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 ‘difficult’ (using Esperantist terms) is an inflected language like Proto-Indo-European for Europeans?

For native speakers of most modern Romance languages (apart from some reminiscence of the neuter case), Nordic (Germanic) languages, English, Dutch, or Bulgarian, it is usually considered “difficult” to learn an inflected language like Latin, German or Russian: cases are a priori felt as too strange, too “archaic”, too ‘foreign’ to the own system of expressing ideas. However, for a common German, Baltic, Slavic, Greek speaker, or for non-IE speakers of Basque or Uralic languages (Finnish, Hungarian, Estonian), cases are the only way to express common concepts and ideas, and it was also the common way of expression for speakers of older versions of those very uninflected languages, like Old English, Old Norse or Classical Latin; and their speakers didn’t consider their languages “difficult” …

Therefore, to use different cases is the normal way to express concepts that non-inflected languages express in different ways – i.e. not “more easily”, but “differently”. That’s the point Esperantism has lost in its struggle to convince the world of its “easiness”. In fact, the idea that cases are difficult is so impregnated in Esperantism, that some did create “an old version” [probably deemed “more difficult”] of Esperanto called Arcaicam Esperantom, as a fiction of evolution from an older language…

Thus, among the European population (more than 700 million inhabitants), just around 200 million speak non-inflected languages, while the rest use at least 4 cases to express every possible concept. Within the current EU, more or less half of its speakers speak an inflected language – like German, Polish, Czech, Greek, Lithuanian, Slovenian, or non-IE Hungarian, Finnish, etc. – as their mother tongue.

For example, the literal sentence “I go to-the-house” [not exactly the common expression “I go home” which is expressed differently in each language] would be said in Spanish “voy a-la-casa”, or in French “je vais a-la-maison”, in Italian “vado a-la-casa”, etc. Therefore, in an “easy conlang” for Western European speakers, say in something called Esperanto, a sentence like “io vo a-lo-haus” is apparently “easy”, because the syntactical structure is similar to those non-inflected languages.

NOTE: In fact, there are other interesting concepts behind the use of the obligatory subject before the verb in languages like English or Esperanto, that appears usually in those languages that have reduced the verbal system; therefore, the subject is necessary only in those languages whose verbal inflection becomes too simple to express an idea that must still be expressed some way – more or less like different combinations of prepositions and articles are often needed to substitute the lost nominal inflection, as we discuss here. In those ‘less innovative’ languages that retain a rich verbal system, the subject appears for some reason, as e.g. in Spanish “yo voy a la casa”, which must be expressed differently in innovative languages, using different linguistic resources, like e.g. Eng. “I myself go to the house” (or maybe “it’s me who…“), or French “moi, je vais a la maison”. Is that obligatory subject and ‘simplified’ verbal system of Esperanto “easier”, and therefore “better”…? I guess not. It’s just an imitation of French or English that Mr. Zamenhoff deemed “better” for his creation to succeed, given the relevance of those languages (and its speakers’ acceptance) back in 1900…

On the other hand, in German it would be “Ich gehe nach-Haus-e”, in Latin, it is “vado ad-domu-m”; in Polish “idę do-dom-u” etc. The use of declensions, if compared to uninflected languages, is usually made of just a simple change of “preposition+article” -> “declension” – or, in the ‘worst’ case (as it is shown here), by a “preposition+article” -> “preposition+declension”.

To sum up, can some languages be considered “more difficult” than others? Yes, indeed. If seen from a European point of view, some linguistic features are not easy to learn: the Arab writing system, Chinese unending kanjis, Sino-Tibetan or Vietnamese tones, etc. can cause headaches to [adult] speakers willing to learn them… Also, from an English, French or Spanish point of view, learning a language like Esperanto might seem “better” because of its apparent and equivocal “easiness”… But, between (a) all Indo-European speakers learning a non-inflected language like English [or ‘easy’ Esperanto], or (b) all Indo-European speakers learning an inflected one like Proto-Indo-European?; I guess there is no language “easier” than other, and therefore the “better” option should come from other rational considerations, not just faith in the absurd ramblings of an illuminated Polish ophthalmologist.

