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European Commission English Style Guide [pdf] (europa.eu)
62 points by nabla9 27 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 70 comments

I immediately looked for the Commission's ruling on the Oxford comma. They approve it in only limited circumstances:

"An additional comma before the final item is sometimes essential to help clarify the sense. Compare the examples below:

X may not be added to beef, ham or processed meat and milk products [unclear]

The use of X is forbidden in beef, ham or processed meat, and milk products"

Bold, EC, very bold. But could this spark a backlash?

Neither option (Oxford comma or no Oxford comma) is a bold choice. Both alternatives are endorsed by various style guides. Oxford comma is more common in the US, omitting it is more common in England, but every style guide agrees that the comma should be added / removed as necessary to fix ambiguity.

There are definitely cases where introducing the serial comma creates ambiguity, because it can look like an appositive.

Maybe are some irony in have "Oxford" coma use in America. Not use in Britain.

I think the name comes from the fact that Oxford is one of the few British style guides that encourage its use. In the U.S., most style guides at a minimum suggest it as a common option. Hence the somewhat ironic sounding name in a global context.

The English language has transcended the English. The global English a Chinese person speaks with a French person is delightfully unconcerned with the Oxford dictionary.

Iirc there is only one country in the EU left that speaks English.

haha, I just glanced at the contents section and then caught myself reading the same section. But got work to do :)

So dull as this document sounds, I find it interesting reading.

It's interesting that after Brexit, only 1% of EU citizens are native English speakers. That's less than Bulgarian:


I think that's a little misleading though, since virtually all north western Europeans (Netherlands, Scandinavia, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium etc.) that I've met who are under 35 or so speak English at very close to a native level. You can't say that about Bulgarian.

Being half-dutch, I wouldn't say fluent. Have you actually been to those countries, are are you just going by travellers you met?

Even in Holland, which has an extremely good English education from 7 or 8 has plenty of people who are good, but not fluent, and for the older generations it's much, much lower level, broken sentences, much smaller vocabulary.

When I was in France last time, 3 years ago, still plenty who struggled after I'd exhausted my terrible French. I've also noticed the French tend to speak French in game voice chat where almost everyone else will be using English, apart from Italians and maybe Arabic or Turkish or something (I don't really recognise the language).

That seems a little incorrect, considering that Ireland is non-English only on paper.

Ireland is quite small compared to the current size of the EU.

Yep we are about 1 percent or just over I think.

But it has 2/3 the population of Bulgaria.

Ireland has English as an official language, along with Irish.

That's exactly the point. Ireland is only larger country in the EU with native English speakers.

Interestingly it's now quite similar in number to Catalan, which after all these years is still not an official EU language despite being spoken by ~10M people (~4M natively) in multiple countries.

All Spaniards can speak Spanish according to Spanish Constitution.

Thus, Catalan is a regional language. If the EU should have to provide translations and material in each of the regional languages, the cost of coding laws would be quite a bit high.

There's already 24 official languages:


not even those get all translations:


And cost per page is around 80€


Already 2006 translation cost was close to 1bn/year, must be much more now...


I'm genuinely shocked only 43% know English as an additional language. I guess it depends on what level of knowledge they're looking for.

Eastern Europe used to be under USSR influence, which made English language education a rarity. Russian and French were much more popular. The public signs often had French as foreign language, not English.

Older generations often know some French, Russian,German and even Spanish but rarely know any English. Minorities often speak the language of the country they live in, their mother tongue and 1 or 2 of the language listed above.

For younger generation it’s completely different of course, most speak the local language, the mother tongue and English + the language of the country they work if they are working abroad.

In Slovakia, I met a waitress of about 25 years old who only spoke Slovak, Hungarian and a third language that I also didn't speak, maybe it was Russian. In a night train from Poland to Germany, I met someone of about 30 who only spoke Polish and German. So it can still differ a lot per person. (I only speak several western European languages.)

You can have an entire life in and out of the internet with spanish, without need of English. I'm not saying it's the optimal choice, but only if you get technical you'll miss something.

And this is even when localized results separate sites for Spain and Latin america. There's a bit of cross-interaction, but not that much.

I guess this is possible with other languages to a varying degree.

I mean it seems totally plausible. Just based on my interactions in Europe (as a dumb non-multilingual English speaker), I'd just have guessed it'd be higher. I've never come across anyone who's had ZERO English skills, while that was somewhat common in Tokyo, for example. Granted, almost all of my time in Europe has been spent in cities so that probably matters a lot.

