Languages: All united against dominance of English

15 August 2013
România libera Bucharest

In response to growing enthusiasm among Europeans for English as a lingua franca, a Romanian intellectual sounds the alarm and calls for a mobilisation to safeguard national languages.

I recently wrote of the danger stalking the Romanian language in its own backyard. And it is not one that has been caused by a decline in the number of speakers – due to a slump in fertility rates or the massive migration of Romanians – but the result of current education policies in this country.

The fact that post-doctoral papers are submitted in English, and the fact that only work which is published in foreign reviews and written in this lingua franca appears to count, has largely contributed to a growing disinterest in Romanian scientific publications. And in the in medium to long term, this state of affairs will also undermine the value of the language for the intellectual elite.

Anglicisation criticised in Europe

Romania has already lived through a similar situation in the past. At the end of the 19th century, the boyar nobility despised everything Romanian and copied the mores of Paris, Moscow, and Istanbul, the power centres of the period. [The character] of “Coana Chiriţa” in the works of Vasile Alecsandri was inspired by the taste for “French” manners. Similarly, the plays of Ion Luca Caragiale highlighted the ridiculousness of copying western models. And towards the beginning of the 20th century, historian Nicolae Iorga led a major demonstration in Bucharest to protest against French-only theatre productions in the city.

I am returning to this subject today because the current trend for anglicisation has also been criticised by other European states, and not just in Romania. And these states are not in anyway retrograde or anti-western.

The latest newsletter from the European Observatory of Plurilingualism (EOP) has pointed out that the battle that opposes the defenders of plurilingualism to the insidious domination hegemonic languages is ongoing everywhere in Europe.

This spring, the Politecnico di Milano decided that masters and doctorates should be conducted solely in English, in response to the need for the internationalisation of studies and the bid to improve the competitiveness of Italian universities. However, the administrative court of Lombardy decided otherwise: it ruled conducting courses in English had no incidence on their quality or their international promotion. The court also pointed out that in forcing professors to teach in English, the Politecnico di Milano was undermining the freedom of its staff.

Protecting an unmeasurable heritage

In the same newsletter, the EOP remarks that Germany – which has been more eager to anglicise higher education than France or Italy but which remains far behind the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands – now conducts close to 10 per cent of its masters and doctoral programmes in English. This figure should be food for thought. There is no doubt that the pro-English policy has helped boost the international visibility of German research, but that is not to say that courses in German could not be equally successful.

France, which has developed similar programmes to attract more foreign students, in particular Chinese students, has recently come to realise that many of these students either speak French or are eager to learn how to do so. At the same time, the country’s National Assembly and Senate have decided to reduce the number of courses conducted in English and to stipulate that theses should be presented in French.

Finally, in the framework of its Language Rich Europe programme, the British Council has remarked on the predominance of English, and in the conclusions of its report on the linguistic state of Europe has declared itself in favour of multi-linguism.

In fighting to ensure that the Romanian language is at least accorded the dignity and the consideration that it deserves – while refusing to underestimate the importance of major international languages – we can contribute to offsetting the insidious impact of globalisation. In doing so, we will also contribute to protecting the invaluable immaterial inheritance which has been entrusted to us, which we should preserve in all of its richness.

This patriotic struggle, which is far from being a nationalist fetish, offers something very positive to our culture and civilisation. And to Europe in general.

Factual or translation error? Tell us.