English is a truly fascinating language. The product of churning together West Germanic, Old Norman/French, Greek, Latin, and loan words from multiple other languages, English can be both simplistic and difficult. Therein lies the trap: like a formal Victorian table setting, the utensils (words) that you use for certain dishes (situations) can reveal quite a lot about you, or, to use another gastronomic analogy via an altered quote from Brillat-Savarin: “Tell me what you say, and I will tell you where you’re from.”
For a global language that boasts of multiple standardised versions, each of which has a number of dialects based on region or ethnicity, and has been hybridised into foreign languages, such as Chinglish (Chinese/English), Franglais (French/English), or Spanglish (Spanish/English), your English can be “from” virtually anywhere.
Still, of all the places where you would expect to find English, an organisation which is witnessing the departure of the only officially English-speaking member isn’t likely to be your first guess. Nevertheless, not only is English flourishing in the EU, but it has also spawned its own vernacular, which happens to be today’s word, Euro English.
Stating that: “The English these people use is also a kind of Euro-English, and it is obvious that it will be rather different from the real present-day English usage that was its original model”, the term was coined by the German linguist Broder Carstensen in 1986. A combination of the shortened form of European (or European Union, specifically, in this case) Euro with the root language English, our term can be loosely defined as “the everyday, pidgin version of the language, as spoken by the people working in the EU’s institutions – an amalgam of jargon, British English, the English spoken by non-native speakers with all its inherent quirks and common mistakes, and terms borrowed from the 23 other official languages from across the bloc.”
Like many working variations of English, Euro English was born out of necessity. Considering the EU’s translation requirements and well-published expenditures, it’s easy to assume that all communication between parties takes the form of translated native language, but this is not always the case. While written communication and high-level meetings are always readily translated, lower-level communication between and among multi-linguistic departmental staff sometimes happens without interpretation. In these cases where, say, someone from Spain doesn’t understand Estonian and vice versa, the default language of communication becomes a level of English – including departmental jargon and native-language phraseology – where both people can understand one another. From this origin, certain non-English aspects have also, over time, bled into common usage, such as the use of non to connote a negative, possibility (from the French term la possibilité) being substituted for the word “opportunity”, and the use of the German term Handy instead of the English “mobile phone”.
Though Euro English is currently flourishing, the future is less certain. While the dominant position English enjoys as a global language isn’t at risk, there is a risk to subsistence forms of communication such as Euro English, as more people become better able to use (and more comfortable with) standard English. On the other hand, specifically for an EU without the UK, the language has the effect of becoming a neutral means of communication, above accusations of heavy-handed influence or linguistic dominance. Ironically, the best language for European communication could be a language that, though completely separate from European languages, is exclusively constructed from European languages.