Hijinks in Spelling – Orthography Fun!

As I’ve mentioned before, Romanian language is a little ahem *coughcough* fluid on the spelling of the language. This can get damn confusing if you’re ahem *coughcough* some hopeless idiot foreigner trying to LEARN it so I’m going to give you a super short primer in the hopes that you won’t have to suffer for years (literally) trying to sort it all out.

To illustrate the differences, I’m going to spell out the same word in the different formats, that word being pâine (bread).

VERY IMPORTANT: All of these spelling ways are pronounced exactly the same.

Current Official Super Looper Accurate Way

pâine – Enough said. If you’re writing a letter to a Romanian (and really, I have to ask why you’re doing this) government official, then this is how you do it.

Internet Style aka Lazy Style

paine – Most times, most people (myself included) don’t have a Romanian keyboard with the special letters so you get to “skip” them. Some words, like pâine, do just fine as “paine” but other words like “gasca” can be confusing because they mean two different things when spelled (correctly) two different ways.

Printed Sign Style

pãine – The other problem is that for a long time the idiots over at ISO (whatever that stands for) didn’t even make it POSSIBLE to write the a with the hat (otherwise known as â, the correct letter) and so to distinguish regular “a” from “â” without being able to type it properly, Romanians sometimes were/are forced to use ã or a with a squiggly line over it. This letter doesn’t ACTUALLY even exist in Romanian but it’s all you got when your print shop doesnt have â. Dig it?

Communist Era Style

pîine – This is the one that messed me up because my dictionary was printed during the Communist era and so I’d keep looking up words that had an â in ’em and find only the î with a hat.

There’s a long and complicated (and boring) reason why the Communists switched up the spelling like this and some Romanians still prefer it and it can be very confusing EVEN NOW because, just for example, on the CFR (Romanian railways) web site all the city names are spelled OLD school style.

So if you’re looking for tickets to Târgu-Mures for instance, you have to search under Tîrgu-Mures. SUPER FUN!

Lazy Communist Style

piine – Mostly used by Youtube commenters from Romanians who moved out of the country during the Communist days and so continue to write this way.


пыйне – This is only used in some parts of Moldova (as in the country of Moldova) but prior to about 1860, regular Romanian was written this way too. You won’t really have to deal with this but it’s interesting if you look at the writing on old churches and what not because it’s all in the Cyrillic alphabet.

Note: Just for “extra fun”, the Cyrillic alphabet used for Romanian is slightly different than the one used in Moldova. Hopa!


Romanians talking online tend to use a lot of horrific spelling shortcuts and slang that make it virtually impossible to read (or decipher) if you’re not already fluent in the language. So don’t learn it from there.

Also, be aware sometimes signs and printed material have a combination of both lazy and official and/or lazy and communist style all mixed in together. Reading signs and posted things essentially require you ALREADY SUPER SECRETLY MASTERFULLY know the language and “fill in the blanks” for yourself if the spelling isn’t correct or accurate.


19 thoughts on “Hijinks in Spelling – Orthography Fun!

  1. After eighty days in Romania (în România) & having seen books and magazines going back as far as 1943, and a calendar in 1986 Moldovan, I note that there are many letters no longer with us. Ĕ ê ô, for example, I must point out that Wikipedia says that â/î is the same sound as in Polish y, and ă is the same as French e. To my well-trained ears, the y found in welsh Iı in Turkish, u in Japanese, and õ in Estonian, and the vowel that is u in the word Bulgaria. These untouched back vowels are found in Thai and Vietnamese. Ie, unrounded u & o. The Russian vowel bl is used in all of the Turkic languages for this same vowel, not the central one found in Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian and Polish, as well as Welsh.


  2. Webster’s ideas and motivations in favor of lganuage reform reflected his desire for national unity and identity in the newly-formed United States. Webster saw a direct connection between uniform lganuage and political harmony, and therefore sought to eradicate national variations in dialect, which would eradicate, in turn, local differences and prejudices (Lepore). For Webster, the key to this sort of lganuage reform lay in standardizing English spelling and pronunciation, and he worked to accomplish this goal by publishing his spelling book and dictionary.Like Webster, Shaw sought to reform the English lganuage through pronunciation and spelling standardization. In his preface to Pygmalion, he describes his position from a phonetician’s perspective, agreeing with Webster that the current orthographic system is not standard or uniform—there are myriad exceptions to pronunciation and spelling rules, certain spellings render more than one sound, and certain sounds are rendered with several different spellings. Also like Webster, he is aware of the social cleavages that can sometimes arise from the various ways people speak the same lganuage, writing “…it is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman despise him” (Shaw 1). Though Shaw and Webster have the same approach to lganuage reform, their reasons for it are very different. Unlike Webster, Shaw does not equate lganuage uniformity with nationalism or national identity. In fact, he sees lganuage reform as a way of making English more accessible to foreign speakers: “Most European lganuages are now accessible in black and white to foreigners: English and French are not thus accessible even to Englishmen and Frenchmen” (Shaw 1). At the end of his preface Shaw writes, “…for the encouragement of people troubled with accents that cut them off from all high employment, I may add that the change wrought by Professor Higgins in the flower girl is neither impossible nor uncommon” (Shaw 6).” This statement shows that Shaw is conscious of how lganuage and class interact. For him, lganuage reform isn’t so much about national identity and unity, but a way to level the playing field. By giving the lower class the skills to speak like the upper class (through lganuage reform and standardization), they can achieve more social and economic success.


  3. Hm.. If you don’t know it by now when we switched from the old style of writing to the new one, one of the the rules was: existing names don’t change. That’s why the name of the cities and the surname of people should be written using the old style. Anyway most people don’t care about it that much so you’ll find both styles used when it comes to names.


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