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Approaches to fair linguistic


Sabine Fiedler
University of Leipzig, Germany

The paper focuses on European language policy. A polity of 27 states with 23 official languages
is an enormous challenge. The public discourse of EU politicians stresses the need to maintain
all the languages of the EU, for they are an essential component of European identity. The EU’s
linguistic reality looks different. It is characterised by the ever greater predominance of just one
language, English. Recent publications have shown that the hegemony of English has led to
severe disadvantages for non-anglophones in general and in academia in particular. There is a
growing awareness of the dangers emanating from the dominance of one language over all other
languages. Several options for language policy have been presented to find fair and democratic
approaches to international communication. Their scope includes (1) multilingualism/pluri­
lingualism, (2) restriction to receptive skills (e.g. European Intercomprehension), (3) reduced
variants of English, e.g. the model ‘English as a Lingua Franca (ELF)’, (4) initiatives to revive
an ancient language (e.g. Latin), and (5) the use of a planned language. The paper gives an
introduction to these approaches and an analysis of the treatment that they receive in the
literature on language policy. It discusses the extent to which they seem to be feasible and
the consequences their implementation would have for language learning.

Keywords: European language policy, English, multilingualism, English as a Lingua Franca (ELF),
planned languages (Esperanto)

The public discourse of EU politicians stresses “the necessity of maintaining lin-

guistic and cultural diversity in Europe” (European Language Council 2001: 3),
as this is an essential component of European identity. The EU’s reality looks
different. It is characterised by the ever-greater predominance of just one lan-
guage, English.
Questions of language policy in Europe are a delicate and controversial issue.
On the one hand, the existence of a common language, a global lingua franca,
provides a huge advantage to a large number of people – in commerce, politics,
tourism, leisure activities, but especially in the sciences. As Mühleisen (2003:
1. A shorter version of this paper was given at the conference ‘Language Policy and Language Learn-
ing: New Paradigms and New Challenges’ (18–20 June 2009, University of Limerick, Ireland). I would
like to thank the anonymous EJLP reviewers for very helpful comments on an earlier draft of this

European Journal of Language Policy  2.1 (2010), 1–22 ISSN 1757-6822 (print)  1757-6830 (online)

©  Liverpool University Press doi:10.3828/ejlp.2010.2

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2 Sabine Fiedler

117) points out, “all science is useless if it is not accessible to other members of
the discipline. This is easier with only one language as a scientific lingua franca”.
On the other hand, the dominance of English is increasingly attracting strong
criticism. Recent publications (e.g. Carli and Ammon 2007; Gnutzmann 2008;
Grin 2005) have shown that the dominance of a single language as a medium of
international communication leads to communicative inequality. Among other
things, it results in a reduction of discourse patterns and a tendency towards a
unilateral approach to research. The spread of English favours Anglo-American
ideas and authors. Its prevalent use in the sciences and academia leads to severe
disadvantages for non-anglophones, as well as to a devaluation of other foreign
languages. Furthermore, it provides English-speaking countries with enormous
additional income.
Therefore, several options for language policy have been presented to find
fair and democratic approaches to international communication. Their scope
1. different variants of multilingualism/plurilingualism
2. the restriction to passive language skills (e.g. European Intercomprehension)
3. reduced variants of English, such as the model ‘English as a Lingua Franca’
4. initiatives to revive an ancient language (e.g. Latin)
5. the use of an artificial language.2
This paper will give an introduction to these approaches and an analysis of the
treatment that they receive in the literature on language policy. It will also dis-
cuss the extent to which they seem to be feasible and the consequences their
implementation would have for language learning.

Towards equitable communication

1. Multilingualism/plurilingualism3

De jure the EU is based on ‘full’ multilingualism. According to Article 217, all

the (now 23) languages of the member states are official languages of the EU.4

2. ‘Non-linguistic’ approaches, such as machine translation or the proposal to set up a system of com-
pensation (van Parijs 2007) are not considered in this article.
3. ‘Multilingualism’ is mainly used with reference to languages spoken in a certain area, whereas
‘plurilingualism’ (or individual multilingualism) characterises people who are able to speak more than
one language.
4. Multilingualism in individual member states, however, is neglected. Catalan, for example, with
more speakers than Danish, does not qualify as being an official EU language (Phillipson 2003).

