Category Archives: The Journal of International English and Linguistic Rights

The Journal of International English and Linguistic Rights


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Philippe Léglise-Costa
Paris, France

The spread of English as a lingua franca (a language used by speakers of different languages as a common language of communication) continues to gain traction around the world. But not without opposition in some very high places. Recently,  French ambassador Philippe Léglise-Costa not only objected to the English only policy in the European council, he actually stormed out of a meeting in angry protest, according to published reports, to wit,

France’s EU ambassador on Wednesday walked out of a diplomatic meeting after the Council decided to use only English-language translation in a new working group on the EU’s long-term budget.

Philippe Léglise-Costa, the French EU ambassador, stormed out of the Coreper meeting on the Multiannual Financial Framework after refusing to sign off on a Council Secretariat decision that asked representatives of other EU countries to agree on using English for the group’s meetings, according to several participants.

While French is still one of the official working languages of the EU, its influence has been on the wane recently, given that English has emerged as a common language in not just diplomacy, but also in most domains that require communication between people of different native tongues.

Was Ambassador Philippe Léglise-Costa right to object to this blatant omission on the part of the Council to provide a translation in French? Or did he over-react? Isn’t the whole point of English being a global lingua franca that people of different linguistic traditions need a common language in which to communicate? That language did not have to be English, but it just so happens that it is English. Why should the other countries accept English in lieu of their own native languages, if the French ambassador refuses to accept that he cannot have a translation in French while everyone else has to make do with English? In other words, could the other countries also insist on a translation in their own native languages as well? Is it fair that only French and English translations are provided?

EU states total 28 nation states, to wit (from

Austria Italy
Belgium Latvia
Bulgaria Lithuania
Croatia Luxembourg
Cyprus Malta
Czech Republic Netherlands
Denmark Poland
Estonia Portugal
Finland Romania
France Slovakia
Germany Slovenia
Greece Spain
Hungary Sweden
Ireland United Ki

The EU region is one of the world’s most multilingual. Each of these 28 states have a language of their own – though English is taught as a second language in most of these countries. If each nation insisted on having their language be a working language of the council, the costs of translating documents would quickly become prohibitive.

Multilingualism and francophony aside, it appears that  French ambassador Philippe Léglise-Costa did not have universal support for his actions on the Council. Some argued that he had acted a bit unreasonably under the circumstances:

Léglise-Costa raised his voice against the Council decision, arguing that France was defending “multilingualism as well as Francophony,” particularly within a group that would be discussing billions of euros in revenues and spending, the European diplomat said.

On the other hand,  perhaps the Ambassador, who was described by some diplomats in attendance as having “over-reacted” can be excused for feeling like his language and culture was being usurped and rendered irrelevant by English – lingua franca or no lingua franca.

France along with Germany does bear a disproportionate financial responsibility for spending in and for the region, and thus can be excused for insisting that the French language is given the same deference and respect as English – or at least more deference and respect that some of those others who are newer to the group and who bear considerably less of its financial burdens. It certainly  is not a clear cut situation from a diplomatic and international relations perspective. Whether Ambassador Léglise-Costa succeeds at defending “multilingualism and francophony,” and restoring the position of the French language before the EU Council remains to be seen.

The only thing that is clear that English has become a common language of communication for the international community today and in order not to be left behind, people need to learn English for their own personal and professional development.

At ELG, we stand ready to assist you with achieving your English language acquisition goals.



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Should the European Union adopt an official language policy to protect its linguistic identity from “colonization” by the English language – in particular, American English? Or should EU policy makers continue their “laissez faire approach” leaving the EU’s linguistic future to market forces i.e., the “free flow of products, ideas and discourses”?[1] The answer would depend in part on whether it can be demonstrated empirically that English is ipso facto harmful to linguistic human rights of speakers of other languages – in particular (for purposes of this paper) European languages.[2]  The empirical data on this issue so far is scant. There have been studies conducted in Nordic countries – Sweden, Finland and others – that appear to show a correlation between the spread of English in Scandinavia and “domain loss” of some Scandinavian languages.[3] It is unclear however that English is the cause of this linguistic crisis. Indeed, the real problem could be a combination of factors including a drop and/or decline in the: “Number of speakers of the language; the number of young speakers; the writing tradition; the use of the language in education; status of the language; and the status of the language users; and access to language technology.”[4] These and other variables, including the perceived “market value” of the language to speakers of other languages, could be the real culprit of the “domain loss.”[5] No one knows for sure what the cause is at this time.

What is crystal clear at this juncture is that the train has left the station. English is the “lingua franca” in the international scientific and academic communities, in tertiary education, law, business and technology.[6] It is also clear that American culture, through the Internet, music, movies, fast food, legal structure, military and economic power, and language, wields a strong influence on global culture – including language culture.[7] It is also clear that global integration as well as European integration necessitate a standard medium of communication for the international community; and that English (not necessarily “American” English) has emerged rightly or wrongly as that medium. It is also clear that a standard medium of communication is rationally related to the legitimate end of harmonized and reliable communication in transnational interactions between speakers of diverse languages. Like a standard medium of exchange, a standard medium of communication leads to “fair” “just” “reliable” “non-manipulative” verbal exchanges between parties because everyone is “using the same playbook.”[8]

The question is whether the current international lingua franca – English – is per se harmful to European linguistic human rights concerns and if so what should be the appropriate political response by the EU parliament and other European institutions like the Council of Europe and the European Commission?

Language Politics in Europe

Language politics in Europe appears at the moment to be largely influenced by market force and power politics.[9] Indeed, the competitive and comparative advantages of English vis-a-vis other second languages in Europe (and the rest of the world community) are well-documented.[10]  The rate of demand for English language proficiency in the global market place far exceeds demand for any other linguistic product.[11] English is the language of the Internet.[12] English is the working language of the world’s most powerful organizations including the World Bank, the IMF, the World Trade Organization, the United Nations and NATO.[13] In short, English has emerged as the main language for communicators in international relations and power politics.

