Linguistic Idealism

Nov 27, 2012 by

I found an interesting article via WorldCrunch today (originally from Le Temps) arguing for Romanes to replace English in Europe. At first, I thought it was sarcastic, or some kind of strange humour, but the more I read, the more serious I understood it to be. I suppose I vaguely understand the argument – that the oppressed and marginalized should become the teachers and leaders of a new Europe. But, whether or not the author is serious, the article shows a naivety that most Europeans (and others) have about Roma and the Romani language. Although the author admits to “many dialects of this language being spoken”, there are in fact, as far as I know, more than 35 different dialects of Romanes spread across Europe alone (excluding those found in the Middle East, Australia, and North and South America). If Germann would argue for a new lingua franca then which one of these dialects should be chosen? It’s not even as if all the dialects are mutually intelligible across the spectrum (I know this first hand, since my grandparents spoke two different dialects). Just as there are many dialects, there are many different groups housed under the term Roma – especially as people think all “Gypsies” with dark skin are “Roma”, which is not entirely true. Even at the most basic level there are Roma and Sinte and within each of those branches there are sub-branches – Servika, Lowara, Ungrika, Kaale – and even within those there are differences. I am sure that each group would argue for their own dialect to be used as the lingua franca which would create divisions between us (which, unfortunately, there already are).

Roma are not homogenous, just as “Gypsies” are not all Roma and not all Roma like all other Roma.

I think the article (shared below) would do better to focus on the quest for a pragmatic solution rather than throwing seeds to the wind. The Nobel Peace Prize has ceased to symbolize peace and justice to me. Awarded to the European Union for it’s “peaceful 60 years” I find it a slap in the face for my people. Apparently the prize was “a justified recognition for a unique project that works for the benefit of its citizens and also for the benefit of the world” … as long as you’re not Roma. If you know anything about human rights, you know that the way Roma are treated in the majority of European countries could be considered as denial of such rights. They are left without adequate food, shelter, or water and expected to survive (or not). I find Germann’s article almost offensive when he states things like, “To the beggar in the street, holding out his cupped hand, you would answer, “Give me the knowledge of your language and I will give you money so that we can prosper together.”"

It makes me cringe.

Not all Roma are beggars and I doubt that paying Roma to teach our language would provide the economic stability much of Europe is looking for. To me it seems like another argument to sell ourselves. If only the Roma would ‘integrate’ or share our culture the problems would be solved, right?

Wrong. It’s not that simple. If it were, we’d all be getting along just fine.

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From WorldCrunch: Linguistic Idealism: Time To Dump English As Europe’s Lingua Franca

 

The Nobel Peace Prize was just given to the European Union, consecrating 60 years of peace in almost all the countries of the bloodiest continent in human history. In his speech on October 12, EU president Barroso said that the prize was a “justified recognition for a unique project that works for the benefit of its citizens and also for the benefit of the world.”

It is now high time to replace the language of the victors of the last Great War and the Cold War — English — by that of the most mistreated people in the Old World: Romani, the European language par excellence. Many dialects of this language, which is the object of standardization efforts, are spoken in Europe’s 42 countries by the long persecuted Roma.

In this perspective, after six decades of economic integration, the quest for a genuine and sustainable political integration would take place through cultural integration, via the strength of the language of Europe’s weakest people.

To carry out this project of unification in diversity, it would be necessary for Roma to teach their fellow European citizens this new lingua franca. This process would be in the spirit of the founders of Europe, combining functionalism with idealism, realism with utopianism.

Hundreds of thousands of teachers of Romani would create a new linguistic universe to communicate throughout Europe, without having to resort to the language of today’s dominators. These men and women would contribute to transforming a continent of ancient wars into a continent of durable peace.

Together with the language of our parents and ancestors, this newly taught and learned language shared with our neighbors would help create bridges in culture, politics, and economics that are indispensable to the new European family.