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Approaches to fair linguistic ­communication 3

Table 1.  Percentage increase in use of English for initial drafting of EU texts
French German Other English
1970 60% 40% 0% 0%​
1996 38% 5% 12% 46%​
2004 26% 3% 9% 62%
2006 14% 3% 11% 72%

De facto there is a linguistic hierarchy with English now at the top. Phillipson
(2009: 150) shows the increase in the use of English, presenting the figures set
out in Table 1 for the language of initial drafting of EU texts.5
In the practical work of the EU institutions the equal status of the official lan-
guages is a fiction, as even Leonard Orban, Commissioner for Multilingualism,
No matter how much we would like to, we cannot translate everything in all the 23 official
languages. We are faced with constraints, depending on the human resources available and
the budget allocated to translation. (2008)

As for individual multilingualism, the plurilingual individual has become the

target for language education policy: “Every European citizen should have
meaningful communicative competence in at least two other languages in add-
ition to his or her mother tongue” (CoEC 2003: 4). This ambitious goal was
slightly modified recently. In 2007 a group of intellectuals for intercultural dia-
logue, chaired by Amin Maalouf, was set up on the initiative of the European
Commission. It proposed that “the European Union should advocate the idea of
a personal adoptive language”. This language should be freely chosen by every
European and it should be “different from his or her language of identity, and
also different from his or her language of international communication” [with
the latter meaning English – S.F.]. The proposal is a reaction to the growing
dominance of English and the tensions that have been caused by it: “Using this
approach, we would hope to overcome the current rivalry between English
and the other languages, a rivalry which results in the weakening of the other
languages and which is also detrimental to the English language itself and its
speakers” (Maalouf 2008: 7).
Quality and success in the learning of foreign languages vary hugely, but in
general one has to admit that competence in several languages will probably be
restricted to an elite of the intellectual and gifted few (Bliesener 2003: 96; Phil-

5. The swing to English is confirmed by Wright’s investigation into English in the European Parlia-
ment (2007: 151).

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4 Sabine Fiedler

lipson 2008: 133; Ammon 2003). Recent statistics on the matter are sobering.
According to the European survey Eurobarometer (2006), 56 per cent of the EU
population are fluent in a language other than their mother tongue and 28 per
cent are fluent in two languages in addition to their mother tongue. When we
consider these figures, several aspects should not be ignored (Phillipson 2003:
9). Firstly, the survey is based on the data that people report on their own use of
languages. Secondly, people who speak a regional minority language at home
are often bilingual. Thirdly, there is enormous variation between the member
states. Nearly everyone speaks a foreign language in the Netherlands, Denmark
and Luxembourg.
For Wright (2000: 235), plurilingualism was a possible solution for the Euro-
pean Community when it consisted of only six member states with four lan-
guages, and even then within limits. Today, as she points out (235–242), there
are mainly three groups of people who promote individual multilingualism.
The first one (“the idealists”), do so as an expression of goodwill because they
hope that solidarity among different national groups and a common identity
develop in this way. No language is preferred and especially promoted; learning
languages means enrichment and joy. The idealists, as Wright points out, are
often members of the cosmopolitan, European intelligentsia, who forget that
not all people are fascinated by language in the same way and have different
intellectual abilities. The second group consists of language professionals such
as foreign language teachers. They stick to the goal that every European citizen
should speak at least two foreign languages and often plead for an earlier start
to language learning and for an improvement of teaching methods and tech-
nologies. The third group of people supporting plurilingualism fear that their
own languages might disappear as a medium of international communication.
According to Wright, they are aware of the financial, political, educational and
other advantages that result from the prominent position of a language. Their
kind of “plurilingualism” translates itself as support for French, German, Span-
ish or another language, or as the fight against the hegemony of English.6
As “full” multilingualism does not seem to be realistic, restricted variants of
multilingualism are discussed. Kraus (2008: 176), in his refusal of the model
“English Only”, sees “converging multilingualism” as a realistic framework of
European language policy:

6. The recent history of the EU shows several examples of attempts by member states wanting to
stress the importance of their language, such as the so-called German-Finnish language conflict in
1999 (Kelletat 2001; Sieberg 2008) and the reaction of the Spanish Minister, Ana Palacio, to the motto
of the Copenhagen Summit ‘One Europe’ in 2002 (
guages/Phillipson.ppt (accessed 2 January 2010)).

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Approaches to fair linguistic ­communication 5

By ‘converging multilingualism’ I mean a model which, in creating shared contexts of com-

munication, attempts to find a necessarily precarious balance between pragmatism and
respect for diversity.

He points out that “the EU has at present no alternative to showing its citizens a
high level of multilingual sensitivity”. It would not be wise to demonise English
and its potential as a European lingua franca, but it would be wrong to regard it
“a priori as expressing the shared will of the community of European peoples on
questions of language policy”. Becoming a bit more concrete, Kraus mentions
“sets of two or three languages” and “clusters of countries, regions and groups
with linguistic-cultural affinities” (177):
For example, in the EU25 one could envisage the emergence of a Latin, a Scandinavian,
a Teutonic and an Atlantic network. Within the various clusters, existing communicative
proximity would in many cases make it possible to take advantage of a passive bilingualism
in which A and B mutually understand each other even though each employs a different

This leads us to models of communication that are based on passive language

knowledge and try to make use of the fact that there are similarities in lan-
guages of the same family.

