I had always thought that the concept of a “Moldavian language” (as opposed to Romanian) was introduced by the Communists as part of their drive to support, or if need be create, a single “national language” for each of the constituent republics of the USSR (insisting, for example, on separate languages for each of the Turkic-speaking republics and ensuring their orthographies were as distinct as possible). My 1986 edition of Kenneth Katzner’s The Languages of the World says “Moldavian is merely a dialect of Rumanian, but since the creation of the Moldavian S.S.R. and the adoption of the Cyrillic alphabet it is generally thought of as a separate language.” (I see the current edition changes the name to Moldovan but continues to treat it as a separate language.) But in the (fascinating) diary of Princess Ekaterina Nikolaevna Sain-Vitgenshtein (i.e., Sayn-Wittgenstein; the family was of German origin but her branch had been Russian since the 18th century), the entry for 4 (17) December 1918 says “это большая немощеная площадь, или ‘майдан’ (площадь по-молдавски)” [‘it’s a large unpaved square, or maidan (square in Moldavian)’]. I wonder if she thought of it as a separate language or just meant “the dialect of Romanian they speak here in Moldavia”? (Her family had recently fled across the Dniester/Dnestr/Dnister/Nistru from the increasingly dangerous anarchy of newly quasi-independent Ukraine to the newly Romanian town of Ataki, now Moldovan Otaci, which was at the eastern edge of Bessarabia, which is the eastern chunk of Moldavia. It’s a complicated part of the world.)


  1. My experience is that Moldavian is mutually intelligible with Romanian, and the differences between the languages are minor. Even the Cyrillic orthography is a straightforward quasi-phonemic rendering. Anyone that knows standard Romanian and the Cyrillic alphabet would be able to read it.
    It would have been more interesting if the Cyrillic orthography tried to phonetically render some of the dialectical features of the region, like the merger between /tS/ and /S/ and the centralization of /i/.

  2. David Marjanović says

    A lot of quarreling has happened on Wikipedia on this issue… as pointed out there, the differences seem to be very tiny, and the constitution of Moldavia mentions “Romanian” as the official language.

  3. David Marjanović says

    Oh, and the use of Cyrillic was abolished in 1988, though reportedly many people still use it. There’s a Wikipedia in it.

  4. So “majdan” turns up in Romanian/Moldavian, too? Interesting.

  5. My Romanian dictionary has an entry for “maidan” (glossed as “wasteground”). Interesting page on the word maidan on Wikipedia. It’s ultimately from Persian, but occurs in Ukrainian and various Eastern European place names (presumably it arrived via Turkish).
    The princess is writing after Moldavia used the October 1917 revolution to break from the Russian Empire. In March, 1918 it voted for union with Romania, although the Soviets refused to accept that.

  6. Wikipedia notwithstanding, I’m pretty sure maydān is from Arabic; other derivatives from the same root M-Y-D include mā’idah “table”, mīdā’ “length, distance”.

  7. maidan is one of the key examples given in a recent paper on the improvements in loanword etymologies being carried out for OED3.

  8. The Hindi word maidān ‘field, open area, large lawn…’ is, according to the dictionary of R.S. McGregor, of Persian origin. Conversely, F. Steingass in his Persian-English dictionary marks it as Arabic. Hans Wehr has it under the Arabic root M-Y-D ‘to be moved, shaken, upset … to sway, to swing …’ Platts’ Urdu dictionary: Arabic. Seems like Arabic wins.

  9. … And it’s in Hobson-Jobson, as you’d expect.

  10. Lane.

  11. Following MMcM’s link from maidan, etc., to chaugan “polo” leads to “chicane” in the sense of “trick” (perhaps battlefield trickery suck as faked retreat). Wiki says the racetrack chicane derives from “chicanery”, though I can’t be sure. A nice little diversion.

  12. MMcM: Thanks very much for the links, particularly the one to New Perspectives on English Historical Linguistics—a fascinating article! (Unfortunately, I got greedy and backed up to the start, so that by the time I got back to the page where they talk about maidan I’d used up my viewing limit and couldn’t go on to the next, so I’ll have to wait until Google’s forgotten my visit to read the rest.)

  13. Nice diversion indeed, John. In Czech/Slovak, the word “šikana” (which, so our mavens assure me, is derived from French) means “hazing”. I can see the connection.
    Majdan meaning “square, open area in the middle of a camp” crops up in Polish, hence my “too”. But I also found one other use of it in a description of a bow: “dokładnie wyważony majdan”, i.e. “perfectly balanced center of gravity”.

  14. Google? Forget? ِBlasphemy!

  15. Bulbul, any progress on the Czech klokan(y/i) ‘Kangaroo’ yet?
    It appears as though etymology of words from that part of the world is a specialty of languagehat readers, so… any ideas, folks?

  16. This Q&A on klokan says (I think — I hope I don’t embarrass myself too much here) that J. Presl made it up as a nationalistic substitute for the German word Känguruh and its source has jumped off (get it?), citing a couple of etymological dictionaries that bulbul probably has access to.

  17. My Czech etym. dict. says “klokan. Asi za něm. Känguruh podle skokan (Presl),” which I guess is what MMcM’s source says, though asi ‘perhaps’ lends an element of doubt. I await bulbul’s informed judgment.

  18. For what it’s worth… when I was in Moldova in December, folks were still laughing about a “dictionary of the Moldovan language” that tries to make the case for Moldovan that is separate and distinct from Romanian. A woman in a book store said that people buy it “when they want to have a laugh at a party,” and all the Moldovans I met said it was a hoot. I don’t know either “language” (although, if you’ve ever studied a Romance language and Russian, after about 10 minutes you think you can get the gist of a conversation), but “average Moldovans” — well, scratch that: well-educated Chisinau Moldovans — think all the “Moldovan language” stuff is nonsense.
    Sorry if I’ve just offended someone.

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