Review of Phillipson (2003)

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Wed Oct 1 13:29:39 UTC 2003

Forwarded from LINGUIST List 14.2624
Tue Sep 30 2003

Phillipson, Robert (2003) English-only Europe? Challenging Language
Policy, Routledge.

Reviewed by Gerhard Leitner, Freie Universitt Berlin

Phillipson's English-only Europe (EoE) is a contribution to the dynamic
field of European language policy and the role of English. Phillipson
describes his goals as an introduction to language policy, language use,
language learning and language rights within the broad changes that are
taking place inside the European Union (EU) at the levels of politics,
economic, and society (p 2). He pleads for a more active language policy,
both, one should add, at the level of member states and the EU. Rather
late in the book he refers to the fact that the Europe is not co-extensive
with the EU: ''Europe is emphatically not synonymous with the European
Union, which is a recent phenomenon'' (p 29), but then proceeds without
clearly resolving the conflict between the two concepts. He does not
mention either in any detail what repercussions EU language policies may
have on non-EU members such as Turkey, Ukraine, Belarus, etc. He ignores
the question if and how these other parts of Europe might, or should,
impact on EU language policies, just as he does not discuss the language
policy side of the EU with the rest of the world. He does not address the
conflict between a ''European (EU) identity'' and ''Europeanness'', which
is so often appealed to in academic language policy writings in Europe.
Within these limitations, EoE argues strongly that languages cannot be
left to the market place and takes a programmatic stance for ''active


EoE makes a 'grand tour' of policy issues in Chapter One where Phillipson
describes the spread of English in EU member states as a danger (see also
Chapter Five). He re-iterates the fact that, strictly speaking, language
policy is a matter of individual states according to the principle of
subsidiarity. At the same time the EU runs programs at the educational
level that feed into national language policies.  Phillipson turns to the
European Parliament's involvement in the embattled area of national,
sub-national and supra-national competencies and the related issue of how
a European identity -- should one say an EU-identity? -- can be created.
The remainder of Chapter One deals with a range of residual topics. To
mention the definition of language policy in terms of status, corpus and
acquisition planning; the parameters that feed into it at the level of
culture, commerce, foreign affairs, education and research; the non-
allocation of language policy responsibility to a single body inside EU
member states; the general disinterest in language policy unless there is
blatant conflict, etc.

Chapter Two is a survey of Europe's languages, their past and current
role; their demographic and user bases, which form the background to
language policies; and the classical Roman-Greek and French heritage. The
comparison between the roles of Latin with English is interesting and
Phillipson argues that Latin was, at the time it was a dominant language,
nobody's mother tongue and was not associated with any political or
economic system. It was, as a result, a true lingua franca. There follow
sections on the connections made in 19th century Europe between language
and nationalism, the rise of the so-called imperial languages --
especially French and English during the heydays of colonialism -- and the
important, yet minor, role of German as an international language outside
the domain of science. After that historical overview Phillipson turns to
the EU and the shift it has introduced in creating a new 'supranational'
body above nations, but below the truly 'international' or 'global' level,
which could be illustrated by the World Bank, NATO or the UN. ''If'', he
asks, ''an EU supranational identity is ever to become a profound
experience for Europeans, the shared values that this identification will
draw on will have to go beyond economics and politics. They will take
cultural and linguistic symbolic form in specific types of communication
and imagery. How 'Europe' is being imagined, and in which languages this
process is occurring, are therefore fundamental issues'' (p 59).

