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The Interslavic language as a tool for supporting e-democracy in Central and Eastern Europe

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nt. J. Electronic Governance, Vol. 11, Nos. 3/4, 2019
Copyright © 2019 Inderscience Enterprises Ltd.
The Interslavic language as a tool for supporting
e-democracy in Central and Eastern Europe
Vojtěch Merunka*
Department of Information Engineering,
Czech University of Life Sciences Prague,
Prague, 165 21, Czech Republic
Email: vmerunka@gmail.com
*Corresponding author
Jan van Steenbergen
Language Creation Society,
GK IJmuiden, 1975, Netherlands
Email: ijzeren.jan@gmail.com
Lina Yordanova
Faculty of Economics,
Trakia University,
Stara Zagora, 6015, Bulgaria
Email: linayor@gmail.com
Maria Kocór
Faculty of Pedagogy,
Rzeszów University,
Rzeszów, 35-959, Poland
Email: mariakoc@vp.pl
Abstract: The quality of information systems to support democracy and public
administration in the Slavic countries between Western Europe and Russia can
be improved through the use of Interslavic, a zonal constructed language
that can successfully replace English as a regional lingua franca, enhance
participation and improve the overall quality of ICT used for e-Democracy
assignments. Its potential role in improving computer translation between
fusional languages with free word order by means of graph-based translation
is discussed as well. This paper gives an overview of the pros and cons of
various language options and describes the results of public research in the
form of surveys, as well as the practical experiences of the authors. Special
emphasis is given to the crucial role played by education: it is assumed that
language, e-democracy, and education form a triangle of three inseparable,
interdependent entities. Finally, the paper describes how these ideas can be
developed in the future.
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nterslavic language as a tool for supporting e-democracy 261
Keywords: e-democracy; education; Interslavic language; lingua franca; zonal
constructed language; receptive multilingualism; Slavic countries; Central and
Eastern Europe; human-computer interaction.
Reference to this paper should be made as follows: Merunka, V.,
van Steenbergen, J., Yordanova, L. and Kocór, M. (2019) ‘The Interslavic
language as a tool for supporting e-democracy in Central and Eastern Europe’,
Int. J. Electronic Governance, Vol. 11, Nos. 3/4, pp.260–288.
Biographical notes: Initially, Vojtěch Merunka is a Master in Computer
Engineering. He became a PhD in Data Processing and Mathematical
Modelling and an Associate Professor in İnformation Management at the
Czech University of Life Sciences and the Czech University of Technology
in Prague. He is professionally interested in object-oriented software
technologies, and modelling and simulation of organisational and business
systems. He has among various philanthropic activities long been concerned
in the Slavic cultural diplomacy and conlanging. He is a co-author of the
Interslavic language and a chairman of the Slavic Union in the Czech Republic.
Jan van Steenbergen studied East European Studies and Slavistics at the
University of Amsterdam, and nowadays works as a Dutch-Polish translator
and interpreter in the Netherlands. His main interests are language creation
and interlinguistics. He has done much research on Pan-Slavic language
projects past and present. Also, he is the author of several constructed
languages, as well as co-author of the Interslavic language, for which he wrote
a grammar, a dictionary and several transliteration programs in JavaScript.
Since 2016, he has been Vice President of the Language Creation Society.
Lina Yordanova is a Full Professor at the Trakia University in Stara Zagora,
Bulgaria. She became PhD in Computer Science and Education. Since 1989,
she works for Faculty of Economics and Education of Trakia University
at the Department of Informatics and Mathematics as a Lecturer on Computer
Sciences, Internet Technologies, Information Systems, Biostatistics and
Statistical Methods. Her research is focused on the application of ICT
in business, economics, education and culture. For a long time, she is active in
the social life of her country. She is a supporter of Slavic folklore and the
Interslavic language.
Maria Kocór is a Doctor of Humanities in the field of pedagogy. She took her
PhD in Faculty of Philosophy at The Jagiellonian University in Kraków.
Currently, she is working as a Senior Lecturer in Faculty of Pedagogy
at the University of Rzeszów. Her interests mainly focus on the behaviour of
school and teachers in the changing society. She is the author of many articles
and monographs. For a long time, she has been cooperating with various Slavic
countries in the area of her scientific interests and in promoting the Interslavic
language.
This paper is a revised and expanded version of a paper entitled ‘Zonal
constructed language and education support of e-democracy – the Interslavic
experience’ presented at The Conference e-Democracy, Athens, Greece,
14–15 December, 2017.
262 V. Merunka et al.
1 Introduction
E-democracy is a political dialogue in which citizens, and communities in general,
engage in the political process using computer-based technology. It refers to the practical
use of information systems to support democratic processes, and encompasses activities
that increase citizen involvement, such as virtual town meetings, open meetings, cyber
campaigns, feedback polls, public surveys and community forums such as e-voting, etc.
In general, it is all about supporting communication and participation of people in various
political, cultural and spiritual activities in the modern world, as defined in the higher
levels of the Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs (Maslow, 1943).
Information systems, like any other system, consist of components and the links
between them. These components are not just computer software and hardware, but also
the people who determine the quality of the outcome (Wallace, 2015).
To communicate within Europe, people learn English. Yet, a lot of people still do not
speak English sufficiently well. An alternative for using English might be receptive
multilingualism: speakers of two different, but related languages both speak their own
language and can understand each other to a certain extent. This is possible when
languages are mutually intelligible. The Scandinavian languages, for instance, have a
high degree of mutual intelligibility, and receptive multilingualism is widely used in
Scandinavia. The advantage of this communication is that speakers can express
themselves in their native language and only need to focus on understanding the other
language.
The situation is Central and Eastern Europe is particularly challenging. The region is
a patchwork of small, mostly Slavic countries, each of them having its own national
language. Most of these languages are not mutually intelligible, and knowledge of
English in generally low among their citizens. Besides, the political situation in the
region is far from stable, and in several countries the development of democracy and civil
society is severely hampered. Allowing them to lag behind in the process will inevitably
lead to their isolation, which may turn out extremely dangerous for the stability of the
entire continent. One might say that active support of participation and e-democracy are
needed there more than anywhere else.
Effective multilingual behaviour to support civic participation in e-democracy
requires proper education. After all, language is the most elementary tool for education,
but without education it can hardly be promoted, applied and developed. The same goes
for e-democracy, which requires both younger and older generations to be educated into
citizens who consciously use ICT for development policies. The competences needed for
this can only be achieved by means of a language that respects regional and national
identities, and is understood by all citizens, including those without knowledge of foreign
languages. Knowledge of this language is necessary not only to enable people to read, to
fill out forms or to apply for subsidies and grants and the like, but also for broader
communication in various other fields, like e-education, culture, science, politics, civic
initiatives and economy, without the need of learning a completely new language.
We believe that the Interslavic zonal constructed language fulfils these requirements
(Kocór et al., 2017). In this paper, we will attempt to demonstrate the interdependence
between Interslavic, e-democracy and education in the light of the views and experiences
of authors from different countries and scientific institutions.
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nterslavic language as a tool for supporting e-democracy 263
2 Motivation
The Report on e-democracy by the European Parliament from 16 February 2017 (Report
2017) emphasises the need for simplification of institutional language and procedures
and for the organisation of multimedia content that explains the keys to the main
decision-making processes, in order to promote understanding and participation. Also,
it notes that in order to ensure equal accessibility of e-democracy tools for all citizens,
high-quality multilingual translation is important when information is to be disseminated
and read by all citizens. In other words, comprehensibility of the used language is
essential for working e-democracy, and obviously, not all citizens can be expected to
master professional legal English. Besides, e-democracy is not merely about elections,
official documents and legal deeds, but most of all about regional initiatives and direct
contacts between groups and individuals in the fields of culture, tourism, sport, trade and
education. The lack of English actively prevents people with much potential from taking
initiatives, formulating ideas, inviting others and demonstrating good local practices.
Similarly, the OECD report of 2003 on e-Democracy (OECD, 2003) speaks about the
need for using ICT to increase citizens’ participation by means of a comprehensible
language, not by promoting English as the only language of ICT. Likewise, the
conclusions of the International e-Democracy Conference in Athens (Katsikas and
Sideridis, 2015) confirm that the interest in the use of ICT in public life (and, vice versa,
technophobia against ICT), including social networks and community life, is directly
dependent on the use of a language that the domestic population can understand.
For example, sophisticated software and associated education and training data and
textbooks, such as of special GIS or business process visual simulators, and decision-
support systems or workflow-based systems are generally either not localised into
national languages at all, or the localised versions are very expensive and even obsolete.
Yet, this type of software could significantly reduce the technophobia of participants in
local life situations with a direct impact on the e-democracy (EFITA, 2013). One such
example is the poor situation in the area of self-government of small municipalities where
we have to solve many problems related to the development and expansion of small
settlements, landscape care and over-all efforts to improve the quality of life and the level
of democracy, while preserving the conditions of sustainable development (addressing
living standard, cultural and historic value, agricultural and industrial production,
transport infrastructure construction, tourism potential, etc.). Technophobia of local
people is a significant factor here, because of the contrast with incoming investors and
external people penetrating the rural area by urban sprawl tendencies (Frumkin et al.,
2004).
Next, there is enormous pressure on the standardisation of legislation, implementing
regulations and technical standards in the world, most of all within the European Union.
Without this standardisation, the idea of e-democracy is impossible. Although it is true
that the EU translates most of its publications (e.g., legislation, directives, other
documents) into the national languages of its member states, these translations are often
incomplete, and many older documents are not translated at all. Especially small nations
are unable to have everything translated in time and thus end up maintaining the status
quo in their national languages. This problem is even more serious in the case of
countries that are currently not part of the EU, but hope to become members in the future.
During recent years, there has been a substantial increase in Euroscepticism among
the populations of Central and Eastern Europe. Twenty years ago, membership of the EU
264 V. Merunka et al.
was broadly seen as their access ticket to a better world, but much of this optimism has
faded away, and nowadays, Brussels is often perceived as ‘the new Moscow’ instead.
Many citizens fear that the EU will lead to the destruction of their national identity – this
was stated clearly by the international conference Perspectives of language
communication in the EU, held in 2016 under the auspices of the V4 countries and the
European Commission (Nitra, 2018). Undoubtedly, this feeling of alienation is
strengthened by the fact that knowledge of any of the EU’s main working languages –
English, French and German – is far from common in this part of Europe.
The consequence is that democracy is jeopardised through the loss of participation in
public life and an overall loss of contact with the modern world, which to ordinary people
merely means a different world dominated by English and computers. In addition, unless
countermeasures are taken, the dichotomy between West and East European members, as
well as the dichotomy between members and non-members of the EU, will inevitably
lead to political instability on the European continent.
For all the reasons stated above it is clear that the use of a comprehensible language
to the public is a crucial factor in the success of all e-democracy processes and
technologies. The role of education cannot be underestimated here, because the state of
education – its purposes, its contents, its level, its methods and means, the competences
of teachers – is tantamount to both the willingness of people to learn the language in
question, the level of their language skills and the political maturity needed for the
application of modern information technology for development. In other words,
e-democracy requires a solid motivational base, which is determined by language and
education.
3 The linguistic landscape in Central and Eastern Europe
A particular opportunity for improving e-democracy by means of receptive
multilingualism can be found in the zone between Western Europe and Russia. This
region consists of no less than 19 countries, most of which are relatively small:
16 of them have less than 10 million inhabitants, which in terms of population makes
them smaller than Belgium. Of these 19 countries, 12 can be considered Slavic
nation states, whereas four others have a sizeable Slavic minority. None of these nations
has any colonial past, and in general, their impact on the bigger European picture is
minor.
The ‘Slavic zone’ is a patchwork of many different languages and cultures.
Almost every small state has its own language. These languages have a strong, almost
monopolistic position in the countries where they enjoy an official status, but for
practically every Slavic language goes that it this is true in one small or middle-sized
country only. In other countries, active knowledge is highly uncommon and mostly
limited to mixed families and language professionals. The only exceptions here are
populations that for a longer period of time have been exposed to some dominant
language: Czech in Czechoslovakia, Serbo-Croatian in Yugoslavia and Russian in the
Soviet Union.
This lack of linguistic cohesion puts these nations under considerable pressure in the
modern globalised world, and significantly complicates the processes of e-democracy and
advancing European integration, which is all the more threatening if one considers that
together, the Slavic nations represent 1/3 of the entire population of geographic Europe.
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nterslavic language as a tool for supporting e-democracy 265
It is important to realise that the Slavs have a lot more in common than ancient
history, linguistic kinship and folklore. Less than 30 years ago, they all lived in closed,
largely passive societies ruled by oppressive regimes, a few years later they all found
themselves in a post-communist vacuum, each of them struggling to find its own place in
a rapidly changing world. In today’s global village, national borders are losing their
importance and isolation is no longer an option. To face the challenges of modern times,
partnership within the same geopolitical realm is inevitable, especially since the
emergence of a mental gap between life and culture of the own nation, and the ‘western’
outer world is very dangerous and can easily be abused politically.
Genuine partnership cannot be achieved without intensive communication on an
international level, and this communication may not be allowed to be a luxury for the
elites only. On the contrary, it is a conditio sine qua non for participation at any level.
Without it, a significant part of society will be excluded from all progress and
development, which in turn may jeopardise stability and democracy in the entire region.
3.1 The role of English
Due to its status as a global lingua franca, English is a common tool for the exchange of
knowledge between nations, even though the UK is currently separating itself from
Europe. However, a vast majority of people are excluded from this means of
communication. Most Slavic speakers are either monolingual, or their knowledge of
foreign languages is extremely limited. In Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and
Bulgaria knowledge of English is restricted to 20–30% of the population (Eurobarometer
243, 2006). In addition, the level of this knowledge is often low, insufficient for even the
most basic communication. In Poland, for example, only 12.7% of the individuals who
know a foreign language are actually proficient in it (Eurostat, 2015). The general
tendency is that the further East one travels, the harder it becomes to have a conversation
in any other language than the local one. In the Russian Federation, English is spoken by
less than 5.5% of the population (All-Russian Census, 2010).
Nowadays, some people argue that English owes its popularity to the way it affects
people. Indeed, it is often said that English is simple and hence a suitable lingua franca.
However, as the American founder of linguistic anthropology, Edward Sapir, wrote:
English is a ‘hornet’s nest’ of problems. Although it does not have grammatical cases
(except for the ‘Saxon genetic’), English is a very specific language, with its own culture
and a highly complex phonology, phraseology and vocabulary, not even to mention the
problems with spelling. Its phonetics, grammar structure, semantics, syntax, etc., are
radically different from Slavic. What Westerners are often unaware of is that to Slavs,
English is an outright alien language, and that mastering it requires competences and
predispositions that many people simply do not have at their disposal. Even though
statistics display some slow improvement, it seems unlikely that English will be able to
fulfil the same role in Central and Eastern Europe as it does in Western Europe.
On top of this, an extremely high level of homophony produces problems, both in
learning the language and, especially, in using it in computer translations. This is why,
for example, computer translations via Google Translate between Czech and Polish or
Croatian are totally unusable, often even absurd and ridiculous. English is simply not
suitable as a pivot language between Slavic (and not only Slavic) languages.
Phillipson (1992), who worked for many years in the British Council, explained in
various details that English linguistic imperialism was a policy consciously adopted by
266 V. Merunka et al.
Great Britain and the USA as a means to achieve political, economic and other goals.
For the same reason, English is poorly equipped for expressing a pan-European identity.
