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

Mark Mardell asks in his post Learn EU-speak:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Terra; read in Menéame

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Air Berlin against the use of Catalan when flying to and from Catalan-speaking regions – Where is the European Union language policy based on “multilingualism” when one really needs it?

I don’t like to write about ‘domestic’ problems, so to speak, and I don’t usually do it because I cannot be neutral, but I think this one has transnational implications that go beyond Spain’s language policy – or, better, the language policy of Spain’s Autonomous (i.e. ‘slightly less than federal’) Communities – to reach the very language policy of the European Union, because this is what we are getting by the current “be official or die” policy of the Union.

As I’ve written before, the language policy of the European Union, of which language commissioners are always so proud, talking about “multilingualism as an important asset of Europe“, is just a fraud, a disguise of the actual untenable situation that just help create language predators in the Union, politicians looking for more and more European public support for their languages and, consequently, less for the others. How can a language like German (100 million speakers) be officially equal to Maltese (300.000 speakers) before the Union, while languages like Catalan (11 million speakers) or Basque (4 million speakers) aren’t? How can we European citizens pay millions of euros from our budget for translations from and into only some languages (see El Mundo report or its English translation), while others are left undefended by the institutions? How can we tolerate that English be the unofficious actual language of Brussels, or that any country holding the presidency decides to translate documents into English, or English+French, or English+French+Latin according to their will or frame of mind, while the institutions continue to sell this false idea of ‘multilingualism’, for whose supposed implementation our taxes are yearly wasted?

Air Berlin imageThese are the latest news from regional and national language predators looking for their weekly pray: anti-Catalan and pro-Catalan politicians, against or in favour of the opinion of a “small” private airline (expressed by their director), looking to win one individual linguistic battle here, no matter if it affects the whole European language policy system – in fact, no matter if it’s the very consequence of the EU’s language policy system… I have my view on this, indeed, and it refers (as always) to the need of a common, only one official language legally obligatory for all the Union, and then national or regional support for other languages, but I’ll let you judge from the news. I’ll just add that Catalan-speaking communities are already calling for a Boicott on Air Berlin for the company’s attitude towards the regional language of the Balearic Islands, and that the words of the (intended to be) funny cartoon to the right, “saupreussischer Katalanen” is being translated, instead of “damn-Prussian“, a common Bavarian expression, followed by “Catalans”, as “fucking swine Prussian Catalans” in Catalan-speaking journals, to exasperate still more Catalan language defenders…

Edit: I didn’t see there are other comments of the Catalan blogger community, as the early comment of one of Menéame’s creators Ricardo Galli (in Catalan) on this subject, which criticizes the “literal interpretation” – I would say directly willing misinterpretation – some Catalan-speaking journals gave to the cartoon, which he compares to the overreaction of some Muslim media to Muhammad’s cartoons. His comment in English.

This is an automatic translation of one of the first articles on the subject:

“Today Spanish is no longer an official language”, says blunt Joachim Hunold, managing director of Air Berlin in the journal’s editorial Air Berlin Magazine, available to all users of the company during flights. “There are towns in Majorca where children no longer speak Spanish. In schools, Spanish is a foreign language,” he added. With this letter to passengers, Air Berlin, one of the major airlines operating in the Balearics, denounced the situation, according to the airline, suffers Spanish in front of Catalan.

The cartoon with which the editorial accompanies the article has caused more trouble, and it translates “If they come to Bavaria, these damn-Prussian Catalans, they’ll have to speak Bavarian. Damn it!

It all began when the director general of Linguistic Policy, Margalida Tous, sent Air Berlin and other airlines to destinations in the Balearic Islands, a letter urging them to also use Catalan in their communications with their customers. “I am contacting you to express the interest that the Balearic Islands Government has to ensure proper use of the official languages of the archipelago in the communications company that provides its citizens with Air Berlin who choose to make their journeys,” the letter begins.

“Do we have to give courses in Catalan by law to my employees? And those who fly to Galicia or the Basque Country, who want to turn us into Galician or Basque? is Spanish no longer spoken in Spain?”, Hunold wondered . “The partition of Spain in regional nationalism is actually a return to the medieval mini states. So far I thought we lived in a Europe without borders“, he finishes. The editorial was accompanied with a cartoon which reads in a Bavarian German: “If they come to Bavaria, these damn-Prussian Catalans, they’ll have to speak Bavarian. Damn it!” .

