Wednesday, March 17, 2010

English At The EU

I found this lament that English is the de facto universal language at the EU simultaneously funny and compelling. On one hand, people have to decide on a common language. It just doesn't make sense and is frankly impractical to have everybody master two or three foreign languages. On the other hand, I'm sympathetic to native speakers of other languages that settling on a common language other than their own is problematic for them.

Oddly, this brings me to game theory. There's a game theory game called battle of the sexes. I'll just paste the premise from the Wikipedia article:
Imagine a couple that agreed to meet this evening, but cannot recall if they will be attending the opera or a football match. The husband would most of all like to go to the football game. The wife would like to go to the opera. Both would prefer to go to the same place rather than different ones.

Unlike the Prisoner's Dilemma, from which most people can readily foresee application to the political or economic realm, the battle of the sexes situations occur at times when we cannot imagine that the parties wouldn't come to an agreement, some international postal standard, for example.

Well, my professor brought up this one:
The nature of international air travel is such that you need a common language to transmit instructions to the pilots arriving from across the world. It happens to be English, for a variety of historical reasons, but you have to assume the French raised a huge fit at some point because, well, they're French. Now, they're better off having a standard language than not having one. So, they acquiesced. But you know they'd have preferred it be French.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I worked at the WHO for a while (or OMS, ymmd) and there was a lot of resentment that the workplace was Anglophone from French speakers. We were in Geneva, but that battle was lost, mostly. A few divisions were French - dentistry, for some reason, as I remember.

Air Traffic joke, one of my faves:
Lufthansa (in German): "Ground, what is our start clearance time?"
Ground (in English): "If you want an answer you must speak in English."
Lufthansa (in English): "I am a German, flying a German airplane, in Germany. Why must I speak English?"
Unknown voice from another plane (in a beautiful British accent): "Because you lost the bloody war."


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