The European Level


Before I outline a possible place for English in contemporary and future Europe let us take stock of the findings so far [in the print version].

All these findings confirm that English is fairly well established in Europe. However, many Europeans still seem to regard the language as belonging to the British or Americans - hence the fear that English will displace native languages. The way forward, I suggest, is to learn from the experiences of former British colonies (see part 1) and to make the language European, to appropriate it for our own purposes. We should see English, as Berns aptly puts it "...not [as] a means of imitating English or American culture, but [as] a medium for expressing culturally and socially unique ideas, feelings and identities" (Berns 1995a: 24) - as a way of communicating not only with native speakers but with people from all over Europe. Put shortly, we should see English as a second rather than as a foreign language.

This appropriation process is already taking place in certain domains. EU officials, for instance, have developed their own variety of English (sometimes called "EU-English" or "Euro-English"). The following characteristics seem to be typical for Euro-English:

(Born 1996:70-75, see also Crystal 1999 and Dollerup 1996: 35)

Thus, Euro-English is not "bad" English, it is English appropriated for the purposes of those working in the European institutions. Volz' arguments against English (see above) can only be upheld if we regard native speaker norms as the only correct ones. But if Euro-English is seen as an appropriate standard for those working in the European institutions, the advantages of the native-speakers are significantly reduced because both native speakers and non-native speakers would have to conform to a non-native standard. While this would certainly diminish the advantage of the native speaker of English it does not completely abolish it, as a native speaker would probably learn Euro-English easier.

In the business world, European varieties of English are frequently encountered and, at least in Sweden, French English, German English, Thai English and American or British English are treated on the same level. (see Hollqvist 1984: 119) Actually, it seems as if the role of business in the appropriation of English has been seriously undervalued. SAS (the Scandinavian airline), fort instance, uses a mixture of Danish, Norwegian and Swedish interspersed with a great many English which has been jocularly designated ''SASkinavisk'' or ''SASperanto''. (Hollqvist 1984: 111) Moreover, Hollqvist reports that Ericsson even tried to create its own version of English, referred to as "Ericsson English" aiming at a carefully restricted range of vocabulary and structures without loss of accuracy and appropriate tone. (1984: 93, see also Graddol 1997: 31) However, the project turned out to be a failure because it was not sufficiently accepted by the employees.

According to Berns European English identifies those uses of the language that are distinctly European and distinguish European English speakers from speakers of other varieties. (1995b:7) If one extends this classification one can further subdivide European English into national subvarieties, European Englishes (German English, French English...) The prime marker of such national European Englishes is, of course, accent, but one should not forget that there are also marked differences in discursive strategies, rhetorical style, lexical choices and extended or restricted meanings of borrowed words and phrases. (Berns 1995a: 25, see also Carstensen 1986: 823) The question is if English will function as an intra-European language outside of specialised functional domains. Even today, many Europeans use English when they are in another European country whose native language they don't speak. Due to increased co-operation and cultural exchange between the EU member states the number of "common Europeans" who appropriate English in this way is likely to increase.

If we regard English as belonging to the Europeans this leads us to the question if it is really appropriate to teach British or American English. (see also part 1) If we reject such an exo-normative model we face the problem that it would be extremely difficult to find a common European endo-normative model to teach, because regional European English (German English, French English and others) may vary enormously. While specialised subgroups (doctors, lawyers...) will regulate the use of European Englishes for themselves (as discussed in part one) the question of standardisation is crucial on the level of English language teaching at school. After all it makes little sense to teach English as a European language if pupils speaking German English and pupils speaking French English can't understand each other. As a model for teaching English in school I therefore suggest a limited orientation on British and American English - or maybe on a mixture of both; these Englishes should be seen as "negative models" for European Englishes - that is they should be recognised as the "mother language" from which European Englishes originate but from which they might deviate in some respects. Especially in pronunciation it should not be the aim to teach an American or British Model. Instead a standard should, as Modiano suggests, include those characteristics of pronunciation which are discernible to a majority of native and proficient non-native speakers. (1999: 10)

The polymodel approach would have to be descriptive rather than prescriptive. Thus, it has the advantage that it addresses the concept of standards and models from a perspective which cherishes rather than condemns diversity and which is thus more appropriate for multilingual Europe than the current Anglo-centric model (see also part1 for appropriate pedagogy).

