Diego Marani 1 Jan 1999


From productive process to language

The Belgian weekly 'Le Soir Illustré' regularly publishes satirical articles by Diego Marani in Europanto. Is this a new artificial language, an alternative to Esperanto? Or could it be the language of the future?


Esperanto -

Europanto is a mixture of words and grammatical structures borrowed from a number of different languages which anyone of average culture with a basic knowledge of English can understand. But it is not a language, nor is it intended to become one. At least not yet. Europanto is a linguistic code of conduct, a series of guidelines or 'precautions' to be taken if we want to communicate with someone who does not speak the same language as ourselves without using a specific lingua franca.

It is easier to understand the function of Europanto, however, if we go back to the times when the very idea of a 'universal language' was first conceived and follow the development of this idea and the study of foreign languages in general in western culture. The idea of a universal language is not new in human history. Many attempts have been made in Europe to try and create systems of linguistic or logical communication which everyone can understand1

1Cfr. Couturat et Leau Histoire de la langue universelle Paris 1902

The nineteenth century was particularly prolific. All the linguistic attempts have begun with the search for a common basis, which has often been Latin, and have then tried to find simple, logical grammatical rules. The ideal pursued in the past was that of uniting the grammatical structures of Latin with those of Germanic and Slavic languages through a rationalization of the grammar and a return to the common Indo-European roots.


Esperanto is the most successful and functional of these artificial languages. Its grammar is simple and logical, and makes it is easy to learn, while the inclusion of Slavic elements made it more accessible for the inhabitants of the new nations which began to play an active role in European life at the beginning of the century. Esperanto contained all the features necessary to become a neutral international language, something which the continent of Europe, then deeply divided, sought in its attempt to achieve the grandiose ideals characterizing the period of positivism.

Esperanto, however, has never managed to become a universal language. Although it is used in many countries and even has its own literary output, it is still the language of an élite. This is essentially due to the fact that, even as it was being created, the reasons that lay behind its creation were rooted in the past, in situations that very quickly ceased to exist. In the last few decades, the study of foreign languages has changed very rapidly and people now learn foreign languages for quite different reasons. Until the Second World War, foreign languages were an intellectual curiosity for a small elite. Today they are essential for everybody. For obvious historical and economic reasons, only English can be considered a truly international language; it is also the language of the countries which first appeared on the international scene after the end of the Second World War. People are no longer free to choose what language they want to learn: They must know English. This is the most radical difference compared to the period of Esperanto.

Esperanto was the answer to the problem of the existence of different languages. It was an instrument designed to enable people from different cultures to communicate with one another.

But, in a world in which we have to learn the language of the strongest in order to survive, there is no longer any room for the ideal of a supranational artificial language which puts everybody on the same level. English is neither an artificial language, nor a neutral code of communication: it belongs to a specific culture and expresses the values of that culture.

English as an international language was originally used by non-native speakers to communicate with the Anglo-Saxon world. Today, English is also used by people who have nothing to do with the Anglo-Saxon world to communicate with one another. Indeed, it is quite normal for people from, say, Germany, Italy and France to speak to one another in English.

This phenomenon has generated a new language which is quite separate from the culture of the original language and very different from both British and American English. It is a very bare language, but it is also a supranational language which does not belong to any specific country. It is the language used at international conferences, in world trade and international finance. The non-native speakers who use this language have 'tainted' it: It contains and accepts mistakes that would be unacceptable for a native speaker. It also contains structures and semantic fields which a native speaker finds difficult to recognize. Countries as large as China and India use English to communicate with the rest of the world, and they have shaped the language to their own culture, to their own way of thinking. English is affected by these processes and new dialects, regional variants and professional jargons have been invented. As English is mixed with other languages, it becomes a hybrid and is changed from within.

Paradoxically, most people in the developed world now use the language of a minority. As a result, native speakers of English, though a minority, enjoy an enormous advantage compared to those people who have to study English to be able to speak the language, because their English is the correct one - not the bastardized versions spoken by other peoples.

Language of the Future

What has been said so far should make it easier to understand the role of Europanto. Europanto is not an artificial universal language that can be used as an alternative to Esperanto, nor is it intended to replace English in international relations. Making use of past experience and new information technologies, it would not only be possible, but also very easy, to codify a Europanto grammar, making Europanto another artificial language like Esperanto. But that would be a mistake. Europanto would become just another elitist language, spoken by a small group of enthusiasts but totally ignored by the rest of the world.

The dominance of English cannot be challenged. With the exception of a few small areas that have been cut off from the processes of industrialization and globalization, English has become the universal language of our time. Europanto has a different goal. Rather than an artificial language, it is a system for the creation of a new language of the future. It is intended to give voice to the frustrations of the vast majority of people who are forced to use English even though their command of the language is not very good.

This can be achieved by speeding up the process of the internationalization of the English language and by its isolation from the Anglo-American culture. Instead of trying to compete with English, the aim is to cause the language to implode, to destroy it from within. The mechanism is very simple. Nowadays, virtually everyone knows a few words of English and is capable of putting together very simple sentences, but most people are unable to speak the language properly because they do not know all the nuances, the subtle differences in meaning that only a mother-tongue speaker knows. In a conversation in English between two non-native speakers with just a smattering of the language, the register is naturally very low and only the basic message is communicated - often little more than could have been achieved by gesticulating. But what would happen if the two speakers could enrich their vocabulary with words from their own languages or from other important European languages? The worst that would happen is that the level of understanding would remain the same. If, however, the words used were similar to ones in the other person's language or were somehow recognized, then their mutual understanding would be enhanced. This is the mechanism on which Europanto is based.

The structure is essentially English, but the words are borrowed from other languages and, if necessary, transformed to make them easier to understand. Imagine, for example, a French speaker and an Italian speaker who have to communicate in English even though their two languages are very similar. If the two of them were to add words from their own languages, they would almost certainly find it easier to understand one another. The result would be a kind of English contaminated with words and forms borrowed from other languages, i.e. Europanto - or rather one of the many possible Europantos.

Europanto does not merely aid comprehension between speakers of two similar languages - the process itself can be adapted to the languages of the speakers. If, for example, they are native speakers of Germanic languages, they will use a mixture of Germanic languages; if their mother tongues are Romance languages, they will use a mixture of Romance languages. English will provide the basic structure and help fill in the gaps. The strength of Europanto is that it does not have to be studied: To be able to read, write or speak the language, people use whatever linguistic knowledge they already possess, i.e. a very basic knowledge of English and the other major European languages which derives from their everyday experience. Europanto must, clearly, borrow from the best known European languages and 'Europantize' above all those words which are most likely to be recognized because they have a common root or because they are frequently used.

The increase in the number of people travelling and in technological developments, such as tv and Internet, means we are more and more likely to come into contact with people who do not speak the same language as ourselves. Through our exposure to music, advertising, etc, we are now far more accustomed to the sound of foreign words and, even if we do not always know what these words mean, we are able to recognize them. Many Italians, for example, without knowing German, know what the words Zimmer, Gasthaus, Blitzkrieg, Putsch, heil Hitler, Leitmotiv, Föhn, nicht rauchen, kaputt, Reich and Bundestag mean. The list of words from different languages that have become international is now very long and could form the basis of Europanto vocabulary.


Clearly, to start with, there will be different varieties of Europanto, different words with the same meaning, imprecise semantic fields. Usage is what will turn a simple productive principle into a real language. The words which are understood by the greatest number of people will prevail. The possibility of borrowing words from different languages will make it easier to cover a greater number of semantic fields. Pronunciation, too, will stabilize in the forms that are most widely understood.

People will, therefore, be able to communicate more easily and more rapidly and, as a result, Europanto will be able to produce in the space of just a few years what other languages have taken centuries to produce. Just as Latin was replaced first by Vulgar Latin and then by Italian, Anglo-American English will give way first to international English and then to Europanto, the difference being that this process will take place far more quickly. To begin with, Europanto will develop into bilingual varieties, i.e. a mixture of English and two other languages. As its usage spreads, however, it will start to include words and expressions from other varieties so that every language will contribute to the Europanto of the future. In other words, the initial bilingual varieties will produce two main types of Europanto: a Romance one and a Germanic one. These, in turn, will eventually develop into one higher level language.

The points of contact between Germanic and Romance languages will also give rise to bilingual varieties containing a Germanic and a Romance language, and these varieties will facilitate the creation of a universal Europanto. To begin with, a Spaniard and an Italian, for example, will speak a Romance bilingual variety of Europanto, while a Dane and a German will speak a Germanic bilingual variety. But two people from France and Germany will speak a bilingual variety which is somewhere between the two main branches and will act as a bridge between them. In this way, contacts between bilingual varieties of the same branch and then between the two branches will eventually lead to a universal Europanto.

The words that filter through to the highest levels of Europanto will be understandable at all the lower levels and vice-versa. This is how Europanto will come into being. It will transform words from different languages into universally understood Europanto words.

It is worth noting that Europanto is not an invention: it already exists. Its productive process is already under way, as is the building of its semantic fields and grammatical rules. An example is the German word Spiel, which is used in the financial markets to indicate 'speculation'. This is an example of the interlinguistic specialization of a word. English is the most widely used language in the world of finance, so why use a German word? Not, obviously, because most brokers are German, but because the English word 'play' is now so saturated with meanings that it can no longer absorb any new ones. The international language, therefore, chooses another word: not from English, but from another of the major languages of the developed world. The word Spiel is perfect because it expresses the idea of both playing and gambling, and is universally understandable. So Europanto has absorbed an old German word and given it a new meaning.

