of the most significant discoveries in my life was the common origin of
the Indo-European languages, when I opened for the first time, at the
age of 16, the Dictionnaire des racines des langues européennes
by R. Grandsaignes dHauterive. Thus, nearly all European languages5
: Romance or neo-Latin (Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Rumanian, Catalan,
), Germanic (German, English, Dutch, Swedish, Danish, Norvegian
Slavic (Russian, Polish, Czech, Bulgarian, Ukrainian, Serbian, Croatian, Slovene,
), Celtic (Gaelic, Breton, Welsh
), and Baltic languages
(Latvian, Lithuanian), together with Greek, Albanian, Armenian, Kurdish and
most languages of India and Iran, as well as a number of dead languages such
as Hittite (Anatolia) or Tokharian (Chinese Turkestan), stemmed from a single
original idiom: Indo-European or proto-Indo-European.
Over the past two centuries, prominent linguists such as Antoine Meillet and Emile Benveniste in France, A.Walde et J.Pokorny in Germany, and more recently Marija Gimbutas, to mention only a few of them, have worked unsparingly to reconstruct this idiom both on the lexical and grammatical levels. Today we have dictionaries of Indo-European roots at our disposal, the most comprehensive of which being, in my opinion, Julius Pokorny's Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch .
Isnt it incredible that, after 5000 years, words like sun or mother and many others, should have remained practically the same ?:
Sun: I-E sâwel* (genitive: swen-*)
> Lat. sol / solis, It. sole, Fr. soleil, Sp. Por.
sol, Rum. soare, Swe, Da, Nor. sol, Eng. sun,
Ger. Sonne, Du. zon, Rus. solntse, Pol. slonce,
Czech. slunce, Ser-Cr. sunce, Lit.Latv. sáule,
Gre. hlioV (ancient [hêlios], modern [îlios]),
Wel. haul, Bret. heol, Gael. suil (= eye), Alb. hül
(= star), Sanskrit suryas, Hindi suraj
Mother: I-E mâtêr* > Skr. mâtár, Hin. mata, Arm. mayr, Gr. mhthr [mêtêr], mod. mhtera [mîtera], Alb. motrë (sister), Lat. mater, It. Sp. madre, Por. mãe, Fr. mère, Ger. Mutter, Du. moeder, Eng. mother, Swe, Da, Nor. moder/mor, Gael. mathair, Bret. mamm, Rus mat, Czech. Pol. matka, Ser-cr. majka, Lit. móte, Latv. mâte, TokhA macar, TokhB macer.
Now most Indo-European speakers, apart from a handful of specialists, have never heard of this common origin; for them, French, English, German, Russian, Spanish, Greek remain foreign languages in the same way as Chinese or Swahili, whereas in fact they are sister-languages teeming with common points; they could even be called the various dialects of Indo-European..
As R. Gransaignes dHauterive says :
« English people say « heart »for « cur »and the person who learns it isnt surprised : Britain is a foreign country where people dont express themselves in the same way as in France, that is all. How limpid, simple and easy it would be if we saw that « heart » is the same word in English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, and, for those who know dead languages, in Greek and Latin and that only phonetic differences following strict laws can make us believe that they are different. »
How could we restore this lost patrimony to Europeans ?
A SYNTHESIS OF EUROPEAN LANGUAGES
At the same time, the second half of the 20th century was marked by the birth of the European Union, expressing a will to forget past hatreds, to bring down frontiers, a wish to live together. Very soon Europeans were led to ask themselves the following questions :
What do we have in common? Is there such a thing as a European identity?
French sociologist Edgar Morin, among a few others, has given much thought to the topic in his essay Penser lEurope. He shows that, in spite of the bloody wars of our history, all the great cultural, philosophical, political and artistic movements have been trans-European. However, E.Morin doesn't mention the problem of language. Indeed, how can we overcome this diversity, this linguistic profusion which is Europe's wealth? Could we possibly go back to a primitive Indo-European ?
How can we meet this growing need for communication between Europeans who will have to deal with each other more and more frequently ?
Uropi was born along those lines. It is a synthesis of European languages, which means that for each word, each structure of the language, it tries to synthesize the original Indo-European root on the one hand, and the present European terms this root gave birth to, on the other hand. The frequent use of a root-word on the whole Indo-European area is a determining factor , and so is the simplicity of grammatical structures existing in European languages today.
For certain words the task was relatively easy: for example: Uropi sol (sun) and mata* (mother) are practically the arithmetical average of the terms aforementioned. (* the ending -a for the feminine, goes far beyond the Indo-European area since it can be found in other languages around the Mediterranean, notably in Arabic and Hebrew.)
For other terms, the work has been more complicated: some common roots have completely disappeared in modern European languages:
for example ekwos*, the horse > Sanskrit áçvas, Greek hippos, Lat. equus, Gaul epos (which subsists in Gaelic: each and to name the foal in Breton and Welsh: ebeul, ebol, the mare in Spanish: yegua) has been replaced with very different terms elsewhere : Hin. ghorâ, mod. Gr. àlogo, It. cavallo, Fr. cheval, Ger. Pferd, Eng. horse, Da. hest, Rus. lochad, Ser-cr. konj, Bret. march, Latv. zirgs, Arm. tzi.
Besides present European words may stem from different Indo-European roots; such is the case for water:
I-e wódr / wedor* > Skr. udán, Gr. hudôr, Alb. ujë, Ger. Wasser, Eng. Du. water, Swe. vatten, Da. vand, Gael. uisce, Lit. vanduõ, Latv. ûdens, Rus, Czech. Ser-cr. voda, Pol. woda, and also Lat. unda, It. onda, Fr. onde = wave; but Latin aqua > It. acqua, Sp. agua, Rum. apä, Fr. eau, is derived from another root i-e akwâ-* meaning water, river. Here the choice was relatively simple; the terms derived from wódr* being the majority; hence Uropi vod = water.
To frequency can be added the criterion of simplicity for grammatical forms. For example, all modern European languages have an infinitive except modern Greek ; few of them use prepositions to form the infinitive like English (to have, to speak) and Rumanian (a avea, a vorbi). There is a general tendency (particularly in Germanic languages) to reduce (even do away with) personal endings in the conjugation of verbs (for ex: Eng. to go > go/goes in the present, went for all persons in the past), which brings about a remarkable simplification: in Uropi skrivo = to write > skriv for all persons in the present, skrivì in the past.
The phonemic structure of root-words and their pronunciation is also remarkably simple. Uropi words must be easily pronounced by the greatest possible number of Europeans. The Uropi root-word has a very simple phonemic structure such as consonant-vowel-consonant (c-v-c), for example: sol, vod, lun (moon), foj (fire), man (man), or cc-v-c : trup (troop), krob (crow), kluz (shut), or c-v-cc: vark (work), sort (sort), kolb (dove). This makes it easier to build compounds: lunilùc (moonshine), soliràl (sunbeam), vodiplànt (water-plant), drovifòj (wood-fire), maniveste (menswear).
These few examples show the spirit in which Uropi was created: with a respect for common Indo-european roots and existing grammatical structures, a selection of them according to their simplicity and their international character enabling the greatest number of Europeans (or citizens of the world6) to communicate in the easiest way
Extracts from the foreword to the booklet Uropi is an international language
5 Apart from Basque, Hungarian, Finnish, Estonian and the Caucasian languages
6 Outside Europe, Indo-European languages are spoken in India, Iran, American (English, Spanish, Portuguese, French) and are also official languages in many African countries (English, French, Portuguese).