hey(Photo source: Grammarly) Yesterday, an image on FB (see left) triggered a discussion (and a lesson for me) with a friend of mine. It all started humorously - genre, hey! Not only can the Romanian state make a heap of money towing away illegally-parked cars and making people pay 1000 RON to get them back, but they can ALSO charge a tax for abuse of the Romanian language! They'd be raking it in...

And then we stopped and thought how tragic that latter suggestion was, because, you see, the Romanian language indeed seems to be declining faster than free-skiing down a steep slope.

Decline of language is the decline of the life of the people who use it,” said the British literary scholar, Ian Robinson.

limba_romana(Image source) So, what right do I have to talk about the decline of the Romanian language here? Probably none, I grant you. After all, I don't speak it very well although I can read it and understand it if it's clear and free of complicated colloquialisms. But I can hear. And the music of a language is as vital as the richness of its words.

Well, here's my grain of salt for what it's worth. The Romanian language IS in decline. In Romania, grammar is an important focus of school learning. I have seen first-hand the work children do for Romanian language classes and boy, is it difficult.

How is it then, that it is spoken so badly? How come politicians are permitted to yell obscenities at each other like fishwives in the market place, dragging their language through the mud and heard by millions? How come we hear music on radios and youtube with the most offensive lyrics that would be banned anywhere else? And how come we see errors in the press that have become so flagrant that only a few even notice them these days? How come?

As I said, I am not Romanian and it is not my language. But I love it. I consider it to be just a little bit mine, too, and yearn to master it one day. I'm lucky I guess to have a Romanian entourage who love it too and take pride in their mother-tongue. I learned Romanian from them. I didn't learn insults, curses or expletives and when I hear them, I don't understand them.

mata(Photo source) The friend I was talking to about all this posted me a link. It is a youtube video called Ma-Ta Are Cratima. See also a short article on it HERE. I had to ask for a translation. Not only had I never heard 'ma-ta' but I could only make out a few of the words in the rap song. The title means 'Ma-ta has a hyphen'. So what, you'll be thinking. So what if it has a hyphen?! Who cares? Well, it is symbolic of errors made in written Romanian and that's why it matters. And not only that.

"It means that the correct way to write the expression in Romanian is “Mă-ta” (“your mother”) and not “Măta” in one word", my friend explained. "Mă-ta” is the short from “Maică-ta". 

My friend continued to explain. "The lyrics are rather R-rated, the language is the one used by the youth on the streets i.e. dirty, violent, sex-related etc. Which makes their message pretty strong, because they are addressing those who destroy the Romanian language with a language they understand…"

bacu(Image source - Nicolae Guta, the manele icon - "incult și analfabet" - who got his BAC aged 45)  Clever. The 'oglindă' (mirror) effect. One relates to those who resemble oneself. And perhaps that is why the politicians speak as they do - just one of the many reasons why people vote for them. Their constant bad language actually strikes a familiar chord since the large majority speaks like that these days... 

My friend V sent me the lyrics to the song. I thought perhaps if I saw them instead of straining to understand, they would make more sense. HERE they are. Please take a look before continuing - and prepare to be offended.

Reading, I understood a bit more, but not much. There were so many words and phrases I had never heard (or could recognise even vaguely), never learned...

"what does 'C-o să-mi bag' mean?" I asked him.

"Oh, boy... I can't translate this, I mean I can but I'm embarassed, it's dirty," replied my poor friend probably starting to regret he'd ever been part of this discussion. I went to find out for myself and when I did, it was obvious why he didn't want to translate it - and chapeau to V for being such a gentleman. For non-Romanian readers, use your imagination.

He continued, "Disclaimer: I hate these dirty lyrics, and I can't stand this music style. However, I think the message is a correct one and I guess that the dirty language and style make this song more appealing to those who destroy the Romanian language, therefore it's more effective this way..."

Here's the rest of the conversation:

Me: "Yes, exactly the same approach as politics... except that politicians aren't doing it on purpose to make a point since they really ARE like that (I'm talking local mayors more than ministers though look at Beeeecali as an example. As for Oprescu - such language - not dirty, just 'mai-bai' as I call it)."

V: "You're right. Oh, but if you think that Oprescu is just "măi-băi" and doesn't use dirty language, you're wrong there. I personally heard him talking like in this song, back in 2000 when he was only head of the University Hospital, before he became Bucharest mayor"

Indeed, Oprescu has one of the most aggressive tones I have ever heard a Romanian use, though he isn't alone by a long shot. His face contorts. He almost spits when he speaks. He is an excellent example of Mitocanesc.

The Romanian language is a beautiful one. It is poetic, colourful, has wonderful expressions and sounds simply lovely when spoken properly. It has a music all of its own. Listen to Professor Neagu Djuvara, for example. Don't bother with the words, don't pay attention to content. Just listen for about five minutes to the music of his voice and the flow of the language itself. Now listen to Sorin Oprescu in an interview with Jurnalul National last year. Again, listen just for five minutes and pay attention to the musicality of his voice, the flow and ebb of a language. It's like listening to the difference between Sir John Gielgud and Dickens's Bill Sykes from 'Oliver Twist'. For non-Romanian speakers, the two videos above (maybe not very good choices, but they were the easiest to find and were the two voices that came to mind) are perfect examples of what I wish to describe - the difference between Romanian and Mitocanesc - and the sad decline of the Romanian language. Perhaps 'decline' is the wrong word. It is as if Romanian has split in two, in fact. Romanian is the language and this 'new' sound is perhaps more of a dialect, with lexis and conjugations all of its own...

Since I cannot understand the 'new' language (of people like Oprescu) that I call Mitocanesc, I can only differentiate between it and Romanian by the sound. Măi-băi-măi-băi/mutter/mutter is Mitocanesc. It usually has an aggressive hard sound and is pretty monotonous. Romanian, however, is gentle, lulling, with plenty of 'sh' and 'ă' (for anglophones, it is the phonetic schwa /ə/) and open vowel sounds. It is the difference between a rap song and a lovely, whirling waltz.... And so, whether the words are understandable or not, the difference (to me at least) is ultimately in sound. It is also in the delivery (physical as well as vocal). And it is as plain as plain can be... For those who love their language, it must be deeply distressing.

What's my point, then? I'm not entirely sure I have one, except that cultivated Romanian seems to be less common than Mitocanesc these days.... Every time I go to Bucharest, I am painfully aware of it. And as time passes, I hear it more frequently than Romanian in public places. Facial expressions have become Mitocanesc too, along with general body language. And I find it unbelievable that in only 12 years (the amount of time I have been coming and going from the country of my heart), the change has been so dramatic. Or perhaps I am simply more aware of it? 

No surprise then that indeed, people vote for politicians who speak this way (and they ALL do, in fact, except maybe Crin, but since he's asleep much of the time, he doesn't really say much at all), for mayors who mutter and bumble and don't articulate, and accept journalists who make massive grammatical errors in their articles. No one really seems to care. Asa este. A sign of the times? What a desperately sad one it is...

I have been told often enough, "you're a foreigner. What do you know? Stop being so superior."

Okay, then. And so with that sad thought and a yearning for a bygone era when people were respectful and spoke a language which reflected that respect, I'll close...