by V. Giordani
«Because of its nature, the contemporary human being is not a monolingual, but a plurilingual individual, a quality translating itself into the mastering of various foreign languages, dialects, idiolects, jargons, pidgins and so on. The multilingual, or eurolingual, person is the study object of Eurolinguistics, a new branch in contemporary linguistics, which, through its multilingual programme, resists, or contrasts, the linguistic levelling and the old nationalist, mononational and monolingual concept. »1
Eurolinguistic (Euro + linguistics) is a neologistic term coined by Norbert Reiter in 1991 (Eurolinguistik), and it is a young branch of linguistics which deals with questions on the languages of Europe: history, sociology, politics, languages systems and intercultural communication. Since the coinage of this term, there have been a series of activities to boost this new conception of language research stressing the multilingual individual, language contact and interaction between the European languages, as well as the focus on linguistic changes which have led to convergence or divergence in the history of the languages of Europe. Before, these thematics were already been introduced in the works of Harald Haarmann, pursuing a “pan- or trans-European perspective”, and were carried on by regional associations already active in this field in some European universities: Eurolinguistischer Arbeitskreis Mannheim (ELAMA) by Per Sture Ureland; Eurolinguistic Network South East, Zagreb (ENSE); Associazione Eurolinguistica-Sud, Rome (AES), which among them is the only one recognized by a notary public act (2004). AES was founded with the following organization chart: prof. Giuseppe Gaetano Castorina from Università di Roma La Sapienza as President; prof. Josè Maria Cano from Universidad de Murcia in Spain as vice president; prof. Marinella Rocca Longo from Università Roma Tre as secretary; prof. Manuela Cipri from Geonames Canada as coordinator. Each one of these associations deals with academic research of the languages spoken in the Country they belong to. Research guidelines and principles were originally established on an informal level a few years before, through the formulation of the so called 20 Pushkin Theses, after the name of the Russian city where the Second International Symposium on Eurolinguistics was held, in September 1999. There is also an internet platform called EuroLinguistiX (ELiX), which offers a bibliography of Eurolinguistic publications and other knowledge material as a wiki, a discussion forum, an academic internet journal in order to address also aspects of “linguistic and cultural history”, “sociology of languages”, “language politics” and “intercultural communication”. In 2006, Joachim Grzega (the editor of EuroLinguistiX) published a basic reader on common features of European languages.2
In comparison with the term coined by Reiter, a wider meaning of Eurolinguistics is now slowly beginning to be accepted as a major perspective of Europe and its languages by an ever increasing number of linguists. Also expressions like “European citizenship” are being used nowadays by EU politicians, as denoting a citizen of one of the member states, who is therefore automatically accepted as citizen of the European Union. This is demonstrated on the passport by the fact that the name of a given country of belonging is clearly put below the dominating name of the “European Union”, receiving a wider political meaning in the sense of belonging to the EU. However, the task of Eurolinguistics is not involved so much with romantic and political “citizenship”, but more with the global-geographical and linguistic views of the European languages and their spread through migrations within Europe and later also into other continents. We just need to think about the spread of international words to demonstrate the power of global contacts, which show us the enormous impact of Global Eurolinguistics on our daily language thanks to these global European contacts and universal technical communications.3
Evolution and differences of European languages during ages
Languages from Europe, and obviously from all over the world, have evolved during centuries being very different from each other in several aspects, like grammatical and structure features, communicative strategies, and of course vocabulary. Investigating relations between languages leads to the identification of Europeanisms, namely the common traits that in the course of centuries have called forth a shared European Heritage.4
There are various definitions for Europe such as geographical, political, cultural-anthropological; there are also different European features, like exclusively or non-exclusively European, with the inclusion or exclusion of migrant languages, the inclusion or exclusion of varieties exported from Europe, and the inclusion or exclusion of non-standard varieties.
Most Eurolinguistic studies have focused on questions about language politics and language systems. Europe has the civilization with the largest multitude of official languages, but It is not only characterized by a multitude of language systems, it is also characterized by a multitude of pragmatic systems. Getting an overall idea of the most important intersections and differences is vital for realizing national identities and a European identity. So it is possible to observe the differences in northern European countries’ languages: while Germany and the British Isles are rather masculine, the Scandinavian countries are rather feminine. Within the Scandinavian countries, Finland is characterized by a high degree of uncertainty avoidance, the others by a low one. Germany sets itself apart from the British isles by its strong uncertainty avoidance. The Romanic countries have a rather strong need for uncertainty avoidance and high power distance. So we can form several sub-groups, and namely no single European country is characterized by a combination of high power distance and low uncertainty avoidance.
