Limba de Stat

The Unsleeping Eye, as is its wont, sometimes goes down interesting paths. The other day, it led me to the OSCE‘s online presence. The OSCE has an office a 2-minute walk from my house, and they’re quite active in these parts because of PRM (Transnistria), so I was curious what they had to say about the country where I now live.

Along the way, I found a lot of really outdated information (Timofti is still president, and Vlad Filat isn’t in jail!), but I did find this valuable nugget:

In Moldova, the OSCE uses the term the “state language” to avoid calling it either Moldovan or Romanian, either of which may be divisive.

The OSCE isn’t the only one to call whatever language it is that people speak the “state language.” I’ve seen the phrase used in plenty of Moldovan government documents too.

Probably my favorite instance of this is the documentation on how to become a Moldovan citizen (a far different process than how to become a Romanian citizen). If you’ve lived in Moldova long enough, you can become a citizen, but first you need to pass two tests: one on the Constitution and one on the limba de stat or “state language.”

But how can you ask people to take a test in a language without ever naming it? Well, the answer is you have to employ masterful legal language to refer to it without naming it, ultimately letting you figure out what it is.

Moldovan or Romanian?

Just for laughs, I once tried out this phrase “limba de stat” with some police officers. Last winter, they came up to me when I was at the central market and started talking to me in Russian. I responded (in Russian) that I don’t speak Russian, but then switched to Romanian and said, “I speak the state language.”

It made me laugh, even if the cops weren’t in a humorous mood ;)

Officially, the Constitution of Moldova says that “the state language of Moldova is the Moldovan language written in the Latin alphabet.” The Latin alphabet part, everybody agrees with, but whether or not it’s a separate language from Romanian is another story altogether.

Beyond messing with the police, my anecdotal experience is that most people who speak “the state language” generally refer to it as Romanian. But people who speak Russian generally refer to it as Молдавский or Moldovan.

Romanian-speakers from Romanian always refer to it as Romanian, so it’s easy to become complacent and think that the issue is strictly an east/west split on perspective. If you love Russia, you call it “Moldovan” and if you love Romania, you call it “Romanian.”

But that’s not really the end of the story.

Big Brother Redux

Way back in early 2015, I wrote an article called Big Brother in which I teased out the various historical threads to try and establish whether it is Moldova that is the older country or Romania.

It turns out that the issue isn’t very clear. If you ask most people, there’s simply no doubt that Romania is the mother ship and Moldova is its daughter, but I think this is a vast simplification.

Strangely, if you employ logic instead of relying on (very real) emotional and cultural perspectives, you’ll arrive at the conclusion that the one place in the world where they still teach and use the oldest variant of the language is not Romania or the Republic of Moldova but PRM/Transnistria.


I know, I know. If you’ve heard anything at all about the language in PRM/Transnistria, it’s the awful stories of school closures of institutions that use the language as part of its instruction. It’s certainly happened, and I am 100% in opposition to closing schools that teach in minority languages anywhere on the planet, including PRM/Transnistria.

But what you never hear about is that all schools in PRM/Transnistria teach three languages: Russian, Ukrainian, and Moldovan, and all three are taught using the Cyrillic script. The schools that were briefly closed (years ago) in the territory were those that teach the language using the Latin alphabet AND are funded by the government of RM.

For regular students in PRM/Transnistria schools though, they’re learning what is indisputably the oldest form of the language and in its original Cyrillic script.

From the earliest documents ever discovered right through the end of the 19th century, the language was always written in Cyrillic. A lot of Romanians think that the Soviet Union imposed the script on RM during the Soviet days, but they actually were just preserving a far older tradition (admittedly, for political reasons).

Yep. The implacably anti-Romania government of PRM/Transnistria is, oddly enough, preserving the very oldest and most historically authentic form of the Romanian language.

Truth truly is stranger than fiction.

Modern Daze

I understand and appreciate that languages evolve. The Romanian spoken in Romania today is light years beyond what’s being taught in village schools in far-off PRM/Transnistria.

Latter-day Romanian has added thousands of French words and terms, and the legal system is based on French concepts. Modern Romanian has also incorporated a lot of both Hungarian and Turkish words and terms too.

Lately, English has made its mark, to the point where you can find it on Romanian government websites like this hilarious “myths about the SIE” page (the SIE is the rough equivalent to the CIA):

Mitul nr. 7 – Suntem o organizaţie de modă veche, cu mentalităţi “old school”.

My translation: Myth number 7 – We’re an old-fashioned organization with an “old school” mentality.

I’ve also heard young Romanians conjugate the English verb “to print” (eu printez documentul) as well as pepper their speech with all kinds of other English words like saying it’s “okay” if bodyguarzi (bodyguards) eat chips-uri (chips or “crisps” in UK) while learning about “branding” during their “marketing” training-uri.

I understand this, and I’m not complaining about it, but it’s a far cry from the language that Eminescu and Hasdeu were speaking.

As an outsider looking in, I’m open-minded enough to think there’s room for both ultra-modern Romanian and the ancient version being taught in Transnistrian schools. I read Cyrillic on a daily basis, so now all versions of the language are equally accessible to me.

Therefore, whether it’s modern-day KFC and MTV Romanian or really old-school Cyrillic Moldovan, I can now speak and read them all, yet more proof that I am and shall always be…


6 thoughts on “Limba de Stat

  1. Cyrillic or Latin is only the graphic representation of a language, Romanian was written in Cyrillic because religion.

    Moldova was separated from Romania so the language had different influences, so what it is still a miracle that survived.

    Sam the Russian lover doesn’t understand how it is in Europe the matter of nationalities, he is a product of new world but even so there is an example in the new world were the struggle to preserve the language and culture regardless of centuries of separation is alive – Quebec.

    People in Quebec speak an archaic French but they learn in school the modern French and they still call their language French.


  2. Is that language spoken in America “American” or English? Do mexicans speak “Mexican” or Spanish? Are Brasilians speaking “Brasilian” or Portuguese? It’s the same with that “state” language.


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