I'd guess the average English proficiency also varies a lot by the country.

I've had lots of elderly relatives who were born before WWII (so in their 80's or 90's) who have or had, to my knowledge, almost absolutely zero English skills. They might have known "yes" or "no", but that's probably it. You wouldn't have been able to ask them a question and get an answer. Most of them aren't alive any more, of course, and I think most of the ones who are slightly younger than that (those born close to WWII to baby boomers) actually do have at least some knowledge of English. Some are probably fairly close to zero, though, and I wouldn't count most of them as knowing English as a second language.

Elderly people living in smaller cities or towns or even in the countryside aren't who you'd be likely to meet as a visitor, of course. But as citizens they exist.

You'd probably be hard pressed to find a young person who can't manage to speak any English here, though. I guess that might be more likely in a country like Spain where the local language is globally large enough that you can get by in working life without knowing any English.

In the first year, "s" will replace the soft "c". Sertainly, this will make the sivil servants jump with joy. The hard "c" will be dropped in favour of "k". This should klear up konfusion, and keyboards kan have one less letter.

There will be growing publik enthusiasm in the sekond year when the troublesome "ph" will be replaced with "f". This will make words like fotograf 20% shorter.

In the 3rd year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be expekted to reach the stage where more komplikated changes are possible.

Governments will enkourage the removal of double letters which have always ben a deterent to akurate speling.

Also, al wil agre that the horibl mes of the silent "e" in the languag is disgrasful and it should go away.

By the 4th yer peopl wil be reseptiv to steps such as replasing "th" with "z" and "w" with "v".

During ze fifz yer, ze unesesary "o" kan be dropd from vords kontaining "ou" and after ziz fifz yer, ve vil hav a reil sensi bl riten styl.

Zer vil be no mor trubl or difikultis and evrivun vil find it ezi TU understand ech oza. Ze drem of a united urop vil finali kum tru.

Und efter ze fifz yer, ve vil al be speking German like zey vunted in ze forst plas.

Hihi, weal, francli de inglish languej culd rader be used as a sujestion for combaining multipl langazhes intu ei hosh-posh of sorts. It did lid as rader tu dis steit of afers, after ol. Hau abaut starting wiz pronouncin leters as dei show and no more funi interpreteisions and pronunsiasions.

A phonological reform would be more appropiate than a spelling reform. English texts would keep the same and only the pronunciation would change.

I cheerfully think that there is no way you're correct in this. The inertia of literature is nearly impossible to overcome; the nuance of phonology is impossible.

There wasn't a change in Shakespeare's times? It would be like creating an English dialect with a different pronunciation. Easier than rewritting every text that exists today.

Ha! First we'd have to agree on the existing phonology!

Seeing that Ireland (and Malta) is the only English-speaking country in the EU right now, I'd say why bother...

Very efficient reduction of overhead.

Because 'äwwritzing kauntz in laadsch ämmauntz'.

The EU needs to go further, and adopt a formal 'EU English', providing a framework for schools across the bloc to offer public education in English at all levels, at least in major cities.

Adults can already move across the continent and work and speak English - why not children?

Right now, its basically impossible to move across the continent with a family - you will need to send your children to expensive international schools.

This is definitely one of the factors why the fertility rate in Europe is so low.

For example in Bulgaria, international schooling in English in high school is about $12,000/year/child - more than the average annual salary!

This is one of the major reasons the Anglosphere countries are such major migrant destinations - completely free Government education in English.

> The EU needs to go further, and adopt a formal 'EU English', providing a framework for schools across the bloc to offer public education in English at all levels, at least in major cities.

Never happening. You don't really understand how each country's language is part of our culture.

> Right now, its basically impossible to move across the continent with a family - you will need to send your children to expensive international schools.

Yes, it's easy, you just integrate in the country you live in and have your kids learn the local language.

> This is definitely one of the factors why the fertility rate in Europe is so low.

No, it's because kids are expensive and folks have less kids when access to birth control is decent / when folks are less religious, unless they have strong support from the government. See how having a kid and working as a mother in Germany is still considered shameful.

My cousins back home in France didn't even think twice about having kids at 26-27, because they knew they wouldn't pay outrageous money for daycare or university.

English is already becoming the de facto EU wide language, but things like schooling in English will take a lot more time. Local populations get a bit paranoid about the local language "dying" because a few foreigners choose not to learn it.

