LYMEC SEMINAR – PARIS 7/2/2004
LECTURE. “ESPERANTO: A FEDERAL LANGUAGE FOR EUROPE”.
by Lapo ORLANDI, Treasurer
“Esperanto” Radical Association.
Introduction: towards the United States of Europe
“Tout homme nait et reste libre en droit”, these few words written by the french philosopher Montesquieu almost 300 years ago, may synthetise the last 3 centuries of political liberal thought.
The fathers of the United States of America, certainly inspired by the “Esprit des Lois” decided to give to their country a liberal federal constitution based on a strict separation of powers, both vertical (between the federal and national states) and horizontal (at any level, between the different institutions and powers composing the state: government, parliament, judiciary and later on information and communication power).
But first of all they put at the center of that system, at any level, the single citizen because, as explained by Montesquieu and by the other liberal philosophers that from here, in Paris, brought the “lumières” to our world, it is the individual to be – from his birth to his death – the sole owner of rights, not the State, nor the nations, neither the governments but each individual for the simple reason of their existance.
Over 200 years after the adoption of the american constitution, we the European, sons and daughters of those European philosophers who inspired the founders of the American nation, are faced to the same dilemma that lead another generation of american to the most bloody war of their history, the only that they have ever fought in their country to defend the integrity of the principle of supremacy of the citizen over the State.
Shall we adopt a constitution in which the national european governments and their coordination organism at the European level, the European Council, will de facto take at our place the fundamental – as far as the not quite so fundamental – decisions, or are we asking for a constitution that will directly give back to the European citizen all the rights he owns by his nature?
Shall we pursue on the current shortcut of history, with no way out, represented by the present European Union or are we going to fund what the fathers of Europe over 50 years ago already called the “United States of Europe”?
For us, the italian liberal and radicals, and for the Transnational Radical Party, based in Rome, this is a rethorical question: no doubt that only a constitution directly inspired by the one of the United States of America can be coherent with our past and promote our future.
It is therefore crucial, in the future European constitution, to give to the European citizens the direct power to vote for a proper European Government and a proper European Parliament, but most of all it is fundamental to concretely build the European citizenship.
The first necessary step for that is to guarantee the international communication among European citizens on a parity base. The second is to safeguard the local and national identities while building on a democratic base a european one.
Indeed, on the one hand, nowadays these two principles – the right of the European citizens to communicate among them and the right to defend all the European identities and cultures – have come to collide: as stated by the Action Plan adopted, last year, by the UNESCO meeting of experts on endangered languages “linguistic diversity is threatened by the globalization of communication and by the tendency to use a single language as the global world language”. And in fact, according to UNESCO up to 90 % of the world languages seriously risk to disappear.
On the other hand, the outcome of the worldwide linguistic and cultural homologation is the emerging, not only in Europe, of a global identity not as a cultural melting pot in which each people and individual have the same chance to put its own ingredient but as a form of neocolonialism:
The spread of English is the product of naked linguistic superpower. If anyone anywhere wants to get ahead nowadays, an ability to speak English is obligatory. We take it for granted. (…)
Should we feel guilty that our way of speaking is obliterating so many other tongues? Is it not a more sinister kind of colonialism than that which we practised a hundred years ago? Once we just took their raw materials. Now we invade their minds, by changing the primary tool by which they think: “their” language.
The Independent – “Linguicide: the death of language”.
We believe that, as recently said in the European Parliament the italian radical Marco Cappato, “the only solution to those problems is in a scandalous word: Esperanto”.
The failure of the past and present linguistic policies.
Let me start analyzing the only solutions implemented so far by the European institutions and governments: multilingualism and linguistic protectionism.
The first have clearly failed: it has not guaranteed effective communication between European citizens, except for the members of the European Parliament at costs that can be hardly faced after enlargment, and at the same time it has not safeguarded the European linguistic and cultural diversity. A book, published by our Association in 1997 with the support of the European Union, and Edited by the former Nobel Prize for Economics Rheinard Selten, analyzed the situation, listing all the costs of the lack of linguistic communication in Europe. It is called “The costs of the european (non) linguistic communication”.
In fact multilingualism education is for the European politicians a pretext: some days ago, the current italian Minister of Education published a circular letter to illustrate the reform of the educational system in which the hypocritical expressions “foreign language” or “european language” or “comunitarian languages” – behind which all her European collegues try to hide their intention of introducing the teaching of english since the first year of primary school – was sincerely substituted by “English language”.
