Language As An Element Of The Romanian Soul

Among the elements making up the soulful repository of the Romanian people there is none to include more and to bespeak truer than its very language.In connection with this Romanian idiom – which, with due additions, proved apt to voice any idea, no matter how lofty, and any sentiment, no matter how refined, being, from very many vantages, particularly that of variety and harmony, of an entirely subtle essence, above those languages spoken by those great peoples in central and western Europe over which many luminaries exercised influence – in time ideas cropped up and proposals were put forward that to this day have been dividing spirits since they require an insight similar to that of commonsensical people rather than of theorists and polemists.Once this language was open to whatever rush of foreign words.Yet the doors of this onrush stood open only to the little cell where writers and the solemn utters of the Church and of the Court stood. The others did not write but they did observe, and along this line of staunch preservation we can see how the ensuing generations conceived of the great changes, the mixtures galore, the reckless fluxes, superficial and barely touching the surface, without having a true influence on the way the many speak.Cutting them to face value, we can say these sinuous amalgamations went through two stages. The first, older one is that in which you do not start from "an idea" but from "an inadequacy", and "an inability". It is not the writers who willingly introduced so many Slavonian words that today seem to us so difficult to read, so dislikable, and which the Transylvanian School signaled with so much disdain in the early 19th century. Or which, after 1820, were mocked at with considerable vernacular humor by the Wallachian poet Paris Mumuleanu. This Slavonian trend must be blamed on the translators who did not understand the words very well in the manuscripts. Later, there came others who understood even less the words in the new originals resorted to: the Greek ones. They often reproduce words as such, and I even happened to find the very Greek article mixed with the word, making thus a strange new concoction. These loans were preserved in books by inability, and we might think that at a certain moment the Romanian people actually used those words. Looking for originality and picturesqueness we still use them to day but then they never were part of the organic texture of the Romanian language.Let it be clear that no peasant, no merchant, no boyar and no prince ever spoke to his peers in this alien parlance, but a lasting and closely-knit texture of a word treasure has been preserved from century to century, likely to contain all that men's minds think and men's hearts desire.Last century there emerged theorists who toiled on account that ideas which until then had not penetrated this country should be given utterance and therefore clad in a special garb. Mistakes were then perpetrated which make part of our literature seem a caricature so that in order to be able to read and enjoy translations and even original works by Eliad we have to proceed to a downright work of translation as I did once in a new edition of the very interesting travel notes by the Transylvanian Ioan Codru Drăguşanu dated 1840. Mumuleanu foresaw the transformation in his 1825 Characters where he wrote with sagacity the following: "Let us take from the Greeks or the Latins only those words that we lack and those Slavonian words and phrases that sound sweet to the ear and are common knowledge among the people, while those that are only on the tongues of the scholars and are so harsh that they twist ours tongues and break our teeth we should leave out."A better piece of advice concerning what ought to have been done and was not achieved then by all with the same good measure cannot be found. And then what could be done today when, with the best of intentions, the formula was relegated of cleansing the language of modern foreign words for which there is no need because they overlap our own. On the other hand the philological authorities came up with solutions, we have to aver, that are below the level common sense can raise to in judging this matter.Eliad, – who, in such a Romanian spirit, started dealing with the nearly peasant life in the slums of Târgovişte where he was born, afterwards to live in a world that was not different socially from than of Anton Pann (who although a foreigner, as far as his poetic production is concerned, never allowed himself to be conquered by the desire to write in a "more elevated" Romanian language) – believes for some time now in a return to a supposed past of ours, as it is with the Italians, of the Romanian language that could thus find all that it needs, not only be capable of expressing any product of the mind, but also getting elevated to a superior level. I have already shown the results of his poetical production as regards this forced and impossible Italianization of a language that for centuries had its own sense and purpose from which nobody ought to have removed it.This Italianized Wallachian writer, who, towards the end of his life resumed the usage of the idiom known by everyone, had before him the powerful example of the Transylvanians who thus had tried to indicate our descent from the Romans and only the Romans and the faith they had in this origin; which was only another distortion, just as harmful for the moment and little enduring into the future, of a language torn away from the old customs.The Latin words as such, consequently unsuited even to our way of uttering words, penetrated Romanian, discarding everything that sounded like a Slavonian loan, an idiom justly banished if we think of the scholars' excesses, but not when it came to the stuff we had acquired from this language over the centuries, blending it deeply and at times almost to perfection, in accordance with the aspirations after harmony and poise of our language, thus adjusting and turning all this into an organic whole.Around 1870 thanks to a series of writers in no way connected to any theoretical creed, who instead derived their knowledge from their instinct of true poets, these fallacies were abandoned.As I said the people who could not read or read books made for them which observed the speech they used, had not been subject to any of these changes that is they had never fallen into the Slav, Greek, Latin or Italian traps.The less so were they influenced by those French trends emanating from salons which they did not even enter, and which around 1870 completely killed any form of poetic manifestation in Bucharest.The people, the grass roots, not the multitude of the nation, continued to remain the guide that could set straight any twisted misconception.What brought back on the carpet the accuracy and purity of the language – and I should add here as far as the vocabulary is concerned because otherwise it was not stressed sufficiently how many of the endless syntactic means we had lost in order to receive, according to the old Latin norm, the French grammar of the 17th century, – was the replacement, to a considerable extent, of books by newspapers.Newspapers have come to be read if not by everybody at least by many of the elements of the "deep" classes. Talking like a journal has become for many a rule in matters of choice of words, just like the order proper in the sentence. The razzmatazz against which Mr. Pisani vituperated with such an acute spirit and commonsense, incurring mocking critics which are, unhappily, the canker of our intellectual life, is due above all to the influence of that sort of rash writing by people who read foreign newspapers, French only. Those words cannot be replaced – we say it together with Paris Mumuleanu of yore – which have become "household" and are "music to the ear", and also those that allow us to express nuances that we cannot exclude from our thinking. But the battle that is still going on prompts us to one thing: to ratiocination whenever it comes to pitching old words against new ones, since the former are entitled to primacy.For otherwise we either break the links with the grass roots who no longer understand us or make them prove untrue to their traditions and break with what the forerunners had managed to accomplish.

by Nicolae Iorga (1871-1940)