English in the European Union

Seminar Paper, 2007
19 Pages, Grade: 1


Table of Contents


1. The EU Language Policy
1.1. Official Languages
1.2. Lost in Translation?
1.3. Languages in the EU Institutions

2. English as a European Lingua Franca
2.1. Motivation
2.2. Current Situation
2.3. Functions
2.3.1. The Imaginative/Innovative Function
2.3.2. The Interpersonal Function
2.3.3. The Instrumental Function

3. Euro-English
3.1. Vocabulary – Discoursal Nativization
3.2. Vocabulary – Abbreviations
3.3. Vocabulary – Europeanization
3.4 Pronunciation
3.5. Grammatical Structures

4. The dominance of English
4.1. Background
4.2. English Outrunning French

5. Opposition
5.1. Use of Native Languages
5.2. Protection of Culture
5.3. The French Opposition


Journal Articles
Newspaper Articles


The European Union is not only an economic community. It is also a unique language community in which each language has its place and its right to exist. Today, English is the dominant language in the world serving as a first or second language, a working language, a lingua franca etc. for many people. Nevertheless, the position of the English language is not the same in the European Union as in a global context. This paper will focus on the position of English in the European Union being only one of 23 official languages. It will be analyzed in how far the dominance of English affects the other languages and the institutions of the European Union and to which extent English has the status of a European[1] lingua franca. On the other hand, the influence of the other languages on English will be looked at, which will lead us to the phenomenon of ‘Euro-English’. Finally, the opposition of other language communities against the dominance of English will be discussed.

1. The EU Language Policy

1.1. Official Languages

The EU language policy accepts and protects the languages of all EU member states, especially of smaller language communities. 23 languages are approved as official languages in the EU (in alphabetical order):

illustration not visible in this excerpt

This large number of official languages is supposed to make official documents comprehensible for national institutions as well as for the EU citizens.

There is a distinction between authentic languages and working languages. The authentic language is that language in whose version the foundation treaties are binding. Originally, French was the only authentic language, but through further accession treaties the languages of the other founder members and the languages of those countries that accessed the European Union became authentic languages too. Working languages, on the other hand, are those languages for an internal use. Again, all 23 (official) languages are working languages. Still, in practice there is a tendency towards using either English or French (cf. Streinz 2005: 96-98).

1.2. Lost in Translation?

The great variety of languages in the EU makes it necessary to employ translators. The three main institutions of the EU – the European Parliament, the Commission and the Council of Ministers – each have an own administration and an own translation service. When the EU was founded by the original six nations (Germany, Italy, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg) the four official languages were Dutch, French, German and Italian. In the first years, about 200.000 pages were translated per year. Today, more than 3 million pages are translated and the annual number of translated pages is rising by about 5 % each year (cf. Dollerup: 28). As the following figure shows, the number of pages translated always experienced a significant rise when new members accessed the European Union. Given that in 2004 ten Eastern European countries (Cypress, The Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia) became members of the European Union, it becomes clear why the number of pages translated exploded to the current number of three million pages. The EU institutions now had to translate all documents into 9 additional official pages. These time-consuming and expensive translation procedures have provoked discussions about one common official European language. Still, proponents of this idea have to face political and legal as well as social and cultural objections.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

(source: Dollerup: 29)

[note: In 2000, about 1,2 million pages were translated (cf. Phillipson 2003: 130)]

1.3. Languages in the EU Institutions

Cay Dollerup gives an example of how complex the creation of a new law is. He describes the possible creation of a regulation about the use of additives in food:

“The draft is (a) in French. It is (b) translated into all the languages. The draft is (c) discussed, and changes are suggested, in the member states. There are (d) meetings in Brussels using interpreting where the written documents are discussed. The meetings are followed by (e) new translation and (f) the national hearings. The directive is (g) finalised at the Commission and then (h) passed for decision by the Council of Ministers. It is finally (i) used in national legislation” (Dollerup: 30).

