Translation in the EU’s headquarters is an extremely costly business. I have been to conferences with less than 20 participants and yet 23 translators at work. This comes at an incredibly high price. Not to mention the costs of written translations. It is estimated that the EU produces 1.76m pages of translation work a year, costing €300m (£257m).
So why not save billions and make English, or French, or German the Union’s official language? Unfortunately, the price would be a loss of democracy and integration, not to mention a the problems with political equilibrium and representation. How about alternative solutions? A proposal to make Latin the official working language is an old April fool, but some people suggest Esperanto as a fairer lingua franca than English. Others have experimented “Europanto”, a freestyle mash-up language made up of the common body of European languages, without grammar rules and an unlimited vocabulary. Europanto is a joke, of course, but, as reported by the Guardian, it may carry a serious message. Imposing a common European language may be a political impossibility, but that’s not to say that such a language won’t develop naturally in the long run. Last year a frustrated senior translator at the European court of auditors compiled a 33-page document on commonly misused English phrases in EU publications (“to precise” meaning “to summarise” for example, or “actors” to mean “people or organisations involved in doing something” rather than “performer on a stage”). Eurospeak may not sound pretty to native English ears, but it may just be a lingua franca forming in front of our eyes.