About the European Union’s arcane language: the EU does seem difficult for people to understand

Mark Mardell asks in his post Learn EU-speak:

Does the EU shroud itself in obscure language on purpose or does any work of detail produce its own arcane language? Of course it is not just the lingo: the EU does seem difficult for people to understand. What’s at the heart of the problem?

His answer on the radio (as those comments that can be read in his blog) will probably look for complex reasoning on the nature of the European Union as an elitist institution, distant from real people, on the “obscure language” (intentionally?) used by MEPs, on the need of that language to be obscured by legal terms, etc.

All that is great. You can talk a lot about the possible reasons why people would find too boring those Europarliament discussions where everyone speaks his own national language; possible reasons why important media (like the BBC) would never show debates on important issues, unless the MEP uses their national language; possible reasons why that doesn’t happen with national parliaments where everyone speaks a common language…

But the most probable answer is so obvious it doesn’t really make sense to ask. The initeresting question is do people actually want to pay the price for having a common Europe?

A simple FAQ about the “advantages” of Esperanto and other conlang religions: “easy”, “neutral” and “number of speakers”

This is, as requested by a reader of the Association’s website, a concise FAQ about Esperanto’s supposed advantages:

Note: Information and questions are being added to the FAQ thanks to the comments made by visitors.

1. Esperanto has an existing community of speakers, it is used in daily life, it has native speakers…

Sorry, I don’t know any native speaker of Esperanto, that has Esperanto as mother tongue – Only this Wikipedia article and the Ethnologue “estimations” without references apart from the UEA website. In fact, the only people that are said to be “native Esperanto speakers” are those 4 or 5 famous people who assert they were educated in Esperanto as second language by their parents. Is it enough to assert “I was taught Volapük as mother tongue by my parents” or “I taught my children Esperanto as mother tongue” to believe it, and report “native speaker” numbers? Do, in any case, those dozens of (in this Esperantist sense) native speakers of Klingon or Quenya that have been reported in the press represent something more than a bad joke of their parents?

Furthermore, there is no single community of speakers that use Esperanto in daily life, I just know some yearly so-called World Congresses where Esperantists use some Esperanto words with each other, just like Trekkies use Klingon words in their Congresses, or LOTR fans use Quenya words. Figures about ‘Esperanto speakers’ – and speakers of Interlingua, Ido, Lingua Franca Nova, Lojban or any other conlang – are unproven (there is no independent, trustworthy research) and numbers are usually given by their supporters using rough and simple numbers and estimations, when not completely invented. Studies have been prepared, explained, financed and directed by national or international associations like the “Universala Esperanto-Asocio”, sometimes through some of its members from different universities, which doesn’t turn those informal studies into “University research”. The answer is not: “let’s learn creationism until evolution is proven”, but the other way round, because the burden of proof is on the least explained reason: If you want people to learn a one-man-made code to substitute their natural languages, then first bring the research and then talk about its proven advantages. Esperantists and other conlangers make the opposite, just like proposers of “altenative” medicines, “alternative” history or “alternative” science, and therefore any outputs are corrupted since its start by their false expectatives, facts being blurred, figures overestimated and findings biased in the best case.

2. But people use it in Skype, Firefox, Facebook,… and there are a lot of Google hits for “Esperanto”. And the Wikipedia in Esperanto has a lot of articles!

So what? The Internet is not the real world. If you look for “herbal medicine”, “creationism” or “penis enlargement”, you’ll find a thousand times more information and websites (“Google hits”) than when looking for serious knowledge, say “surgery”. Likewise, you can find more websites in Esperanto than in Modern Hebrew, but Hebrew has already a strong community of (at least) some millions of third-generation native speakers who use Hebrew in daily life, while Esperanto – which had the broadest potential community – has just some hundreds of fans who play with new technologies, having begun both language projects at the same time back in the 19th century.

Also, is the Wikipedia not a language-popularity contest? A competition between conlangers, like Volapükist vs. Esperantists, Ido-ists against Interlingua-ists, Latinists against Anglo-Saxonists, etc. to see which “community” is able to sleep less and do nothing else than “translate” articles to their most spoken “languages”? How many articles have been written in Esperanto or Volapük, or in Anglo-Saxon or Latin, and how many of them have been consulted thereafter, and by how many people? In fact, Volapük wins now in number of articles, so we should all speak Volapük? No, Esperanto is better than Volapük, of course, because of bla bla…
I guess everyone wins here: Wikipedia has more visitors, more people involved and ready to donate, while those language fans have something more to say when discussing the advantages: hey, we have X million articles in the almighty Wikipedia, while your language has less! Esperanto/Volapük/Ido/… is so cool, we have so many “speakers”! Then, congratulations to all of you Wikipedian conlangers; but, if I were you, I wouldn’t think the real world revolves around the Wikipedia, Google or any other (past or future) website popularity.