The dominance of English as the language of international relations is troubling to many scholars in the field of sociolinguistics some of whom have called for action by the EU federal government. Seemingly paralyzed to act on this issue for reasons too numerous to mention, however, Brussels has taken a “laissez faire” approach rather than tackle the issue centrally and directly.[14] Indeed, official language policy in the European Union is left to each member state, with the principle of subsidiarity tacitly understood to govern the issue.[15]

The European Union does have an unofficial language policy: Multilingualism. This policy is detailed in the 2008 communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and other EU institutions titled: “Multilingualism: an Asset for Europe and a Shared Commitment.”[16]  This policy is also mentioned in the 2009 Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.[17] In addition, other instruments such as the 1950 European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights[18]; the 1995 Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities[19]; and the 1998 European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages[20] serve to create an ad hoc regulatory framework for language rights, language identity and language policy in the European Union.

Researchers like British sociolinguist Robert Phillipson think that the EU should adopt an official federal language policy in order to protect Europe’s linguistically diverse heritage from English domination. In English Only World Wide or Language Ecology, he argues for a change in language policy; he claims that English has become too powerful, being at the apex of the “pecking order” of languages, to the detriment of other languages – especially those in the European Union. He laments English’s “linguistic imperialism” and discusses two language policy paradigms (one of which he finds undesirable) the first being the “diffusion of English paradigm” and the second “the Ecology of Language paradigm.”[21] These two paradigms, according to Phillipson, are used by language instructors and policy makers when disseminating English to the global population. Phillipson advocates the latter paradigm and disdains the first. In the ecology of language paradigm, in his view, multilingualism and linguistic diversity will be protected. For example, in English Only Worldwide or Language Ecology he explains the ecology of language paradigm as “building on linguistic diversity worldwide, promoting multilingualism and foreign language learning, and granting linguistic human rights to speakers of all languages.”[22] Phillipson seems to be of the opinion that the “ecology of language paradigm” and a global lingua franca are mutually exclusive domains.

There are twenty-four official working languages in the European Union.[23] These languages are genetically linked to 12 different language families that have been spoken in Europe for centuries.[24] But there are also numerous minority languages that have either been present in Europe for centuries or have infiltrated Europe in recent decades due to increased migration which has brought an influx of new immigrants that comprise “the New Europeans.”[25] These people have their own linguistic heritages, that when mixed with traditional and non-traditional “Indo-European macro grouping of languages” have created a complex “mosaic of languages” and “pidgins” that was previously unseen in Europe.[26]

The sheer number of languages spoken among these old and new EU citizens will concededly complicate any attempt to adopt a “centralized, democratized language policy” on the federal level in Europe.[27] For starters, equal participation of all European languages will be administratively impracticable because there are literally hundreds of languages, if not thousands of languages spoken in Europe.[28] The EU has three unofficial working languages (French, German and English) and twenty-four official languages.  Translation costs for these languages are over a billion euros per year.[29] This puts quite a dent in the “supra-state’s” budget – and is thus fiscally unsupportable for the long-term, especially as more countries join the EU and request official language status.[30]

On the other hand, giving superior status to one language or certain languages over others raises additional concerns, not the least of which are concerns about the “linguistic human rights” of the people whose languages are subordinated to lower status in the hierarchy of languages. Linguistic rights are increasingly viewed as fundamental human rights. Case in point, the European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages has argued for “cultural and linguistic diversity to be treated as fundamental rights.”[31] (Emphasis added.) Phillipson himself discusses this issue in English Only. What a designation of linguistic rights as “fundamental” human rights would mean as far as English being a lingua franca is unclear. First of all, the concept of “fundamental human rights” itself is not universally and expressly defined in all legal systems.  It has not been defined in official European Union legal documents even though the recognition of at least some rights as being fundamental can be inferred from documents such as the 2009 Charter of Fundamental rights of the European Union; the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms; and from case law such as from the European Court of Human Rights and the German Constitutional Court.[32] European countries are signatories to various regional and international instruments such as the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights and the Kyoto Protocols all of which in the aggregate aim to protect the three generations of human rights (right to life, political freedom, right to educational and social freedom and right to a clean environment and communication rights, for example).[33] Further, in order to become a member of the Union, states must meet the Copenhagen Criteria one of which is a respect for human rights.[34]

At this juncture, linguistic rights would appear to fall into the category for the third generation of rights and not the first or second generations and are thus not “fundamental” but are clearly human rights nevertheless. (Jean D’Arcy “Four Pillars”)  Whether this should remain the status quo is a topic for another inquiry.  For purposes of this paper, suffice to say that though the issue of fundamentality of linguistic human rights remains unsettled, it is not clear that such a designation would affect or should affect the use of a global lingua franca. In other words, both notions can coexist quite harmoniously. It is possible to designate and recognize linguistic rights as fundamental, and contemporaneously to recognize a global lingua franca as being necessary to facilitate communication between transnational communicators of differing linguistic pedigrees. Adopting an international lingua franca is in other words rationally related to the legitimate end of efficient and efficacious trans-global communication. It is also in the interest of European workers (as it is for all workers in the global community) to be conversant in the international lingua franca of the day in order to remain competitive in a globally integrated world environment. European initiatives such as the “Barcelona Objective” encourage Europeans to become proficient in their native tongue and two other languages.[35] Statistics show that most Europeans choose English as their first foreign language.[36] But state policy has not been to officially facilitate their citizens’ acquisition of English language skills as a matter of official language policy and strategy.

Majority v Minority Languages in the EU

So what makes a language a “minority” language? The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages describes a minority language as:

“languages that are:1.traditionally used within a given territory of a State by nationals of that State who form a group numerically smaller than the rest of the State’s population; and 2.different from the official language(s) of that State”

If this is the rule, the number of minority languages spoken in Europe could be in the thousands.  The list comprises Gaelic, Greenlandic, Galician, Basque, Faroese, Breton, Occitan, Frisian, Yiddish, Sami, Finnish, and more than 200 others – of varying degrees of development, life and vigor.[37] By contrast, European languages like French, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, German, and English are “majority” languages. Unlike minority languages (non-European ones inclusive) there obviously is no imminent fear of complete language loss of any majority European language. There is a certain level of “parity” that exists for most of the majority languages which makes complete loss improbable.

