Au revoir anglais? EU could drop English as official tongue after Brexit

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English may no longer be the official language of the EU

BRUSSELS, June 27 (Reuters) - English, the world's second language and the main working tongue of EU institutions, may no longer be an official language of the European Union once Britain leaves the bloc, a senior EU lawmaker said on Monday.

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The symbolic, if impractical, move would further reduce London's influence on the continent, and infuriate the Irish.

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Brexit protesters in favor of staying in the EU
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Brexit protesters in favor of staying in the EU
Two activists with the EU flag and Union Jack painted on their faces kiss each other in front of Brandenburg Gate to protest against British exit from the European Union, in Berlin, Germany, June 19, 2016. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke
Anti-government demonstrators hold placards reading "No Brexit" during a protest outside the parliament in Athens, Greece June 15, 2016. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
A protestor uses a megaphone to address a crowd as they gather outside The Houses of Parliament to demonstrate against the European Union (EU) referendum result, in London, U.K., on Saturday, June 25, 2016. The U.K. voted to quit the European Union after more than four decades in a stunning rejection of the continent's postwar political and economic order. Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A protestor holds a placard which reads 'YES 2 EU' to demonstrate against the European Union (EU) referendum result, outside The Houses of Parliament in London, U.K., on Saturday, June 25, 2016. The U.K. voted to quit the European Union after more than four decades in a stunning rejection of the continent's postwar political and economic order. Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A protestor holding a European Union (EU) flag, addresses a crowd as he demonstrates against the European Union (EU) referendum result, in London, U.K., on Saturday, June 25, 2016. The U.K. voted to quit the European Union after more than four decades in a stunning rejection of the continent's postwar political and economic order. Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A protest camp of people calling for a second referendum on Scottish independence, in Edinburgh, Scotland on June 25, 2016, following the pro-Brexit result of the UK's EU referendum vote. The result of Britain's June 23 referendum vote to leave the European Union (EU) has pitted parents against children, cities against rural areas, north against south and university graduates against those with fewer qualifications. London, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU but Wales and large swathes of England, particularly former industrial hubs in the north with many disaffected workers, backed a Brexit. / AFP / OLI SCARFF (Photo credit should read OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images)
A demonstrator holds a placard that reads 'So Long Great Britain' during a protest against the pro-Brexit outcome of the UK's June 23 referendum on the European Union (EU), in central London on June 25, 2016. The result of Britain's June 23 referendum vote to leave the European Union (EU) has pitted parents against children, cities against rural areas, north against south and university graduates against those with fewer qualifications. London, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU but Wales and large swathes of England, particularly former industrial hubs in the north with many disaffected workers, backed a Brexit. / AFP / JUSTIN TALLIS (Photo credit should read JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images)
A demonstrator holds a placard during a protest against the pro-Brexit outcome of the UK's June 23 referendum on the European Union (EU), in central London on June 25, 2016. The result of Britain's June 23 referendum vote to leave the European Union (EU) has pitted parents against children, cities against rural areas, north against south and university graduates against those with fewer qualifications. London, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU but Wales and large swathes of England, particularly former industrial hubs in the north with many disaffected workers, backed a Brexit. / AFP / JUSTIN TALLIS (Photo credit should read JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 25: A small group of young people gather to protest on Parliament Square the day after a majority of the British public voted for leaving the European Union on June 25, 2016 in London, England. The ramifications of the historic referendum yesterday that saw the United Kingdom vote to Leave the European Union are still being fully understood. The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who is under pressure from within his party to resign has blamed the 'Brexit' vote on 'powerlessness', 'austerity' and peoples fears over the issue of immigration. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 25: A small group of young people gather to protest on Parliament Square the day after a majority of the British public voted for leaving the European Union on June 25, 2016 in London, England. The ramifications of the historic referendum yesterday that saw the United Kingdom vote to Leave the European Union are still being fully understood. The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who is under pressure from within his party to resign has blamed the 'Brexit' vote on 'powerlessness', 'austerity' and peoples fears over the issue of immigration. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 25: A small group of people gather to protest on Parliament Square the day after the majority of the British public voted to leave the European Union on June 25, 2016 in London, England. The ramifications of the historic referendum yesterday that saw the United Kingdom vote to Leave the European Union are still being fully understood. The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who is under pressure from within his party to resign has blamed the 'Brexit' vote on 'powerlessness', 'austerity' and peoples fears over the issue of immigration. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 25: A small group of young people gather to protest on Parliament Square the day after a majority of the British public voted for leaving the European Union on June 25, 2016 in London, England. The ramifications of the historic referendum yesterday that saw the United Kingdom vote to Leave the European Union are still being fully understood. The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who is under pressure from within his party to resign has blamed the 'Brexit' vote on 'powerlessness', 'austerity' and peoples fears over the issue of immigration. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Demonstrators hold placards during a protest against the outcome of the UK's June 23 referendum on the European Union (EU), in central London on June 25, 2016. The result of Britain's June 23 referendum vote to leave the European Union (EU) has pitted parents against children, cities against rural areas, north against south and university graduates against those with fewer qualifications. London, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU but Wales and large swathes of England, particularly former industrial hubs in the north with many disaffected workers, backed a Brexit. / AFP / JUSTIN TALLIS (Photo credit should read JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 25: A small group of people gather to protest on Parliament Square the day after the majority of the British public voted to leave the European Union on June 25, 2016 in London, England. The ramifications of the historic referendum yesterday that saw the United Kingdom vote to Leave the European Union are still being fully understood. The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who is under pressure from within his party to resign has blamed the 'Brexit' vote on 'powerlessness', 'austerity' and peoples fears over the issue of immigration. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND- JUNE 24: Young protesters demonstrate outside Downing Street, following the United Kingdom's decision to leave the EU following the referendum, on June 24, 2016 in London, England. The result from the historic EU referendum has now been declared and the United Kingdom has voted to LEAVE the European Union. (Photo by Mary Turner/Getty Images)
A boat flying a large 'In' flag, campaigning to remain in the EU in the upcoming referendum sails by the British Houses of Parliament to meet a flotilla of boats from the group 'Fishing for Leave' on the river Thames in London on June 15, 2016. A Brexit flotilla of fishing boats sailed up the River Thames into London today with foghorns sounding, in a protest against EU fishing quotas by the campaign for Britain to leave the European Union. / AFP / NIKLAS HALLE'N (Photo credit should read NIKLAS HALLE'N/AFP/Getty Images)
A boat flying a large 'In' flag, campaigning to remain in the EU in the upcoming referendum sails by the British Houses of Parliament to oppose a flotilla of boats from the group 'Fishing for Leave' (L) on the river Thames in London on June 15, 2016. A Brexit flotilla of fishing boats sailed up the River Thames into London today with foghorns sounding, in a protest against EU fishing quotas by the campaign for Britain to leave the European Union. / AFP / NIKLAS HALLE'N (Photo credit should read NIKLAS HALLE'N/AFP/Getty Images)
A boat carrying supporters for a ' remain' vote in the EU referendum including Irish singer Bob Geldof (C) shout and wave at fishing boats supporting a 'leave' vote as they sail on the river Thames in central London on June 15, 2016. A Brexit flotilla of fishing boats sailed up the River Thames into London today with foghorns sounding, in a protest against EU fishing quotas by the campaign for Britain to leave the European Union. / AFP / NIKLAS HALLE'N (Photo credit should read NIKLAS HALLE'N/AFP/Getty Images)
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Each member state has the right to nominate one EU idiom. Although English is the most spoken language in Europe, and an official language in three member states, only Britain legally chose it in Brussels. Ireland chose Gaelic. Malta picked Maltese.

"English is our official language because it has been notified by the UK. If we don't have the UK, we don't have English," Danuta Hubner, chair of the European Parliament's constitutional affairs committee told a news conference on the legal consequences of the British referendum to leave the EU.

English might remain a working language, even if it were no longer an official one, Hubner said, adding that keeping it an official language would require agreement by all member states.

Alternatively, rules could be changed to let countries have more than one official language, Hubner suggested.

French was the dominant language in the EU institutions until the 1990s, when the arrival of Sweden, Finland and Austria tilted the balance, amplified by central and east European countries that had adopted English as their second tongue.

EU documents and legal texts are translated into all 24 official languages of the bloc. If English were to lose that status, Britons would have to do the translation themselves.

English is also one of the three languages used to apply for EU patents. This gives English-speaking researchers and companies an edge over competitors who speak other languages.

France has never digested its linguistic defeat and imposed French as an equal working language, although the number of speakers is shrinking among Brussels officials. (Editing by Paul Taylor and Robin Pomeroy)

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