Posing that question, naturally, leads to a consideration of the outside,
global forces that impact on EU language policies These are at the heart
of Chapter Three. Phillipson begins with episodes about multilingual
individuals, intelligence failures in the absence of a multilingual
speaker base, as was the case in the wake of September 11, 2001. He lists
soem45 structural and ideological factors that help the increased use of
English in Europe (table 1, pp 64f). In passing, these factors have, of
course, nothing to do with colonial factors such as the imposition of
English through domination. But he does refer to the status of English in
Europe as a form of imperialism (p 162). The manifestation of these 45
factors is studied in the domains of commerce, science, culture and

Somewhat surprisingly, he begins with a section on what Europe -- does he
mean Europe or the EU? -- can learn from Canada, Australia and South
Africa. Since I comment on that section in the evaluation, I will turn to
the domains he mentions. Without going into details about trends, let me
select a few interesting aspects. The globalization of markets, the
predominant use of English along with a few other large languages
(Phillipson mentions Arabic, Chinese, Hindi and Japanese) has frequently
been commented on. A worrying trend is the shift to English of
international companies such as DaimlerChrysler or Siemens, whose business
seats are in a European country. (In passing, let me add that I find these
decisions absurd in light of what these same companies' rejection of
foreign languages, which are said not to contribute to the rise of the
bottom (business) line. What is the economic benefit of English, then, one
wonders.) Decisions like these support a mystical belief in the benefits
associated with a competence in English. What is less surprising, but
makes matters worse, is the enormous financial investment of American and
British companies in the propagation of English educational materials and
the willing collaboration of independent cultural bodies like the British
Council. A joint econo- cultural venture at the global level! But the
persistent underfunding of state education in Britain, America and
Australia does open up a gap that 'benevolent' companies can fill by
sponsoring educational materials. For as long as those efforts are limited
to these countries, they do not promote the spread of English but when
they do in conjunction with prestigious and 'non-biased' cultural bodies
in non- Anglophone countries they do.

There are, of course, other home-grown weaknesses in countries like
Germany, Italy, etc., where most advanced research is being relocated to
the USA for its more liberal ethical research structures. The 'out-
location' of research, the shift to a foreign company language, the
prestige of American research, and the marketing of educational degrees
worldwide by Anglophone tertiary institution create an appropriate
academic infra-structure response that, once again, works in favour of
English. (Again, I might add, there is a lot of mysticism implied since
what tends to quoted is not French, German or Italian research published
in English but it is American, British or American research in English.)

The trends in science he describes are worrying, even if one were to
disregard the out-location of research to the USA. The supremacy of the
German language in the humanities, natural, applied sciences and medicine
is long over. Like other European languages, the Scandinavian ones have
experienced domain attrition, while small regional languages like Faroese,
Greenlandic and Saami are expanding in general discourse.  It is, one
feels, the national languages that are suffering, while the less
prestigious regional ones are not. Phillipson here refers to the Vienna
Manifestation of 2001 (App. 5) that called for urgent and proposed
concrete measures to be taken by governments. That manifestation has not
been taken not of. On the contrary, pressures to create a common European
academic structure that includes courses, degrees, evaluation, etc.,
further promotes the sole use of English. It is, one could infer, not only
the spread of the English language, but the reformation of the education,
science, etc., systems -- a crucial part of the cultural domain and hence
of the language ecology or habitat -- that facilitates the shift. The
problems are greater than described in EoE. What was the EU response to
such factors? Phillipson turns to this question at the end of Chapter
Three. The answer is simple: There has been a lot of pompous rhetoric, not
much else. He rightly casts doubt on the assumption that the principle of
subsidiarity, which lays language policies at the state level, protects
national and/or regional languages. Language policy must (also) be placed
at a high level of the EU.

