August 31 – National Language Day in Moldova

Posted on August 31, 2016

Today's Moldovan holiday is largely about glottonyms.


Glottonyms” are names for languages. And, over the years, there has been a lot of attention paid in Moldova to the name for their language.

The people of Moldova speak Romanian – specifically, the Moldavian sub-dialect of Romanian that is also spoken in northeastern Romania.

But some people say that the language of Moldova is Moldovan. the language of Moldova called Romanian, Moldavian, or Moldovan?

A brief history of the language of Moldova...

Way back when, pre-1857, the Romanian Cyrillic alphabet was used in the Principality of Moldavia and by other Moldovan speakers. It was replaced by a Latin Romanian alphabet (more like our own alphabet), and when the Soviet Union dominated Moldova, the Cyrillic alphabet that had evolved from the Russian alphabet was used. Since the breakup of the USSR and independence for Moldova, Moldovans are back to the Latin-based Romanian alphabet.

Above, the Romanian Cyrillic alphabet.
Below, the modern Latin-based Romanian alphabet.

That double-step, from X to Y to Z and back to Y, has nothing much to do with the actual language – the sounds associated with each noun or verb. As far as I can tell, all through the alphabet upheavals, the words and grammar stayed pretty much the same. Of course, as with all languages, there were new words being invented and old words falling out of fashion. There were no words for cell phone or fax machine, back in the early 1800s, for example, but now we don't need the specialized words people used for the variety of carriages or coaches that horses used to pull through the streets.

However, the name for the language has also been a bit back-and-forth. When Russia and the Soviet Union ruled Moldova, officials emphasized the differences between Moldovans and Romanians in an effort to build up Moldova as a separate-from-Romania entity, a Soviet Socialist Republic. That's why the officials insisted on calling the language Moldovan, and also why they swept away the Romanian alphabet.

A comparison of the Moldovan flag, above,
and the Romanian flag, below,
shows them to be very similar.

The Declaration of Independence of Moldova referred to the language as Romanian. The 1994 Constitution called it Moldovan. The current constitution, on the other hand, recognized both Moldovan and Romanian as proper and official names for the language.

Apparently, most people in the cities of Moldova call their native tongue Romanian, but most people in rural areas call it Moldovan. In most schools, the language is referred to as Romanian, but in 2007 the president of Moldova asked that school personnel change to using the term Moldovan; however, there was public outcry against his idea, and the change wasn't made.

We may wonder, why the struggle with what to call a language? We haven't had so much struggle with the word English, which is not just spoken in England, but also in Wales, Scotland, Ireland, the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and many other places as well. Most of the countries that joined with England to make up the United Kingdom or that were once colonies of Britain feel no shame in using the name “English” for their language.

I suppose it is all bound up in questions of identity and national pride. I mean, clearly the language is important - there's a holiday for it! And the name for today's holiday, Limba noastră, meaning “our language,” is also the name for the Moldovan national anthem!

Check out this earlier post on Moldova.

Also on this date:

Independence Day in Trinidad and Tobago

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