An anti-English movement is brewing in France. Clement Beaune, French Minister for European Affairs led a campaign for “European linguistic diversity” last month, where he emphasized the lack of need for English after Brexit.
“Let’s get used to speaking our languages again,” he said.
Faced with fierce critics, even domestically, Frexit advocate Francois Asselineau criticized the minister for failing to understand France’s position within the EU.
“To believe that French would once again become the first language in Europe after Brexit is not to understand that the EU is a geopolitical unit under the domination of the USA and NATO for 75 years,” writes Asselineau.
But many were on the sidelines of this debate, or found the idea even a little enticing, Asselineau one of them.
“To give the French language its full place in the world, France must regain an independent diplomacy from the USA, redirect its cooperation of all kinds towards Africa, Russia, Asia, and Latin America, and strengthen its industry, research, defence, and education,” he adds.
The minister was joined by French right-wing commentator Eric Zemmour, who called for a post-Brexit boycott of English, which he believes has “crushed” French.
Zemmour makes the compelling case that only two countries in the EU use English as a first language: Malta and Ireland. He goes on to call for a return to French as the EU’s official language.
“I think this is the time to launch a counter-offensive in favour of French, to recall that French was the original language of EU institutions,” notes Zemmour.
This is hardly the first time anti-English sentiments have surfaced in France. Realizing them is prevented by strict EU law. In the EU, any change to the official lingua franca of its organizations and procedures has to be approved by the European Council by a unanimous vote.
More recently, an article published in Le Figaro magazine makes the case that English should be done away within the EU, if not for French, then oddly enough, for Latin.
This is rooted in the struggle faced by non-native speakers of English, who claim that it gives native speakers an unfair advantage and hold over them.
Professor Marko Modiano, professor of English at the Swedish University of Gävle spoke to Politico, where he called for a Euro-English, with its own rules. His view is not a popular one, as linguists present practical reasons for using British English as the EU’s official language, and using it as a second language throughout Europe.
For these critics, the EU shouldn’t have a dominant language, but rather believe in multilingualism. The EU’s policy in this field ambitiously seeks to make all 24 languages equally official. As such, any EU citizen can write to the EU Commission, Parliament or Council in any of the 24 languages, and expect a reply. Meanwhile, the Parliament provides simultaneous interpretation for all its meetings and speeches.
For advocates of unseating English, that’s all well and good, but English has displaced French and many other languages. In Brussels, English has become the official and unofficial bureaucratic language of choice. According to EU commission records, nearly 90 percent of legislation is in English.
The Le Figaro article, penned by Sundar Ramanadane, claims Europe’s divorce from the English is complete, and says the feeling that French should be Europe’s lingua franca is hardly unique, pointing to articles by Germans that asks whether German should be the EU’s foremost language.
But for Ramandane, Latin is ideal. How does one revive an ancient, largely dead language? The case of Israel’s revival of Modern Hebrew is used as proof that it’s possible.
This is perceived as crucial and necessary if Europe will ever fulfil its dream of becoming more than a common market. The issue is an identity based on a common language and past, and this can never materialize in the status quo, he says.
Latin, he argues, is a natural choice. This is particularly given that every shared historical political experience in Europe leads back to Latin. From the Roman Empire and Christianity, to the Renaissance and Enlightenment, Latin was present throughout it all.
It’s not lacking for culture either, says Ramandane, used through nearly 2000 years of history as the only common link between European minds, leaders and scholars. He goes on to argue that it's no stranger to modern languages, having shaped them deeply.
More importantly, he argues, Latin is well-suited to politics. In fact, some of the greatest orators and legal experts spoke in Latin, and one that will make it possible to train political leaders and civil servants in rhetoric and logic, much like ancient Greece and Rome.
The biggest reason of all would be symbolic unity. A single language could unify Europe and let it evolve into the next great political union, rather than a loose scattering of states brought together by shared financial interests.
Unmentioned by the writer, Latin was actually the primary language of Europe until it was killed off by renaissance scholars who complained that Modern Latin was nowhere near the strength of classical Latin. Their efforts saw the language relegated to museums and the study of ancient classics, as it changed into the modern romantic languages of today.
Drivers of nationalism also believed in the development of alternative languages to English, which gave to the nation-state’s identity.
The idea that Latin also teaches better rhetoric is debunked by many, who argue that Latin doesn’t hold a monopoly on logic.
Another reason Latin went extinct was because of how difficult and complex it is. The language is by design, highly affected by vocal inflexion. That means nearly every spoken word can be modified based on context, voice, mood, person, number, gender, tense, and delivery. With no central authority governing what was authentic Latin, it quickly fell out of everyday usage.
While Europe does lack a uniform language, Latin critics argue, is not any better suited to its needs than English and is difficult to learn for all Europeans.