Discord recurred in the EU because of a language problem. Earlier this month, English, French, and German were proposed by the European Commission as the official languages of the EU (Community) patent system. This proposal aims at reducing the high cost of translation for patent application, promoting scientific and technological innovation and economic development for EU countries and enhancing their competitiveness. However, Italy and Spain are against a trilingual system and think Italian and Spanish also should be official languages of the system.
Whatever the system, discord of language and competition of languages is common at all times and in all countries.
Records of language can be found in the Bible. Noah's descendants said to each other, "Come, let us build us a city, and a tower whose top may reach into heaven, and let us make us a name; lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth." God, apparently not pleased with those ambitions, came down to Earth and mixed the one human language into many and subsequently sewed confusion. After that, God scattered Noah's descendants and the construction of the "Tower of Babel" came to an end.
Human history abounds with different languages. Due to war and conquest, some languages gradually died and the conquerors' languages flourished. In Europe, Latin became the common language with the powerful expansion of the Roman Empire. Eventually though, Latin became a dead language when the Empire declined, but nations developed their own language systems based on Latin.
After that, different languages competed severely among European countries. When William the Conqueror invaded and conquered England, the French was used by nobles and became a symbol of status and identity. But during the 20th century, with the rise of Anglo-American countries, the use of French rapidly declined.
For example, before the World War I, French was used in European international meetings and adopted as an official diplomatic language. After World War I, French and English became the working languages of international conferences in Europe. When World War II ended, because of the rise of the United States, English gradually replaced French as an international common language.
Nowadays, after the US-led era of globalization commenced, English seems to be the "Esperanto," although some people in countries such as France and Germany still fight against the hegemony of English. For example, in France, if you ask directions in English, some people will pretend not understand.
A few years ago, some French political figures suggested using French as the authoritative text in the interpretation of EU judicial documents, which would have made French the standard language for laws of the EU. This proposal was treated like a fight for the survival of the French language.
In 2008, a German university planned to use English as the language of instruction instead of German, but a massive opposition rose against it and compared it to the colonial era.
Now, Italy and Spain feel their languages threatened.
I think Italian is perfect for songs, and Spanish is one of the working languages of the UN. However, the EU is driven by UK, France and Germany, and Italy and Spain are in an awkward position. If English becomes the sole official language of EU patent system, France and Germany will certainly oppose it. If the patent system adopts a trilingual system, Italy and Spain can do nothing but complain.
Language is the epitome of culture, nations, history, and psychology, and it raises lots of sensitive issues, such as national sovereignty, dignity, humanism, and cultural diversity. Because of this, the EU established 23 official languages in order to respect every country. But at the same time, the EU has to pay $1 billion each year for this measure of respect. To cut costs, it has to reduce the number of languages used. Therefore, it's necessary to eliminate the languages of small or weaker countries. These countries are doomed to be dominated by powerful ones, and this fact cannot be changed.
To avoid disputes and reduce costs while respecting the language and the culture of every country, some members of the European Parliament suggested using the neutral Esperanto as the official language and even made a 10-year plan. But this is not a viable solution and proves that language discord within EU will continue.
(This post was first published in Chinese and translated by Lin Liyao.)