3. Esperanto is far easier than what you are suggesting. I am fluent in Esperanto, and I only studied 3 hours! And so did my Esperantist friends!

Do you mean something like saying “me spikas lo esperanto linguo” – with that horrible native accent that only your countrymen understand – and then being able to tell anyone “I speak Esperanto fluently after 3 hours of study”? And then speak about two or three sentences made up of a mix of European words more once a year with your Esperantist friends in an international “Congress”, and then switch to English or to your mother tongue to really explain what you wanted to say? Well then yes, to say “I speak Esperanto fluently” or “I learned Esperanto in 2 days” is really really easy – hey, I’ve just discovered I am a fluent speaker of Esperanto, too! Esperanto is so cool…
But, talking about easiness…Have you conlangers noticed it’s “easy” just for (some) Western Europeans, because those “languages” you are using are made of a mix of the most common and simplest vocabulary of some Western European languages, whereas other speakers think it is as difficult as any Western European language? Do you really really think it is easier than English for a Chinese speaker? I guess good old Mr. Zamenhof didn’t realize that English, French, Latin, Italian, German and Polish wouldn’t be the only international languages today as it was back then in the 19th century, when European countries made up almost the whole international community…
Furthermore, do you really really think that supposed ease of use, which is actually because of the lack of elaborated grammatical and syntactical structures, hasn’t got a compensation in culture, communication and even reasoning?

4. But I’ve been told that Esperanto is successful because it has a (mostly) European vocabulary that makes it easy for Europeans, an agglutinative structure that makes it especially fit for Africans and Asians, and some other features that make it better than every other language for everyone…
I won’t be extending into linguistic details, because those assertions are obviously completely arbitrary and untrustworthy. Not only Esperantism has failed to prove such claims, but also some people have dedicated extensive linguistic studies and thoughts to see if that was right – Esperantism has obtained independent criticism by insiders and outsiders alike, and still they claim the same falsenesses again and again. You have e.g. the thorough article “Learn not to speak Esperanto” which, from a conlanger’s point of view, discusses every supposed advantage of this Polish ophthalmologist’s conlang. Also, it is interesting that some researchers have noted the condition of Esperanto for most speakers as an anti-language, as they use the same grammar and words as the main speech community, but in a different way so that they can only be understood by “insiders”. That can indeed be the key to the perceived advantages of Esperanto by Esperantists of different generations and places, just like anti-social people like slang words to communicate with members of their community and to hide from outsiders, and it is especially interesting in light of the condition of Esperantism as an anti-social movement more than a promotion of a language, representing Esperanto with flags, slogans (“democracy”, “rights”, “freedom”,…), international consultative organizations and congresses…

5. You talk about real cultural neutrality for the European Union; but, since there are several non Indo-European languages inside the EU, Proto-Indo-European does not solve that issue either.

In fact, the European Union is made up of a great majority of Indo-European speakers (more than 97% falling short), and the rest – i.e. Hungarians, Finnish, Maltese, Basque speakers – have a great knowledge (and speaking tradition) of other IE languages of Europe, viz. Latin, French, English, Swedish, Spanish. So, we are proposing to adopt a natural language common to the GREAT majority of the European Union citizens (just like Latin is common to the vast majority of Romance-speaking countries), instead of the current official situation(s) of the EU, like English, or English+French, or English+French+German… To say that Indo-European is not neutral as the European Union’s language, because not all languages spoken in the EU are Indo-European, is a weak argument; to say exactly that, and then to propose English, or English+French, or even a two-day-of-work invention (a vocabulary mix of 4 Western European languages) by a Polish ophthalmologist, that’s a big fallacy.

