Sunday, May 02, 2004

10 More Countries, 9 More Languages: The Babel Union?

Alan Riding has a piece on EU languages in his weekly Entr'acte column in the IHT, in which he notes that the "number of language combinations for interpretation will … jump to 420 from 110, although in practice 'relay languages' like English and French will serve as a bridge between less-spoken languages."
The problem of managing a cacophony of tongues is thought far less daunting than having to silence any individual language. After all, if Dutch, Greek and Danish are used, why not also Estonian, Hungarian and Maltese? The 191-member United Nations may tick along just fine with six languages, but in Europe the right of officials and legislators to work in their own language is now enshrined as a democratic imperative. …

[But] having a voice in Europe — tiny like Latvia or powerful like Germany — does not automatically mean that a country's language will be more widely studied or spoken. A language's use in Brussels may improve public perceptions of the European Union, but this acceptance is more likely to influence how a country sees itself than how it is viewed by others. In fact, since no Union language is actually threatened, the issue is really one of political pride.
(Alan Riding: With 9 more languages, EU's Babel grows louder
By Alan Riding, International Herald Tribune, Thursday, April 29, 2004)