other priorities though. ;o)

  8. avatar

    The ongoing replacement of mothertongue in EU member states by international English will sooner or later lead to mediocre results in all kinds of intellectual spheres. It is no incident that it was the nation state where modern science took off and not the Latin dominated feudal empires. To explore and understand concepts a thorough knowledge of language is necesssary, and that can first of all be achieved in ones mother tongue.

    The official stance of the EU to appreciate all languages is one thing, its obvious practice of priortizing English another. However, in the medium and long range this will hurt Europe, leading to mediocre results in many fields. Such a danger also exists for many other standardizing attempts of the EU. At the moment when, for example, German management professors begin discussing professional matters in (their restricted) English, although they are among themselves, then not only germany but also Europe has a problem. Although the EU is not the only one causing this, it carries a great deal of responsibility. The direct and indirect intervention of the EU (and other supra-/international) actors into our national cultures is already going too far, endangering coherance and productivity. The fostered internationalization based on English cannot replace the advantages of mother tongue intellectual milieus and communication. Unfortunately, the balance between the two is already out of balance in a number of member states.

  9. avatar
    Ankit Khandelwal

    I think the effort must be made to make people understand each other (different countries) better. language is just one part of it and more steps can ensure better solidarity which is indeed needed in the time of Eurozone crisis.

  10. avatar
    Omar Mateiro

    There should be an european parliament free TDT chanel. 1200 directly assined reporters and no TV?

  11. avatar
    Rose Legout

    oui la je suis tout a fait d’accord avec vous , oui en effet se serait bien de partager nos ides, c’est une solution qui pourrez porter ses fruits, avoir plusieurs opignons serez peut tre la clf ??

  12. avatar
    catherine benning

    I am a sceptic. So this thread is seen by me as nothing more than a fact finding mission. Similar to Google and its money making detail finding games.

    So, I’m not telling… But at least one. That great vocabulary that most languages can’t do without as support for its own. English. The others always have to resort to it in the end as their languages lack the depth and breadth needed to have clear understanding.

    • avatar

      No comments, chauvinism, prepotency, and bigotry at its fullest degree.

  13. avatar

    I am fluent in 3 languages,inluding my native one.
    In addition to this,I also speak a little Arabic.

  14. avatar
    Peter Schellinck

    What has language got to do with us working together in the EU? The issue is “the will” of wanting to succeed and that’s understood in any language. So, let’s get the project EU firmly on the map before we must start learning Chinese, Indian, Swahili, etc…..

  15. avatar
    Peter Schellinck

    The wake up call is that languages of the European nations are being changed by globalisation, the EU and English. It is arguable that all continental European languages are on a fast track to second-class status. Language rights are so politically sensitive that language policies tend to be left to ‘market’ forces.

    Democracy requires the generation, through territorially bounded processes of public communication, conducted in the local language and relayed through the local media, of a body of local public opinion that can be translated to the European sphere. The local needs remain discussed in the local – and then communicated higher up in different languages, finally using English as the common one.

    It should allow public information, participation and debate on local policies and enable citizens to influence and hold accountable political decision makers, turning public opinion into political power. Just look at what is happening in the Flanders during the upcoming local 2012 October elections. Some candidates broadcast their message in the local Flemish language and at the same time in Arabic to address the local community in our town, Gent. Hence, Belgium incites us to profoundly rethink for an increasingly multilingual and post-national world.

    The prime question is how to make multilingual democracy work in a democratically legitimate way. Moreover the current situation can also fuel political incomprehension and conflicts, which Nigel Farage likes fueling. Therefore it is necessary to look for ways to respect and stimulate the development of public communities or regions. The development of a genuine pan-European public sphere would be the most ideal way to solve the democratic deficit.

    It is equally important to preserve our rich, European (as an assembly of the many regions), cultural inheritance and to assess how multilingualism is managed and language policy is formed. This will be crucial in creating the identity of a future European Union and could lead to a reinterpretation of what the EU might stand for. Like here in Belgium, based on a three-language model it is possible to sustain a secure ethnic identity or identities via teaching through the mother tongue(s), as well as by acquiring at least one lingua franca and additional languages through carefully planned and well-organised multilingual education.

    And yes, speaking five languages does help and switching to another language for the European multilingual blogging day is fine for me.

    • avatar

      Mostly I agree with you, except in the post-national thing, nations will exist, whether you like it or not. I will say more like in a more-than-national-world.

  16. avatar

    I speak 11,however my knowledge of Russian(11th language that I speak) is rusty,but I have a good command of the rest and I can read and write with no difficulty.

  17. avatar

    Language and its usage was for milleniums a mastery of the monastic life. It is only the development of a last couple of centuries that language got out of the church realm. Latin as the lingua franca of Europe for almost 2 milleniums, was also the communication means of the first unified Europe (the Roman Empire) and produced later a Europe spiritually united (within the Catholic Church). India may be a good example of many languages “living together”, but beyond language, India has a cultural unity dominated by Hinduism, and not by language. The European Union in fact tries to emulate to some extent the medieval Europe, when the national state was inexistent (the national state came into fashion only after the French revolution, and nobody in Europe did speak before about “nations”, whatever would like to ascertain certain nationalists today). Even one of the basic organisational “rules” of the EU, i.e. subsidiarity, derives from the organisational principle of subsidiarity of the medieval Catholic Church. A Union is not done by “language” is done by a “common spirit”. The language is a mere expression of the spirit. Once the common spirit is lacking we may speak centuries about a “common language”. And the fact is that the EU did not really find yet its “common spirit”. There are many attemps, but discussions above do show that “common feeling” is missing. To what extent ? Well, history will show. But we will not be part anymore of that.