After the Brexit, only 10% of the EU citizens can speak it well. Its exclusive use would
therefore “exacerbate social inequalities, and be perceived as elitist” (Nitra, 2018).
An example of these inequalities is the fact that submissions in the field of intellectual
property and patent rights must be drafted in English, French or German, which leads to
high translation costs for European businesses in countries where these languages are not
official, costs that are not fully compensated. As a result, protection of intellectual
property rights at a European level is much cheaper for a US or Australian subject than
for a Slovenian or Polish one, for example.
Along with Phillipson (1992) and Wierzbicka (2014), we claim that monolingual
orientation on English brings negative effects, such as weakening professional
communication of neighbouring nations among themselves and even reducing the
number and quality of professional publications and the decline of regional knowledge
transfer. That is why not only the Central and Eastern Europeans, but also the Italians and
the Portuguese, are not excited to speak English with the French or the Spaniards.
That does not mean that English cannot serve as a lingua franca, only that does not work
well outside the Germanic realm. After all, it is a known fact that many Scandinavians,
Germans and Dutch speak it excellently, sometimes even better than many British
residents.
3.2 Russian as a lingua franca
It has been argued that Russian could reclaim its role as a lingua franca for Central and
Eastern Europe. Russia, after all, is by far the largest Slavic nation, accounting for
roughly half of all Slavic mother tongue speakers, and spoken fluently by a vast majority
in Ukraine, Belarus, the Baltic states and other former constituents of the USSR. It is the
only Slavic country with a long, unbroken tradition of statehood, and has always played a
key role as a regional superpower. Besides, isn’t Russian the language of so many
brilliant minds, with an incredibly rich literature and broad usage in science and
technology?
The truth is, however, that Russian has irreversibly failed to ever become a successful
Slavic lingua franca. For a long time, it has been overused as a tool for political
domination, and people in other countries still tend to perceive it as the language of the
oppressor. After all, a genuine lingua franca cannot be imposed with brutal political
force, but must be chosen freely (Donskis, 2014).
Another problem is the Russian language itself. Had it been sufficiently simple and
understandable to other Slavs, resistance against it could probably be overcome with
time. But Russian has specific phonetics, a very complicated grammar, a particular
Cyrillic alphabet and a lot of vocabulary that lacks universal Slavic qualities – all things
that place it far from the imaginary linguistic centre of Slavic.
3.3 Receptive multilingualism
A lingua franca is not the only possible means of communication between people who do
not speak each other’s language, and this brings us to the issue of receptive, or passive,
multilingualism. In short, this means that each side speaks their own language, while
trying to actively understand the language of the other side.
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nterslavic language as a tool for supporting e-democracy 267
Compared to other languages families, the Slavic languages have a relatively high
degree of mutual intelligibility. More than anything else, this is due to the fact that their
common ancestor Proto-Slavic started developing into separate branches and individual
languages at a relatively late point in history. In the 10th century there still was a
reasonable degree of linguistic unity with no more than some dialectical differentiation.
Even in the 19th century Pan-Slavists voiced the opinion that all Slavic languages were
dialects of a single Slavic language, an assumption they based on the example of other
languages with highly divergent dialects, such as Greek, Arabic, English and German.
If all dialects of these languages could be united under a single language, they argued,
why could not the same thing be achieved for Slavs? (Majar, 1865).
During the last two decades, research has been conducted on Slavic
intercomprehension. Pioneer in the field is the Slavist Lew Zybatow, who initiated and
led the project EuroComSlav, aimed at enhancing intercomprehension by showing the
learner how much he already knows without actually knowing that he knows. This is
achieved by means of ‘seven sieves’, the most important of which are: international
vocabulary, common inherited vocabulary, and recognising correspondences between
languages in sound, spelling and pronunciation (Zybatow, 2002).
Another recent project exploring receptive multilingualism among Slavs is the
Mutual intelligibility of closely related languages (MICReLa) project of the University of
Groningen. One of the outcomes of this research is that receptive multilingualism
functions among Czechs and Slovaks in much the same way as it does among
Scandinavians, and although the same cannot be said about combinations like
Slovak/Croatian, Slovak/Polish or Croatian/Slovene, receptive multilingualism is
possible here as well, albeit with some practice. Other combinations, however, tend to be
more problematic, especially when Bulgarian is involved (Golubović and Gooskens,
2015).
Although MICReLa focuses on the six Slavic languages spoken in the European
Union, we may assume that the same conclusions can be applied to the remaining Slavic
languages as well. Thus, a Pole will understand Ukrainian or Belarussian reasonably well
if it is spoken slowly and clearly. As soon as languages are more remote, however,
communication is not so simple anymore. In contacts between, for example, a Russian
and a Slovene, or a Czech and a Bulgarian, it is unlikely that resorting to gestures or
some other intermediary language can be avoided. As Heinz demonstrates, Slavic
intercomprehension is especially problematic when it comes to auditive transfer, because
prosody and the absence of orthographical differences are minor advantages compared to
problems of a phonological nature, such as incorrect identification of phonemes and word
boundaries, as well as misinterpretations on a morphological and lexical level, caused by
deceptive cognates and wrong associations (Heinz, 2009).
Another issue is the difference in scripts. The border between the Latin and Cyrillic
alphabets runs right through the middle of Slavic territory, coinciding more or less with
the border between Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy. At the left side of this border
(especially in Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia), knowledge of the Cyrillic
alphabet is rather uncommon. One might expect that most people who speak a language
that uses a non-Latin alphabet must have enough knowledge of the Latin alphabet, but a
recent study reveals that a lot of young people in the former Soviet Union have serious
problems understanding Slavic texts written in a Latin alphabet.
In other words, receptive multilingualism is possible, but only on a limited scale.
The direct consequence of this fact, in combination with widespread monolingualism and
268 V. Merunka et al.
the lack of a widely known and accepted lingua franca, is that many Slavic people are
practically cut off from the world outside their own country, which forces them into
isolation and makes participation impossible. This is especially dangerous in countries
where pluralism leaves much to be desired, and access to neutral, reliable information is
scarce.
4 The Interslavic experiment
What significantly stands in the way of mutual intelligibility is the fact that every
Slavic language has idiosyncrasies (specific phonological alterations, changes in
grammar, shifts in the meanings of words, borrowings from neighbouring, non-Slavic
languages, etc.) that make it harder to understand for speakers of other languages.
However, these hindrances can be overcome. All Slavic languages are characterised by
the presence of large amounts of international vocabulary, a similar grammatical
structure, and a considerable number of common inherited words (Zybatow, 2002)
provides a list of 1500 words labelled as Pan-Slavic). A connecting factor is also that the
sound changes that distinguish the modern languages from their common ancestor
Proto-Slavic tend to be highly predictable. For example, the Proto-Slavic phoneme
ę (written ѧ in Old Church Slavonic) practically always becomes ja in East Slavic
and e in South Slavic. Once a person knows this, it becomes relatively easy to recognise
correspondences.
The seven sieves of the EuroComSlav project (Zybatow, 2002) are aimed at
recognising elements in other Slavic languages. However, the same principles can also be
taken one step further, namely by applying them actively. This can be achieved by
consciously avoiding the aforementioned idiosyncrasies, using words and grammatical
elements that are broadly understandable in the Slavic world, and presenting them in a
spoken and/or written form that makes them easily recognisable. This idea has
culminated in the creation of an Interslavic language, the main premise of which is that it
should be understandable to all Slavs, no matter which nation they belong to.
The idea of such a language is far from new. In the 16th century the Croatian priest
Šime Budinić published his translations of works by Peter Canisius into a complex
literary language he called Slovignsky, in which he mixed Serbo-Croatian, Church
Slavonic, Czech and Polish, using both Latin and Cyrillic. In the years 1659–1666
another Croatian priest, Juraj Križanić, was the first to actually describe the language
itself, which he also used for his magnum opus Politika and several other works. At the
height of Pan-Slavism in the 19th century several language projects were published
in the process of creating a literary standard for South Slavic, all of them essentially
modernisations of the Old Church Slavonic language, and during the 20th century various
authors have attempted to create a simplified ‘Slavic Esperanto’ (Meyer, 2014, p.158).