2. EuroCom

EuroCom, which stands for European Intercomprehension, is a method of

acquiring reading competence in several cognate languages. Its basis is people’s
knowledge of one language of a family and the application of specific strategies
of deduction and learning (Zybatow 2002: 358). With reference to the main
European language families there are three sub-projects: EuroComSlav (for
Slavic languages), EuroComRom (for Romance languages), and EuroComGerm
(for Germanic languages). The strategies, which have the metaphorical name
“the Seven Sieves” (alluding to the search for gold), are:
–– international vocabulary;
–– common vocabulary within the language family;
–– sound equivalence;
–– spelling and pronunciation;
–– morphosyntactic elements;
–– syntactic structures;
–– affixes (“Eurofixes”).7
7. The Seven Sieves are used in a slightly modified form in EuroComGerm due to the heterogeneity

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6 Sabine Fiedler

‘Intercomprehension’ in this project means that people are able to communicate

within a group of languages that are of common origin, with each speaker using
his/her own mother tongue (Stoye 2000: 17). EuroCom representatives are very
modest as regards the aims of language teaching and learning:
The aim of the EuroCom method is to realistically enable Europeans to achieve multilin-
gualism. What may be regarded as realistic is the acquisition of receptive competence in one
language group, i.e. interlingual reading competence in all the languages of a group (or
parts thereof). (Klein et al. 2002; original emphasis)

The question is whether this aim is ambitious enough. Should we not set the
bar much higher in terms of both student aspirations and societal demands?
Certainly, languages should not be seen as isolated from each other. There is
not only interference but also positive transfer, and the similarities in linguis-
tic systems can be used to help students towards learning more than only one
foreign language. Synergies in teaching and learning foreign languages can
be created. Didactics of plurilingualism has also found “that the teaching and
learning of intercomprehension proves to be an efficient tool for increasing the
learner’s autonomy” (Meißner 2005: 125). These results should be integrated
into language teaching. The EuroCom approach, however, would mean a one-
sided focus on receptive skills. We should keep in mind that today’s language
learner is not necessarily an enthusiastic lover of languages and the relation-
ships between them but someone who needs practical (i.e. active) skills to com-

3. ELF

The approach English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) is the idea that the English used
in international communication represents a form or function (some repre-
sentatives speak of a variety) in its own right whose norms are established by its
users instead of native speakers.8 ELF takes today’s actual use of English as its
starting point, i.e. the fact that it has spread so widely that its native speakers are
now outnumbered by its non-native speakers.9 If in the majority of exchanges
of the Germanic languages, the manifold influences they have undergone by Romance languages and
the practice of language teaching (role of English as L2) (Hufeisen 2002: 471; McCann 2002: 200–205).
8. ELF is not the only proposal for a reduced variant of English. Cf., for example, Ammon’s (2003)
Globalish and Mukherjee’s (2008) English as a Global Pidgin (EGP).
9. According to an estimate by Beneke (1991: 54) in about 80 per cent of all communicative events
native speakers are not present. Seidlhofer (2005: R92) gives the following figures: “At the beginning
of the 21st century, as a result of the unprecedented global spread of English, roughly only one out of
every four users of the language in the world is a native speaker of it”.

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Approaches to fair linguistic ­communication 7

where English is used native speakers are not present, the argument goes, their
models and standards of correctness are of limited relevance. English “belongs
to all its users” (Kachru 1992) or, as McArthur (1999) puts it, it “is the possession
of every individual or community that wishes to use it, wherever they are in the
world”. Widdowson (1994: 385) expressed his idea of “the ownership of English”
in the following words:

How English develops in the world is no business whatever of native speakers in England,
the United States, or anywhere else. They have no say in the matter, no right to intervene or
pass judgement. They are irrelevant.

