Which languages will the Europeans speak in 2025? Heavy trends in the EU’s new linguistic equilibriums in one generation from now

- Excerpt GEAB N°13 (March 16, 2007) -

Which languages will the Europeans speak in 2025? Heavy trends in the EU’s new linguistic equilibriums in one generation from now
For at least a decade, LEAP/E2020 has been conducting in-depth grass root-studies on the heavy trends affecting Europe’s linguistic sphere.

Beyond the mere cultural interest conveyed by these studies, LEAP/E2020 sees them as powerful decision assistance tools intended for individuals (parents, for the education of their children) as much as for collective groups (educational public institutions, universities, states, international companies). Individual and collective strategies as regards language education are long-term processes based on fundamental choices made at least one generation earlier. Mistakes of anticipation are paid a big price: complete inadequacy between linguistic offer and demand, between a population’s language literacy and its socio-economic linguistic needs (in terms of commercial, cultural, scientific and political exchanges).

These anticipations also have important connections with the political evolution of the EU, as indeed languages are no neutral communication instruments, but convey comprehensive visions of society and the world. Lastly, future trends in this field enable to identify more clearly the large-scale modifications that are about to affect the European project (1).

The evolution of Europe’s great linguistic equilibriums of course largely depends on the global trends in this field (2); but, as a result of its democratic structure, of its demographic weight (500 million citizens), of its linguistic diversity and of the oldness of its languages, the EU presents a specific linguistic environment, moved by its own internal laws and anchored in a long history of linguistic interactions.

According to LEAP/E2020, Europe’s linguistic evolution in the next twenty years is therefore determined by two fundamental historical constraints and five strategic factors.

A- Two fundamental historical constraints

1. Populations in the end always manage to impose their language on their elites.

2. Languages are moved by international dynamics involving the power and attractiveness of the culture they belong to.

1. Gradual disappearing of Latin (from the XVIth centurty onward), relinquishing of French (from the XIXth century onward), weakening of German (after 1945) and Russian (after 1989),… Europe’s modern history provides many illustrations of the way populations systematically impose their language onto their elites, and contradict their attempt to adopt (more or less free-willingly) foreign languages. The democratic nature of each EU member state strengthens even more the peoples’ « enduring omnipotence » when it comes to languages. In corollary to this constraint, these elites’ opinions or wishes have no lasting impact and therefore no capability to plan or anticipate the linguistic future of the EU. On the other hand, it is a natural feature of these elites to often seek for means to differentiate themselves from the « people »; thus, they are naturally tempted to adopt or make use of foreign languages in order to mark their difference.

2. The second constraint enables to define the calendar of the evolution imposed by the first constraint. The gradual (sometimes sudden) weakening of the power and attractiveness of a dominant language’s underlied culture determines the speed and scope of rise of the new popular choice: whether it is in favour of its own national language or in favour of a new dominant language.

This double constraint thus defines the operational framework of forthcoming linguistic evolutions in the EU.

B- Five strategic factors

LEAP/E2020 identified five key factors that will shape the linguistic face of the European Union in a generation from now:

1. The great return of German: The end of Europe’s division, the reconstitution of Central Europe, and the fading away of the post-WWII era makes way for German to re-emerge as one of the great trans-European languages by 2025. The ongoing democratisation of the European Union (meaning the growing involvement of the European public opinion in decision making processes) directly serves the importance of German, a language spoken by over 100 million « natives ».

2. The revival of French: The significant demographic growth of France (and French-speaking countries where a large part of EU immigrants come from) is key in the revival of French as a major trans-European language. With some 80 million « native » French-speakers (fastly growing), French is already the EU’s second mother-tongue.
The fading away of the post-1939/1945 era, which initiated the collapse of the French language’s attractiveness as the political language of the elites (3), plays a positive role in French’s renewed vitality.

3. The end of English (Anglo-American) as the hegemonic language of modernity: The end of the world order born after 1945 signalled by the ongoing collapse of US influence, suppresses the main motivation to the use of English (or rather, American) in Europe (and worldwide). The trend is strengthened by the weakening of Anglo-American on its own territory: in the US, Spanish is the ascending language to the detriment of English in many states; in the UK, the rise of Celtic languages conveyed by the claims of independent or separatist movements in Ireland, Wales and Scotland, erodes the share of English on the British Isles (only the third mother-tongue spoken in the EU, fastly decreasing). Over the next twenty years, on the European continent, Anglo-American will survive in the “niche” of international languages as a popular common language based on a very limited vocabulary.

