Moldovan language

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Moldovan (also Moldavian; limba moldovenească, or лимба молдовеняскэ in Moldovan Cyrillic) is one of the two names of the Romanian language in the Republic of Moldova,[1][2] prescribed by the Article 13 of the current constitution;[3] the other name, recognized by the Declaration of Independence of Moldova and the Constitutional Court, is "Romanian".

At official level, the Constitutional Court interpreted in 2013 that the Article 13 of the current constitution is superseded by the Declaration of Independence,[4] thus giving official status to the "Romanian" language.[5][6]

The language of the Moldovans has been historically identified by both terms, with "Moldovan" being the only one allowed in official use in the Moldavian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic and the Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic. The resolution, which at times also declared Moldovan a language independent of Romanian, was introduced in the context of the Soviet policy emphasizing the differences between Moldovans and Romanians. The identity between the mother tongues of the Moldovans and Romanians has been officially acknowledged since the reintroduction of the Latin script in 1989;[7] the 1991 Declaration of Independence of Moldova thereupon called the official language "Romanian". Nevertheless, the 1994 Constitution only provided official status to "Moldovan". The status of the official language was further legislated in the early 2000s, when the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova adopted a law defining "Moldovan" and "Romanian" as designations for the same language (glottonyms).[8] In 2013 the Constitutional Court of Moldova ruled that the name "Romanian" given in the Declaration of Independence prevails over the name "Moldovan" given in the Article 13.[4] The breakaway region of Transnistria continues to recognize "Moldovan" as one of its official languages, along with Russian and Ukrainian.[9]

In the general population, while a majority of the inhabitants in the capital city of Chișinău[10] and, according to surveys, people with higher education[11] name their language "Romanian", barely a seventh of the countryside residents indicated Romanian as their native language at the last census.[10]

The variety of Romanian spoken in Moldova is the Moldavian subdialect, which is also spoken in northeastern Romania. The two countries share the same literary standard.[12][13][14][15][16][17][18][19] Written in Cyrillic,[20] Moldovan is also the name of one of three official languages of the breakaway Moldovan territory of Transnistria.[9]

The word Moldavian is also used to refer collectively to the north-eastern varieties of spoken Romanian, spread approximately within the territory of the former Principality of Moldavia (now split between Moldova and Romania). The Moldavian variety is considered one of the five major spoken varieties of Romanian, all five being written identically. There is no particular linguistic break at the Prut River, the border between Romania and Moldova.

In schools in Moldova the name "Romanian language" has been used since independence. In 2007, former Moldovan president Vladimir Voronin asked for it to be changed to "Moldovan language", but due to public pressure that never materialized.[21]

The standard alphabet is equivalent to the Romanian alphabet (based on the Latin alphabet). Until 1918, varieties of the Romanian Cyrillic alphabet were used. The Moldovan Cyrillic alphabet was used in 1924–1932 and 1938–89, and remains in use in Transnistria.

History and politics

Bilingual glossary in Russian and Moldavian, published in 1789
1999 Moldovan stamp celebrating 10 years since reverting to the Latin script

The history of the Moldovan language refers to the historical evolution of the glottonym Moldavian/Moldovan in Moldova and beyond, which is closely tied to the region's political status, with long periods of rule by Russia and the Soviet Union influencing the language's name and (when Cyrillic script was in use) orthography. From a linguistic perspective, this term is an alternative name for the varieties of the Romanian language spoken in the Republic of Moldova (see History of the Romanian language).

Before 1918 and also after the union of Bessarabia with Romania, it was not obvious nor universally accepted that Moldovans and the Romanians formed a single ethnic group.[22] Missing out all the important moments in the creation of a pan-Romanian national consciousness, the Moldovan peasants referred to themselves and their language as "Moldovan" - also in the period between the wars. This caused reactions from pan-Romanian nationalists.[23] The concept of the distinction of Moldovan from Romanian was explicitly stated only in the early 20th century, and accompanied the raising of national awareness among Moldovans, with the Soviets placing heavy emphasis on Moldavians vs Romanians as a reaction to this awareness.[24]

Major recent developments include the change to using a Latin script (rather than Cyrillic letters) in 1989 and several changes in the statutory name of the language used in Moldova. At one point of particular confusion about identity in the 1990s, all references to geography in the name of the language were dropped, and it was officially known simply as limba de stat — "the state language".

