Russian calques in the Romanian of Moldova
November 19th, 2010
While the intonation of Romanian in the Republic of Moldova does not greatly differ from across the border in Romania’s province of Moldavia, several decades in the USSR instilled the Moldovan language with a great many Russian calques. I was quite taken aback the first time I heard someone use the exhortation daţi să… ‘let’s’, a translation of Russian давай instead of the standard Romanian hai să. Doing a little research on the topic, I came across an article by Angela Arama that is a strident call to do away with these calques and return to a more traditionally Romanian way of speaking. I’ve added the Russian original of some of these calques to give an idea of how the Romanian mirrors it.
Daţi să vorbim pe româneşte!: On Russian calques
The grand-scale return of the Romanians of the Republic of Moldova to their ancestral identity is far from over. Awareness of the true scale of the Soviet ideological machine’s disastrous impact has grown over these years of national reawakening. However, the repercussions of this massive de-nationalization are still noticeable and a return to normalcy requires not only a sustained effort on the part of citizens, but also the adoption of a clear and realistic language policy by the authorities of the Republic of Moldova.
Why is this aspect of national politics so important in Moldova? To speak Romanian correctly, the state of this language in communication, is not simply a whim of intellectuals, it’s not an apple of discord thrown from the ivory tower of the Moldovan elite. It is a barometer showing the transformation of a society profoundly altered by a Soviet mentality, into one with European structure and aspirations. The argument is as simple as can be.
The ideology of the USSR was to create through the Russian language (and the language itself can’t be blamed!) a new people, a completely content homo sovieticus. The Russian language was placed in the unhappy role of butchering local cultures and histories. of forcing down the throats (băga în capul, as Chiriţei put it) of representatives of Soviet ethnicities grandiose, Leninist, Marxist, imperialist aspirations. Thus the people spoke and thought in Russian. One day, the next, for a decade, for 70 years. Entire generations. Even if, after the restoration of independence in 1989, Moldova’s citizens have made an enormous effort to cast off Russian influence and learn their native literary language (in classes, from dictionaries and from the works of the newly rediscovered great Romanian authors), for a long time Romanian words were strung on a Russian string. People long thought in Russian, simultaneously translating their ideas into Romanian. Coincidence or not, the democratic parties have been supported by those who not only manage to express themselves in Romanian, but also to think in Romanian. Of those who still vote for the Communists because of conviction or convenience (I’m referring solely to those who identify themselves as Moldovans), the vast majority speak an approximation of Romanian, continuing to employ Russian words and to construct their sentences on a Russian model.
Even if their active vocabulary gradually grows, literal translation from Russian still creates a lot of headaches. Calques based on Russian continue to be a major handicap in expressing ourselves in Romanian. For example, on billboards and in television commercials there persists slogans along the lines of Dacă ferestre, atunci – Veco. The words might be Romanian, but the sense of it is hard to grasp, because it is a word-for-word translation from Russian. The winter holidays will probably bring us an avalanche of advertisements which greet us with Cu Anul Nou! [С новым годом] instead of wishing us La mulţi ani!, while the weather forecast informs us that things have gotten cooler by saying 2 grade căldură [Два градуса тепла]. Unfortunately, the majority of advertising slogans are created in Russian first, then (and not always, because the law does not require advertising in the state language) they are translated into Romanian. And then we could cite Haine pentru copii din piele on one street corner, Autospălătorie on another and between them an advertisement to a cadona [дарить] some cosmetics for your significant other. For example, tonac (for fond de ten, foundation for makeup) or umbre (for fard de pleoape, mascara).
Generally, thanks to educational programmes and politicians’ (relatively successful) change of approach to the languages spoken in the Republic of Moldova, there has been quite a bit of progress in speaking Romanian correctly. One of the major problems that remain is a common source of information: television.
The impact of television on consumers is crucial compared to other media formats. Though 7% of the country’s population read newspapers, everyone watches television. Moldova’s media regrettably remains dominated by Russian-language channels. The channels (which belong to us all!) were initially redistributed without concern for the interest of the majority of the population or, rather, to maintain Moscow’s influence over it. Media in Moldova is still a zone of Russian interference. Everyone watches films, entertainment programmes, news, etc. in Russian. This is why we are casting off Russian calques so slowly. Evening after evening, entire families watch their favourite shows, and during the day they share their experiences using ‘compromised’ expressions: Aseară am văzut pe televizor seria asta, dar n-am dovedit de la început, Ei, acolo a mers vorba despre război, Eu undeva de la mijloc am aprins televizorul, Daţi să ne suim în rutieră şi am să ma stărui să vă povestesc ce-a fost.
Obviously, after the enormous pressure methodically placed on regions annexed by the USSR (for years and years) to deny their roots, it’s impossible to solve everything overnight. But there is clearly an urgent need to offer as many sources as possible, without militarily instituting the study of Romanian. This can be done through the medium of television.
That’s why media reforms must go on, especially based on the stipulations of article 11 of the Media Law of the Republic of Moldova. CCA (Consiliul Coordonator al Audiovizualului) must ensure that, starting from 1 January 2010, at least 70% of channels offer Romanian-language programmes, while locally made news and analysis programmes for radio and television must be 80% in Romanian. There’s a reason that the Media Law stipulates that artistic or documentary films shall be shown with dubbing or subtitles, preserving the original soundtrack, while films for children shall be dubbed or voice-acted in the state language. When films are dubbed in Russian (a common practice in Moldova), no one reads the Romanian subtitles any more.
Reforms in language policy in the media must lead to the gradual yet complete elimination of simply re-broadcasting the Russian-language channels. The current state of Article 11 was achieved through bloody negotiations with the former Communist majority in parliament, who didn’t accept extending Romanian-language broadcasting of any kind, not only news and analysis programmes. But I think it’s not too late to take ‘the macaroni from our ears’ and continue the reform.
It’s sad that just as this writer is passionate about liberating his language from Russian calques, here in Cluj I encounter advertising slogans translated out of English daily, of which I’m certain the tremendously awkward Burger: berea oficială a statului de vorbă is an example.