Thus, the seventh decade of peace in Europe would usher a new era of real dialogue between individuals and peoples, where the weakest language would elevate the strongest. In this way, all power-based distinctions between human beings would be suppressed, in order to achieve liberty, equality, and a united community that will enrich human diversity.

“Give me the knowledge of your language”

Romani, which is as much a traditional language as it is a language of mobility, would allow people to rise above any inequality arising from their arbitrary affiliations — lucky or unlucky — with human groups. The granddaughter of the Gypsy who sharpened my Swiss grandmother’s knives would teach my daughter the lingua franca, and my daughter would teach the other girl her own languages. To the beggar in the street, holding out his cupped hand, you would answer, “Give me the knowledge of your language and I will give you money so that we can prosper together.”

Michel Onfray, the atheist philosopher, recalls the Biblical sense of the confusion of languages. “In the beginning was Babel. Everyone knows the story. Humans all spoke the same language, called Adamic because it was the language spoken by Adam. Then they decided to build an immense tower that would pierce the heavens. Such a design would mean that humans living in the same element as God would become de facto his equals. This Promethean desire acts as another formulation of original sin, because to taste of the fruit of the tree of knowledge is to know everything about everything: in other words, again, to equal God. There was a punishment for Eve’s action, which we all remember. It was the same for the builders of Babel: a confusion of languages.”

Europe and the United States have both known slavery — the consequences of which are still visible today. For centuries, African-Americans and Roma were considered as objects, without rights. This was the cause of the most terrible injustices to individual people. Today, slavery is considered a crime against humanity in international law. Perhaps one day the same thing will happen with institutional sexism. North America and the European countries that have been most hurt by the economic crisis — Greece, Spain, Italy, France and Portugal — have never been directed by women within recent history. And still we speak of “mother tongues!”

The Romani language would give Europe what Louis Braille offered the blind: an Adamic or Evic language, which will contribute to a better knowledge and understanding of others. By using the language of the dominated group, Europe will free itself from the dominator’s language, thus suppressing any kind of domination, whether over Europe or by Europe.

*Christophe Germann is a lawyer and a researcher.

2 Comments

  1. Hilary Chapman

    Yes, this was a stimulating article, even if the proposed solution is not a practical one. I know you are in the USA, but it is certainly true that Europe needs a common language. I wouls suggest wider use of Esperanto. What do you think?

    • Qristina

      Hilary,

      Although I live in the US currently, I spent 2/3 of my life in the UK. I’m not sure I buy into the idea of a lingua franca at all. English has been thrust on so many nations and minorities without their willingness that the time for a “world language” or even a “European language”, in my opinion, is over. I think that language is an integral part of culture – and one way of (for example) homogenizing a population is to make them speak English. I’ve seen it happen within my own family. As we learn to speak English and become more proficient, we become uncomfortable with speaking our mother tongue and it begins to lose importance. We’re pushed to “speak properly” and “speak good English”. Our cultures are suffocated underneath the promise of success if only we can integrate seamlessly.

      Personally, I’m of the opinion that we should all be encouraged to be multilingual. It’s not difficult. Children find it incredibly easy and natural to speak multiple languages. Instead of forcing families to speak English, why not encourage them to be proficient in multiple languages? First and foremost, I believe that Romanes should be taught in schools in countries with a large Romani population. I think it would help to ease tensions if the dominant population was able to converse in the language of the minority. Of course, I understand the need for a common means of communication within the business world – but why does that have to apply to everyone? If I don’t want anything to do with business, why should I have to talk to my family, friends, teachers in English?

      It upsets me because as a child I was forced to learn and speak English. My mother’s family bought into the whole “assimilation” deal and didn’t speak Romanes much if at all, and passionately encouraged me to do the same. If I asked for something in Romanes, they would ignore me until I asked in English. I guess they thought they were helping me. I don’t feel that way now. I feel like I speak my own language like a child and I feel disconnected from my own culture.

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