Moldovan or Romanian

Moves are afoot to rename the language of Moldova Romanian rather than Moldovan, according to this report.

The Moldovan Prime Minister believes that the “Moldovan people speak in Romanian like Americans speak in English. The national language can be renamed in the future from Moldovan to Romanian”.

While the main language they speak in Moldova is not exactly the same as the Romanian of Romania, it can be considered a dialect of Romanian, according to the government in Bucharest.

Arguments over whether Moldovans speak Moldovan or Romanian have been bubbling away at least since the country became independent in 1991. When independence was declared the official language was named as Romanian, but the 1994 constitution named Moldovan as the the national language of Moldova. In 1996 a proposal by the Moldovan President to refer to the Moldovan national language as Romanian was dismissed by the parliament, and the 2004 census found that 60% of Moldovans thought of their language as Moldovan, while only 16% thought of it as Romanian.

Before 1989 Moldovan / Romanian in Moldova was written with the Cyrillic alphabet. Since then it has been written with the Latin alphabet, except in the Transdniestrian region, where the population is mainly Russian and Ukrainian they still use Cyrillic.

Moldova was part of Romania before it was taken over by the Soviet Union after the Second World War, and recently has began seeking closely ties with Romania.

Manx language

I’m on the Isle of Man at the moment doing some research for my dissertation on the revival of the Manx (Gaelic) language. I’m staying in Douglas (Doolish), the island’s capital, and plan to explore other parts of the island – it’s partly a holiday for me as well as a way to collect data.

One of the things I’m investigating is the use of Manx in public. On the ferry from Liverpool they used the Manx for good morning, moghrey mie, a few times in announcements, though that was the only Manx I heard yesterday. I also found some leaflets with collections of useful Manx phrases at the ferry terminal, including some with translations in French, German and Spanish.

When exploring Douglas today I noticed quite a few English/Manx bilingual street signs, and that most government departments, and some shops and other businesses have English and Manx names. So the public visibility of the language is quite high, but you only hear it spoken at certain times and in certain places, which is similar to the situation with Irish in Dublin. For example, today I sat in on a Manx conversation class that takes place every Tuesday lunchtime in a local pub. It was the first time I’d heard live Manx conversation, and somewhat to my surprise, I could understand almost everything they said, which is encouraging. My knowledge of Irish and Scottish Gaelic certainly helps.

Tomorrow I’ll be visiting the Manx medium primary school and talking to some of the teachers. I discovered today that most of the kids there only speak Manx in the school – outside school and at home the speak mainly or entirely in English, except in a few Manx-speaking families. I’ll find out more about this tomorrow.


A useful-looking website I heard about today is Lang-8, which describes itself as a a social networking service site for language exchange and international communication. Users can write journal entries in a language they’re learning, and get them corrected by native speakers of that language. There are also groups for particular language combinations, e.g. Japanese / English or Chinese / English, and discussion forums.

Origins of the British

A while ago I discussed a theory that Germanic languages were spoken in Britain long before the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons.

Today I came across an article by Stephen Oppenheimer, author of The Origins of the British: A Genetic Detective Story, in which he argues that many people in what is now England spoke Germanic languages quite a long time before the Anglo-Saxons showed up.

Julius Caesar mentioned that a tribe called the Belgae had settled in parts of soutern Britain before he invaded the country, and that they spoke essentially the same language as their continental cousins. The Belgae are thought to have spoken either a Celtic language or a Germanic one. Oppenheimer thinks they probably spoke a Germanic language, and Caesar implies as much.

Among the evidence for a pre-Roman Germanic-speaking population in Britain, Oppenheimer mentions the near absence of place names of Celtic origin and Celtic inscriptions in most of England, the handful of Celtic words in English. He also uses genetic evidence to demonstrate that there is are significant Scandinavian elements in the genes of people from the east coast of Britain from the Shetlands to East Anglia, and that these elements dates back to Neolithic times. He also cites lexical evidence that suggests that the split between English and the Germanic languages spoken on the continent of Europe goes back a lot further than conventionally thought.

Which Mr Wang do you mean?

On the news this morning they mentioned that China is suffering from a chronic shortage of names, which leads to many cases of mistaken identity. They gave an example of one man who was arrested by mistake – it was one of his neighbours with the same name who the police were after.

The ordinary people of China are traditional known as 老百姓 (lǎobǎixìng), which means ‘old 100 surnames’. This comes from the ancient tradition that citizens adopt one of a hundred single character surnames. Today there are up to 450 surnames in use in some areas of China, such as Beijing – though fewer in other areas. Here is a list of the current top 100 Chinese surnames.

According to an article on this topic in the Telegraph, the most popular surname in China is 王 (wáng), closely followed by 李 (lǐ), which between them account for 14% of the population or some 185 million people.

One solution being considered is to allow children to take the surnames of both parents. The Chinese government is also considering allowing a greater range of characters to be used as surnames, and also for the use of ethnic minority surnames, which are usually replaced with Chinese surname with a similar sound.

