In Europe, Going Global Means, Alas, English
...As European banks and corporations burst national boundaries and go
global, many are making English the official corporate language.
Two years ago, when France, Germany and Spain merged their aerospace
industries into one company, they not only gave it an English name - the
European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company, or EADS - they also
made English its language.
In Germany, the national postal service, Deutsche Post World Net,
increasingly uses English as its working language. Smaller companies are
doing likewise. In Finland, the elevator maker Kone adopted English in the
1970's; in Italy, Merloni Elettrodomestici, a midsize home appliance maker,
did so in the mid-1990's. Management meetings at big banks like Deutsche
Bank in Germany and Credit Suisse in Switzerland are routinely in English
In Toulouse, in the south of France, English has been the official language at
the aircraft manufacturer Airbus since its founding more than 30 years ago
as a loose consortium of aerospace companies from France, Germany,
Britain and Spain. Partly, Airbus executives say, this was because of a bad
experience on an earlier project, building the Anglo-French Concorde
supersonic jet: Concorde's French chief engineer, despite fluent English,
refused memos from his British counterpart unless they were in French.
But the choice also reflected American predominance in civil aviation. "Our
documentation was often based on American manuals," said Barbara Kracht,
the Airbus spokeswoman. "And it was complicated - you know, there's
Boeing slang, G.E. slang, Pratt & Whitney slang."
In executive meetings, if a majority speak French, German or Spanish, then
the majority tongue is spoken; the minutes are in English. On the factory
floor, local languages prevail.
In Italy, the appliance maker Merloni adopted English in the 1990's. Merloni
was a family-controlled, midsize player with a name few had heard of,
competing against renowned giants like Electrolux of Sweden and Bosch-
Siemens of Germany. Its chief executive at that time, Francesco Caio,
believed that English would give Merloni an international image.
The company's subsequent growth cemented the role of English. In 2000,
Merloni acquired Stinol, Russia's biggest refrigerator maker, and last
December, Britain's Hotpoint, adding 6,000 Britons and 7,000 Russians to
the work force. At both Hotpoint and Stinol, English is the language of
"I can't give percentages, but now many executives are not Italian - French,
English, Danish, Russian and so on," said Andrea Prandi, Merloni's
spokesman. "We consider ourselves a European group. For Europe, the
official language is English."
Professor Rangan of Insead suspects that the corporate use of English
represents "only shallow integration."
"I doubt it's in the board room, and it's not on the factory floor," he said. "So
it's a narrow sliver. It's not in labor relations, and it's not in customer
But it does provide a communication tool, "much the way we use
mathematics and numbers," he said.
Jussi Itavuori, a Finn who is group vice president for human resources at
"It's neither English nor American," he said. "It's some sort of operating
language. It loses quite a lot of nuance."
(extract from the "New York Times" site, article by John Tagliabue)
These are proposals to introduce multilingualism in Europe, and reverse the
existing Atlanticist pattern of language use - national language + English.
Most of these proposals are simple reversals of the language policy of
monolingual nation states. The contribution starts with examples of language
use in Europe and especially institutions within the EU. Proposals include
restriction on the use of English, compulsory multilingualism in publications,
and equality of language use. The proposals are not directed at the
preservation of a linguistic heritage.
Language use in Europe today
The general pattern of language use follows geopolitics: national language +
English in western Europe. Similarly, Russian + ethnic language was the
pattern in eastern Europe. This means that in the EU English is the usual
language of contact between two persons who do not speak each others
language. Although there is an official EU policy of equal status for other
languages, only English has the de facto status of language of contact.
Changing this situation would require a different language policy. The
pressure for increasing use of English comes primarily from the tertiary
education sector, which defines English as the global language of science and
education. This is true at present, but it is not inevitable. In turn, the labour
market favours speakers of English.
The examples show how English is given a superior status, also by the EU:
this special status is not given to any other language. They also show how
monolingualism is still standard practice in society: society, in Europe, is
usually a nation state. The examples are illustrative, and not intended as a
representative guide to language policy.
If a second language is required for entrance to a university, it is almost
A native speaker of English can become a Professor of Physics without
learning any other language. This is not possible in reverse: a passive
knowledge of English is essential in the natural sciences.
English speaking students in Britain can complete a university course and
acquire a degree without speaking any other language. This is becoming an
exceptional situation unique to Britain, and unique for English-speaking
Almost all academic journals published in English refuse to accept
contributions in other languages. This does not apply in reverse: many
researchers prefer to publish in English, because such publication are
considered to have more value.
