I'm Romanian, so that makes me a byzantine European, that is, inclined to chit chat at the street corner. Here's my 2 cents:
I lived and worked in Pittsburgh, PA, United States, between 1999 and 2002. In less than six months I had a strong feeling I don't belong to this culture. This feeling is standardly wrapped and softened in concepts like "cultural shock", implying that any culture is fine, but I disagree with this implication: any culture has something to fix in order to preserve humanism (the human as a naturally social creature).
My clear picture about US, in 2002, was that the low-density of people, the car and the big-capital freedom, biased everything: once you put a car under everybody's ass, small businesses from the city die in favor of big-businesses outside the city, because it's cumbersome to store a high-density of cars in the city, people migrate outside it, in driving distance from the new big stores or groceries, that means they spend a lot more time in their cars, which means they spend more time isolated and brainwashed by the radio stations financed by about 10 big media companies. I was surprised then to find out a more uniform opinion about everything than in Ceausescu's Romania (Ceausescu was a petty dictator in my country, before 1989). This uniformity was tested when the war with Afghanistan started, then with Iraq. Living far away from each other didn't help at getting feedback, like neighboring people in a bus/train can get, it also didn't help with the food quality, the only practical solution being to buy sacks of food on the week-end, to eat it over the next week. That implies plenty of preservatives, which implies plenty of allergies and new diseases, which is good for the health business or making-profit-from-disease business. This also erased the sidewalks so one can't walk from one corner of the city to another. This is the suburban concept: collect coupons for the week-end, go buy whatever the TV tells you it's fancy, sit and watch your boring dream surrounding you with cars rolling and overweight people running on the alley in front of your lawn. It was clear to me that these people where living for a few others, the rich ones, who had no problem moving their money overseas when the natives had too high (read normal) expectations from their work. The money got exported, and the debt remained with the optimist suburbanite, who still thinks that evil people envy him. But the oil resource is thinning and the North-American way of life has to change. Indeed, good signs appeared, in Pittsburgh, at least: in 2008 organic food and bike stores became more visible, although the groceries did not come back: Oakland, a place with two university campuses and a big hospital, has yet no real grocery. Somebody from Pittsburgh Post-gazette asked me if I have any opinion on the current political issues, given the context of presidential elections, I declined as a recently landed here, but I still have an opinion, as an European: I would vote for president the one that promises to replace most of the highways with trains, subways and an efficient Berlin-like or Vienna-like public transportation; the one who would fund research in electrical vehicles, electrical energy storage and production; the one who currently stays connected to the Internet at least 4 hours a day and spends less than a half-hour per day in a car.
Anyway, not all is that bad as it sounds from the previous paragraph: a recession is starting, meaning that rich people from everywhere are upset, meaning that people living on credit are forced to rethink their dreams, meaning that wars are less probable, unless religious. Beside peanut butter, the next-best thing in US is the popular no-bullshitting attitude, and this is no cheap thing when I think of Europe.
I lived 3 years in Berlin and 1 year in Vienna, the rest (37) in Romania. The Germanic part of Europe seemed much more attentive and eager to discuss about what's to be fixed. I felt them as healthy societies albeit the weather must affect their overall well-being. Peanut butter is not so good in Europe, unless imported from US, but public transportation, groceries and cafes allow people to socialize, to mature as humans. The high-density of people in Europe pushes many of them to fight to create a necessity and occupy a job to resolve it, meaning there are layers upon layers of people in unnecessary positions. This helps one mature, in general, through the brushing-with-each-other phenomenon, but also drives one to cynicism: non-manufacturing people start manufacturing interferences, smoke and mirrors. High-density population generates plenty of bullshit in Europe. In the background, Europe tries to copy all the free-capital based mistaken optimism, and it will fail similarly, with a variation: it did not assume that oil is forever; otherwise, the same wrong assumption that a higher number of people means a larger market and that this is supposed to solve all the problems.