  18. avatar

    I speak three. English (born in Canada), Macedonian & Croatian (my native languages), and I’m currently learning Spanish as well.

    • avatar
      Kolkas Apostolos

      There is no Macedonian Language , you mean the Slavomacedonian dialect , cause Macedonia is Greece . Macedonian language is the same as Greek Language . We need to stop fontamentalism and belief in propaganda against people and races if we want a new Unified Europe for the good of all European People . Skopje must realise that they must stop trying to steal Greek History , the Slavs come at the Nalcanic Peninsula 1000 years after Alexander the Great death … There is no blood , political , politistical or social link with Skopje and Slavs with Ancient Greek Macedonia … accept that and we can leave in peace … Greetings from Πέλλα (Pella) birthplace of Alexander the Great .

  19. avatar
    Kolkas Apostolos

    Three , my native Ελληνικά ( Hellenic-Greek, ) , English , German and currently learning Serbian ( i cannot speak it so far so i dont count it ) .

  20. avatar

    The problem in Europe is not the languages. The great problem is its politicians who do not want to be united in a United Europe. They do not care about Europe but they do mind about the revenues of each state. Striking example the Ireland, Portuguese and Greek issues. They easily push these states at a third component called Troika in order to avoid economic troubles. I speak fluently 4 languages and understand 6. I don t find difficulties in learning languages because for me learning a language is first of all the curiosity about discovering the culture of other countries. So, the European politicians should give the example of caring about a united community despite of how many languages are being spoken in this community. After all what makes Europe unique is this linguistic and cultural mosaic. This is Europe. We have to develop this kind of Europe instead of searching of pseudo obstacles that decelerate her development

  21. avatar
    Arjan van Eersel

    I speak Dutch (my native language), English, Bulgarian, reasonable German and a bit Russian.

  22. avatar
    Petko Petkov

    Bulgarian (native), English and Greek for me :)

  23. avatar

    3 fluently – English (native), French and German. I can also converse in Italian and read Spanish, Latin and Dutch.

  24. avatar
    Elisabeth LAMBERT

    Non à l’anglais pour l’Europe. Refusez l’anglais pour l’Europe. L’Europe doit adopter l’Esperanto, langue qui convient le mieux pour la communication et qui est de plus en plus utilisé et parlé, et qui ne tue pas les langues et cultures du monde, l’anglais voulant les tuer et où chacun perd son identité ; avec l’Esperanto, personne ne perd son identité. L’anglais étant trop difficile pour ceux qui ne sont pas anglais, tellement difficile qu’il est une des causes principales d’accidents d’avion, anglais imposé en 1951 a été une grave erreur. Il faut être cinglé et fou pour imposer une langue imprononçable à ceux qui ne sont pas anglais. Les pilotes ne comprennent pas toujours ce qu’on leur dit car justement trop difficile. Quant à ceux qui critiquent l’Esperanto et racontent des mensonges sur l’Esperanto, ce sont ceux qui ne le connaissent pas et qui n’ont jamais essayé, donc avant de critiquer qu’ils l’essayent et qu’ils l’apprennent, c’est la plus facile des langues vivantes. Apprenez l’Esperanto et laissez l’anglais aux anglais, c’est la meilleure solution pour l’Europe et la moins onéreuse, la plus économique et la plus équitable. Comment cela se fait-il que tout soit en anglais, toujours ceux qui ne respectent pas les langues des autres, tel est le cas pour ceux qui sont fanatiques de l’anglais. Je connais les inconvénients de l’anglais, sa difficulté, les dégâts. Vous ne choisissez pas, ils vous l’imposent, changez cette politique injuste, l’Espéranto est la langue juste.

  25. avatar

    I speak Italian and I’ve been also learning Polish language (which is quite fun). Last month I spend three weeks in Poland and attended a superintensive course of language in their school (if anybody’s interested in this funny language, more info about this place you can find here: I recall it as great adventure. It was a lot to learn, but teachers were really well-educated, books were also good, so it did a great job. What’s more, I met great people and saw a lot of Poland, because we went on trips during the course. I think the next thing I’m going to try is to keep in touch with this language and become really good at this.

  26. avatar
    Alex Escomu

    I speak Spanish, Esperanto (with a higher level and confidence than the following), English, French, German and i’m currently studying Chinese at home. I believe teaching Esperanto at school for practical reasons (and many other benefits) like this one and then letting children choose their own next language(s) they want to learn it’s the best way to really have a fair and multilingual EU. Through their own motivation and self-teached methods they could learn pretty well any other language (assimil, pimsleur…and then… practice through skype, travelling, meeting in their city). Teacher shouldn’t be the source of knowledge anymore. They should be there to guide and help whenever necessary

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