Therefore, the question remains still the same: why on earth should any European willing to speak a common language select an invented one (from the thousand “super easy” ones available) than a natural one, like the ancestor of most of their mother tongues, Proto-Indo-European?

Rhetoric of debates, discussions and arguments: Useful destructive criticism for scientific & academic research, reasons and personal opinions; the example of Proto-Indo-European language revival

Rhetoric (Wikipedia) is the art of harnessing reason, emotions and authority, through language, with a view to persuade an audience and, by persuading, to convince this audience to act, to pass judgement or to identify with given values. The word derives from PIE root wer-, ‘speak’, as in MIE zero-grade wrdhom, ‘word’, or full-grade werdhom, ‘verb’; from wrētōr ρήτωρ (rhētōr), “orator” [built like e.g. wistōr (<*widtor), Gk. ἵστωρ (histōr), “a wise man, one who knows right, a judge” (from which ‘history’), from PIE root weid-, ‘see, know’]; from that noun is adj. wrētorikós, Gk. ρητορικός (rhētorikós), “oratorical, skilled in speaking”, and fem. wrētorikā, GK ρητορική (rhētorikē). According to Plato, rhetoric is the “art of enchanting the soul”.

When related to Proto-Indo-European language revival, as well as in modern scientific research of any discipline, discussions are sometimes interesting in light of historical rhetoric, as they might get really close to some classical (counter-)argumentative resources, however unknown they are to their users…

Sophists taught that every argument could be countered with an opposing argument, that an argument’s effectiveness derived from how “likely” it appeared to the audience (its probability of seeming true), and that any probability argument could be countered with an inverted probability argument. Thus, if it seemed likely that a strong, poor man were guilty of robbing a rich, weak man, the strong poor man could argue, on the contrary, that this very likelihood (that he would be a suspect) makes it unlikely that he committed the crime, since he would most likely be apprehended for the crime. They also taught and were known for their ability to make the weaker (or worse) argument the stronger (or better).

So, for example, if people might generally think that evolution is very likely to have occured, because of the scientifical data available, one only has to say something like “God put those proofs there to confound people and prove their faith“. And, even if there is no single reason to give why that person is entitled to interpret the Bible that way, and to determine what ‘God thought’ when ‘inventing proofs of a false evolution’, in fact there is no need to give rational arguments: this very likelihood of evolution is in itself a proof of how good God is in cheating us…

Statistics was a discipline mostly unknown to sophists, but I’m sure they more or less imagined the typical bell curve that population beliefs and opinions follow. If interpreted the other way round, one could say that the more an idea is believed by people, the more likely is that someone will come along with another, competing one. In fact, that’s natural evolution, too: without that universal trend that life has to differentiate itself from the normal, matter would have never changed and get more and more complicated…

That trend is observed in research, too, as man is obviously another animal and its intelligence another natural feature subjected to the evolutive machinery of nature. That’s why Occam’s razor is never a sufficient argument to end a research field or hypothesis: you have e.g. Gimbutas’ theories (or Renfrew’s, if you like) – even though obviously not completely proven hypothesis -, about some prehistoric speakers being successful in their conquests and migrations through Eurasia, which infers with logic that what happend with Indo-European languages expansion is what has almost always happened in the known history of language expansion, using the most probable extrapolation they can with the facts we know. But you will still find competing hypothesis about an unlikely millennium-long, peaceful spread and mix of languages through and from Europe or Asia, based on some controversial facts and a great part of imagination. And, even if such theories are far away from what can generally be considered rational, they will certainly find supporters; and it’s not bad that such unlikely ideas emerge: science is built up thanks to some of such marginal ideas which eventually prove true; apart from the million ones that prove false and disappear, and some dozens that are sadly able to remain, like homeopathy or Esperanto-like conlanging, as I’ve said before. The same happens with the human body, which went through mutation obtaining lots of advantages, but at the same time dragging some genetic illnesses along…

About Proto-Indo-European research, it’s more or less straightforward which hypothesis and theories are considered generally accepted, and which ones minority views. Nevertheless, that doesn’t prevent renown experts from accepting some marginal hypothesis in some aspects of PIE reconstruction, while keeping the general view on other ones; neither does that prevent renown linguists and philologists to consider Proto-Indo-European, or comparative and historical grammar in general, an absurd work: the ex-Dean of a southern Spanish University, a Latin professor, deems PIE an “invention”; in his words, “from Lat. pater, Gk. pater, and Eng. father, we say there is a language that said what, ‘pater‘? pfff”; he obviously considers “language=written & renown language system”; the problem with that thought is that if PIE becomes spoken (i.e. written too) and renown, just as Old Latin became Classical Latin – instead of disappearing as the other Italic dialects – the whole reasoning is useless; so it’s also useless now. One of the most famous Indo-Europeanists in Spain, F. Adrados (e.g. marginal supporter of Etruscan as an IE language) and Bernabé (e.g. marginal supporter of the Glottalic theory, I think), even if dedicated to Indo-European reconstruction, deemed PIE revival – in some news in Spanish newspaper El Mundo – a “uthopia“, but considered at the same time possible that Greek and Latin (respectively) became EU’s official language: it’s not that they don’t consider speaking PIE impossible, but only that there are “better” alternatives: better, I guess, for Romance or Greek speakers or philologists…

About Proto-Indo-European language revival for Europe, thus, it is difficult to ascertain if it is the most rational choice, as it is to ascertain if liberal thoughts are more rational than conservative ones. I have lived in other countries within the European Union, and have visited other parts of Spain where the spoken language is not Spanish; from that experience, the different attitudes I’ve found are overwhelming: when you speak in English or German anywhere in Europe, the conversation is everything but fluent; also, if you speak English in the UK, German in Germany, French in France, or Czech in Czechia, even mastering quite well the regional language, you’ll never get the same reaction as if a Catalan (from a Catalan-speaking region) speaks Spanish in, say, Galicia (a Galician-Portuguese speaking region), as both use a language (Spanish) common to both of them. That was also the idea behind the first Esperanto out there, probably Volapük, and it has been the idea behind every conlang trying to be THE International Auxiliary Language since then; and none has succeeded. That was also the idea behind Hebrew revival in Israel, for speakers of a hundred different languages living in the same territory: they had other modern, common languages to choose instead of an ancient, partially incomplete, and “difficult” (in Esperantist terms) one, too, and it succeeded.

Latin use in Europe, on the other hand, has been declining ever since the first Romance dialects developed, and had its latest offcial (i.e. legal) use in Europe, apart from the Catholic church, at the beginning of the XX century in Hungary – curiously enough, a non-Indo-European speaking country. Its revival has been proposed a thousand times since then, but has never recovered its prestige, as Germanic-speaking countries have taken the lead in Western Europe, and Slavic-speaking countries in the East. It is hard to explain now why English- or German- or Polish-speaking peoples should learn and speak again the language of the Romans and the Roman Empire, with which they have little history in common…

The rest of known language revivals, like Cornish or Manx, or even e.g. the partial revival (“sociolect”) of Katharevousa Greek, not to talk about the so-called “revivals” – in fact “language revitalizations” – of Basque, Catalan, Breton, Ukrainian, etc. have been just regionally oriented language (or prestige + vocabulary) revivals with cultural or social purposes.

So, is Proto-Indo-European revival a “correct”, or “sufficiently rational” option, given the known facts? As an opinion, it is neither correct nor incorrect, as being “Indo-Europeanist for Europe” is like being leftist or conservative in politics; just like supporting Hebrew revival wasn’t (a hundred years ago) “sufficiently rational” in itself, and controversy over its revival have never ended. But, the reasons behind PIE revival can and should be questioned, as the reasons behind a conlang adoption (i.e. the concepts of “better” and “easier” when applied to language) can and should be critically reviewed. In Proto-Indo-European, it refers – I think – to two main questions:

1) Did Proto-Indo-European exist? i.e. can we confidently consider any proto-language something different from especulation or mere unproven hypothesis? The answer is “it depends”. Proto-Indo-European was probably a language spoken by prehistorical people, as probable as any generally accepted scientific theory we can support without experimental proofs, like theories on the Universe, its creation or development: they might prove wrong in the future, but – following the necessary abstraction and common sense – it’s not difficult to accept most individual premises and facts surrounding them. That migh be said about proto-languages like Proto-Slavic (ca. 1 AD), Proto-Germanic (ca. 1000 BC), Proto-Greek or Proto-Indo-Iranian (ca. 2000 BC) or Proto-Indo-European, especially about its European or North-Western subbranch (ca. 2500-2000 BC); on the other hand, however, about proto-languages like ‘Proto-Eurasiatic’ or ‘Proto-Nostratic’, or ‘Proto-Indo-Tyrrhenian’, or ‘Proto-Thraco-Illyrian’, or ‘Proto-Indo-Uralic’, or ‘Proto-Italo-Celtic’ (or even Proto-Italic), or ‘Proto-Balto-Slavic’, and the hundred other proposed combinations, it is impossible to prove beyond doubt if and when they were languages at all.

2) Is the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction trustable enough to be “revived”? i.e. can we consider it a speakable language, or just a linguistic theoretical approach? Again, it depends, but here mostly mixed with political opinions. In light of Ancient Hebrew – a language that ceased to be spoken 2500 years ago -, “revived” as a modern language introducing thousands of newly coined terms – many of them from Indo-European origin -, to the point that some want to name it “Israeli”, instead of “Hebrew” (as we call MIE “European” or “Europaio” instead of “Indo-European”), I guess the answer is clearly yes, it’s possible: in any possible case, Indo-European languages have a continuated history of more than 4000 years, and modern terms need only (in most cases) a sound-law adjustment to be translated into PIE. Also, in light of the other proto-languages with a high scientifical basis and a similar time span, like Proto-Uralic, Proto-Semitic or Proto-Dravidian, there is no possible comparison with Proto-Indo-European: while PIE is practically a fully reconstructed and well-known language without written texts to ‘confirm’ our knowledge, the rest are just experimental (mainly vocabulary-based) reconstructions. There are, thus, proto-languages and proto-languages, as there are well-known natural dead languages and poorly attested ones; PIE is therefore one of the few ones which might be called today a real, natural language, like Proto-Germanic, Proto-Slavic or Proto-Indo-Aryan.

However, anti-Europeanists (or, better, anti-Indo-Europeanists for the European Union) won’t find it difficult to say a simple “a proto-language is not enough to be revived, as Ancient Hebrew was written down and PIE wasn’t”, thus disguising their sceptic views on the politics behind the project with seemingly rational discussion. While others will also state, in light of our clear confrontation with conlangs, that “proto-language is nothing different from a conlang”, thus disguising their real interest in spreading their personal desire that a proto-language be similar to a conlang. One only has to say: “Classical Latin couldn’t be reconstructed by comparing Spanish, French and Italian” – when, in fact, the question should be something like “could the common, Late Vulgar Latin, be reconstructed with a high degree of confidence, having just the writings of the first mediaeval romance languages?” The answer is probably a simple “yes,and quite well”, until proven the contrary, but by expressing the first doubt one can easily transform the possible-reconstruction argument in an apparently unlikely one; enough to convince those who want to be convinced…

Thus, whereas some people consider PIE a natural language, confidently reconstructed, but impossible to speak today because of political matters, others just consider it another invention, nothing different from Esperanto, while Esperantist talk about it as a “worse” or “more difficult” alternative to it: you could nevertheless find all opinions mixed together when it comes to destructive discussions, as the objective is not to defend an own rational and worked idea, but simply to destroy the appearance (or likelihood, in sophistic terms) of the rival’s idea. Be it anti-Europeanism, anti-Indo-European-reconstrution or anti-everything-else-than-Esperanto, you don’t have to defend your position: just repeat your known anti- cliches, and you’ve “won”. Apparently, at least.

Cicero noted what Greek rhetors already knew before about usual debates, and how arguments should be made and countered so that no idea is left accepted. In that sense, discussions were (and are) generally so unnecessary, that the Socratic Method seems to be still the best philosophical approach to discussions, even those concerning scientifical (i.e. “most probable”) facts: Instead of arriving at answers, non-expert (and often expert) discussion is used to break down the theories others hold, not “to go beyond the axioms and postulates we take for granted” and obtain a better knowledge, as Greek philosophers put it, but just to destroy what others build up.

So, for example, we might get these general rules to counter any argument, even if it’s not only based on opinions, but also on generally accepted facts:

1) Demonstrate the falseness of a part of the rival’s argument; then, infer the falseness of the whole reasoning. For example, let’s say Gimbutas’ view is out-dated, or that we at Dnghu included something considered nowadays ‘wrong’ in our grammar: then PIE revival is also mistaken; nothing more to explain. Or, let’s say that Hebrew revival is not “equal” to a proto-language revival, and that therefore the comparison is ‘false’ – even if comparisons are there to compare similar cases, not “equal” cases, which would be absurd – then, the whole PIE revival project is ‘equivocal’ or ‘absurd’. That’s the view about PIE revival you can find in some comments made on American blogs out there.

2) You can also confirm a part of your rival’s argument, and then, by doing it, carry that argument to its extreme, to the extent that the consequences of it are intolerable, and the paroxism completely distorts your rival’s argument. That’s more or less what I usually do when confronting conlanging as a real option for the European Union, by saying “OK, let’s adopt the ‘better’ and ‘easier’ language: first Esperanto, then the “better” and “easier” Esperanzo, then Lojban, then Pilosofio, then Mazematio, etc. etc. ad infinitum” – so, as a conclusion, one might accept that “better” and “easier” are not actually good reasons to adopt a language; hence the arguments based on “better” and “easier” cliches are opinion, not ratio.

3) The most common now (and then, I guess, in spoken language) is personal discredit, by which you can infer that his argument is also corrupted. That is what some have made when lacking more arguments, calling me personally (and the Indo-European language Association in general ?!) a “racist”, “nazi”, or “KKK-like” group; or trying to discredit me personally by saying I don’t master the English language; or that I misspelled or ‘was wrong’ in reconstructing this or that PIE name or noun; or even just because I am “an amateur”, – thus suggesting we all have to be “language professionals” to propose a trustable PIE revival. A recent example of this is our latest Esperantist visitor, saying I am “close to being racist” because I propose PIE for the EU – thus obviously inviting readers to identify “language=race”, saying that “I propose one language = I propose one race = I am a racist”, and therefore if “I=racist” and “I propose PIE revival” => “PIE=x”. The whole reasoning is nonsense, but he is not the first – and won’t be the last – educated individual to say (and possibly believe) that…

4) The fourth is actually only a minor method derived from the third, used in desperate cases, which consists on taking a sensible, emotional example of the consequences of the generalization of the rival’s argument, to demonstrate the moral baseness of the one who defends it; then, if he is discredited, his argument is corrupted, too [see point 3]… That is what some desperate people do when saying that PIE revival for the EU is “bad” (or “worse”) for non-IE-language-speakers like Finnish, Hungarian, Estonian, Basque or Maltese peoples. In fact, anyone who had taken a look at our website, or had made a quick search about me, would have found that I began this project of PIE revival to defend European languages (at least minority languages, as national or official languages are already well protected) against the European Union’s English officious imperium and English-German-French official triumvirate. Also, if we left PIE revival, only some languages (the official, i.e. national ones, 25 today) would get EU support, while the rest just die out or resist with some regional or private support. With Modern Indo-European, on the other hand, there will only be one official language supported by the European Union, and the rest really equal in front of each other and the Union, be it English, Maltese, Basque, Saami or Piedmontese. Nowadays, English is the language spoken in institutions, Maltese has an official status before the EU, while Saami is official in its country, Basque is only official in its territory, and Piedmontese, Asturian, Breton, and the majority of EU regional languages are only privately and locally defended. Nevertheless, one only has to say “supporting Indo-European is what Nazis did, PIE revival is racist and wants to destroy non-Indo-European peoples and cultures”; and, there you are: nothing proven, nothing reasoned, but the simplest and most efficient FUD you can find to counter the thousand arguments in favour of this revival project.

