Digital painting "Empire" by mf-jeff
Digital painting "Empire" by mf-jeff

Lingua Latina: single language for the EU?

The article of Fritz Sturm, ‘Lingua Latina fundamentum et salue Europae‘ is a rare piece that promotes the use of Latin language as the common administrative language of the EU.

It starts by considering the EU’s current policy of multilingualism, which it rejects as practically and economically problematic. What is more, in effect it is English that is gaining more and more ground as the working language of the EU institutions. Notably the European Commission’s calls for tenders are published in English or French, so those not speaking these languages are disadvantaged.

Among the arguments that the author opposes to the policy of translating everything and all, one observation in particular stands out: ‘dryness and drabness’ of debates. This is not only due to delay in translation, but also due to the losing of the speaker’s style.

Those listening in on parliamentary debates in Brussels or Strasbourg soon fall asleep. Since everything is more or less interpreted with a substantial time delay, the discussion loses liveliness and colour. Even the best interpreter cannot render in her own language the vagaries, the puns, the jokes, the slips of the tongue that bring roars of laughter in a split second. The speaker’s style is fully lost. Translators serve as washing machines, whereby colourful garb is transformed into grey coveralls, stripped of embroidery and buttons.

All these problems with translation are accompanied with ever-present ‘eurospeak’ – use of terms referring to EU policy incomprehensible but to ‘insiders’ well versed in technical and legal terms.

We indeed do not have to read far into the text to agree with Fritz Sturm. But the most interesting part of this text comes towards the end. There the author confronts the idea that is often promoted by classic ‘eurofederalists’: that cost reduction speaks for English as the EU’s administrative language. Sturm presents here two counter-arguments that are not considered by English’s supporters: it marginalises the learning of other European languages and automatically leads to hegemony of the UK and Ireland as it advantages their native speakers. In a 500 million EU, language would mean power more than ever.

Most importantly of all, Sturm underlines that the EU could hardly be expected to establish cultural counterbalance if it were to adopt the language of the USA.

It is exactly the civilisation choice for Europe that leads Sturm to opt for Latin as the ancient language of Europe. Effort to rebuild its status would not mean taking the course of an artificial construct, but ‘revitalising thousands of years’ tradition’. Not least the Roman law, but also millenia of culture. Translation would still have a purpose within the reconstructed EU apparatus, as it would communicate back with citizens, who would be, of course, still fully able to communicate with offices in their native language. It is also good that Sturm reminds readers that Latin is not a “dead language” but continued to develop in various forms until the present time, albeit in more minimalistic form.

What is only questionable, the author admits, is ‘whether Europe’s politicians have the insight to appreciate [all] this’. ‘Can they still abandon their credo of multilingualism in their present mental inertia and campaign for the introduction of an official language that has left its mark on European culture and bestowed splendour upon the Old World in its intellectual and religious unity?’

And we could add: do European politicians have the vision beyond repeating their usual credos about liberalism and free market, and opt for a language that bears with it culture, not just the mantra of cost-efficiency?

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