What is the official language of the European Union?

vincent   Monday, June 21, 2004, 07:19 GMT
Now we have a Constitution.But what does it say about the official language of the european institutions? Is it english? Moreover each political construction try to establish among its citizens a sentiment of identity. What is the language of the european identity? English, latin, esperanto, old greek..??? And why not euskera (basque) which is according to Theo Vennemann (professor of germanistic) the oldest language of Europe.
Damian   Monday, June 21, 2004, 07:27 GMT
Vincent: it just HAS to be English, epecially now after all these new countries have joined up , making us 25 altogether. I heard on the radio that in all these new countries the only common language they use is English. Basque may be the oldest language, but how widespread is it outside the Basque region? Welsh is much older than English, but where outside Wales (and only in small areas of Wales itself) do people speak Welsh? In my own country of Scotland fewer than 4% of the population speak Gaelic...sadly. English is all around, so to speak. That's my answer. Whether people like it or not, the future is English.
Maya l'abeille   Monday, June 21, 2004, 08:43 GMT
There are 20:

Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, Swedish.

All of them are used at the european union council - everyone has their own interprete - and Catalan might soon join the list. Languages of the European identity are all these languages we have been speaking for centuries (though dialects are not taken into account...). Choosing only one among them (or Eperanto) could come in useful as a communication tool, but could not represent the European identity as this one is made up of several languages.
nic   Monday, June 21, 2004, 09:02 GMT
They use english between themselves but thet's true they have their own interpret. About documents, all ot them are written in all languages used by people in the community. That's all i know. Of course english is the most used i guess
vincent   Monday, June 21, 2004, 16:04 GMT
yes, if we speak about practical and pragamatic solutions english IS the language of European Union. But it is NOT the language of the european IDENTITY, do you see the difference? We must find a language which represents us as Europeans. And nowadays we use english as a common linguistic tool in Europe only because it's the language of the 1st political, economical and military power, I mean USA. So it is not ours, we didn't decide to adopt it officially so we must find a language which, at least in a symbolical way, would represent us.
javier   Monday, June 21, 2004, 16:46 GMT
English does not represent me as A EUROPEAN
Dulcinea del Toboso   Monday, June 21, 2004, 19:02 GMT
A question: if a Latvian is speaking in an assembly or committee, is his speech translated *directly* into each of the other languages? That is, if I'm Hungarian (well, I'm half Hungarian), does there need to be a Latvian-Hungarian translator? Or is the speech translated into an intermediate language (...English?) and then into Hungarian?

From what I read a while back, the EU requirement is that the translation for speeches be direct (unlike for documents, which may be translated indirectly).

If that's the case, this causes serious problems as the number of EU states increase. In fact, for N states, the number of different language combinations that need to be translated are N(N-1) / 2. For example, for 7 states you have 21 combinations that need to be translated.

Maya l'abeille gave 20 states, so that's 190 language combinations! And just how common are Maltese-Lithuanian translators?

So maybe the requirement is that the translation is not direct after all or, possibly more likely, the speaker of a "smaller" language chooses to speak in one of the more common ones such as English, French, Spanish, or German.

As for the language that represents the identity of Europe -- it seems that there are many possibilities, but I don't think any one will be satisfactory to everyone. There's still Volapük - menad bal, pük bal!
Jordi   Monday, June 21, 2004, 20:16 GMT
I think somebody should look all this up since we are speaking without real information. From what I remember --and it is just my general knowledge and this should be checked-- all state citizens can write to the European Union and be answered in their state official languages and the most important documents have to be translated to all those languages. But, there are two main "oral" work languages: English and French. The thing is that, according to the rules, the French members of parliament aren't supposed to speak French and the English aren't supposed to speak English, in work meetings without interpreters where there are nationals from other countries. That would give an unbearable lead to "native" speakers" and too much of an advantage. Obviously, I can't imagine an Englishman speaking anything but English or a Frenchman speaking anything but French since they are, most of them, quite bad at foreing language proficiency. The Germans want their language to be added (since they do speak the most widely "spoken" European language with over 100 million speakers in Europe, the only continent on Earth where German is widely spoken). The Italians and Spanish also want their languages to be added and the English and French use that argument to refuse Germany's request. The fact is that English, Spanish and Portuguese are the 3 European languages most widely spoken in the world but not in Europe (Spanish only has 40 million speakers in Europe (inluding bilingual speakers, since native "Spanish" speakers would only be about 28 million in Europe) and Portuguese something like 12 million, I believe); and the European Union is, after all, the European Union (not the US nor the British Commowealth nor the old Spanish Empire). Language translating and interpreting is obviously one of the major expenses but that is the price of diversity. The fact is there are many other historic European languages that want to address themselves to Brussels without going through an interested third party. Aren't we all, after all, Europeans? This is why Catalan (with over 10 million speakers and more widely spoken than many other "official" state languages wants to have a similar statute. And there are many more languages in similar conditions (Occitan, Breton, Frisian and others). The fact is that French is enjoying a situation which was considered usual some 50 years ago when French was still a major world language, the language of diplomats and one of the founders of the old Common Market. But why should French be official now, when it is very much drifting as a world language, and not Italian or German with more speakers in the Union than France or the small French Belgian community? If it is one European one vote there is no reason whatsoever to keep French as a major language next to English and German should take that place. And if English is there because of world demography why not also give that role to Spanish. And if French is to be kept that should include Italian.
By the way my German is quite poor and my French is excellent. And I, of course, speak Spanish and Catalan, but that has nothing to do with it. There's a concept which I admire the English language for and it's "fairness". Let's be fair.
Axel   Monday, June 21, 2004, 22:43 GMT
It seems you are very proud of your country and your own language, am I wrong? Anyway, I can't blame because of that of course.
In my visions, three languages would prevail:
First of all, English. Why? Because this is the main international language and nothing could be done on the international stage wihout that language, whatever one can say.
Then, German and French. Germany and France are the two countries which made the EU a reality, and those ones (with the UK) are still the driving elements of our continent (more particularly because of their partnership). Moreover those three languages are the most widely spoken in the EU (about 95 million German-speaking, 70 million French-speaking and 65 million English-speaking)
But we do not have to forget that the EU is an Union of different countries, with different languages, and ideally if we would repect the egality between our countries, no language should prevail...
Finally, I just would like to add something about French. I absolutely agree when some says that the French language is declining... because I believe this is true. But please don't forget that it remains one the main language through the world. Let's compare with the other international languages such as English and Spanish:
45 countries have English as the official language or as a prevailed language,
30 countries have French,
20 countries have Spanish.
(in order to compare, 21 have Arab and 7 have Portuguese)
Of course if we compare the number of people, the things are quite different:
508 million people speak English (300 million in the US and 60 in the UK),
392 million speak Spanish (100 million in Mexico, 40 million in Argentina, in Colombia and in Spain),
140 million speak French (60 million in France),
191 million speak Portuguese (170 million in Brazil),
246 million speak Arab.
Of course french is no more important compare to English and Spanish, but (and that makes some French proud -I hate that!-) French is the only language with English to be spoken over the 5 continents.
Damian   Monday, June 21, 2004, 23:00 GMT
I understand and respect all the very pertinent points made in all your postings. When I said that English would most likely be the overall "official" language of the EU I did so because it SEEMS to be (I am not certain) the 2nd language of so many of the new constituent countries of the newly enlarged EU, and probably some of the original member states. In saying so, I was conscious of running the risk of appearing arrogant, seeing that I come from an overwhelmingly monoglot country! Honestly, that is the last thing I want to be. We must seek a neutral languge then, like Esperanto, and the vast majority of us, as fellow Europeans, can start from scratch.

Sorry...but what exactly is volapuk?
Jordi   Monday, June 21, 2004, 23:16 GMT
It's funny how we forget that the poor Italians were there in the European project since the very beginning (a few thousand years before the Treaty of Rome, which is the birth of the Common Market). And there surely must be 70 million Italians living in Europe (a million or two in France and another million perhaps in Germany?). Regarding the five continents Spanish --and not only French-- is also spoken in all those continents. French is dying out in Asia but Spanish also is (it was after all the only official language of the Phillipines, named after a Spanish king, during 400 years until 1898). It is also an official language in Africa (not only the Canary Islands but in Spanish Guinea) and it was obviously spoken in North America long before the French or English arrived. So let's call it a tie because if French is spoken even in small Pacific islands so is Spanish in Easter Island.
Regarding the numbers of countries one should count the countries where it is really a home language and not only an ex-imperial co-official language. In all countries where Spanish or English are spoken they are home languages. In the many countries where French is co-official (mainly African countries) French is hardly the language of the home at all and that is the main reason why it is declining and will further decline in the near future. Furthermore, we do mix up things and tend to think there is a European nobility or 1st division (Great Britain, France and Germany) and the rest would be second division or even third. And the "I came first reason" isn't exactly what one would expect. That is hardly a situation a young Italian or Spanish citizen would stand. I wouldn't stand it if I were a Pole and a newcomer to the league. After all the Pope is a native Polish speaker and there are more Catholics in Europe than anything else! Please forgive me that... The thing about the French Establishment --and they've done a good job and I can't blame them either-- is that they've made everybody believe we still live in the 19th century as far as French grandeur is concerned. And the problem with German, for non-German speakers at least, is that it is the most difficult European language to learn because of technical complex reasons, specially for Romance language speakers.
I totally agree no language should prevail and I find your arguments highly interesting.
Dulcinea del Toboso   Tuesday, June 22, 2004, 01:31 GMT
Damian, I wasn't being serious. Volapük was the first artificial language that ever achieved popularity. You can read the history of its amazing success and eventual fall here:


The language isn't quite dead, there's an international meetup day on July 7th!

Juan   Tuesday, June 22, 2004, 01:55 GMT
<<Furthermore, we do mix up things and tend to think there is a European nobility or 1st division (Great Britain, France and Germany) and the rest would be second division or even third. And the "I came first reason" isn't exactly what one would expect. That is hardly a situation a young Italian or Spanish citizen would stand.>>

That's a similar sentiment here in Latin America in regards to the how the US and the rest of the nations in this continent are perceived ;-) Granted, there is a greater divide between Latin America and the States than European "first world" developed nations.
Juan   Tuesday, June 22, 2004, 02:07 GMT
Latin Americans won't stand for it either, but we have little say in the matter.
Xatufan   Tuesday, June 22, 2004, 02:30 GMT
I am not European, but English CAN'T be the official language! In Europe, English is spoken only in the UK, and the UK isn't more important than Spain, Italy or even Finland (sorry, I'm talking about EU). So many people found the answer for this problem in 1951: Interlingua.

By the way, Spanish is spoken in all the continents:
The Americas: Mexico, Central America (except Belize), South America (except Brazil, Guyana, Surinam, French Guaiana).
Europe: Spain
Africa: Equatorial Guinea
Asia: Philippines (if you have the right to say that Vietnam and Cambodia speak French, I can say that Philippines speak Spanish).
Australia and Pacific Islands: According to my research, Guam used to be a Spanish territory, but Spain lost it in 1898.
Antartica: Chile, Argentina and other Latin American countries have scientific places there.

Dulcinea del Toboso: Your name sounds a bit Spanish (or maybe Italian?) By the way, Volapük is a horrible language. The man who created it was a bit drunk (am I right?). I prefer Esperanto, although Esperanto is terrible but it's a bit better.