Because of the bullshitters in Europe, I couldn't get a research grant related to public digital libraries for four tries (one a year) in a row, and that in the context of the "knowledge-based society". Knowledge-based society my foot. The bullshitters need ignorants to work for them, not documented and inventive neighbors. European bullshitters think Europe can exist as an entity and work for them because it is or becomes a unified market. My hope is that a common language can save the European Union from committing the same basic mistakes as the US.
So I agreed to leave to US again (with no right to work), meanwhile getting old and tempted to become cynical about some of my fellow Europeans.
I think, the most fundamental problem of the US-Europe world is the copyright, or "intellectual property", an unjustified extension from potatoes to ideas or, rather, fake ideas. If the copyright is supposed to last a life and then some, then we should also pay rent to the potato grower: for each potato which we ate, we should pay a rent to him, pay it as a "service", for life and 70 years of his inheritors; each time we walk on a bridge or look at it, we should pay a fee to the engineer that built it.
The existence of copyright is the signal that the density of bullshitters reached a critical level, it also degrades the intellectuals into plain door-to-door sellers of fake things.
I was reasoning on the necessity of a common language for EU, earlier on. I dropped too easily Esperanto as a choice, opting for Spanish instead: I feared that a constructed language wouldn't stand a chance near a historical one.
I'll try to make it here clear why, in a concise form.
His argument, in my understanding, is that the currently used languages preclude intercultural communication because of their naturally different histories.
So, at least the following issues appear in an intercultural communication:
irreducibly different semantic resolutions (e.g. in chinese, it seems, you have to specify which grandmother are you talking about, your father's mother or your mother's; if you have to translate from English to Chinese, then you have to do some research beyond the written text to get it accurate);
truncated communication (let's be clear, you have to live and socialize a couple of years in a foreign country to claim you know the language, and then you only get to know a small part of the native linguistic reflexes: any naturally grown language is continuously enriched with logically inconsistent native reflexes from the street speech, so a foreigner will end up learning the grammar in a few months and then he'll have to cover the exceptions in a decade or more);
EU expenses on translation are large, with no benefit in sight; to provide an image about this effort, Mr. Piron says that translation costs 100 euro per A4 page, and 750 euro fee per translator per day; he also says the translation related costs for the EU institutions amount to 3 euro/year/european; although it seems little, I'd like to know the amount of indirect costs related to translation (electronics, software, maintenance, housing and travel for the translators etc.), and I'd also like to know how this amount compares with the scientific research EU funding.
Briefly, to master a language, and its accurate translation into a second language, you have to grow somehow with both.
Here comes the advantage of a constructed language: the rules are minimal and provide for consistency, so one can build naturally on it with the result being portable interculturally.
Practically, what should EU do about this state of affairs?
Obviously, for the official EU documents, Esperanto should be made mandatory and all the other EU languages optional. This will not only avoid the translation expenses, but also the the expenses with the armies of lawyers which will get involved in reinterpreting a semantically sloppy historical language in the face of law. In schools at the national level, Esperanto should be mandated as the second language as an instrument for communicating with foreigners, EU or non-EU, anything else should be optional.
TV subtitles in Esperanto should be made obligatory, or available, at least, for any TV presentation in the EU countries;
Try setting up an international cooperation with non-EU countries for an Esperanto-based communication.
If the EU administration doesn't decide anything in the direction of a common EU language, in, say, a year or so, those interested in this issue (I hope, all the Europeans) should start organizing themselves online for a way to push this on the EU legislative table.
Briefly, what I want to say here is that it would be ideal for any European to know at least spanish and mathematics, and at least an external language (english, chinese), beyond the native language.
I'm saying that the multilingualism in EU is a problem rather than a feature worth supporting, as long as we talk about more than 20 languages. I hope it's obvious for any European that one cannot handle so many languages in a human lifetime.
I think that no more than two common languages are necessary for optimal communication inside EU: mathematics and a common natural language. With the mother tongue, the 3-rd, you grow naturally, so it isn't EU's concern, it's a local issue. So we count 3 languages by now. Obviously you should have the freedom to learn as many languages you like, but that's not EU's issue.
