A senior MEP's claims that English could no longer be an official European language post-Brexit have been dismissed by the European Commission. 

Polish MEP Danuta Hübner, who heads the European Parliament's Constitutional Affairs Committee, had reportedly said that English's status as an official language was at risk. 

Danuta Hubner opened a can of worms with her statement. Photo: European ParliamentDanuta Hubner opened a can of worms with her statement. Photo: European Parliament

"Every EU country has the right to notify one official language,”, Politico Europe reported Hübner as saying. "The Irish have notified Gaelic, and the Maltese have notified Maltese, so you have only the UK notifying English."

The European Union has 24 official languages, though only English, French and German are used as its working languages.

English is an official language in three member states - Malta, Ireland and of course the UK - but with Malta and Ireland having nominated Maltese and Irish respectively as their favoured languages, a UK exit from the EU has raised the spectre of an English-free union. 

The prospect seemed to excite French leftist politician Jean-Luc Melenchon, who tweeted "English can no longer be the European Parliament's third working language" mere hours after the Brexit result was confirmed. 

But a Commission statement subsequently said that Ms Hübner's claims were "incorrect". 

"The Council of Ministers, acting unanimously, decide on the rules governing the use of languages by the European institutions," the Commission told the Irish Times

It went on to spell out what this meant. "In other words, any change to the EU Institutions’ language regime is subject to a unanimous vote of the Council." 

EU Digital Economy Commissioner Günther Oettinger also got involved, telling the Guardian that English was going nowhere. 

Even Ms Hübner seemed to acknowledge that English's EU demise was highly unlikely. 

"I personally believe that we will find unanimity to change the rule on this," she said, "and then we will have from the Irish not only Gaelic [Irish] but also English or from the Maltese not only Maltese but also English.” 

LOST LEXICON

Perhaps the miniature crisis will encourage MEPs and EU officials to brush up on their language skills: a 2013 report by the European Court of Auditors included several examples of the English language being butchered in EU documents. 

Some examples cited by the report

  • 1,253 mentions of 'comitology' - a word that doesn't exist. 
  • Pledges to 'elaborate' a document. 
  • Use of 'foresee' - "The safest policy with this word is to avoid it," the report says.
  • Overuse of 'homogenise', a word the report notes is most commonly used with reference to milk.
  • Over 2,000 instances of 'modality' being used to mean 'procedure'. "The trouble," the report notes, "is that it is not English." 
  • 'Planification' - another made-up word.
  • 'Actorness' - a word that's meant to express "the quality of being an actor." The report is scathing, calling it an "extraordinary creation" that is "both quite impenetrable and slightly childish." 

 

 

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