The Interslavic Project was initiated in 2006 under the name Slovianski. Initially,
different possible language models were being experimented with, thus all based on the
modern Slavic languages. In 2009, it was decided that only the most naturalistic version,
initiated and developed by Jan van Steenbergen, would be continued. In 2011, a close
collaboration was started with another project, Neoslavonic by Vojtěch Merunka, which
had been published one year earlier. Unlike Slovianski, Neoslavonic was geared towards
modernising and simplifying Old Church Slavonic, although surprisingly both
approaches gave almost identical results. During subsequent years, differences between
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nterslavic language as a tool for supporting e-democracy 269
both ‘dialects’ have gradually vanished, allowing them to evolve into a single language
standard called Interslavic instead (van Steenbergen, 2016). In the summer of 2017, the
last remaining differences between both grammars were eliminated.
Interslavic can be classified as a so-called zonal constructed language, an artificial
language created to facilitate communication between speakers of a group of closely
related languages. Languages of this type are fundamentally different from languages
intended for global communication, such as Esperanto. The latter are typically
characterised by simplicity and regularity, whereas in zonal languages the main focus lies
on familiarity and immediate passive understanding. That does not mean that a zonal
language cannot be simple, only that the type and level of simplicity are always
conditioned by the speakers of the particular language family it serves.
It has been disputed whether Interslavic can really be considered a constructed
language. Before the 20th century, authors certainly did not believe so. In their view,
Slavic was a single language with highly divergent dialects, a process they hoped to
reverse by using a modernised form of Old Church Slavonic as its literary standard,
similar to the highly archaic form of Greek known as Katharevousa, aimed at unifying
many Greek dialects. Since several Slavic languages already had a well-established
standard at the time, this would essentially qualify Interslavic as a Slavic Koiné language.
On the other hand, the fact that various improvised forms of Interslavic have been used in
multi-Slavic environments for centuries, without ever having any native speakers, could
also justify its classification as a pidgin language (Vagner, 2017, p.36).
Besides, the process of creating Interslavic does not involve any creative activity,
bearing more similarities to the codification of languages like Rumantsch Grischun,
Bahasa Indonesia, Modern Hebrew and revived Cornish – languages that are generally
considered natural, even though their very existence is the direct result of human
intervention. In this context it is also worth mentioning that Interslavic is not the work of
a single author, but the fruit of long-time scientific research performed by many.
In addition, the ultimate shape of this language is also determined by input from its user
community.
The place where Slavistics and interlinguistics intersect has long been ignored by
scholars of both sides, probably because it fell outside their main scope of interest.
In 1989, the Russian-Estonian linguist Aleksandr Duličenko was the first to express the
need for a new discipline he called Slavic interlinguistics. Especially after 2010 the topic
of Slavic intercommunication in general and Interslavic language projects in particular
have found recognition in scientific circles (Meyer, 2014, p.64).
4.1 Characteristics
The Interslavic language is entirely based on material that can be found in all Slavic
languages, or whenever there is no such solution available, in a majority of them.
This goes for grammar, phonology, orthography, syntax and vocabulary. As a result,
Interslavic has an inflecting grammar, similar to that of the Slavic languages: three
grammatical genders (masculine, feminine, neuter), four basic noun declensions, seven
noun cases, singular/plural distinction, adjective agreement, two basic verb conjugations
and verbal aspect. The language has very few irregularities, which makes it relatively
easy to use.
All elements of Interslavic are determined by two major design criteria. The first is
that all six major sub-branches of Slavic (Russian, Ukrainian/Belarussian, Polish,
270 V. Merunka et al.
Czech/Slovak, Serbo-Croatian/Slovene and Bulgarian/Macedonian) are weighed equally
in establishing the largest common denominator. The purpose of this approach is to place
Interslavic in the middle of the Slavic language continuum, and to prevent any input
language from getting undue weight. The second criterion is that Interslavic never
borrows directly from any Slavic language, but applies a consistent system of regular
derivation from reconstructed proto-forms instead. This is necessary to ensure
etymological coherence and to prevent the language from becoming elements taken from
different languages. As a result, Interslavic words are usually predictable for Slavic
speakers.
Interslavic can be written in both alphabets, Latin and Cyrillic. Written texts are often
presented in both orthographies, so that every Slav can read them in the alphabet that is
most convenient for them. Apart from these basic alphabets, Interslavic orthography also
has a set of optional characters conveying additional etymological information, called
Scientific Interslavic. The home page of the project contains a tool for automated
transliteration between all alphabet options.
A typical feature of Interslavic is that its components can easily be applied to any of
the ethnic Slavic languages. This has the advantage that every new element one learns
can be put to use immediately. As a result, the learning process differs significantly from
the way other languages are learned, because it is essentially a matter of gradually
learning how to transform one’s own native language into Interslavic. The more one
learns, the closer one comes to the core of Interslavic: the scientific extrapolation of the
language at the very centre of the Slavic languages. Our experience is that speakers of
Slavic languages tend to perceive Interslavic either as an ancient or remote dialect of their
own native language, or some neighbouring language closely related to their own. Even
those who are sceptical about constructed languages do not recognise it as such, and
people are often surprised how much they can understand of it without knowing what
language it is.
It is important to note that Interslavic does not only allow a writer or speaker to make
himself understandable to speakers of any Slavic language. Thanks to the seven sieves, it
will also help him in getting a better passive understanding of other Slavic languages.
Although Interslavic is primarily intended to be used by Slavs in contacts with other
Slavs, the same educational value can work equally well for non-Slavs, as at will allow
them to get a basic understanding of all Slavic languages at once, and also considerably
facilitate their access to the Slavic-speaking world.
5 Practical experiences and research on Interslavic
5.1 Conferences on the Interslavic language
Since its inception, Interslavic has been much discussed in the press and on the internet,
both within its circle of currently ca. 2000 users and interested bystanders and elsewhere.
Extensive use in various contexts and feedback from all Slavic countries has made it clear
that the primary purpose of Interslavic, to be understood by Slavs of any nationality
without prior study, has been achieved. Until recently, however, this could be said only
about written Interslavic, as experiences with spoken Interslavic were scarce and mostly
limited to individual contacts.
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On 1–2 June 2017 the first Conference on the Interslavic language (CISLa, 2017)
took place in the Czech town of Staré Město near Uherské Hradiště. There were 64
active participants from 12 different countries, including representatives of several
organisations and institutions and experts in the fields of informatics, Slavistics,
pedagogy and history. Among the items discussed were: language problems in civil
participation, e-democracy, knowledge transfer, and the potential role of zonal
constructed languages in education, tourism, digital economy and the development of
civil societies in a globalised world.
The conference was a milestone, because for the first time in history Interslavic was
used during an official, public event. Most presentations and discussions were either held
in Interslavic or translated consecutively into Interslavic, which turned out to be
sufficient for all Slavic participants – including Poles and Bulgarians – to understand
almost everything. A remarkable and rather unexpected side effect was also that a few
participants, who had never learned Interslavic, suddenly started speaking it during the
conference. This shows how easily passive multilingualism, with the right tools, can be
transformed into active multilingualism.
A second conference (CISLa, 2018) took place on May 31 and June 1, 2018 in the
towns of Staré Město and Hodonín, and was attended by 67 participants from 16
countries. Again, most presentations were either held in Interslavic or translated
consecutively. In addition, most presentations also had visual slides in Interslavic, which
made them significantly easier to follow.
The success of both conferences demonstrates clearly that the Interslavic language
makes it possible to organise Slavic multinational activities, such as scientific
conferences, cultural happenings, sports events and even beauty pageants with the help of
a single interpreter.
