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New word of the month
by Kerry Maxwell

europanto /jrpnt/ noun [U]
a composite language formed from a combination of European languages such as French, English, German and Dutch, intended to be an alternative to English as an international language

'A quiet linguistic revolution is underway in Europe to twist English into something all Europeans can understand A new language has been born — Europanto, which with its mix of English, German, Italian and Spanish is certainly not one for purists.'
(BBCi News, 23rd November 1998)

'Drawing from his experience in the multilingual environment of the European Union (an alliance of 15 countries speaking a dozen different languages) and from the observation of linguistic patterns on the Internet, Marani has defined the basic guidelines to produce a "linguistic jazz" called Europanto which he believes will eventually "cause international English to implode."'
(The New York Times, 24th March 1998)

On 1st May 2004, ten new member states joined the European Union, adding among others Czech, Hungarian and Polish to the host of European languages represented. So what will the dominant language of international communication be in this setting? My money is on English, but in a moment of fantasy we could imagine aspects of these new EU languages being incorporated into Europanto, the tongue-in-cheek lingua franca developed for international relations.

Europanto was developed in 1996 by Diego Marani, an interpreter in the European Union council of ministers. Marani, a native Italian, lived in Brussels and spoke French, English, Dutch, Finnish, Slovenian and Spanish. His idea was to create a language which would make communication within Europe much easier, empowering those who are forced to use English even though their command of it is not very good.

The basic idea of course is nothing new, taking inspiration from the synthetic language Esperanto (Europanto is a blend of the words European and Esperanto) which was developed in 1887 and became a reasonably popular medium of communication in international relations, though was mainly thought of as rather elitist. Europanto differs from Esperanto however in that it does not consist of a constructed language with fixed rules and grammar, but a juxtaposition of other European languages, with no fixed syntax or vocabulary. Marani's belief was that in avoiding the creation of something artificial but allowing the language to evolve, Europanto's popularity would spread more widely, helping frustrated non-native English speakers become less afraid of making mistakes and more able to express their ideas with ease.

The first Europanto texts were internal documents in Marani's EU department, written more to amuse than inform, but news of the language quickly spread, resulting in regular Europanto columns in the press, a book of short stories and a website for enthusiasts. The underlying structure of Europanto is essentially English because, among the languages represented in the EU, Marani believed it to be the easiest and the most readily understood. Beyond this Europanto borrows at will from the grammar and vocabulary of any other European languages it chooses to exploit. Marani claimed this represented something of a compromise: accepting the dominance of English in international communication but at the same time speeding up the process of 'internationalisation' of the language.

An example of Europanto reads as follows:
'Om Europanto to speakare, tu basta mixare alles wat tu know in extranges linguas. "What tu know nicht, keine worry, tu invente," Marani dixit.'
(from 'Europanto, a Linguistic Jazz Aimed at Destroying English', New York Times, 24 March 1998)

The syntax and vocabulary of several European languages can be recognised in the above citation. The idea is that, if for example an Italian and a German have to communicate in English, they could add words from their own language to fill in any knowledge gaps, or borrow words and structures from other languages that were mutually intelligible for them. The worst case scenario is that the level of understanding would remain the same as if they had both used their limited knowledge of English, but more likely is that, with an enriched vocabulary at their fingertips, the level of mutual understanding would be enhanced.

It's an interesting and fun theory, but in the years since its conception, Europanto has never been taken seriously. There is no evidence for mainstream use other than by Internet-based enthusiasts (e.g.: www.neuropeans.com) or within the confines of the European Union offices where it originated.

Since its formation in 1950, the European Union has contributed a range of new words to the English language, mainly via the productive prefix Euro-. Dictionary definitions of Euro- often include a sense 'relating to the European Union', as well as the obvious sense 'relating to Europe'. A classic example which has been a major feature of journalistic English during the last decade or more is Eurosceptic (also spelt Euroskeptic) a blend of Euro and sceptic (someone who has doubts about things that other people believe in) used to refer to a British politician who thinks that Britain should not be part of the European Union. Here is a selection of other examples, some perhaps less well-known:

eurobabble (also Eurobabble) noun [U] the language (jargon) of European Community documents and regulations, also sometimes referred to as Eurospeak.

Eurobeach noun [C] a safe swimming beach. This word refers specifically to a swimming beach in any of the countries of the European Union that meets the EU regulations for safe levels of bacteria in the water.

Eurocrat noun [C] an administrative official in the European Union, especially someone at a senior level. This is a blend of Euro- and bureaucrat. There is a related adjective Eurocratic.

Eurozone (also Euroland) noun [U] the set of countries in the European Union who have adopted the euro (symbol ) as their official currency. There are so far twelve member countries using the euro. The United Kingdom, Denmark and Sweden are currently not included in the Eurozone.

Euro-creep noun [U] the tendency for countries outside of the Eurozone to adopt use of the euro 'by stealth'. This term has been adopted in British government and journalistic circles to refer to the fact that over fifty per cent of leading UK retailers are accepting the euro as a means of payment even though Britain is not included in the Eurozone.


For more information about new and topical words and phrases, read Kerry's Word of the Week articles on the MED Resource Site.