Editorials & Opinion

Will 2018 be the year of national languages?

The new year has started. 2018 has officially kicked off now and we’re looking at an exciting Eurovision year. Several countries are pulling out the big guns and we’ll be seeing the contest live from Lisbon for the first time ever. Time for me to try and answer one of my biggest questions for the upcoming contest: Will 2018 be the year of national languages? Are we aiming for a true ‘national language Eurovision’?

The Sobral effect?

Where this question comes from, is not that hard to answer. In 2017, Portugal won the contest for the first time ever. Their Amar Pelos Dois became the first fully non-English winner since Molitva in 2007.
Even in 2016, the winner was not entirely in English. Jamala sang her 1944 partially in Crimean Tatar. Effectively, that means we’ve had two years in a row where English was not the (only) language of the winner.
And that is an interesting conclusion. Especially if we now look at the share of non-English songs at the contest. We often hear how dominated the contest is by songs in English ever since the EBU abandoned the (in)famous language rule in 1999. Below you can see a graph:

Percentage of non-English entries at the Eurovision Song Contest

The rise and fall of national languages

If we now take a look at the graph above, we can roughly see a few trends. The years of ethno pop dominating the contest, say 2005 until 2008, show a minor rise in the use of national languages. That seems fitting with the theme of most songs in that era. Interestingly enough, the most dominant countries in that period, such as Greece and Turkey, often used English. After 2007, almost half the entries were in a national language. Helped by Serbia’s victory? Perhaps so, indeed.

The downfall after 2013

We can also see a rapid decline after 2013. Given, the entire top five that year consisted of songs in English, but the non-English songs fared reasonably well. Greece, Italy, Hungary and Moldova all placed on the left side of the scoreboard.
2014 was a clear lowlight for national languages. The first fully non-English song on the scoreboard finished in nineteenth: Montenegro’s Moj Svijet. Above that, Spain and Poland both used a combination of their national language and English.
Moving on to 2016. An interesting feature there is that there were no songs in the final that only used their national language. Even Italy, France and Spain – devoted users of their own languages – reverted to songs (partially) in English. The only non-English effort in the final came from Austria. In French. Nevertheless, three of the five songs with lyrics in another language (Ukraine, Bulgaria and France) finished top six that year.
Now, 2017. A surprising fact was that all songs that did not (only) use English made the final. All non-qualifiers in Kyiv were fully in English. Admitted, the only non-English song in the first semi was Portugal. And we all know how that ended!

2018: Statements

We don’t know a whole lot of details yet regarding the 2018 Eurovision songs. We’ve got Albania’s Mall, and that is about it. We do however know quite a bit regarding the national finals. Below you can see a map of Europe, with the info we have regarding the languages for Lisbon:

What we can see on this map are a few things. Five of our internally selected artists will be going for English. In terms of national finals: Malta’s final is filled with only songs in English. Some national finals, however, require national languages. Italy’s Sanremo always consists of songs only in Italian. For Eurovision, they might throw in a bit of English here and there, though. The same goes for Albania, but Eugent Bushpepa has already confirmed that Mall will be Albanian in Lisbon as well.
Some countries only accept songs (partially) in their own language. For 2018, that list consists of Spain, France, Montenegro and Slovenia. Where the first three might have been expected, the last one is a relative newcomer when it comes to demanding national languages under the free language rule. At least, until today, when Slovenia announced they might allow English in the final, similar to the Söngvakeppnin format in Iceland. And even though Hungary hasn’t asked their artists to sing in Hungarian, eighteen of their thirty acts do use their own language.
Greece is however the most interesting case. Not only did they ask record companies for songs in Greek, they also demanded a ‘Greek flavour’ to their songs. The result? Of the five selected entries, two were disqualified for not sounding Greek enough. ERT are going the extra mile this year to make their song as Greek as can be.

The year of the national language

It’s early in the season, but I dare to answer my own question. Will 2018 be the year of the national language? Yes. It will be.
No matter how early it is, we are seeing the trend of countries opting for their national language. We’ve listed a few cases above where we are already seeing a trend. Even when the broadcaster doesn’t oblige people to (like Hungary), artists are doing it themselves. National languages are making a comeback.
Will a non-English song win again? Will they dominate the top ten? That, at this point in time, is impossible to answer. The most important aspect of a song doing well is… well, song quality. Or performance quality. If all those countries deliver sub par songs, they won’t do well.
2018 will be the year of the national language. In the past three years, less than 20% of all songs used a language other than English. For this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, that 20% should well be in reach.
What do you think? Will 2018 be the year of national languages at the Eurovision Song Contest? Will the trend of more national languages continue? Let us know below in a comment or on social media, such as Facebook and Twitter!

Comments on Will 2018 be the year of national languages?

  • Robbert

    ‘20% should well be in reach’. For me that doesn’t make 2018 the year of the national languages. It would be if 20% don’t use Englush at all.

  • Robbert


  • Nick van Lith

    We come from a trend where only 10-15% would use a language other than English. To see a steady climb back up to 20, 25 or even 30% would be a major step.

  • Martin

    This article seems to forget that English is a national language for UK, Ireland, Australia and Malta (admittedly all four have other national languages). So when it says “Moving on to 2016. An interesting feature there is that there were no songs in the final that only used their national language.” that’s wrong…we had three. And to say “In terms of national finals: Malta’s final is filled with only songs in English.” Well…it is one of their national languages!!!

Back to top button