Ever since I read The Brass Check on my first e-reader about 10 years ago (yep), I’ve been fascinated by which news stories that people who are hyper-aware of the media know about and which stories seem to drift into the general population’s consciousness, as if my magic osmosis.
Last night I was doing yet another interview (nothing new or original was discussed) and the topic of (the Republic of) Moldova’s language “switch” came up, telling me that this clearly was one of those stories that just about everybody has heard of, even those people who don’t pay attention to the news.
Indeed even the Washington Post has commented on the fact that Moldova’s official language is now Romanian and no longer “Moldovan”.
Actually what happened is the 5-person “Constitutional Court”, the highest court in the land (and one of the smallest Supreme Courts in Europe) spontaneously decided to rule that the Moldovan Constitution (of 1991) should be amended to say that the official language of the country is now Romanian and no longer “Moldovan written in the Latin alphabet”.
This decision, which angered many Moldovans (who would prefer a referendum on the issue or at least a vote in parliament) and pissed off a few Russians, brought much cheap patriotic joy to Romanians because they feel, once again, that there’s an outside shot that Romania and (the Republic of) Moldova will one day be united as a single country, even though there’s no chance of that happening whatsoever.
Technically, the Moldovan court is right. Prior to the 1940′s, the language people spoke was called Romanian but once the territory was (re-)annexed to the Soviet Union, the government began calling it “Moldovan”. They also required the language to be written in Cyrillic letters and it was only after 1991 and formal independence did the authorities (and schools) change it over to being written with the Latin alphabet.
But of course we must remember that nobody in Romania or Moldova actually speaks “Romanian” since the technically correct term is Daco-Romanian. Other distinct variants still exist such as Aromanian, Megleno-Romanian (mostly in Greece) and the language that a few poor souls in a handful of villages in Croatia speak, called Istro-Romanian. I’ve heard both Aromanian and Istro-Romanian being spoken and can understand neither yet both are forms of “Romanian”. So if we’re going to be clear about things, let’s be clear!
2013 has been an especially interesting year for me in that I’ve had the opportunity to speak to a lot of (Republic of) Moldovans and I admit I am fascinated by their “dialect”. Some folks get apprehensive by my curiosity because in this part of the world the “accent”/”dialect” spoken in Moldova is seen as second-class, or low(er) class or sometimes even “uneducated” or “incorrect”, therefore they’re apprehensive that I am going to judge a Moldovan in a negative light. However I know something that (seemingly) the snootiest Romanian purist doesn’t know, which is that there is a “prestige dialect” in every language, as I’ve written about before.
In Britain, the “prestige dialect” is called RP or “the Queen’s English” while other equally legitimate dialects and accents, such as Cockney, are considered lower class or uneducated.
In America a “flat” Midwestern accent and pronunciation is considered the prestige dialect while a more rounded vocalization in some southern states is considered “wrong” and/or uneducated. In Italy the language spoken in Florence and Milan is the “prestige dialect” while anyone south of Rome is seen as speaking in a nearly incomprehensible hillbilly way. Likewise in Spain the accent of Madrid is the prestige dialect while the less enunciated pronunciation of the south is deemed “uneducated” and a clear sign that you’re a redneck bumpkin.
If we’re going to split hairs, it’s pretty obvious to me that the way Moldovans speak is unambiguously much closer to how Romanian originally sounded so Moldovan Romanian is actually much more pure and authentic (and therefore “superior” if we’re going to act elitist about it) than what’s spoken in Cluj or Bucharest. Yep. If anyone is going to start mocking accents or dialects, we should all gang up on the hideous Romanian that’s spoken in Brasov and Ploiesti, which has clearly been corrupted by Hungarian and French.
Moldovans tend to use a much more Slavic pronunciation in their vowels, which makes sense since 1) all of Romanian’s neighbors except for Hungary are Slavs and 2) the Romanian language was written in Cyrillic letters for most of its history. There are even old buildings in Cluj today that still have Romanian written in Cyrillic on them, as I wrote about before.
That’s why Romanian is nowhere close to being a phonetic language and explains such inconsistencies as el (pronounced ell) and ele (pronounced yell-eh) or est (est) and este (yes-teh). The Slavic letter “e” is pronounced “ye”, which is why former Russian president Boris Yeltsin’s surname is actually Eltsin, and why you hear much more of these “ye” pronunciations instead of just “e” in Moldovan speech. Other letters such as “J” are clearly borrowed from the Cyrillic alphabet (ж) and so on and so forth.
Therefore if we’re going to be pedantic about it, the Romanian that Moldovans speak is unequivocally more authentic and pure than the jumbled language that pretentious language professors in Bucharest and Cluj teach. Now that Moldovans have (at least legally) reclaimed the Romanian language, I assume and expect that the Romanian Academy and its philological experts will henceforth be deferring to their learned elders in Chisinau.
Hai sa facem starostie mare ca avem noroade de valoare!