What Does Brexit Mean for Translations in the European Union?

What is Brexit?

A combination of the words “Britain” and “exit,” it is the nickname for a British exit of the European Union. The United Kingdom decided to leave the European Union (EU) on June 23, 2016. This was a huge decision that came as the result of a referendum—or public vote of nearly all citizens of voting age—in which more than 30 million people voted. It was not a decision that was entered into lightly.
The European Union is a group of 28 European countries that are tied by an economic and political alliance. This political understanding led the way for the use of the euro (the currency used in 19 EU countries) and permits citizens in the EU to travel and settle across borders without a passport. The EU even employs its own parliament and makes decisions regarding things like trade, transportation, and environmental policy. The EU allows the countries within it to function largely as a single entity. It was initially put in place to allow for the free movement of people, goods, and money under what it termed a “single market.”
There has been a lot of aftermath however from the Brexit decision being made. The vote is still the subject of daily debates and continues to make headlines across the E.U.

What we are seeing so far?

One of the unanticipated consequences of this decision has been the reset of the languages spoken across Europe. English is still heavily used but with the exit of the UK, English has lost a little bit of its foothold across Europe as the other countries plan to continue on without the UK.

Most recently we saw Theresa May’s refusal to conduct the Brexit negotiations in French. And there has been a more official plan to diminish the English Language’s importance within the EU itself. German is the most spoken language on the continent (with 90 million speakers), 38% of adults in Europe still speak English as a second language. As such, there clearly remains a need to adapt English to suit the needs of those on the continent who continue to speak it. Which has given rise to what people are now calling EU English.

English in the EU, spoken primarily by non-native speakers, has taken on a life of its own. There are changes happening in the everyday English spoken in Europe. You may hear a mobile phone referred to as a “Handy”, and be asked to SMS your friend instead of text.

The UK will no longer be able to define which words are considered officially sanctioned and correct. The newfound neutrality of English is likely to help it survive Brexit- but without the UK’s influence in Europe, the new European English will ultimately change and may not resemble what it once did. Once the UK has finally Brexited, we may see the standards for spoken English throughout Europe will shift and be dictated by those who primarily speak English as a second language, rather than a first. In fact, there have been rumblings all across Europe to officially remove English as an official language. Ireland lists Gaelic as it’s official EU language and Malta lists Maltese. So, it seems that without the UK’s membership, there isn’t another large player in the EU that claims English as their official language.

We should note however that Ireland still strongly supports English to be included in the EU as an official language, so perhaps a total demise of the language is an exaggeration that will never come to fruition. Out of the population in Ireland, a vast 93% still claim English as their mother tongue. Even though they claim Gaelic as their official language, the EU has not been able to officially translate all public documents into Gaelic because of a shortage of translators that speak Gaelic. So even if English were kicked from the list of official languages, we have to assume that it will still play a large role in the EU.

After all, so many countries have made a huge investment in learning and using English. It’s still the most common language in the world that is learned as a second language. We also can’t fail to mention that most of the EU officials speak English and conduct a good portion of their work in English.

The Future of English and Translation

Time will tell on how Brexit will affect translations in the future. There will be changes for sure, but we most likely will find that the translation business will just grow, change and adapt as it always has.

The EU itself employs more than 5,000 translators and interpreters, about half of which work for the Directorate General for Translation (DGT) in Brussels and Luxembourg. And as the UK is preparing to exit, it’s actually producing an increase in translation work as thousands of documents need to be translated, Brexit documents, treaties, agreements, commentaries and laws. There are all sorts of economic and legal documents that need translation as Britain and the EU community establishes new operating and cooperation rules.

Even once Brexit is complete, there will always be a need for English translation, that need is probably more prevalent than ever. We’ll just have to see how the common words and expressions used change. Discover more about Espresso Translations’ services.

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