By Sari Pietikäinen, Alexandra Jaffe, Helen Kelly-Holmes, Nik Coupland
Sociolinguistics from the Periphery "presents a fascinating book about change: shifting political, economic and cultural conditions; ephemeral, sometimes even seasonal, multilingualism; and altered imaginaries for minority and indigenous languages and their users"
Date: Mon, 29 Sep 2003 07:38:24 +0200 From: Gerhard Leitner Subject: English-only Europe? Challenging Language Policy
Phillipson, Robert (2003) English-only Europe? Challenging Language Policy, Routledge.
Gerhard Leitner, Freie Universität 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 Bundesländer, 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.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Gerhard Leitner is Professor of English at Freie Universität Berlin. He has research interests in varieties of English, especially in Australia and India, mass media languages, language policy, etc.