Year XXVI, 1984, Number 3 - Page 284
A LANGUAGE FOR EUROPE?
I – To be or not to be: the question confronting all our languages.
The most immediate danger for ethnic groups and their languages is represented by the languages of the dominant states: French for the languages of Brittany and Alsace; Italian for those of Friuli, Val d’Aoste and South Tyrol; Spanish (and French) for those of Catalonia and the Basque provinces. Thus one can fully understand that their advocates should have been aware up to now of only this danger.
But in a few decades both dominant and dominated languages will be threatened by a graver and more radical danger, that of the progressive establishment of English as de facto lingua franca throughout the entire world. The fate of the autochthonous languages of Europe at the time of the Roman empire, i.e. destruction and replacement by Latin, and of those of North and South America which, after the discovery of the New World, were annihilated by Spanish, Portuguese, English and French, can leave no doubt. The only difference is that while this process formerly took centuries, it will now be accomplished in one or two generations, since English has at its disposal not only the political and economic strength of the English-speaking countries, and especially of the United States, but also the even more decisive strength of the mass media, and particularly of television (and shortly, worse yet, of television transmitted by satellite).
A living language is in fact not a neutral and aseptic instrument of communication. It is the expression, the Träger of a Weltanschauung, and consequently it is perforce intolerant, and will tend to replace all other Weltanschauungen with its own.
II – The case for Esperanto.
The only rational response to this danger is radical: to introduce the use, as lingua franca, of a language without the destructive capacity of English.
The fact that Latin lost this destructive power after it became a dead language; that it could then, throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, still remain the lingua franca of scholars and scientists, of the élite, and, last but not least, of the Church, without threatening French, German, Spanish, etc., shows us (historia magistra vitae) what the appropriate solution should be, i.e. a language which is not anybody’s mother tongue, and does not have the cultural and political force of a people or a State behind it, or, even worse, of a group of powerful peoples and States present in all five continents of the world.
As it is not just a small élite or intelligentsia which needs to make use of international communication today, but as we live in a time of mass communication, only a language which is both ‘dead’ or ‘neutral’ on the one hand, and very easy on the other is adapted to our needs and our time. Only a planned language has these characteristics. And only Eperanto has been in use for long enough, and has sufficient ‘infrastructure’ (i.e. a wide-ranging literature and a considerable number of speakers of the language) to be ready hic et nunc to perform this task. And, what is more, this is the only language which is in accordance with the raison d’état of a European Federation, i.e. with its aspirations to independence for itself, and for a leading role in helping the Third World towards a similar independence, both political and cultural.
III – Current psychological unfeasibility of the radical solution.
Unfortunately it is utopian, as things are now, to hope that Europe might make such a choice. The main obstacle is probably not the sociological strength of English, which is already to a great extent a de facto lingua franca. The main obstacle is psychological: the widespread subconscious and distressing feeling that the use of an invented language, completely lacking in historical traditions, would signify, both individually and collectively, a radical “loss of identity”, which people are by no means prepared to accept.
IV – A provisional tactical solution suggested by linguistic cybernetics.
The problem seems at first insoluble, but a way out of the deadlock is offered by modern Sprachkybernetik (linguistic cybernetics), particularly as it is studied at the University of Paderborn (West Germany), and most especially by Professor Helmar Frank of that university. Their research has led them to the discovery that the study of Esperanto, thanks to both its ease and its rationality, is the best and most practical preparation for the study of a living language in general, an Indo-European language in particular, and English most particularly.
Our proposal therefore is that Esperanto be learnt in primary schools throughout Europe for at least two years, not as an end in itself (which today would not be considered desirable), but simply as the easiest and most practical means of beginning to learn English (or any other living language) with the least effort and the best results.
V – The long-range solution via the European Federation.
If this were to be accomplished in all the States of the European Community, there would be, in ten or twenty years, in everyone of these countries, a broad “endemic” knowledge of Esperanto; and as this language is ten times easier to learn and, what is more, to remember than English (or any other leading language), it could happen that, if a European Federation were created, when it had to choose an official federal language, it might be encouraged by this fact and perhaps even obliged to choose Esperanto, (which it would certainly not do now, even if it existed).
VI –Appropriate strategy.
Three things are necessary if we are to realize and facilitate this plan: 1) we must at once encourage the propaedeutic study of Esperanto for the reasons indicated above; 2) we must promote the creation, at our universities, of interdisciplinary institutes (if possible with the collaboration of universities of various European countries), which will study the problems of international communication, seen from the vantage points of political science, sociology, pedagogy, linguistics and cybernetics; 3) we must promote the creation of a European political unity, and foster the project for reform of the Community drawn up by the European Parliament. This is, of course, in everyone’s interest, but it is perhaps most critically in the interest of ethnic groups and languages and their advocates.