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8 june 2015, alea jacta est

Having just watched the eurovision (11 may 2014, the morning after) with my youngest - little more than a blatant attempt to stay awake after bedtime - I was struck, again, by how pervasive, in song and commentary, english was. Across the continent it's no longer a question of what language europe would adopt it had a lingua franca, but rather whether or not to officially adopt english. This is somewhat ironic, given that those who speak three languages are trilingual, those who speak two are bilingual and those who speak just one are english. Some 38% of europeans now speak english, well ahead of german (12%) and french (11%). The reasons for this are of course less olde england and more new world, but no less potent for that - and of course self-reinforcing. As more and more speak the common language, more and more want and even need it. In the european institutions, where 30 years ago french almost totally prevailed, some 70-80% of eu documents are now produced in that funny language where skating on thin ice can get you into hot water and fat chance and slim chance are the same thing. Even french oscars (the c├ęsars), much to my francophone other half's disgust, now go to english-language films. For the eu single market, this is a useful trend. Compared to the internal mobility of americans, the biggest barrier in europe is language. The ability to actually talk to each other is a crucial element in encouraging people to shop around and to work where they are needed. At a more philosophical level, can there ever really be a "community" let alone a "union" when its supposed citizens only actually speak to others of their own nationality ? Whereas once upon a time nations harnessed language to the cause of a common identity through compulsory use in universities, courts, civil service and the army, europe's language is emerging in a resoundingly "bottom up" way. The english may yet edge away from the eu, but at least the new neighbours will be able to communicate across the channel.