Saturday, September 23, 2006


Language barriers

A European Court judgment during the week, as reported here, has been commented on here. The case was brought by an English lawyer wishing to continue to practise in Luxembourg without passing a test in that country's (three!) languages:
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) yesterday (19 September) threw out the requirement for a lawyer to speak the language of the country he wants to practise in.
This has of course to be seen in its proper context: the relevant provision of the European directive at issue before the ECJ contemplates migrant lawyers practising ‘under their home-country professional title’ - a French lawyer wishing to practise in England, for example, would do so as an avocat, not as a barrister or solicitor - so that it is clear to clients in the host country that the foreign lawyer is not necessarily conversant with the local law or proficient in the language. In addition, the foreign lawyer can be required to work in association with a local lawyer (who is subject to any language-testing requirements). And rules of professional conduct in any event debar lawyers from taking on cases in which they lack competence (including linguistic competence).

Moreover, this is one area of law that has been fully harmonised at EU level, so what applies here cannot be transposed to the great many other areas that have not been harmonised and perhaps never will be. For example, there was a case some years ago brought by a Dutch art teacher employed in a school in Ireland who objected to having to pass an examination in the Irish language in order to be made permanent, arguing that her day-to-day work did not necessitate any knowledge of the language. The ECJ decided however that the requirement was justified on public policy grounds.

For these and other reasons, the scope of the judgment is perhaps not as far-reaching as might appear.

On the subject of using language barriers to keep people out, Onze Taal reports that Australia is to introduce language testing for immigrants (Ook Australië gaat taaltest voor immigranten invoeren, 16 September 2006). Given that Australia has a hundred or so languages (compared to Luxembourg’s three), such a test, if properly designed, could prove an extremely effective barrier to entry. Happily, it turns out, it is only English they propose to test.

The indigenous peoples of Australia, whose linguistic (and territorial) heritage has been grievously eroded, must be kicking themselves they didn’t come up with a similar wheeze a couple of centuries ago (when there would have been even more languages for the then ‘immigrants’ to master).

Oh dear - I was away for a couple of days and I posted briefly on this before seeing you had done so.
I could just add: do you know Anggarrgoon, a weblog largely on aboriginal languages and fieldwork?
Thanks for the link.

I wonder if it's ever been suggested that speakers of the different aboriginal languages should adopt esperanto as a lingua franca.
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