That’s grandeur! By learning French, an Italian fashion designer gains some further understanding of Catalan and, to a lesser extent, Castilian and Portuguese, even Romanian. Merci! It could always come in handy while dressing different brunette models. However, if s/he is actually planning a tour through several Latin capital cities, then parler French is quite a détour –especially now that it’s also démodé. Although they also parlar in Barcelona, it’s hablar in Madrid or falar in Lisbon, never mind a vorbi in Bucharest. A détour just as the English language would have been for speakers of Germanic spreeken back in the times when la langue française was the lingua franca.
Image: Adapted from Alexandru Zaharia
I wonder how people in the cold north coped while it reigned (Napoleon’s langue, I mean). Down here it was sunny. For us, the Latins, it’s much easier to learn. Even as a rather odd –let’s be honest– Romance language (don’t tell the French, but it’s true; just consider it’s named after the Franks, a Germanic tribe!), it still was learnable. Unlike anglais nowadays, since Queen Victoria and later Uncle Sam took over the reins. So, has our stylish Italian friend managed to learn it at all? How does s/he communicate in all those Latin cities? Can they speak it?
Well, if no common Roman lingua (Latin or French) or Barbarian tongue (English) is available, speakers naturally resort to the good old techniques of accomodation (partial assimilation) and intercomprehension. Big words for a trick Italian tourists often play while meeting new amigos in Madrid: they say “Hola” and then carry on the conversation in Italian, which is very understandable there. Just as Spaniards in Rome can say “Ciao” to amichi (or is it amici? who cares). So in informal situations like these, as well as when it comes to reading, Romance languages can still function, in a way, as “dialects” of the same language: Romance, the living Latin, even 15 centuries after the fall of Rome!
This wonder is possible because, well, this is a Mediterranean family, you know. We are very close. The preservation, until recently really, of our beloved lingua latina (la mamma!) as the language of culture has avoided divergence and provided coordination (Romanian, the rebel child, escaped some parental control, though, during an affair with Church Slavonic, hmm). On top of that, the intense historical exchanges between Latin countries (always la mafia!) have resulted in a great deal of linguistic (and cultural) re-union (fiestas!). Therefore, we understand each other quite well. Ish, now and then we do have some drama (temperamento!).
But after the play, we work. So let’s go back to our trendy fashion designer and his/her presentation tour (by the way, we don’t distinguish between “his” and “her” in Romance). How do the Latin people intercommunicate in more formal situations? Intercomprehension and accomodation can still happen. Nevertheless, missunderstandings and an improvised mixed lingo just don’t seem suitable at a business meeting or in a commercial e-mail (clarity and style are important!). So yes, those who can speak “British” (which is like calling Castilian “Spanish”), they use it, of course. It eases communication and looks professional nowadays; BUT using a Germanic language amongst Latins is actually absurd, and a betrayal of our common heritage. Can’t you hear Caesar’s words, lamenting this new treason? Tu quoque, fili mi! He would turn in his grave if he knew that even Latin tourists are joining the conspiracy now! Is there really no other option?
Now think of those newly refined northern Vikings. They very much appreciate our sublime art, fine wines, warm weather, fiestas and siestas. They take a break here every year (no more plundering, thank goodness). And they come speaking English (now they rejoice!). However, is it of much use here? Maybe the Portuguese and the Romanians, who watch all those American films in the original language (with subtitles), have got used to English (replying is another issue). Nevertheless, overall Latins stick with pride to their languages (even in the Eurovision contest, with the lingua de Camões winning in 2017!). So our northern visitors have no choice but to learn some Romance if they are wishing to interact outside hotels and restaurants.
Image: Alexandru Zaharia
Which variety of Romance should a non-Latin person learn? Let’s consider their advantages outside their borders. We’ve already discarded la langue de Molière, oui. Catalans will quickly step in and suggest (how presumptuous!) that their llengua dels trobadors i Ramon Llull is a halfway Romance, as a result of its geography. Yet, who cares about them? With la lengua de Cervantes you can also enjoy fados or order a pizza, even a paella. However, it's not a middle point (its Iberian sister even less so), especially not if you are still planning to climb a metallic tour or explore ghostly castles. Good luck with the limba lui Eminescu (despite the enthusiastic Latin identity of its speakers). A better entrance into Romance and its various passions is offered by the conservative lingua di Dante, which has often kept the original proto-Romance form from which other languages have later revolted: bĕne (Lat.) > bène (Proto-Rom. and Ita.) > bine, bien, bem, bé. Not always, though: bŏnam (Lat.) > bòna (Proto-Rom. and Cat.) > buona (Ita.), bonne, boa, buena, bună. The ideal language would combine bène ‘well’ and bòna ‘good’, which encompass and explain the different variants.
That’s why the efficient Germans, fed up with our chaos, just start off with Latin. Many have spent years, with discipline, learning the language of Rome (all roads lead to it!). It certainly helps as an introduction. Nevertheless, it’s a central door into Romance from the back (don’t get me wrong!): a 2000-year-long détour! It’s true that classical Latin has been modernized over the centuries, with new words as new concepts have appeared (we get a titiatio from the Pope every day). However, remember that apart from its pronunciation –and only partially– our traditional common standard has barely been updated to the general grammatical evolution of the living language (what do we need declensions for now?). And as a result it has become incomprehensible, like Old Greek for modern Greeks.
