What does Brexit mean for the English language?
In order to leave the EU, the United Kingdom had to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which grants both sides a period of two years in which to negotiate a withdrawal agreement. Theresa May set the process in motion on 29 March 2017, meaning that Brexit is now breathing down our necks.
But what does Brexit mean for the English language?
It is extremely likely that English will continue to be the dominant language in the European Union, since considerable efforts were made to ensure relatively fluid communications between all the member states. But Brexit will undoubtedly bring consequences for the English language.
Indeed, the European Commission has said the United Kingdom’s departure will lead to a limited reshuffling of some administrative functions but that the scope of the activities will not change. Furthermore, translation and interpreting services in English will also not be affected.
In an essay entitled English in a post‐Brexit European Union (2017), Swedish linguist Marko Modiano affirms that the neutrality of English will mean that it continues to be a dominant language in Europe, but that the so-called “European English” will become increasingly free and changeable.
The linguist asks the following rather controversial questions: Assuming that almost all of the British members of staff working in the translation and interpreting services will lose their jobs – which, according to Modiano, is the only logical conclusion that can be drawn –
- how will English be conceptualised by the staff members who will replace them?
- And how will English develop in continental Europe without the influence of a member state with 60 million native speakers?
- After Brexit, native English speakers will represent just 1% of the population of the EU.
- Five million, from Ireland and Malta
- But, in fact, neither of these countries even has English as an official European language; rather, they have Irish and Maltese, respectively.
European English and the English Language
As a lingua franca, European English is fairly intelligible and useful, even if it does have some well-defined features. Apart from the political and often verbose content requiring considerable processing from the point of view of terminology, another feature of European English is the use of imported non-English expressions, introduced by the people writing it, and which can give rise to serious semantic errors.
One such example is the adverb “eventualmente” which, in Portuguese, can indicate both the possibility of something happening and the timescale in which it happens. In English, however, the word “eventually” can only be used to refer to the timescale, i.e. if you say, “something happened eventually”, it means that it happened after a certain amount of time. However, in European English texts, the word is often used to suggest possibility.
According to Modiano, this deviation is showing signs of becoming accepted and could, in the near future, be considered a characteristic of “Eurospeak”; it is expected that this language mutation phenomenon will continue.
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