[lg policy] Eurovision at 60: English songs dominate

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Sun May 24 19:52:32 UTC 2015

 Eurovision at 60: English songs dominateMore Events
<http://theconversation.com/us/events> Boo if you dare. Georg Hochmuth/EPA

Once, UK Eurovision entries had an advantage of being sung in English. But
since the rules were changed in 1999 to allow countries to compete in any
language – not just their own – all winning songs bar one (Serbia in 2007)
have been sung in the English language.

Of the 40 songs entered into the competition this year, 33 were in English
and one was sung in both English and Romanian. Only one song not in the
English language (apart from the bilingual Romanian entry) that made it
through a semi-final
was the Montenegro entry, sung in Montenegrin. Spain, France and Italy (who
qualify to the final automatically
<http://www.eurovision.tv/page/about/rules>) are still singing in their
respective languages.

When Eurovision began there was no language policy, but most countries
entered songs in their own official language anyway. Between 1966 and 1972
a restriction to sing in one of the official languages of the country was
imposed, but this changed in 1973 and for the next four contests, countries
had the freedom to sing in any language (that’s why ABBA were able to sing
Waterloo in English). From 1977 until 1999 the restriction to use only
official languages applied again.

During the times when the restriction applied, some countries entered songs
in languages other than the main language of the country: France has
competed with songs in Corsican, Breton and even Haitian Creole; Italy
entered a song in Neapolitan in 1991, and in 1972 even Ireland eschewed
English in favour of an Irish language song. The UK has never entered a
song in Welsh, Scots or Scottish Gaelic, however.
 Teach In’s Ding-a-Dong in 1975.

There have been songs in made-up languages, and we must not forget great
Eurovision classics using titles such as La La La (Spain, 1968),
Ding-a-dong (The Netherlands, 1975), Boom Bang-a-bang (UK, 1969),
A-ba-ni-bi (Israel, 1978), and Diggi-Doo Diggi-Ley (Sweden, 1984).

France, Italy, Spain and Portugal have always sung in one of their official
languages, sometimes combined with a few words in English. Even partial use
of the English language in their entries has gathered criticism: there were
complaints in France <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/7350193.stm>
when their song “Divine” included verses in English in 2008 and last year
the Spanish Royal Academy of Language complained about the use of English
<http://esctoday.com/77735/spain-controversy-language/> in the chorus of
the Spanish entry.

It’s not only the songs that are dominated by English. Another Eurovision
classic is in decline: you are unlikely to hear many “douze points” being
awarded as, although French remains an official voting language in the
contest, most national spokespeople choose to deliver their votes in

And speaking of votes, there surely will be talk of bloc voting and
political alliances as countries deliver their points. There’s no denying
that neighbours often vote for their fellow neighbouring countries, but is
this politically motivated? It seems to me that countries often vote for
songs that sound close to their own musical tastes. So if a Balkan country
votes for another, ask yourself if the song/look/language have much in
common with the country that is awarding votes for them.

British People often say the UK is shunned by other countries because of
Euro-politics, but there is no hard evidence to prove it
Maybe viewers should reflect on how much effort the BBC puts into the
British entry. The last time a big effort was made was in 2009, when Andrew
Lloyd-Webber was enlisted to write the song and find a suitable singer. The
song, “It’s My Time”, came fifth in the contest – the last time the UK has
bothered the top ten.

In the last few years the UK has sent either “veteran” (ahem) singers such
as Engelbert Humperdinck and Bonnie Tyler or unknown inexperienced
newcomers. This year, the song selected was announced in a 15-minute
programme available on the red button/iPlayer. Compare the UK effort with
that of Sweden, where they host the Melodiefestivalen, a huge contest to
select their representative, and you’ll get a feeling that the UK gets what
it gives.

Despite the evidence that Eurovision is becoming a monolingual event, it
remains a multicultural event. It really is hard to tell sometimes whether
the costumes, songs and choreographies are meant to represent the best or
the worst of the country.
 Poland’s 2014 entry, ‘We are Slavic, had women churning butter
suggestively on stage in traditional costume. Albin Olsson
CC BY-NC-SA <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/>

Diversity, gender politics
and human rights
have become main issues in the contest.
Russia’s Tolmachevy twins got booed. This year there’s anti-booing

Last year’s clearly audible booing of the Russian entry
because of the country’s homophobic policies and Ukraine intervention was
evidence of this, even though you couldn’t help feeling sorry for the
17-year-old twins who represented Russia and whose performance had nothing
to do it. This year, anti-booing technology
will be used to prevent similar occurrences.
 Australia’s Guy Sebastian won’t be singing in an aboriginal language. Eva
CC BY-SA <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/>

Also new this year is the use of sign language
<http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-32812385> to make the
competition more inclusive. And to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the
contest, Australia has been invited for a one-off entry into the
competition. Alas, the representative Guy Sebastian will not be singing in
any of the 27 aboriginal languages of Australia.

As modern foreign language teachers in the UK know all too well, recruiting
students is a perpetual fight against the all-too-common question: “Why
should I learn another language when everyone else speaks English?” In the
case of Eurovision it does indeed feel like everyone else does speak
English. Out of 60 Eurovision contests, half of them will have been won by
songs in the English language. English, is seems, is the language of


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