5.2 International survey on the internet
Our international survey on the passive intelligibility of Interslavic has been conducted in
all Slavic countries from November 2015 to June 2018. This survey consisted of five
pages and took a few minutes to respond. It is still available at the website of the Slavic
Union (www.slovanska-unie.org). Information about this electronic survey was spread
through advertising on the social networks Facebook and VKontakte. The target group
was formed by the entire Slavic population in the age between 16 and 80 years, who
identified themselves as having knowledge of any natural Slavic language, and at the
same time were not members of our Interslavic language group.
Our statistical hypothesis was whether the Slavic population would passively
understand the language at a level corresponding to that of a slightly advanced speaker.
Concretely this means the ability to understand written text and to recognise at least five
of seven missing words in the cloze test. The cloze test is a task where a certain number
of words (in this case seven words) are omitted from a professional text and replaced by a
gap. This gap is normally a horizontal line with the average length of all deleted words
in the written version of the test, or a beep of uniform length in the spoken version.
The participants’ task was filling in the ‘gaps’ with the right words. The cloze test was
inspired by the MICReLa research group, based at the University of Groningen,
University of Erlangen, Syddansk University in Odense, University of Copenhagen,
University of Ljubljana, and Constantine the Philosopher University in Nitra,
who developed a similar online language game to investigate passive intelligibility of
272 V. Merunka et al.
professional texts in various national languages of the Europe, compared to the
desirability of English (MICReLa Research Group, 2016).
Until June 2018, we received 1822 valid responses in total. Female respondents were
outnumbered by male respondents in the ratio of about 5:1, but gender differences in the
results were minimal and far below the value of statistical error. Our respondents from
different Slavic nations answered with different willingness and frequency – for example,
there were more respondents from a small country like Slovenia than from Russia.
For that reason, we recalculated (using weighted averages) our results according to the
size of the real population in particular Slavic countries, in order to get a statistically
correct representation of the whole Slavic population. We also obtained 56 responses
from people whose native language is not Slavic, but who understand some Slavic
language because of their surroundings (school, friends, …).
Our hypothesis was confirmed with a sufficient degree of probability, namely 0.816.
We used the test “guess missing words in a professional text”. The mean values of all
respondents are in the interval between 79% and 93%. (These results are in rescaled
values, where 100% equals seven correct words from seven missing words in total, 86%
equals sex correct words from seven words in total, 71% equals five correct words from
seven words in total, 57% equals four correct words from seven words in total,
and so on). Only 18% of the respondents (315 out of 1766) answered below the expected
five correct words from a total of seven unknown words. Our hypothesis turned out valid
for respondents with a non-Slavic mother tongue, who learned a Slavic language later,
too. The total mean value was 84%, i.e., nearly six correct words from seven
unknown words in total. Some of the partial results of this survey are also very interesting
(see Figures 1 and 2).
There is no dependence on gender and almost no dependence on age.
Northern Slavic nations expressed little bit better results in exact test but worse
results in subjective test than southern Slavic nations.
All Slavic nations expressed slightly worse values in their self-assessment than their
actual intelligibility results (for example, the total mean value of real intelligibility is
84%, but the total mean value of self-assessment is only 70% in comparable rescaled
values).
There is a weak dependence on education. Slavic people who completed higher
education have 88% of mean intelligibility; Slavic people without any university
experience have only mean 73% of the average (secondary education only) and 72%
of the average (primary education only).
Additional questions also showed that members of smaller nations understand the similar
languages of their neighbours better than members of the bigger nations. The biggest
asymmetry was between Belarusians, Ukrainians, and Russians. Ukrainians understand
Russian at the level of 80% and Belarusians understand Russian at the level of 71%,
but Russians understand Ukrainian at a level of only 46% and Belarusian at a level of
39%. In general, people were surprised how much information they were able to
understand. Yet, especially younger people still preferred English, even though their
English skills were very poor and they would understand much more using Interslavic.
In conclusion, we can say that passive understanding of Interslavic without any prior
learning meets the conditions that roughly match the local language-skill requirements
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for immigrants to obtain citizenship in most European countries. Also, we dare say that
Interslavic inscriptions on products, in public transport and in offices (e.g., town halls,
local government bodies, bus and railway stations, airports, …) would be better for many
people than the current inscriptions in English.
Figure 1 Survey results by nationality
Figure 2 Survey results by gender, education and age
5.3 Survey in Bulgaria
In the first half of 2017, a survey was carried out in Bulgaria. Its goal was to study how
Bulgarians perceive the Interslavic language. This survey is of special interest for the
evaluation of Interslavic: because Bulgarian grammar differs significantly from the
remaining Slavic languages, one might expect a relatively low level of mutual
intelligibility. Because Bulgarians use the Cyrillic alphabet, the survey focused on their
understanding of Interslavic written in the Latin alphabet, since texts in Cyrillic were
expected to be significantly more understandable for Bulgarians.
Not a single Bulgarian has been educated to use the Interslavic language so far, and
this goes for the people who took part in the survey as well. The motto of the survey,
“This is a language of Slavophiles”, was very welcomed by all respondents.
The following hypothesis was subject to verification: the Interslavic language can be
used by Bulgarians to support international communication and information exchange
with little effort and without any special education. This hypothesis was based on the
authors’ understanding that the Interslavic language is universally Slavic and that its
structure consists of linguistic characteristics common to all Slavic languages.
The survey was set up as a software application in Google forms, and contained
20 questions of different types, divided into two main groups. The first group of
274 V. Merunka et al.
questions were linguistic questions aimed at studying the language experience,
intelligence and logic of the respondents. The second group of questions was intended to
reveal people’s language culture and their perception of the Interslavic language. Most of
questions were open type and respondents were not given any hints.
The survey was filled out by students and colleagues of Trakia University as well as
several people not working in Trakia University or the educational sphere. The total
number of the respondents was up to 75, with less than five persons leaving some
questions unanswered. The resulting raw data need to be processed further in-depth, so
that connections between external conditions, level of education, cultural properties,
language experience, age and social status can be revealed, and more conclusions can be
drawn regarding the Bulgarians’ perception of the Interslavic language. The general
outcome as presented and commented here, however, can be considered very positive and
promising.
The answers to the first group of questions revealed that the words and short
paragraphs were successfully translated by about 85–93% of the respondents. Ninety-four
percent correctly recognised forms of the verbs ‘to have’ and ‘to be’ in various persons
and tenses; 81% correctly found other verbs. 69% knew that if we change word order in a
sentence, there is no loss of meaning. Only 50.8% recognised that there are noun cases in
this language and guessed the right case endings, which is explained by the fact that noun
cases are absent in Bulgarian. Interestingly, however, 85% of the respondents picked
them up very quickly and did not repeat the mistakes.
The number of incorrect answers ranged from 7% (older students and colleagues) to
50% of mainly young people (first-grade students).
The following conclusions can be drawn after analysis of the survey results:
The Slavic Latin alphabet is definitely a big difficulty for the young Bulgarians.
They made mistakes and returned unexpected, funny answers. They have no
experience with studying other Slavic languages and are not familiar with any other
Slavic Latin alphabet at all. This is clearly a weakness of Bulgarian education
system.
Another problem was with Bulgarian Cyrillic, which has a character for semivowel
ъ (ă), while other Slavic languages using this semivowel do not have such character
in their Latin alphabets.
Unlike other Slavic languages, Interslavic included, the Bulgarian language does not
have noun cases. This was confusing to some respondents.
In general, the Interslavic language is understandable for Bulgarians even when
written in the Latin alphabet. Cyrillic, however, would give much favourable results.
Sixty-seven percent of the respondents want to study this language in the future.
The authors of the survey believe that the results prove the hypothesis about the
Interslavic language being sufficiently understandable without any prior training,
notwithstanding its grammar based on cases and its Latin orthography.
