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Monday, November 23, 1998 Published at 23:05 GMT

World: Europe

Linguistic virus let loose on English

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.

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Europanto is the brainchild of Diego Marani, an interpreter in the European Union's council of ministers. An Italian native living in Brussels, he speaks French and English, translates from Dutch and Finnish and is learning Slovenian and Spanish.

"Europanto started as a joke and it still is a joke. There's nothing to suggest Europanto for an international language," Mr Marani insists.

But despite his intentions of innocent fun, his concept has huge potential.

What is Europanto?

Listen to Diego Marani talking Europanto
Although it sounds impossible to get your tongue around, the idea behind Europanto is to make communication within Europe much easier.

It is designed to give a voice to those who are forced to use English even though their command of the language is not very good.

Europanto allows them to supplement their English with their own language or even modify words to make them easier to understand. Without rules or complex grammar, the result is a kind of twisted English with words and forms from other languages.

"Even if you study English, the best way to express your ideas is in your own language. Having to stick with English is a real handicap so my joke was to relax the rules. Let's stop trying to be perfect in English," Diego Marani says.

Creating a universal language.

Mr Marani believes Europanto has captured the imagination because there is a need for an international language.

Wales's Esperanto chairman Bill Chapman is not amused
That idea is nothing new. In a push towards universal language at the end of the last century, around 70 different languages were created, the most successful and functional of which was Esperanto.

Its grammar is simple and logical, which makes it easy to learn, while the inclusion of Slavic elements made it more accessible for the inhabitants of the new nations which began to play an active role in European life at the beginning of the century.

Mr Marani says he has had letters from Esperantists complaining that his language has no rules. But he says that is gives Europanto its strength.

Making English implode

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Although he never set out to surpass the popularity of Esperanto or to replace English in international relations, throwing away the rule book could see the use Europanto skyrocket.

Diego Marani believes that creating strict rules for it would turn it into another artificial language which would only be spoken by elitists and ignored by the rest of the world.

By allowing the language to evolve at the lowest levels first, it could, in effect, infect English like a virus. As it becomes more popular, English could perceivably implode or be destroyed from within.

How far could it go?

The first Europanto texts were published in an internal journal in Diego's department. They were written to amuse more than educate but word got out, so to speak, and it was not long before he was approached to write a regular column in Europanto for Brussels's Le Soir Illustrie and the Geneva daily, Le Temps.

A collection of original short stories is in the process of being published and fans of the language have started up Europanto pages on their Websites.

Europanto could promote a different perspective on language as people become less afraid of making mistakes and feel at ease expressing their ideas.

As Mr Marani says: "Speak freely and if what comes out is understandable then you have reached your aim."

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