Chapter Five deals with language policies and use inside the EU
institutions, which Phillipson has studied in considerable details in
various functions. Some background had, of course, been provided in
Chapter One, but here he goes into greater depth. Non-Europeans may not be
too familiar with the insides of the EU. Let me say that there are core
institutions such as the Commission, the European Parliament, the Court of
Justice, which have their seats in Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg,
respectively. There are regular official meetings of heads of state, the
Council of Europe, a rotating body according to which ministers (say,
agriculture, foreign affairs, finances) meet, and the Committee of
Regions. There are dependent institutions like the European Central Bank.
There is no space to cover all details (cf. Boxes 4.1-3), but the
principle of the equality of languages was laid down in the Treaty of Rome
in 1957 and has never been changed in principle, except for special
regulations on Letzeburgisch and Irish. It states that an official or
national language of a member state will be used in the EU (and its
forerunners), though it stipulates that reduced language regimes can be
used for the day-to-day running of affairs. The so-called full regime with
21 member states (as of April 2004) would apply to 21 languages and
generate a total of 420 (translation/interpretation) pairs (p 115). (That
is not wholly correct since Belgium shares French and Flemish/Dutch with
the Netherlands and France, respectively. Luxemburg, too, shares French
and German; Letzeburgisch has a symbolic, but reduced, status.) Reduced
regimes in the institutions have led to a preponderance of French up to
the entry of the UK and Ireland. Today, English and French prevail the
functioning of the institutions. The most complex regimes apply: - at
meetings of heads of state, ministers and preparatory meetings by civil
servants - the European Parliament - the Court of Justice

In order to cope with the tasks within economic limits, interpretation is
often done on a circular basis, i.e. the language of the speaker is
translated into, say, English, French or German, and translated from there
into Portuguese, etc. (pp 116; Box 4.2). Many dependent institutions like
the Central Bank function in English-only. Phillipson discusses lucidly
the consequences of the Treaty of Rome's stipulation, which should make an
English-only policy legally impossible. Yet, an English-only regime was
imposed for the accession negotiations with candidate states like the
Czech Republic. It is obvious that language regimes consume enormous sums
and hardly lead to efficiency. But what is worse is the imprecision
between original and translated or interpreted versions. David O'Sullivan,
Secretary-General of the Commission, argues that the real problems derive
from the poor quality of the originals, which are often written by
non-native speakers.  Doesn't that make a strong case for a multilingual
regime even at that level? That question is not pursued, nor raised. EoE
deals with the weaknesses of current practices but, surprisingly, ignores
the current debates about a new principle ''request & pay'' that was put
forward under the Danish presidency in 2002 and should have been agreed
upon prior to Enlargement, but is still being debated. Elsewhere
Phillipson refers to the unequal treatment of language speakers in many
domains, despite the equality principle.

The rest of the book is programmatic. Chapter Five asks if it is possible
to arrive at ''equitable communication'' and Chapter Six lists
recommendations that Phillipson feels need to be heeded at various level
of government. There follow six appendixes which contain EU policy
statements and declarations by European experts. Chapter Five starts with
the view that English is not really an easy language, yet associated with
an enormous amount of discrimination against those who do not master it
sufficiently. There is the complementary view that a multi-lingual regime
would make things even worse. What then are ''principles of equity of
communication'' like, Phillipson asks? He suggests a list of issues (p
141), which relate back, amongst others, to policies in Australia and
South Africa. He adds ten more points to the fifteen in table 1 about the
pros and cons of the spread of English in Chapter Three. He maintains that
the functions and values associated with currencies and languages are
(much) the same and that an insistence on a native-like command is
cost-inefficient. The Council of Europe's insistence on intercultural
competencies is a more worthwhile goal; unilingualism with English may be
an economic dead-end to be replaced by a selective multi-lingual strategy.
Are there linguistic human rights or merely language rights is the title
of the next section that is followed by a discussion of some cases brought
to the European Court of Justice. The Court, in fact, strengthened the
EU's right to impose selective regimes. He compares the vices and virtues
of a 'Diffusion of English' and 'Ecology of Languages' paradigm, which
both account for the spread of English (table 3, p 161).

An ecology paradigm, he believes, suggests supports for what he calls
''English as a Lingua Franca'' (ELF), i.e. the promotion of a non-native
variety of Euro-English. An ELF strategy would, he suggests, truly be more
democratic since ''non-native speakers interact effectively in English,
using whatever competence they have in the language''. He adds that ''an
excessive focus ... on abstruse points of pronunciation or grammar may be
a waste of limited teaching time'' (p 169), etc. Having said that, he
seems to favour Esperanto in direct interaction and as a tool for
translation and interpretation. Chapter Six contains a list of 45 (!)
''recommendations for action'' that relate to the creation of a national
and supranational infrastructure, to the reform of EU institutions and to
language teaching and learning and research programs. EoE ends with a
discussion of how language policies can be a part of the overall reform of
the EU structures.


