We may laugh at hotel notices like "Our wines leave you nothing to hope for" (Switzerland) or "Please leave your values at the front desk" (France), but Britain is more closely linked to Europe than many people realise. The country's mother tongue is fast becoming the universal foreign language of Europeans. Part of the reasons for its popularity is that English is the "pop-speak": many European artists and groups make recordings in English or besprinkle their lyrics with catchy English words like baby, maybe, happy.
In the early 1980s, the French Minister of Culture, Jacques Lang I think, wanted to restrict the number of British and American records that radio stations and discos could play, but had to abandon the idea because they would all have gone bankrupt. Not surprisingly,many words to do with an Anglo-American youth-culture have passed into the languages of Europe. Russians play their diski and Italians listen to long playings. Russian teenagers put on their shoozy (trainers) to joggen (German) or to watch hoki (Hungarian = ice-hockey) .
Another strain of Eurospeak arises,indirectly, from the motivation of many young Europeans to improve thair job prospects - since learning English is a passport to wider horizons or higher status. Career ads in many European newspapers are often formulated in English and often demand ..."a working knowledge of English"! I was surprised to read in a French newspaper - La Libération - that English is the official language in Spain. When I visited Spain a couple of years ago, no one at the hotel spoke or understood English! It seems that French, though traditionally influential there, is fast declining in prestige. In Germany, Greece and Cyprus English is big business, whether in boom or crash. At street level, we can see fastfood, cocktail bar and check-outs.
Although there are seven other official languages in the EU, English is by far the most commonly used. , and English Euro-jargon abounds among the Eurocrats and Euro-MPs in their Euro-quangos. Wittingly or unwittingly, the French and Swedish, Germans , Greeks and Dutch are being exposed to English in all aspects of their lives, in all media, and are fast becoming sort of ..bilingual!
Not everyone sees Euro English as a welcome development. Most aggressive have been the tactics at a high level of the French government. There are vigilant committees which actively recommend the replacement of English words by purer, native forms : jumbo-jet by gros-porteur, fast food by prêt-à-manger download by télécharger etc. Some effort to exclude English words from the native language has also been made in Greece. Ταχυφαγεία instead of fast food, Ιστιολόγιο instead of blog. Κυκλικός κόμβος instead of round-about, σταμάτα instead of STOP (on the road).
For many years, the British banned the Irish from using their own language (Gaelic). There are now very few people who speak Gaelic as their mother tongue. To my mind this was one of the worst forms of crime - linguistic imperialism. And I applaud the effort of European governments to try and protect the purity of their national language.