E. P. Thompson’s magisterial History of the English Working Class (1963) contains a short, innocuous phrase that nonetheless pulled me up short: ‘The population “explosion” can be seen as an European phenomenon’. Then later, the same formulation: ‘the materials for an European and a British frame of reference’.
I don’t remember ever hearing a native English speaker – which Thompson is – say an European, but that doesn’t necessarily mean much. It may be a generational thing, among other factors.
The OED includes several standard pronunciations, all starting with [j] – the ‘y’ sound of you, aka the voiced palatal approximant – which would ordinarily be preceded by ‘a’, not ‘an’. But English inherited the word from French Européen (from Latin, from Greek), which begins with a vowel sound, not a [j].
This may explain the gradual switch in both UK and US English, if not the timing (click to enlarge):
Or maybe someone better informed on these matters will edify us in the comments.
The inexorable decline of an European is confirmed by a search in COHA, whose most recent example is decades old (‘convening of an European constitutional convention’, Christian Science Monitor, 1952). A comparison with GloWbE, however, shows it’s not unheard of in unedited (or unprofessionally edited) writing around the world:
A search on Twitter shows likewise, though a brief examination of the results suggests it’s mainly non-native English speakers who use it.
Have you seen or heard, or do you say, an European? What do you make of such an usage?