The mathematics and the common language of choice are needed for formal and informal communication, they provide the opening to universality. Quoting Van Cauwelaert in Un aller simple:
Alors le bonheur, c’est quand je suis allé à l’école. Le bonheur, c’était d’apprendre. Je m’inventais une autre famille, rien qu’à moi, avec les mots et les chiffres que je pouvais changer d’ordre comme je voulais, additionner, conjuguer, soustraire, et tout le monde me comprenait.
The mobility of labor inside EU doesn't need more than these 3 languages: the mathematics, the common language and the native language.
There is also the economic language: the money, but there's no reason of concern here, it's the Euro and it's not a multilingualism issue.
The later we recognize the necessity of a common EU language, the later we'll understand us through EU (each bigger country will continue to hope that its own native language will predominate, each immigrant moved to, say, Spain, will forget his native language for practical reasons and still won't grasp what his german neighbor is saying, the cultural communication between the EU citizens from different countries will be almost null, as it is today, and this will keep us prey to nationalisms or blanket globalization).
Check the blogs' logs and see if some EU country's blogs are visited by EU neighbor netizens with a comparable frequency with that of the local netizens. Seriously, this says a lot, beyond the natural wish of the translators and publishers to secure a job.
What I understand by mathematics as a common language: that each EU citizen must receive a minimal education allowing him/her to formulate, model and solve problems. The ones with higher studies should graduate, above the high-school level, 1 year of mathematics equivalent with what is taught in technical universities today. My experience makes me suspect that a lot of the graduates of non-technical higher-level schools lack basic discernment, and the basic tools to build it. There is an inflation, which I feel clearly here in Europe, with graduates of "information and communication" "science" who can only mess-up communication and generate noise baptizing it information.
I already wrote my thoughts related to the common natural language (informal) elsewhere on this blog: ideally we should choose Spanish. Briefly, that would allow us to have also numerous external partners in communication (the south-americans) belonging to a "warmer" culture than the current anglo-saxon one.
I see a lot of competitions going on hiring translators and interpreters for the European instutions and that makes me think about the issue.
The E.U. administration should provide a table with two cells: how much does the European administration spend on translating and interpreting, and how much does it spend on the research and administrative work.
I'm pretty sure at some point in the near future the language related expenses will surpass the real-work expenses.
It seems obvious, to me, at least, that a true E.U. community cannot exist without a common language.
Those who object to the idea of a common E.U. language will bring the argument that such a choice will produce a uniform E.U. , and I would reply that there should have been concerns already when the global businesses were sweeping the local flavors of everything, it's already too late to object to this blanketing. I can also add that international scientific institutes are using a common language and you don't find many people there thinking uniformly in scientific matters. I invite the ones who still disagree to sell their car, end their telephone, TV and internet connections, and never buy a plane ticket again: then we'll have plenty of diversity, a diversity which will happen to be ignored, or be visited only over the weekends.
So we should use a common language in the E.U. schools .
Now comes the more difficult part: which language? Each E.U. country with a population larger than 30 millions hopes it will be their language to be chosen as the common one. In this matter we should forget about the concept of nation which, I agree, was useful to start wars and make people kill around in its name, but now it's a brake in communication.
Pragmatic reasons should be at the base of such a choice: how many people are talking that and that language? Chinese, hindi, english, spanish are the first four languages in use today globally. The most popular language used on Internet is english for obvious reasons but that may change with the numbers of PCs connected in the non-english speaking countries, so an argument using the "main language on the internet" statistic is weak.
As europeans, it will be easier for the new generations to commonly learn one of the old european languages (english, spanish, french, german, italian) or to learn an entirely new one, like esperanto. The global use of these languages select english and spanish and discard french, german and italian.
So E.U. is left with three options for the common language: english, spanish or esperanto.