In ancient times, the role of a lingua franca belonged to the Latin language. Today this role belongs to the English language, and, in a geopolitical context, to the English language spoken in European and international institutions. After all this years this language cannot be considered pure English anymore, but it is rather a “Europeanized” English, a language “contaminated” by non-native speakers with a limited range of registers and vocabulary. Furthermore Latin, French and then English not only served or still serve as linguae francae, but also influenced the national languages due to their high prestige, and minor source languages for European borrowings are Arabic (ex. in mathematics and science, foreign plants and fruits), Italian (ex. in arts, music), and German.5 Typically, in the rise of a national language the new language becomes a lingua franca to peoples in the range of the future nation until the consolidation and unification phases. If the nation becomes internationally influential, its language may become a lingua franca among nations that speak their own national languages. We can take as an example the Middle Ages, where the two most important definitory elements of Europe were Christianitas and Latinitas, defining people with how they growth as a civilization. The situation changed with the spread of the national languages in official contexts and the rise of a national feeling. Those new movements led to projects of standardizing national language and gave birth to a number of language academies (for example in 1582 with the birth of Accademia della Crusca, in Florence). At that time, language evolved connecting more with a concept of nation rather than with the civilization one.6
The role of the European Union, nowadays
Despite the importance of English as an international lingua franca in Europe, Europe itself can be associated with its linguistic diversity and tolerance, which also includes the special protection of minority languages, typologically different and not a dialect of the standard languages. This tolerant linguistic attitude is also the reason why the European Union’s general rule is that every official national language is also an official EU language. The very structure of the European Union, a union of indipendent States and not a federation of States, bears the intrinsic elements of a democracy of languages. In fact, the European Union designates one or more languages as “official and working” with regard to any member state if they are the official languages of that state. The decision as to whether they are and their use by the EU as such is entirely up to the laws and policies of the member states. There are also state with multiple official languages, in the case of which the member state must designate which one has to be the working language. An English only solution contradicts the principle of linguistic equality among all citizens as provided by the Treaty of the European Union and confirmed in the recent communication on multilingualism issued by the European Commission.
As the European Union is an entirely voluntary association established by treaty, each member state retains its sovereignty in deciding what use to make of its own languages. The EU designation as official and working language is only an agreement concerning which one is going to be used in transacting official business between the member state and the European Union, especially in the translation of documents passed between the EU and the member state. The European Union does not attempt in any way to govern language use in a member state. Following this path, the European Union and the Council of Europe have been collaborating in a number of tasks, among which is the education of member populations in languages for “the promotion of plurilingualism” across all the EU member states. The result is a joint document, “Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment (CEFR)”, which is an educational standard defining “the competencies necessary for communication” and related knowledge for the benefit of educators in setting up educational programs.7
In this reguard, Grzega has the plan to build Eurolinguistics as a solid and constant subject at universities and schools. Through a series of conferences, Grzega aims to reach this goal thanks to memorandum documents from each one of those, that will be sent to national and international politicians. “The realization of this heterogeneous multilingual program will only be possible through a political pan-european approach, including research and organization in all European states, starting projects and creating research centres on Eurolinguistics in the long term, in countries where they still do not exist, particularly where the minority integration policies prove necessary to encouraging the feeling”8 of Europe as a whole.
Back to the European Union activity, the treaty of Lisbon (2009) sets communication in one’s mother tongue and in other European languages in first and second place respectively in the list of eight key competences necessary for personal fulfilment. The institutional pluralism of the European Union calls for a solution that respects the linguistic rights of all European citizens.