Research has revealed a set of properties of ELF on different linguistic levels

(cf. the surveys by Seidlhofer et al. 2006; Gnutzmann 2007: 324; Prodromou
2006: 55; Hülmbauer et al. 2008). It has been shown, for example, that in oral
communication the interdental fricatives /ð/ and /θ/ are often substituted with
alveolar and labiodental fricatives (/z/ /s/; /v/ /f/) or alveolar plosives (/d/ /t/),
that uncountable nouns such as information and advice are often used with
the plural ending -s, that the relative pronouns which and who are treated as
interchangeable for animate and inanimate nouns and that verbs in the third
person are often used without the inflectional ending -s and – what is crucial
– that these uses are usually unproblematic because they do not cause misunder-
standing. ELF is oriented towards intelligibility and communicative efficiency
instead of native speaker prestige. Therefore, its advocates do not consider these
features to be errors but variants or differences (Jenkins 2006: 140).
The ELF approach is appealing for a number of reasons. The first is the new
position of the language learner und user. Non-native speakers are no longer
seen as failed native speakers (“defective communicators” – Seidlhofer 2004:
213) who speak their own type of ‘interlanguage’ (Selinker 1972) and try to
improve their proficiency in order to proceed along the interlanguage con-
tinuum in the direction of native-speaker competence, knowing, however, that
this aim cannot be achieved and that, therefore, they will not be member of
the language community. Within the ELF model, non-native speakers are seen
more as competent speakers with equal rights who apply the language accord-
ing to their communicative needs. They are productive users of English, which
implies that they have the right to be creative in this language and to retain their
own cultural identity.
A second appeal of the ELF model is its orientation towards cultural neutral-
ity (or at least a lower degree of cultural loading than is found in tradition-
al English language teaching). Jenkins (2006: 155) argues that English used
by non-native speakers in international communication is losing its national

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8 Sabine Fiedler

­cultural base. “ELF is not the same as EFL [English as a Foreign Language –
S.F.], nor is it failed ENS [English as a native language – S.F.]”. It can be said to
occupy a legitimate third space of its own. In her investigation into English in
the European Parliament, Wright (2007: 164) comes to a similar conclusion:
The English spoken within the European institutions will develop in response to the needs
of those who use it in this space, will become a variety which belongs to its constituency
and will be the expression of a particular set of cultural practices.

We all know about the close relationship between language and culture. Empir-
ical investigations have revealed the existence of culture-conditioned differ-
ences in thought patterns, discourse behaviour and styles in text production
(Kaplan 1966; Clyne 1981; 1987; House 2006). The dominant use of English in
intercultural communication leads to the adoption of Anglo-American norms
of interaction (Alexander 2006). This aspect has raised concerns with regard
to scientific communication, especially in the humanities, i.e. in fields where
scientific research is focused on social and cultural topics. The consequences for
English language teaching are that, in advanced phases, the productive mastery
of those discourse strategies are targets of instruction. This means, ultimately,
that proficient users of English do not only have to produce their texts in Eng-
lish to allow international communication and cooperation but that they also
adopt thought patterns and discourse styles that are characteristic for a spe-
cific culture, the Anglo-American one. The ELF model, as I understand it, in
contrast, aims at intercultural communication and pleads for the protection of
different language cultures. It is desirable that its speakers transfer some of the
pragmatic norms of their native language backgrounds to lingua franca English
(Kirkpatrick 2006: 80).
A third advantage is that the ELF model is meant to give other languages a
chance. As Seidlhofer (2003: 137) points out,
[…] if – and this is a vital condition – English is appropriated by its users in such a way as
to serve its unique function as EIL [English as an international language – S.F.], it does not
constitute a threat to other languages but, precisely because of its delimited role and distinct
status, leaves other languages intact. Properly conceptualised as EIL, ‘English’ can be pos-
itioned, quite literally, out of competition with other languages.

If only those features of English necessary for production and reception are
taught that are crucial for international intelligibility in lingua franca settings,
Seidlhofer (2003: 136) argues, this will reduce the number of years spent on
learning it, which is a step towards the European ideal of respect for linguis-
tic diversity. As mentioned in 2.1, recent developments in European language
policy seem to be focused in the same direction.

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Approaches to fair linguistic ­communication 9

