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.
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 Palamioti, Translator, Social Media and Content Manager, Communication Trainee and Foodie at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament.