28. RESISTING THE IRREPRESSIBLE RISE OF EURO ENGLISH
German Green MEP Terry Reintke commented that "Euro English is the everyday, pidgin version of the language, as spoken by the people working in the EU's institutions - an amalgam of jargon, British English, the English spoken by non-native speakers with all its inherent quirks and common mistakes, and terms borrowed from the 23 other official languages from across the bloc."
Over the years, English has become perhaps the most dominant working language of the EU despite the fact that most EU workers are non-native English speakers. Hence the emergence of Euro English, a dialect distinguished by common misspellings, mistranslations, false cognates and malapropisms. Since the mistakes that occur are often influenced by the speaker's native language, different people end up 'misusing' the same words in the same ways over and over again, until the new meanings become commonly understood and accepted in the corridors of power in Brussels and Strasbourg. These include words that neither exist nor are well known to native English speakers outside the EU institutions and often even to standard spellcheckers/grammar checkers or to English dictionaries. The Economist even suggests that we could even be hearing a lot more of these Euro-English words in the future.
Just a few examples:
English: Someone who performs in a TV show, play, film or other theatrical or broadcast performance. "Do you think Daniel Craig is a good actor?"
Euro-English: The people and/or organisations involved in doing something or countries involved in EU activities and initiatives.
English: 1) real and not merely possible or imagined; existing in fact 2) known to be correct or precise: not false or apparent.
Euro-English: Current. "The actual budget is more generous than the budget for next year." This is, in fact, a false cognate with words that mean "current" in several other EU languages, such as actueel in Dutch and actuel in French.
English: The word does not exist.
Euro-English: Committee procedure. Although not an 'official' EU term, the word is used.
English: The chance something will happen. "There is a possibility of rain tonight."
Euro-English: Opportunity; the chance for something to happen. "I have the possibility to travel next year for work." Confusing "possibility" and "opportunity."
To be or not to be
With the UK having left the EU fold but with English still the prevailing language of Europe, the question is whether, if there is no 'policing', we are likely to see more of these EU-isms becoming part of the communication landscape. And to what extent will we simply have to like them or lump them? As a player in this communication landscape, do we have a kind of neighbourhood watch duty? Should we correct or point out the anomalies or try to exercise restraint and accept that this is the way of the world? Should we suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or take arms against a sea of troubles and, by opposing, end them?
It's a dilemma of Hamletian proportions, especially given the decline in the general command of the basic English skills of good grammar and correct spelling! Education is partly to blame but journalism compounds the deterioration. Okay, The Guardian can be forgiven for its occasional erratum (from 'The Taming of the Screw' to 'irritable bowl syndrome') - in fact, it would not be The Grauniad otherwise 😉 but the casual relationship that the tabloids seem to have with the rules of the English language is fodder for a different kind of pandemic - illiteracy - among the general population.
An Orwellian perspective
George Orwell's essay "Politics and the English Language" begins by refuting common presumptions that hold that the decline of the English language is a reflection of the state of society and politics, that this degeneration is inevitable, and that it's hopeless to resist it. This disempowering idea, he says, derives from an understanding of language as a "natural growth" rather than an "instrument which we shape for our own purposes". He sees the use of honest language as a form of resistance against insidious and widespread manipulations of rhetorical structures. He says that in an atmosphere of "terrible politics" (such as the period in which he was writing, and who is to say that our own era is not one of political turmoil and confusion?), corrupted language is almost inevitable. But this doesn't make the resistance against it futile. He claims that language is a tool, and not a natural evolutionary growth. It's thus possible to manipulate that tool. It does however, take diligent, conscious effort on the part of the writer or speaker.
So, yes, rather than scattering litter on the streets, I'd rather keep it in my pocket until I come across an appropriate bin and deposit it there. And defend the integrity of English as it should be spoken or written.