Research Handbooks in Law and Economics series
Edited by Thomas Eger and Hans-Bernd Schäfer
Chapter 15: The Economics of Multilingualism in the EU
Jan Fidrmuc 1 INTRODUCTION In little more than half a century, the EU (including its predecessors) has undergone deep and wide-ranging transformations. It has grown from being a rather loose grouping of six Western European nations to include most European countries, extending from the Baltic to the Black Sea and from the Iberian to the Balkan peninsula. In the process, the European Union has become increasingly heterogeneous. It now counts 27 member countries with diverse historical legacies (from the Roman Empire in the West to the Russian and Ottoman Empires in the East), dramatically different levels of economic development (ranging from rich Luxembourg to poor Bulgaria), various cultural and religious traditions, and a multitude of languages. On the last criterion, the diversity of Europe is perhaps at its most evident: the EU counts 23 official languages at present, compared with just four at the time of its founding. The list of official EU languages includes some that are spoken by large numbers of people in Europe: German is spoken by approximately 85 million Europeans, while English, French and Italian are each spoken by around 60 million. Some of the official EU languages are also spoken widely outside of Europe: besides English, Spanish and Portuguese are notable examples. On the other hand, several of the official languages are spoken by relatively few: Estonian and Slovene are spoken by approximately 1–2 million while Maltese and Irish are spoken by around half a million each (moreover, the majority of speakers of Maltese...
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