As for minority language rights, European officials have endeavored to recognize language rights of minority speakers as being, at least in theory, equal to majority language speakers.[38] Most regional and international treaties that address linguistic rights starting with the Treaty at Lausanne (1923), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), have traditionally mostly been concerned with protecting minority language rights.   Linguistics rights have, in other words, typically been a North-South struggle where minority languages have been accorded special protection – especially in Europe. But the spread of English into Europe has created an interesting North–North linguistic confrontation, one which (except in the case of Latin during the Roman Empire and French during the reign of Napoleon)[39] remains unprecedented in Europe. Some scholars seem to fear this “invasion” could relegate traditionally majority languages in Europe to minority status, thus necessitating special protections for majority languages that normally have been reserved for minority languages.

This issue of majority language vs minority language is important because “equality” of languages must include all languages in order for the term to possess any legitimacy and credibility and in order for scholars like Phillipson to mount a convincing argument against “lingua franca” English on the basis of English’s hegemony and “linguistic imperialism” which he feels creates “imbalance” in the “language ecology.”  If only some languages or only one language – like English – are used to represent the entire group of majority and minority speakers in transnational communication, this, clearly, is not “equality.” Indeed, it is a form of linguistic “discrimination.” Phillipson is among the group who find this “discrimination” unacceptable. He compares English to “Frankenstein.”    He views English as a “pernicious” presence in Europe.  He believes that European languages must be protected on a European federal level in order to combat this unpalatable linguistic situation, which, in his view, is a result of “Americanization, Anglicization, globalism and ‘asymmetrical’ internationalization” that could render Europe a monolingual continent. In English, he wrote:

Nevertheless, the forces of globalization and americanization may be

moving language policy in the direction of monolingualism. English

may be seen as a kind of linguistic cuckoo, taking over where other

breeds of language have historically nested and acquired territorial

rights, and obliging non-native speakers of English to acquire the

behavioral habits and linguistic forms of English.


Phillipson’s argument is rife with anti-colonial undertones and his point is well taken. The idea of English “taking over” and “acquiring territorial rights” over other languages and “obliging non-native speakers to acquire the behavioral habits and linguistic norms of English” is alarming.  Monolingualism would not be very interesting for anyone and frankly would be manifestly unnatural from an anthropological standpoint and should not be the aim of any official government policy.[40]  From a legal standpoint, every human person must have the right to linguistic self-determination and should not be “obliged” to speak English. [41] But it is worth keeping in mind that a “right” is not an “obligation” for the possessor of the right. Arguably, because of English’s status as a “global language,” all human persons in the global community should have a fundamental “human right” to know how to speak this lingua franca as part of their Free Speech rights as well as their property rights (and governments should have an obligation to provide the resources for those people who are unable to pay for their language instruction); but certainly no human person should  be “obliged” to exercise this right if they choose not to exercise this right.

Be this all as it may, it is difficult to imagine a situation where all languages can be treated “equally” as Phillipson and like-minded scholars advocate especially because in Europe and the rest of the global community, there are, in the aggregate, more than 5000 languages! Some languages for more than one reason will be at a disadvantage and they will die.[42] There are many factors that lead to language death and the use of a global lingua franca is not on its own, a convincing explanation for linguicide of an otherwise healthy, well-preserved language.[43] Phillipson seems to fear that Europe’s majority languages could be relegated to minority status in the linguistic hierarchy (or even suffer language death) just by the mere fact that English is a global lingua franca and so he calls for special protection from the government. But, at least in the case of most European majority languages, those fears are unfounded. Europe’s majority languages are much too entrenched in European cultural heritage to come to such a catastrophic end. In the case of minority languages, these have always needed protection and will continue to need protection whatever the international lingua franca of the day happens to be whether English is a lingua franca or not.

Language Policy and language rights in the United States vis a vis Europe

The fact that the European Union as a supranational body does not have a centralized and identifiable language policy that is backed by the force of law in the European Parliament or any other EU institution, is not such a big disaster as Phillipson thinks.  Statehood has traditionally been closely associated with language identity.[44]Arguably, states should continue to control language policy within their borders and this issue should only be centralized or handled on the supranational level if states are demonstrably incompetent to handle the issue. Of course, the fluid borders of European Union that were created by the Maastricht Treaty will stretch this thesis close to breaking point because “language shift” is occurring at a faster rate than ever as new immigrants and migrants move around and assimilate in the region.[45]  Even European higher education institutions have gone borderless – a situation facilitated by the Bologna Process – and are shifting into the lane of predominantly English-medium education.[46] Thus, this idea of statehood being tied to language will likewise experience an ideological shift as the very concept and definition of statehood itself, shifts.[47]Globalization strains this thesis further. Technology is creating a borderless global community. Thus even if Brussels wanted to insert a quasi “invisible hand” and create policy on the Community level where language is concerned, still it will be very difficult to stop the current trajectory. The European community, in line with the international community, will continue to experience heightening levels of transnational interaction and interdependence. As a result “states” will yield more of their borders and, some of their linguistic “territoriality.”[48]

It is not that there has been complete inaction on the part of EU institutions. The European Commission’s action plan for promoting language learning and linguistic diversity, has, since 2004 been actively on the agenda; and the Council of Europe with the Common Framework  of Reference clearly shows that on the federal level linguistic diversity is on the radar. In 2013, a motion was made for a European parliament resolution on “endangered European languages and linguistic diversity in the European Union.” Said motion included, among others, a call for “the governments of the Member States to condemn practices which, by means of linguistic discrimination or enforced or concealed assimilation, have in the past been – or are now – directed against the identity and language use of endangered linguistic communities or their cultural institutions.” [49]

France, Sweden and the United States: Three case studies of states’ language policies