The three merits described above should lead to the conclusion that the
ELF model might be a solution to current problems of international linguistic
communication. However, the model has also elicited negative responses and
criticism, as Jenkins (2007) describes in detail. The main problem, in my eyes,
remains the very fact that there is a native speaker of English as a potential inter-
locutor and as a permanent reminder that there is a more proficient variant of
English. The situation that intercultural interactions include non-native speak-
ers of English as well as its native speakers causes inequality and will make ELF
difficult to accept. Acceptance or, indeed, the willingness to consider ELF to be a
variety or at least legitimate form of English and not merely a collection of errors
is the key factor for success. Surveys have shown that this acceptance is widely
lacking both among the users of ELF and among native speakers (Jenkins 2007;
Prodromou 2008).
Another major obstacle in the way of success is the fact that generations of
teachers and learners have traditionally taken the native speaker’s use as their
model. The deficit view, according to which deviations from native speaker
norms are considered to be errors rather than variants, is especially relevant
to language teachers. They are familiar with the theories of fossilisation and
interlanguage and they pass them on to their students. New developments in
language learning (for example, English for Young Learners) even support
this idea (by arguing that it is possible to speak a foreign language without any
accent when it is taught by a native speaker and instruction starts early enough).
Against this background, an English teacher’s departure from the norm will pre-
sumably not be seen as a feature of an independent ELF variant, but as English
that is defective or has not been sufficiently learned.
Another reason for the negative responses to the model ELF is the fact that the
use of English as a lingua franca in the expanding circle is diverse and heteroge-
neous. Asian ELF is different from European ELF. Within Europe, Scandinavian
users of English differ from those with a Slavic or Romance language as their
mother tongue. As Jenkins (2007) shows, these different types of ELF are met
with different degrees of acceptance or negative orientation. Even within one
regionally defined type of ELF, say ELF used in Germany, there are huge differ-
ences in “non-nativeness”. The majority of people learn the foreign language in
their home country; others acquire or improve their knowledge abroad. Knapp
(2002: 238) showed that in non-native/non-native lingua franca communication
“linguistic deficiencies or even just simple imperfections made by the ‘true’ nns
[non-native speakers – S.F.] were exploited in order to dominate the discussion
by those who were more fluent”. Foreign-language skills are acquired at great
cost: they are a privilege and people normally enjoy having privileges or prestige.

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10 Sabine Fiedler

Finally, it should be mentioned that some of the factors hindering equal-

ity in international communication will not be removed by the model. This
refers, above all, to the economic advantages. ELF is still a form of English that
provides English-speaking countries enormous additional income (Phillipson
2003: 148; Wright 2004: 154). English native speakers enjoy a privileged position
in certain markets (especially for translation into this language, teaching and
text editing, as well as for the production of educational materials (Grin 2008:
80)). The dominance of English has elevated the reputation of English-language
universities.10 All this amounts to billions of euros of unfair transfers and to sav-
ings for English-speaking countries that can be invested in other pursuits (Grin
2008: 80). The model ELF might alleviate the economic inequality slightly, as
international language materials representing broader cultural contents could
be designed and used (Kirkpatrick 2006: 79), but it will not fundamentally
change the situation as English as a lingua franca is still English (see section 5
In sum, on the one hand, ELF deserves our support because it is directed
towards balanced communication and cultural diversity. On the other hand, it
cannot be overlooked that ELF does not guarantee equitable communication
because a segment of its users, its non-native speakers, are still treated unfairly
and are put at a disadvantage. Therefore, the emergence of a more democratic
model of using English does not seem to be feasible in the near future.

4.  Initiatives to revive an ancient language

It is above all Latin that is proposed in this context. Latinists and teachers of
Latin have campaigned for its revival since the 1950s. A congress in Avignon
(1956) adopted the main decisions to “create permanent means to bring Latin

10. The fact that an increasing number of non-English-speaking universities in many EU member
states are offering English-taught study programmes to international students, in this way challenging
the near-monopoly previously enjoyed by the English-speaking countries, does not improve fairness
because of the additional language burden. Knowledge of English as the requisite medium of instruc-
tion is ultimately the product of substantial (financial) efforts (and not an accidental birthright as
in English-speaking countries). English-medium programmes in higher education result in another
advantage for students with English as a native language, who enjoy the freedom of movement in the
linguistically borderless higher education area even without having acquired the foreign languages at
a level necessary for academic work. It excludes students who do not have an adequate enough com-
mand of English to be able to study in it, and it imposes additional demands on the teaching staff, who
have to feel competent not only in lecturing in English but also in designing courses, assessing the
students’ learning, writing instructional materials, or giving effective feedback in a foreign language
(cf. Wilkinson 2008: 175).

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Approaches to fair linguistic ­communication 11

to life” (Waquet 2002: 266). They included the enlargement of dictionaries

according to modern language use, a revival of Late and Medieval Latin lexis, a
unification of terminology and the creation of terminological dictionaries, the
formation of neologisms, and the standardisation of pronunciation (Barand-
ovská-Frank 1998: 47). Further congresses of the association for “living Latin”,
which held the old language to be a solution to “the Babel of modernity”, were
held in 1959 at Lyon, 1963 at Strasbourg, 1969 at Avignon, and 1976 at Pau. As
Waquet (2002: 267–68) points out, practical achievements had been few, due to
the limited area of activity, and the initial enthusiasm had declined consider-
ably by the 1970s:
[…] although interest had been international, it had hardly existed outside the circle of aca-
demics teaching classics, so that the conferences, or anyway their papers, were hardly more
than professional seminars. The dream that had once been nurtured of ‘living Latin’ as a
remedy to the modern Babel had ended by fading away ingloriously. All that remains of the
career as an international auxiliary language once postulated for Latin is one last faint trace:
appeals for the institutions of the European Community to make room for Latin alongside
the modern languages in which they publish their documents.

