Save Europe’s linguistic diversity

July 5, 2017 11:25 am

Everybody agrees with the pronouncement of Melina Mercouri in 1985, when as Greek Minister of Culture she launched the first European Capital of Culture, that “Culture is the Soul of Europe”. And everybody is conscious of the interaction between language and culture; we agree that each language is a separate culture and that language is a cultural right.

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In the multicultural and multilingual family of the European Union, we have accepted that respecting language and culture eases integration and mutual understanding. Multilingualism is enshrined in the first regulation of the EU and has remained in force for more than 50 years now. We consider it as each EU citizen’s right to use their language in legal procedures.

Nevertheless, globalisation, particularly in the field of communication, has led our multilingual and multicultural continent to seek a common means for more efficient communication and action; a common language, or lingua franca. And after the death of Ancient Greek and Latin, and after the failure of the experiment of Esperanto, English has been widely adopted as the best solution. This is reflected in the education systems of all European countries.

Is there an alternative to this trend? An alternative that would prevent the creation and use of a language cut off from any cultural root, history or tradition, a superficial language based on English but soon distorted into mere jargon? The experiment of Esperanto, proposed as an international second language in 1887 by the Polish oculist Dr. L.L. Zamenhof, failed, partly because it was removed from any natural linguistic evolution and tradition. Would this be also the destiny of … globish?

There is a movement to introduce a formula of communication based on the use of each one’s mother tongue: It is called intercomprehension. In linguistic studies it is defined as a form of communication in which each person uses his or her own language and understands that of the other. The idea that intercomprehension could be applied in Europe is based on the existence of three big language families on our continent: Romance, Germanic and Slavic.

Based on the evidence that humans have the ability to encode messages in systems of signs and to decode these signs; (‘faculté du langage’, De Saussure 1916), learning one language from each family should, with the adequate linguistic education to allow an understanding of the ‘langage’, permit basic communication in almost all European countries. Teachers as ‘managers of learning’ (Gagné, 1975) can provide education suited for learning and teaching intercomprehension, permitting users to exploit their previously acquired knowledge.
The following image describes the lexical distance between the European languages and gives an insight into the connections between languages and language families:


Europe is supporting research in this linguistic discipline with programmes and subventions. The Council of Europe produced a very detailed report, written by Peter Doyé, examining all aspects of this linguistic and educational project. Several European projects and initiatives have been  dedicated to supporting intercomprehension: EuroComRom, IGLO, Eurocomgerm, InterCompréhension Européenne (ICE), Eurocomslav, Euromania, Eurom5, Itineraires romains, Inter.Rom, EuroCom Ger, EuroCom Sla, Galatea, Galanet, Galapro and Miriadi.

Linguistic diversity in Europe is under threat. Budget cuts are a challenge for multilingualism and communication must still be efficient with reduced resources. At the same time, Europe is facing a crisis of solidarity and integration which can be tackled with an enhanced accent on its multicultural identity and mutual respect. The discussion of linguistic diversity is more important than ever.

Written by Rodolfo Maslias, Head of Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament.

Post prepared by Katerina PalamiotiTranslator, Social Media and Content Manager, Communication Trainee and Foodie at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament.

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  • Istvan Ertl

    Esperanto failed? What makes you think so?
    Esperanto is alive and kicking, and is much more a tool for linguistic diversity than English/Globish/Eurospeak is.
    Intercomprehension is a nice idea, but what are you going to do with Finnish, Estonian, Hungarian? Just leave them in the cold?