France’s language Policy

It is on the level of member states that language policy has been implemented. France for example already has an official language policy. France’s language policy is one of the “oldest” in Europe. According to one author, France’s language policy dates back to the 18th Century:

“France is today the only nation in the world with legislation requiring (since 1794) the exclusive use of the national language in all public and private acts, from the drafting of laws to the language of commercial transactions and even a private citizen’s last will and testament, etc.. . . France is the most extreme case [le cas limite] of a nation totally identified with one language, but which goes beyond this to defend the integrity of this linguistic personality in all aspects of social life against the claims and encroachments of any and all languages from inside or outside its borders. . . .Certain international observers consider this policy aberrant in the age of computers and mass-media which is already upon us.. . .But French public opinion, perhaps anaesthetized by its poorly understood monolingualism, is not sensitive to the urgency of language problems.”[50]

But in fact, perhaps French language policy was formed as early as the 16th Century with the Edict of Villiers. This edict by a French monarch Francois I. [51]

Sweden’s language policy

The situation is similar in Sweden. Swedish policy makers have adopted an official language policy.  Sweden’s legislature has enacted a law that “Swedish shall be a complete language.”[52]  In 2009, Sweden officialised its language policy with “The Language Act” which, in addition to providing protection to minority languages and sign language for the deaf, mandates that “Swedish is the official language of Sweden which therefore shall be made available and taught to all people in Sweden.” The main provisions contained in the Act read in part:

• Swedish is the main language in Sweden, i.e. the common language in

society that everyone has to have access to and that can be used in all

sectors of society.

• Everyone living in Sweden has to be given the opportunity to learn,

develop and use Swedish.

• The language of the public services is Swedish.[53]


America’s Language Policy

The United States, with a rate of immigration that is unrivaled anywhere else in the world, is probably equally as linguistically diverse as Europe, if not more so. The United States does not have an official federal language policy however several states have adopted official policies by constitutional amendments.[54] The United States is a signatory of various international instruments and accords that protect language rights of individuals.  These include the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its Protocol (“ICCPR”) (1966).

Language rights are fundamental to the spirit of American Constitutional law and jurisprudence, even though US federal law does not expressly recognize linguistic rights as “fundamental rights” nor has the federal government adopted an official language policy.[55] What this means is that individuals living in the United States have a right to speak their own native language in their personal lives; and obviously they have a First Amendment free speech right. There is no government policy that could conceivably challenge this right without an aggressive push back from civil liberties organizations and human rights organizations both within and without the United States.  But unlike, say, religious freedom and due process rights, linguistic rights are not expressly “fundamental” under US legal systems. They would have to be inferred under the First Amendment.

France and the United States are similar but not identical in terms of their language policy. For one thing, like France, the US has always been monolingual (officially speaking.) English is and has always been the de facto “official” language of the United States even though the US federal government has not made any declarations on the issue. The natives who inhabited the United States prior to the arrival of Europeans certainly had their own language and linguistic identities which were not English; however those languages have never been considered the “official language of the United States.” The founding fathers of the United States apparently never considered the native American languages as being a part  of their bundle of  “fundamental rights” that needed to be protected.[56]

In recent decades, Spanish has emerged as a quasi-second language in the United States. This is due to the large influx of Spanish-speaking immigrants from Mexico and South America. Like Phillipson and other like-minded researchers in Europe, many Americans are resistant to the spread of Spanish and view the diffusion of the language as a threat to English dominance. Individual states like Massachusetts have successfully enacted regulations to keep Spanish at a respectable distance from English.[57]  Notwithstanding these cases, immigrants of Spanish descent have the right to speak Spanish if they chose in private and many businesses as well as public spaces in the United States advertise using both Spanish and English. Indeed, many government documents in the United are increasingly translated into Spanish and Spanish proficiency is increasingly viewed as an asset for American politicians. And contrary to the opinion of some scholars in the field of sociolinguistics, American workers who are bilingual-Spanish enjoy a competitive advantage over their monolingual contemporaries. [58]

Linguistic Diversity is universal after all

Europe is surely not the only region (or country) that is linguistically diverse. Asia is linguistically diverse. In India alone, there are more than 700 languages.[59] Africa is linguistically diverse. In Nigeria alone there are 400 languages.[60] The United States is linguistically diverse. There are more than 200 languages spoken in the country.[61] Nevertheless, it might be argued that Europe’s linguistic diversity has been more characteristic of Europe’s cultural identity than other regions or countries. Indeed, Europe has succeeded in “exporting” its languages to the rest of the world in a manner that no other geographic region of the world has been able to do.[62] One of the reasons for this might be Europe’s colonial past. Europe reserved the right to keep its languages as part of its cultural identity whereas, at least in the case of colonizing European powers, the languages of its colonies were not afforded similar deference.

But it is also significant that in the post-colonial era, many former colonies, rivals and friends have embraced European languages, creating elite classes within their own countries based on the ability of their citizens to speak majority European languages such as French and English. In India, for example, speakers of English have been said to enjoy a superior social status to non-speakers.[63] This tendency to voluntarily emulate and adopt another’s language has not been true of European countries, only of former colonies and historical or modern periphery states.[64] It is for these reasons that the emergence of English as a lingua franca might seem especially threatening.

Creating a policy on language in the EU

The cry from various European scholars for a European language policy suggests that enough people deem global English in Europe to be a problem and the search is on to find a workable solution. But what can be done when the horses have already been let from the stables? Even assuming the EU were to devise a language policy, what would it look like?  In Language Policy of the European Union Pia Vanting Christiansen discusses various language policy scenarios.[65] The author expounds on how a “functional multilingual, democratic language policy in the European Parliament may ensure equal participation and benefit from, democratic processes for both majority and minority language communities.” But is equal participation of all European language – both majority and minority – realizable? Or is this just rhetoric?

In devising a language policy, a state might look at certain specific variables. Phillipson says there are two possible paradigms: “diffusion of English” and “Ecology of language.” According to Phillipson, language policy decision-making must include:

“identification of one or more languages as official or as working languages in a state or region, laws or measures specifying the rights of speakers of majority or minority languages to use their languages in education, public services, or other functions, and legislation on the use of particular languages in commercial activities, in the media, and in publications; the production and publication of authoritative reference works (grammars, dictionaries, etc.) that stipulate which forms of a language are appropriate, correct, or ‘proper’; regulations and policy statements prescribing the learning of particular languages in education, whether as first, second, or foreign languages.” [66]

It appears at first blush that both Vanting Christensen and Phillipson have overlooked a few critical considerations. First of all, let’s not kid ourselves: true linguistic “democracy” is impossible.  It is an irrational goal. Phillipson inadvertently admits this when he recommends “identifying one or more languages as official or working languages in a state or region.”  “One or more languages” is not “equality” of languages. It is not “linguistic democracy.” Whatever the selection criteria turns out to be, the result will be more akin to linguistic realism, linguistic imperialism, linguistic separatism, and even linguistic elitism. Further, “producing authoritative references” in ALL European languages is fiscally impracticable given the linguistic diversity (including both majority and minority languages) and thus any such production would be undemocratic at the outset because only some languages and not all can be represented. Additionally, while all human beings have the right to linguistic self-determination, it is impossible for speakers of all languages to have access to their language in all “education, public services and other functions,” as Vanting suggests. It is nothing short of advocating a system of Babel and this is not only irrational; it respectfully might even be a little bit insane. Moreover in today’s global economy such a model would be woefully inefficient. It would be an enormous fiscal expenditure which can be better spent on more pressing social needs. Certainly, in certain circumstances, such as legal proceedings, translators are and should be provided in the native language of the accused.[67] However, in most circumstances, providing education and public services in every majority and minority language so as to meet the linguistic rights of all people at all times is unrealistic. Some linguistic “discrimination” is justifiable in an international community with more than 5000 different languages.[68] Obviously, “the optimal choice is for perfect linguistic equality in all contexts.” But this is not feasible. Therefore the “sub-optimal” next best option is a lingua franca.”[69]

The case for making English Europe’s de facto International medium of communication

A lingua franca for the international community of which Europe is a part is “rationally related” to the “legitimate end” of facilitating transnational communication between speakers of various languages. A lingua franca promotes balance, harmony, certainty and unity between linguistically diverse speakers. Because technology now connects the globe through an information highway, a lingua franca helps to keep the “information highway” free of “traffic jams.” One language that everyone can understand will promote speed and efficiency on the highway and thus lead to a more efficient global communication network – which in turn is good for global integration and, ostensibly, the global economy.

The international lingua franca for the world community does not have to be English; except, that, it already is. It is futile therefore to cry over spilt milk or to insist on another language like Esperanto, for example, which, first of all, does not seem to hold much interest for global linguistic consumers; and second, would not be cost-efficient since it would require a larger budget expenditure to teach the entire world Esperanto (given that so few people are fluent in the language) than it would to teach the world English.[70] It is important to underscore, however, that a lingua franca, whether English or otherwise, does not extinguish any other existing linguistic rights or human rights of any participating communicator. Being proficient in a lingua franca and having linguistic self-determination to speak one’s native language or any other language are not mutually exclusive/incompatible domains. These scenarios can happily coexist and can even complement each other.

Is English a “lingua franca”?

Is English a lingua franca? “Yes,” says Barbara Siedlhofer, a linguistics professor at the University of Vienna. In English as Lingua Franca she wrote: “Despite being welcomed by some and deplored by others, it cannot be denied that English functions as a global lingua franca.”[71]  But not everyone agrees with her.  Phillipson, for example, does not.[72]

A lingua franca, in its “simplest terms is a language used by speakers of divergent languages as a neutral means of communication.” There are many lingua franca used in the world today. Some examples include Fanagolo in South Africa, Hausa in Central Africa and Chinese in parts of Asia. (, Lingua Franca)

No one can deny that if not a “lingua franca,” English is fast becoming an official second language of much of Europe. The same is true in much of the rest of the world. According to one report, the governments of “Rwanda South Sudan, Turkey, the Russian Federation, South Korea,, Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam, China, Brazil, Chile, and Argentine have instituted broad-reaching federal programs designed to increase English proficiency.”[73] Indeed, most countries in the world are extremely proactive about getting their populations English-ready. This trend is not likely to abate any time soon. Androulla Vassiliou, the current Commissioner for the European Commission for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth, said recently in a speech in Cyprus:  “At this point, I would challenge the idea, as others have done recently, that the rise of English as the global lingua franca is inevitable and without limits. Certainly, for many years to come, the dominance of English in global affairs seems set to continue.”[74] Madame Vassiliou, like much of the rest of the world recognize that, at least for the foreseeable future, there is a “benefit to having English proficiency” in the current world order.

English as property

The English language, by virtue of being the international language spoken by most international communicators in transnational contexts, belongs to the international community. English can no longer be viewed as an Anglo-American language or “property.”[75] The “territory” of English knows no state borders. Indeed, on an intellectual level, speakers of the language possess an ownership stake in the language simply by virtue of knowing the language and having its grammar in their heads. So long as someone can speak a language, that language quite literally is their property because it is in their brain, mind and intellect. This actual and intrinsic knowledge of this language should therefore be deemed to be a part of that individual person’s “intellectual property rights.” Thus all people in the world, including Europeans, who already speak English have a property stake in the language and this stake or right is protected under European Community law and other international instruments as a ‘fundamental right” both from a freedom of speech perspective and a property right perspective.  Any global citizen who does not know the global language (which today happens to be English) likewise has a right to ownership of this linguistic property. The right to ownership of the global lingua franca is not simply the right to speak it. It is also the right to learn it. This right does not extinguish any other language rights of individuals in Europe or in the international community more broadly.

