The elephant in the room: language issues in the European Union

Sue Wright

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Communication policy in the EU requires strict adherence to the principle of equality for speakers of all the official languages of member states and rejects the idea of a lingua franca. This position has been constantly reaffirmed, and within the last two years official commitment to the principle seems to have strengthened since a commissioner for multilingualism has been appointed and a High Level Group on Multilingualism formed, both charged with promoting multilingualism. There is, however, a mismatch between policy and practice; lip service is paid to multilingualism, while there is ever greater use of English as a lingua franca. This anomaly is under-researched, perhaps because the constituency using English as a lingua franca does not feel there is an issue to discuss, while those who support multilingualism do so from convictions and beliefs, which they are reluctant to interrogate. In this paper I argue that we need to examine the genesis of the EU's strict adherence to linguistic equality. The causes seem to be linked to the ideological legacies from nation building and colonial empire. Better understanding may help us to resolve the policy/practice dichotomy and address outstanding questions of justice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)93-119
Number of pages27
JournalThe Journal of European Language Policy
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2009


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