The Guest Blog

By Russell Blair

One of a person’s most important identities is their membership in a language community. In Europe, the nation-state and a national language community are mutually reinforcing. This is the result of conscious decisions to privilege one indigenous language or dialect and suppress all others. The goals, largely achieved, were administrative efficiency and increased citizen loyalty to the nation-state.

A common language is not the only way to create community. Religion, ethnicityor history can also bind people. For the EU, however, none of the usual tools for constructing a community is available. The commitment to religious freedom means that religion is not an available means of defining Europeans. As a multicultural organization, ethnicity is also unsuitable to the EU. The history of Europe, as it is a history of fratricide, is also unavailable. As for a language based European identity, the consensual and multinational EU cannot privilege one of its official languages and disadvantage the others. In light of the apparent absence of any cohesive attributes, the EU tries to make lemonade with its lemons: “Unity in Diversity”

The reality, at least for languages, is not unity in diversity. The de jure equality ofthe twenty-three official languages barely obscures the de facto privileging of English, French and German. Worse, there is a widespread laissez faire attitude that assumes English will eventually become the lingua franca of Europe. An Anglophone EU would not advance European unity. English can be Europe’s lingua franca, but not a Europeanidentity language.

Fortunately, there is an alternative that does not require privileging any national language. The EU can simply design its own identity language. Perhaps it would be a hybrid with elements from the three major European language families: Romance, Germanic and Slavic.

It is quite easy to design a language. Esperanto was designed by an ophthalmologist and Interlingua was designed by a committee of the International Auxiliary Language Association. I’ve designed three hybrid languages; one each as an illustration of the potential for a designed identity language in the European Union, the African Union and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean Nations. Clearly designing its own identity language is a task that the EU can easily manage.

I don’t advocate the adoption of any previously designed language, including anyof my own. The EU and similar organizations should design their own identity languages. It should be done through a public process, with input from all interested citizens and representation from all member nation-states.

The lack of success by Esperanto, Interlingua and other designed languages islargely attributable to their lack of a geographic home and associated community. There is nothing compelling about a language that does not have a real community of users. By designing a European language, the EU overcomes this problem.

A European identity language would have its own domain and would not compete with existing European languages. It would be part of a policy of identity bilingualism. Europe’s two hundred languages, not just the twenty-three official languages of the EU, would retain their current roles. They would be supplemented by a new and easily learned European identity language. The new language would logically be called European.

What would European do for the EU? Space limits my response, but broadly speaking, it would create a continent wide community of communication. Without such acommunity, the EU can not become the political community that is required for it to achieve its expressed goals.

Perhaps most important, without a community of communication, the EU cannot achieve the level of democracy which is required for the acceptance of EU institutions and their decisions. Democracy is much more than just elections. Democracy requires acontinuous conversation, within a unified community of communication, that both precedes and follows elections. Majority decisions, if made by groups who deliberate separately and are perceived as “others” rather than as fellow members of a unified community, are less than fully legitimate.

If you would like to read more about an EU designed identity language and the resulting European community of communication, an essay of three dozen pages can be downloaded, without cost and in English, French, German, Spanish or Polish at http://www.identitylanguages.com.

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Comments

  1. It is wrong to write of “he lack of success by Esperanto…” I see Esperanto as an amazing success story. It has been in continuous use for 125 years and continues to attract new learners. It stands ready for wider use – in the EU and beyond.

  2. I partially agree. Its continuous use for over a century is impressive. However, it is not one of the world’s top 800 languages and the number of users is gradually declining. However, as I note in the longer article on my website, if it were adopted by the EU it would be suitable as it would immediately have its geographic home. At a minimum, Esperanto should be reviewed in connection with the EU design of its identity language. As a schematic language, Esperanto is substantially easier to learn than any natural language.

  3. A very interesting essay. I think that you have a herculean task to convince citizens of 27 or 28 countries who converse in their own language and can get by in English and say French and Spanish to take on another language from scratch in the hope that 500 million plus citizens will be bothered to learn the language.

    In your essay you documented very well the problems regarding communications and therefore the flaws in the artificial construction of a State called Europe.

    While the USA continues to dominate in commerce and entertainment (films and music) there will be a hunger to learn English.

    I think Mr Barroso must be coming to the end of his term with the Commission for him to come up with this idea. Especially as the EU is not short of real problems.

    From a practical point of view, assuming all parties were in agreement:
    How long would it take to write this language?
    How long would it take to get signed of by all parties?
    Would there be some form of compulsion to learn the language?
    If there is no compulsion what is your hook to bring 500 million people with you?
    As we concentrate our focus on the BRICS countries will there not be too much competition in favour of real languages?
    On a scale of 1-10 with 1 being no chance and 10 being total success, how would you rate your chances?

    George Mc

  4. I think it’s a nice idea but agree with other commentators who question its feasability. Although I am not saying I agree with it, it seems to me that English is the logical choice to be the official language/second language of all non-English speaking countries. As George Mc also pointed out, the USA dominates so many different aspects of life and will probably continue to do so, especially in the lives of everyday people who watch TV or listen to music. I am a Brit living and working in Germany and I am always amazed at the amount of English words that creep into everyday language and the ratio of English and German songs being played on the radio…how can an idea like this, however good it is in theory, compete with people who may be more interested in learning a language which they are faced with everyday?

  5. I think I have to explain something before we can talk. You choose English as European language, because the power of this language. But my idea of international language is depend on reason not by power. Few hundred years ago, the Latin was seemed to be the international language, but now, English linguists announced it is a dead language. Why English do this? Because English want take over it. It is easy to know that what if one day United State lost control of the world, some else language will announced it dead too because the new language want take over this language too. Current languages required a single person spend whole life to learn. It will take everybody’s time and money to do this. So, without understanding the mechanism of language, to choose a seemingly powerful language as international language, in a hurry, it is careless your life and people’s life.
    I think reason is greater than power. In history, they call this rationalism. There are so many people want find out a reason for a scientific language, but until now, they could not answer a simple question, that is all language equal or not? I am going to explain that from the view of science that every language is unequal in efficiency.
    The English has a key fault or weakness. That is the quantity of vocabulary, it has arrived 2 million already, and no one can master 3% of them during life time. Yet after we introduce something into this language, this problem can be solved easily.
    So the question shift to be whether you want to be the student of English and struggle in endless vocabulary or to be the teacher of English by your study and contribution to a new language?

  6. Hi:

    English is not selected. It is merely one of several substrate languages. Please reread the article, as you seem to have missed this basic point. Also, I am not proposing a universal language, it is merely a language for the European Union.

    If you think English is too expansive, google “Basic English.”

  7. The author said, “Designing a language is not difficult. ” but in my view, it is right only partially. To design a language is easy, to design a good language is hard. The reason of someone believe it easy is that he may not understand the language science. For instance, the Esperanto is a bad designed language. It is easy to learn but not the easiest language to learn, besides comparing with English, Esperanto steal half of your life. Check the words of Esperanto carefully, most words are double the size of English in pronunciation. It means to say, if you speak this language throughout the life, you could only intake half the information as English speaker does.

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