English as human rights

Individuals have a right to inclusion in their communities – both local and global. Global integration demands a global language for the global community. It is consistent with human rights principles that all people in the global community know how to speak the global language so that they can participate fully in their communities. When individuals are able to communicate, they are better able to realize and defend and protect their human rights. In our world today, the ability to communicate must, by necessity, be analyzed from a multi-tiered micro/macro perspective. One has to adopt a “Waltzian” mindset. That is to suggest that individual and collective communication occurs on at least three levels: local, state, global. Therefore language policy and language rights assessments must employ a tripartite level of analysis(Kenneth Waltz: Man, State and War). Oui, bien sur, individuals have a right to speak their local language  and individuals who speak endangered languages have a right to language rights protection by their government; but they also have a right to know the language of their state if this language happens to be different from their local language and equally as important, individuals have a right to know the global language. European linguistic human rights are not harmed by mere access or exposure to a global lingua franca.  All of three domains can remain compatible.

English as Economic Rights

The fact is that English proficiency assures European workers’ place in a twenty-first century integrated global economy. Many of the global multi nationals are or have already switched over to English as their in-house corporate language according to Phillipson who referenced an article in Business Week, “Should everyone speak English?”  when he wrote:

“European companies are switching over to English as the in-house corporate language….Business Week’s uncritical celebration of the way English is impacting on continental Europe fails to note that many businesses in Europe are becoming aware that proficiency in English will in future be so widespread that proficiency in other languages will be essential for commercial success. It is arguable that it is monolingual English speakers who will lose out in the future, and that the high fliers will be multilingual, as is often the case today.”[76]


Phillipson’ s point is well taken and thus, if English will in the future be “widespread” as Phillipson predicts, arguably European Union policy makers should strongly encourage member states to adopt a language policy that not only protects local language and culture, but also promotes English proficiency because this is in European economic interest.


 European policy makers should continue to take a laissez-faire approach to language policy up to a point. Officials should encourage member states to adopt specific language policies that recognize not only a right to linguistic self-determination for all, but also a right to be proficient in the global lingua franca of the day. To that end, member states should devise specific programs for English training for all their citizens – in particular the disadvantaged ones – with an understanding that if not a fundamental human right, proficiency in the international lingua franca (whatever that happens to be) is at least a basic property right, speech right, economic right and human right.

[1] Phillipson, Robert (1998). Globalizing English: Are Linguistic Human Rights An Alternative to Linguistic

Imperialism?. Languages Sciences. Vol. 20, N. 1, pp. 101-112.

[2]  Harper, Stephen M. (2011). The author argues “neoliberal tendency to rely on market-driven decisions is ill-advised in the context of language policy, as the seemingly rational decisions of individuals and nations to invest in developing English-language skills will collectively result in drastic language loss that will not be fully accounted for in the market.” Counting the Costs of a Global Anglophonic Hegemony: Examining the Impact of U.S. Language Education Policy on Linguistic Minorities Worldwide.  Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies.  Vol. 18, Issue 1  pp. 515-538

3 Ricento, Thomas (2006). An Introduction to Language Policy Theory and Method. Malden MA: Blackwell Publishing. In this work the author explains that there have been studies by Nordic states (including Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark) on the issue of whether « domain loss is occurring in Danish, Finnish, Icelandic, Norwegian and Swedish. » It was concluded that there is a « serious  problem hence the need for more proactive language policy formulation » in these States.

[4] Kirchmeier – Andersen. Linguistic Diversity and Language Change – Future Challenges for MT Danish Language Council retrieved at

[5] Ricento supra.

[6] Siedlhofer, Barbara (2007). The de facto use of the term “lingua franca” to describe English is not universally accepted in all academic circles. “Common Property : English as Lingua Franca in Europe.” International Handbook of English Language Teaching. (pp. 137 – 153). Philadelphia, PA: Springer US.

[7] Tsuda, Yukio.  Tsuda laments the “Americanization,  and Dallasization of the international community in The Hegemony of English and Strategies for Linguistic Pluralism: Proposing the Ecology of Language Paradigm.   See, also Robert Phillipson (1998). “The trend towards creation of the impression of a global culture through production of global markets, so that products and information aim at creating ‘global customers that want global services by global suppliers’ can be termed McDonaldization, which means ‘aggressive marketing, the controlled information flows that do not confront people with the long-term effects of an ecologically detrimental lifestyle, the competitive advantage against local cultural providers, the obstruction of local initiative, all converge into a reduction of local cultural space.’” “Globalizing English: Are Linguistic Human Rights an Alternative to Linguistic Imperialism.” Language Sciences. Vol. 20 No. 1, pp. 101-112.

[8] See, e.g.  Wiens, Elmer G. Linguistic and Commodity Exchanges  Elmer’s English 304 Magazine First Nations Studies Linguistic and Commodity Exchanges.  retrieved at

[9] D’Aligny, Francois Xavier, Astrid Guillaume, Babette Nieder and others (2009). Plurilinguisme Interculturalite et Emploi : Defis pour L’Europe. Paris : L’harmattan.

[10] See the following references that discuss this trend: Kjaer, Anne and Silvia Adamo (2011) Linguistic Diversity and European Democracy. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing; Francois Xavier D’Aligny, Astrid Guillaume, Babette Nieder and others (2009). Plurilinguisme Interculturalite et Emploi : Defis pour L’Europe.  Paris : L’harmattan ; and Bob Adamson (1998). Higher Education in Post Mao China.  Hong Kong University Press.

[12] Crystal, David (2006). Posing the question: “Will the English dominated Internet spell the end of other Tongues?” Language and Internet. Cambridge University Press

[13] Spolsky, Bernard (2004). Language Policy. London, UK: Cambridge University Press. See also, Mukul Saxena and Tope Omoniyi (2010). Contending with Globalization in World Englishes. Bristol, UK: St Nicholas House.

[14] D’Aligny, Francois Xavier, Supra.

[15] Subsidiarity is described at as “the principle whereby the Union does not take action (except in the areas that fall within its exclusive competence), unless it is more effective than action taken at national, regional or local level. It is closely bound up with the principle of proportionality, which requires that any action by the Union should not go beyond what is necessary to achieve the objectives of the Treaties.”