Waquet, in this quote, refers to a query to the European Commission in 1974

that was raised by two members of the European Parliament, Parijn and Van
der Hek. The Commission’s answer to this proposal to adopt Latin was that it
was not within its sphere of competence to decide on such an initiative (Coul-
mas 1991: 31).
There is still a living Latin movement active today, with regular internation-
al conferences and meetings at which the language works as a lingua franca
(Barandovská-Frank 1998; Witt 2001). There are, for example, a journal appear-
ing regularly (Vox Latina) and radio broadcasts that can also be received on
the Internet. Its main focus, however, seems to be the methodology in the area
of modern language teaching to make the learning of Latin more enjoyable
and efficient. The organisers of immersion seminars and Latin summer schools
often mention in their materials that they do not see themselves as a part of a
Latin resurgence.11
One of the arguments for a consideration of Latin as a European lingua fran-
ca might be the fact that it did fulfil this function over a long period in the past,
at least in learned circles (Kraus 2008: 169). Furthermore, one might argue that
it would present a relatively neutral solution in terms of fairness. Every Euro-
pean citizen would have to invest the same time, money and energy, as Latin
is nobody’s mother tongue. This argument, however, is only valid to a certain

11. Cf., for example, (accessed 2 January 2010).

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12 Sabine Fiedler

degree, because the members of the most important European language family
are based on it. Wright (2000: 246) questions the neutrality of Latin for another
reason. She assumes that due to its long association with the Catholic Church it
would not find universal acceptance in Protestant and secular Europe.

5.  The use of an artificial language

Artificial languages (also called “universal languages” or “world auxiliary lan-

guages”; modern interlinguistics prefers the term “planned languages”) are
language systems which have been consciously created according to certain
criteria by an individual or a group of individuals for the purpose of making
international communication easier (Wüster 1931). “Certain criteria” means
especially the relationship between the language system and ethnic languages,
above all with regard to its lexical material. Couturat and Leau (1903) subdiv-
ide a priori systems, a posteriori systems, and mixed systems. An a priori lan-
guage forms its phonological and lexical system on the basis of philosophically
motivated classifications of human knowledge, independently of the models in
ethnic languages. An example is John Wilkins (1668), who presented a kind of
encyclopaedic world view with his classification of ideas (cf. Wilkins 1968). An
a posteriori system borrows lexical material from specific ethnic languages and
adapts it to its structure. Within the a posteriori systems we find an autono-
mous subgroup with a high degree of regularity in morphology and word der-
ivation. In contrast, the naturalistic subgroup is characterised by imitation of
(Romance) ethnic languages by incorporating their arbitrary nature and irreg-
ularities. There is yet a third subgroup of a posteriori language systems, viz.
modified ethnic languages (with members such as Basic English (Ogden 1930)
or the various systems of simplified Latin).
In addition, it is necessary to consider the real role of communication that
certain languages played or play, as a language is a social phenomenon and can-
not be reduced to structural elements. Therefore, Blanke (1985; 2000) suggests
a classification into “language projects” (with the majority of all systems, which
actually never grew beyond publication), “semi-languages” (a small group of
systems that have found real-life applications) and the only fully fledged planned
language, Esperanto. The autonomous a posteriori system Esperanto is the only
system (among about 1,000) that has managed the successful transition from a
mere project to a genuine language. This is partly due to linguostructural prop-
erties (Janton 1993; Wells 1989; Nuessel 2000), but above all to extralinguistic
factors (Blanke 2000: 73–80; 2009). Esperanto has found a sufficiently large and

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Approaches to fair linguistic ­communication 13

differentiated speech community which has adopted it and which guarantees

its further development (Fiedler 2002; 2006).
Many authors concede that the adoption of an artificial language would be
an efficient and equitable solution to problems of international communication
due to its linguistic and cultural neutrality (Kraus 2008: 169–170; Wright 2004:
172; Eco 1994; Arntz 1998; Phillipson 2003: 174). Ammon (1994: 11) describes the
advantages of this scenario in the following way:
This proposal [the adoption of an artificial language – S.F.] draws its appeal from the idea,
which seems sound enough, that none of the European language communities would have
the advantage of having the lingua franca as its native language. This advantage […] is
indeed enormous. It includes huge additional incomes through language teaching, trans-
lating, interpreting and text correcting, and it also includes communicative superiority in
important situations, faster access to decisive information, and the like. In a competitive
world, these advantages for the lingua franca providing language community are at the
same time disadvantages for the other language communities. To illustrate this with just
one example: An English official at the political bodies of the EU needs, as a rule, much less
energy and time to read the numerous texts in English which are part of the agenda of the
meetings than does his/her Italian or German colleague. S/he is less exhausted and finds
extra time for other activities. In addition s/he understands the texts more precisely and
can express her/himself more articulately at the meetings. […] The solution “an artificial
language generally” would indeed prevent such unfair competition between the various
language communities or their members.