6. So why are you proposing Indo-European? Why do you bother?

Because we want to. Because we like Europe’s Indo-European and the other Proto-Indo-European dialects, just like people who want to study and speak Latin, Greek, or Sanskrit do it. Have you noticed the difference in culture, tradition, history, vocabulary, etc. between what you are suggesting (artificial one-man-made inventions) and real world historical languages? Hint: that’s why many universities offer courses in or about Latin, Greek, Sanskrit, Proto-Indo-European, etc. while Esperanto is still (after more than a century) another conlanging experiment for those who want to travel abroad once a year to meet other conlang fans.
We propose it because we believe this language could be one practical answer (maybe the only real one) for the communication problems that a unified European Union poses. Because we don’t believe that any “Toki Pona” language invented by one enlightened individual can solve any communication or cultural problem at all in the real world. Because historical, natural languages like Hebrew, or Cornish, or Manx, or Basque, are interesting and valuable for people; whereas “languages” like Esperanto, Interlingua, Ido, Lojban or Klingon aren’t. You cannot change how people think, but you can learn from their interests and customs and behave accordingly: if, knowing how people reacted to Esperanto and Hebrew revival proposals after a century, you decide to keep trying to change people (so that they accept inventions) instead of changing your ideas (so that you accept natural languages), maybe you lack the necessary adaptation, a common essential resource in natural selection, appliable to psychology too.

7. Why don’t you explain this when talking about Proto-Indo-European advantages in the Dnghu Association’s website?

Because if you make a website about science, and you include a reference like: “Why you shouldn’t believe in Islamic creationism?” you are in fact saying Islamic creationism is so important that you have to mention it when talking about science… It’s like creating a website about Internal Medicine, and trying to answer in your FAQ why Homeopathy is not the answer for your problems: it’s just not worth it, if you want to keep a serious appearance. We are not the anti-Esperanto league or something, but the Indo-European Language Association.
Apart from this, proto-languages are indeed difficult to promote as ‘real’ languages, because there is no inscription of them, so they remain ‘hypothetical’, however well they might be reconstructed, like Europe’s Indo-European, or Proto-Germanic – see Five lines of ancient script on a shard of pottery could be the longest proto-Canaanite text for a curious example of a proto-language becoming a natural dead one. For many people, Proto-Basque (for example) seems exactly as hypothetical as Proto-Indo-European, when it indeed isn’t. If we also mixed Esperanto within a serious explanation of our project as a real alternative, that would be another reason for readers to dismiss the project as “another conlanging joke”. No, thanks.

8. Esperanto has its advantages and disadvantages. You just don’t talk from an objective (or “neutral”) point of view: most linguists (of any opinion) are – like Esperantists – biased, so there is no single truth, but opinions.

Yes, indeed. Many Esperantists, as any supporter of pseudosciences, conclude that people might be for or against their theory, and that therefore both positions are equally valid and should be taken with a grain of salt. For this question, I think it’s interesting, for those who think in terms of “equal validity” of their minority views when confronted to what is generally accepted, to take a quick look at Wikipedia’s Neutral Poin of View – equal validity statement, because they’ve had a lot of problems with that issue. To sum up, it says that if you talk about biology, you cannot consequently demand that evolution and creationism be placed as equally valid theories, only because some people (are willing to) assume they are; if you talk about the holocaust, or medicine, you don’t place revisionism or alternative medicines as equally valid theories or sciences: there are academic and scientific criteria that help classify knowledge into scientific and pseudoscientific. Most (if not all) Esperantist claims are at best pseudoscientific, and when they claim real advantages of their conlang, those are just as well (often better) applied to other conlangs or even to any language.

9. Then why do the “Universala Esperanto-Asocio” enjoys consultave relations with both UNESCO and the United Nations? Why is Esperantism described as “democracy”, “education”, “rights”, “emancipation”,… Why do still Esperantists support Esperanto, when it hasn’t got any advantages at all, and they know it?
The only conclusion possible is that Esperantism (and some other fanatic conlangism) is actually a religion, because it’s based on faith alone: faith on believed “easiness”, on believed “neutrality”, on believed “number of speakers”, without any facts, numbers or studies to support it; on the belief that languages can be “better” and “worse” than others. And it’s obviously nonsense to discuss faith and beliefs, as useless as a discussion about Buddha, Muhammad or Jesus. But, trying to disguise those beliefs as facts helps nobody, not even Esperantism, as it can only attract those very people that see creationism and alternative medicines as real alternatives to raw scientifical knowledge. Esperanto is the god, Zamenhof the messiah and the UEA its church.

How many words do we use in daily speech? A new study from the Royal Spanish Academy on language acquisition

According to the members of the Royal Spanish Academy (the Real Academia Española), humanities have experienced a decrease in importance for younger generations, English is becoming predominant, language in general is poorer in the Media and in all public speeches, classical languages disappear, people play less attention to reading, and computer terms are invading everything.

All involved in the research agree that language cannot be confined to any artificial limits, that it is mutable, it evolves and changes. However, they warn: it can also get sick and degrade. The mean Spaniard uses generally no more than 1000 words, and only the most educated individuals reach 5000 common words. Some young people use only 240 words daily.