Research staff are often assessed on their publications: publication in a major
international journal counts for more, and those journals are almost all in
Exchange and international programs
Universities in the Netherlands have introduced special international courses
for students in the ERASMUS (SOCRATES) programme. Almost all are in
English. Probably this pattern will apply in most of Europe in the next 5 years.
ERASMUS students from Britain and Ireland are therefore not required to
learn another language, the only ERASMUS students with this de facto
International exchange programs are predominantly English language.
The EU claims to want a multilingual Information Society, but it supports
Telecity or Telepolis projects, which are monolingual, or at best in the
regional language + English.
English is the dominant language of conferences, even if they are funded by
The EU supports many science and technology research projects. Almost all
the results are published in English.
EU-funded research publications often include references to literature in
The EU supports projects in regional development, agrotourism, business
information, community development, technology transfer, and more. Almost
every one of these projects is monolingual.
Selection is almost always on the basis of national language. This is the most
effective barrier to migration in Europe: several years of residence and
language learning are required to enter the labour market.
Where there is a category of employees, with high labour mobility across all
EU countries, the language used is predominantly English.
* Multilingualism should be a condition of access to tertiary education. *
Monolingual tertiary education should be abolished, if necessary by closing
traditional monolingual institutions. * Degrees obtained in monolingual
education at monolingual universities should be invalidated, if the holder does
not take supplementary courses in another language, within a specified
period. (Approximately 5 years seems appropriate).
* Product information should be available in a maximum of languages. * Packacing
and labeling should be multilingual - to the maximum possible extent. Some products
can already carry information in 10 languages: this should be typical practice.
* All research funded by the EU should result in multilingual publications, and not
first in English. * It should be a condition of support for academic media (journals),
that every article is published in at least one translation. * No monolingual
conferences in English should be funded by the EU.
* Newspapers and magazines should be multilingual. This cannot be considered as
censorship, since it increases the number of people who can read each text. * As an
indication, a maximum of 90% in a daily publication should be in any one language,
and it should carry at least 3 languages. * In weekly or monthly publications, with less
pressure of time, a maximum of 75% in any one language
No person should be refused a job, simply on the grounds that they do not
No person competent in four European languages should be refused
employment on grounds of language. For example, someone who speaks
Polish, Russian, German and French, should not be refused a job in London
for not speaking English.
Business & Finance - Tuesday 9.9.2003
Finnish Elite speaks English
By Pirjo Hiidenmaa, Sirke Lohtaja, Sabah Samaletdin, and Risto Tainio
Finnish is no longer the only language that is spoken in corporations in
Finland. As the activities and ownership structures of companies
become more international, the language spoken in the boardrooms of
companies in Finland is often English. Various internal memos are also
drafted in English, and English is spoken at meetings so that everyone,
regardless of his or her mother tongue, will get the same information.
Knowledge of English is no longer just a virtue - it is a necessity for
success at work.
For the managements of companies listed on the Helsinki Stock
Exchange, English comes as naturally as Finnish.
Some of the most important people that company management talk
to are international investors, whose views increasingly determine
corporate activities. Finland has shifted from being a Finnish-speaking
industrial economy to an English-language financial economy in which
corporate representatives must speak the language of investors in
London and New York. That language is rarely Finnish.
English has also strengthened its position as the predominant
language of the European Union, gradually taking over from French.
EU experts in linguistic issues say that Finland's position in the EU is
stronger than ever.
Finnish is one of the 11 official EU languages, and Finnish
representatives are entitled to write the documents necessary in the
EU in their own languages and to get texts that are translated into their
own languages. Texts are usually not translated from every language
into every other language. Instead, an intermediate language - usually
English - is used.
It remains to be seen how much the EU can expand its pool of
translators, if the number of official EU languages grows from the
present 11 to 21, as is expected to take place when the EU takes on
new members next year.
The triumph of English as the language of science has continued
for some time.
Researchers publish their studies in English in order to increase their
readership, and also the number of listeners.
An internationally renowned researcher is more likely to be invited to
speak at international conferences than one who has drafted a study
for the Finnish scientific community alone. Studies published in English
are also quoted more often than those in Finnish, which is an important
consideration when applying for grants.
