The European Union these days seems to like creating a common home for all of us Europeans. No matter if we agree with it or not, more and more people, both inside and outside the EU, will consider the EU one country. Such people have very good reasons for this opinion: the EU already has many attributes of one country. A common (or nearly common) EU’s agricultural, trade and environmental policies? Already exist. A common flag and Europe day? Already exist. A common currency and anthem? Already exist. A common motto? Already exists. A common constitution? Maybe in the future. A common language? Ehm, well …
EU top politicians’ official opinion is: „No common language is needed. Everybody should learn two foreign (European) languages in addition to his or her native language and all Europeans will understand one another. “It can be true in the case of countries like Switzerland or Canada but when we speak about the EU, the absurdity of this statement is evident: If someone speaks Maltese, English and Italian, it won’t help him or her to communicate with someone else who speaks Latvian, Slovak and Dutch.
That is why many people suppose that one of the two languages that everybody should learn will be English. According to one public opinion research, about 70% of the EU inhabitants think that every European should be able to speak English. It is startling in comparison with the fact that in the EU only approximately 47% of the EU inhabitants can speak some English. What is the reason of the fact, that some Europeans consider English somehow “superior” to their own language? In my opinion, they are two: insufficient knowledge of history of many European nations (especially the “small” ones) and excessive pride.
If the Europeans knew history enough, they would know that many “small” languages almost or completely died because of big influence of “big” languages. For example, at the beginning of the 17th century Czech lands were “conquered” by the House of Habsburg who equalisated the German language with the Czech language. That is why Germanisation of the Czech nation started. At the end of the 18th century, only villagers spoke Czech (with many German words in it) and the language seemed to die soon. Fortunately, the National Revival Movement started. However, not all languages were so lucky. Do we really want to destroy the most valuable European cultural heritage, the languages? Should we really let the United Kingdom to annex Europe to the British Empire?
The excessive pride means that one overestimates his or her ability to speak English. No matter if we realise it or not, we evaluate other people according to their ability to precisely express their thoughts. Yes, an average human can conversate about weather in a foreign language without difficulties. However, what about discussions about global problems, what about scientists’ congresses, etc.? How can be fair the communication (imagine that the EU heard the wish of 70% of its inhabitants and officially legislated English as a language which should be spoken by every European; but the current situation is unfortunately almost the same although English has got no such official status) when the non-native English speaker can say only what his or her ability to speak English enables him or her, while the native speaker of English can say whatever he or she wants and laugh at non-native English speakers’ accent, mistakes, pronunciation and so on? What is fair about the fact that all EU countries except the two ones on the British Isles have to pay big amounts of money for teaching English at schools while the United Kingdom and Ireland can save that money and use it for increasing their economic growth? What is fair about the fact that the most Europeans have to learn English while the British and Irish people can relax at the same time?
De iure, English isn’t officially superior to any other EU language, but de facto, non-native English speakers don’t learn English very voluntarily but because they have to choose: either you will learn English or you will seem to be like an analphabet. Why doesn’t the EU do something against this situation? Did the top EU politicians forget about the European Convention on Human Rights whose 14th article says “the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, LANGUAGE, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status” and about the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages? If someone in the EU was dicriminated because of his or her skin colour, a huge scandal arose, but the everyday discrimination based on language leaves our politicians and lawyers tranquil. To deal with something with what I deal in this article is considered taboo.
An avarage reader of this article probably now would like to tell me: “You are like Don Quixote, you fight windmills. The EU needs a common language. English is easy to learn and is already widely spoken. Do you know any better solution of this situation?” Yes, I know.
However, before I tell you more about my solution, I have to refuse the statement that English is easy to learn. If professional linguists elected an ideal language, none of them would elect the language with unpredictable stress, unpredictable changing of part of speech (why “work” can be noun, adjective and adverb, while “describe” is only a verb and it has to change its form to make a noun - “description” - and an adjective - “descriptive”?), Chinese-like spelling (in Chinese, to every word is attached a babel of lines, which don’t correspond to the sound of the word; in English, to every word is attached a string of letters, which don’t correspond to the sound of the word; most languages are much more phonetic than English), 283 irregular verbs (yes, many languages have got irregular verbs but almost no language, with the notable exception of Latin, has got so much: German has got 170 irregular verbs, French 81, Spanish 46), 13 vowels (it’s very difficult for a non-native speaker to distinguish them both while speaking and while listening because it’s rare for most languages of the world to have more than 7 vowels), exotic “th” sound (which isn’t in any other language except Icelandic and that’s why almost every non-native speaker has to pronounce it like t/d, s/z or s/d), a big number of dialects with no standardised form (for example German, Arabic and Chinese also have got many dialects which are sometimes mutually unintelligible, but these languages have got a standardised form).
