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State of English in post-Brexit European Union

Shihab Sarkar | Published: October 05, 2017 21:09:30 | Updated: October 24, 2017 12:43:52


What language should Europe speak after Brexit?

The process to retain a newer form of Euro-English as an 'official' language in the European Union (EU) institutions in the post-Brexit era carries potential for distress for the purists. They are among the people who use English in their work, and in academic, official and day-to-day activities. These people live in every corner of the world, the total number coming to over 1.5 billion. Apart from those in Great Britain, the protagonist of the Brexit saga, the formal introduction of Euro-English as a lingua franca among the 28 EU nations, is set to both elate and upset people in the English-speaking world. Similar reactions are expected to be seen in the former British colonies. The variations being accommodated may cause great trauma to Anglophones worldwide. It may annoy the general people having a passion for English in many regions, especially in South Asia.

It's a relief to the admirers of Nirod C Chowdhury that the Bengal-born Anglophile scholar is not alive. The grand centenarian (1897-1999) would have had to bear with the shocks of Brexit vis-à-vis Euro-English in agonising silence. Many outside Europe may not be much familiar with the raging discourse on Euro-English. It's not going to be a different language or one cognate to English. Like the locally moulded English in the USA, Australia, the sub-continent or some African countries, the tongue is a greater European derivative of English. A form of regional English called 'Eurospeak' has been in practice in the EU, sans Britain, since long.

The start of the process of Britain's exit from the bloc has triggered a misplaced disillusionment of sorts with pure English in the European Union. It is by a sheer stroke of luck, also necessitated by realities, that English has been able to retain its status as the EU lingua franca --- but with a price. After the announcement of Brexit, many recommended that English be replaced with French. But a sizeable number of EU member-states opposed the idea citing some shortcomings. Finally, it was unanimously acknowledged that English enjoyed the position of being a virtual global language. English is set to keep its earlier place in the EU without Britain, although the conservative purists would prefer to call the new Euro-English a cocktail of local encroachments --- if not a distorted language.

As could be learnt up to now, new words have already entered 'Eurospeak', with its centre being the Belgian capital of Brussels. Advocates of the new English are said to be in favour of adopting the American spellings. Dr Marko Modiano at Govle University in Sweden has said there are already signs that 'Euro-English' is developing its own distinct way of speaking. Language experts have begun suggesting that the new form of English be codified in dictionaries and taught at schools in much the same way as American or Australian English today if English is retained as the EU lingua franca after Brexit.

Samples of the language's EU brand have lately drawn global attraction. The widely used English word 'eventual' is going to be a synonym for 'possible' or 'possibility'. 'Berlaymont' is set to replace 'bureaucracy'. In the new English language 'conditionality' means 'conditions', with 'semester' standing for 'six months'. The EU English has embraced idioms from the local native languages as well. They are largely from the Nordic countries. The expression 'to hop over' is used to mean 'to refrain from doing something'. 'To be blue-eyed' stands for 'to be naïve' and 'to salt' goes for 'to overcharge'. The Euro-English is set to be based on its unique grammar. In place of 'I come from Spain', the new English prefers to use 'I am coming from Spain'. There is a logic behind this expression --- expansion of the use of '-ing' forms of verb. However, it has not yet been learnt as to how an orthodox British grammarian might react to usage such as this.

Due mainly to its relatively easy structure and rules as well as flexibility, English has witnessed a rapid expansion in use across the world, in the British colonies in particular. In spite of the variations in spellings and pronunciation, the language has long been the mother-tongue in a dozen of countries and territories. It enjoys the rank of a second language in nearly a hundred former British colonies. In short, in the 20th century English emerged literally as an unbeatable language. The march continues in the 21st century despite the rapid growth of pidgin and patois English. The Creole used in the British West Indies is one of them. Notwithstanding the blow dealt to the EU by Brexit, the bloc cannot afford to undermine the strength of English in terms of effective communication. The changes and updates already made in the syntactical form of the language, and those being mulled, are considered welcome developments by many English language scholars. As they view it, the new form of the language will go a long way towards strengthening its global position. 

Against the backdrop of the dominance of English and its future as the lingua franca in the EU community, with accommodation of local expressions though, at present none of its members upholds English nationally. Ireland from the very beginning in its EU days stood for Gaelic Irish, while Malta opted for Maltese. English is one of the official languages in both of these EU member-countries. At the end of the day, however, what emerges as conclusion is English is indomitable. In spite of the strong linguistic roots of other major European languages, none appears to have the capability to eclipse English. The credit for global expansion of English largely goes to the British Empire that thrived across the vast swathes of the martially weak world. Other European languages enjoyed the similar strength in different periods. But it's the linguistic eclecticism which has made English highly accessible for the educated classes in the colonialised and many independent countries.

The colonial English has never been hamstrung by any rigidity blocking entry of alien words, phrases and idioms. Wherever the language took root, it generously embraced local influences and adopted coinages. This character kept adding to the dynamism of the language. This is where the other European languages appear to have failed. In whatever form English is used in the post-Brexit EU bloc, it is set to retain its predominance. However, there should be a rider. Notwithstanding the inherent eclecticism of English, sweeping changes will considerably detract from its centuries-old beauty.       

shihabskr@ymail.com

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