Brexit, ExBrits and the English Language


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Like hundreds of thousands of other British Europeans I feel bitter 1 about the decisions taken in the UK two weeks ago. We have been forced to reconsider our identity but right now Brexit has turned me into 2 an ‘ExBrit’.

Nevertheless, British stupidity should not provoke stupid EU overreactions. Yesterday I was reading an article on the (remote) possibility that English ceased to be the working language in the European Union as a result of the British decision to leave. This would be a classic example of somebody cutting off 3 his nose to spite 4 his face5 as I will attempt to 6 explain here.

First of all, English has not been the working language of the EU to satisfy the British. English has a pre-eminent role in Europe because it has a dominant position in the world. It is the working language of ASEAN7 an organization representing hundreds of millions of people in Southeast Asia. It is the common language of the Indian Subcontinent – another billion people. It is the language in which China does business with the world – hundreds of millions of Chinese people are learning English. It is an official language in 22 African nations. It is, of course, the common language of Australasia and of North America. The Commonwealth, which represents 28% of the world’s population, does its business in English. The British Council estimates that by the time Brexit is complete three billion people, a third of the world’s population, will actually 8 be learning English.

In any case, imagine that the EU decided to abandon English to spite 9 the UK. Which language would it use instead10 French, German, Italian or Spanish? Any choice would be hugely 11 divisive and would do nothing to keep the EU united. You have to remember that English has one unique merit as the trans-European language; it is a mongrel 12 mixture of Germanic and Romance languages. While half of the old member states of the EU speak Germanic languages (Germany, Austria, Denmark and the Netherlands) the other half speak languages derived from Latin (Spanish, French, Portuguese and Italian). Only English bridges the gap 13 and offers something to everyone; or, if you prefer it is equally difficult for all Europeans. Indeed14 English has flourished in India since independence because it is considered neutral it belongs to nobody; in a country that speaks over 800 languages that’s a big advantage. In the future EU, English will formally belong to nobody; the official language of Ireland is Irish, though they all speak English. The official language of Malta is Maltese, though most islanders speak English. Similarly, the official language of Scotland – in Europe and outside the UK – will probably be Scots, even though they all speak English.

However, the biggest reason for maintaining English as the working language of Europe is the investment 15 that has already been made. Almost every schoolchild in Europe has been learning English for years. Indeed16 most Europeans have made a significant investment of time and money in attaining 17 at least a rudimentary level of English. What’s more, national governments across Europe have spent a fortune setting up 18 robust English departments in schools and universities. Are all those teachers going to be recycled to another language?

But what about Europe’s understandable desire for revenge19 Well, I have the perfect way to spite 20 the Little Englanders 21 who voted for Brexit. Keep English as the working language of Europe but insist on it being Standard American English that is used across the continent. Nothing could offend Farage and his army of small-minded bigots 22 more than that!

  1. bitter – resentful

  2. to turn sb. into – convert sb. into

  3. to cut off (cut-cut-cut) amputate

  4. to spite – provoke, intentionally offend

  5. to cut off your nose to spite your face – take revenge in a way that is more disadvantageous to yourself that to the person the person who has offended you

  6. to attempt to – try to

  7. ASEAN – Association of South-East Asian Nations

  8. actually – (false friend) in fact

  9. to spite – provoke, intentionally offend

  10. instead – (in this case) in preference to English

  11. hugely – extremely, very

  12. mongrel – impure, hybrid

  13. to bridge to gap – be a connect between two distinct things

  14. indeed – in fact

  15. investment – expenditure on sth. that is advantageous

  16. indeed – in fact

  17. to attain – get, achieve

  18. to set sth. up (set-set-set) – create, establish

  19. revenge – vengeance

  20. to spite – provoke, intentionally offend

  21. Little Englander – English/British isolationist

  22. bigot – chauvinist, intolerant person

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