Euro Babel

[The following is a translation of an article which appeared in the central Ido journal Progreso, Sep-Dec 1995. Translated from the Ido by James Chandler.]

Under the title Euro Babel appeared an article in a recent edition of the English newspaper The Sunday Telegraph concerning the need for an international language, in particular in the European Union. There is not enough space for the complete article here, but below are offered some interesting extracts:

"This year Austria, Sweden and Finland became the most recent members of the European Union, and Swedish and Finnish were added to the previous total of nine official languages of Union. The need for every document and speech in the new total of eleven languages to be translated into all ten other languages means that Finnish - Portuguese and Portuguese - Finnish are just two of the translation directions for which the European Union must now provide.

Even in the days of nine languages, the European newspaper reported that the institutions of the European Union translated 3,150,000 words per day, costing 23 pence a word - not bad for words like "agricultural" and "intergovernmental", but extremely costly in any language for "the" and "I"; the European Parliament meanwhile employs twice as many staff for interpreting and translation as it employs to run the Parliament.

Alain Lamassoure, French Minister for European Affairs, has suggested that the E.U. perhaps needs to consider decreasing the number of working languages from 11 to 5. It was hardly a call for a European Language Union - more a call for a linguistic non-proliferration pact. But the result was an outcry, and the majority of the countries which felt threatened by it issuing forth declarations in their respective languages. Lamassoure responded that he had only been speaking about the future, when even more countries might join the E.U. The theoretical maximum is 27 countries, says Eyrl McNally. The original EEC had just 6 members and 4 official languages: French, German, Italian and Dutch. The finished version could eventually have more than 20 languages and around 400 translation directions.

Other international organizations, such as the United Nations, tend to arrange things more or less well with 4 or 5 languages.

So why not adopt an international language? One already exists responds David Crystal, author of the Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Language. "It is English, and almost everyone in other countries already learns it from the age of six. But in any competition to find a Common European Language, the fact is that the French, for example, would prefer to swallow a toad each morning before breakfast than be forced to speak English."

The article then continued to consider various possibilities for an international language. Those possibilities included: French, German, Finnish (!), Latin, Esperanto, Volapük, Ido, Solresol, Interglossa, Klingon, and "Street" (slang). However, the reference to Ido was very short and the discussion at no point tried to treat the question seriously. Finally the article offered translations of a clause from the Maastricht treaty, in various languages. Here are given the translations into English, Ido and Esperanto.

The community shall act within the limits of the powers conferred upon it by this treaty and the objectives assigned to it therein. In areas which do not fall within its exclusive competence the community shall take action in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity only if and insofar as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the member-states and can therefore by reason of the scale or effects of the proposed action be better achieved by the community.

La Komuneso devas agar interne di la limiti dil autoritato quan ica kontrato grantis ad ol e dil skopi atribuita ad ol en la kontrato. En domeni qui ne trovesas en olua resortiso exkluziva la Komuneso devas agar segun la principi di subsidiareso nur se e til ke la skopi dil ago projetita ne povas suficante atingesor dal membro-stati e povas do plu bone atingesor dal Komuneso pro la skalo o rezulti dil ago projetita.

La Komunumo devas agi interne de la potencolimoj, kiujn rajtigas al g^i tiu c^i traktato, kaj de la celoj c^i-traktate difinitaj al g^i. En agadkampoj, kiuj ne trafas en g^ian solkompetenton. La Komunumo devas agi lau~ la principo de akcesoreco nur se, kaj g^is tioma grado ke, la celoj de la proponata agado ne sufic^e atingeblas de la membro-s^tatoj kaj sekve pro la amplekso kaj efikoj de la proponata agado povos esti pli bone plenumitaj de la Komunumo.

(From Clause 3B of the Maastricht Treaty. The translator of the Ido version was Adrian Pilgrim, and of the Esperanto version William Auld.)

by Tom Lang.

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James Chandler 26-Jan-98.