March 15, 2013
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.Blogactiv Team