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.

8 thoughts on “Moldovan or Romanian

  1. It’s similar to the Bulgarian-Macedonian debate. While politicians battle over national sovereignty, Bulgarians are happily communicating with and dating Macedonians and vice versa with nary an issue.

  2. Way back when Romania was firmly in Ceausescu’s grip and Moldavia was a Soviet Socialist Republic, I would amuse myself (knowing that Moldavian was apparently Romanian or at least very closely related) by attempting to reconstruct the Romanian spelling of place names on the map from the transliterations from the Cyrillic orthography used back then. I was convinced that Kishinev (Кишинёв) had to be Chișinău… At some point (this when the new big thing in computing was “Multimedia!”) I was able to find examples of Moldavian text and, reading it, realised that it seemed to be nothing other than Romanian albeit written in Cyrillic. Of course, as it turns out, my reconstruction of Chișinău was exactly right.

    This recalls a topic that crops up very often with other languages, what some call “linguistic secessionism”. It’s a usually politically motivated attempt to claim that a single variety or set of varieties within a given continuum is a putative “language” distinct from all others. These claims never seem to have any solid linguistic basis behind them in terms of mutual intelligibility (apart from choosing the most distant and dissimilar varieties and caricaturing them as being representative of all other varieties of the language continuum). There’s a discussion going on right now about linguistic secessionism on the Parlar_occitan and la-lenga-occitana mailing lists about this very topic: how in Valencia, there is a vocal tendency that claims that the language spoken in the Païs Valencià is not just a variety of Catalan known locally as “Valencian” but a completely different language, or how in Provence an equally noisy minority claim Provençal is a language distinct from Occitan. Neither case has much if any linguistic justification: Valencian may sound rather different from standard Catalan, but is much closer to the dialects of the western half of Catalonia, and Provençal, while obviously quite different from Gascon dialects in the west (the most “eccentric” of the Occitan dialects), is minimally different from the closer dialects such as Auvergnat or Lengadocian.

    Certainly in the case of Valencian, the differences in vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammatical inflexion in verbs are comparable to the differences between European and American Spanish or even between American varieties, and in many cases, I would say the differences between American varieties are more striking than Valencian-Catalan differences. There is a somewhat greater diversity among Occitan dialects, perhaps just slightly greater than between Spanish dialects, except for the case of Gascon which has a number of phonological and grammatical peculiarities that set it apart from the rest, but still there aren’t enough of them to justify a claim that Provençal is a language from Occitan.

    A lot of the sense that a cluster of varieties is a different “language” comes from the use of a different orthography, which visually sets the written version of the language apart from otherwise similar linguistic varieties. This is what sets Urdu apart from Hindi or “Serbian” apart from “Croatian”, terms that otherwise don’t correspond in any real way to the real dialectological divisions in the Hindustani or Serbo-Croatian dialectal continua; this is what (for aficionados of the old “Mistral” orthography) sets Provençal apart from the rest of Occitan, and this is what set Moldavian (Moldovan to use the post-independence term) apart from Romanian proper. (Romanian was originally written in Cyrillic, the change to Latin script being made in the 1860s; Moldavian was given a Russian-based Cyrillic script in the 1920s, apparently.)

    It may be that the new Cyrillic orthography, like the numerous Latin- and then Cyrillic-based orthographies for the Turkic languages of Central Asia, were attempts at linguistic secessionism engineered from above. (It is fairly clear that the Turko-Cyrillic orthographies were designed as much as possible to make the written languages look more dissimilar than similar to each other.)

    Although Romanian dialectology, according to the Wikipedia article, distinguishes a northern dialect group (Transylvania, the northern coast and Bessarabia/Moldavia/Moldova) from the southern group of the Danube valley, the old Script distinction must have played a far from small role in encouraging a sense that Moldavian/Moldovan was a language distinct from Romanian.

    We see a similar situation here in Canada, where the dialects of the Cree-Montagnais-Naskapi continuum that goes from the Rockies in the west to the Atlantic in the east are not united by a single pan-dialectal orthography, but are fractioned into islands each of which uses a different spelling system inherited from their various contacts with Euro-Canadian educators and missionaries. The differences between dialects are small enough that a pan-dialectal orthography (even a bi-scriptal compromise) would be entirely practical and would benefit the speakers of all dialects both by giving a tangible and visible sense of the underlying unity of all the dialects and by letting them benefit from economies of scale in publishing materials readable by everyone from the Rockies to the Atlantic. But right now, we have at least three entirely different Latin-based orthographies (Plains Cree, Atikamek and Innu/Montagnais) and several variants of James Evans’ Cree syllabics (Western, North Ontario, James Bay, Naskapi), each of which magnifies the differences between dialects by focussing on the superficial phonetics of each dialect rather than the etymological and morphological regularities that would make for an only slightly more abstract orthography (whether in Latin or syllabic script) – at a level similar to that of Spanish with respect to its various dialects – and far less than the abstraction of the English or French orthographies compared to the spoken languages…

  3. Even more so it is like Serbo-Croatian, which are even closer than Bulgaria and Macedonian.

  4. The case of ‘Valencian’ and Catalan is complicated by the fact that Spanish centurist opponents of Catalan language and national aspirations in the Partido Popular especially (but also others) are keen to promote the Valencian ‘language’ as a way of weakening the Catalan langauge. The the devision, at least partly, is used by a colonial power to weaken a weaker language. Catalan including speakers in Valencia and Bellearic Islands and Perpignian numbers about 10 million speakers; Catalan spoken only in Catalanonia, is about 6. For many centralist Spanish, Espaniolistas, it’s much easier to deal and ignore a language community of 6 millian than one of 10 million.

    My reading of Croatian/Serbian is that two equally high status communities wish to identify themselves differently.

    There is a danger therefore if language communities are split by stronger centralised or imperial states and institutions.

  5. Agreed. The renaming of Serbo-Croatian to two languages shocked my when I once saw a toothbrush with some note written on the packaging in many languages: the Serbian and Croatian translation literally contained the same sequence of characters but one was written with a slightly different font so they don’t look completely the same.

  6. I couldn’t help thinking of the old saying that a language is a dialect with an army and a navy. I checked and it appears Moldova has no navy…

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