Despite his apt description of its merits the author does not argue for the adop-
tion of an artificial language. Ammon (1994: 11) goes on:
It has, however, at least one serious flaw: It would require a total restructuring of foreign
language teaching in Europe: new teacher training and development of teaching materials
on an enormous scale, and it would devaluate the present foreign language skills which
have been acquired at great costs. It seems, in one word, forbiddingly expensive. It is further
troubled by a deep-seated aversion, be it justified or not, of large or at least influential parts
of the European population against any artificial language. This proposal seems, therefore,
quite unrealistic, at least for the near future.

Some of the drawbacks mentioned here seem to need closer examination. As

for the “total restructuring of foreign language teaching”, we should keep in
mind that exactly such a process was successfully completed during the 1990s
in many countries of Eastern Europe, where Russian had previously domin-
ated foreign language teaching (Földes 2002). The improvement of teaching
materials is a fundamental necessity. Social change and technological inno-
vation demand the introduction of new topics, research into the methodol-
ogy of teaching and learning calls for new approaches and techniques (cf., for
example, the new generation of textbooks caused by recent results in didactics

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14 Sabine Fiedler

of plurilingualism), or the conditions of foreign language teaching change (as,

for example, after the introduction of the Common European Framework of
reference for Languages).
The adoption of a planned language does not necessarily mean a devaluation
of language skills. In this context the linguistic features of Esperanto should be
considered, above all its regular and productive grammar and the international
character of its lexis. Not only do these make the language easy to learn, but
they also raise pupils’ language awareness and highlight the links between lan-
guages. Numerous studies have consistently confirmed that learning Esperanto
has a propaedeutic effect: it facilitates subsequent learning of other languages.12
As Fonseca-Greber and Reagan (2008: 44–45) argue,
Esperanto is ideally suited to aid children in the primary grades develop accurate phonem-
ic awareness and an understanding of the parts of speech because of its absolutely regular
sound-symbol correspondence and the transparency of its morphosyntactic structure. In
addition to improved first language (L1) literacy skills, the early successful second language
(L2) acquisition experience that Esperanto can provide leaves students more inclined and
better prepared to study French, Italian, German, Spanish, or other ethnic languages when
the opportunity becomes available to them.

As for the costs (i.e. Ammon’s opinion that the scenario is “forbiddingly expen-
sive”), recent studies reveal the opposite. Grin (2005) was commissioned by a
French educational research institution to investigate the current dominance
of English in Europe. He compared the three scenarios (1) “tout-à-l’anglais”,
(2) “plurilinguisme”, and (3) “l’espéranto”, and calculates that Continental coun-
tries are transferring to the UK and Ireland approximately €17 billion a year.13
The scenario “l’espéranto” proves to be the most advantageous because the
entire European Union (including Britain and Ireland) could save about €25 bil-
lion every year by adopting it.
Ammon, however, seems to be right with regard to people’s attitude towards
Esperanto and artificial languages in general. Several authors share his view
about it (e.g. Arntz 1998; Wright 2000; 2004). Grin, as well, is aware of the
mainly negative orientations towards Esperanto and does not think that the
scenario “l’espéranto” will become reality in the near future. He demands a
general awareness campaign and real cooperation between member states:
Les fréquentes réactions de rejet à l’égard de l’espéranto rendent impracticable la mise
en oeuvre à court terme du scénario 3. Il peut par contre être recommendé dans le cadre

12. Cf., for example, the results of the Springboard project (
htm (accessed 2 January 2010)).
13. Grin considered quantifiable privileged market effects, language learning saving effects and rhet-
orical effects.

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Approaches to fair linguistic ­communication 15

d’une stratégie de long terme à mettre en place sur une génération. Deux conditions sont
toutefois critiques pour son succès: premièrement, un très gros effort d’information, afin
de surmonter les préventions qui entourent cette langue – et qui sont en général basées
sur la simple ignorance – et d’aider les mentalités à évoluer; deuxièmement, une véritable
coordination entre États en vue de la mise en oeuvre commune d’un tel scénario. Quatre-
vingt cinq pour cent de la population de l’Europe des 25 y a un intérêt direct et évident,
indepéndamment des risques politiques et culturels que comporte l’hégémonie linguis-
tique. (2005)