Having outlined the breadth and depth of EoE's thematic coverage and
political stance(s) taken, I come to some critical remarks. The first is a
fundamental inconsistency of argument. Phillipson quotes, approvingly,
O'Sullivan's view that the poor quality of documents written (in English)
by non-native speakers is a major source of communication difficulties and
endorses English as a Lingua Franca as an alternative to native speaker
English. You can't have your cake and eat it, unless one spells out in
details what excessive features of native English can be dispensed with.
That topic has been discussed in the past. Phillipson should be aware of
concepts like Basic English (Ogden) and Nuclear English (Quirk), which
both failed. It is also politically and socio-psychologically
inconceivable that Euro-English with features from, say, Portuguese,
Greek, Polish, German and Hungarian would stand even the slightest chance.
Europe's language teaching goes for native English, possibly a mix of
Anglo-American English and a tolerance of some 'national' inference
properties. Phillipson's conversion to Esperanto is recent, puzzling, and
has no chance, just like it did not succeed in the League of Nations.

There is a problem of relevance. Chapter Three, for instance, has a
section on ''language policy lessons from outside Europe'' (pp 67-71),
which looks at three different nations with their linguistic problems and
challenges, i.e. Canada, South Africa and Australia. As to Australia,
Phillipson says ''language policy became a national need when a series of
factors converged during the 1980s: a realization that Australians need to
evolve a new sub-Asian national identity rather than continuing to see
themselves as an exclusively English-speaking outpost of Britain...'' (p
68). The story of a national policy is, alas, somewhat different and
longer (cf. Ozolins 1993) and it is impossible to make sense of the phrase
''evolve a new sub-Asian national identity''.  If that refers to the
so-called ''Asianization of Australia'', that has never been an
uncontroversial objective, if that. That phase is long over and, as far as
the perception of the internal texture of the population is concerned, one
speaks of diversity. Phillipson turns to four key language policy
objectives, i.e. (cultural and personal) enrichment, economic (benefits),
(social) equality (of access) and external (needs), and argues that they
may be adapted to Europe's needs as if they did not represent a cluster of
tensions and conflict.  Enrichment and equality - which should read
'equity' -- formed the basis of a short-lived policy (cf. Lo Bianco 1987)
which struck a balance between demands from ethnic communities and
national needs but was superseded by policies that emphasized short-term,
fluctuating economic and external or foreign policy needs (Dawkins 1991).

Phillipson ignores problems about the foundation of Asian languages in the
education sector that are due to short-term objectives. The economic
argument has come under heavy dispute and a concept like ''productive
diversity'' now includes languages, gender, race, etc. Phillipson seems to
be uninformed of the dynamics of the Australian situation and, one
daresay, of that in South Africa and believes that goals would have been
implemented. It is hard to see what Europe can benefit from Australia in
the first place. Australian objectives were to reconcile the demands and
expectations of a diverse population with those of the nation that
positioned itself in the Asia-Pacific context.  The issue in Europe is to
create space and identities at the supra- national level. Local-domestic
and local-foreign policy issues on one side, supra-nation-building on the

There is a problem of clarity. Phillipson argues that language policy are
a matter of member states. To take Germany as an example, educational
policies are located at the level of states, the Bundeslnder, not at the
federal (government) level. The EU has consistently respected the
principle of subsidiarity and its tertiary and secondary exchange programs
that bear upon educational policies are administered by the states in
Germany. What the author fails to describe in detail -- though he does in
general terms -- are the differences between the sub-national or federal
level, the national level and the European supra-national level. He fails
to describe adequately the (wider) European level, such as the Council of
Europe's function, and the interaction between the EU and member states
with the world at large. That he covers diffusely from the perspective of
global and, above all, American forces.