    • mikosloper

      istvan ertl wrote “Intercomprehension is a nice idea” but it is based in a false promise. it is a silly fiction.
      there is no way that learning a smattering of three languages will lead to real intercomprehension. imagine a monolingual brit and a monolingual german having a conversation in which each speaks his own language, expecting the other to understand what the other is saying. it is ridiculous! even more so between two monolingual people from different language families who have a wee bit of ability in a related language.
      it is just unrealistic!
      why not introduce a neutral language which could function like latin did in europe in the medieval and renaissance eras… it was absolutely normal that scientists, diplomats, philosophers etc from various countries would write and speak latin when they dealt with one another in international contexts.

      at the simple level of MONEY: it would be much more efficient to teach esperanto everywhere in europe than to develop and implement a curriculum in which all students learn a basic level of three languages (one from each language family); and i think it is obvious that actual intercomprehension would be much greater using esperanto as lingua franca as compared to this silly scheme of “intercomprehension” which is a sad misnomer.

  • Bill Chapman

    I see Esperanto as a remarkable success story. It has survived wars and revolutions and economic crises and continues to attract people to learn and speak it. Over a million people have signed up to the Duolingo Esperanto course in the last two years. Esperanto works. I’ve used it in about twenty countries over recent years. I recommend it to anyone, as a way of making friendly local contacts in other countries. Esperanto is useful as well as serving as a good introduction to learning other languages.

  • Betty Chatterjee

    “after the failure of the experiment of Esperanto, English has been widely adopted as the best solution.”Both Esperanto and English are excellent solutions, and I am one of the privileged people that benefit from both languages.

    Last night I had a long and interesting conversation in English with a student in Kabul, who has promised me to start learning Esperanto. This morning I received emails in Esperanto from Belgium and Australia, have had a longish conversation in Esperanto with a friend in DRCongo and read an article in Libera Folio ( Esperanto review) about the Esperanto museum in Vienna. Every day since I started learning the language in 2005, I have used the language.

    Even though Esperanto is still not every man’s second language, it is in no way a failure.

  • David

    [English below]
    Fakte tiu “eksperimento” de Esperanto daŭras plu eĉ hodiaŭ. La lingvo evoluas kaj estas uzata de eble malmultaj homoj, tamen vere ĉirkaŭ la mondo. Mi persone (mi ne tiom interesiĝas pri la lingvistika flanko) nur povas rakonti miajn proprajn spertojn:

    Dum la lastaj tri jaroj mi parolis en Esperanto kun homoj el ĉirkaŭ 40 landoj kaj nuntempe mi povas esprimiĝi multe pli libere kaj komforte per Esperanto ol per la angla, kiun mi komencis lerni antaŭ multaj jaroj. Do, almenaŭ por mi, Esperanto tute bone funkcias kaj mi opinias ĝian valoron por komunikado en Eŭropo grandega.

    In fact “the experiment” of Esperanto is still going on today. The language is evolving and being actively used by a small number of people, but still around the world. For me personally (I don’t care that much about the linguistic aspects) I can just tell from my own experiences:

    Over the last three years I have talked in Esperanto with people from at least 40 different countries and I can express myself a lot more freely and comfortably in Esperanto than in English which I started learning many years ago. So, at least for me, Esperanto works great and I think its potential for communication in Europe is enormous.

  • neil_nachum

    I wish linguistic diversity well in Europe. I actually have my birth country in site. The United States will remain 90% monolingual-English speaking with the present status quo. As a speaker of Spanish, Portuguese, Hebrew, Arabic and Esperanto I highly recommend Esperanto as a tool to eliminate a monolingual United States. I have traveled the world heavily and used Esperanto in 34 countries.

    • mikosloper

      monolingualism is a curable disease.
      esperanto is the cheapest, least painful remedy.

  • Krystof Klestil

    The Esperanto bandwagon seems strong here and I must confess to being a part of it. Started barely a year ago and already have had lots of fun including, but not limited to, job opportunities, friends, potential girlfriends (of course that’s gotta be a part of it) and art.

    Although it failed in some ways, remains undisputedly successful in others.
    Also one feels tremendously epic when swearing in it, innit.

  • mikosloper

    the author seems unaware of the Manifesto of Prague, in which the Esperanto community recognized the importance of linguistic diversity, and the important role which a neutral language can play in maintaining linguistic diversity.
    i hope that the author finds time to glance at it:

    ein kurzerer Eintrag: