Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Subject to interpretation

One of the consequences of the UK’s membership of the EU over the past 40 years has been the extent to which English has become the lingua franca of all the EU institutions.  Although it’s a second language for most of the players, its international status (which actually, of course, owes more to the US than the UK) means that it is a popular and widespread second language across Europe, and indeed the rest of the world.  If the UK does eventually leave the EU, it will only be an official language in two smallish member states (Ireland and Malta), but notwithstanding that I suspect that English will continue to be widely used in the EU institutions.
There is a problem though for those who speak any language as a second language – they can all too easily interpret the words too literally.  Take this story, for example, reporting that EU diplomats were left in disbelief when, in phone calls to EU capitals after her crushing defeat in the Commons, and her widely-publicised promise to seek out alternatives, all the PM did was repeat her previous demands.  How can second language speakers of English be expected to know that sometimes words mean - and are intended to mean - the exact opposite of what they appear to mean?

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