Image: Alexandru Zaharia
Its updating was hindered by the lack of political unity after the fall of the Imperium Romanum as well as –in my opinion– by Latin's additional role as an international language in large areas of Christianity, where a new Rome managed to extend its hold (imperialism again, oops). Those people outside the old borders, including God, just couldn’t be bothered with evolution! Lingua aeterna. So eventually, each Latin country just rolled up its sleeves and made a local up-date for internal use. Et voilà what we now call Romance languages. But the wind has changed direction now. Communication with other Latin people has increased extraordinarily (Erasmus!) and Latin countries, both in Europe and in America, are in ever closer contact. In addition to that, our fellow Europeans need a central door into Romance from the front.
Already some decades ago, Rebecca Posner (University of Oxford) said that creating a Romance interlanguage “is not beyond the bounds of possibility” (The Romance languages.1996: 344). (New) standards for Greek, Czech, Catalan, Afrikaans or Basque, just to name some examples from different families, were developed in the 20th century by specialists. This is called codification, and it’s a branch of applied linguistics. So an updating of our Latin common standard language is possible. And it’s long overdue (no more mañana, mañana!). Will and the help of scientific methodology is all we need to start the ball rolling (users will finish the job, as usual). As a matter of fact, an international project, Vía Neolatina, has been working on such a codification for over a decade already. A new pan-Romance language, a synthesis of the existing variation that can be representative of Romance as a whole, will be proposed in the near future. The first version is already available at (have a look!). It’s like an improved Italian, with bène and bòna.
Of course, Latins converge in present Europe in contact with two big language families more (Germanic and Slavic), and smaller groups. So they not only need a neolatino to communicate amongst themselves but also some way to interact with other Europeans. We need a common strategy here. Luckily, the Slavic and Germanic families are also working towards their own linguistic convergence. And, believe it or not, it’s the east Europeans that are leading this complementary movement. Their , which is receiving a lot of attention in the press, is even being used in a new film, ‘ ’, based on a story that takes place in an indeterminate Slavic region. Bravo! So we are getting there: Neolatin, Interslavic and Germanic. Three languages.
Language families in Europe. Image: Adapted from Wikimedia
Precisely, the ’s goal at the moment is that every European should speak 3 languages. However, it’s mother tongue + two more whichever! This linguistic policy is politically correct but leads to dispersion and so doesn’t solve Europe’s communication needs. As a result, the global language marches into our continent and the de facto policy ends up being “American” (nowadays, who knows what could come in the future: Mandarin perhaps?). So even if we score that “multilingualism goal” (as it’s officially called), who is winning the match is monolingualism. And it’s the visitor (E pluribus unum is their motto). If we really care about our European linguistic diversity, we need a policy that is not only practical and natural (sorry, esperantists!) but also respectful of diversity, as well as neutral, obviously.
On top of that, the language of the USA (great country!), as helpful as it is in today’s world, may actually be hindering the development of Europe. show that modern Europeans link national identity above all to language. Not customs, not birth, not religion, but language. Now how can a cold communication tool such as English is for continental Europeans (isn’t it?) possibly make them feel more European? It can’t even keep the Brits in the EU! Globish has definitely little to do with Europe (could we ever call it “European”?). On the contrary, either Germanic, Romance or Slavic are, for the vast majority of Europeans (including the English!), their own languages too. Moreover, they share a common moder/matre/mati. A huge family! That could strengthen the European supranational identity!
Indo-European in Europe. Image: Adapted from WikimediaSo what is the idea? Multilingual conversations. In international communication, Europeans would use the second level standard of their language (Neolatin, Interslavic, etc.) and others would be able to understand, as they would also have studied the basics of other language families at school (a passive competence should do). Learning the international standard of your own language is not the same as learning a completely new language, and learning to understand another language is much easier than learning to speak it. So with this coordinated linguistic policy (and watching more European films!), we, the Europeans, could be able to intercommunicate while preserving (and developing!) our cherished linguistic heritage.
Switzerland offers examples of multilingual communication with languages from different families. The Swiss, who live quite happily together and enjoy their traditions (beautiful Alpine horns, don’t you agree?), speak 4 national languages and survive without resorting to a foreign lingua franca. One of the two chambers of their parliament (Council of States) doesn’t even have any , imagine that! If we now apply multilingual communication to international standard languages, Michelle from Paris can speak Neolatin to Boris from Zagreb and Karina from Copenhagen and then these two can reply in Interslavic and Germanic respectively. Each one of them using his/her own language and all three mutually understanding. If Europeans only get to know each other better, linguistically, it will be possible. Imagine us really knowing and understanding each other! English blocks that mutual discovery.
The language of Shakespeare is amazing and wonderful, so true –it happens to be my native tongue from mother’s side. Still, it’s as amazing and wonderful as the many other languages that have already been or are currently being replaced by it. In Europe, Scots and Welsh are vulnerable, Irish and Scottish Gaelic are in danger, Cornish and Manx are in a critical situation (they already died once). And now, outside the British Isles, and other small or medium size languages are increasingly losing contexts of use. Iceland has already began ringing alarms to save its language. Are only big languages safe? Let’s take this seriously.
2019 has been declared by the UNESCO (UN) the in order to spread awareness of the fact that linguistic diversity (like cultural and ecological diversity) is a decisive part of the world’s heritage and future. Every single language is a strategic resource that could be crucial some day to answer to important challenges for us all. In other words, the loss of any language in the planet is a loss for all humankind.
It’s our shared responsibility to take care of linguistic diversity. And now, with Brexit (please remain!), we have the chance to reconsider the role of English in Europe. An alternative strategy that could help us is organizing our language families by means of international standards. Let’s consider it! Slavic, Germanic, Romance: three languages to better love and unite Europe. “In varietate concordia” (that’s our motto).