Tuesday, April 17, 2001

Some Fear National Languages are Threatened

NY Times, April 16, 2001
HALWIL, Switzerland � Throughout Europe, English is growing in use and acceptability. Beyond the schoolhouse here, European universities, particularly in northern Europe, are giving courses in science, philosophy and business in English. Even some companies, like the French telecommunications giant Alcatel � state owned until 1982 � now use English as their internal language. But the growing use of English is not going down easily everywhere. In one European Union survey, 70 percent of those surveyed agreed with the proposition that "everyone should speak English." But nearly as many said their own language needed to be protected...."If you start to eliminate the intellectual community and the economic community, you can eventually kill off a language." Traditionally Germans have been proud of their language's ability to absorb new words. But lately the tide seems to be turning. In one recent poll, 53 percent of those asked said they opposed the use of English words. Yet English marches on. It is now the most widely spoken second language in Europe. According to a European Union poll, released in February, more than 40 percent of Europeans surveyed say they "know" English as their second language. Add to that the 16 percent of European Union members who speak English as a first language, and already more than half of the union's citizens believe that they are conversant in English. Some experts say the language has become so prevalent that it is increasingly being thought of not as a foreign language, but as a basic skill like mathematics. Polls show that there is a sizable difference of opinion between Switzerland's majority German speakers and the smaller number of French speakers. In one survey by Le Matin, 62 percent of the French-speaking Swiss polled said teaching English should be a priority, while the proportion rose to 73 percent among German speakers. But the difference grew when people were asked whether English should be taught before a second national language. While just over half of German speakers supported the idea, 71 percent of French speakers opposed it.

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