[17] Both chapters pertain to language rights and linguistic diversity. See the text of the Charter available at

[18] The accused shall “have the free assistance of an interpreter if he cannot understand or speak the language used in court.”

[19] The Convention reads in part: 1.The Parties undertake to recognize that every person belonging to a national minority has the right to learn his or her minority language. 2.In areas inhabited by persons belonging to national minorities traditionally or in substantial numbers, if there is sufficient demand, the Parties shall endeavor to ensure, as far as possible and within the framework of their education systems, that persons belonging to those minorities have adequate opportunities for being taught the minority language or for receiving instruction in this language. 3. Paragraph 2 of this article shall be implemented without prejudice to the learning of the official language or the teaching in this language. Retrieved at

[20] For example article 14 provide that “the Parties undertake to recognize that every person belonging to a national minority has the right to learn his or her minority language.” See the text of the treaty retrieved at

[21] See for example, Robert Phillipson and Tove Skutnabb-Kangas. “English Only Worldwide or Language Ecology.” TESOL Quarterly Vol. 30, No. 3, Language Planning and Policy (Autumn, 1996), pp. 429-452.

[22] Ibid.

[24] This is according to a 1988 study conducted by Rosalind M. Harding and Robert R. Sokal: “Classification of European Language Families by Genetic Distance.” Population Biology Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA Vol 85 pp. 9370-9372. The authors contend that:  “12 living language families in Europe fall into five language phyla as follows (1): Indo-European (Albanian, Baltic, Celtic, Germanic, Greek, Romance, and Slavic); Finno-Ugric [Finnic and Ugric (Hungarian)]; Altaic (Turkic); Afro-Asiatic [Semitic (Maltese)]; and Language Isolates (Basque).”

[25] In 2010 a survey conducted by Eurobarometer called “New Europeans” was commissioned by the European Commission’s Directorate General (DG) for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities and coordinated by the Directorate-General for Communication.” This information can be retrieved at

[26] See, e.g., Robert Phillipson (2008). Lingua franca or lingua frankensteinia? English in European integration and globalization World Englishes Vol. 27, Issue 2,  pp. 250–267. See also Haarmann, Harald. “Europe’s Mosaic of Languages.”

[27] Christiansen, Pia Vanting (2006). Language Policy of the European Union. Language Problems & Language Planning Vol 30 pp 21-24.

28. This includes both majority and minority languages which are protected by the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages as well as languages spoken by recent immigrants whose languages are also minority languages even though immigrant language are beyond the scope of the Charter’s protection  because they are “European languages or regional languages.” See, gen.,  Lewis, M. Paul, Gary F. Simons, and Charles D. Fennig (eds.). 2013. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Seventeenth edition. Dallas, Texas: SIL International. Online version:

[29]  According to European Commission website the figure is 330 million euros per annum however other estimates put this number at well over one billion. See e.g.  and

[30] “There have been proposals, such as that from German president to leave English as the only EU official language in order to save on translation costs.  Such a proposal has been criticized as being undemocratic and limiting multilingualism.”  Retrieved from

[31] Pupavac, Vanessa. 2012. Language Rights From Free Speech to Linguistic Governance.  New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan

[32] For example, see Professor Dr Ninon Colneric. “The protection of fundamental rights in the European Community legal order is a success story of judge-made law. It started with the famous 1969 ruling in Stauder. The European Court of Justice then assumed that fundamental human rights are enshrined in the general principles of Community law the observance of which it ensures.” Excerped from, Working Paper 2 Protection of Fundamental Rights through the Court of Justice of the European Communities. Therefore, while “human rights” are understood to include the right to life, right to political freedom, right to be free from torture and involuntary servitude (and even the right to an “an annual paid leave”) and so forth under the European legal system, the term “fundamental human rights” is not expressly defined in the European legal system. What is deemed a “fundamental right” is a function of “general principles” based on “judge-made law” according to Colneric. There does not seem to be a set definition of what actually constitutes “fundamental human rights.” That is to say, I am not personally aware that a specific definition of “fundamental human rights” is currently available in European Community Law.

[33] Callaway, Rhonda L. and Harrelson-Stephens, Julie. (2007). “This bifurcation of  rights into three générations was first articulated by French jurist and human rights scholar Karel Vasek (1977), who associated these three generations of rights with the French slogan liberté, égalité et fraternité. First generation rights reflect the notion of liberty, second generation rights encompass the idea of equality, while third generation rights, according to Vasek, signal the rights of the community(Claude and Weston 1992, 6).” Exploring International Human Rights: Essential Readings.  Boulder CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers. At footnote 4.  (Excerpted online). Retrieved at

[34] Pursuant to the Copenhagen Criteria, “membership [in the EU] requires that candidate country has achieved stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, respect for and protection of minorities, the existence of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union. Membership presupposes the candidate’s ability to take on the obligations of membership including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union.” Emphasis added.

34 Information about the Barcelona Objective can be retrieved at

[37] Lewis, M. Paul, Gary F. Simons, and Charles D. Fennig (eds.). 2013. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Seventeenth edition. Dallas, Texas: SIL International. Online version: European languages have been classified by this source as: Institutional: 81, Developing: 61,  Vigorous: 45, In Trouble: 49, Dying: 48

[38]Hence, the 2009 Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and other instruments such as the Oslo Recommendations Regarding Linguistic Rights of National Minorities (1992).

[40] Duranti, Alexandro (2009). Linguistic Anthropology A Reader. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing

[41] All existing human rights treaties in particular those that comprise the International Bill of Human Rights are consistent with this notion of human persons having a right to “self-determination” which includes a right to linguistic self-determination and thus clearly no one should be “obliged” to learn English if they do not wish to learn the language.

[42] Crystal, David (2007). Language Death. New York: Cambridge University Press.

