English-Only Europe? Challenging Language Policy by Robert Phillipson

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Fri Oct 5 13:54:46 UTC 2007

[image: h1] *English-Only Europe? Challenging Language Policy* by
Robert Phillipson<http://tobedwithatrollope.wordpress.com/2007/10/04/english-only-europe-challenging-language-policy-by-robert-phillipson/>October
4th, 2007

Considering that I've studied quite a bit of European Union history, it
surprised me to look back through the reviews I've written and find that I
haven't really posted many reviews for the books I've read on that subject.
Here's one of them, at least.

*English-Only Europe? Challenging Language Policy by Robert Phillipson*

It is no secret that over the course of the last century, English has
gradually replaced French as the international language of diplomacy and
business and even general conversation. One might say that the path to
English-language dominance began shortly after the end of World War I, when
English and French were used as the official languages of the peace
negotiations at Versailles. But with about 20 official languages used in the
institutions of the European Union — not to mention the scores of other
languages commonly spoken in Europe today — the predominance of the English
language has caused no small amount of controversy amongst EU member states.
Language is an extremely sensitive subject across the board in Europe,
intricately tied to national and regional identities and never far out of
the forefront of political and social debate. And while many people in
Europe can converse or do business in languages that are not their native
tongue, language policy in the European Union is far from cohesive…or even,
at times, coherent.

Robert Phillipson is a research professor in the English department of one
of Denmark's largest business schools. His book, *English-Only Europe?*,
examines current EU language policies and makes a fairly convincing argument
for the EU to take a more active approach to safeguarding a multilingual
Europe into the coming century. The book examines the dangers of leaving
general language policy up to individual countries, as well as the problems
of merely adopting a laissez-faire attitude toward languages and expecting
them to look after themselves. By looking at statistics on language use and
language learning both inside and outside the EU, Phillipson considers a
wide range of options for creating a more forward-looking set of language
policies. Granted, I found some of his ideas a little peculiar — one example
being his push for the use of Esperanto as a pivot language in intra-EU
communications. Yet most of his suggestions make perfect sense to me: do
more to promote and encourage the study of foreign languages and foreign
study on all educational levels from pre-primary through post-secondary,
look more closely at how non-EU countries manage their language policies
(Phillipson mentions Canada and South Africa in this context, as countries
worthy of closer study), along with other ideas and suggestions that
encourage the learning of another language as a key to better understanding
one's native tongue. And as a native English speaker myself, I am very
thankful that Phillipson does not make the critical mistake of completely
demonising English, or regarding it as some horrible destructive force that
should be feared and shunned in favour of a narrow, insular focus on
language defence. The prospect of an 'English-only Europe' is not a pleasant
one, or one that I would ever like to see come to pass, but the blame cannot
be placed solely on the English language and its speakers. A more active and
positive approach to the study of other languages has the potential to
preserve European multilingualism on all levels — and that multilingualism
may very well be one of Europe's greatest assets in this new,
information-driven century.

Reading about language policy is not, I will admit, the most thrilling or
engrossing means of spending one's time unless it happens to be your
particular field of study. (It's only tangentially related to mine.)
Phillipson nonetheless does an excellent job of keeping his study in plain
English, as the saying goes, and not going off on unrelated tangents or
throwing in anecdotes that add nothing to the discussion. I've looked
through books that make points similar to his in language that appears to be
twice as complicated and ten times as unreadable. On the whole, anyone who
might be interested in the politics of language and how these kind of
politics affect international cooperation might find *English-Only
Europe?*worth investigating.

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