In My Language I am Smart

Today I found an interesting piece about the differences between speaking your own language and speaking a second or foreign language by Dragan Todorovic, a Serbian writer and artist who lives in Canada. He tells us that:

…my biggest problem was the sound of my English. Language is acquired with its sound, and the sounds I had picked from records and movies were harsh, aggressive, and presented me in a very different light from who I was and am. Suddenly I realized that somewhere in the process of acquiring the tone of modern English I had lost my identity. It was painful to realize that in my language I was smart, but I sounded stupid in English.

Have you had similar experiences? Do you think you’re a different person when you speak a foreign language?

How many of me?

I came across an interesting website that tells you how many people there are in the USA who share the same name as you. I looked up my name and discovered that there are 38,996 Simons, but only 1,800 Agers. The number of people in the States called Simon Ager is zero.

According to another site that does the same thing for the UK, there 10 other people who share my name. The site says that “There are probably more people killed in yoghurt, cream, marshmallow and fluffy thing accidents each year then there are of you.” – isn’t that nice to know! You can also leave messages for people who share your name that they’ll see if they search for themselves.

There’s probably a Greek or Latin-derived term for the practise of searching for yourself and/or your name online, but can’t think what it is. Any suggestions?

More on names

When you go to a language class, quite often the teacher will give you a name in the language you’re learning, which might be the equivalent of your name in that language, or a name with a similar sound.

The French and German versions of my name are spelt the same but pronounced differently, while in Spanish my name is written Simón. The Irish equivalent of my name is Sím, while in Scottish Gaelic it’s Sìm. One of my Chinese teachers gave me the Chinese name 安斯韦 (Ān Sīwěi), which I later changed to 革賽門 (Gé Sàimén) – 不確定那一個名字比較華式的,但是我猜第一個是比較好的.有沒有什麼意見?

Most of my friends from Taiwan and China have ‘English’ names. Some of them were given these names by their teachers, others chose their own names. In some cases they went for quite unusual names, including Dual, Van (from Van Gogh), Rainbow, Stone and Pencil.

I suppose if call yourself by a different name when you speak a foreign language, you are, to some extent at least, adopting a different persona. This gives you opportunities to say things and perhaps to do things you wouldn’t normally do when speaking your mother tongue.

Do you behave differently when speaking in foreign tongues?

The Seven Simons

In my class at school I was one of seven Simons, hence the title of this post. The name Simon seems to have been particularly popular in the UK in the sixties and seventies – not sure why – any suggestions? I was born in 1970 and often meet other Simons, quite a few of whom are roughly the same age as me. In fact I know at least five other Simons in Brighton.

There are fashions in names, as there are in many things. Lists of the most popular names are published in newspapers annuallly and prospective parents peruse them with interest. You can see some examples here. In 2005, for example, many parents in the USA gave their sons biblical names, with Jacob, Michael, Joshua, Matthew, Daniel and Joseph were among the top ten.

Opinions about names seem to be based, at least to some extent, on the people you know with those names. If you like and respect the people you know with a particular name, then you may well think of it as a pleasant and respectable name. Although if you meet somebody you don’t like with that name, your opinion might change. When considering names for your offspring, you may be inclined towards names of people you respect and/or admire.

Which names are popular in your country or region at the moment?

I heard that in some countries (Spain and France I think) there are lists of approved names you can choose for your children. If you want to call them something else, the authorities will refuse to register them. Is this true?

What do you do for a living?

Continuing yesterday’s theme of identity, describing what you do for a living can be tricky if you don’t work in a well-known profession. If someone tells you they’re a doctor, teacher, lawyer or police officer, you have a pretty good idea what their job entails. However, if you work in such professions as web development, computer programming, management consultancy, etc, many people don’t really understand what you do.

Many of us define ourselves by our jobs. We say “I am an X” or “I work as a Y”. We also define ourselves in other ways, including by sex, race, age, nationality, language(s) spoken, interests, and/or in terms of our families and our position/roles therein.

In my case, my current job title is “Web Developer”, but few people understand what that entails. There are in fact many different specialisms under the umbrella of web development – my particular specialism is building multilingual websites. So I usually just tell people that I build and translate websites. This often prompts questions like “Do you design the sites as well?”, and “Are you a translator then?” – in answer to which I explain that someone else usually does the design and translation. My role is to turn the designs into websites, and to add the translations to them, which involves a lot of copying and pasting. I think my parents just tell people that I work with computers and/or do something with websites.

The company I work for (Study Group) is even more difficult to describe, so usually I just say that I work for a college.

Sometimes I tell people I’m a circus performer or translator. I could also claim to be a musician or teacher. I do occasionally do translations and act as an interpreter, and used to do these things more often. I did work as a teacher (of English) for a while in Taiwan, and sometimes help friends with various languages. I also teach juggling and other circus skills to anybody who wants to learn them, on an informal basis, and occasionally perform in public. I play, or used to play, the clarinet, saxophone, tin whistles, and a few other instruments. I used to play with wind bands, big bands and an orchestra, and have performed with these groups in parts of England and France.