Generally, in teaching English as a European language one would have to put less emphasis on embedding English in an Anglo-American context. Rather, teaching material should focus on interaction in English between non-native speakers. (see Berns 1995a:27-28 ). Keeping the material benefits that Britain has reaped from a native-speaker oriented ELT in mind (see part 1) it is hardly surprising that decision makers in the UK oppose this view and continue to advertise British English as best for Europe.

It is probably a valuable experience for pupils if English is used in other subjects for a shorter period of time; however, as I have indicated above, I would strongly argue against using English as a medium of instruction as this could lead to a situation where the students (and later on the scientists) are no longer able to explain a specialised subject in their mother tongue. If we want to make English a truly European language we should avoid the fallacies of monolingualism and of the native speaker (see part 1) at all costs.

To affirm the "Europeaness" of English is not equal to a plea for "English Only" , it does not in any way mean that other languages are not important as well. Rather than seeing the EU's language "problem" as a question of "English Only" versus "Language Ecology" (that is the emphasis on the equal rights of all languages) as Phillipson does (1996), I suggest that one should try to find a synthesis of these only seemingly contradictory approaches. Pfeiffer suggests that one should simply regard different languages as having different functions: not every small language has to function as an international means of communication. This is what we have English for. Smaller languages can - and should - act for local purposes. (1992: 372). Bigger languages like Spanish, French or Portuguese can be a valuable asset in the non-English speaking world. Because the customer still prefers to buy in his (or her) own language such languages might provide an important advantage for European business against American competitors who all to often rely on people speaking English.

On the level of the individual the politician or the scientist has to choose for him or herself if he wants to emphasis his nationality and use his/her own mother tongue or if it is more important to him/her that he/she is understood by the maximum number of people, in which case he/she will opt for one of the big languages, probably English.

Fears that with the intrusion of English as the dominant language diaglossia "may be imminent" (Phillipson 1996: 446, see also Chiti-Batelli 1994:70 and Denison 1981:5) are therefore unfounded and unwarranted. Although the dominant use of English in European Science may be worrying, particularly if it involves a discrimination of the non-native speaker, I do not concur with van Essen's conclusion (1997b: 2070), that language imperialism exists in Europe. As my analysis of the three Western European supraregions has shown, such a conclusion is not even warranted for the area of intensive usage. Rather than spreading messages of doom (as Domaschnew does: 1994:36) I suggest that the languages of strong economies will flourish. The languages of smaller speech communities will do less well and may loose their importance in international communication but will still be used for local purposes.

While English may be used as an intra-European language by tourists (see above) it is uncertain if the general populace will accept English as a language of their European identity. In this respect Berns' assumption that "if national identity is linked with a particular language, then a supra-national identity can be linked with a language too" (Berns 1995a: 24) may be too naive. While I agree completely with Coulmas' opinion that the ideological dead weight of the 19th century, that is linguistic nationalism, must be dropped, (1991: 27) I am also aware that this is much easier said than done. EU programmes like LINGUA are a step in the right direction but much remains to be done. The resistance to English is sometimes but not always an indication of the resistance to globalisation; in this function it signals the desire of those who are uncomfortable with the breakdown of traditional barriers (by the rapid improvement of transportation and information technology) to return to the "safer" times of "right or wrong, my country". To try and replace national identity (and language) with a supranational one is certainly the wrong way. Instead, we should try, as Haarmann suggests, to achieve a balanced identity where the basic needs of national self-recognition do not collide with supranational integration. (1991: 111-112) This aim would be achieved if it is realised that it is perfectly possible to be a Viennese, an Austrian and a European (for instance).

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Copyright Daniel Spichtinger 2000