FRENCH AMBASSADOR Philippe Léglise-Costa WALKED OUT OF DIPLOMATIC CONFERENCE BECAUSE REPORTS WERE WRITTEN IN ENGLISH WITHOUT BENEFIT OF A FRENCH TRANSLATION. DID HE OVER-REACT? OR HAS ENGLISH HEGEMONY FINALLY GONE TOO FAR?
The spread of English as a lingua franca (a language used by speakers of different languages as a common language of communication) continues to gain traction around the world. But not without opposition in some very high places. Recently, French ambassador Philippe Léglise-Costa not only objected to the English only policy in the European council, he actually stormed out of a meeting in angry protest, according to published reports, to wit, Politico.eu:
France’s EU ambassador on Wednesday walked out of a diplomatic meeting after the Council decided to use only English-language translation in a new working group on the EU’s long-term budget.
Philippe Léglise-Costa, the French EU ambassador, stormed out of the Coreper meeting on the Multiannual Financial Framework after refusing to sign off on a Council Secretariat decision that asked representatives of other EU countries to agree on using English for the group’s meetings, according to several participants.
While French is still one of the official working languages of the EU, its influence has been on the wane recently, given that English has emerged as a common language in not just diplomacy, but also in most domains that require communication between people of different native tongues.
Was Ambassador Philippe Léglise-Costa right to object to this blatant omission on the part of the Council to provide a translation in French? Or did he over-react? Isn’t the whole point of English being a global lingua franca that people of different linguistic traditions need a common language in which to communicate? That language did not have to be English, but it just so happens that it is English. Why should the other countries accept English in lieu of their own native languages, if the French ambassador refuses to accept that he cannot have a translation in French while everyone else has to make do with English? In other words, could the other countries also insist on a translation in their own native languages as well? Is it fair that only French and English translations are provided?
EU states total 28 nation states, to wit (from Europa.com):
The EU region is one of the world’s most multilingual. Each of these 28 states have a language of their own – though English is taught as a second language in most of these countries. If each nation insisted on having their language be a working language of the council, the costs of translating documents would quickly become prohibitive.
Multilingualism and francophony aside, it appears that French ambassador Philippe Léglise-Costa did not have universal support for his actions on the Council. Some argued that he had acted a bit unreasonably under the circumstances:
Léglise-Costa raised his voice against the Council decision, arguing that France was defending “multilingualism as well as Francophony,” particularly within a group that would be discussing billions of euros in revenues and spending, the European diplomat said.
On the other hand, perhaps the Ambassador, who was described by some diplomats in attendance as having “over-reacted” can be excused for feeling like his language and culture was being usurped and rendered irrelevant by English – lingua franca or no lingua franca.
France along with Germany does bear a disproportionate financial responsibility for spending in and for the region, and thus can be excused for insisting that the French language is given the same deference and respect as English – or at least more deference and respect that some of those others who are newer to the group and who bear considerably less of its financial burdens. It certainly is not a clear cut situation from a diplomatic and international relations perspective. Whether Ambassador Léglise-Costa succeeds at defending “multilingualism and francophony,” and restoring the position of the French language before the EU Council remains to be seen.
The only thing that is clear that English has become a common language of communication for the international community today and in order not to be left behind, people need to learn English for their own personal and professional development.
At ELG, we stand ready to assist you with achieving your English language acquisition goals.