Thursday, 28 February 2013

Humanism, perhaps…

Facing brutal strength, the power of weapons and money, there is humanism …
I know it is like fighting a tank with bare hands, it is David against Goliath, but it might be the only way out.

The first step towards humanism is experiencing otherness: you are here, standing in front of me - very different. At first sight, everything distinguishes us. Yet I look at you - you look at me in the eye, and suddenly we understand : you are a human being just like me, you have your wishes, desires, fears, anxiety, which are also mine. Let us shake hands. Between us there is a very strong link of solidarity, of brotherhood.

Our difference is not an opposition it is complementarity, our difference is our riches: you can bring me a lot of things, I can bring you a lot of things. This basic complementarity, which is light and darkness, night and day, black and white, red and green, yellow and purple, cold and warmth, north and south… the yin and the yang, gives birth to movement, energy, dynamism, which, alone, can save us from eternal glaciation, from nuclear apocalypse.

This complementarity should not be reduced to an opposition of two elements; such an opposition is manicheism, the battle between "good" and "evil", "God" and "the devil", all those old ideas which gave us the Crusades, the Holy war, blood purity and ethnic cleansing. Humanism is a radical rejection of any form of fascism, which feeds on an opposition of differences, creating a system of castes such as priests, warriors, merchants, peasants, untouchables, Übermenschen, Untermenschen (superhumans, subhumans, "Aryans" against Slavs, Blacks, Jews, Roms).

Experiencing otherness is the key to an opening onto diversity. The other is not ANother (it is not limited to a couple), but all the others, that is the extraordinary diversity of life on earth (and elsewhere, why not ?), a diversity which is threatened everyday by an overpowering standardization (be it a question of languages, cultures or living species). Personally as a Uropist, I am not only fighting for a common language, I am also fighting for Breton, Basque, Corsican, Occitan in my own country, for Malinke or Bambara,  Nahuatl or Aymara… elsewhere.

The struggle against uniformity is a question of survival for mankind and its diversity, if we don't all want to end up as cloned robots made in USA, in China, or wherever. Only because I am myself, can I go and meet the others. I regard myself as an heir to the ancient Greeks, to the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, Denis de Rougemont… And this is what enables me to meet the thought of Laozi, master Kong, Taoism, the yin and the yang…, but also the philosophy of Ibn-Rushd (Averroës), Ibn-Sina (Avicenna) and that of Native Americans…

Being oneself shouldn't mean a withdrawal into oneself and one's own culture, which could only lead to rejecting the others, to xenophobia and racism. Greeks have a beautiful word, which, to my knowledge, doesn't exist in any other language: φιλοξενία "philoxenia" usually translated by hospitality, but which means in fact "love strangers", the very contrary of "xenophobia" and which, in everyday life amounts to a real sense of hospitality.

Obviously all this raises the problem of identity. According to Edgard Morin identity is always a multiple identity, which is at the same time a personal (Jan), family (Kervadek), vocational (gardener), regional (Breton), national (French), supranational (European, African, Latin American), world identity (as a citizen of the world). It is when I become fully aware of this poly-identity that I can communicate with the others on an equal basis.

This is precisely the Unity of human beings in the diversity of their languages and cultures: a dialogue between cultures just as Uropi is a permanent dialogue between languages - all of them being regarded as equal to each other.

Uropi has been built on those lines: Unity in Diversity: we are all different, but all united through our humanity. Creating a link between the peoples, that is creating a link between human beings.

Uropi vocabulary has been chosen in the largest language family, the Indo-European family, which is the most widespread in the world, so that the largest number of speakers might feel at home (to a certain extent). Uropi has not just borrowed a few words from the other language families as an excuse for looking more international, but it has incorporated basic grammatical structures of those languages.

Such as, for example, the use of the "naked" verb in the present (the verb root without any ending) as in Chinese, Vietnamese or Thai.
For ex: C.  wŏ lüxíng, nĭ lüxíng, tā lüxíng… = Ur. i vaiz, tu vaiz, he vaiz*… (I travel, you travel, he travels…)
It has also taken up the Chinese way of building compounds, which is common to many other languages.

