LINGUIST List 14.2624

Tue Sep 30 2003

Review: Sociolinguistics: Phillipson (2003)

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  1. Gerhard Leitner, English-only Europe? Challenging Language Policy

Message 1: English-only Europe? Challenging Language Policy

Date: Mon, 29 Sep 2003 18:08:45 +0000
From: Gerhard Leitner <>
Subject: English-only Europe? Challenging Language Policy

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

Announced at

Gerhard Leitner, Freie Universit�t 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 politics''.


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 education.

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 other.

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
Bundesl�nder, 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 missing.


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 Universit�t Berlin.
He has research interests in varieties of English, especially in
Australia and India, mass media languages, language policy, etc.
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