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LAPO — Result In Brief

Project ID: 327225
Funded under: FP7-PEOPLE
Country: Germany

Multilingualism for social cohesion

What effects would changing the current EU language regime have on the fairness of EU external communication? What would be the impact on access to EU communication for European residents?
Multilingualism for social cohesion
In recent years the language regime of the EU has been heavily criticised. Some believe that using only one language would make the EU more effective and ultimately encourage cohesion.

An EU-funded project, LAPO (Language policy and linguistic justice in the European Union), has tested the validity of such a claim. Through an interdisciplinary approach combining economics, policy analysis, sociolinguistics, and language policy and planning, it examined the implications of such a change. The researchers used data published in 2011 by Eurostat in the Adult Education Survey. It provides reliable data on language skills of a large sample of EU residents in the 28 Member States.

Results showed that a multilingual language policy is highly more effective in relaying information from the EU to European residents than an English-only or trilingual policy would be. It is also more inclusive as it is. If English were made the only official language of the EU, nearly half of the residents across 24 countries in the study would not have access to legal documents. If French and German were added, the residents still left out would be as high as 28 %.

If the level of knowledge of a foreign language is limited, it will not be enough for understanding complex legal texts or political discussions. For residents of the EU who are not native speakers of English or whose proficiency in English is not high, exclusion from political and legal discussions increases to 80 %. It appears that fluency in English will not be a basic skill in the foreseeable future either. It is therefore evident that the need for translation and interpreting services in the EU is not likely to decrease in the coming years.

In addition to being more effective, a multilingual policy is much fairer than a mono or trilingual one. The gap between rich and poor would be widened as would the difference between the most and least educated. Thus, it is evident that downsizing the number of official languages would be most detrimental to the weakest members of society.

These results can be useful for decision-makers of language policy and planning at the national and EU levels as well as those interested in the linguistic aspects of democracy.

Related information


Multilingualism, EU language regime, EU external communication, language policy, linguistic justice
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