Lingua franca sought

In the first shot of what is expected to be a long and passionate war of words, Greece’s European Commissioner yesterday proposed that Greece adopt English as its second official language in order to be prepared for a united Europe that soon will involve more than 20 different languages. It is a major problem, Anna Diamantopoulou said in an interview with Kathimerini yesterday. After enlargement takes place, we will be talking over 20 different languages. It is hard to imagine simultaneous translation into 20-22 languages, she added. The question is likely to come up soon and everyone is avoiding it. I have to say that Greece should get in early and make English its second official language, said Diamantopoulou, who is in charge of social affairs. Acknowledging that this suggestion is likely to set off a chain reaction among Greece’s seemingly infinite number of linguistic traditionalists, Diamantopoulou stressed, I say that without taking into account all those who will immediately fear the loss of our cultural heritage and ethnic identity. I don’t think that Greeks have anything to lose by learning to speak English as well as Greek. Diamantopoulou noted that the next wave of the EU’s enlargement will be the largest in its history. It is not simply that another 10 countries are joining, but 75 million people with eight new languages, she said. Greece’s education minister, Petros Efthymiou, who belongs to the same party as Diamantopoulou, responded to her proposal yesterday by saying that Greece wanted the EU instead to respect all its members’ languages. Every opinion should be respected, he said. But I want to stress that Greece’s consistent position is that the EU must advance and respect all the national tongues of its member states, which should be considered equal working languages. We maintain this position at all levels of the EU, either with respect to the Commission or the European Parliament or any other European institution, he told reporters. He said that Greece has an open language policy, adding that English, French and German were taught from the fourth grade. He said his ministry was negotiating with Italy and Spain in order to teach their languages as well. We cultivate the parity of all languages and the sovereignty of every national tongue as an official working language of the EU, he said. Indicative of the further reaction likely is the fact that last January, 40 members of the Athens Academy issued a declaration warning of the threat posed to the Greek alphabet by the increasing use of Western characters, and calling on all Greeks to protect their millennia-old writing system. This tendency is particularly evident in texts produced by computers, they complained. The European Union holds a ministerial meeting on enlargement with candidate countries, including Cyprus, in Brussels.

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