In this way English has become the basis of a researcher's visibility
Finnish universities are interested in increasing the amount of
instruction in English. This interest is the result of competition: a
common language allows universities to attract internationally
celebrated scientists, as well as students from outside Finland.
It is interesting to note that Finland is one of the most active non-
English-speaking countries to offer university-level instruction in
English. According to cautious estimates about five percent of
instruction that leads to an academic degree is in English, whereas the
average for other European countries is two percent.
As the worlds of business, government administration, and science
become more international, where is a Finnish worker, corporate
manager, or investor supposed to seek out the information that applies
to the operational environment of a company that he or she is
interested in? Not necessarily from the domestic media or other
Many feel that the Finnish economic media only scratches the
surface and operates far too slowly. Even for this reason investors are
likely to prefer the financial news of CNBC at a time of their choosing
rather than a newscast in Finnish that comes once a day. Nor do
corporate directors or even employees necessarily look for information
about their company or its competitors in Helsingin Sanomat alone; in
addition they like to read The Harvard Business Review or The
How large is this group of Finns who seek out the foreign media?
Small. However, the focus should be on the fact that the group is
The domestic media serves large readerships - not a small group,
regardless of the importance of that group, or of the desire of the
medium to change its content. For a publication to be worth publishing
it needs a readership. For this reason we are unlikely to see new
Finnish financial media, or any upgrade in what there is now. Instead
we will seek the information we want ourselves from the sources that
Many editors-in-chief of Finnish magazines and newspapers have
said that they use more foreign media than before as sources of
information. And it is certainly not difficult to guess which language is
used for deciding on the main lines of operations. The voice of owners
and investors is heard in them as well, and that voice is not exclusively
Language is a medium of power. When a company's official language
policy favours English, then English easily creeps into situations in
which it is not necessarily needed, but where it shows that the user of
the language is part of a certain group.
One reason for the willingness to use English is that Finns are quite
accustomed to using a foreign language alongside Finnish. Finns learn
the rudimentary elements of a foreign language already when they are
children. They continue to study languages throughout their school
years, and study or work abroad, using English when they do it.
Another explanation is the respect given to the English language,
which makes it attractive to throw English language words into Finnish
conversation. The use of English abbreviations instead of established
Finnish expressions suggests that the user of the language wants to
show that he or she is part of a certain group - an elite.
In addition to using power, an elite sets an example for others to
follow. If the corporate managers use English it can be expected that
the staff will do the same. A common language is what keeps a group
together. Someone who does not understand the terminology becomes
an outsider. This is an incentive for people to learn and absorb the
In five decades English has become the lingua franca of our time - a
common language for more than a billion people. It makes international
communications easier, but at the same time it can weaken the
position of other languages.
As long as English enriches Finnish, the Finnish language will serve
the Finns. If, however, English usurps the position of Finnish as the
language of special fields or science, then there would be reason for
If university research focuses exclusively on the use of English,
Finnish will gradually lose its ability to depict new concepts and
phenomena and their subtle differences. This in turn will lead to a
weakening of Finnish as a language of teaching as well. At the same
time it will become more difficult to describe new phenomena to lay
people unfamiliar with the specific branch of science.
At worst the strengthening of the position of English and the pushing
of Finnish out of special fields and science will lead to a hierarchical
division, where social inequality grows - as the elite uses English and
the ordinary people use Finnish.
This kind of linguistic division can lead to the total disappearance of
a language, which is what happened to Celtic languages, as well as to
the pre-English lingua franca - Latin - in the Roman Empire.
The death of a language usually begins from the narrowing of the
fields in which it is used.
A language lives and develops when it gets loan words from other
languages. In this way Finnish has also changed during its history, and
is still changing. Nearly half of the 1,000 most frequent words in Finnish
are loan words. Therefore there is no point in fearing or lamenting the
use of loans.
In addition to languages, the world is changing. The need for outside
labour will bring more people to Finland with a mother tongue that is
something other than Finnish.
The question is not whether to use Finnish or English, but rather
how to use Finnish and English alongside each other. Even
representatives of special fields need Finnish in Finland. Likewise most
of us need English and other languages.
We use the language that best serves us.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 1.9.2003
Pirjo Hiidenmaa is a lecturer in the Finnish language. Sirke Lohtaja is a consultant in
investor communications. Sabah Samaletdin is Head of Capital Markets with
Kaupthing Sofi, and Risto Tainio is a professor at the Helsinki School of Economics
and Business Administration.