Friday, November 6, 2015

DiploSkills: Do You Speak Multilateral?

Mental Floss had a good article not too long ago on the quirks of "EU English", a variant of English with some unusual grammar and vocabulary which comes from speakers of dozens of languages in the European Union all trying to get together to make decisions. Some of the examples were new to me but many I had seen before, including at my new job at the African Union. "Planification" is a classic, sure to come up when dealing with native French speakers.

But there are other things not on the Mental Floss list that also seem to exist only in the language of multilateralism. My favorite example shows up at the end of almost every declaration by an international organization when the body announces its intention to "remain seized of" an issue. Every time I read this I can't help but imagine an entire council chamber of people simultaneously collapsing on the floor in spasms. In fact it just means "continue to pay attention to" whatever it is they're talking about. Here's William Safire on the phrase. I also like "domesticate", which in multilateralspeak has nothing to do with animals but means "adopt and implement an internationally-agreed policy in one's home country."

Some of these quirky usages make my inner grammar nazi want to scream, but then my inner second-language learner smothers said grammar nazi with a pillow. Operating professionally in a non-native language is incredibly difficult, as I am inevitably reminded every single time I want to say something reasonably intelligent in French. Also, international organizations deal with issues that don't often come up in other venues, so if inventing a word like "actorness" helps get the job done, by all means let's have it! 

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