The Balearic Government does not explain the Air Berlin public reply to his request for the company incorporates the use of Catalan. “We regret that a letter made in a constructive spirit has taken this misinterpretation”, say from the general direction of Linguistic Policy. “The president Francesc Antich is concerned about this issue and surprised because there are correct relations with the company. I think that the collaborative spirit of the letter has not played well and he will talk directly with Joachim Hunold to restore the situation”, added.

In fact, the letter urges Air Berlin to “ensure that customer service offered, as personally written documentation, web, instructions to passengers on board, etc., are made in Catalan, just as being made in other languages“. In addition, it offers “the possibility of establishing lines of collaboration to incorporate Catalan in response to the company’s customers”.

Air Berlin insists on the fact that “the director has exercised his freedom of expression”, says Alvaro Middelmann, CEO of Air Berlin in Spain and Portugal. He argues that the conflict between Spanish and Catalan “is a reality” and puts an example that does not want to “implement the third time Spanish in Catalonia”. And states that “Spanish is being discriminated against in certain parts of Spain”. “Air Berlin is a European company, to make it clear, and we must ensure the common language of all Spaniards”. That is why we believe that the introduction of Catalan “would be a wrong comparison with other regions and is inasumible”.

The Department of Linguistic Policy states that at no time “the letter spoke of punishing or compelling, but it offers the collaboration of government to improve service to the company but he recalls that Catalan is the official on the islands and has Baleares many customers. ” The same sources explained that so far no other airline has been in contact with the Balearic government to complain about their linguistic recommendations.

These news came from La Vanguardia, and I read it in Spanish Digg-like site Meneame – you can read people’s comments to the first and second most voted news on the subject.

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…

Esperanto & other invented languages vs. Indo-European for Europe (and IV): Universal Law of Persistence of Error

A recent comment on the post about the so-called Grin Report – which explained the benefits of having one common language for Europe -, gives (unintentionally, I guess) still more reasons to support a natural language like Proto-Indo-European over Esperanto and similar inventions:

Le meilleur est l’ennemi du bien, ‘The best is the enemy of the good’; Ever since Ido tried to ‘improve’ on Esperanto, many other constructed languages have come along, but none has achieved anything near to what Esperanto has accomplished

I agree. No artificial (‘constructed’) language has achieved what Esperanto has, and no conlang is “better” than Esperanto, because “better” in conlangs is indeed enemy of “good”, as it happens partly in social networks, both ‘systems’ (to call the thousand Esperantos something) based on concepts of “popularity ranking” and supposed “number of followers/supporters”: the more popular your system is, the more attention you will be able to attract – no matter how stupid it might be from a logical point of view, it is all a question of ‘relevance’…

In Proto-Indo-European reconstruction, on the other hand, “better” is indeed better than “good”, as a better reconstruction brings the language we want to speak nearer to how it was actually spoken 4.500 years ago by Proto-Indo-Europeans.

The difference between them, to put it easy, is that some of you might say “we are going to call the sun ‘suno’ in Esperanto”, while others could say “we are going to call the sun ‘soleil’ in Ido”, and so on and on, for ever and ever. The sun had only one name (maybe two) in Proto-Indo-European, and most (old) dialects show its derived term; but they might also show derivations from different original variants, or the original form might be still obscure. That’s why we need to improve our knowledge in Indo-European dialects and Proto-Indo-European reconstruction, just in case we need to replace the (now) common PIE reconstructed *sāwel with a different root, say *sōwl, or a source near to Gmc. zero-grade *sulnos, etc., because of a different Vedic Sanskrit or Tocharian attested word… In any case, we are saying “sun” as Proto-Indo-Europeans did, but it might be more correct to use a variant deemed nearer to the original PIE language, instead of what we use today. Therefore, better is better than good; but just good is also all right in PIE reconstruction for a modern Indo-European language of Europe.

I guess one has to undergo some kind of difficult abstraction to understand this, as many Esperantists don’t seem to get the point: maybe they aren’t always opened to stop speaking (or, better, stop defending) their ‘language’, while at the same time trying others to begin learning it. I can understand the Esperantist reticence to dismiss their wrongly-directed past efforts and hopes, but the time and work already wasted learning or supporting Esperanto won’t be recovered. They still have, though, the opportunity to make good use of their time and wish of a common language for Europe in the future: they only have to take the right decision, not taking on account past mistakes.

there are more than 30,000 book titles in Esperanto! And Esperanto has been around for more than 120 years! Most of the other attempts at a constructed language have fallen by the wayside.