5.4 Polish initiatives and experiences
Cooperation between institutions of higher education in Poland, the Czech Republic,
Slovakia and other Slavic countries has been the source of numerous good experiences,
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casting a very positive light on the phenomenon of receptive multilingualism among
Slavs. Many Polish scholars have used Polish or Interslavic in their communication with
their contacts abroad, without any trouble in their mutual understanding. This cooperation
has borne fruit in the form of Poles participating in numerous Czech and Slovak
conferences and classes within the framework of the Erasmus program. During these
occasions, everyone spoke his own language. This worked better than English, which not
everybody was able to speak fluently. Other positive experiences include a field trip by a
guest from Ostrava, editorial cooperation and co-authorship of many scientific works
with Slovak scholars from Banská Bystrica, Nitra, etc. These contacts are continuously
being maintained and developed via the internet.
During the first half of 2017, a poll has been conducted among 250 pedagogy
students of the University of Rzeszów regarding their knowledge about the Interslavic
language and the necessity of teaching it. A question about the need for implementing
Interslavic was answered positively by most respondents. What they lacked, however,
was broader knowledge about it. The students were also asked about their contacts with
other Slavic countries, and although the opinions were divided here, those who had had
more frequent contacts expressed themselves very positively about their scientific,
cultural, touristic and other experiences. The respondents recognise the need for
promoting and learning Interslavic, which in itself is an excellent argument for further,
broader research to confirm these conclusions.
Further empirical research about the subject has been carried out in 2018 among
students of various disciplines, mostly among future teachers, tutors and pedagogues who
are currently students at the University of Rzeszów. Later this year, the same research
will be extended to other social groups, too. This time the respondents were enquired
about their level of passive understanding of Interslavic, as well as their willingness to
learn it. To a certain degree, the same research tools have been used as those applied in
Vojtěch Merunka’s survey (http://slovane.org/cinnost/166-nstest). People were asked to
fill in missing words in text fragments, taken from http://interslavic-language.info and
http://steen.free.fr/interslavic/news_2006.html.
Besides, 250 students were asked for their opinion about the chances for the practical
use of Interslavic. They were also enquired about the benefits of Interslavic for an
educational system that is open to any citizen, its benefits in the field of culture and, by
the same token, its benefits for the development of e-democracy among the citizens in
Poland, Central and Eastern Europe and the European Union.
Although this research is still a work in progress, the preliminary results confirm the
hypothesis that to the majority of respondents, simple written and spoken Interslavic texts
are perfectly understandable without any prior learning. Most respondents in this survey
were students of higher education, selected deliberately because of Vojtěch Merunka’s
assertion (conclusion) that passive comprehension of Interslavic is dependent on one’s
educational level, and therefore also on education itself. After all, these are the people
who may become the leaders of the Interslavic language in their own environments,
especially since they are the same future teachers, tutors and pedagogues among whom
most research has been conducted.
These linguistically and educationally constructive experiences have been a major
reason for participating in both CISLa conferences and the Days of Polish and Croatian
culture in June 2017, and strengthen us in our belief that the Interslavic language
deserves to be promoted, taught and used. Our participation in this enterprise has
convinced us even more that Interslavic is a very accessible and understandable language
276 V. Merunka et al.
to everyone. The contacts that were established during this conference, and cooperation
in the fields of science, education and culture between representatives from various
countries (Czech Republic, Netherlands, Bulgaria, Poland, Russia, Serbia), all
communicating in Interslavic, gain more and more supporters and have proven
increasingly beneficial to our European initiatives.
6 The issue of computer translation
The Slavic languages are examples of fusional (or inflected) languages. Languages of this
type do not rely on the position of words for expressing grammatical categories. Instead,
most information about the grammatical category of a word and its role in the sentence is
contained in endings (declension and conjugation), and as a result, word order tends to be
rather flexible. Other examples of fusional languages are Indo-European languages like
Sanskrit, many of the modern Indo-Aryan languages, Greek (both classical and modern),
Latin, Lithuanian, Latvian, Albanian and Icelandic. Another notable group of fusional
languages are the Semitic languages (Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic, etc.). Besides, the same
type of structure can also be observed in agglutinating languages like Japanese, the Uralic
languages (Finnish, Estonian, Hungarian, etc.) and the Turkic languages. Some degree of
fusion can be found in many other languages throughout the world.
English, on the other hand, is an example of an analytic language, i.e., a language
with a low morpheme-per-word ratio. Whether a word is a noun, adjective, verb, subject,
object or something else is determined almost entirely by its position within the sentence.
Because English has very few declension and conjugation suffixes, a fixed word order is
indispensable as a means to recognise grammatical categories.
This relative simplicity of English is the basis of the Google Translate algorithm,
which is based on simple search and replacement of the longest sequences of words
(Google’s Neural Machine Translation System, 2016; Sutskever et al., 2014). The Google
database has a very huge number of parallel texts, many of which originating from
institutions of European Union:
If we want to translate something from one language to another, the algorithm
searches if the whole sentence has already been translated, and
if not, it searches for the longest fragments and then glues them together.
Finally, even if it does not find any fragment, it looks for a transitive path and mostly
finds the translation way through English.
It is obvious that this algorithm gives bad results in translating the fusional languages
of Central and Eastern Europe, because these languages have free word order, and in
addition, there are not enough parallel texts in the Google database. This is the cause of
unusable, bizarre and ridiculous translations that have been made through English.
Interslavic, like all other Slavic languages, is a fusional language. Thus, it operates
with words that contain unambiguous grammatical information, and a fixed position
within a sentence is not needed to express its precise meaning. Because word order is
basically free, it can be manipulated for expressing the finer details of communication.
Of course, this does not mean that Interslavic words can be mixed in any haphazard
way. For example, if adjectives belong to a specific noun, they should be positioned
either before or immediately after the corresponding noun, and other elements of the
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sentence cannot intervene between them. Metaphorically, a Interslavic sentence is like a
branched tree, whose branches represent particular sentence components. Within
branches word order may be flexible, but elements within each branch must not be mixed
with elements of another branch. From a theoretical perspective, an Interslavic sentence
is a multidimensional oriented graph rather than a linear sequence of words (see the
examples in Figures 3 and 4).
Figure 3 The sentence linearised by the S-V-O order (see online version for colours)
Figure 4 The same sentence linearised by a different word order (see online version for colours)
The syntactic tree of this new sentence is the same as in the previous example. The only
difference is in the order of branches, but this cannot easily be expressed in English.
However, it is not possible to mix everything in any order, because words cannot be
mixed across their sub-trees (e.g., subgraphs). Figure 5 follows an example of an
incorrect sentence, in which words have been incorrectly mixed among multiple branches
(making it somehow resemble the chaotic language of master Yoda from Star Wars).
278 V. Merunka et al.
Figure 5 The same sentence in an impossible word order (see online version for colours)
6.1 Ontology-based language model
Our approach to language modelling is based on the use of the ontological model of the
world. The usual linguistic approach is based on Chomsky’s conception of language as a
tree structure. This is a concept that suits English and similar languages very well.
However, this model is totally unsuitable for inflectional languages like the Slavic
languages, Latin and Greek, among many others. Our basic principle is the assertion that
human language is a linearised form of a more general multi-dimensional reflection of
the real world. This is due to the simple fact, that human speech is sound – one linear
channel of transmitting information. Therefore, we need to move the language-language
translation process from the level of linear sequences of words to the more abstract level
of multi-dimensional graphs. Our idea is shown in Figure 6.
Figure 6 Our approach to language translation
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6.2 Language model of translation
Our approach lies in the fact that the ontological model can fully cover both languages
(source and destination). This follows from its definition (a definition of our ontological
model). Furthermore, given that the ontological model is a general graph, we only need to
perform the initial de-linearisation, subsequent graph transformation (as described in yEd,
for example) and the final linearisation. In addition, if we have an intermediate reference
language, we do not need to build N × (N – 1) translators among N languages but only 2N
translators. In the particular case of the Slavic languages, Interslavic is perfectly suitable
to fulfil this role as a pivot language.