[43] Janse, Marc on what causes language death: “The most commonly cited are socioeconomic and sociopolitical. Socioeconomic factors include lack of economic opportunities, rapid economic transformations, on-going industrialization, work patterns, migrant labor, resettlement, migration and so on. Among the sociopolitical factors are official language policies, discrimination, stigmatization, repression, war etc. Official language policies can be and have been a particularly decisive factor in language death.” Excerpted from: Language Death and Language Maintenance Problems and Prospects. Linguistic Bibliography. Retrieved at

[44] See e.g. Nina G Kheimet and Alek D Epstein 2001. Confronting the languages of statehood Language.  Problems & Language Planning. Vol. 25 Issue 2 pp.121–143. Available at building%20-%20LP&LP,%2025,%202%20(2001).pdf

[45]Kronenthal, Melissa. The European Union and Minority Languages: Real or Perceived Failure? Available at

[46] For example, in Shaping the Climate for Language Shift? English in Sweden’s Elite Domains, the authors E. Catherine Berg and Francis M. Hult, the authors makes the claim that over the last 20 years, 100% of doctoral dissertations from Sweden’s prestigious Stockholm University has been in English. Available at

[47] Phillipson, Robert (1998). “In the contemporary world the imagined community of the nation-state is being superseded by global and regional alliances and organizations, governmental, non-governmental and private.” Globalizing English: Are Linguist Human Rights an Alternative to Linguistic Imperialism? Language Sciences. Vol. 20, No., pp. 101-112.

[48] Hornsby, Michael and Agarin Timofey (2012). “Interestingly, the linguistic regimes of these states clearly illustrate that territorial language policies stand at odds with the requirements of an increasingly multilingual Europe. Both Estonian and Latvian linguistic policies treat states as primary protectors of the official languages, espousing a tough territorialization approach.” The End of Minority Languages?  Europe’s Regional Languages in Perspective Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe Vol 11, No 1, 2012, 88-116 retrieved at


[50] Schiffman, Harold. (1996). Linguistic Culture and Language Policy. New York, NY: Routledge.

[51] But in “Perspectives on the Rights of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples in Africa” the author points out that in spite of the Edict of Villiers it was not until after the French Revolution in 1789 that French became the de jure and defacto official language of France. Prior to this event, he claims that France was “highly diversified linguistically and culturally.” Dersso, Solomon (2010). Perspectives on the Rights of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples in Africa. Pretoria University Press. Pretoria: South Africa.

52] See the Government Offices of Sweden Summary of Government  Bill retrieved at:

[53] The text of this legislation can be retrieved at

[55]  For example, the First Amendment of the United States constitution guarantees a fundamental right to Freedom of Speech. But see Spolsky, Bernard. (2011). Does the United States Need a Language Policy? Center for Applied Linguistics. Available at

[56] For a discussion of the native American linguistic traditions, see, Armstrong, Jeanette C. “The Disempowerment of First North American Native Peoples and Empowerment Through Their Writing.” An Anthology of Canadian Native Literature in English. Eds. Daniel David Moses and Terry Goldie. Don Mills, Ont.: Oxford UP, (2005).  See, also, Donaldo Macedo and Panayota Gounari.  (2003). The Hegemony of English. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.

[57] Macedo and Gounari, supra. “Referendum in Massachusetts not only outlawed bilingual education but it also criminalized the teaching of content area in a language other than English.”

58. But see Issues in US Language Policy. Retrieved at   stating: “Only a handful of federal laws mandate the use of languages other than English:

•Immigration procedures: interpreters must be available during the physical and mental examination of foreigners seeking entry to the United States – 8 U.S.C. 1224.

•Due process: court interpreters must be provided in federal civil and criminal trials that involve parties or witnesses who are not proficient in English – 28 U.S.C. 1827.

•Migrant health care: bilingual personnel must be provided in federally funded migrant health centers and alcohol abuse programs that serve a significant non-English-speaking population – 42 U.S.C. 254b(f)(3)(J), 245c, 4577b. •Voting rights: bilingual ballots and voter information must be provided in jurisdictions where speakers of Spanish, Native American, and Asian American languages exceed 5 percent of the population or number more than 10,000 and have below average rates of voter turnout and English proficiency – 42 U.S.C. 1973aa-1a.”

[59]IANS, Kolkata. “780 languages spoken in India, 250 died out in last 50 years.” Hindustan Times.  July 17, 2013 available at

60. Aito, Emmanuel. National and Official Languages in Nigeria: Reflections  Linguistic Interference and the Impact of Language Policy and Politics on Minority Languages. Retrieved at

[61] But see, Donaldo Macedo and Panayota Gounari supra. “The United States has managed to achieve such a high level of monolingualism and linguistic jingoism that speaking a language other than English constitutes a real liability.”

62. On this point, see, “Europe’s Mosaic of Languages” by Harald Haarmann available at

[63] See for example, Chamaar, Kanchediar (2007). A resolutely uncivilized colonial bumps into post colonialism. Studies in Language and Capitalism, 2, 145–54.   (Indian case about how Indian person who could not get a job because he could not speak English in India.)

[64] India is a prime example of this phenomenon.

[65] Christiansen, Pia Vanting, supra.  pp 21-24.

[66] Phillipson Robert (2003). English Only Europe? Challenging Language Policy. London: Routledge

[67] See, for example, the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

[68] This website for Penn State University puts the number of languages at over 6000

[69] This statement was made by Clement Evroux, Juriste – Service Conseil et Expertise Juridique Direction des Ressources Humaines – CNRS – Paris

[70] Some estimates put the number of people in the global community who speak English at 1.5 billion. See example, an interview with David Crystal author of World Englishes.

[71]  Siedlhofer, Barbara. English as Lingua Franca. Retrieved at

[72] Phillipson, Robert (2008). Lingua Franca or Lingua Frankensteina, supra

[75] Siedlhofer, Barbara. (2007). Common Property : English as Lingua Franca in Europe. International Handbook of English Language Teaching. pp. 137 – 153. Massachusetts: Springer US.

[76] Phillipson, Robert (2003). English-Only Europe ? Challenging Language Policy. London : Routledge.


The author thanks Clement Evroux for reading the article and providing useful and helpful feedback prior to publication.