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With Brexit negotiations underway, English may be removed as an official EU language. Could this be just what it takes for a new form of English – Euro English – to evolve? In the latest edition of Overseas, Abi Millar chats to Dr Marko Modiano, author of a recent paper on the subject, about the link between politics and language change. 

On 24 June 2016, the British woke up to the news that their country would be leaving the European Union. With so many questions on their minds – not least what Brexit would mean for the economy, or their ability to work abroad – it was easy to miss the revelation that English might be removed as an official EU language. 

Speaking at a press conference, MEP Danuta Hubner explained that each EU country had the right to select one official language. And while English is officially spoken in Ireland, Malta and Britain, only Britain had picked English. “If we don’t have the UK, we don’t have English,” she said.

She added that, while English is one of the working languages of European institutions – and actually the one most used by civil servants – the only way to preserve its status would be through a unanimous vote by member states. Alternatively, the regulation could be changed to allow each country an extra language.

A number of EU politicians weighed in, which suggested, if nothing else, that language politics are a serious issue in Europe. The far-right French politician Robert Menard claimed ‘the English language no longer has any legitimacy in Brussels’, while his left-wing counterpart Jean-Luc Melenchon stated ‘English can no longer be the third working language in the European Parliament’.

As we head towards the end of 2017, there is still no final word on the matter, although the prognosis may seem grim for Anglophones. If EU documentation stops being translated into English, might this lead to further decline – affecting whether English is taught in schools or used as a lingua franca of business?

Dr Marko Modiano, a linguist at University of Gävle in Sweden, thinks quite the opposite. His new paper, ‘English in a post-Brexit European Union’, suggests that, far from quashing English on the continent, Brexit might give it the push it needs to thrive.  

“My analysis says that English is going to be stronger in Europe in the future, and that was going to happen regardless of whether or not Britain stayed in the EU,” he says. “It’s also the case that, when the British have left, the Europeans will all be on the same footing. They may become even more confident about using English because now they have a language where nobody has an unfair advantage.”

Modiano’s paper, published in October in the journal World Englishes, makes a fascinating and provocative case for the continuation of European English...

...Read the full article here, turn to page 24.

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