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Intervjuo LoJacomo kun Hagege

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Esperanto and language diversity Interview with Claude Hagège by François Lo Jacomo Claude Hagège, thank you for welcoming us in the prestigious Collège de France, where since 1989 you have been Professor of Linguistic Theory. Since childhood you have been a language lover and you are very critical of the all-pervasive Anglo-American language and culture. Must France now really teach English to all children from the age of seven? As I have often said, I am in favour of the introduction, right from the kindergarten, of not one language but two. If there is only one language, families will opt massively for English If two languages are compulsory and equal, then alongside English people will opt for the main European languages: Spanish, Italian, German, Portuguese, Dutch… and French in other European countries. Teaching just one language, particularly English as the designated language, would doom other languages to disappear. On whether it’s a good idea to teach two languages in primary school, many will agree, but do we have the resources? I don’t want to look into that, because I am not in administration. A researcher makes suggestions: finding the practical means is not a linguist’s job. But I’m not at all sure that's the real problem. There is a mistaken conviction that children are not able to learn two languages. Neuro-psychological studies prove the opposite: children can be taught much more than they learn at present. There’s no question of personality disturbances, and my proposal is neither madness nor heresy. I quite agree (my children are tri-lingual), but isn’t this bilingualism aimed above all at defending French as a second language after English? At European level? We propose bilingualism in the hope that other countries will do the same … and that the second language chosen will often be French. It will be one of the options … There are 20 languages in Europe … … but the choice must go to the traditionally most widespread: Spanish, German, French, Italian, perhaps Dutch and Greek, although neither Italian nor Greek nor Dutch have spread to the same extent (Dutch somewhat: Indonesia was a Dutch colony). So the choice is not from 20 European languages but from five, including French, which is extremely widespread: there is an association of some 50 French-speaking countries! And languages should be offered in compulsory programmes depending on how widespread they are. To come to today’s subject: Esperanto. For decades you have known about it, you even mention it in lectures, and now less critically than before Has your position changed and how? In the face of accusations from Esperantists, I have had to listen and act as a humble researcher. I have become more interested, but I am still not attracted: an artificial language (although I know there is plenty of literature translated into Esperanto), launched in 1887, without the eventful past of natural languages ... I can’t get enthusiastic about Esperanto. But I have often been criticised for not mentioning Esperanto (I don’t remember making any hostile references). In my book Le "Souffle de la langue" I devote a whole page to it, and recognise it as a European language (not just European, of course, but still more European than Semitic or African). I once read that: “If you don’t want Esperanto, you’ll get English.” Esperanto does have the advantage of not being linked to any political domination. If Esperanto won out, I certainly wouldn’t be against it. I’m not going to fight for Esperanto, but I won’t be hostile to it either: I wish Esperanto every success! A truly international solution for international communication, independent of any political power, is something I wouldn’t be against. But you are disturbed by something constructed … Personally, yes, but that’s true of most people. … a constructed language also has an advantage. The possibility of regularly forming nouns or adjectives from any root makes Esperanto easy to learn: birdo / birda, prava / mi pravas, sata / mi satas / mi malsatas without any need to choose between auxiliaries “I have” (as in French) or “I am” (as in English)… There’s clearly an advantage in that structure. And only 16 rules, and the fact that it can be learnt more quickly than any other language … Do you endorse that? Yes. That’s an argument for Esperanto as a solution for communication problems. I’m not a fan of constructed languages, but I acknowledge Esperanto’s simplicity, coherence, system of derivation, lack of exceptions… Still it’s an odd language: a real language can’t live without exceptions. Are there any exceptions? There will be, through evolution. Double consonants aren’t used, except in “Finnlando”. The language is evolving, but slowly. With so many languages dying, isn’t it encouraging when one is born? But not recently: it was born in 1887. Compared with the major European languages, 1887 was only yesterday … That “Finnlando” surprises me: if a double n sounds the same as a single n, it’s just a question of spelling. Still, it’s an issue in Esperanto circles. Completely pointless: phonetically, “Finnlando” and “Finlando” are the same word. Doesn’t anyone pronounce a double nn? Not in “Finnlando”, but they do in “finno”. Is there really a difference between “finno” and “fino”? There certainly is. If so, there’s no problem. Still, double consonants are normally not used in Esperanto: it’s an exception resulting from language development. Interesting, for if an artificial language (which is meant to differ from natural languages, where evolution creates masses of exceptions), nonetheless evolves and acquires exceptions, is Esperanto really of any use? That’s a question, but languages evolve slowly. A much more pressing problem is the future of languages … What is your reaction to this: “English is a killer language”? It’s