After Brexit, the French urge Europe to rethink the language of Shakespeare

by Rashmee

Posted on January 23, 2021



Photo by Soner Eker on Unsplash

It’s not particularly surprising that the French sent up a trial balloon within a few weeks of Brexit.

They’ve started to ask a crucial question:

Why use English anymore to transact the business of Europe?

With the British having left the club why should the 27 members of the European Union (EU) speak the language of Shakespeare rather than that of Voltaire?

That’s a paraphrase of what Clement Beaune, France’s EU affairs minister actually said. He was a tad more direct.

The EU should stop speaking “a type of broken English,” he said, and work on enhancing “linguistic diversity. Let’s get used to speaking our languages again!”

Say what?

When did EU member states cease to speak their mother tongue?

The EU has 24 official languages. The bloc explicitly assures EU nationals of their “right to use any of the 24 official languages to contact the EU institutions, and they are obliged to reply in the same language”. All EU laws and legislative texts “are published in all official languages, except Irish. All meetings of the European Council and the Council of the European Union are interpreted into all official languages and members of the European Parliament have the right to use any official language when speaking in Parliament. How’s that for linguistic diversity?

Now consider the EU’s explanation of the post-Brexit role of English: “Even after the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU, English remains one of the official languages of Ireland and Malta”.

Good point. Reason enough one might have thought to retain English within the bloc?

But French scepticism suggests otherwise.

Might it be the lingering effects of falling behind in the language wars?

An estimated 270 million people speak French worldwide. Five times as many speak English.


Rashmee has lived and worked in several countries in the past decade, including Afghanistan, India, Haiti, Tunisia, the UAE, US and UK

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