Linguists, paedagogues and psychologists say those who write correctly demonstrate they’ve had an adecuate education, they’ve read books and they’ve exercized their minds. Thanks to that mental exercise we can achieve more elevated stages of reasoning and culture. Those who cannot understand something as basic as his own natural language will not achieve a big progress in his intellectual life, they assure.

Now, regarding those numbers and the concept behind the output of that study: would you say learning mixed conlangs like Esperanto – whose supposed benefits are precisely the ease of use, by taking the most common and simplest European vocabulary – could improve that worsening situation? Or do you think it’s better for European culture‘s sake to learn the ancient language from which Old Latin, Gaulish, Old Norse or Old Slavonic derived? It is probably not the main reason to adopt Europe’s Indo-European as the official language of the European Union, but it is certainly another great reason to learn it without being compelled to…

Source: Terra; read in Menéame

Bronze Age village discovered in central-western Romania, in the region of Transylvania

The official Agerpres news agency reported on Wednesday that a village established in the Bronze Age has been recently discovered near Zalau town, northwestern Romania. The discovery was made following an archeological discharge relating to 2 square kilometers in Recea, close to Zalau.

“It is for the fist time in Transylvania, central-western region of Romania, when a village dating back to the Bronze Age iscompletely examined,” said Ioan Bejinariu, the archeologist of the History and Art Museum in Zalau. “Only by conducting digging works on large areas of land can one have an overview of a location,” said Bejinariu who is in charge of this site. “The village consists of eight houses built in the upper region of a hill on two almost parallel rows. Pits were found near the houses used for supplies’ storage,” he added.

As many as 124 archeological sites were found, including houses, graves, supplies’ pits or ovens, as well as two human skeletons dating back to several historical periods starting with 1500-1300 B.C. and up to the 3rd and 4th C A.D., Bejinariu informed. In addition to the location originating in the Bronze Age, a well-preserved pottery kiln was discovered on the Sulduba valley, dating back to the 3rd and 4th C A.D. According to Ioan Bejinariu, the oven confirms the region used to be populated by sedentary people in that period.

I think findings like this one (and the ‘German Stonehenge‘) make clear that there is a need for further research of the old central and northern European settlements, maybe through a unified European funding, instead of spending the regional budgets of European states to promote culture in the own regions only.

The problem with such a decentralized (culture) funding – regarding the European Union as a whole – is that we could end having rich regions spending lots of money to find a handful of meaningless stones in their territories, instead of dedicating those resources to study hundreds of buried villages in cost-efficient archaeological sites located in poorer European regions. Maybe the best way to wake up the necessary interest is to learn once and for all that the migrations that shaped Europe came from the East, just like the migrations that shaped modern Spain came from the North after (or accompanying) the Reconquista.

Bronze Age “German Stonehenge” of Saxony-Anhalt unearthed, maybe related to Europe’s Indo-European speakers

Some years after the discovery of the Nebra Sky disc and observatory (dated ca. 1600 BC), near what was then called the “German Stonehenge” (see Deutsche Welle news), archaeologists from the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg have unearthed another similar structure, but this time probably related to the Indo-European settlers who still spoke Europe’s (or Northwestern) Proto-Indo-European, if the timeline and space have been correctly set by linguists and archaeologists.

Goseck Observatory While the Goseck observatory (reconstructed in the picture) was dated between 5000 and 4800 BC, this wooden construction – termed again “German Stonehenge” -, found not too far from the river Elbe in the eastern German state of Saxony-Anhalt, near the village of Pömmelte-Zackmünde, is supposed was used for worship between 2300 and 2100 BC, and was later covered by another “wooden pagan structure”. Which of those structures (if any) might be linked to the community of Europe’s Indo-European speakers, is yet unknown.

From the weekly Der Spiegel news, later copied by international news agencies worldwide:

Still, the scale of the site must have been impressive. Archaeologists have already discovered six rings of wooden pillars — the biggest of which has a diameter of 115 meters. In one of the structure’s outer areas there was also a circular ditch with a diameter of 90 meters. By analysing ceramic vessels found at the site, the researchers have worked out the place of worship dates back to the 23rd century before Christ and was used until the 21st century BC.