Anyway, according to one of the rare reports officially published at the European level on the state of the art of the implementation of multilingualism education, The diversity of languages in the educational systems of the Member states, edited in 1999 by Prof Candelier of the Sorbonne for the Council of Europe to monitor the actual situation in 37 member states, “in almost 4 countries out of 5 one language is learned by a number of students greater than the total number of students that are learning all the other languages”, while “in 1 country out of 5 the concentration on one language is so strong that the total number of students learning all the other languages is less than one third of the number of students learning the hegemonic one”.
On the other hand, to understand the extent of the failure of linguistic protectionionism, whether it concern minority or national languages, the following two examples may be usefull: 12 years ago the Council of Europe adopted European Charter of the minority languages, that has been so far ratified by the majority of the European States, and the European Union have carried out in the last years several important initiatives in this field, often in cooperation with the national states and with the local concils, such as the European year of languages. Nevertherless, according to the last edition of the UNESCO Atlas of endangered languages states that in Europe at least 60% of the currently spoken languages are seriously facing extinction, most of them being of course minorities languages.
Still the most incredible example of failure for the protectionist policies in the linguistic field comes from here, it comes from France.
With the adoption in 1994 of the law Toubon the french government started an official policy of strong linguistic protectionism, imposing restrictive linguistic quotas on the media, cultural products, etiquettes and advertising and seriously punishing the transgressors. Besides that, according to the Economist, the french government have been spending “about $1 billion a year on various aid and other programmes designed to promote its civilisation [and language] abroad”. But, in spite of this the french Government itself had recently to admit, in two official Reports to the Parliament, that not only is french lesser and lesser used inside the International Institutions, starting from the European Union, almost uniquely anglophone (75% of the original documents are written in english), but also in the french companies the use of english as a working language at any level has become the rule and the use of french only survive in that few companies where the top manager is “strongly motivated” towards his own language.
English only Europe (in an English only World)?
What are the roots of such unbelievable failures? According to the specialists of languages, languages are facing extinction when only few people care if the heritage language is lost and many prefer to learn and use the dominant language or when the governments encourage peole to do so. Among the other factors explaining the lost of languages, the world linguists quote the disglossia coming from a private use of the heritage language in opposition to the official or public use of the dominant one and the number and proportion of intergenerational use of the heritage language.
Indeed, there are strong evidences that all the previously quoted factors can be applied not only to endangered languages communities but also to widely spread national languages, in a global context where english plays the role of the dominant language.
In fact, such an hegemonic role was gaigned by english because, as was reminded by the Independent, it is the language of the most powerfull State and economy of the world which can count on an incredibly diffused english speaking mass media system: “Another factor speeding the worldwide spread of American-English is the “dialect levelling” induced by modern mass media. Some 40 per cent of British prime-time TV is American originated; cinema screens and MTV-style music channels are even more tilted towards the transatlantic product”.
But, on the other hand, it is clear that such a strategy gives concrete answers to the vital need of a majority of people in the world for the globalisation of communication. Such a request can certainly not be evaded by the political class, in particular in Europe where the non linguistic communication among citizens risks to obstruct the historical process of political unification, the construction of political federalism and the free circulation of citizens, workers and ideas.
Towards a European Federal Language.
Therefore, the only credible way out from such a cul de sac is to affirm a democratic way to international communication, in Europe and worldwide: for first the concept of transnational european communication needs to be separated from the cultural dimension of any language.
On the one hand, the concept of European federal language is connected to the idea of a language that can be used to guarantee every European citizen without any form of dicrimination in the international european communication. Which means that any candidate to play the role of european federal language should be fully learnable by the european children during the compulsory school as well as by those who have finished school since a long time, and in particular by the elderly. It has to be both a language of public service (in opposition to language of private use) and a language of social communication, a language which does not belong to any private system (it cannot be the language of the french, the british or any other people) nor gives any privilege to any social class
On the other hand, the concept of foreign language has to turn back to the humanistic idea of instrument of knowledge and understanding of the cultures and traditions of other people: today anybody needs to learn english to find a job or participate to the world trade, in future anybody should be free to learn a given language to satisfy the personal curiosity of knowing something more of a given culture.
Is Esperanto a solution?