In principle, all languages should be involved to the same extent at all stages in the production of official documents in the EU. But this is not the case since it is almost impossible to translate every piece of writing at every stage into all official languages. Therefore, first drafts and raw versions of documents are generally produced in an internal working language and are translated into all other languages later. French, German and English have always been the main working languages in the EU, though, to a different degree. Until 1970, German and French were the main working languages to approximately the same extent. After 1970, English has experienced a dramatic rise, whereas German has almost disappeared as a working language. English was even able to outrun French as a working language (cf. Phillipson 2003: 130).

The following figure shows the relative number of pages of first drafts and raw versions written in a certain language (percentages below 3% are neglected):

1970 … French 60%, German 40%

1989 … French 49%, German 9%, English 30 %

1997 … French 40%, English 45%

2000 … French 33%, English 55 % (Phillipson 2003: 130)

The rise of the English and the decline of the French language as well as the tense relationship between the two language communities will be examined closer in the following chapters.

2. English as a European Lingua Franca

2.1. Motivation

The member states of the European Union use a wide variety of languages, and although the EU attempts to respect all of them by providing translation services, this generally consumes a large amount of time and money, and the benefits of a lingua franca - a common language that can be used by everyone to communicate with everyone else - are obvious. Further, a common language would be of importance for the job market since many workers want to take advantage of the integrated labour market and find job in neighbouring countries (cf. Fenyó 2003: 54). Of course, English is not meant to be the official language of the European Union. This would considerably violate the principle of equality on which the European Union is based. Still, English can be and is used as a lingua franca – as a means of communication between people with different mother tongues.

2.2. Current Situation

English has already achieved the status of a European lingua franca to a great extent. In 2000, surveys stated that 53% of the European Union’s population spoke at least one foreign language. Of these people, 41% spoke English as a foreign language (followed by French with 19%). English is also the dominant first foreign language (32,6%) followed by French (9,5 %). 71% of the Europeans are convinced that each European citizen should be capable of speaking at least one foreign language. Interestingly, almost the same percentage (namely 69,4%) believes that this language should be English. The role of English as a lingua franca can also be seen very obviously in scientific publishing. In 1996, 90,7% of all publications in the field of natural sciences were published in English (cf. Brüll 2007).

2.3. Functions

Wolfgang Viereck identifies three main functions of English as a European lingua franca: the imaginative/innovative function, the interpersonal function and the instrumental function (cf. Viereck: 18-23)

2.3.1. The Imaginative/Innovative Function

The imaginative/innovative function describes English as a source for the creation of new words in other languages through the processes of borrowing, pseudo-loans, hybridisation and shortenings (cf. Viereck: 18). The results of these processes are so-called Anglicisms. Due to its dominant position, English has an intense contact to the other European languages that generally results in 1500 to 2000 Anglicisms in the contact language. Anglicisms normally occur in the following fields: food and drink, animals, sports, clothing, economy, banking and money, trade and measure, language and literature, journalism, politics and law, philosophy and religion, medicine, science, sea terms and navigation, technical terms etc. English source words in passing from one system into several others must be adapted in terms of orthography, phonology, morphology, gender, and semantics before they can be integrated. This integration process happens in different ways (e.g. orthography: the orthography may be completely adapted from English [e.g. German – Gangster] or adapted to some extent [e.g. check – Scheck]) (cf. Dollerup: 39)[2].

2.3.2. The Interpersonal Function

This function describes the use of English for wider communication and for special purposes, such as economics, politics, the arts and science (Cf. Viereck: 19). As already mentioned the knowledge of English is important on the job market for many workers who want to take advantage of the integrated labour market and find job in neighbouring countries. The importance of English in the economic sphere can also be seen when the number of advertisements written in a foreign language is examined:


[1] In this paper, the adjective ‚European’ is used in a narrow sense relating to the European Union only and not to the European continent as a whole.

[2] Of course, there is much more to say about Anglicisms. But as the focus of this paper is not on Anglicisms, and as through further descriptions, the limited length of this paper would be broken through, this general overview of Anglicisms should be sufficient.

Excerpt out of 19 pages


English in the European Union
University of Innsbruck  (English Department)
English in Europe
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
492 KB
English, European, Union, Europe, EU, Lingua Franca, Varieties
Quote paper
Stefan Hinterholzer (Author), 2007, English in the European Union, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/70524


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