Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Romanian Accent

Romanians are very cavalier with their accents. By accents here, I mean not regionally diverse ways of speaking, but diacritical marks on letters to identify pronunciation differences. There are a lot of such marks in Romanian from ă to ţ and beyond. However, they are frequently omitted in written versions of the language, which is most confusing to the foreigner.

A few days ago, for example, I wrote a post entitled Happy Paste. Now “Paste” was the way I had seen the Romanian word for Easter written, and it amused me that it was paste. But I also knew that it was pronounced not “paste” as the English word, but Pash-tay (more or less), and so it began to dawn on me that it was probably actually spelt “Paşte”. This turned out to be the case. For another example, I drove this weekend to my in-laws house in the town whose Romanian name is Târgu-Mureş. Now on road signs it is normally written as Targu Mures (or sometimes abbreviated as Tg Mures), which is not at all how it is pronounced. That a with a little hat is prounounced something like an uh, not like an a at all. It’s turgu muresh (more or less). (Incidentally, just to confuse things further, it is also sometimes spelled Tîrgu-Mureş, with that be-hatted “i” being seen these days as a Stalinist letter which is no longer welcome. I’m not quite sure what a Stalinist letter is, but maybe it launched some pogroms or something.)

When you sit down in a restaurant and peruse a menu, and happen upon something you’d like to try but are not sure of the pronunciation of, you often have to guess at the correct spelling (and hence pronunciation), since menus appear to be a particularly accent free zone. It’s all very lackadaisical. I’m sure there must be examples of Romanian words that when the accents are left off mean something entirely different, such that when you think you are ordering a veal cutlet, say, you are actually asking for a large consignment of balloons, or some such humorous error.

Contrast this with Hungarian which is obsessive about its accents. Every day I fret and worry over the fact that I have called this blog Csikszereda Musings, a heinous spelling error for it really ought to be Csíkszereda Musings, with that accented “i” making all the difference. Well, to be honest I barely give it a moment’s thought, but I am aware that it is wrong. And it is, in effect, a spelling error. I presume not including accents in Romanian is also a spelling error, just that no-one seems to care. There must be Romanians who bemoan the laziness of printers and sign makers and constantly bang on at anyone who’ll listen about how the country’s going to the dogs, and how education isn’t what it used to be, but they (the possibly mythical people I’ve just invented) don’t seem to be having any impact.


Anonymous said...

There are a lot of such marks in Romanian from ă to ţ and beyond

There aren't so many special letters, just five: ăâîşţ, but their incidence in the language is fairly high.

The lack of diacritical marks appeared once with the advent of computers, typing (and printing stuff) without diacritics being much easier. Actually, on Romanian forums (and other forms of communication over the internet), diacritics are virtually always ommited.
Even today, Romanian keyboards are very rare (the offer on the market being also quite low).
Of course, books and newspapers always use the correct spelling, with the proper diacritical marks.

Romerican said...

I have a contributing theory that the widespread use of American keyboards tends to exacerbate the dialectic disappearance. I'm comforted by the observation that it is common for hand-written (painted, et al) Romaneşte to have the appropriate marks.

As for Magyar, my experience concurs with your knowledge. The grammar nazis are in permanent control. Happily so!

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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