Monday, February 8, 2016

From Theory to Practice: A Further Look at Unity and Language Diversity in the European Union

by Max Colon

Max Colon is a junior in Psychology and Spanish at the University of Illinois. Max is interested in continuing his work with the non-profit organization Illini Fighting Hunger to provide food aid to those in need. He is planning on pursuing a career in Human Resources Management in the future. Max wrote this text as a student enrolled in 418 ‘Language and Minorities in Europe.’

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The home of 500 million people speaking well over 100 different languages, the European Union is a potent political-economic entity of 28 member states with a core mission to improve all aspects of life for its constituents. With its member countries ranging in size from very small to very large, the E.U. is a complex organization with many interests and challenges.

In such a large organization, one would imagine that a single language would be used in an administrative capacity so as to promote efficiency and ease of governance. However, this idea actually runs counter to the European Union’s mission of promoting cultural and linguistic diversity. The European Day of Languages that is celebrated every year on September 26th is one example of the Union’s commitment to language and cultural diversity that has been fostered in a number of different treaties and charters.

There are 24 official languages that span the 28 member states, and a great emphasis is placed on developing multilingualism and ensuring the continuation of regional and minority language use throughout the E.U. Indeed, one of the very important concentrations of the European Commission is “to fund projects and partnerships designed to raise awareness of minority languages, promote their teaching and learning, and thereby help them survive” (EU). The designation of these language as “official” provides member states with two entitlements: the ability to communicate with the E.U. in the member state’s chosen working language from this pool and the ability to view E.U. regulations and other legislative documents in that language.

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However, for all of its support of diversity on paper, many argue that the E.U. falls flat in promoting such diversity in practice. Most recently, Irish Confederal Group of the European United Left - Nordic Green Left Member of the European Parliament Liadh Ní Riada attempted to participate in a language strike during Irish language week in order to raise awareness of the status afforded to the Irish language within E.U. institutions (Sinnfein). Ireland's central statistics office reports that 36,000 people live in designated Irish language regions and 485,000 use the language on a daily basis (CSO).

Another Member of Parliament, Catalan MEP Josep-Maria Terricabas, agrees with Ní Riada, saying that his language has faced similar discrimination in adopting its use in European Union activities despite estimates of the number of native Catalan speakers in the E.U. ranging between four to five million people.

This seems to follow a growing sentiment Riada describes among Members of the European Parliament that a number of minority languages are actually more widely spoken than some official languages and begs the question as to why the use of these languages has not been put into practice in the E.U. Sadly, the answer for Irish is clear enough: since its adoption as an official language in 2007, a derogation has been in place that does not require European Institutions to provide full translation or interpretation services in Irish as is done with all other official E.U. languages.

It would seem obvious that multilingualism in the E.U. cannot be fully realized until languages such as Irish, Basque, Galician or Catalan can be used with regularity and a sense of normalcy throughout daily functions of the organization.  After all, what better way to promote and support minority languages than to have them fully integrated into the highest European governing body?

It is time for E.U. Institutions to stand together and work toward the full integration of all languages into business activities. They must reassess the status of languages throughout Europe to ensure that their policies truly best represent their citizens and protect the diversity that they so strongly promote.



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