Curepipe 2

Last Friday we had a peek at an island of which inhabitants seem to be quite happy using (generic) English for their official communication, while at the same time speaking their native language among themselves.

Now, how can we compare this situation with what we have over here - our zillion of languages, most of them representing a »key element of national identity«?

No way to compare, frankly. For one thing, that island has been artificially populated since not so far ago. »Artificially« meaning by European colonial masters importing whatever workforce available at the time (after having successfully replaced the entire populations of ebony trees and dodo birds by rats), where today's official language is result of the colonial master who happened to be the last on turn to rule the island. This is probably why such a pragmatic solution could be applied there; the roots of none of there present languages are very deep.

In Europe, we have national states with their languages (not necessarily covering) deeply rooted for many centuries if not millenia. For most of the European nations, language is being one of the key elements of national identity.

In practice this means that anything (meant to be) told to the entire European population (e.g. from somewhere inside the Berleymont Palace), needs to be translated into all those languages - at least to the 23 EU-official, and possibly to the 6 semi-official and 42 minority languagues, to be precise.

Even if/when the Union evolves in its form – let's share JM Barroso's latest vision and call it »United States of Europe«, these rules won’t change. Plus, don’t forget that ten other states are waiting in line for EU-membership, with all their languages (and writings).

As it is, hundreds of thousands of translator jobs are thus demanded. Logically, everybody is paying for this feature and hardly anybody of hundreds of millions of Europeans opposes to that or bothers that 6% of the Commission’s expenditure goes for translation. After all, as a citizen of an EU-country, I certainly expect any relevant information to be provided to me in my own language.

Do we have to fear, however, that one day some compromise will have to be done just for the sake of efficiency?

What appears as the most obvious question is the right of our elected MPs, Governments’ ministers and public institutions to communicate with Brussels in each one's native language the same way I am entitled to do. How important is it that my Minister or Head of a public institution receives all the letters from Brussels translated? Am I as taxpayer ready to pay that? Or, may I expect these guys to be able to communicate in English with each other? In the private sector, people working for subsidiaries rarely communicate with their HQ in their own language after all.

I don't mind a new balance to be found one day. There is a line demarking the language being the »key element of cultural identity« and its function as instrument of communication.

With all our history behind us, we can hardly envisage to use the Mauritian linguistic pragmatism here in Europe, or even less expect the EU to get as unified as, for that matter, the USA.

So yes, in spite of that demarking line lowered one day, the translator's job remains essential for Europe for a while.