However unnecessary and unfruitful it might seem, I still discuss – or even directly look for debate -, because I get a benefit of such long, active pauses from my study, unlike those tiny passive TV- or radio-pauses I insert between study hours, especially in these stressful exam periods. Indeed I can find something to discuss in any website at any time, but I’m generally interested in debating these language political options. Nevertheless, I find it difficult to understand why some people get mad (at me, the project, or even the association or the whole world), when in fact taking part on any discussion is freely accepted by all of us, and it’s me who put new ideas and proposals on the table, and the others who just have to criticize them…

Something valuable for life I learned from psychology (possibly the only thing…) is about Chomsky’s reaction on Skinner’s comments: my professor (close to Freudian psychoanalysis), who told us the story – I hope I got it well, I cannot find it out there – thought it was Skinner who “won” the debate, by answering to Chomsky’s criticism, who in turn had criticized Skinner’s work, Verbal Behaviour, for his “scientistic”, not scientific, concept of the human mind. In fact, the younger Chomsky had just applied science to psychology (a need that psychology still has), simplifying the understanding of mind with a strict cognitive view, and criticizing some traditional views that psychologists accepted as ‘normal’. Skinner and those who followed his behavioural school of thought overreacted, mostly based on the belief that Chomsky’s reasons were against their lives and professional options, when in fact reason and opinion are in different planes. Chomsky, instead of entering the flame (yes, trolling existed back in the 60’s) did nothing. When asked years later, about why he didn’t reply as expected to all that criticism, he just said: “they missed the point”; he said what he had to say, criticized what he wanted, proposed an alternative, and left the discussion. And still, even by not answering, cognitive revolution provoked a shift in American psychology between the 1950s through the 1970s from being primarily behavioral to being primarily cognitive.

If you want to debate about opinions – be it PIE revival, Europeanism, general politics, Star Trek or the sex of angels -, entering into unending criticisms and personal attacks, that’s OK; but you should do it if and when you want, as I only do it because I obtain something beneficial, having a good time, laughing a little bit, relaxing from study, thinking about interesting reasons that might appear for or against my views or ideas, etc. And you should do it to get something in (re)turn, be it that same stress relief I (and most people) get, or other personal or professional benefits whatsoever. If not, if maybe you are getting more stressed trying to “convince” me or others, to “make us change our minds” with great one-minute ‘reasons’, by discussing directly your opinions as if they were ‘true‘, then you are clearly “missing the point” (using Chomsky’s words) with these discussions, and – as our latest Esperantist commenter (Mr. Janoski) puts it – “losing your time”, “trying to understand” something…

Wikipedia articles: accuracy, vandalism, spam and administrators

I have discovered (among tons of anti-spam spam) a mail from a Wikipedian asking for collaboration on the discussion about some controversy regarding an article on Dnghu’s project, about Indo-European language revival – as far as I’ve read, it seems to deal with the question “is Modern Indo-European as Modern Hebrew?” – Even if I wanted to participate, I don’t know what else could I say, that is not already written down in our grammar.

Some months ago I saw that some links were coming from the Wikipedia article “Europaio” – of course, I felt excited about it, but then I read the talk page, the first entry log was a certain user CrCulver (now disappeared, I’ve found the same user in Citizendium) trying to delete immediatly the entry saying “Non-notable conlang project, and it appears that the initiator of it himself has put up this article (and put links to it in inappropriate places), so it’s also vanity“. That had already happened weeks before, and the question appeared to be solved, but it still bothered me a lot when I first read what was written about me and the project, and in the most visited online Encyclopedia.

I looked for the creator of the article, and it was a Mr. Extremaduran – hence probably from Extremadura, and apparently a new user created just to add the project. So, OK, there were signs that it could be me or one of us, and a bad day is a bad day, and all of us have accused or suspected from others, but that guy left his comment publicly “non-notable” “conlang” and “vanity” – two strikes against the project (without even reading it, as it was minutes after the addition), and one against me personally, without even giving me the possibility to answer – a personal mail could have made the difference (even a post in our forum like “hey dude, you fucking spammer, I’m insulting you and your stupid project publicly, just in case you wanna answer me”, that could have saved me the annoyance).

Then some others have tried to discuss in the talk page about our project, trying to ascertain what is exactly all about, and some absurd comments about what we really mean and do and want (which is what we clearly state in our website) and the rest can be seen in the discussion page.

