Why learn Esperanto in Europe?

Language and the European Union

From the start, the European Union has decided to use many official languages. Initially, there were four of them (dutch, french, german and italian), but the principle had already been decided: each new member state would have the right to choose one or more from its official languages it would like to officialise for Europe. In 1973 english and danish were added, in 1981 greek, in 1986 portuguese and spanish, in 1995 finnish and swedish, in 2004 czech, estonian, hungarian, latvian, lithuanian, maltese, polish, slovak, and slovenian, in 2007 bulgarian, irish and romanian, and in 2013 croatian. This makes for a total of 24 languages.

Officially, all these languages are equal. All laws (European Union directives) are translated into each of these languages, and every citizen who directs a question in one of these languages to a European institution, must receive an answer in the same language.

In addition now, some languages are semi-official: they are used in correspondence, but not in legislation. They get the status by request of a member state where the concerning language is a recognised minority language, and the same state pays for the translations. Since 2005 these languages were basque, catalan and gallegan (for Spain). In 2009 scottish gaelic an welsh were added to them (United Kingdom).

There are good reasons for this multilingualism, which could even be a model for other multilingual countries or international organisations:

So many equivalent languages, is it possible?

When people want to talk with each other, they spontaneously seek a common language.

Of course there are blending regions, where people of different language communities coexist, and where most people are more or less bilingual. But if such a bilingual region is left on its own, one of its languages will eventually fall into disuse. To preserve bilingualism, there have to be monolingual home bases, places where each of the language communities can return to its sources.

For the European Union this could mean that the member states should have the power to protect the use of their proper language or languages, at least in the following domains:

As for multilingual regions and functions, they will only stay multilingual if no single language community is advantaged, openly or not. If everyone, even without any compulsion, chooses to speak the same language, then the ones who already spoke this language as their mother tongue will be favoured:

When it becomes clear that the speakers of one language are better off than others, the plurilingualism will begin to fade. Speakers of other languages will try to study in the land of the bosses, or their own national education will adopt the favoured language. And who could say they are wrong? If Europe really wants to protect its multilingualism, it will have to take care that no single language ever can get preponderance.

Can Esperanto protect language diversity?

It all depends if the Europeans want it themselves. Do we want the now officially promoted unity in diversity, do we want a total fusion and finally one common language, or don't we want European unity any more?

Does Esperanto have a chance?

People learn a language because it is usefull, and it is usefull because enough other people already know and use it. To break through, Esperanto therefore has to work on several levels at a time.

Personal usage

Learning Esperanto takes, to reach the same communication skills, about one tenth of the time needed to learn another language. It helps of course if you know another foreign language already, and it helps if one of the known languages belongs to the Romance, Germanic or Slavic language family. But even for a Japanese, Esperanto is reasonably simple to learn.

This language is also immediately usefull. Esperanto speakers are geographically very scattered, but they know how to find each other. There is an extensive literature consisting of books and periodicals, there is music, there are club conventions where local people regularly meet foreign visitors, there are international gatherings, you can make correspondence friends, travel visiting Esperanto speakers, exchange information with colleages, etc.

Owing to this continuous usage inside a scattered but firm community, Esperanto has managed to grow from a project proposed in a booklet of 40 pages, to the full language used in one of the better divisions of the internet encyclopedia Wikipedia.

Public visibility

To catch on, Esperanto must not only be usable, it must be visible as well. Esperanto is not only there for those who are looking for it. Everybody must know it exists.

Esperanto flagFor example, think of clerks in hotels: they often wear a series of little flags indicating in witch language they can be spoken to. One of these flags could be the green and white Esperanto flag.

Or think of usage instructions. Esperanto is sometimes used as an intermediate language to translate usage instructions into ten or more other languages. Why not print the Esperanto text as well? Maybe someone whose mother tongue was not yet provided for, can help himself with the Esperanto version.

Esperanto is already visible. In wikipedia of course. Or in the German "Esperanto city" Herzberg am Harz. But it also displays itself in the bilingual signs of the busstation of Rondonopolis, far in the interior of Brazil, in the many Esperanto avenues and Zamenhof streets everywhere in the world, or even in the misuse that is often made of the name Esperanto to achieve other goals.

Official status

To make Esperanto an intermediate language of an organization like the E.U., some political decisions have to be made.

First in education. After the example of Hungary, Esperanto can be introduced as one of the possible choices for learning as a first or second foreign language. Especially as the first foreign language, esperanto gives a big advantage because it is relatively so easy to learn. It increases the self-confidence of the pupils concerning the learning of foreign languages. One already knows the difficulties, and apparently they were'nt insuperable.

As more people know Esperanto, it will also be used more often: first only as a tool for translation, then as a supplementary language in which the most important official documents may be available, and finally as a new official language in which everything must be available, and as the intermediate language used in most international situations.

But pending a decision about Esperanto it is by now necessary to avoid any discrimination on the European level where users of one language would be favoured against users of other languages.

Further information

You can find more information here:

 


Date of last revision of this page: 2019-01-29