The reason why the European Union will never be what some of its politicians would like it to be — or say they would like it to be (though one often seriously wonders!) — a United States of Europe — was staring them in the face yesterday when David Cameron and . . . Francois Hollande gave their joint press conference yesterday in the luxury furnishings of the Elysee Palace .
More accurately, what Cameron and Hollande had to say impinged on the ears of all the journalists there. And impinging on our English ears, too, as we saw and heard what Hollande had to say when on television — that is, when the volume of Hollande’s voice was reduced to a whisper and an English translation was dubbed over it so that we could understand what he was saying (despite the French that many of us had so feebly tried to learn at school!).
President Hollande spoke in French and Prime Minister Cameron spoke in English. And it’s as simple as that! Yet when Robert Schuman and others were preparing the Europe Declaration 56 years ago they did so in English. This was not because of any superiority of the English language but because it was the most convenient language at the time. This is just the same today. Whenever the leaders of the 28 countries of the EU meet together, which is plenty often for reasons of grand dinners and photo shoots and attempts to persuade the masses of the EU’s credibility, they speak in English among themselves.
That is, Belgians with Greeks, or Germans with Italians, or Finns with Spaniards. Yet English is not the official language of the European Union! Why not? It’s because the French are still French and the Germans are still German. Or, in other words, the European Union has not been the product of military conquest. All the various languages of Europe have been allowed to continue as before.
The original languages haven’t been repressed — as the English did ruthlessly with Welsh and with Gaelic and with Irish and with Cornish when the ridiculous concept of the UNITED Kingdom started gripping the power mania of English-born politicians (and the reality of the British Army!) — the Yorkshire man, Oliver Cromwell most of all, Or, as the Americans did when Napoleon sold them French America (the Louisiana Purchase) — the major part of the continent. Or, as the USSR didn’t do after the 1917 Communist Revolution. The result of this humanitarian lapse was that, one day, when President Yeltsin became too drunk to wonder what was going on the component Republics declared that they would go it alone again.
And, while we are at it, we might as well observe, even the mightiest ancient Emperor on earth — that of Qin of China in 200BC — didn’t do so with the myriad languages of those countries he had conquered. Even his army was not powerful enough to repress all their languages. However, Emperor Qin was powerful enough to require all the scholars of his Empire (probably no more than a couple of hundred of them) to write only in one language on pain of death.
So they did what was hitherto impossible and cobbled together what is the only non-phonetic written language on earth — beautiful though its calligraphy has developed into today. But the impossibility of learning enough words in Chinese is the reason why an educated Chinese person today knows how to read and write more words in English than he does Mandarin (the ‘official’ language) or Cantonese or the 30 other main spoken languages of China (if any of them exist at all on paper except in archives).
This will be the reason why, if the world descends into even more economic depression — and when even China itself would be affected — China would then be in great danger of breaking up into separate nation-states. What would be interesting then is whether each new (or, rather, re-gained) entity decide to make its own spoken language official and to develop its own written phonetic form.
Nation-states today are only hunter-gatherer groups writ large. And when a hunter-gatherer group becomes too large and spits up into two then both groups rapidly develop a culture of their own. Within two or three generations at the most then there are two ‘official’ languages.
But when civil servants of the main European countries started to meet together surreptitiously after the Second Wold War — speaking in English, of course — and to manipulate their political masters into the idea of some sort of united Europe which would then keep the peace between them for ever, they could never entertain the idea of involving their armies to do so and thus to repress all other languages except one
Paradoxically (so it would seem if one were a philosopher rather than an evolutionary biologist) then just as the idea of a united Europe has survived (and, indeed, grown among civil servants) so have the cultures of the component countries intensified even further. And there is no more eloquent demonstration of this than when soccer matches are held between one country and another with large contingents of supporters of both sides wearing their own national colours and chanting. Each in their own language, of course.
In fact, this might be only the beginning of the people of the 200 nation-states of the world regenerating smaller cultural regions within them, each with their own language in due course — except, of course, that they’ll also have English (perhaps American-English or Chinese-English) as their second language because this happens to be convenient for international (or inter-regional or inter-city) trade as will undoubtedly continue despite cultural variance.
(Postscript to English readers. It won’t matter one little bit whether we vote for or against staying in the EU in the forthcoming referendum. The EU has a momentum of its own — towards “ever larger union” [when it will cease to be European, as it almost is already] or ultimate dissolution.)