Esperanto might be more difficult to put into effective use, but if taught early in schools, as a comoon E.U. alternative language, it might win in the long term.
This way, the national pride of any E.U. country stands unaffected.
But preserving the national pride of all the E.U. countries might kill the intention of having a common language: the peoples will still use their own language, and use esperanto only for contact with E.U. foreigners, which will end up in the situation we are today: the majority of germans, french, spaniards barely know a foreign language (e.g. english), even if taught in schools. One can feel that on the street.
So esperanto might be a failure because it's fresh new for the most. It only relies on early schools and local politics to be promoted to a successful use. That might be costly, although not as much as the current translating/interpreting practices in the E.U. administration.
So let's return to english and spanish. It's easier and cheaper for either of them to become the common E.U. language.
The adoption of english might seems advantageous today because its the "language of science" and "language of the internet". But none of these two are real arguments:
1. the few global publishers of today who adopted english language as a standard might dissapear sooner than you think and the scientific publishing might get distributed sooner than I think.
2. the language of the Internet goes with the users of Internet, and it might be possible that the majority of these users to become spanish or portuguese, not english, globally, as their infrastructure grows.
There is also a cultural argument against english: the habits of the native english language users are associated with the english language in a fuzzy way. As these habits resemble arrogance more than human compassion, the english might lose sympathy if nothing in global politics changes.
E.U. can wait until english installs as a de facto common language, but this waiting costs a lot. And the result of a natural evolution might still be spanish.
So we're left with spanish.
The advantages of promoting it as a common main or second language for all the E.U. countries might bring some fun with the novelty itself, and the fact that many E.U. languages have a lot of latin in them can only help. This way, E.U. might also gain a feeling of community identity (as opposed to the dangers of being confused with U.S. in terms of style).
The conclusion: start teaching spanish in all the primary schools in E.U. as the main national language and start using it in the public administration, teach english as the second language and keep the rest for the arts/history classes. Make some room for chinese, hindi or bengali classes.
If the public of a country funds some research or educational activity which results in an article, book or report, that should be accessible unconditionally to that public.
In other words, the results of any kind of activity that is at least partially funded from public money, should be accessible to the public, right? There's no justification for copyright, then.
Ah, some would say, public money, ok, but accessing the results of private research should be paid for. Wait a minute, the public pays that too, if you buy an apple, or a kind of detergent, you are funding the research of that company which sells you the detergent or the apple. So you have the right to access it and use the results.
When you hear that a large company is funding a large musical event, remember it's your own money at work if you ever bought something from them, if not, then it's your neighbour's money, so go thank him for that.
Copyright is a form of getting paid at least twice for the same thing. And it is only encouraged by the people who get a profit out of maintaining the copyright without participating in the creation effort of the copyrighted work (lawyers, publishers).
In the current form, copyright is just another way of transferring money from those who work, to those who make a business out of handling that work, and outside of that work. Aren't you tired of it?
So, what's the point of the copyright then? The only point is to make money at least once more for those who claim to protect such a concept, without ever getting involved in the real work. The irony is, they are already paid once by the same public, either by private or public funding, or by buying from them different consulting services.
Nobody writes or does something out of thin air, there are research grants people use to write books, and they get a salary for that too, or a raise, from either the government or a private company. And the public pays them both. So the public has the right of accessing their results.
My point is that whoever structures information, has the natural right to be considered the author of that work, and that's all of it. Because of that, the author gets known, consulted, hired and paid for those services. Who will hire someone else for help in that specific area where the author commited the work, unless that someone else became a specialist in the same area by making some other work visible?
Beside paying several times for this, everybody's access to the work paid for is effectively cut: copyright stands against progress, it slows down or postpones work built on previous works. If you want to acknowledge the funding of your public, copyleft your work or use a Creative commons license which ensures others can build their work on yours.
It's relatively cheap these days to provide access, electronically, to the research the public paid for, because almost everybody's editing on a computer.
Don't forget to ask that access for "free" to your government, today. It's not for free anyway: you already paid for it.