Quotes: Language, Part 3

(EU, Languages Stretch the Limits; as European Union seeks a stronger voice, words get in the way)


Language requirements: New members of the EU stretch the boundaries of an expansive polyglot approach.

  • The EU uses each of the 20 languages spoken in member countries to avoid offending any of them at a cost of nearly $1.6 billion (1.2 billion euro) this year, up about a third from the previous year of 2004.
  • The EU's growing translation troubles highlight the central conflict of Europe's unique experiment in collective governance, in which 25 nations are now trying to act with one voice without losing their individual identities.
  • The expanded EU is home to 455 million citizens and is bidding to rival the U.S. in political and economic clout.
  • Yet its growth presents a rising threat of bureaucratic paralysis.
  • National vetoes have kept Europe, struggling with a stagnant economy, from creating a single EU-wide market for financial services, or even a single process to apply for patents.
  • Nothing demonstrates the EU's struggles with itself more than its bureaucratic handling of languages.
  • At the 192-member United Nations, representatives speak in their own languages, but their words are interpreted into a core of six languages.
  • The EU attempts something far more difficult: two-way simultaneous interpretation among all 20 of the officially recognized tongues.
  • Currently, that means 380 possible combinations.
  • Anticipated new members over the next several years will push the number above 500.
  • EU officials discussed a more efficient approach to their language problem ahead of the May (2004) expansion.
  • They debated using only three official languages, or even just one: English, Latin, or Esperanto; a 108-year old language created by a Polish eye doctor that now has an estimated 100,000 fluent speakers world-wide.
  • EU members finally stayed with the concept of treating all the languages equally.
  • Some countries, particularly France, worry about the dominance of any one language.
  • Critics are increasingly fed up with the unwieldy system.
  • In early December (2004), there were complaints that translation delays were holding up rules designed to improve the safety of the world's financial system.
  • Also delayed: laws aimed at helping developing countries import drugs, patenting inventions; such as, mobile phones and DVD players, and requiring quarterly reporting for Europe-based companies.
  • This muddled situation came after the EU's new member countries already had to spend years translating and ratifying a three-meter-high stack of EU laws known as the acquis communautaire in order to join.
  • Until last year (2004), the EU failed to identify which of the 80,000 accumulated pages of rules and amendments were still relevant.
  • In Hungry, which began the mammoth task in 1998, translators completed work on more than 15,000 pages that ultimately weren't needed.
—Excerpts of an article from The Wall Street Journal Europe,
January 5, 2005, by Alexei Barrionuevo:

Comments not included in the article:

In summary, the bureaucracy of the EU is seriously hampering the progress of the organization to function properly because of the snafus that result from the excessive number of languages that demand to be "official" and the lack of qualified translators available to complete the morass of interpretations that the EU bureaucracy deems necessary to carry on its fundamental business.

It isn't difficult to see that if the EU doesn't choose and use one official language to conduct its business, it will become much too expensive and inefficient to exist and it will disintegrate; just as previous excessively bureaucratic organizations have passed into oblivion.

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Cross references of word families related directly, or indirectly, to: "talk, speak, speech; words, language; tongue, etc.": cit-; clam-; dic-; fa-; -farious; glosso-; glotto-; lalo-; linguo-; locu-; logo-; loqu-; mythico-; -ology; ora-; -phasia; -phemia; phon-; phras-; Quotes: Language,Part 1; Quotes: Language, Part 2; serm-; tongue; voc-.