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The Language of Democracy: Vernacular or Esperanto? Daniele Archibugi Italian National Research Council University of London Birkbeck Charles V What is the language of democracy? Will Kymlicka’s answer Politics in the Vernacular :

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The Language of Democracy: Vernacular or Esperanto?

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The Language of Democracy:Vernacular or Esperanto?

Daniele Archibugi

Italian National Research Council

University of London Birkbeck

Charles V

What is the language of democracy? Will Kymlicka’s answer

Politics in the Vernacular:

“democratic politics is politics in the vernacular. The average citizen only feels comfortable debating political issues in their own tongue. As a general rule, it is only elites who have fluency with more than one language, and who have the continual opportunity to maintain and develop these language skills, and who feel comfortable debating political issues in another tongue with multilingual settings. Moreover, political communication has a large ritualistic component, and these ritualised forms of communication are typically language-specific. Even if one understands a foreign language in the technical sense, without knowledge of the ritualistic elements one may be unable to understand political debates. For these and other reasons, we can expect – as a general rule – that the more political debate is conducted in the vernacular, the more participatory it will be”

It does some damage to the notion of a global public sphere

Can the public opinion be the “Queen of the World”? (William Ladd, 1844)

It does some damage to the notion of a global civil society

How can the single components interact among each other?

Shall we go back to the ethnic or linguistic composition of nations?

It does some damage to the proposal of a cosmopolitan democracy

A global polity for everybody or just for the elites?

Cosmopolitanism can be democratic?

Democracy can be cosmopolitan?

Aggregative or Deliberative Democracy?

  • A purely aggregative democracy may perhaps work also without a proper linguistic understanding

  • But a strong and communicative democracy cannot

  • Neither the multiculturalists nor the cosmopolitans support an aggregative democracy

Kymlicka’s Remark: Is it a Description of Reality or a Normative Principle?

  • If it is a description of reality it is trivial

  • As a normative principle, it may lead to a “democratic” ethnic cleansing

  • Watch the historical propensity of democratic communities to be xenophobic


by Lars von Trier

A normative principle: democratic politics should be in Esperanto

The language for democratic politics is not a mean to affirm identity

but to be

an instrument of communication

Democratic predisposition

  • Equality of members

  • Participation

  • Non violent conflict resolution

  • Willingness to understand the arguments of members of the same community of fate

Cosmopolitanism and Multiculturalism: How different are their visions?

  • States are imagined communities

  • States repress minority cultures

  • Language diversity is a human value and it should be preserved

  • Democratic politics should involve the largest amount of stakeholders

Single out the differences between multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism:

  • How should political communities deal wity problems that cut across different linguistic communities safeguarding individual liberties, maximizing political participation and applying democratic procedures?

Four cases

  • A state school in Pasadena, California

  • The city of Bialystok (Russia at the time)

  • Indian Democracy

  • The European Parliament

A School in Pasadena, California

A school with an increasing number of Spanish speaking children.

Lower proficiency of the Spanish speaking children

Perceived lower level of efficiency of the school. Even in Rugby, Hispanics are less talented than Anglos

Growing tension among the two communities

Races in Pasadena:

32.3 % of the population

is foreign born

Whites 53.4%

Latinos 33.4%

African-American, 14.4%

Asian 10.0%

American Indian 0.7%

Pacific Islander 0.1%

Other race 16.0%

Languages in Pasadena

English only is spoken by 55% of the population over age five.

The Spanish language is spoken by 29.3% of the population over age five.

The proportion of those speaking a language other than English at home is 45%;

22.2% do not speak English well.

From a Harvard Professor,Department of Government

“There is only the American dream created by an Anglo-Protestant Society. Mexican Americans will share in that dream and in that society only if they dream in English”


Crucial role of language for identity

Separate the children into two different sections, each with the main language in their vernacular

Rugby for Anglos, soccer for Hispanics


“The best language of education for any child is the best language for this child” (Thomas Pogge)

Education in English for all, Spanish as second language

As joint sport, baseball

Salsa for all parents

The city of Bialystock, East Poland

The city of Bialystock, East Poland

Four language communities in 1870s:

  • Russian (4,000 peoples)

  • Polish (3,000 peoples)

  • German (5,000 peoples)

  • Yiddish (18,000 peoples)

Lejzer Ludwig Zamenhofinventor of Esperanto

Esperanto as a simple language (as the newspeak)

Not meant to substitute live languages, but to allow communication

It could have solved a small problem in Bialystock, a great problem in the world

Indian Parliament, Many Official Languages

The Indian State

  • 18 official languages

  • Official language different in each state

  • English (i.e. an artificial construction) has become the lingua franca

  • The majority language, hindi, was resisted by many ethnic minority groups

  • English is still less known but more acceptable. Language of the èlites

European Parliament20 European Languages

Should the languages be reduced?

  • Proposal to reduce the languages to two

  • To increase the number of translators and interpreters

  • To go back to Latin as the lingua franca of Europe

Mario Capanna and Otto von Hapsburg


Increases the amount of participants

Direct understanding within the community

Role of elites is reduced internally but increases externally


It allows the formation of cross-border alliances and parties

It does not require intermediaries

Elites have an advantage in communication

Vernacular or Esperanto?

Is there a solution?

  • Bi-lingual education

  • Identification of a language of communication

  • It will be at the expense of the demos for the first years, but in perspective it will allow a language for political communication

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