Law and Economics of the European Multilingualism

Posted: 9 Dec 2009 Last revised: 23 Jan 2011

See all articles by Aurelien Portuese

Aurelien Portuese

St Mary's University London; George Mason University

Date Written: July 28, 2009


The economics of language applied to multilingualism in the European Union (EU) has only recently come to the fore. Languages economics and Law and Economics disciplines both emerged in the 1960s. However, no study has, hitherto, linked these disciplines. This paper intends to fill that void.

Language barriers are the last major remaining barriers for the EU‟s 'single' market. The lack of coordination of multilingualism in the EU stems from a taboo crystallized by a dilemma between economic efficiency and linguistic diversity – i.e., the maximization of wealth versus the maximization of utility. The EU Member States (MSs) do not hasten to coordinate their language policies at the EU level inasmuch as they overestimate the benefits of the current EU multilingualism while drastically underestimating its costs.

Coordination shall occur when MSs evaluate the costs and benefits of the current EU multilingualism. This will uncover the aforementioned dilemma, that will only be resolved when both Law and Economics are applied. In pursuing this objective a “Linguistic Coase Theorem” adapted from the work of Parisi and the Nobel Prize winner, Ronald Coase is elaborated.

Having outlined the basic notions deriving from the EU Law of Languages and the Economics of Languages (Introduction), the paper scrutinizes the costs and benefits incurred by the current non-coordinated EU multilingualism (Part I). Subsequently, a 'Linguistic Coase Theorem' is elaborated in order to reach a Pareto-optimal outcome, thereby solving the dilemma – both economic efficiency and the linguistic diversity being enhanced (Part II).

Keywords: Law and Economics, European Union, Language

JEL Classification: K

Suggested Citation

Portuese, Aurélien, Law and Economics of the European Multilingualism (July 28, 2009). European Journal of Law and Economics, 2010, Available at SSRN:

Aurélien Portuese (Contact Author)

St Mary's University London ( email )

United Kingdom

George Mason University ( email )

United States

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