According to the Report of the special commission on International Language (beter known as Esperanto) of the italian Ministry of Education, published in 1995 in a circular letter, Esperanto at present the best, if not the only, candidate to play this role:
The International Language is at the base of a more appropriate conception of plurilingualism in the European Union and allows the elaboration of a new, more realistic language policy. In fact:
- it educates for the construction of peace, making concrete the conception of belonging to a single human family and a ‘world environment’, it contributes, in fact, to safeguard European and global linguistic and cultural diversity;
- it allows transnational cultural and commercial relations in a common language, without discrimination, which can be fully acquired within the time spent in mandatory education;
- it facilitates, thaught as linguistic orientation, the study and learning of national foreign languages; it avoids predominance of one or two ‘major’ languages in the teaching of possible foreign languages;
- it enriches metalinguistic reflection even in the native language;
- it allows notable savings of time and money, both in teacher training and in student work, with additional advantages for other subjects such as learning ethnic foreign languages.
Similar conclusions resulted from the study on “The costs of the european (non) linguistic communication”, by Nobel Prize Reihnard Selten:
The costs of diversity of language do not consist merely of expenditures for translations and interpreters. In this book a broader definition of the term “costs” is taken into consideration, including undesired consequences which cannot be easily calculated from a financial point of view. (…) Without doubt, European linguistic diversity has an enormous cultural value, and the solution to the European language problem cannot simply be to switch from a multilingualism to a monolingualism. (…) The contribution collected in this book show the breadth of the problem and weigh and compare the relative merits of some proposed solutions. In my opinion, it is clear that the following three objectives must be reached: ease of communication, absence of linguistic discrimination, conservation of the cultural heritage of individual languages. (…)The contents of this book clearly demonstrate that the best solution is the introduction of Esperanto as a universal second language in the scholastic curriculum.
Why is Esperanto the solution?
According to these documents, Esperanto is the better candidate to play the role of European (and international) language of public service and social communication because:
– It is easier to learn than any other language: to acquire a knowledge of Esperanto equivalent to the Cambridge first certificate of english 50 to 100 hours of study are sufficient, while to learn a foreign language like english thousands of hours of study are necessary;
– It is neutral, which means that no ethnic group speaks it as a native language and therefore all the languages would be guaranteed through its use from any form of linguistic hegemony or colonialism;
– It is spoken by millions of people of all the countries since over one century and still now it is one of the most diffused languages of the world (and on the internet) by number of countries where it is spoken;
– It allows, when learned as a model of language before any foreign language, to learn more foreign languages;
– It also allows, being a model of language, to better understand the native language, which proves that, on the contrary of English, Esperanto, if used as a language of international communication, would not contribute to the linguistic holocaust.
How to put the Esperantist solution in the political market.
Naturally to “speak up for Esperanto” is not enough, we need to build a political context in which its progressive adoption will be a logical consequence.
This is the reason why the Transnational Radical Party adopted a campaign for the International Language, and the “Esperanto” Radical Association, on its behalf, is pursuing, among others, the following political objectives:
– To raise the awarness of the European citizens with information campaign on the subject, and in particular to inform and put under pressure the decision makers on that subject, especially in the anglophone countries where an higher degree of consciousness seems to have been reached by the public opinion;
– To oblige the International institution, such as the European Union, United Nations, UNESCO to face their responsabilities, adopting measures, such as the calling of an international first Conference on languages, and establishing structures, such as an International Observatory on linguistic policies, allowing them to get a clearer vision on the problem and moving forward step by step on the proposed solution;
– To force the European Union to respect its own legality in the field of multilingual education and communication;
– To introduce, especially in Europe, in the scholastic curriculum, as suggested by Nobel Prize Rehinard Selten, and in University degrees, Esperanto as one of the foreign languages that can be choosen, as it is already the case in Hungary, a country that will join the Union the next 1st May;
A great writer once said that “the reasonable people adapt themselves to the world while the unreasonable people try to adapt the world to themselves” – and concluded – “therefore no social, political or cultural progress is possible but from the unreasonable people”.
The transnational Radical Party always shared this vision of George Bernard Shaw, and tried to concretely translate it into political actions: that’s why we have campained or are still campaining for the establishment of an International Criminal Court, the abolition of death penalty worldwide, the constitution of a World Organisation of Democracies and now, of course, for Esperanto.
Being young you have the duty to be dreamers, being liberals you shall join our unreasonable realism, and dream our dream!