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Linguistic Idealism: Time To Dump English As Europe's Lingua Franca

Article illustrative image Partner logo What if Romani became Europe's official language?

-Essay-

GENEVA - 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.

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