Why Not?

The European Union faces an immense problem: that of language. Currently all its documents must be translated into ALL of its members’ official languages, and translation services provided between each. Since there are currently around 23 official languages, this results in over 500 language pairs to translate between. The EU spends over 15% of its budget on translation! And with several more countries waiting join, the problem is going to grow exponentially.

Various proposals have been made to simplify the situation: the use of national languages like English (the de facto working language at present), French, Spanish or German, all of which are politically fraught; the use of Latin, which is seen as favouring the Romance languages; or the use of an artificial language like Esperanto, which would be sensible in my opinion, but is evidently too wierd for people.

There is a humourous site devoted to the polyglot mix that tends to be used in social situations at EU headquarters; who knows, this may eventually take form as a new European language.

But some students in Spain have an interesting idea: since the majority of languages in Europe are in the “Indo-European” language family, they are all descended from a hypothetical common ancestor. Thus why don’t we resurrect that mother language? That way nobody can claim linguistic imperialism.

I find the idea delightful, actually, especially since their proposal — specifically, to develop a formal reconstruction of Late Proto-Indo-European — is full of the wonderfully complex phonology and grammar that students of ancient Latin, Greek or Sanskrit have a bit of a glimpse of: the full eight nominal cases, in four declensions; six verbal tenses & moods in twelve conjugations, and much, much more.

There is ample precedent for this kind of thing, actually. Modern Hebrew is a reconstruction of a language dead for 2500 years. Modern Indonesian is a modern formalization of several Malay dialects. One of the two Norwegian languages is an artificial reconstruction.

Of course, the scheme would still leave speakers of Basque, Finnish, Hungarian & Turkish, among others, out in the cold. So I guess if we can’t please absolutely everybody, we shouldn’t try to please anybody.

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