The (Hegemonic?) Role of the English Language

In: Nordic Journal of International Law
Christian Tomuschat Professor Emeritus, Faculty of Law, Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany; President of the OSCE Court of Conciliation and Arbitration

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Latin was the language mostly used by international lawyers in the early centuries of European history, later replaced by French. In the course of the 20th century, the monopoly of French was progressively eroded by English. At world level, English has become the primary instrument of communication, whose dominance is not confined to diplomatic intercourse, but has also intruded into academia. Numerous international law journals have switched to English at least as a supplementary language. This ascendance of English has the great advantage of ensuring easy communication among lawyers world-wide. Yet the concentration on English leads to neglect of writing in other languages, and accordingly, to an impoverishment of intellectual debate. The use of English, tends to degenerate into a tool of political hegemony. All international lawyers should make an effort to reach at least a passive knowledge of the traditional European languages in order to avoid a “déformation linguistique”.

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