You could say: “But such list of disadvantages could be made about every language!” Yes, it is true about almost all natural languages but there is one group of languages that are much easier to learn than natural languages. As you probably have already noticed, I want the common language of Europe to be (culturally) neutral. You could also say: “But every language has got some native speakers, no language can be neutral!” You are not right. There are languages, which are both easy to learn (much easier to learn than natural languages) and neutral. They are called constructed languages. The best known of them is Esperanto.
A common objection against constructed languages deals with their artificiality. However, do you think that everything artificial is worse than everything natural is? I do not think so. Would you really like to write onto “natural” sand instead of “artificial” paper, would you like to write by a “natural” stick instead of an “artificial” pen, to sleep on “natural” grass instead of in “artificial” bed, to be “naturally” naked instead of “artificially” clothed, to go always by “natural” foot instead of using “artificial” means of transport, to behave like “natural” animals instead of obeying “artificial” laws? So why to refuse an artificial language (for the international communication, nobody makes you speak it at home) in favour to natural languages which are often unsuitable for the international communication, unlike constructed languages which are usually designed to be as neutral and as easy to learn as possible? Isn’t equal communication better and fairer than unfair favouring some nations?
Even if we did not want to declare one of the constructed languages as an international language for the Europeans, it would be worth teaching them at school because constructed languages improve one’s ability to learn other languages. Many experiments deal with this fact. For example in 1965, a group of European high school students studied Esperanto for one year and then French for three years. After these four years, they could speak French much better than a group of students who studied French for the whole four years.
Let me say a few words about each main constructed language. They are not all equally suitable for the international communication but even the worse one of them, in my opinion, is for the international communication much more suitable than English or any other natural language.
Esperanto is the most widely spoken constructed international language. It was published in 1887. As a constructed language, it is not genealogically related to any natural language. It has 22 consonants and 5 vowels. (They are the vowels that are common in most languages and usually written by the letters “a”, “e”, “i”, “o” and “u”.) Of course, in the pronunciation, a great deal of variation is tolerated. Esperanto words are derived by stringing prefixes, roots and suffixes together. As an example of the language, “Do you speak Esperanto?” is “Cxu vi parolas Esperanton?” The estimated number of Esperanto speakers is 2 000 000 and there are about 2 000 native speakers. You can find several on-line courses.
Volapük was a very successful language but it almost completely died after Esperanto had appeared. Three Volapük conventions took place in 1884 (Friedrichshafen), 1887 (Munich) and 1889 (Paris).
Ido’s name comes from the Esperanto word “ido” which means “descendant” (of Esperanto). As Ido is, in fact, Esperanto reformed by some dissatisfied Esperantists, many Esperantists and Idists have attacked the rival language over the years. Some Ido literature exists, for example “La Princeto” (The Little Prince). As in Esperanto and Volapük, there are no exceptions in Ido. It has about 5 000 speakers, no native one is known.
Interlingue, formerly Occidental, was created by the Estonian naval officer and teacher Edgar de Wahl and published in 1922.
Interlingua is based on the Romance languages. It was published in 1951 by an introductory book entitled “Interlingua a Prime Vista” (Interlingua at First Sight). “Paronama in Interlingua” is the primary Interlingua periodical. Interlingua vocabulary is based on Italian, Spanish/Portuguese, French and English (and sometimes also German and Russian, when the former languages have no common word for the idea). In contrast to Esperanto, Volapük, Ido and Interlingue, you cannot derive words yourself from basic roots; you have to learn all words from the dictionary
Lojban was created in 1987 by the Logical Language Group. It has few speakers and almost no literature.
If you want more information about constructed languages, use the address http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esperanto
. Replace the “en” by your language’s code [CS (not CZ!) – Czech, DA – Danish, DE – German, EL – Greek, EN – English, ES – Spanish, ET – Estonian, FI – Finnish, FR – French, GA – Irish, HU – Hungarian, IT – Italian, LT – Lithuanian, LV – Latvian, MT – Maltese, NL – Dutch, PL – Polish, PT – Portuguese, SK – Slovak, SL – Slovenian, SV – Swedish) and the “Esperanto” with the name of the language you would like to learn more about.
Let us stop the taboo-like silence about this EU’s serious problem. The EU has to be based on its traditional values like democracy, freedom, fairness and respect for European cultural heritage. The English-only EU would reject these values. At the conclusion, I would like to mention that Jan Amos Comenius, known as teacher of nations, also suggested a constructed language to solve our language problem.