A Tower of Babble

Press conference by Danuta Hübner

Press conference by Danuta Hübner

Now, here is a fun story. Danuta Hübner is the Chairwoman of the European Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee, and she has just announced at a press conference  that, following Brexit, the English language will disappear from EU documents. She noted (speaking in English, by the way) that “The Irish have notified Gaelic and the Maltese have notified Maltese, so you have only the UK notifying English”.

There are 11 Irish MEPs, and it is a fair bet that, for some of them at least, their Gaelic might be a bit rusty.  My research suggests that only a minority of Irish population as a whole can speak Gaelic at all – even Polish is more widely spoken in Ireland. One can well understand why they would have chosen Gaelic as their official language – it sends a politically heartwarming message to the folks back home, and will have done them no harm since they can always read the documents in their English versions.

For the French, of course, this is great news.  They have long resented that English has become the dominant linga franca of Europe, and indeed the whole world.   French politicians like Jean-Luc Melenchon and Robert Menard have insisted that English not be used even informally in the many EU Towers of Babel that have been built in Brussels.

So how are the Irish going to follow what is going on? Perhaps it will not matter much, since they have no real influence anyway.

Perhaps their French or German is good enough? Or perhaps they will learn Maltese? I have just returned from a delightful weekend in Brussels, and my hostess (the wife of an old friend of mine) spoke little English.  As a result, I spent much of the weekend happily burbling away in my absolutely atrocious French, which I have not trotted out for the last 20 years or so. It must have been sheer linguistic hell for Danielle, but with exquisite charm and manners, she complained not once. But then again, Danielle is lovely and tolerant, and most MEPs are not.

Brexit has caused some displays of ill-will.  But this one looks like it will be hugely amusing.

 

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