[This message was sent by email to Brigit McCone today, and is also posted as a comment on EuropeUnited.org.]
I was interested to discover Europe United today, and your comment caught my eye.
I share your distaste with the idea of English as a common language for Europe, not only because of the abuse the language would suffer, but also because of the unfairness inherent in such a system. A quick anecdote to illustrate the first point: when teaching English as a foreign language to classes of European businessmen, I have only once been asked to include something “cultural” (a poem, a bit of Shakespeare, or anything similar), and the one person who suggested it was shouted down by the rest of the group. “We want useful stuff,” they said, i.e. English divested as much as possible of its history and roots. The “English” that they end up speaking is a reduced code which is for the most part inadequate for actually expressing any original thought.
On the second point, I object to any system that arbitrarily and eternally favours a privileged minority over the majority, and the adoption of English as European lingua franca would do just that. Any foreigner who has ever been in a situation of conflict with a native speaker of English can attest to the power one has when using one’s native tongue to beat down an opponent, be it in a political debate, a commercial negotiation, or just an argument over who was next in the check-in queue.
Where I disagree with you, with respect, is the point where you throw up your arms and say, “Well, if that’s what the majority currently favours, then I’ll just go along with them.” You may choose to, and that’s a choice you’re free to make, but I actively participate in trying to educate the majority and show them that there is a neutral, fair and highly effective alternative, which is of course Esperanto. I don’t want to force it on anybody, but most people seem to know so little about it that it’s impossible for them to make an informed choice on the matter.
While it’s currently true that many more people are acquainted with English than with Esperanto, it’s very common to find that people’s knowledge and confidence in English are really rather shallow, and both quickly run out once the pleasantries are over. This is the result of thousands of hours and billions of Euros spent teaching English across the continent. Talk to any teacher or student of Esperanto, though, and you’ll discover a very common experience: that people reach a level of Esperanto in 6 to 12 months that it took them years and years to reach in any other foreign language. It’s startling how much more straightforward it is to learn and use, but pleasantly surprising also in the power of expression that one discovers at one’s fingertips. No pre-formed sentences to regurgitate (à la Business English) here!
I’ve gone on quite long enough, and I’m grateful for the time you’ve given to reading my message, if you’ve got this far through it. I’d be pleased to receive a response from you, be it by email, as a further comment at EuropeUnited.org, or on my blog.