VLACHS.

In reading the Karakasidou book (discussed here and here), I have noticed (with the sadness you might expect) that her linguistic understanding is, shall we say, less than sophisticated. She wants to be accurate and evenhanded, and in larger matters succeeds, but little things like her use of the pseudo-Greek* form comitadjidhes for the Slavic partisan groups known in English as comitadjis or komitadjis,** her use of Phanariotes (“the Phanariotes Greek elite under the Ottomans”) for English Phanariote, and her italicizing of English words like “eparch” and “nomarch” as if they were foreign give her away. But what really incensed me was the following piece of idiocy (fortunately hidden away in a footnote at the back, where it won’t mislead too many people): “Although the ethnic origins of the Vlahs [sic] has been widely disputed, some scholars claim their language is derived from Roman Latin roots.” Some scholars! That’s like saying some scholars claim English is a Germanic language. So let’s talk about the Vlachs.


Nobody knows the origin of the Vlachs*** or how they got where they are today, but an indisputable fact is that they speak a language (known as Aromanian or Vlach) that is closely related to Romanian (and thus is a Romance language, “derived from Roman Latin roots”). The Vlachs (who call themselves Aromanians) are spread throughout the Balkans, and have traditionally practiced a form of nomadic pastoralism that has become increasingly difficult in this era of hard-and-fast borders and governmental insistence on everyone’s having an address. Encouraged to settle and assimilate, they were having a hard time maintaining their culture and language, but there has been something of a Vlach revival in recent years, and the wide-ranging newsletter of the Society Farsarotul (the main Vlach organization in the U.S.; the name is from a northern Vlach clan, and the s is pronounced sh) is a good place to find out about it. I commend to your attention an article on a proposed writing system, one on Vlachs in Greece, and particularly “Instant Modernization” in America, a fascinating account by a scholar, Nicholas S. Balamaci, who grew up in the old culture and reports on its rapid disappearance:

A basic belief of Vlach culture is that one should live elsewhere in summer than in winter, and that the summer home should have three qualities: it should be away from civilization, it should be cool, and it should be a place where you can simply enjoy festivities and fun. It takes a lot of money to be able to do this in America, more than the first generation to arrive here could manage. But children were not tied down to jobs in the campu (lowland—a derogatory term), so I was sent every summer to live with my aunt in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, a factory town with such a large Vlach community that I thought it was a Vlach village named “Oonsocka,” as my aunt Sia used to call it….
We are losing the language, which is not surprising considering that there has not been even so much as a school here to preserve it (what is surprising is that it has lasted even this long). This has had the further ramification of putting us almost completely out of touch with the old country, because we no longer share a common language (and even those of the first American-born generation, who know the language, never had the benefit of learning how to write it). As far as church goes, where once the older generation half-understood the literary Romanian used in the service, very few of us now do, and we are making the transition to an English liturgy….
Will a work of literature someday be written about the Arumanian experience?

And for a less scholarly and more paranoid approach, here is an account of “Vlachs in Greece and beyond” (the page looks blank; you have to scroll way down).
*An actual transcription of the Greek would be komitatzidhes.
**From Turkish komitaji ‘member of a committee.’
***The word “Vlach” is a Slavic term for ‘Romance-speaking foreigner, Romanian’ (hence “Wallachia”) that was borrowed from a Germanic term for ‘non-Germanic foreigners’ (hence “Welsh,” “Walloon,” and Old Norse Valir ‘Gauls, Frenchmen’ > Danish vælsk ‘Italian, French, southern’); this in turn is from a Celtic name represented by Latin Volcæ.

Comments

  1. Another cognate of Vlach is Hungarian Olasz for `Italian’. (Should it have an accent? I forget.)

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