Ch. guŏ = frut (fruit) + zhī = suc (juice) > guŏzhī = Ur.  frutisùc (fruit juice)
guŏ = frut (fruit) + yüán = gardin (garden) > guŏyüán = frutigardin (orchard)
jīn = gor (gold) + yǘ = pic (fish) > jīnyǘ = goripìc (goldfish)
shuĭ = vod (water) + mò = mulia (mill) > shuĭmò = vodimulia (water mill)
tóu = keb (head) + téng = dol (pain) > tóuténg = kebidòl (headache)
xüé = skol (school) + nián = jar (year) > xüénián = skolijàr (school year)
zhōng = mid (middle) + fàn = jedad (meal) > zhōngfàn = midjèd (lunch)… etc.

Dante Alighieri, Verona, Italy 

It has taken up the Arabic way of building feminine nouns and adjectives .
For ex: Ar. kalb > kalba = Ur. kun > kuna (dog, bitch), tâlib > tâliba = studan > studana (student > female student)
Ar. dahab > dahabi = Ur. gor > gori (gold > golden), gharb > gharbi = west > westi (west > western)
The example of the words raj / raja (king / queen) is particularly revealing of what internationality means in Uropi. The words raj / raja come from Sanskrit rājan / rājñī, Hindi rājā / rānī (< I-E rēgs* / rēgnī*, cf Lat rex / regina). But the way the feminine is built has nothing to do with Indian languages: it is typically Arabic, cf malik / malika (-consonant > -a) = king/queen.

In short, Uropi has always tried to find what unites us, rather than what divides us: Unity in Diversity. Creating a link between the peoples.

* Another interesting example of word building in Uropi is vaizo (to travel) which has been formed on vaj (< I-E weghyā* > Lat veha, via, It, Sp via, Fr voie, Eng way, Ger, Dutch Weg, Swe väg, Da vej = way), just as It. viaggiare and Sp viajar, Fr voyager were formed on via, voie, but also Rus путешествовать "puteshestvovat'" and Serbian/Croatian putovati on путь "put'", put = way. At the same time vaizo also phonetically reminds us of German reisen  [raizən].

By Urko

To see this article in its context, in 3 languages (Uropi, French, English):

The last article on the Uropi Blog: Jespersen, root-words, affixes, stress:

Monday, 18 February 2013

A Plea for simplicity

Recently a correspondent sent me a message in which he said that a simple grammar is an illusion, and that the wish to simplify the language is a poison. That not having six different forms for the six persons of the verb would never be accepted by Spanish speakers, that it is ugly, heavy and furiously similar to English, and that simplifying the grammar meant fighting for English …
(I hope I have summed up my correspondent's criticisms well enough; in any case I can always send the original message to anyone who might be interested).

Here is my answer.

* * *

* * *

OK, I confess I like simplicity; simplicity is the key to happiness for mankind: giving food to those who are hungry, clothes and a roof to those who are cold, giving work to those who have a family to feed; what could be simpler ?

But let's get back to languages. At the age of 16, I got acquainted with the common roots of Indo-European languages, and it changed my life, it opened my mind to the others. It changed the way I saw the world, and later on, the way I taught. I'm no fanatic, neither for English, nor for French, Spanish, Italian, nor for any other language… I'm standing at the crossroads between all those languages. For example, it seems important to me, instead of making students learn the English irregular verbs only, to show them the link with German "strong verbs" and also - why not ? - with Dutch and Scandinavian verbs, instead of always focusing on the complexity of the gerund for instance, or of the genitive or of the modal verbs.
Complexity is a booby-trap. I hate the commonplace "c'est plus compliqué que ça", (it's more complicated than this), which our "experts" and "intellectuals" at court always use to mask the vacuity of their thought behind fine words which are not particularly clear.

How can you claim that Uropi is not a "language bearing the various treasures of European languages" ? (Just take a look at the page Proverbs of Europe on the Uropi website). Uropi is growing constantly richer through a permanent comparison with all Indo-European languages without any exception. The richness of a language doesn't come from its grammar, but from its vocabulary, its words. In Russian they say весна - тепло "viesnà - tieplò" (lit. Spring - warm), meaning We are in Spring; it's warm, or повторение мать учения "povtoriènie mat' oochènya" (lit. repetition mother teaching), meaning repetition is the mother of teaching - two phrases practically without any grammatical form. Does this prevent the Russian language from being rich and beautiful and of giving birth to Pushkin, Lermontov, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Chekhov ?
What beauty is there in the agreement of the French past participle, in the six Esperanto participles, or the X Russian participles for the students taking A'levels and who still write j'ai manger in French, hence I have to eat in English instead of I have eaten ?