It is worth noting that “all the member states of the European Union have institutions whose role includes monitoring the official language or languages of their country, advising on language use, or developing language policy. The European Federation of National Institutions for Language (EFNIL), founded on October 2003 in Stockholm, provides a forum for these institutions to exchange information about their work and to gather and publish information about language use and language policy within the European Union. In addition, the Federation encourages the study of the official European languages and a coordinated approach towards mother-tongue and foreign-language learning, as a means of promoting linguistic and cultural diversity within the European Union.”9
Learning new languages, on a global scale
“Communication in the mother tongue is the ability to express and interpret concepts, thoughts, feelings, facts and opinions in both oral and written form, such as listening, speaking, reading and writing, and to interact linguistically in an appropriate and creative way in a full range of societal and cultural contexts; in education and training, work, home and leisure.” “Communication in the mother tongue requires an individual to have knowledge of vocabulary, functional grammar and the functions of language. It includes an awareness of the main types of verbal interaction, a range of literary and non-literary texts, the main feature of different styles and registers of language, and the variability of language and communication in different contexts.”10 The grouping of terms in different languages reveals the connections between them, and sheds light on the paths and evolutions of meanings and signifiers. Words reciprocally become clearer and lexical competence is developed together with the interest for semantics and applied Eurosemantics. The costs of an absence of multilingual training and the ability to fully interact at an European and global level, or to be able to avail of conditions and instruments that facilitate international communication, are damaging not only from an economic point of view, but also at a psychological, sociological and cultural level; whereas the advantages of a multilingualism that is sustainable, articulated, flexible, functional and that contains codes for communication behaviour, supported by precise linguistic and metalinguistic competences, serves to facilitate the accelerated learning of new languages which are necessary for the furthering of professional goals, and this is so rewarding that it is certainly worthwhile to take the trouble to do so and not underestimate any proposal or initiative.
When we are going to study new languages, in many introductions to linguistics, the units are structured according to linguistic levels: the phonetic, the grammatical and the lexical level. So the linguistic units are described according to their forms, as morphological and formal aspect, and according to their functions, like the semantic and the pragmatic aspect. In an introduction to language and linguistics in a socioeconomic context, other focuses should be selected from the factors that determine a speaker’s choice of words: grammatical constructions and sounds are, among others, the speaker’s origin, profession, place of living, nationality, education, social class, ethnicity, religion, gender, age. These factors are sometimes called sociolinguistic variables.
If we look at Europe’s Middle Ages, ideas were exchanged in the following two ways: “horizontally”, communicating inter-nationally via Latin, and “vertically”, communicating inter-socially via the respective national language. So, if two interlocutors did not share a common linguistic code, they always needed an interpreter or translator.
The rise and fall of international languages is often connected with the rise and fall of the corresponding culture and its role in economics, politics and the way of life. At the same time, a global language must not be defined as the possession of a national culture, but of a global culture.
Even on a global scale of the experiences of every day, if we take in consideration today’s complex and increasingly multilingual urban realities, English fulfills at least two main functions. First of all, it plays an important role as the main lingua franca by providing information for example to tourists, who are simply visiting temporarily, and to immigrants, who do not speak the native language of the country where they reside. Many top-down signs written in the native language and posted by the authorities are translated into English, thus becoming bilingual signs. If there is more than one official language, the signs are likely to be multilingual. Second, the use of English in urban settings can be viewed as highly symbolic and prestigious.
Studying how English is spread as an international language, we can observe its hybrid nature from the structural elements borrowed from Roman and German languages.
There are a lot of similarities in lexical and morphosynthactical structure, leading to similar meanings and can help to be understood by a greater number of people. Sound has and important role too, a lot of different sayings and proverbs present the same expressions of alliteration. In general, figurative language is a relevant example of how different languages can be transposed and coded in a common way, maintaining their denotative value after the change of connotations.
But, in some circumstances, it is possible to see that a British, an American and an Australian may in some occasion don’t understand each other because of simple differences in words’ use and pronounciation.
In sum, Global English is an English that allows many variants. Native speakers would then just have to acquire the passive knowledge of these forms, to acquire a distinct pronunciation and to refrain from metaphoric idiomatic expressions that cannot be decoded without specific cultural knowledge.
Should be of primary importance to build an authentic register with lexical, syntactic and phonic rules of its own, particularly projected towards international communication. It is also fundamental to understand the effective distance between the already known languages, beginning from mother tongue, and the target language. Some kind of expression could be transferred to another language and still being interpreted in a different, and possibly negative way. But, bearing this in mind, an overlay with mother tongue could have also positive effects in the studies of a second language. In fact we talk about “positive transfer” in reguards of the similarities between the starting language and the target one. This should lead to an easier usage of every language at an international level and plurigualism.
So, in an international register all the elements should be natural, leading to the acknowledgment of how universal principles set themselves as a fundament for a common linguistic culture, making the process of acquisition and coding of other languages easier.