I agree too. Every single conlang apart from Esperanto has failed. And I should add Esperanto has obviously failed as an international language, as you cannot seriously call “international” a ‘language’ that is spoken by some dozens of people in an ‘International Esperanto Convention’ once a year… I am sure more people are able to speak ‘languages’ like Sindarin or Klingon in a regional Lord of the Rings or Star Trek convention anywhere in the world, than Esperantists actually do speak Esperanto in their yearly ‘International Conventions’.

Anyway, entering in your “great numbers” argument, if that code called Esperanto was created in some hours by an illuminated ophtalmologist a 120 years ago, I don’t see how it can compete with a natural language like Proto-Indo-European, derived from an older prehistoric language, spoken for centuries, older than the oldest civilizations of Europe, derived into a thousand dialects still spoken today, and which has been studied and its reconstruction improved by expert linguists for more than 200 years.

To compare ‘number of book titles’, please do a quick search with Google and Google Scholar to see how many scientific research papers and books have been written about Proto-Indo-European, and how many centres and universities have professors teaching Proto-Indo-European to thousands of students each year, and then we can compare the same numbers about your inventions – you can even compare it with the whole number of papers and books which deal with all conlangs, not only Esperanto, if you want…

Also, if Esperanto is (in your words) the most successful conlang in history, and if, after 120 years of being such a great success, there are only (supposedly) 30.000 book titles – you can see I accept your inflated numbers, I don’t care anymore about veracity in Esperantist inventions, it would be a total nonsense to drive the discussion to your imaginary world of ‘facts’ about your ‘language’ – and (supposedly) some thousands of speakers in the world – while Proto-Indo-European, whose revival as a spoken language hasn’t been proposed until two years ago, has already more publications and actual speakers, most of them expert linguistis and philologists.

So I don’t get your point on the advantages of learning Esperanto at all: maybe you Esperantists are still working on a ‘language’ that only you Esperantists want to learn to be able to speak with each other only, like some kind of a secret, super-dooper code only you understand – but, indeed, so easy that you cannot expect to speak without being understood by others… If so, maybe it’s time for some of you practical Europeans to get rid of this ‘art’ called conlanging, if your aim is really to speak a common European (or even international) language, and begin thinking about learning and speaking a common, natural language like Proto-Indo-European, that cannot be “substituted” by other ‘language’ inventions, however ‘better’ or ‘easier’ they might be considered by their fans…

A similar fate awaits Indo-European, which, in its attempt to be more “naturalistic,” has actually become more difficult to learn, with its four conjugations of the verb, for example.

First of all, we never said it is easy, as, in fact, Indo-European is far more difficult than Esperanto and other wrongly-called ‘languages’ formed by simple invented rules+vocabulary, you are right – my nephew says “pa” and “ma” when she wants something: English is more difficult than her ‘language’, so should I write my post in it, and create a group to promote it, only because she and other kids think a “ma & pa” language code is enough to be called ‘language’ and to communicate everything they want to others…?

Following your argument, I have to say Indo-European could probably be considered more difficult than other real, natural languages like English or French. However, you miss two very important points, showing you – like many Esperantists which repeat such perennial equivocal arguments until exhaustion – strive to see the project as “just another Esperanto”, thus perpetuating your mistakes and misconceptions about language and peoples, and possibly the mistakes and misconceptions of others who might read your ‘reasons’:

1) There is no such “attempt to be more naturalistic“: Proto-Indo-European was a natural, spoken language, and it evolved into different dialects, which are the ancestors of modern Indo-European languages. We want to revive an old language, not to create a conlang; to put it easy for you again, we want to speak a real language, not to decide how we will call the sun, or how we will say sentences like “excuse me, can you speak Esperanto?”, that is, if we will prefer “escuso mi, cano tu spik Esperanto?” or an ‘easier’ or ‘better’ (?!) “pardoni me, poti ju parlo Esperanto?“, discussing which one of the thousand possible combinations of sounds is “easier”, or “more beautiful”, or “better”, or (to sum up) which one sounds less stupid for the future learner…

2) The fact that one language is considered ‘more difficult’ than other is in no way an obstacle to speak a language: that’s an important point you Esperantists miss the whole time, ever since the creation of your artificial monster. People began to speak Hebrew again – a modern version of the old, death language called Hebrew – because they wanted, even though your Polish idol was already promoting the “easy Esperanto” as the international language of the future at that very time. People throughout the world have said a big NO to seriously speaking absurd inventions like Volapük or Esperanto in the past 120 years because that’s people’s will. And people will decide if and when they want to speak Indo-European, no matter how “easy” or “difficult” it might be for them or for you.

