Commentary-Summary of the essay What Language for Europe? (1991), written by Mark Fettes

Student at Sciences Po Lyon in Grade 3. Founding member of Europa Lingua . In favour of a federal Europe. Disappointed by the current functioning of the European Union, he is convinced that a common language can revive the European project.
Commentary-Summary of the essay What Language for Europe? (1991), written by Mark Fettes Posted on 11 June, 2018Leave a Comment
Student at Sciences Po Lyon in Grade 3. Founding member of Europa Lingua . In favour of a federal Europe. Disappointed by the current functioning of the European Union, he is convinced that a common language can revive the European project.

The idea of establishing a common European language is very old, and we are not the first to study the issue at Europa Lingua. Mark Fettes notably worked at length on the subject. Born in 1961, Mark Fettes is a Canadian scholar, speaking Esperanto since adolescence, and president of the world Esperanto Association since 2013. In particular, he studied the idea of implementing a European language in his essay What language for Europe? Will Europe still suffer the curse of Babel? Written in 1991. In his text, Fettes wonders about the confrontation between English and Esperanto to be the best candidate for the establishment of a common language in Europe. For this, he was first interested in the linguistic reality of Europe as it was in his time (in 1991). The second step is to study the pros and cons of the introduction of English as a common language, and then do the same for Esperanto. Finally, strong of these analyses, he draws a general assessment of the clash between what he calls on the one hand the "David Esperanto" and on the other the "English Goliath".


Firstly, Mark Fettes is studying the linguistic reality of Europe as it has been for many years. He explains that many relations and exchanges in history have been hampered by the simple fact that Europeans do not speak the same languages. The development of globalization and exchanges of all kinds over the past few years has helped to overcome this problem, but only for a "relatively multilingual small elite", as he explains. In fact, apart from it, the vast majority of Europeans cannot understand each other (about 6% of the population only understands English in 1989, according to Sandie). For the author, this tare that represents the lack of communication comes directly discredit and abort the very idea of a united Europe. He also wonders about the very notion of ' Europe '. Should we talk about the European Community, the continent, a region of Europe? Fettes explains that it is imperative to define precisely the meaning given to Europe, because, depending on the political, economic and social context, the language policy to be carried out may be substantially different.

Still, multilingualism remains fundamental to the European institutions, which regard it as the only acceptable policy in this area. According to Fettes, this is partly due to the fact that the diversity of European languages has been "the source of countless riches", and has contributed to the very development of European culture. This is, moreover, firmly defended and claimed by the Europeans in general, who would not wish to see their native and national languages disappear. That is why, while defending the introduction of a common language on the continent, the author wants it to be a "second language", i.e. it does not replace the national languages. This would fall to him for "fiction (anti) utopian". So how do we establish this second language in countries with very different cultures and languages? For Mark Fettes, it would be necessary to have a simple language and especially accessible to all Europeans.


With these findings, Mark Fettes analyzes both English and Esperanto to see if they are able to meet these requirements. First, English has the advantage of being an "ethnic language", and therefore of being spoken on a daily basis by millions of users. The weight of English in international and economic relations is also already very important. It is indeed used in the majority of cultural, commercial or political exchanges, but also in the daily life of Europeans, especially through fast food or series. In this sense, he appears as the most firmly anchored and most able candidate to become this second language of Europe, or even the world. Although many oppositions to this phenomenon have emerged in history and even today, it does not prevent the fact that English acquires over the years an ever more predominant role.

But English also knows many flaws. First, the fact that it is used in another non-English-speaking country such as India, for example, inevitably creates linguistic disparities between original English and reused English, mixed with a local culture and language. Moreover, as the author explains, the use and fluency of English vary greatly depending on the people and the countries. It is particularly used in the northern countries, but much less so in Eastern Europe for example. English is therefore an important language but it is not hegemonic and may even be less important than others in some European countries. In addition, Fettes explains that even in countries where English is widely accepted and highly used, it is in no way optimal. Indeed, in the Netherlands, for example, English is used primarily passively, not active; The Dutch consume English but do not produce it, and the Dutch versions of the products are much more used by the inhabitants than the English versions. From then on, Mark Fettes explains, through the Dasgupta thesis, that the use of a second language such as English in the Netherlands leads to a significant loss of creativity. For all these reasons, he said, "political, cultural and psychological obstacles limit the chances of English ever becoming the language of inter-European communication."


After analyzing the role that English plays and could play in Europe, Mark Fettes comes to study Esperanto. While English could be established for mainly pragmatic reasons and linked to its current dominant role, Esperanto could be used for principle reasons. Indeed, Esperanto is a relatively new language, since it was created in the nineteenth century and is mainly used by a very limited community. Moreover, Esperanto cannot be based on real "material realities" as English would. For Fettes, he must therefore assert himself and defend himself from "potential benefits". Esperanto appears in this sense to be the exact opposite of English, making its study even more interesting. On the one hand, Mark Fettes explains that Esperanto has many problems related precisely to its status as a "different" language. Firstly, it can scare many European citizens who do not want the world to see their national language replaced by another coming out of nowhere. Moreover, the simplicity of language, which is at first glance an advantage, and its independence from a soil and a native people can lead to a "loss of expressiveness" of language, as Richards and Steiner assert. But Mark Fettes refutes this last argument. Indeed, he explains that Esperanto is a language that evolves and adapts to the changes of its time. It is a real "lexical and cultural nucleus" as are the other languages. In contrast to English, Esperanto has the advantage of neutrality. It does not belong to any ethnic group or country in particular. He resists the argument of loss of creativity which was the subject of English following the thesis of Dasgupta. Finally, Mark Fettes says that Esperanto is primarily European, whether in its construction or in the way it is used by its community. Nevertheless, Esperanto has a universal vocation and aims to become a world second language, not to confine itself to European borders. So how and why should we consider it in a context only concentrated around Europe?


Thus, these two candidates experience many obstacles to become the common European language. In many respects they also appear as the exact opposites because the flaws of one are the advantages of the other, and vice versa. With these analyses, Fettes draws a general conclusion from his study and wonders about Europe's linguistic future. He clearly explains that for the time being (in 1991), "The gap is immense between English and Esperanto". While it is certain that the intensification of global trade will promote the advent of languages with global diffusion, future developments are unpredictable. Will English become this common European language? Will Esperanto play this role? It is also possible that none of these languages are ultimately necessary, especially if other actors such as Spanish play a growing role, or if new technologies, starting with translators, will end the very interest of a language Common. Moreover, knowing the obstacles that English and Esperanto face, the author claims that other hybrid candidates may prove to be, starting with Basic English or Interlingua, even though these are still far from the level of Development of Esperanto.


As you understand it, Mark Fettes concludes his essay by refocusing on future developments, which they alone will decide on the linguistic future of the old continent. But today, almost thirty years later, the situation has not really evolved. English is still dominant and Esperanto is struggling to settle. So, in the face of English and Esperanto, can a new language not also be a potential candidate for the introduction of a common European language? Can we not imagine a modern language that would not be affected by the obstacles identified by Mark Fettes? Through the language Europeo, the think tank Europa Lingua offers this alternative.


To read the entire essay, consult:

Mark Fettes (English), what language for Europe? : Will Europe still suffer the curse of Babel? ["Europe's Babylon: towards a single European language?"], Rotterdam, UEA, coll. "Documents on Esperanto" (No. 26), 1991

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Student at Sciences Po Lyon in Grade 3. Founding member of Europa Lingua . In favour of a federal Europe. Disappointed by the current functioning of the European Union, he is convinced that a common language can revive the European project.

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