Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Un euro symbolique

From its inception, the spelling of the common European currency has been attended by controversy.

The s-free plural, for example, caused uproar among defenders of pure English. Rioting in the streets was averted, though, possibly due to the fact that the UK isn't actually in the euro-zone.

Some Irish-speaker(s) objected that e-u-r-o was not a valid sequence of letters under the rules of Gaelic orthography but the Irish government didn't see fit to pursue the matter.

Then five of the ten recently arrived newcomers complained of a similar problem in their languages. Latvia, in particular, has dug in its heels and is apparently ready to go to court in defence of a proper Latvian spelling.

Now Bulgaria, which joins the EU next year and brings with it a new alphabet as well as a new language, has been pressing the case for its own euro-spelling. According to the Sofia News Agency:
Ahead of its accession next January, the country has expressed concern over the differences between Bulgaria's Cyrillic and the EU's Latin alphabets. In response the European Central Bank (ECB) demands that "euro" be spelled and pronounced with a ‘u' and not a ‘v' as Bulgarians do (‘evro')
EurActiv quotes Bulgaria's State Administration Minister Nikolay Vassilev as saying:
For some time, ‘evro’ is the only way that around 8 million Bulgarians pronounce and write the name of the single European currency. Evro is natural in Bulgarian - we say ‘Evropa’ for Europe, ‘Evgeni’ for Eugene, ‘evtanazia for euthanasia’. But the ECB is trying to insist that ‘euro’ in Bulgarian should be written and therefore pronounced in a way which is strange to us. In the Accession Treaty, the ‘euro’ is mentioned many times, and in the Bulgarian version, it is always spelled ‘evro’. Should we modify the Treaty because of European Central Bank linguists? I think not.
ECB linguists? Is there such a thing? Surely he can't mean the translators or interpreters, as they never get to decide anything. But maybe ECB president Jean-Claude Trichet could be described as a linguist of sorts (see earlier post).

Anyhow, Vassilev goes on:
Why not have a nice € sign instead…and let every race on Earth pronounce it according to their linguistic traditions?
What a cracking idea. Who needs spelling when a symbol can do the job? Think of numerals. Very much in the European tradition too, which favours symbols on public signage (e.g. road signs) rather than spelled-out words as in the US.

And why stop with the euro? The possibilities are endless. The EU could phase in symbols to replace any number of written expressions, thus bypassing language barriers and reducing visual clutter.

Eventually, in the very long term, a complete system of such signs could be developed leading to the total elimination of translation needs within the EU.

Would it work? Undoubtedly. In China a similar arrangement has operated successfully for millennia. And it would be meat and drink to the illiterate texters of tomorrow.

Demand for interpreting services would remain undiminished of course.

Here in Spain we've always been more than happy to use the plural "euros", and nobody has threatened to sue anybody else. So far. Here's hoping!

Changing the subject, this blog is truly a delightful discovery. Keep up the good work.
I don't think there ever actually was anyone trying to dictate what people should use day to day - it seems the s-less plural was just a technical arrangement that got out of hand. In Ireland, interestingly, this 'unnatural' plural has now been widely adopted by ordinary people, possibly on the pattern of a similar unmarked plural often used with the former currency, the pound.

Thanks for the words of encouragement.
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