The mælstrom unleashed by Brexit has given rise to questions about the status of the English language within the European Union. As the United Kingdom was the only EU member to list English as its official language, in theory it would be destined to disappear from institutional paperwork. The press is still awash with speculation on what would happen once Britain formalizes the decision to abandon the EU, but an Irish translator, who started working for the European Commission in the early days, has witnessed the change from French to English as new members were added from Central Europe, Scandinavia and the East. Some French are trying to reassert their language but linguistic barriers would render English impossible to avoid. Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges had said French had been relegated to being a haven for thinkers. Should there be a need to formalize the decision to keep English as one of the official languages of the EU, there could be an ironic solution: Ireland could come to the rescue. Not only it has given the language some of the best writers of universal literature, from Oscar Wilde to James Joyce. Bureaucratically, the Republic of Ireland, which has Gælic as its official language, could add English as a second official language. For Irish translators and officials, it would be a boon, as they would be in high demand. Still, there is a background of historical drama. “Be advised my passport’s green/No glass of ours was ever raised/to toast the Queen,” had written Irish poet Sæmus Heaney when he had taken offense for having his work included in an anthology of British poetry. But then again, when Heaney declined to be named Poet Laureate of the UK for ideological objections, he had clarified: “I’ve nothing against the Queen personally: I had lunch at the Palace once upon a time.”
Will the English Language in the EU go the Way of Brexit?
- by Victor Aimi