How will Brexit affect the English language?

Will English still be the lingua franca in the EU after Brexit? Only 1% of the EU now recognise English as an official language (Malta and Republic of Ireland). This blog explores the effects of Brexit on the English language and examines if the English language will lose its importance in the EU after Brexit.

by Ciaran Donnelly

How Will Brexit affect the English language Bestow Education

First of all, where did the word Brexit come from?

The origins of the word Brexit

The word Brexit is believed to have been first mentioned in May 2012 by Peter Wilding.

However, Grexit was the first ‘country name + exit suffix’ combination, preceding Brexit by 3 months. It was coined by Citigroup economist Ebrahim Rahbari in February 2012.

Three years after the term Brexit was first used, there was the Brexit referendum. Then the UK government created the position of Brexit Secretary. Finally, Brexit was awarded The Word of the Year from Collins Dictionary in 2016.

Many companies proceeded to trademark products such as German Brexit Tea and Brexit Biscuits.

It is no wonder that by the beginning of 2021, we are, in one sense, relieved to hear that Boris Johnson will have achieved his goal to ‘get Brexit done’.

Brexit will have a significant impact on the English language.

Has Brexit changed the English language?

Yes, without a doubt. Just have a look at this select vocabulary list that introduces new vocabulary, new meanings, and new variations:

  • Remainer (Ironically, Peter Wilding was a remainer)
  • Remoaner
  • Hard Brexit/Soft Brexit
  • Irish Backstop
  • Flextension
  • Divorce Bill
  • Crashing out

Linguisticaly, the use of exit as a suffix has become very popular e.g. Megxit. The last time a suffix like this appeared in the English language was probably the ‘-gate’ from the Watergate scandal.

The biggest impact of Brexit on the English language is most likely to be felt in the EU.

What is the future of the English language in the EU?

English is one of the 24 official languages in the European Union. However, it has been the most popular working language in the EU. Yet, only Malta and the Republic of Ireland recognise English as an official language. So, the English speaking population in the EU accounts for:

  1. 1% of the population in the EU
  2. In 2018, a €501 million net contribution to the EU. This pales in comparison to other countries like Germany who contributed €17.213 billion.

It is also important to state that countries like Germany and France are very proud of their unique culture and may want to showcase this more in the EU.

Further, the EU language policy promotes linguistic diversity. There are many Romance languages spoken in the EU, such as French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, and Spanish. It could be proposed that these languages can be used as working languages because they would be easier to learn by other EU countries.

However, would preventing the use of English as a lingua franca really achieve linguistic diversity and create a fair working environment?

Why should the EU keep using the English language after Brexit?

At the moment, only 1% of the EU population benefits from using English as an official language. This means that 99% would have to use it as a second language, giving very few linguistic advantages to countries communicating in the EU. English could be seen as a ‘neutral language’ for EU Member States to communicate through.

If English remains a working language, it would make it easier to communicate with other important world powers. In the USA and Australia, English is the first language. Importantly, many countries around the world learn English because they recognise the importance of it when communicating in the modern world.

Using English in the EU does not diminish the cultural diversity of the union, if anything, it accommodates for it by creating a level playing field for everyone to communicate through.

What is EU English?

Another argument for keeping English as a working language in the EU is the development of EU English.

It is important to remember that there are many different dialects of English such as American English, Australian English, British English, Irish English and also EU English.

These dialects are reflective of the societies they are used in. They are influenced by the accents, motivations, attitudes, personalities, and mother tongue of the speakers. As the EU is such a culturally diverse collection of countries, it can adapt and enrich the English language in its own unique way.

For examples of ‘EU Speak’, look at the below:

  1. In EU English, training is used as a countable noun e.g. ‘I completed three trainings last week’. In British English, it is an uncountable noun e.g. ‘I finished three training sessions last week’.
  2. Actual is an example of a ‘false friend’ word i.e. it looks like the same word (e.g. in French, German, Spanish), but it means something different in English. It means real or existing in English, while in other languages it means current. In EU documents, it takes on the European meaning.

Conclusion

My personal opinion is that the English language should, and will, remain very important as a working language in the EU after Brexit. I’d speculate that some of the original member states and bigger net contributors to the union will request promotion of their languages in the union e.g. French and German. I believe this will happen in some circumstances, but English will retain its importance in the EU.

I hope you enjoyed this article. If you’d like to add anything to this piece, please comment below so it can be discussed.

Further reading

If you found this interesting, you may enjoy the below blogs

Why do Australians Speak English?

Two Life-enhancing Benefits of Expanding your Vocabulary

Follow Bestow Education on Instagram or Twitter for more English language content.

2 thoughts on “How will Brexit affect the English language?”

  1. English is not the mother tongue in Malta. Maltese is the mother tongue. English is recognised as a duel national language where the majority of Maltese speak English but as a second language.

    1. Hi Anthony,
      Thank you for clearing this up. I have made adjustments to this post to reflect your information.
      Many thanks again,
      Ciaran

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