The difference between Esperantists and Indo-Europeanists, I guess, is that you can spend your time learning how the grandmother of most modern languages was (and mother of some Classical languages, like Sanskrit, Latin or Greek), trying to speak nearly as Proto-Indo-Europeans spoke, waiting to see if the Indo-European language revival has success in the European Union – and knowing that, if it doesn’t succeed, you will still be far better of for learning any modern Indo-European language -; or you can get stuck in your wrong ideas about your ‘party’ or ‘group’ being “right” in trying to speak the ‘best language in the world’ or ‘the easiest language‘, learning a mix of grammatical rules + words that one man or a group of people have imagined they can call ‘language’…

But don’t be afraid, these reasons won’t convince most of you Esperantists and ambitious IAL-conlangs searchers; most of you will keep insisting in speaking your successful creations, that’s normal and people will always have a reason to speak Esperanto, Ido, Interlingua, Latino sine flexione, and any other ‘historical’ self-made one-minute crap they can find or create: This is a) partly due to Zamenhof‘s sad marketing success in convincing other people to call his creation a “language”, and b) partly due to the fact that people necessarily follow the Universal Law of Persistence of Error, and no matter how absurd their old positions might reveal themselves after some time, there will always be a reason to follow the mistaken idea, because of e.g. ‘history’, ‘tradition’, ‘proud’, ‘group pressure’, etc. or the uttermost direct and voluntary ignorance.

If this Universal Law happened and happens with the latest and best peer-reviewed scientifical papers, and I see it everyday in the newest editions of important books on Biochemistry or Physiology, what can we expect from those who share an extravagant idea – the splendid ‘conlanging aiming to achieve the “perfect IAL”‘ idea – which is for Linguistics, if compared to Medicine, like a bad version of homeopathy…?

Indo-European language revival in 2007 – Summary of our European Union’s language project

After another year of Indo-European language revival we owe a little summary of what (I think) has happened during the last 12 months, and how our expectations have developed.

The last year of 2007 has been great in terms of:

Collaboration : thanks to the dozens of contributions we have now an almost stable phonological and morphological Indo-European Grammar, and, while the syntax still remains a muddy field, we are possibly as near as we can be to the original Proto-Indo-European language. Due to some demands in the past, we offered a printed version of the grammar, which won’t give us almost any benefits, but will allow us to send copies to different European and international libraries.

Work : Not only external people, but also we (i.e. the original 4 + 2) have been working enough to obtain some sufficiently revised Indo-European and Proto-Indo-European resources, including our websites and our new projects. To get to work with the Indo-European language revival is tough for something that looks more like a hobby than a real university project; it’s funny that what we pretended once to be some kind of I+D University Foundation-Company has become just another European cultural association.

News : THIS was something completely unexpected. After our 2006 news ‘boom’, so to speak, with tens of Spanish newspapers talking about the new European language after the university prize in innovation, we didn’t expect another year of public expectation. But, it happened again. All because of a Spanish Digg-like collaborative news site, Menéame, to which some blog-author sent his own news about us. Then, the Spanish newspaper El Mundo (currently the most visited online newspaper) made a report about the project, and following it the first Spanish television in regional news (TVE1) and the second (TVE2) in La 2 Noticias talked about it. After that, many blogs and tiny news sites have echoed it. After all those unexpected moves of the Spanish media, I just prefer not to think about how people and media will react to the project in the future; if news come, they will indeed be welcome…

– “Donations” : there are no direct money donations, but we are spending more and more each month, even though we don’t make a cent; we have thus to ask for it each time we want to do or create or publish something new. Also, time and work donation has been fantastic, as our Indo-European linguistics section alone can show.

Corpus Linguistics : all work and releases concerning the Indo-European language are quickly released, so there is nothing more to explain about it.

It has been a bad year in terms of:

New members : Today I’ve answered the last of a dozen mails of people interested in joining the Dnghu Association. As always, I guess we won’t get him, however good his CV is and his initial interest seems to be. We cannot offer anything but to work for free. I think it is clear enough in the Indo-European Language Association website, but maybe people just like to believe that the truth is different. I’ll repeat it: we are a few – from 4 to 6 members depending on the season -, plus some institutions that support our work, and that’s all. To join us now is (still) to work for nothing but to help Indo-European become a spoken language.