We postulate that Interslavic is a very useful intermediary instrument for the
translation between various Slavic languages. Therefore, it is necessary to establish a
correct model of the language for translation purposes. In our case, this means creating
three formal models: a model of the source language, a reference model, and a model of
the target language. The reference model is de facto an ontological model of the real
world around of us, as seen in general. In the Slavic world, the Interslavic language can
be used as a common standard of this reference model for translation between all Slavic
languages.
Unlike more conventional approaches in linguistics, we do not use the standard
language model of a linear sequence of words. The author of the standard model is
the very famous contemporary linguist Chomsky (2002), but his scheme is fit for
context-free languages based on linear sequences of words. Typical examples of such
languages are programming languages. Human languages are much more complex,
however, in the case of human languages based on a fixed order of words, where the
position in the sentence gives semantic information, this original theory is also
applicable. On the other hand, as Zabrocki (2016) wrote, classical languages such as
Greek, Latin and Sanskrit, as well as the Slavic languages almost do not use the order of
the word in the sentence to determine the grammatical category, because they have a rich
apparatus of various grammatical prefixes and suffixes. That is why we propose a
different language model instead, based on a conceptual model of linguistic ontology
expressed by a directed graph (Davis and Weyuker, 1983).
Our new language model expresses the content of a sentence independently of
word order, because it is based on a form of a multidimensional graph. Of course,
it remains possible to linearise this graph into a sequence of words. We will describe this
later in the text, but first, we will describe a language-independent language model.
The general ontological idea of our model is shown in Figure 7. We selected the UML
standard (ISO/IEC 19501, 2005). As Guizzardi and others say, there is also a growing
interest in the use of UML standard as a formal instrument to represent various
ontologies; therefore this software-engineering standard was the most logical solution
(Guizzardi et al., 2004).
All elements of this model are derived from the root element of our metamodel,
Universalia, which represents anything. There are two major classes derived from it:
Fact, which represents the facts in the world around us, such as persons, things,
seeing, running, etc.
Attribute, which represents the properties of these facts.
280 V. Merunka et al.
Next, the class Fact has two subclasses: Element, which represents real or abstract objects
from the real world, like for example cars, persons, ideas and so on, and Relationship,
which represents the relations between Elements.
Figure 7 UML metamodel of our language translation model
The process of translation is explained in Figure 6. If the source language is expressed as
a graph, we are looking for a subgraph that corresponds to the transformation rules in
order to build step by step a graph model of the target language. Concretely, if we find
such a subgraph in the source model, we replace it with another subgraph following the
translation rule. Subsequently, we keep repeating this approach until there is no rule left
to apply. Finally, we obtain a new graph that represents our target language model, which
is then linearised to the text output. These graph transformations are more general than
transformations of linear sequences to other linear sequences. We can demonstrate our
method by using a simple sentence as an example.
A model of a real sentence is shown in Figure 8. The sentence is annotated in English,
and the individual elements of the model are expressed in their base forms. For example,
nouns and adjectives are shown as nominatives, but will be declined into their proper
cases during the linearisation process.
Figure 8 Model of the same sentence transformed into the Interslavic language with one example
of more possible output linearisations
The basic principle of language interpretation and translation is very simple. It is based
on graph transformations. In the source model, expressed as a graph, we are looking for a
subgraph that corresponds to the transformation rule. If we find such a subgraph in the
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source model, we replace it with another subgraph that follows this rule. Step by step,
we apply all transformation rules to the source model sequentially. The whole process
will end once there is no rule left to apply. At last, we obtain a new graph that represents
our target model. The graph transformations are more general than transformations of
linear sequences to other linear sequences. We can demonstrate our method by means of
the same simple sentence:
Our best player is playing tennis at the Olympics today
A model of this sentence in Interslavic is shown in Figure 8. The same sentence
translated to Russian is shown in Figure 9. Using linear approach to translation of these
languages would generate unusable results. But when we build a word order independent
graph (e.g., Figure 8), we can then recognise particular sub-graphs, which must be
transformed into other structures, because simple linear replacement word-sequence-by-
word-sequence is not possible. In our example, they are three sub-graphs:
1 our best’, where a specific Russian idiom expressing ‘the best’ is used
2 to play tennis’, where Russian has an additional preposition to a noun
3 Olympics’, which is translated into multiple Russian words.
The transaction result can then be as follows:
Interslavic:
Naš najlučši igrač igraje dnes na Olimpijadě tenis
The same in Russian (transliterated from the Cyrillic):
Samyy luchshiy nash igrok segodnya igraet v tenis na olimpijskih igrah
Of course, the same applies to translation between other Slavic languages, too. Moreover,
even very close languages, such as Croatian and Serbian, or Czech and Slovak, do not
only differ in pronunciation and orthography, but can also put almost the same words in a
different order, and use different prepositions and different cases in the same sentences.
Figure 9 Model of the same sentence transformed into the Russian language with one example of
more possible output linearisations (in this example, an English-based transcription of
Russian Cyrillic is used)
282 V. Merunka et al.
6.3 Human language inaccuracy and false friends
One feature of English that significantly complicates its use as a pivot language in
automatic translation is the large amount of various homonyms with different meanings
in different situations. The correct translation must often be deduced from a wider
context, which in computer translation is very hard to accomplish. This is especially true
when English serves as an intermediate language for translation between another
languages.
The Slavic languages have a much lower degree of homonyma than English.
However, the relatively high level of mutual intelligibility between the Slavic languages
brings about another, similar problem: that people take it for granted that an identical or
similar word also has the same meaning. Usually this is indeed the case, but sometimes
one word can have different meanings in different Slavic languages, either because the
meaning of a word has drifted into various directions, or by sheer coincidence. This type
of words is known as ‘false friends’. In most situations these similarities will not cause
any problems. For example, Polish piec ‘stove’ is not likely to be confused with Russian
peť ‘to sing’. In some cases, however, misunderstandings are lurking, for example
godina, which means ‘year’ in South Slavic and ‘hour’ in West Slavic.
This is why our Interslavic translation approach has included a corrective tool for
resolving problems in situations where the same word has different meanings in different
Slavic languages. It is a table-based document of shared word forms with different
meanings between languages. If the translation algorithm (and also our approach for
building the Interslavic dictionary) finds a word that is in the ‘false friends table’, this
word should be replaced by a synonym. The original author of this free document is
Daniel Bunčić who made it under GNU Free Documentation License (GNU, Wikimedia).
We may add, especially for non-Slavic readers, that the Slavic languages are not the
only group with ‘false friends’. They occur in all language families. For comparison, one
might check any dictionary for the meanings of the English word gift and the German
word Gift, or the Arabic word lekhem and Hebrew word lekhem.
7 Interslavic, e-democracy and education
Active participation of European citizens in e-democracy is hard to achieve when a
substantial part of them do not know the language used in the process and are unable to
spend time and effort on learning it. The Interslavic language, due to its high level of
passive intelligibility, can solve this problem. Our research proved that Slavs of any
nationality can understand it reasonably well without any prior preparation, and one
might expect that some minimal preparation could enhance its passive intelligibility even
further. In this context it should be noted that for Slavs, learning Interslavic is not a
matter of learning a new language, but merely of learning how to recognise
correspondences.
Creating training materials and special software localisation into Interslavic would
not only reduce translation costs (instead of many just one version) but would also greatly
support the knowledge transfer across countries of the Central and Eastern Europe. Thus,
entire groups in Central and Eastern Europe can be prevented from being marginalised
and, consequently, excluded from public life. That is why Interslavic is definitely worth
considering as a good social and educational alternative when it comes to levelling the
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nterslavic language as a tool for supporting e-democracy 283
chances of participation in e-democracy by Central and Eastern Europeans who do not
know English.
