Jacques Werner is the lead writer of petition 1417 which calls on the formalisation of the English language in the grand duchy
Photo: Jacques Werner
A new petition calling on Luxembourg to formalise the status of the English language opened for signatures on Friday. Delano caught up with petitioner and Luxembourger Jacques Werner to learn more about the aim, and how his petition differs from a second, similar one on the docket.
For Jacques Werner, main writer of petition 1417, the question about the role of English within the grand duchy had been simmering for at least three years, after his then-girlfriend had an unfortunate experience.
Werner says a neighbour had been harassing her: “When things started to get serious, I advised her to file a complaint with the police…I was surprised to [discover] that a complaint can absolutely not be filed in English.”
His then-girlfriend, a Chinese national, spoke neither French nor German at the time, although she had been learning Luxembourgish, Werner says. In the end, he translated the report into French and “it somehow worked out”.
Nevertheless, he adds, “I realised that in similar situations most English-speaking residents would give up and not file a complaint at all.”
Resolving “a major incoherence”
Werner is a Luxembourger who studied in three countries and can speak 8 languages to varying degrees of fluency. “For a Luxembourger leaving school, the world is extremely accessible in a way that can’t be compared to students from any other country,” he tells Delano.
Although the 38-year-old works at a French bank, he says in the financial sector “English plays an enormously important role”.
He believes more broadly there’s also “a major incoherence” not only in the languages required for a foreigner to learn, but also in that Luxembourg’s ambitions--be they in space, telecoms, of finance sector, for example--“are currently out of step with the language framework”.
Petition by four Luxembourgers
Partly as a result of the aforementioned experience, Werner posted articles on his blog and found others in agreement about the role of English in the grand duchy.
The four Luxembourg masterminds behind the petition--Werner along with Sami Masri, Zoë Mondloch, Guy Beissel--nevertheless decided to take their time to get the details right, submitting the petition only after they’d first had discussions with magistrates, lawyers and others from a broad range of backgrounds.
“We believe English should get a formal and official status by law, and that a set of administrative and judicial processes should be possible in English”, Werner says, adding that “the introduction of English as equivalent to German and French would be unrealistic.”
When asked by Delano what specifically the formalisation of English would entail, Werner says ideally it would include “anything that’s important in everyday life”, citing “filing a complaint, some contracts, medical issues, all documents related to civil events like marriages” as a few examples. And, while he recognises the work done through guichet.lu and some communes to make documentation available in English, “these changes are partial and depend on individual initiatives”.
Werner says its “Kafkaesque” to expect foreigners to “learn three languages to be fully operational”, stipulating that Luxembourgish can only take motivated learners so far, while the administrative processes still tend to be in French.
Petition, website in four languages
Petition 1417 is open for signatures until 16 January 2020. If it receives the 4,500 minimum validated signatures required, the petition will be debated in parliament.