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The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.
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Esperanto: an ideologically perfect language for the EU

Saluton! The contrived language of Esperanto, thought to have disappeared into the mists of time, is alive and kicking. And it is on the cusp of gaining official recognition by the EU.

Devised in 1887 by Ludwig L Zamenhof, an eye doctor and Ashkenazi Jew in the Tsarist empire, Esperanto merged multiple European tongues into one grammatically rational, genderless and entirely phonetic language. At a time of rapidly expanding international trade, transport and tourism, Zamenhof believed that a common means of communication would benefit mankind.French intellectuals in the early twentieth century lauded Esperanto as an orderly reformation of language, discarding the silly quirks of la langue des Français. Indeed, it was simple to learn, and many of its nouns are instantly decipherable: birdo, serpento, elefanto, kamelo, urso and lupo.

From the outset, Esperanto was an ideological project. Zamenhof wanted a 'neutrally human language', and it was embraced by activists of internationalist outlook. At the annual world congress in 2012, held in Galway, Irish president Michael Higgins sent a message of support for a lingo that could bring peace and harmony to a world of conflict. Back in his youth, arch-globalist financier George Soros preached in Esperanto at Speaker's Corner.

Esperanto proponents emphasise that minority languages should be preserved, but they want to slay a big beast. Esperantism is a movement against linguistic imperialism, and the target is English. Recently in the academic journal Social Inclusion, Federico Gobbo conveyed the notion of 'linguistic justice': Esperanto good, English bad.

Why is Esperanto relevant today? It has never had many speakers, but the internet has boosted the activity of these geographically dispersed linguistic idealists. More importantly, the EU is about to lose its main English-speaking member state, and the federalist project is continually trying to assuage fears of Franco-German dominance. Europhiles want to build on the perceived (if dubious) success of the single currency, and there is nothing more unifying than a common language.

According to Robert Nielsen on the website Whistling in the Wind, 'speaking Esperanto expresses the idea that we are all Europeans, that we are all equals'. Acknowledging that 'few people identify as Europeans in any serious or meaningful way', Nielsen believes that an official status for Esperanto would 'strengthen the bonds between Europeans while also making the EU more efficient'.

Learning to walk before they run, enthusiasts assure that Esperanto will simply be an addition to the 24 existing languages of the EU. But they have bold plans. Esperanto should be taught in schools throughout the continent, and it is potentially the working language of European business. A size 10 (sorry, 45) foot in the door would be to get a session of the EU parliament held in Esperanto, and then more…

Speculatively, Esperanto will appeal to the Eurocrats, who may strive to develop if from 'an' official language to 'the' official language. Proponents of 'single everything' should be reminded of what happened to Nimrod's empire in the Bible, as discussed by fellow Bruges Group writer John Petley in the book Providence, Piety and Power. The Tower of Babel was intended by the rulers to reach the heavens, in defiance of God, who confused the builders by jumbling their speech. So began the diversity of languages, which has constrained every tyrant since. Like the EU and the Euro, Esperanto is built on lofty ideals, but it could become one of those nice liberal ideas that is exploited for illiberal means.  Strength in unity is a delusion, because that supposed unity is forged by diluting or destroying national identity and culture.


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