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Review of  English-Only Europe?

Reviewer: Gerhard Leitner
Book Title: English-Only Europe?
Book Author: Robert Phillipson
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics
Issue Number: 14.2624

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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 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.