“We don’t know of any other structure like this on the European mainland from this time,” Spatzier said. It was, in fact, an exciting time in Europe: trade networks for ores, amber and salt were rapidly developing. Mankind’s knowledge was also growing by leaps and bounds, as not only goods but ideas were travelling across the continent. Around 2,500 years earlier at the very end of the Stone Age, Neolithic people had already constructed the nearby Goseck Circle — a wooden ring 70 meters across considered the oldest solar observatory in Europe. In the Bronze Age, some 500 years after the Pömmelte site was built, the famous Nebra sky disc was made. The circular bronze object likewise depicts the heavens.

First observed from an airplane in 1991, researchers are now trying to figure out how exactly the new site — dubbed by the media as the “German Stonehenge” — was used. They believe the place must have been a site for celebrations and ritual acts, as the earthen walls could not have offered defensive protection against attackers. Animal bones and vessels found at the site also point to it being a cult site. And human skeletal remains — not unlike findings at the original Stonehenge — have also been dug up. The researchers are especially intrigued by the graves of a child, aged between five and 10, who was buried in a fetus-like position, and that of a higher ranking dignitary.

On top of that, another wooden pagan structure, which probably came into use directly after the one being dug up, has been found nearby. So far, archaeologists have undertaken only a small exploratory excavation. “We might start a bigger excavation there next year,” Spatzier said — in the hopes of completely uncovering the mysteries of the German Stonehenge.

Every time such findings are made I whonder why a period of history so meaningful for the western world hasn’t yet served as scenario of an important historical novel, like Quo Vadis, or Pharaoh, or The Clan of the Cave Bear, or Aztec, etc. Any reader interested in beginning a historical fiction (blog) novel? I can help with the original language of characters 😉

Is euroscepticism gaining momentum in Ireland, as it supposedly did in France and the Netherlands?

Less than half of the Irish population voted on the Lisbon Treaty, the so-called Constitution of the European Union. In other words: 862,415 votes against and 752,451 in favour, giving a majority of 109,964 against, decided this time the future of nearly 500 million Europeans. Some pro-Europeans are asking now what eurosceptics have often asked before: “Is this what we call democracy?” The ‘No’ has eventually prevailed, while the Lisbon Treaty had been already ratified in 18 EU member states; those ratifications will possibly serve for nothing, more or less like the previous ratifications of the European Constitution after voters in France and the Netherlands rejected it in similar referenda.

The most common sentences heard in EU member states among supporters of the No are “the EU isn’t a democracy“, because “they didn’t inform us about this or that”, or “they are doing things without us“. Even if such slogans are obviously false and demagogic, they are equally repeated by all parties looking for the No; actual reasons behind No-ist groups are, however, quite different, and can usually be summed up into:

  • Radical leftists, always asking for a “less capitalist” and “more social” Europe; something like a renewed Warsaw pact?
  • Ultraconservatives, who won’t accept anything against their national supremacy concept, be it for racial, cultural, linguistic or historical reasons.
  • AND, no matter what ideas behind them, opposition parties just wanting to take the lead of their country or region, using referenda as another way to show popular support, no matter if it affects the rest of us Europeans. If the Government says YES, they’ll look for some reason to say NO.

Of course, they all “win” when the No wins, and ‘the others’, be it ‘capitalism’, or ‘progress’, or the party looking for the Yes, “loose”. Apparently, apart from British and American eurosceptic media and lobbies, European neonazis and communists are also cellebrating the one-million No throughout Europe, even after complaining so much about the “false democracy” the EU represents, what gives a general idea of who actually “loses” in the European Union with this vote, and who actually cared for democracy in Europe and who didn’t…

If Europe had one common language – and I don’t mean a lingua franca like English, or any Esperanto out there – political discussion and regulation debates at European level could be followed by all; if Europe worked as one democracy, were the majority (not individual countries) decided about the future of us all; and if Europe was something less a customs union, and more of a real country, maybe people would bother to go and vote for their future, instead of resting at home letting the different euroscepticisms – or, better, euroegoisms – of their country’s minorities rule.

By the way, I’m not currently for the Yes of a Constitutional treaty that brings us more of the current distribution of the EU budget pie, among the (unofficious) predominant English use in official communications, the (not-so-official) English+German+French rules regarding common translations, and the 25 official languages into which every important communication should be made available; and the thousands of millions of euros spent yearly to support the so-called “multilingualism” policy in the EU in any possible way, with different programmes and investments, whithout directly admitting those costs as part of their language policy. But, that 862,415 Irish supporting Sinn Féin‘s or UK businessman (founder and funder of Libertas anti-European lobby campaigns) Declan Ganley’s views decide that the rest of us 490 million Europeans should pay for yet another project of the EU Constitution until it is eventually approved, that’s certainly not the idea I have on how to improve things in the EU…