This leads me to make four essential remarks:

1) Learning a foreign language, whether auxiliary or not, should not be reserved to a small elite, especially for us in Europe, where over 28 different languages are spoken. However, some of the difficulties of European languages, be it English or Spanish or German or French (not to mention Russian, Chinese, Arabic or Gaelic …) seem impossible to overcome for a great many students. (I have a long experience of teaching languages).

2) The natural evolution of Indo-European languages, from Sanskrit to today's languages, has always been towards a simpler grammar and a greater richness of vocabulary. You only have to compare Sanskrit and Hindi, ancient and modern Greek, Latin and Italian, etc… to see it. (For example a simplification of verbal forms, the disappearance of declensions). This is what the linguist Otto Jespersen found, CF 

Uropi only follows this trend. The verbal form which remains the same whatever the person was not invented by Esperanto or Uropi: it is the rule in Scandinavian languages: Danish: jeg, du, han, vi, I, de skriver, Swedish: jag, du, han, vi, ni, de skriver = I write, you write, he writes, etc… Are Scandinavian languages uglier & heavier than Spanish or Portuguese ? Judging from Bergman's films, I shouldn't think so. (Or should we say, paraphrasing Orwell that all languages are equal… but some languages are more equal than others ?).

All languages are beautiful; you only have to let yourself be charmed.

3) Uropi grammar is simple, but not simplistic.
For example you can use the durative (progressive) form, if you want to insist on the duration of an action: i se sopan = estoy durmiendo, sto dormendo, I am sleeping. From the old Indo-European declensions, Uropi has kept the genitive, as in Greek, Rumanian, Albanian, Armenian, and Scandinavian languages (+ German, Slavic and Baltic languages which have complete declensions), but which has disappeared in Romance languages, being replaced by prepositions, the use of which is not always very clear (CF di & da in Italian). Are Romance languages, which have got rid of declensions, "ugly, heavy and furiously similar to…" French ?

4) You cannot create an IAL for Romance speakers only ( for instance, the imperfect doesn't exist outside Latin languages and Greek). It is of no interest: each Romance speaker can learn enough Spanish, Italian or French to make himself understood, but what about the others ? Half the world population speaks an Indo-European language. What about our Chinese friends ? Will they appreciate those grammatical complexities which do not exist in their own language ? (The difficulties of Chinese lie elsewhere).

Is Uropi beautiful or ugly ? It's difficult to judge when you haven't heard the language, but only seen it written.

One of my correspondents, who learnt Uropi very fast, has translated the first 4 chapters of La sombra del Viento (the shadow of wind) by C.R. Zafón, whose style is not particularly simple, and whose vocabulary is not particularly poor, and yet, the translation in Uropi is beautiful. Personally, I like poetry very much and I translated poems by Baudelaire, Verlaine, Prévert, Apollinaire, Pablo Neruda, Federico García Lorca, Goethe, Hermann Hesse, Akhmatova, Tsvetayeva, etc… I find those translations rather good and beautiful, and many people agree with this. You can find some of these poems on the Uropi website.

Fighting for English, for Spanish, for French or Chinese ? When will world citizens understand that it is high time to lay down arms ? Put an end to all types of wars, including the economic war, raging at the moment, and, in any case, not start a linguistic war ? Over 5000 languages are spoken in the world today, all of them are beautiful, but some are threatened like endangered species; all those languages are mankind's riches: shouldn't we try to preserve them, create a link between each other so that we might learn how to live together?

To see this article in its original context, in three languages: Uropi, English and French:

Uropi Website:

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Loving Languages

Creating a link between the peoples
The Uropi international auxiliary language was created by Joël Landais an English teacher and comparative linguist in France. It is a synthesis of all the common points that can be found in Indo-European languages, based on the Indo-European roots, international words and grammatical structures that are common to most European languages. Its main characteristics are simplicity, internationality and transparency.

