Monday, June 3, 2013

Language Profile: Romanian

This week we're taking a look at Romanian, which joins Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Italian as the last of the five major Romance languages. Romanian is the official language of Romania as well as Moldova, where it is known as Moldovan.

The Romanian Athenaeum, a concert hall in Bucharest.
The vocabulary of Romanian has been influenced by several languages over the centuries. In the Middle Ages, Slavic languages as well as Greek heavily influenced the Romanian lexicon. In recent times, most of its linguistic influences have come from French, Italian, and English. There are a few regional dialects, but all are mutually intelligible.

As we've found in the past with languages like Filipino or Eastern Punjabi, politics often worms its way into linguistic issues. Due to a political dispute as to whether Moldovans and Romanians are part of the same ethnic group, the language spoken in Moldova has historically been referred to as Moldovan. However, the standard forms of Moldovan and Romanian are practically identical with some minor lexical differences. In general, the term "Moldovan" is only used in political areas, while most speakers in both countries would call their native language "Romanian". 

For several decades, the main difference between the two varieties was the alphabet used to write them. The oldest text in the Romanian language dates back to 1521, and was written using a Cyrillic-based alphabet. Around the 1800s, scholars decided that it would make more sense to use a Latin-based alphabet to write the language since it is a language of Latin origin. In Romania, the Latin-based alphabet with five additional letters, ă, â, î, ș, and ț, became the standard. Cyrillic, on the other hand, continued to be used in Moldova until 1989.

Romanian has gained some international popularity due to its recent use in popular films and songs. If you haven't been living under a rock, we imagine that at some point you've heard Moldovan pop group O-Zone's song Dragostea din tei, popularly known in the English-speaking world as the "Numa Numa song". If you haven't, definitely give it a listen!