61% of Europeans say they see themselves as a “Citizen of the European Union”. However, before pro-Europeans get too excited, it’s important to point out that fully half of those polled also say they feel that EU Member States DON’T share close values, versus only 42% who believe there are common European values.
Could part of the problem be that we all speak so many different languages? There are, after all, 24 official languages in the EU, as well as a whole host of indigenous, regional, and minority languages. Does Europe’s linguistic diversity form a barrier to creating a European demos?
To give you an idea about multilingualism and European identity, we’ve put together some facts and figures in an infographic below (click for a larger image).
We had a comment sent in by Guillem, arguing that “One of the big functions of language is [as an] identity-marker… People speak the language of the group they feel [they belong to].”
So, can a common European identity exist without a common language? To get a reaction, we spoke to Kalypso Nicolaïdis, Professor of International Relations and director of the Center for International Studies at the University of Oxford, and asked her what she thought:
On the one hand, we have the old intellectual life of Europe, and the Judao-Christian set of values, and the meta-language of ideas that creates this European identity. The fact that we have idioms and ways of speaking that may be different is less important because we have all these sub-strata in common.
But then, another answer would be: It really does matter if you’re speaking about Dante in Italian, or Goethe in German, or Descartes in French, or Milton in English. What they said sounds different in different languages, and what we say about them sounds different in different languages…
And yet we do have a lingua franca in Europe. Yes, we have these different languages, but increasingly everybody speaks in English… So, we could argue that there is enough of a lingua franca for Europeans to communicate. Moreover, there is technology; Google Translate is going to be increasingly effective, and soon we will have increasingly reliable just-in-time oral translation widely available.
So, I’m more optimistic than Guillem’s comment might imply. But, at the same time, we shouldn’t ignore the fact that our native languages are more than mere vehicles for communication. They are entire cultures. And that remains, and will remain, an obstacle to us all being the same. But we have to ask ourselves: do we want to all be the same? Isn’t that the beauty of Europe?
So, to conclude, we need to speak in as many language as possible, learn foreign languages at school, and not be obsessed with sameness. We are different peoples who are meant to live together. And living together doesn’t mean being identical. And that’s the challenge of Europe.
Can a European identity exist without a common language? Does Europe’s linguistic diversity form a barrier to creating a European demos? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!