Language focus | 15.01.2010

The use of English in the EU could be damaging Scandinavian languages

Linguistic diversity is important to the E.U., which has stated that all of its citizens should learn at least two foreign languages in a bid to support this.

Leonard Orban, the E.U. Commissioner for Multilingualism is clearly very supportive of those people who speak a number of languages: “The ability to communicate in several languages is a great benefit for individual organisations and companies alike”. However, he also realises that it is essential that we maintain and use our native language. “If you speak your mother tongue, you say what you wish; if you speak other languages, you say what you can.”

It has become apparent that while countries such as France, Spain and Romania make official speeches to the E.U. in their own language and use appropriate interpreters, Nordic countries make the same speeches directly in English. This is concerning for a number of reasons, firstly it could potentially limit what the speaker can say or how much they can interact in discussions. While many people from Nordic countries are fully fluent in the English language, language nuances and tone of voice of native speakers can be misinterpreted by non native speakers, which, depending on the discussion, could result in countless faux pas. Secondly, the more diplomats and officials from Scandinavian countries who don’t employ a qualified interpreter, the fewer opportunities there are for Scandinavian interpreters to practise their skills. Thirdly, if English is used in official discussion technical terminology is not developed in the speaker’s native tongue. Indeed, Swedish, Finnish and Danish are all peppered with English technical vocabulary to the detriment of the Nordic languages’ development. With English the dominant language for technical sectors such as medicine and economics other languages don’t evolve and develop their own vocabulary for these terms. Perhaps this is beneficial from a practical communication point of view, in today’s global village; however, it seems rather sad that linguistic evolution and terminology development is sacrificed simply because it’s easier that way.

Money clearly has a role to play in this issue; since 2004 each E.U. nation has had to fund its own interpreting costs; previously all costs were covered by the E.U. In light of this Scandinavian governments save money if they conduct their E.U. business directly in English, but some would argue that this is done at considerable expense to their own language. The Common Sense Advisory have conducted research in Sweden and found that 80% of Swedish people responding to their survey preferred to buy products which had been translated and localised into Swedish, even though Sweden has an extremely high proficiency in English. It should theoretically follow that Swedish diplomats would prefer to do their E.U business in Swedish and not their second or third language.

There is evidence to suggest that the Swedish government is aware of the threat this behaviour has on the Swedish language. In July 2009 a law was passed to make Swedish officially the main language in Sweden. Public bodies are now encouraged to and have a special responsibility to use and develop the Swedish language in a bid to reduce continued integration of English technical words into the language.

Learning a new language is hugely satisfying and opens up countless doors to individuals and the companies they work with, but the importance of maintaining your own native language can not be underestimated. The future of the translation and interpreting sector depends upon it.

Source: Common sense advisory

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