In addition, Interslavic can also play a positive role as an intermediary language in the
process of automated translation between various Slavic languages. In situations when it
is impossible to have documents translated into many different languages, much of the
translation work can to be computerised. This would significantly diminish the burden
currently carried by translators.
These considerations should be a stimulus for broader research on the willingness of
citizens in different countries to use the Interslavic language, as well as its potential role
in cultural development and the rise of cyberdemocracy. Of particular importance is also
research on the possibilities of implementing Interslavic in education. In the search for
reciprocal connections between language, education and e-democracy, the theoretical
model at Figure 10 can be proposed. This triangle can serve as a basis for empirical
research in the various countries where the project is initiated. It requires further
argumentation and detail, as it displays the mutual relationship between three complex
processes that simultaneously constitute the basic values of the information society.
Figure 10 Modern civil society development triangle [authors]
Civic activity by means of information technology requires knowledge of the language
used by the latter, and therefore e-democracy depends on language. However, language
usage is also dependent on e-democracy, because that is where leaders and activists
engage and where they can create, propose and advertise a language that both supports
e-democracy and can work in the daily life of Slavic Europe.
There is a close connection between educational and scientific activity, information
technology and knowledge of the language used to support e-democracy. The correlation
between a higher level of education and passive comprehension of Interslavic has been
aptly demonstrated by Vojtěch Merunka’s research (Kocór et al., 2017). Therefore, the
role of education in preparing people for the use of Interslavic in e-democracy can hardly
be underestimated. Moreover, Interslavic can play a role of equal significance in the
education of citizens of Slavic countries who do not know English, regarding their
development in the fields of education, research, science and the international exchange
of students, teachers and scholars.
In other words, the interdependence between language and education works in both
directions, and the same can also be said between education that is open to e-democracy
and e-democracy that is open to all citizens knowing a common language. Language
supports education, education supports e-democracy, and the other way round:
e-democracy is beneficial to open education and the rise of an understandable language,
depending on the conditions and needs. After all, what can e-democracy do for
e-democracy, what can language do for language, and what can education do
for education, if these three elements do not work together, supporting each other
284 V. Merunka et al.
and encouraging each other’s constant improvement? This thought deserves discussion
on a global level, because it might reveal an authentic need of the homo interneticus
(Walat, 2016), who is still insufficiently adapted to the conditions imposed on him by
media and politics.
In view of the above, M. Kocór voiced the idea of a common research project at the
CISLa 2017 and 2018 conferences in Staré Město. Based on the new arguments and
considerations mentioned in this paper, this research could be expanded with the relation
between the Interslavic language, e-democracy and participation at various levels of
education in the Slavic countries. Especially in those Slavic countries where knowledge
of English is low, research on the openness of citizens towards a more comprehensible
Slavic language in the context of improving e-democracy and the need for corresponding
education is warranted. In this context, it is crucial to investigate what the needs and
experiences of citizens are when it comes to using and comprehending the Interslavic
language, and what they expect from education in terms of language, media and
informatics.
The expected outcome of this outlined project is that educational models will be
proposed and introduced at different education levels, both directed at a common
language for the Slavic countries and the e-democratic development of their citizens.
Subsequently, these models will require evaluation, and proposals can be made for
improvement. After all, e-democracy should not merely concentrate on motivating people
and forming an understandable language, but also on a critical, creative and responsive
attitude from those engaged in the process.
Of course, implementation of these suggestions requires not only citizens’
participation but also actions to be taken on behalf of the governments. The first step we
are trying to take in this direction is acquiring an ISO 639-3 code and an IETF language
tag for the Interslavic language as a means to open the way for e-government software in
Slavic countries. Of course, not all inhabitants will have to learn Interslavic; they will
merely benefit from its advantages, namely that it is sufficiently comprehensible without
learning. Only those who will need Interslavic actively, such as translators of official EU
documents, tutors, trainers, etc., will have to learn it. For this reason, we have been
running the peer-reviewed journal SLOVJANI.info, which is indexed by the CEEOL
(Central and Eastern European Online Library) and appear both in print and online.
CEEOL is a leading provider of academic e-journals and e-books in the field of
humanities and social sciences from and about Central and Eastern Europe. It is based in
Frankfurt am Main in Germany and offers services to subscribing institutions and their
patrons to make access to its content as comfortable as possible. Furthermore, it allows
publishers to reach new audiences and promote the scientific achievements of the Eastern
European community to a broader readership. In addition, we have published several
Interslavic books and training materials with an adequately registered ISBN codes.
The second step we are planning is to organise an international project and get
financial support for open-access software for automatic translation of arbitrary texts
between national languages and Interslavic.
8 Conclusion
Although the Slavic countries of Central and Eastern Europe constitute roughly one third
of the entire continent, their populations are under heavy pressure in a world in
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nterslavic language as a tool for supporting e-democracy 285
which borders gradually lose their meaning and traditional values need re-evaluation.
Democracy and civil societies are still a relatively young phenomenon in the region, with
political instability constantly lurking behind the corner. Under such conditions, building,
developing and protecting e-democracy is paramount in helping these societies reach
socio-political maturity and preventing them from missing the boat.
A major factor that stands in the way of full participation is language. Knowledge of
English and other foreign languages is at a persistently low level in the region, resulting
in the situation that many people are effectively cut off from the world outside their own
countries. Research demonstrates that passive understanding of other Slavic languages
(receptive multilingualism) can play a positive role, but on a rather limited scale.
We have substantiated reasons to believe that a zonal constructed language, namely
Interslavic, can be the solution to this problem. Because Interslavic is based exclusively
on elements that exist in all or most Slavic languages, it is well understood by Slavs of
any nationality: they tend to perceive it as an ancient or remote dialect of their own native
language, or as an unidentified neighbouring language closely related to their own.
The people-friendly Interslavic language – the collaborative effort of different people
involved in the improvement of information systems for civilians who are not necessarily
ICT experts with good knowledge of English – can help us to overcome the technophobia
that complicates the deployment of e-democracy applications in practice, while
simultaneously saving costs, because instead of creating 15 different Slavic language
versions, we can need only one version. Because of its structure, the Interslavic language
is also very suitable as an intermediary (‘pivot’) language in computer translation
between Slavic languages. As such, it can significantly diminish the work for translators
and allow for a much larger volume of documents to be translated.
Our research performed under the populations of various countries on their ability to
comprehend Interslavic, allows us to draw far-reaching conclusions regarding its
usefulness and the possibility for people to use it easily and effectively without much
preparation. Our research also shows a correlation between the level of one’s education
and one’s ability to understand and use Interslavic. In other words, its deployment in
e-democracy as well as other fields can be greatly supported by proper education. As we
have attempted to demonstrate, e-democracy, language and education are inseparable
parts of the same triangle, each of them being conditioned by the other two. This
interdependence definitely merits further discussion and research.
Apart from e-democracy applications, other possibilities for its use as a common
language for Slavs are in business, international transport (information texts and labels
in trains, buses, planes), marketing (product manuals and descriptions), sport, tourism
(information leaflets, news, brochures…) and social events. For example, Interslavic
could serve as a practical auxiliary language for multinational Slavic groups in touristic
destinations, historical and cultural places and exhibitions, companies and religious
communities. It can also play a positive role in science, research and education. Based on
our experiences described above, excellent results can be achieved through scientific and
didactical travels, common projects, grants, exchange of students and scholars, and other
forms of international cooperation.
In view of all the above, we believe the practical implementation of Interslavic
on a broader scale in economy, trade, tourism and culture, but especially also in
e-democracy, at various levels of education and in computer translation deserves support
in order to improve the quality of life and to strengthen the awareness of the common
European identity in the region of Central and Eastern Europe and beyond.
286 V. Merunka et al.
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