We have to highlight also the existence of the Plain English movement which, sided by the Fight the Fog movement, since a few decades has started a campaign against the use of Roman and Neolatin terms, guilty of being too distant from the regular language of everyday with their long and often referred to as fat words. This is, obviously, a reductive and anglocentric vision that goes in the opposite way of all the things we have talked about until now. Even more if we consider the common roots of the vast majority of languages, and how this is helpful for the studies of foreign ones too. We also accurately know, thanks to The Oxford English Corpus, that beyond 50% of English lexicon have a Neolatin matrix. By the way, those kind of movements seem to have encountered a lot of supporters in different time periods, such as Geoffrey Chaucer and George Orwell. Clearly, their positions cannot stand in the context of a globalized world like the one we are facing today. Plain English supporters have also made various lists of terms that can or must be substituted, and their relative solutions. Analyzing those lists we can see how lazy this vision really is: “correct” words are only one or two letters shorter in most cases (admissible vs allowed, emphasise vs highlight, objective vs target) and sometimes they are also made of two words instead of one (assemble vs put together, adjacent vs next to). So it seems the whole story is only about a choice between two words on the same level, and preferring one instead of another because the latter is difficult to understand is only a personal lack of culture. Also, for everything we have said, as an Italian point of view, some of those kind of words could be easier or faster to understand rather than the words proposed by Plain English supporters.
The Pushkin Manifesto
Beyond those few upstream elements, in these days we are witnessing a new and strong re-orientation in the humanities toward a global view of the languages and peoples of Europe which has to do with the economic and political unification of Europe, and specially thinking of East European countries which are taking part in. In this respect, the Pushkin Symposium was an attempt to awaken the short-sighted views of the languages of Europe as only national languages instead of emphasising their status as also international means of communication.
The Pushkin Symposium was concentrated on the languages spoken north of the Alps, and was attended by 20 scholars from 11 different countries (Russia, Poland, Lithuania, Germany, Switzerland, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Ireland, Sweden, and Finland). The intention was to deal with European peoples and languages in interaction as an intricate network of interdependencies, which are poorly understood and inadequately promoted in today’s educational systems, which are mostly nationally oriented, being the product of school politics of the national states of the 19th century. Eurolinguistics, on the other hand, will grow to a new orientation in linguistics and in other branches of the humanities and form a new international discipline. The formulation of the concept and goals of Eurolinguistics as articulated in the Pushkin Manifesto was the most important goal of the Pushkin-Symposium.
So, the goals presented in The Pushkin Manifesto through 20 theses were formulated partly in connection with the foundation of ELAMA and partly during the second meeting of ELAMA in June 1999, and finally at the Pushkin Symposium itself in 10 September 1999. In order to carry out a Europe-wide program in the sense of the Pushkin Theses, there was and will be a great need for researchers and institutes to co-operate on things European, be it of a linguistic, ethnic or cultural-historical character.11 The 20 thesis are grouped in 10 categories, which are mentioned down below. We can observe that those categories follow the same sort of path discussed here, so it is already possible to understand the criteria behind them, and how they are a direct expression of the Eurolinguistics movement.
A. Multilingualism in focus of research and a factor of glottogenesis in Eurolinguistics
B. Contact Typologies and networks of language contacts
C. Common linguistic characteristics (europeanisms) mirroring networks of contacts
D. Europeanisms, European togetherness and identity
E. Eurolinguistics, nationalism, national Weltbilder and discrimination
F. Eurolinguistics, lesser-used languages and linguistic equality
G. European studies (Europäistik) as a subject in education
H. Migration and europeanisation
I. Eurolinguistics and globalisation – European languages world-wide
J. Eurolinguistic initiatives for a Europe-wide orientation
1Anita Natascia Bernacchia, Translation in a eurolinguistic context: ideas and theories for European languages – Brief outline of the eurolinguistic approach, p. 10, «Studia Linguistica», 3/2009
3Eurolinguistics newsletter, p.6, n.10, May 2014
4Anita Natascia Bernacchia, Translation in a eurolinguistic context: ideas and theories for European languages – Brief outline of the eurolinguistic approach, p. 10, «Studia Linguistica», 3/2009
8Anita Natascia Bernacchia, Translation in a eurolinguistic context: ideas and theories for European languages – Brief outline of the eurolinguistic approach, p. 10-11, «Studia Linguistica», 3/2009