Grin’s estimation that the rejection of Esperanto is based on a lack of knowledge

often proves to be true. When the Joint Interpreting and Conference Service of
the EU was asked to explore the possible use of Esperanto as an ‘intermediary’
language for interpretation in 2002, Neil Kinnock on behalf of the Commission
stated that “recourse to a language that is not used in everyday life would run
the risk of not being able to convey the full range of messages and ideas com-
municated during meetings” (quoted by Phillipson 2003: 174). Phillipson (2003:
174) describes this as “ignorance of the sociolinguistic realities of Esperanto”
and “a perfect example of the prejudice that Esperanto tends to encounter”.
Grin, who applies the instruments of policy analysis to EU multilingualism,
points to the need to clarify policy goals. A concern for linguistic justice, he
argues, should lead us to move away from solutions that are often presented
and endorsed unquestionably. Instead, we should “give serious consideration
to often neglected alternatives, including those in which Esperanto plays a part”
(Grin 2008: 81).
This article focuses on the European Union, where the language question
has reached a high level of complexity. It should, however, be considered that
approaches to fair linguistic communication are also discussed at the inter-
national level (cf., for example, Pool 1987; Fettes 2003; Tonkin and Reagan
2003). Whether it is global warming or the financial and economic crisis, in our
globalised world most problems can only be tackled by global efforts. Linguistic
communication on an equal footing is a precondition for it. The symposium
‘English-Only Science in a Multilingual World: Costs, Benefits, and Options’,
held at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement
of Science (Boston, 15 February 2008), dealt with the dominance of English in
scientific discourse. Its agenda included aspects similar to those addressed in
this article, such as the adoption of “a form of simple English in scientific com-
munication”, “the use of a neutral language” (Esperanto), and the introduction
of “a system of compensation” (Tonkin 2008: 4–5).

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16 Sabine Fiedler


This paper has discussed questions of language policy in Europe and impli-
cations for the learning and teaching of foreign languages. The dominant use
of English has recently raised concerns and led to a number of proposals on
how communication could be organised in fairer and more democratic ways.
Among the proposals that have been presented, the ELF model has been the
focus of discussion for some time. It is directed towards balanced communica-
tion and cultural diversity. It does not, however, guarantee equality because it is
not a genuine lingua franca and a segment of its users, the non-native speakers,
are still treated unfairly. The research that has been conducted into ELF should
be reflected in foreign language teaching. Firstly, the sociolinguistic fact has to
be considered that English is no longer used only to communicate with Brit-
ish and American native speakers, as some teaching materials would have us
believe, but also in intercultural situations among non-native speakers. Learn-
ers have to be prepared for these real-world needs. Secondly, the data on the
main features of ELF and their influence on intelligibility should be borne in
mind in language testing. Finally, ELF research and the reactions to it, which
have revealed a number of problems caused by the dominant use of English as
a global lingua franca, should become an integral part of policy suggestions
that are currently made to improve fairness in international communication
(Ammon 2007). I am convinced, however, that equitable international commu-
nication is possible only by a language that is nobody’s mother tongue. As was
shown in this article, the adoption of a planned language such as Esperanto is
a sensible option not only in terms of fairness but also regarding cost-effective-
ness and the promotion or language learning. To gain acceptance for this solu-
tion is a real challenge and an issue to be debated for many generations to come.

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Cet article se concentre sur la politique linguistique européenne. Une communauté de

27 états et 23 langues officielles représente un énorme défi. Le discours public dans les milieux
politiques insiste sur la nécessité de maintenir toutes les langues de l’UE, parce qu’elles sont
une composante de l’identité européenne. La réalité est différente. Elle est caractérisée par
l’hégémonie d’une seule langue, l’anglais. Les publications actuelles montrent que la dominance
de l’anglais présente des désavantages sérieux pour les non-anglophones en général et les
sciences en particulier. Une attention toujours plus grande est portée aux risques que comporte
l’hégémonie d’une langue sur toutes les autres. Divers scénarios ont été proposés pour trouver
des solutions justes et démocratiques : (1) le multilinguisme/plurilinguisme, (2) la limitation
aux capacités passives, (3) des variantes réduites de l’anglais, (ex : le modèle English as a
Lingua Franca [ELF]), (4) des initiatives pour faire revivre des langues anciennes (ex : le Latin), et
(5) l’utilisation d’une langue planifiée. L’article présente ces scénarios et leur traitement dans la
littérature spécialisée en politique linguistique. Il examine dans quelle mesure ils sont réalisables
et quelles seraient les conséquences de leur mise en œuvre pour l’enseignement des langues

Mots clés: politique linguistique européenne, l’anglais, English as a Lingua Franca (ELF),
multilinguisme, langues planifiées (Esperanto)

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