Then I received incoming links from a discussion page in the German wikipedia to this personal blog, and again some were talking about our “conlang” – I showed up and (using one of our IPs, so there could be no confussion) I said I didn’t want the project to appear as a conlang. They eventually deleted it – “not even the creator thinks it is notable” – yes, that was the point, not even reading my comment…

Adapted from a R. Galli’s post I read some time ago (in http://mnm.uib.es/gallir/):

I think wikipedians can do whatever they think appropriate with their project, I understand it and think we should support this free project. But when they begin to 1) accuse others of spamming (without us being even aware of what is going on), 2) take arbitrary decisions like deleting articles because of “spam” (even after they have been vandalized), without following its own rules and “consensus”, 3) that even the same persons (a certain Mr. Christian Culver and others) dare to criticize the projects and works of others from the most profound ignorance, and 4) that they use their own opinions as arguments to justify their public editions in a work read by many – Now, even after some wikipedians tried to solve it (moving it to “Modern Indo-European”), other wikipedians are trying to delete it for “not notable enough” – so, now eventually using their self-defined rules -; That whole mess could discourage everyone.

And all this is brought to you without having even asked or tried to be there.

I don’t know if I wanted the project to be there one year ago, but I certainly thought before that it was a honour to be written about. Now I don’t – just see the discussion page on the German Wikipedia article, where dozens of personal “conlangs” were talked about as ‘personal shit’ along with our serious revival project of a language reconstructed by Indo-European scholars. Today it can happen that someone brands you as spammer, and that people think you are a spammer, or that wikipedians (just by creating an account) become judges of thousands of hours of work even without reading or knowing first what is all about.

Unless you are a very famous person, a friend of the administrators, or some project related to them, preferably North-American (or British), and that you or your project falls near the environment of some administrators, you might have it very hard to defend an article, it seems — some seem to know about everything, to the point they can decide about what is relevant and what not: I would really like to be an administrator, with all that knowledge about everything.

They can do with wikipedia.org whatever they like, they have the right to do it, and the Internet doesn’t end with the Wikimedia Foundation.
But things should be clear. One day you may wake up and see that because some well-minded person (or not so well-minded) wanted you or your project to be there, you are a “spammer” and a “vain” “conlanger” – and you still drinking your first coffee…

No, I don’t want to be there editing articles and participating in discussions with their administrators. If they want to talk about the project, they will have to read first about it (in our websites or in the press) – if they have questions, there is an open forum. It’s better not to be there and being able to work hard on the own projects, instead of trying to convince others that this or that account is not you, that this or that information is notable enough, or even care about your article just to apologize because some have considered your project “notable”, and have used their time to work a neutral and brief description of it. No, thanks.

Edit: By the way, what some Spanish media have done, vandalizing the Spanish Wikipedia to show how easy is to change it, showing it on TV, is a shame, and indeed I support wikipedia.org against such stupid examples of how to bother an online project.

Indo-European language or Indo-European languages?

I’ve recently received an email from a new reader who wanted to share with us “his language”, namely a ‘modernized Indo-European’, which he had been working on for very very long before we began our public work at the Indo-European Revival Association, and which he deems “a more modern version of our Indo-European“.

After telling him he was not the first who show up with such a project (there are at least one or two more out there in the Net), I told him very clearly what our opinion about IE is:

A) There are different schools about how to reconstruct the Proto-Indo-European language: those who make a main Satem-Centum distinction, those who talk about a very very old Indo-Hittite, those who (like us) distinguish a Graeco-Aryan dialect (or IE IIIa) and a Northern one (or IE IIIb), those who defend the existence of only one ‘original’ a-vowel, later colored, those who defend only 5 original cases (as we did before changing for a 7+1), those who talk about 9 or more laryngeals, and so on.

B) There are indeed different times for the reconstruction: the theory of the 3 main Stages let one reconstruct at least 2 languages (if we don’t take on account the highly hypothetical IE I or Early PIE), namely IE II or Middle PIE – which includes Proto-Anatolian and Pre-IE III -, and IE III or Late PIE, which is the one usually reconstructed. Also one could go still later in time and try to divide the (seemingly) two main dialects, the Northern or European Dialect (also IE IIIb) and the Southern or Graeco-Aryan Dialect (or IE IIIa): the problem with such a further division is that 1) Balto-Slavic dialects seem to be either in the middle of that classification, or at least within IE IIIb but very influenced by IE IIIa (due possibly to different contacts with Scythians, Persians, Greeks, etc.), and that 2) The IE IIIa (and thus Late PIE as a whole) may be better reconstructed than IE IIIb, as the former was attested earlier (in the form of Vedic Sanskrit and Mycenaean).