In conclusion, although it is not a language as such, Europanto does exist. But it is, as yet, rather amorphous and any attempt to try and describe the language and write down its grammatical rules would be rather like planting a seed and wanting to take a photograph of the tree. Instead of wasting time on this futile pursuit, it is far more useful at present to observe the development of the language and leave the analysis of its forms until later. As in the case of all other languages: the language comes first and the rules follow.

Aquello augusto postmeridio

The best way to get to know Europanto and understand how its productive processes work is to take a look at a text and see how it is most likely to develop in relation to other European languages. The text below, written for Belgian readers, is an example of a Dutch-German-French variant of Europanto. Although it belongs to the Germanic branch, it also contains a number of Romance elements.


Aquello augusto postmeridio, Cabillot was in seine officio un crossverba in europanto solvente. Out del window, under eine unhabitual sun splendente, la city suffoqued van calor. Zweideca vertical: Esse greco, esse blanco und se mange, quatro litteras. Cabillot was nicht zo bravo in crossverbas. Seine boss le obliged crossverbas te make ut el cervello in exercizio te keep, aber aquello postmeridio inspector Cabillot was mucho somnolento. Wat esse greco, esse blanco und se mange? tinqued. May esse el glace-cream? No, dat esse italiano aber greco nicht. Cabillot slowemente closed los eyos und sich endormed op seine buro. Der telefono ringante presto lo rewakened.


Hallo-cocco! Cabillot parlante!

Aqui Capitan What! Come subito in meine officio!

Yesvohl, mein capitan!'' responded Cabillot out van der door sich envolante.

Capitan What was muchissimo nervoso der map des Europas op el muro regardante und seine computero excitatissimo allumante.

''Cabillot! Nos habe esto messagio on el computero gefinden! Regarde alstubitte!

The present participle has a Latin form (solvente, splendente, ringante, regardante, envolante, allumante), which is both universally understandable and also very productive as it can be formed from a noun as well. The superlative issimo also comes from Latin, but is easily understood by Germanic speakers. The auxiliary verbs have and be have been turned into the clearly Latin-based forms esse and habe for the present tense, while for the past tense the English form was is used. Many prepositions and possessive forms have been borrowed from Germanic languages (und, van, on, op, aber, meine, seine, sich), while for the articles and some of the pronouns there is a certain overlapping between Germanic and Romance languages (nos, el, esto, lo, del, dat, der). The past tense of the verbs is formed by using the English suffix ed, even in the case of 'Europantized' verbs (rewakened, responded, suffoqued, tinqued, endormed). Some irregular English verb forms remain irregular in Europanto so as to be more easily recognizable, while the English verb find is 'Europantized' into gefinden for the past participle form by adding the Germanic past form to the English root. Yesvohl and alstubitte are two examples of interjections which, although formed by mixing two Germanic languages, are also widely understood by speakers of Romance languages. In general, Europanto borrows the most efficient and easily understood words from each language, 'Europantizing' them wherever possible. The word unhabitual, for example, makes use of the English privative prefix un to create a word which is not English, but pure Europanto.

These are just a few possible observations. It would be possible to make a more detailed analysis, for example, of the semantic fields of the words and the way the words themselves are formed (which varies from a Germanic structure to a freer structure). An inventory could also be drawn up of similar words and words which are synonyms in the various European languages to check their meanings in Europanto.

Pronunciation deserves a separate analysis. Clearly, it is not possible to preserve the original pronunciation of words borrowed from different languages. Here, too, usage will determine the most efficient pronunciation, so mainly English words will undergo changes because of differences in pronunciation. In conversation experiments involving two speakers of different languages, it was noted that there was a tendency to simplify the pronunciation and pronounce words the way they are spelt. It is likely, therefore, that many diphthongs will eventually be replaced by simpler forms. Nasal sounds will tend to disappear, together with hybrid sounds like the German ä, while ö and ü seem to be surviving. It is too early at present, however, to draw any meaningful conclusions as far as pronunciation is concerned. It is far more useful to observe the phenomena as they occur.

It is clear that great things are going on in the Europanto laboratory and that a new European lingua franca is being created in the most natural way from the magma of multilingualism. Like any living creature, it will contain a number of flaws and contradictions, but, unlike other universal languages, it will be successful because it is being produced from the lowest levels. And just as Vulgar Latin replaced Latin at the beginning of the first century, so Europanto, at the beginning of the third millennium, will cause international English to implode and will prevail over European multilingualism.