Related to this unclarity is the problem about people's rights to use
their own language, their linguistic rights. Are linguistic rights human
rights? Phillipson addresses that issue in a number of places and refers
to the EU's stipulation that citizens can write to the EU in their own
(national) language and receive a reply in that language. One section
turns to the central issue which enumerates European and other
international documents, most of which mention language as a key factor in
discrimination; binding clauses often delete language. The European
Charter for Regional and Minority Languages (1998) is an exception, but
it, too, fails to support the more recent migrant languages. The EU has
not accepted any such stipulation at its level, And Phillipson says,
reluctantly, that ''[T]he fact that the EU is a new type of political
construction, and sovereignty is shared between the supranational and
national levels, complicates the issue of language rights'' (p 155). He
closes by saying the ''[T]he EU might consider demonstrating its
commitment to multilingualism by formulating a Code of Good Multilingual
Practice that fully respected fundamental principles for linguistic human
rights in its own activities -- and then following them'' (p 157).

Does he seriously mean the EU should admit some 45 autochthonous, regional
and national languages and, presumably, hundreds of immigrant languages?
Does he mean that in light of his preference for English as a Lingua
Franca and/or Esperanto? What does he mean? One may well be a full
supporter of linguistic (human) rights.  But do these rights imply that
any language should have a right to be used at any higher political plane,
such as the EU's, when it is created? Those same languages are, as he
repeatedly writes, not used at all national levels -- member states have
never become multilingual in their internal politics for that reason. Why
should, or could, national levels be by-passed for a totally new type of
multilingualism to be practiced at a level above? There is a lot of
Romanticism in that kind of argument.

A few other criticisms. Presumably to make the book a highly sellable one,
the publishers only provide a very rudimentary table of contents that does
not guide the reader to specific issues dealt with in each chapter. The
index omits important key words such as Treaty of Rome, Treaty of
Maastricht, etc. There is a massive number of endnotes (36 pp), which
include all bibliographical references. Sources are quoted, for instance,
as ''Wagner, Bach, and Martinez, 142'' (see endnote 33 of Chapter Four),
which is spelt out in endnote 19 of that chapter. The lack of a
bibliography makes sourcing difficult. The author has preference for boxes
with additional information. But that information should be incorporated
into the body of the text to become relevant. At times, the language of
the 'native speaker' is barely comprehensible, as this example shows:
''The assumptions [about language policy, GL] relate to how languages are
seen, no language being superior to any other, languages as resources and
fundamental human rights, the duty of the state to develop language
policies for a multilingual society as an integral part of general social
policy, and the implementation of the citizen's rights'' (p 143). It's
hard to disentangle this sentence. At least, the last coordinate phrase
should begin with 'to', to link it up with 'related to (how ...)'.

Despite some weaknesses, English-only Europe is an important contribution
to the field. It's a book, one might, say with no clear message despite
the challenging question at the end: ''If inaction on language policy in
Europe continues, at the supranational and national levels, we may be
heading for an American English-only Europe. Is that really what the
citizens and leaders of Europe want?'' (p 192). The book seems to be seems
to be caught, and stuck, between various tensions.  There is Phillipson,
the native speaker who promotes (a Lingua Franca) English; there is,
Phillipson, the multilingual academic, who promotes (a diffuse concept of)
multilingual regimes; there is Phillipson, the left-wing academic, who
argues that language is a human right; and there is Phillipson, the
alternative thinker, who believes that Esperanto would have a chance to
make it. But the message how the EU and the wider Europe can not only
maintain its multilingualism but raise it to a higher planes required by
the needs of European integration and of global communication needs is


Dawkins, John, 1991. Australia's language: the Australian language and
literacy policy. Canberra: Australian Government Printing Service.

Lo Bianco, Joseph, 1987. A national policy on languages. Canberra:
Australian Government Publishing Service.

Ozolins, Urs, 1993. The politics of language in Australia. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.


Gerhard Leitner is Professor of English at Freie Universitt Berlin.
He has research interests in varieties of English, especially in
Australia and India, mass media languages, language policy, etc.

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