This seems to be Nicholas Whyte day at LH; not only did he provide the wonderful McDonald’s language quiz, he had earlier forwarded me an article (which I just read — I’ve been slowly catching up with my inbox) on the language brawl in Moldavia, where some people want to speak Romanian and others Moldavian, despite the fact that they’re the same language. The original TOL article (by Vitalie Dogaru) is not accessible unless you subscribe, but happily it’s been reproduced at LINGUIST-LIST. Here’s the gist of it:
The reason for this proliferation of ambiguities is highlighted in the conflict that produced the title Our Language Day. After 1989, when Moldova was still part of the Soviet Union, it was called Our Romanian Language Day to celebrate the decision, on 31 August 1989, to proclaim Romanian Moldova’s official language. Then, in 1994, three years after gaining independence, the country’s second freely elected parliament stated that the state language was “Moldovan.” The word “Romanian” was subsequently removed from the name of the holiday.
Linguists across the world are, though, in agreement: “Moldovan” is Romanian. Since the linguistic battle over the nature of Moldovan Romanian began in 1994, numerous international conferences, symposia, and workshops have demonstrated that, linguistically, there is no distinctly Moldovan language. There are no longer conferences on the issue. For academics, the issue has been resolved.
But not so for the Moldovan government and many Moldovans. For them, naming the language of the country’s ethnic majority is more than a matter of linguistics. The persistent question “Is our language Moldovan or Romanian?” has been mirrored in the paradoxical existence of publications written in the same language but which, below their title, carry the tagline “periodical in Romanian” or “periodical in Moldovan.”
And in the bookshops, a Moldovan-Romanian dictionary (the equivalent of an English-American dictionary) has become a bestseller, though as a curiosity rather than as an academic work. (The academic credibility of the dictionary were, in passing, undermined when Vasile Stati, its author, was unable to explain the meaning of a short story written by a talkshow host using only the distinctively “Moldovan” words taken from the dictionary.) In the classroom, the United Nations Development Program, which was trying to promote Romanian-language courses among ethnic minorities, two years ago tried to sidestep the problem by saying that its courses were taught in “the language that unifies us.”
You’ll have to read the complete article to learn the political background to all this, but I think the linguistic absurdity is quite striking all by itself. (Incidentally, the LINGUIST-LIST version has had the apostrophes and quotes stripped out; I’ve restored them from the e-mailed article.)