Project and people handling : we still lead an unorganized group of people, instead of an organized association. We still plan hundreds of projects, create dozens of them, close all but one or two after some time, and then plan a hundred projects again. We dedicate too much time to documents and study, and not a second to get or retain potential users or members. We look for specialized workers, we ask for help to university professors, but do not rely on ‘normal’, ‘just interested’ people from other academic fields.

Teaching and learning : apart from potential members, there are hundreds of potential learners who would just like to learn (Proto-)Indo-European and/or its early dialects (whatever the reason), that contact us from time to time asking for real learning methods or courses, whether self-learning material, online courses, foreign language courses at Biblos, etc. Last year the answer was easy: we didn’t have a stable grammar to work with. Now we just don’t have/get the time to prepare such learning materials.

Language use : since the very beginning of the online project in 2005 we’ve had some kind of websites prepared for writing or speaking in Indo-European. We haven’t done it. Again, it’s probably more a question of time management than grammar issues, as the language we wanted to use is now correct enough to speak it.

And that’s all I can think of right now. I’ll try to write about our ideas for the future another day.

Swastika: A Stupid Taboo in European and American countries

Hindu SwastikaThe swastika (Wikipedia)– from Sanskrit svástika स्वास्तिक – is an equilateral cross with its arms bent at right angles, in either right-facing (卐) or left-facing (卍) forms. The term is derived from Sanskrit svasti, meaning well-being. The Thai greeting sawasdee is from the same root and carries the same implication.

It is a widely-used symbol in Dharmic religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism). Hindus often decorate the swastika with a dot in each quadrant. In India, it is common enough to be a part of several Devanagari fonts. It is also a symbol in the modern Unicode. It is often imprinted on religious texts, marriage invitations, decorations etc. It is used to mark religious flags in Jainism and to mark Buddhist temples in Asia.

Archaeological evidence of swastika shaped ornaments goes back to the Neolithic period. In 1920 the swastika was appropriated as a Nazi symbol, and has since then become a controversial motif. In the Western world, it is this usage as a symbol of Nazism that is most familiar, and this political association has largely eclipsed its historical status in the East.

It occurs in other Asian, European, African and Native American cultures – sometimes as a geometrical motif, sometimes as a religious symbol.

Indo-European and Sanskrit Etymology

The word swastika is derived from the Sanskrit svastika (in Devanagari, स्वस्तिक), meaning any lucky or auspicious object, and in particular a mark made on persons and things to denote good luck. It is composed of Skr. su- (Indo-European (a)sus, cognate with Greek ευ-, and Hittite asu-), meaning “good, well” and asti a verbal abstract to the root Skr. as, “to be” (Indo-European es); Skr. svasti, IE (a)suesti, thus means “well-being”. The suffix –ka forms a diminutive, and svastika might thus be translated literally as “little thing associated with well-being”, Indo-European (a)suéstikā, corresponding roughly to “lucky charm”, or “thing that is auspicious”, although some relate it to the IE reflexive swe (“self”), thus Indo-European swéstikā. The word first appears in the Classical Sanskrit (in the Ramayana and Mahabharata epics). For more on these etymologies see the Etymological notes of our online Indo-European grammar and Indo-European etymological dictionary.

The Sanskrit term has been in use in English since 1871, replacing gammadion (from Greek γαμμάδιον), from Greek gamma.

Alternative historical English spellings of the Sanskrit word include suastika and svastica. Alternative names for the shape are:

* crooked cross
* cross cramponned, ~nnée, or ~nny (in heraldry), as each arm resembles a crampon or angle-iron (German: Winkelmaßkreuz)
* fylfot, possibly meaning “four feet”, chiefly in heraldry and architecture (See fylfot for a discussion of the etymology)
* gammadion, tetragammadion (Greek: τέτραγαμμάδιον), or cross gammadion (Latin: crux gammata; Old French: croiz gammée), as each arm resembles the Greek letter Γ (gamma)
* hooked cross (German: Hakenkreuz);
* sun wheel, a name also used as a synonym for the sun cross
* tetraskelion (Greek: τετρασκέλιον), “four legged”, especially when composed of four conjoined legs (compare triskelion, Greek τρισκέλιον)
* Thor’s hammer, from its supposed association with Thor, the Norse god of the weather, but this may be a misappropriation of a name that properly belongs to a Y-shaped or T-shaped symbol. The Swastika shape appears in Icelandic grimoires wherein it is named Þórshamar
* The Tibetan swastika is known as nor bu bzhi -khyil, or quadruple body symbol.