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The Moldovan language, technically classified as part of the Romanian language, has a complex political history surrounding its name and origin.
Most scholars agree that Moldovan is essentially the same language as Romanian. On December 5, 2013, the Constitutional Court of Moldova ruled that Romanian would take the place of Moldovan as the country's official language. The historical and socio-political reasons for the ongoing debate surrounding the classification of the modern language make Moldovan an interesting point of study.
Classification of the Moldovan Language
Although the Moldovan language carries its own distinct linguistic label, the vast majority of linguists agree that Moldovan is technically the same language as Romanian, a Romance language derived from Latin. Four main dialects are recognized within the Romanian language: Aromanian or Macedo-Romanian, Megleno-Romanian, Istro-Romanian and Daco-Romanian. Both the form of Romanian spoken in Romania and the Moldovan language are classified as a form of Daco-Romanian, also known as Romanian Proper.
Of the remaining Romanian dialects, Aromanian is the most prominent, spoken primarily in Kosovo, Bulgaria, Serbia, Albania and Greece. The other two dialects, Megleno-Romanian and Istro-Romanian, spoken in parts of northern Greece and Croatia’s Istria Peninsula respectively, are nearly extinct.
Early History of the Moldovan Language
The Daco-Romanian language finds its roots in the Latin once spoken in the ancient Roman province of Dacia. There is little information available about the early Dacians and their language. It is known that the Dacians were conquered by Rome around 106 AD, and were subsequently exposed to the Vulgar Latin language used in the Roman Empire at the time.
These Roman colonizers enacted an intense agenda of Romanization, disseminating the Vulgar Latin language and enforcing its use so that it soon became the main tool of communication for business and government purposes in the province of Dacia.
Historical Development of Early Daco-Romanian
In the 3rd century, the Roman Empire withdrew from Dacia, leaving a significant Latin language influence in its wake. Scholars now believe that the ancient Dacian language’s influence on the Romans’ Latin resulted in the unique dialect that became the basis for the modern Daco-Romanian language.
From the 7th to 10th centuries, the area of Dacia came under a heavy Byzantine influence that had a significant effect on the language’s development. Thanks to contact with Byzantine forces, the Dacians were introduced to a wide variety of other languages, including Greek, Hungarian and Slavic tongues.
Moldova Under the USSR: Creating a Unique Moldovan Identity
With the USSR’s annexation of Moldova in the 1940s, Moldova underwent a significant cultural shift that established a unique Moldovan identity free of Romanian influence. Given the fact that the countries share a common border, it’s no surprise that Romania and Moldova have long shared linguistic and cultural traditions. The Soviet government sought to sever these ties, however, and took extreme measures to accomplish this.
Romanian intellectuals living in Moldova were persecuted or deported from the country, while all Romanian literature was officially banned. The Soviet government also made efforts to promote Moldovan folk culture, which consequently flourished throughout this period. Interestingly, the Soviet government took pains to subvert any evidence of Moldovan folk culture’s Romanian origins. For example, the opinca, a Romanian-originated moccasin that had been part of the traditional Moldovan national folk costume, was exchanged for a Russian-style boot.
Written Moldovan Language and Literature
The earliest known example of written Daco-Romanian dates from circa 1521. Surprisingly, the Aromanian dialect (spoken in Kosovo, Bulgaria, Serbia, Albania and Greece) does not have any evidence of the written form until more than 200 years later, dating from 1731. The first specifically literary texts that claimed a Moldovan identity distinct from the Romanian language were religious texts that appeared in the mid-17th century.
Under Soviet rule, the Moldovan language underwent significant changes. In keeping with the USSR’s attempts to establish a distinct Moldovan identity separate from Romanian influence, Soviet scholars insisted that Moldovan was a distinct language from Daco-Romanian. The language was referred to specifically as “Moldovian” in order to distinguish it from Romanian Proper, and it was written using the Cyrillic alphabet also used by the Russian language.Moldovan literature also underwent significant developments during the Soviet era. The Soviet government introduced a new genre of literature, socialist realism, which essentially turned Moldovan literature into a means of Communist propaganda. Moldovan authors Emelian Bucov and Andrei Lupan are two writers noted for their use of Soviet-sanctioned socialist realism during this era.
Conflict Surrounding the Contemporary Moldovan Language
The issue of whether Moldovan is a distinct language from Romanian remains a contentious one. The debate peaked when the script of the Moldovan language was changed to a Latin alphabet toward the end of Soviet rule in 1989. This shift led many to argue that the language, which now shared a script with Romanian Proper, should now simply be called Romanian. The Moldovan constitution refers to the state language as “Moldovan,” while the 1991 Moldovan declaration of independence (from the USSR) refers to the language as “Romanian.”
Although it is now generally acknowledged that Daco-Romanian and Moldovan are essentially identical, the modern Moldovan people and country continue to emphasize the existence of a distinct Moldovan language.
Today, both the terms “Moldovan” and “Romanian” are used to refer to the language of Moldova, which is home to an estimated 1.5 million native Moldovan language speakers. The country’s national anthem, “Limba Noastra” (literally “Our Language”), and its national motto “Limba Noastra-i o Comoara” (“Our language is a treasure”) both emphasize the Moldovan peoples’ desire to maintain their distinct Moldovan linguistic identity.
Moldovan Translation and Interpreting
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Moldovan Quick Facts
Alternate Names & Spellings: Rumanian, Moldavian, Daco-Rumanian
Language Family: Indo-European, Italic, Romance, Eastern
Spoken by Approximately 2,030,000 people
Spoken In: United States