Csíkszereda Musings

My life in and around Csíkszereda, also known as Miercurea Ciuc.

Archive for the ‘romanian’ Category

Language by committee

Posted by Andy Hockley on 9 November, 2006

Romania, in common with many European countries, has some form of national academy which decides on how the Romanian language should develop. Spellings get changed, new words get certified as being acceptable for use, and I don’t know what else. I am told for example that the word “sunt” which is the first person singular and third person plural conjugation of the verb “to be” (As in “Eu sunt un blogger”) used to be spelled sînt. Now that sounds like a seriously big change. Just imagine if one day the word “am” changed to “om” or something. It’d throw everyone into confusion.

And in fact that confusion happens here, as I learned a couple of days ago. Now she is going to school, Bogi is learning Romanian, and comes home each day with lots of phrases to practice (which to her credit she does, walking round the house commenting on what she is doing at all moments in Romanian. It’s cool. She’ll be trilingual in about a year at this rate). So, anyway, a couple of days ago she comes home with the words she has to practice, one of which is the word for “scissors”. Her mother instantly corrects her pronunciation. Bogi, indignantly, tells her that this is the way she learned it today. A glance at her note book tells Erika that not only does she have the incorrect pronunciation but also the incorrect spelling. Patiently she sits down to help her with the correct pronunciation (the teachers, too, speak Romanian as a second language, and so are not necessarily to be trusted as to being entirely correct). However, before she does that, she just looks it up in a dictionary to be on the safe side. And, lo and behold, scissors is one of those words that has had its spelling (and hence pronunciation) changed by the Romanian Academy. I’ve just looked it up, myself, and can tell you that “foarfece” is the currently known spelling. The old one is something like foarfaca (though I’m doing that from roughly transcribing a version I’ve only heard, so it could be way off).

We learned the next day while waiting at the school gates for her to come out, that this scene repeated across the town as angry second language Romanian speaking parents worried about their childrens’ educations, reacted to their little ones coming home with patently wrong information, with tirades of extracurricular support, loudly voiced concern about the quality of the education their offspring were receiving, and then shamefaced climbdowns. It also spread beyond the parents, with Erika’s entire office agog at the news that the word for scissors had changed without them knowing.

I’m guessing that this kind of thing must go on all the time – native speakers presumably keep track of these changes and, while the transition must be difficult, at least are aware that things have moved on, but non-native speakers learn the language one way and unless they hear otherwise will assume it to have remained roughly as it was. Which brings me to the question – why is it necessary to have these bodies of people in dusty rooms pronouncing on what the language is, and what changes are necessary? Romanian has one, Hungarian (I think) has one, French definitely has one, German (I also think) has one. English doesn’t. Yet despite that dreadfully anarchic fact the language seems to survive and thrive. Why does there need to be this rigorous control of language in certain places rather than the laissez faire approach favoured by English? (Indeed, if there were such a thing as an English Academy they would probably not have allowed me to use the phrase “laissez faire” in that last sentence.) I really don’t get this need for a committee to ascertain what words or spellings or grammatical constructions people should be using. Could anyone help me understand?

Posted in language, romanian | 7 Comments »

Language by committee

Posted by Andy Hockley on 9 November, 2006

Romania, in common with many European countries, has some form of national academy which decides on how the Romanian language should develop. Spellings get changed, new words get certified as being acceptable for use, and I don’t know what else. I am told for example that the word “sunt” which is the first person singular and third person plural conjugation of the verb “to be” (As in “Eu sunt un blogger”) used to be spelled sînt. Now that sounds like a seriously big change. Just imagine if one day the word “am” changed to “om” or something. It’d throw everyone into confusion.