 The Indo-European family is the largest language family in the world and Indo-European languages are spoken on the five continents. Thus the largest number of speakers in the world can feel at home with Uropi.
Loving languages

Why do people create or support an IAL (international auxiliary language) ? There are, in my opinion, two diametrically opposite motivations - among others - which are essential.
The first one is loving languages. You can love a language - or languages - just as you love a person: you love her / his beauty (the beauty of its sounds, its poetry for instance …), the way he / she dresses and makes up with ideograms, hieroglyphs, runes…, its alphabet… You love his qualities, but also his little faults, his imperfections: nobody is perfect, no language is perfect.
When you love somebody, the most beautiful love token is having a child with the person you love, a child who will share your physical features and traits of character. I believe that my love for languages induced me to create Uropi. I wanted to have a child with all these languages I love, or rather I wanted them to have a child together, a child who would look like them and inherit features from each of them.
Of course, this was possible thanks to the common Indo-European roots. These I-E roots are the genetic inheritance of all Indo-European languages. They would provide this unborn child with his features and characteristics, together with his likeness to all those languages. Thus Uropi was born and it made me very happy.

A perfect language.

At the opposite extreme, you will meet people who find languages difficult to learn, who only see their irregularities, their imperfections, their lack of logic (according to them): in short, people who don't like languages. They are sometimes mathematicians or philosophers who are dreaming of a perfectly logical world governed by rules which admit no exceptions, who are dreaming of creating a new superior human being, endowed with all good qualities, without any shortcomings, in a word, a perfect man in a perfect world. Their aim is therefore to create a perfect language which is mathematically logical and governed by perfect rules without any exception… a perfectly in-human language.

You can find many examples of such languages in the past, such as, for example Letellier's language (1852-1880) which is philosophical and superlogical: â = animal, âb = mammals, âbo = carnivores, âboje = cat, or Sotos Ochando's (1852): a = material things, aba = elements, ababa = oxygen, ababe = hydrogen, ababi = nitrogen; numerical languages like Grosselin's (1836): 1 = abtract quality, 30 = opinion, party, 1091 = king, or musical languages like Sudre's Solrésol (1817 - 1866): doremi = day, dorefa = week, dorela = year; Domisol = God, misol = good, solmi = bad, Solmido = Satan; languages with symbolic phonemes like Nicolas's Spokil   (1904) with -rt meaning repairing, cleaning: art = dirty, urt = clean, ert = to repair, irt = to wash, ort = remedy, etc.

Of course, such a "perfect" language, so superior to "natural" languages, aims at becoming a single world language asserting itself and gradually eliminating all the other languages on earth. IAL's which met with a certain success like Volapük or Esperanto, do not escape the temptation, as you can judge by their respective slogans: menefe bal, püki bal (one mankind, one language), unu mondo, unu lingvo (one world, one language).

The danger of such a position is quite clear: a planned destruction of the extraordinary diversity of languages and cultures which is mankind's riches, which will end up in an Orwellian nighmare, peopled with "superhumans" who will only speak a kind of "newspeak". Of course Father Schleyer, the author of Volapük (1879) or Lejzer Zamenhof (Esperanto 1887) cannot be blamed for not knowing the advent of single-track thinking that marked the early 20th century in the form of Hitlerian and Stalinist totalitarisms and their attempts at creating "the new man": Übermensch in the 3rd Reich or Homo Sovieticus.

Our struggle today - together with that of the environmentalists who are fighting to saveguard biodiversity and the natural balance, i-e for the survival of our planet - is a struggle to preserve mankind's diversity of languages and cultures. What a paradox it is to observe, at a time when many new countries join the E.U, when their languages become official languages of the Union, that Europeans learn less and less different languages ! How many West Europeans for instance, learn a Slavic language when we have at least five Slavic-speaking member countries ?

This is why we would suggest a common language which would not replace the other languages but would be superposed on them, in order to enable different peoples to better communicate with each other, and at the same time preserve their own languages and cultures. This language would act as a guarantor for cultural diversity. Loving languages gave birth to Uropi, and loving languages should devise a means to protect them against global standardisation.

To see this article in its original context, in three languages: Uropi, English and French: