The Linguist

The Linguist 52,6

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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© EUROPEAN UNION 2013 EP FEATURES Speaking for Europe Martyn Bond looks at languages and the EU in an edited version of his Threlford Memorial Lecture t is always good to begin at the beginning. But just what beginning should it be? Language differences in Europe are as old as the hills, and predate the Common Market by centuries, if not millennia. But when specifically related to the European Union, it is a very recent story: less than a lifetime. A reasonable starting point might be the end of the Second World War. The continent was in ruins. Germany's bid for dominion had failed. In the East, the Soviet Union was the undisputed victor and so Russian mattered. In the West, it was the USA with Great Britain who were victorious, so English mattered. Tagging along behind came France, and so French could not be ignored. Outside the realm of defence, the first postwar West European institution was the Council of Europe, set up by the Treaty of London in May 1949. It worked then – and still does – in English and French. A struggle between the different views of Europe's future continued inside the Council for nearly two years. But it I 8 The Linguist became increasingly clear that the Committee of Ministers was not going to abdicate the authority of the 10 member state governments in favour of a federal vision. Instead, a supra-national organisation was founded in just one area of economic life. The European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was established in 1951 to plan prices and distribution of coal and steel across the participating states: Belgium, the Netherlands, West Germany, Italy, France and Luxembourg. Britain did not join because, according to the Foreign Secretary Nye Bevan: 'The Durham miners will not wear it.' The notion that foreigners speaking other languages would order the victorious Brits about – telling them how much coal could be mined in Northumberland and what sort of steel could be produced in South Wales – was politically unacceptable. The official languages of the ECSC were therefore French, German, Italian and Dutch, with French – the language of three of the DECEMBER 2013/JANUARY 2014 member states – dominating. The die was cast. The European Coal and Steel Community, Luxembourg, 1951: that is the beginning of the modern story. From war to diplomacy But if we turn back the pages of European history a few hundred years, a colourful illustration shows the role that French enjoyed among the educated classes of the continent. My illustration comes from May 1745. In the war of Austrian Succession, a French offensive has captured a large area of the Austrian Netherlands and the two sides are lining up outside Tournai for the Battle of Fontenoy. After a fierce cannonade, the British Guards advance and get very close to French lines. A British Guards officer – we even have his name, Charles Hay – takes out his hip flask and offers a mocking toast to the French in their own language. A French officer replies with the immortal, if insincere, invitation: 'Messieurs les anglais, tirez les premiers.'

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