And in fact that confusion happens here, as I learned a couple of days ago. Now she is going to school, Bogi is learning Romanian, and comes home each day with lots of phrases to practice (which to her credit she does, walking round the house commenting on what she is doing at all moments in Romanian. It’s cool. She’ll be trilingual in about a year at this rate). So, anyway, a couple of days ago she comes home with the words she has to practice, one of which is the word for “scissors”. Her mother instantly corrects her pronunciation. Bogi, indignantly, tells her that this is the way she learned it today. A glance at her note book tells Erika that not only does she have the incorrect pronunciation but also the incorrect spelling. Patiently she sits down to help her with the correct pronunciation (the teachers, too, speak Romanian as a second language, and so are not necessarily to be trusted as to being entirely correct). However, before she does that, she just looks it up in a dictionary to be on the safe side. And, lo and behold, scissors is one of those words that has had its spelling (and hence pronunciation) changed by the Romanian Academy. I’ve just looked it up, myself, and can tell you that “foarfece” is the currently known spelling. The old one is something like foarfaca (though I’m doing that from roughly transcribing a version I’ve only heard, so it could be way off).

We learned the next day while waiting at the school gates for her to come out, that this scene repeated across the town as angry second language Romanian speaking parents worried about their childrens’ educations, reacted to their little ones coming home with patently wrong information, with tirades of extracurricular support, loudly voiced concern about the quality of the education their offspring were receiving, and then shamefaced climbdowns. It also spread beyond the parents, with Erika’s entire office agog at the news that the word for scissors had changed without them knowing.

I’m guessing that this kind of thing must go on all the time – native speakers presumably keep track of these changes and, while the transition must be difficult, at least are aware that things have moved on, but non-native speakers learn the language one way and unless they hear otherwise will assume it to have remained roughly as it was. Which brings me to the question – why is it necessary to have these bodies of people in dusty rooms pronouncing on what the language is, and what changes are necessary? Romanian has one, Hungarian (I think) has one, French definitely has one, German (I also think) has one. English doesn’t. Yet despite that dreadfully anarchic fact the language seems to survive and thrive. Why does there need to be this rigorous control of language in certain places rather than the laissez faire approach favoured by English? (Indeed, if there were such a thing as an English Academy they would probably not have allowed me to use the phrase “laissez faire” in that last sentence.) I really don’t get this need for a committee to ascertain what words or spellings or grammatical constructions people should be using. Could anyone help me understand?

Posted in language, romanian | 7 Comments »

Irredentist

Posted by Andy Hockley on 4 October, 2006

Today’s word of the day is Irredentist. It has absolutely nothing to do with the person who fixes your teeth.

ir•re•den•tist
n.
One who advocates the recovery of territory culturally or historically related to one’s nation but now subject to a foreign government.
________________________________________
[Italian irredentista, from (Italia) irredenta, unredeemed (Italy), Italian-speaking areas subject to other countries; see irredenta.]
________________________________________
ir re•den tism n.
ir re•den tist adj.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2003

As you can see it’s quite posh, and dead clever, and being able to use it (and use it correctly) bestows great kudos on the user. It has the added cachet of being derived from an Italian political movement, which obviously means the word has a certain style and élan.

Now the reason it has come to my attention is that I’ve recently found myself marveling open-mouthed at the behind-the-scenes pages of Wikipedia. When you look at something on Wikipedia, you see something akin to an encyclopedia entry, explaining and outlining a concept, person, place, or what have you. We all know that it’s edited by users and therefore you have to be a little bit careful with the information contained therein, but in general I reckon it’s a pretty good resource. However, when you look at an entry there, you may not have noticed the little tabs at the top of the page through which you can look at the history of a page and the discussion surrounding what’s gone into the entry. Here, for example, is the entry for Harghita County. Clicking on the tab marked “Discussion” will lead you into a strange nether world of pedantry, nerdiness and (in the case of all Wiki articles on places in the Hungarian speaking part of Romania) nationalism.

This is where I have encountered the words “irredentist” and “irredentism”. They are usually used as the last resort in an argument on a Wiki page, when nothing else makes sense, the loser will shriek something like “Well, I don’t care. It’s irredentism”. An example of something that is “irredentism” in this way is the alternate (ie Hungarian) spelling of the name Harghita as Hargita. Now the argument seems to go like this (and this is repeated all over Wikipedia articles for this region):
A: The county is Harghita. That’s the spelling recognized by the Romanian government.
B: Yes, it is, but the majority of the people living in the county spell it Hargita (since they are Hungarian)
A: Ah, but it’s a Romanian county – and it wasn’t even invented as a county until the 1960s so it has never existed as a Hungarian county
B: yes, but it has a Hungarian spelling which the population use because the county is named after a mountain (which has been there since before the 1960s)
A: But what does it add to the article to give it two different spellings? How is this useful?
B: Well, it’s supposed to be an encyclopedia right? Are we rationing knowledge/information now?
A: Well, I don’t care, as far as I’m concerned it’s irredentist.

Thus, in the hope of A, bringing the argument screeching to a halt and allowing him to walk away the victor for using a big word and stating opinion as fact. Obviously utter bollocks.

People like A, and I’m mentioning no names, but you can find some if you spend long enough looking through these dark-side-of-the-wikipedia pages, would have you believe that me calling my blog Csikszereda Musings is in fact irredentist. i.e. That I am concerned with returning Transylvania to Hungarian control, and that my decision to refer to the town in which I live as Csikszereda is proof of that. So, lest I be accused of irredentism, I would like to make it plain that I have no desire for Transylvania to be ruled from Budapest, and furthermore, know nobody who does (I suspect there are a few people in Hungary who advocate for it, but I’ve met no-one in Transylvania that way inclined). I just call this town Csikszereda because that’s what everyone else calls it here, because that’s what it’s called in their language. We all recognize that the Romanian name is Miercurea Ciuc, of course (a name which is directly derived from the Hungarian name), but frankly both names are equally valid. I, in short, am no form of dentist – either irre- or otherwise.

Now, this use of a word as an attempt to silence argument is not new. Those of us on the left are often rightly accused of throwing out the word “fascist” at anything we disagree with. Which is obviously just as bollocks as the use of irredentist for similar purposes. (Intriguingly, fascism is another word which has its origins in an Italian political movement. What is with Italy and these words?). The right has recently cottoned on to this “soundbite argument” style and has started throwing around the word “Islamofascist” in an attempt to lump wars on Arabs and other Muslims together with the war on Nazi Germany. It’s all bollocks.

Anyway, to sum up, arguing that Transylvania ought to be a part of Hungary = irredentist. Calling Miercurea Ciuc Csikszereda = not irredentist.

(I ought to point out that most of the people who edit and then discuss edits on Wikipedia seem to be perfectly normal reasonable individuals (if a tad obsessive and pedantic), and that indeed there is a refreshing amount of agreement between most Hungarian and Romanian editors. It’s just one or two mad ones. And if you thought the “discussion” pages were seriously manic, then try out the Mediation cabal pages. Blimey.)

Posted in hungarian, intercultural communication, nationalism, romanian | 4 Comments »

Irredentist

Posted by Andy Hockley on 4 October, 2006

Today’s word of the day is Irredentist. It has absolutely nothing to do with the person who fixes your teeth.

ir•re•den•tist
n.
One who advocates the recovery of territory culturally or historically related to one’s nation but now subject to a foreign government.
________________________________________
[Italian irredentista, from (Italia) irredenta, unredeemed (Italy), Italian-speaking areas subject to other countries; see irredenta.]
________________________________________
ir re•den tism n.
ir re•den tist adj.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2003

As you can see it’s quite posh, and dead clever, and being able to use it (and use it correctly) bestows great kudos on the user. It has the added cachet of being derived from an Italian political movement, which obviously means the word has a certain style and élan.

Now the reason it has come to my attention is that I’ve recently found myself marveling open-mouthed at the behind-the-scenes pages of Wikipedia. When you look at something on Wikipedia, you see something akin to an encyclopedia entry, explaining and outlining a concept, person, place, or what have you. We all know that it’s edited by users and therefore you have to be a little bit careful with the information contained therein, but in general I reckon it’s a pretty good resource. However, when you look at an entry there, you may not have noticed the little tabs at the top of the page through which you can look at the history of a page and the discussion surrounding what’s gone into the entry. Here, for example, is the entry for Harghita County. Clicking on the tab marked “Discussion” will lead you into a strange nether world of pedantry, nerdiness and (in the case of all Wiki articles on places in the Hungarian speaking part of Romania) nationalism.

This is where I have encountered the words “irredentist” and “irredentism”. They are usually used as the last resort in an argument on a Wiki page, when nothing else makes sense, the loser will shriek something like “Well, I don’t care. It’s irredentism”. An example of something that is “irredentism” in this way is the alternate (ie Hungarian) spelling of the name Harghita as Hargita. Now the argument seems to go like this (and this is repeated all over Wikipedia articles for this region):
A: The county is Harghita. That’s the spelling recognized by the Romanian government.
B: Yes, it is, but the majority of the people living in the county spell it Hargita (since they are Hungarian)
A: Ah, but it’s a Romanian county – and it wasn’t even invented as a county until the 1960s so it has never existed as a Hungarian county
B: yes, but it has a Hungarian spelling which the population use because the county is named after a mountain (which has been there since before the 1960s)
A: But what does it add to the article to give it two different spellings? How is this useful?
B: Well, it’s supposed to be an encyclopedia right? Are we rationing knowledge/information now?
A: Well, I don’t care, as far as I’m concerned it’s irredentist.

Thus, in the hope of A, bringing the argument screeching to a halt and allowing him to walk away the victor for using a big word and stating opinion as fact. Obviously utter bollocks.

People like A, and I’m mentioning no names, but you can find some if you spend long enough looking through these dark-side-of-the-wikipedia pages, would have you believe that me calling my blog Csikszereda Musings is in fact irredentist. i.e. That I am concerned with returning Transylvania to Hungarian control, and that my decision to refer to the town in which I live as Csikszereda is proof of that. So, lest I be accused of irredentism, I would like to make it plain that I have no desire for Transylvania to be ruled from Budapest, and furthermore, know nobody who does (I suspect there are a few people in Hungary who advocate for it, but I’ve met no-one in Transylvania that way inclined). I just call this town Csikszereda because that’s what everyone else calls it here, because that’s what it’s called in their language. We all recognize that the Romanian name is Miercurea Ciuc, of course (a name which is directly derived from the Hungarian name), but frankly both names are equally valid. I, in short, am no form of dentist – either irre- or otherwise.

Now, this use of a word as an attempt to silence argument is not new. Those of us on the left are often rightly accused of throwing out the word “fascist” at anything we disagree with. Which is obviously just as bollocks as the use of irredentist for similar purposes. (Intriguingly, fascism is another word which has its origins in an Italian political movement. What is with Italy and these words?). The right has recently cottoned on to this “soundbite argument” style and has started throwing around the word “Islamofascist” in an attempt to lump wars on Arabs and other Muslims together with the war on Nazi Germany. It’s all bollocks.

Anyway, to sum up, arguing that Transylvania ought to be a part of Hungary = irredentist. Calling Miercurea Ciuc Csikszereda = not irredentist.

(I ought to point out that most of the people who edit and then discuss edits on Wikipedia seem to be perfectly normal reasonable individuals (if a tad obsessive and pedantic), and that indeed there is a refreshing amount of agreement between most Hungarian and Romanian editors. It’s just one or two mad ones. And if you thought the “discussion” pages were seriously manic, then try out the Mediation cabal pages. Blimey.)

Posted in hungarian, intercultural communication, nationalism, romanian | 4 Comments »

Sütő András

Posted by Andy Hockley on 2 October, 2006

Sütő András has died. He was, until last night, one of the most famous living Transylvanian Hungarians. To Hungarians he is a great playwright and novelist, who, through his work, highlighted the cause and charateristics of ethnic Hungarians living outside Hungary. To the outside world he is probably most remembered for being blinded in one eye by the Romanian nationalist peasant mob that was whipped up and bussed in to Targu Mures in 1990 to attack a Hungarian student demo. The mob attacked the offices of the Hungarian politcal association and attempted to kill Sütő – obviously they failed, but did instead manage to poke out one of his eyes. He always remained in Targu Mures/Marosvasarhely, rather than moving to Hungary.

Short biography.

And here is an obituary (the only English language one I can find at the moment using Google News)

Posted in famous transylvanians, hungarian, romanian | Leave a Comment »

Sütő András

Posted by Andy Hockley on 2 October, 2006

Sütő András has died. He was, until last night, one of the most famous living Transylvanian Hungarians. To Hungarians he is a great playwright and novelist, who, through his work, highlighted the cause and charateristics of ethnic Hungarians living outside Hungary. To the outside world he is probably most remembered for being blinded in one eye by the Romanian nationalist peasant mob that was whipped up and bussed in to Targu Mures in 1990 to attack a Hungarian student demo. The mob attacked the offices of the Hungarian politcal association and attempted to kill Sütő – obviously they failed, but did instead manage to poke out one of his eyes. He always remained in Targu Mures/Marosvasarhely, rather than moving to Hungary.

Short biography.

And here is an obituary (the only English language one I can find at the moment using Google News)

Posted in famous transylvanians, hungarian, romanian | Leave a Comment »

Iskola (2)

Posted by Andy Hockley on 19 September, 2006

The mayor of Csikszereda, one Raduly Robert, is basically a cretin. His name is more or less a joke in the town, and I’ve yet to meet anyone with a kind word to say about his term of office (I think he’s been in about 2 years now). When the Hungarian consulate was opened here he managed to get in to a fight on the street with someone at the ceremony, and his ability to do things like fix the shamefully decrepit roads and stuff (you know, the kind of thing a mayor ought to be doing) is apparently non-existent. (They are now being fixed, by which I infer he’s up for reelection next year).

However last Friday he surpassed himself – we (the town) were paid a visit by the Minister of Education himself (since it was the first day of school and the country was gripped by a teachers strike, one might be tempted to ask what the hell he was doing here of all places, but anyway..) His plan was to make a speech at the Octavian Goga High School (that’s the Romanian one – see previous post), but because everyone there was on strike he instead made his speech at a Romanian elementary school instead (not sure of the name). While there he was asked by the teachers if they could introduce an optional Hungarian language course onto the curriculum as they felt it was important for their students to be able to speak (or at least given the chance to learn) the majority language of the town and area. Very cool. Anyway, subsequently he went to the Marton Aron High School (the most well known of the Hungarian High Schools) to speak there too. There he was met by our esteemed mayor who decided that he would speak to the guest in Hungarian and Hungarian only since this was a Hungarian school (although of course he does actually speak Romanian too, and the Minister doesn’t speak Hungarian – there being no real reason why he should). So of course an interpretor had to be drafted in to translate for the minister.

I have no idea why. He probably feels he was striking a blow for Hungarian nationalism, while everyone I’ve spoken to is just dead embarrassed by the whole thing. I imagine there are some people who think he was right, but I’ve not met any of them. Sadly, the way politics in this town works, if he is the official UDMR candidate for the mayorship next time round he’ll probably get elected again, even though everyone thinks he’s a git. It’s up to the UDMR to boot him out I reckon.

In more political news, Hungary is racked by riots (if Euronews is to be believed) since the Prime Minister admitted that he lied to get elected (imagine that! a politician lying! Blimey). However, the story on Euronews (which was my source), despite being the lead today, was very uninformative, and instead if anyone’s interested, I’d definitely recommend Pauls’ post here – it certainly put it all in a different light for me.

Posted in csikszereda, hungarian nationalism, news, romanian | 1 Comment »

Iskola (2)

Posted by Andy Hockley on 19 September, 2006

The mayor of Csikszereda, one Raduly Robert, is basically a cretin. His name is more or less a joke in the town, and I’ve yet to meet anyone with a kind word to say about his term of office (I think he’s been in about 2 years now). When the Hungarian consulate was opened here he managed to get in to a fight on the street with someone at the ceremony, and his ability to do things like fix the shamefully decrepit roads and stuff (you know, the kind of thing a mayor ought to be doing) is apparently non-existent. (They are now being fixed, by which I infer he’s up for reelection next year).

However last Friday he surpassed himself – we (the town) were paid a visit by the Minister of Education himself (since it was the first day of school and the country was gripped by a teachers strike, one might be tempted to ask what the hell he was doing here of all places, but anyway..) His plan was to make a speech at the Octavian Goga High School (that’s the Romanian one – see previous post), but because everyone there was on strike he instead made his speech at a Romanian elementary school instead (not sure of the name). While there he was asked by the teachers if they could introduce an optional Hungarian language course onto the curriculum as they felt it was important for their students to be able to speak (or at least given the chance to learn) the majority language of the town and area. Very cool. Anyway, subsequently he went to the Marton Aron High School (the most well known of the Hungarian High Schools) to speak there too. There he was met by our esteemed mayor who decided that he would speak to the guest in Hungarian and Hungarian only since this was a Hungarian school (although of course he does actually speak Romanian too, and the Minister doesn’t speak Hungarian – there being no real reason why he should). So of course an interpretor had to be drafted in to translate for the minister.

I have no idea why. He probably feels he was striking a blow for Hungarian nationalism, while everyone I’ve spoken to is just dead embarrassed by the whole thing. I imagine there are some people who think he was right, but I’ve not met any of them. Sadly, the way politics in this town works, if he is the official UDMR candidate for the mayorship next time round he’ll probably get elected again, even though everyone thinks he’s a git. It’s up to the UDMR to boot him out I reckon.

In more political news, Hungary is racked by riots (if Euronews is to be believed) since the Prime Minister admitted that he lied to get elected (imagine that! a politician lying! Blimey). However, the story on Euronews (which was my source), despite being the lead today, was very uninformative, and instead if anyone’s interested, I’d definitely recommend Pauls’ post here – it certainly put it all in a different light for me.

Posted in csikszereda, hungarian nationalism, news, romanian | 1 Comment »

More on anti-Romanian bigotry

Posted by Andy Hockley on 24 August, 2006

Just as an addendum to yesterday’s news, after I wrote it I went out and saw the headline on the Daily Express which was something along the lines of “Romanian Scum Plan Invasion”. They weren’t the exact words, but given the readership of the Express and the people who work for it, it’s clear that this was the meaning. (I think it actually said “Romanians Set to Flood Britain”). So now Romanians are the new bete noire of Europe – first Spain and now the UK. I don’t doubt that the right wing press in Austria and Germany and elsewhere is saying the same shit too.

I should point out to Romanian readers of this blog that the Express is a noted extreme right wing rag read by (1) sad deluded elderly people who hanker after a day when food was rationed, German bombs were raining down on our cities, and there were no black people in the UK; (2) rural in-breds who have never actually been beyond a 5-mile radius from home and who have never even seen an immigrant in the flesh; or (3) members of the British National Party (our answer to Vadim Tudor’s Party of the Great Romanian Nightmare). It shouldn’t be assumed, though, that it is on the margins of British society, as I imagine it (and it’s fellow bigoted muckspreader the Daily Mail) probably speaks to about 25% of the population. So while it doesn’t mean that the nation has suddenly turned into a hardline fascist state full of anti-Romanian hatred, neither does it mean that the depth of bigotry among the small minded few should be underestimated.

(Some other choice headlines are quoted in this Independent article)

Posted in EU, romanian, xenophobia | 4 Comments »

More on anti-Romanian bigotry

Posted by Andy Hockley on 24 August, 2006

Just as an addendum to yesterday’s news, after I wrote it I went out and saw the headline on the Daily Express which was something along the lines of “Romanian Scum Plan Invasion”. They weren’t the exact words, but given the readership of the Express and the people who work for it, it’s clear that this was the meaning. (I think it actually said “Romanians Set to Flood Britain”). So now Romanians are the new bete noire of Europe – first Spain and now the UK. I don’t doubt that the right wing press in Austria and Germany and elsewhere is saying the same shit too.

I should point out to Romanian readers of this blog that the Express is a noted extreme right wing rag read by (1) sad deluded elderly people who hanker after a day when food was rationed, German bombs were raining down on our cities, and there were no black people in the UK; (2) rural in-breds who have never actually been beyond a 5-mile radius from home and who have never even seen an immigrant in the flesh; or (3) members of the British National Party (our answer to Vadim Tudor’s Party of the Great Romanian Nightmare). It shouldn’t be assumed, though, that it is on the margins of British society, as I imagine it (and it’s fellow bigoted muckspreader the Daily Mail) probably speaks to about 25% of the population. So while it doesn’t mean that the nation has suddenly turned into a hardline fascist state full of anti-Romanian hatred, neither does it mean that the depth of bigotry among the small minded few should be underestimated.

(Some other choice headlines are quoted in this Independent article)

Posted in EU, romanian, xenophobia | 4 Comments »