Europe’s language map
Europe’s language map
4. The entry of Russian into Europe’s linguistic « purgatory »: Rejected because of its authoritative imposition on ex-communist Europe after 1945, Russian will remain for at least ten more years a language under-spoken in the EU for political reasons. But, in the event of a peaceful EU-Russia relationship, possibly reinforced by a successful strategic partnership, LEAP/E2020 forecasts that Russia will grow as THE slavish common language of the EU from 2015 onward. This evolution might not be reflected at the institutional level (Russian will not become an official language of the EU) but it will be a grass-root fact all over the Eastern part of the EU.

5. The growth of Spanish as an international language: The growth of Spanish as the international European language will not go along with its growth as a dominant trans-European language. Indeed, the growing part played by Latin America worldwide and the fast extension of Spanish-speaking territories in North America, result in Spanish being one of the three major European international languages, next to English and French (themselves supported by large linguistic pools located outside the EU). Nevertheless the small amount of Spanish-speakers inside the EU, the linguistic fragmentation going on in Spain (Basque country and Catalonia) and the existence of another Latin language (French) among the dominant trans-European languages will prevent Spanish from reaching this status until at least 2025.

All the trends described above will be strengthened by the increasing demand for intra-European communication, entailing the rise of a number of individual and collective players unable to resort to costly translation systems, therefore in need of some « passive » command (understanding) of foreign languages, facilitated by the use of languages from a same linguistic family. Simultaneously, the other dominant trend will consist in resorting more and more to systems of automatic translation in order to circulate multilingual texts to a large scale for limited costs.

To conclude, though the linguistic matrix of the EU by 2025 will stay in line with Umberto Eco’s « Translation is the language of Europe », LEAP/E2020 is able to draw a clear (though moving, according to the fields of activity) linguistic picture of Europe based on the vitality of national and regional languages, whatever today’s EU elites may think (4):

1. Four dominant trans-European languages, English-German-French-Russian, out of which three only will be official (Russian won’t) and two will be the selective languages of EU elites in twenty years from now (French and German, since English will no longer be positively discriminating).
2. Three international European languages, English-French-Spanish.

Notes :

(1) Of course, besides these developments, some sectorial specificities will survive and maintain this or that particular language in privileged « niches ».

(2) Indeed, the rise of Asian languages such as Chinese or Tagalog, or Arabic language, will modify global linguistic equilibriums. However, in a generation from now, European international languages will still bear significant assets, as they relate to large linguistic pools outside the European continent, for instance in Africa and in America.

(3) As a result of the sudden collapse of the « Great Nation » in front of Hitler’s forces.

(4) Elites are always incapable of imagining anything else than yesterday’s trends, i.e. trends which made them « elites ». That is the reason why today’s EU elites keep on thinking that the dominant trends of the 1980s/2000s (years of the rise in power of Anglo-American, which shaped their linguistic skills) will go on forever.

Lundi 29 Octobre 2007
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GEAB N°90 - Contents

- Published on December 15, 2014 -

Global systemic crisis 2015 – Oil, currencies, finance, societies, the Middle East : Massive storm in the Western port!

. « Global systemic crisis: the end of the West we have known since 1945 »
. The oil crisis is systemic because it is linked to the end of the all-oil era
. The US in one hell of a state
. Europe post-Ukraine: lots of questions
. Three missions for the new Europe: resolve the Ukrainian crisis, put Euro-Russian relations back on the right path, avoid a European QE
. Middle East: traditional alliances’ big waltz
. Saudi Arabia, Iran: the allies change sides
. And Western « values » in all this
Read the public announcement

2015 – new phase of the crisis: the oil systemic crisis

. The impact of speculation
. Price War
. Systemic oil crisis and finance
. Systemic oil crisis and geopolitics

Investments, trends and recommendations

. Oil: beware!
. Energy intensive industries like airline companies
. Renewable energy: the good and the bad
. 2015: Euro & Yen rebound
. Gold: still safe

Evaluation of our anticipations for 2014
(from GEAB N° 81 in January 2014): a 69% success rate