C) Also, there are many different ways to use a modern language system using an old language. For example, if we had to use Latin as a modern language, we could select different vocabulary (older forms, mediaeval and newer loans), different expressions (older syntax, newer modisms), etc. and there could be lots of schools defending more purism, more tradition, a complete renewal, etc.

If we sum up the aforementioned possibilities, and try to ascertain the number of possible outputs, one could conclude that there is no single Indo-European, but a hundred different combinations:

Indo-Hittite with 3 laryngeals and without feminine, 5 noun-case declension, with Latin-only alphabet and Satem-Centum distinction in writing, OV syntax.

Northern Dialect without laryngeals (with an -a), without augment in Aorist, with 8 (or 7+1) nominal cases, with dialectal Conditional and Passive, OV and VO mixed syntax.

– and so on…

Each one could have a different name, say ‘Bokmål’, ‘Nynorsk’, ‘Samnorsk’, ‘Riksmål’ ‘Høgnorsk’, etc., as the different Norwegian ‘languages’ or, better, language systems. But I think everyone would agree that, while the language may differ a lot from one system to another, the language spoken would still be the same, i.e. a very diffuse “Indo-European”, or (following the example above), a very diffuse “Norwegian” language.

There are a hundred different examples about how such internal and external tensions are usually dealt with, as with the unified Basque (Euskara Batua) opposed to its dialectal diversity, or the different Cornish language systems, or the Hebrew revival (with Semitic purists against modern influences), etc., not to talk about the inner and external tensions of ‘normal’ languages like Spanish or French, which are often subjected to “unifying-dividing” efforts – as e.g. the Asturian “language/dialect”, sometimes included as Spanish by Spanish philologists, sometimes not, always trying to include modern dialects like Argentinian, Mexican, etc. along with the ‘traditional’ dialects like Asturian-Leonese or Aragonese; or Francoprovençal with French, or Alemannic within High German (Hochdeutsch), and so on.

In any case, I think, there is a very clear line which separates all those language systems designed (more or less artificially) for a natural language, from artificial languages like Volapük, Solresol or Esperanto, which are inventions not distinguishable from Klingon, Sindarin or any secret language that anyone could have created at home when still a child.

One example I use with sceptics on PIE reconstruction could be mentioned here.

Proto-Indo-European is like the corrupted skeleton of a very old dinosaur: you can discuss whether such skeleton was actually this or that way, pertained to this or that species of dinosaurs, came from this or that hypothetical ancestor, and derived in those other dinosaurs this or that way, etc. You cannot, however, discuss (in a serious conversation) whether they lived with Noah, whether they didn’t exist at all because it’s a divine proof of our faith, or whether, unlike modern animals, they didn’t exist at all because we have no ‘real proof’ about it.

I will not discuss the implications of trying to draw a complete dinosaur from its bones only, as long as you don’t try to discuss the very existence of those bones, or try to compare our reconstruction of that dinosaur with your drawing of a dragon.Maybe your dragon is widely accepted as something useful, or beautiful, or even as something better than our drawing of the possible dinosaur behind those damaged bones; but please, let be serious to some extent, and don’t try to mix the Lord of the Rings or Star Trek with a manual of paleontology. Tolkien’s masterwork might be great, but it’s not ‘better’ or ‘easier’ (or whatever adjective you may apply) than the manual of paleontology; they just move in different dimensions.

As a conclusion, one may expect different modern language systems for Proto-Indo-European – some will be ‘easier’, some ‘purer’, some others ‘more modern’, etc. -, but still the language will be the same. The question is not whether such systems are possible (they obviously are), but whether this or that system is just an improvement made on the linguistic framework that contains the natural language behind it, or instead include random changes that a visionary (like Mr. Zamenhoff) wants to make to the natural skeleton of a language (or languages), hiding it as an improvement in, say, “usability”, “learning time”, “similarity with modern IE”, etc.

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