not so straightforward, because now English is being creolised: Indian English, Thai English, Burmese English, Uganda English, Kenya English, Tanzanian English of British (Oxford-Cambridge) and Mid-Western American English (Chicago/Detroit/Great Lakes). A new branch of linguistics is studying world Englishes and NNVE (non-native variants of English). And if English were a killer, it would kill off these Englishes as well. Why? Because all languages diversify: that’s the history of the Romance, Germanic and Slav languages … And English too is subject to that law. An English that devours all languages would have to devour itself. That’s true of cultured English, but now English is spreading as a basic communication tool a sort of Globish that has no need of diversification. No need, but it’s not immune to it. And this Globish — is it a language of commerce? A reduced language, with a limited vocabulary, sufficient for international communication. That’s what will be taught … Why should it not diversify? Diversification’s a law: languages evolve like species. Our species too is evolving: at some point you will no longer be 3-dimensional, you will not be able to sit down or kiss because you will be just a surface. Forgive me for this crazy example, escape a universal law of evolution? Universal, but adapting to a new situation. Before, people communicated locally; now worldwide communication is possible, thanks to the Internet: three-way telephone calls between Paris, China, America … communicating like that unifies the language. Languages diversify when people don’t communicate with each other. On the contrary, communication implies evolution. Evolution yes, not divergence. When there were two separate Germanies, the languages too began to separate, but not any more. They never really separated. Day-to-day communication stopped, and the language of West Germans artificially appeared horribly capitalist to East Germans, but there were never two different norms But the present divergence between Serb and Croat - isn’t that for political reasons? Is there such a clear divergence? Many terms have changed: in Croatia a passport is no longer “pasoš” but “putovnica”. Well, your wife is Croat. If she was a Serb, you wouldn’t take the same view. If someone from the former Yugoslavia says: “I am Yugoslavian”, in 99% of cases it’s a Serb. Otherwise it’s a Croat, i.e. an anti-Serb nationalist. Separation between Serbs and Croats is essentially a political goal in Zagreb, but the languages will be separated when people no longer understand each other. And at present, for example in France, Serbs and Croats understand each other nicely. Although, for historical reasons (already when Tito died a future conflict was obvious), the Zagreb government persists in wanting to establish a new norm, there are still no separate Serb and Croat languages, are there? There are separate Danish and Swedish languages. That’s different. People from Copenhagen, Oslo and Stockholm have always understood each other: Norway was a Danish colony, Sweden was close, with trade and cultural relations, and the languages didn’t diverge much. And unlike Croatia, there were never any efforts to move apart: it’s just a question of one language (that of the Vikings), slowly turning into three. Nonetheless, the three languages are regarded as separate, although people understand each other. Of course, they understand each other, but not that well: for a Swede, Danish is less easy to understand orally than Norwegian, although on paper they are virtually the same. Orally, certain variants of English are almost impossible for others to understand. That’s true too. But the Scandinavian and Yugoslavian situations are different, I think. Now, about defending languages: are defending for example French against English and defending for example Occitan within France the same thing and should be the State’s business? It’s not the same, but promoting (rather than defending) regional languages is necessary in order to make the promotion of French credible. On the other hand, historically, regional languages in France (Breton, Basque, Occitan, Alsatian and so on) During the French Revolution, a report from Abbé Grégoire mentioned that: “counter-revolutionaries speak Breton …” and regional languages were firmly put down by the revolutionary government, whereas there was never a conflict between national languages and any idea of Europe. For until now Europe has never been united. France was united earlier than Italy, where language variants continue to thrive. And now Europe is becoming united: the language question is bound to arise. In 1872, Arinori Mori in Japan … … wanted to adopt French in Japan? No, but asked the linguist William Whitney whether English should be made the national language of Japan. If a similar question was put to you about Europe, what would be your answer? The question is impossible: Europe is not a nation, it just has official languages. In France there is a tendency to confuse the nation and the state, but in principle a state is also not a nation … In fact many states consist of a number of nations. In France, state and nation have been congruent for a very long time: Jacobinism, the centralism of Paris, is typically French. But not only French: in every country there is a similar nationalism, with a congruence between the state and the ruling nation, and thus a link to a language that expresses the country’s identity. As regards identity, you know about multiple identities – belonging to more than one community. Will Europe define an additional identity? Well, I don’t know! You talk of dreams. A linguist is not a dreamer. But a scientist has to predict … The association Accent Grave speaks of “logodiversity” [with a Greek root] rather than multilingualism, because part of the ecological effort to save the planet is the call of the defenders of languages and of Esperantists: “If you don’t do take urgent