The English have now left though, perhaps they'll try and revive French's popularity as the language of diplomacy?

That's what's cemented Englishes ascendancy. No one wanted to give the British yet another advantage, now they're gone.

The French have already lost that battle (English won), but I doubt they'll ever stop pushing their language.

If your only goal is to attract economic migration then this may be fine. I'm quite happy with keeping the diversity of European languages intact and for someone who wants to make a real commitment to a country learning a language shouldn't be a problem.

Also for what it's worth I moved around Europe as a kid coming from a lower middle-class background, didn't go to international schools, and learned two languages just fine. Kids pick languages up fast.

Also what has speaking English or intra-european migration to do with fertility rates? For the European fertility rate it doesn't matter how much you move around in Europe.

>The EU needs to go further

No it doesn't. It is not within the purview of this supranational bureaucracy to be the gatekeeper of the English language. Bulgarians can stick with Bulgarian. There is a lot to do in that country to make it prosper on its own.

With brexit we may want to use US spelling, just to piss m off.

Also with brexit, the only country in the EU that speaks English is Ireland, and even they prefer to say they dont.

Finally we can setup English as the language of the parliament, as it no longer favours one country over an other.

Personally I'd be in favor of a full orthography reform so you can actually write English like it is pronounced.

I wonder how that will be possible without using accented letters. English doesn't use them but it seems like it should.

E.g. Refuse (deny) / Refuse (trash), Permit (allow)/ Permit (a document of permission), Record (Vinyl)/ Record (to save)

double a letter to add ephasis or indicate a long vowel.

Reefuse / refuse, Permit / Permmit, Record / Reecord

Which pronunciation would you codify?

And we'd have to do it all over again in 200 years.

> Which pronunciation would you codify?

How the average German fluent in English pronounces it.

Ziz iz a gud aidi.

English is an official language of Malta.

There used to be the idea that a member state could only ask for one of its languages to be an official language of the EU. If this were true then the EU would have to drop at least one of: English, Irish, Maltese.

> even they prefer to say they dont.

What? No we don't. Our official languages are English and Irish. Only something like 100k people speak Irish as a truly first language (as in, they use it more than English in their daily lives). It would take an extreme level of denial for someone to claim that Irish people don't natively speak English and I've never heard anyone say that.

I love the idea of using US spelling. Even being English myself, I've come to accept that the US spelling is always better. Although they should take y'all out back and shoot it.

You're forgetting at least Malta.

Malta too?


"Eschew flamebait. Don't introduce flamewar topics unless you have something genuinely new to say. Avoid unrelated controversies and generic tangents."


The fact that you needed to check for a particular rule suggests that it is perfectly suitable for a style guide.

Why say lot word when few word do trick? When me president, they see, they see.

Good metaphor of what the EU represents. A 120 pages manual on how to be a completely dull person.

Legislation that needs to be translated into 24 languages is better off dull than ambiguous.


I'll never understand why some British people feel the need to loudly and obnoxiously rail against the EU, especially post Brexit.

Is your current situation not the utopia you once imagined? Or was/is the idea that the EU must be destroyed at all costs, one taunt at a time, if necessary?

Either way, good luck.

I think they progressed from denial onto anger nowadays.

We're all eagerly awaiting the most recent "World survey: the assessment of incompetence and dullness of the para-governmental organizations" report you forgot to link to.

But they will gladly fund a research into whether what you just said is correct or not.

>Legislation that needs to be translated

Maybe that's your real problem right there.

Sure. How about 441-pages long US counterpart?


A 120-page manual about good writing practices - and that makes the reader a dull person?

I read through the beginning of the document and it looks good to me. It seems to be a well-written readable document which can be immediately useful for people writing company documentation (such as myself - occasionally I have to pause writing code all day).

And most importantly, consistency among documents produced by the same body.

You don't really want to be creative when producing legal documents. Other (supra) government bodies have similar style guides.

I look at the IBM style guide and Microsoft style guide fairly frequently these days. I wonder what does that say about the state of the US economy, politics, and ideology? Exactly the same amount as the EUC Style Guide about the EU, I'd wager.

And? Don't you want your politicians to be boring, really

Try MTV or any other reality tv then.

> A 120 pages manual on how to be a completely dull person.

Trump is what you get otherwise. Popularity contest with hollow interior.

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