Language Matters

Photo credit: woodleywonderworks

According to the official rule book for the Eurovision Song Contest 2015 “each Participating Broadcaster is free to decide the language in which its artist(s) will sing.” It is true, since the contest’s inception in 1956 there have been songs sung in 56 different languages from your typical European romance languages such as Italian and French to Udmurt (Russian dialect) and even Swahili. Remember Stella Mwangi’s entry for Norway in 2011?

Despite the plethora of dialects and accents that have been on show throughout the years there has only been a variation of 12 language winners in the competition’s history. The latest ‘obscure’ language to win was Serbian in 2007 when Marija Šerifović stormed to victory to Helsinki, Finland belting out her song Molitva in her mother tongue.

Thanks to Šerifović’s track Serbia has joined Croatia and Denmark in the small group of nations who have all won once singing in their native language whilst, the likes of Germany, Norway, Sweden and Spain have won twice using their respective languages. Indeed singing in your own language and winning seems to be a thing of the past. Since 1992 Eurovision has only been won three times in languages other than English with many countries willing to adopt the world’s most studied tongue in their entries, for a few minutes at least. However there is one country who do not seem willing to adopt this method and consistently sends contestants who sing in their own ‘langue.’ That country is of course France who in all of their 57 performance have used French or a form of it such as Breton and for Vienna 2015 they have chosen soloist Lisa Angell who will be singing in her Parisian accent. France last won the competition in 1977 when Marie Myriam charmed Europe with her tune L’oiseau et l’enfant whilst, 1988 saw the last time a French language entry win when Celine Dion won the crown for Switzerland with Ne partez pas sans moi. Yet still the French language only trails English in Grand Final victories amassing 14 winners from France, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Monaco and Belgium which could one of the reasons why France remains stubborn when choosing their candidates for the contest. But can a French language entry win in the future?

Although it may cause a stir in coffee shops across the country if France is serious about ever winning Eurovision again then statistics reveal it should seriously consider swallowing its pride and send an act that can perform in English. The expression ‘the stats don’t lie’ is clearly applicable in this scenario as 29 of the 62 (draws from the early days count as wins) Eurovision song contest winners have sung in English, that’s 46.7%! When you consider Ireland and the UK have won the competition 12 times between them that means 58% of the countries that have won in English speak it as a foreign language. The last seven finals have been won by acts that sing in English yet, the winners haven’t hailed from Ireland or Great Britain and with Australia joining the party this year it would take a brave person to bet against another English singing winner.


I was a Eurovision skeptic but now I am fully fledged fan. I am learning more about the competition everyday and I am amazed at how stats about the contest, that once seemed impossible to remember, are now at my fingertips.

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  1. […] Europe’s plethora of languages”, as he puts it.  I alluded to this topic in an earlier piece that language used by the act is important to how they fair in the contest. There is an increasing […]

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