action, languages will die extremely quickly …” I quite agree. I’m not against promoting Esperanto, if that doesn’t hinder the promotion of other languages as well. Quite the contrary … Yes, you say “quite the contrary” because you are convinced that Esperanto will save the other languages. But we should be promoting other languages independently of Esperanto. A “French-speaking club” of 50 countries is promoting French: if French were to spread further, it would become a model, proving that English is not the only world language. In any case the battle is the same, but Esperanto has a further advantage: simplicity. Two years of learning Esperanto in primary school would facilitate later learning of other languages. Esperantists often know more languages than other people: Georges Kersaudy remembers that at the United Nations there was once a meeting of officials who knew all five of the official languages. All three of them also knew Esperanto. OK. If learning Esperanto facilitated later learning of other languages, I wouldn’t be against that. But what if children learn further languages instead of remaining Esperanto speakers? It’s possible to learn other languages and still be an Esperanto speaker. In World Esperanto Congresses, an introduction to the local language is a popular item in the programme. That’s very good. You have often taught in Budapest, and now in Hungary many school students choose Esperanto for their leaving exam. Naturally, since Hungarian isn’t spoken outside Hungary. so choosing Esperanto is a way of opening out. In France it wouldn’t be like that, since French has an international vocation. Hungarian is a very fine language, but apart from a tiny diaspora (in Australia) it has no international vocation. However, being ashamed to speak one’s own language, as a result of compulsory learning of English would be the first step towards language death. I quite agree. I have always been against teaching English in primary schools. So teach Esperanto, even in France, when French may no longer be in second place after English - with competition from Spanish. … But still, French is the second language in terms of spread. In terms of numbers of speakers, a dozen or so languages are more important: Arabic, Chinese, Indonesian, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, English and so on, But in terms of spread, i.e. the number of countries where there are French-speaking areas, it is clearly in second place. Even Chinese has not spread as much - albeit somewhat in South-East Asia. Because for a long time China was a closed country. French had a policy of openness … … and colonialism. It comes down to the same thing! In any case, in terms of spread French is in second place after English, and ahead of Italian, German, Chinese, Arabic, Indonesian and Hindi (which I forgot just now) … But I meant use in international institutions, where increasingly Spanish is needed. In the United States too it’s making progress. I’m not sure about that. During the 1980s and 1990s, there were massive inflows of Puerto-Ricans and Mexicans, and a number of States (for example Florida, Louisiana, Texas, Arizona) legislated to make English the official language. But now those people have become bilingual: the threat has faded that Spanish could become one of the two languages of the United States. For in Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Wyoming or Utah, for example, there are no Spanish speakers. André Martinet spoke of a time when you never heard Spanish on the streets in the United States. It depends where: in California telephone booths first offer you a choice between Spanish and English. I meant a time fifty years ago. Now you need Spanish in a campaign to become President of the United States. In California, certainly, in Arizona and Texas too, but not in every US State. The present dominance of English is a result of the economic dominance of the USA. But if the United States is no longer a superpower, will the predominance of English artificially prolong American dominance? A very good question. For a long time I thought English wouldn’t survive a decline of the United States, but now I am not so sure, since there is a process of appropriation of English by countries that are in no way English-speaking and will continue with the language even if the power of the United States declines. Unlike living national languages, all speakers of Esperanto, make the language their own: normally one translates into one’s own language, whereas people translate into Esperanto in order to transmit their own culture. States will make English their own, but it will remain foreign to ordinary people. There is intolerable discrimination in the recruitment of native English speakers by European institutions. Absolutely. Esperanto would make it possible to communicate using a language common to everyone, independent of political structures that are liable to change or disappear. You don’t give up. I’m not opposed, but I’m not fighting for Esperanto. The victory of Esperanto would not make me lose any sleep, especially if it furthered multilingualism. I am not going to fight against Esperanto in the way that I indeed fight against the predominance of English. At present Esperantists are trying to get Esperanto accepted as a subject (in the same way as regional languages) in the school-leaving exam. Are you prepared to support that? How? By expressing a favourable opinion … This interview amounts to that. So here you are: during this discussion, I stated just now that I have nothing against a proposal to introduce Esperanto as a subject in the school-leaving examination. Thank you.

Video Details

Duration: 55 minutes and 38 seconds
Country: France
Language: French (France)
Producer: LoJacomo, Baláž
Director: LoJacomo
Views: 300
Posted by: petro on Nov 19, 2008

Parolo pri Esperanto - nur labora versio por nun.

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