Moldovan was assigned the code mo in ISO 639-1 and code mol in ISO 639-2 and ISO 639-3[25] but these have been deprecated since November 2008, leaving ro and ron (639-2/T) and rum (639-2/B) the language identifiers as of 2013 to be used for the variant of the Romanian language also known as Moldavian and Moldovan in English, the ISO 639-2 Registration Authority said in the motivation of the decision.[26][27]

Reversion to Latin script, and beyond

In 1989 the contemporary Romanian version of the Latin alphabet became the official script of the Moldavian SSR.

The Declaration of Independence[28] of Moldova (27 August 1991) named the official language as "Romanian", but the 1994 constitution declared "Moldovan" the state language.

When in 1992 the Romanian Academy changed the official orthography of the Romanian language, the Institute of Linguistics at the Academy of Sciences of Moldova did not make the changes, and the official orthography continued as before until 2001 when the Moldovan Academy adopted the changes introduced by the Romanian Academy.

In 1996 the Moldovan president Mircea Snegur attempted to change the official language to "Romanian"; the Moldovan Parliament dismissed the proposal as promoting "Romanian expansionism".

In 2003, a Moldovan–Romanian dictionary (Dicționar Moldovenesc–Românesc (2003), by Vasile Stati) was published. The linguists of the Romanian Academy in Romania declared that all the Moldovan words are also Romanian words, although some of its contents are disputed as being Russian loanwords. In Moldova, the head of the Academy of Sciences' Institute of Linguistics, ro (Ion Bărbuță), described the dictionary as "an absurdity, serving political purposes". Stati, however, accused both of promoting "Romanian colonialism".

At that point, a group of Romanian linguists adopted a resolution stating that promotion of the notion of Moldovan language is an anti-scientific campaign.[29]

In the 2004 census, 16.5% (558,508) out of the 3,383,332 people living in Moldova declared Romanian as their native language, whereas 60% declared Moldovan. While the majority of the population in the capital city of Chișinău named their language "Romanian", in the countryside barely a seventh of the Romanian/Moldovan speakers indicated Romanian as their native language.[10]

In December 2013, a decision of the Constitutional Court of Moldova ruled that the Declaration of Independence takes precedence over the Constitution and that the state language should be called Romanian.[30]


Demonstration in Chișinău, January 2002. The text on the inscription is "Romanian people—Romanian language".

The matter of whether or not "Moldovan" is a separate language is a contested political issue within and beyond the Republic of Moldova.

The 1989 Language Law of the Moldavian SSR, which is still in force in Moldova, according to the Constitution,[31] asserts the existence of a "linguistic Moldo-Romanian identity".[7] Article 13 of the Moldovan Constitution names it "the national language of the country" (the original uses the phrase limba de stat, which literally means the language of the state).

In the breakaway region of Transnistria, it is co-official with Ukrainian and Russian.

Standard "Moldovan" is widely considered to be identical to the standard Romanian.[32] Writing about "essential differences", Vasile Stati, supporter of Moldovenism, is obliged to concentrate almost exclusively on lexical rather than grammatical differences. Whatever language distinctions may once have existed, these have been decreasing rather than increasing: "in the main, Moldovan in its standard form was more Romanian by the 1980s than at any point in its history".[33]

In 2002, the Moldovan Minister of Justice Ion Morei said that Romanian and Moldovan were the same language and that the Constitution of Moldova should be amended to reflect this—not by substituting the word "Moldovan" by "Romanian", but by adding that "Romanian and Moldovan are the same language".[34] The education minister ro (Valentin Beniuc) said: "I have stated more than once that the notion of a Moldovan language and a Romanian language reflects the same linguistic phenomenon in essence."[35] The President of Moldova Vladimir Voronin acknowledged that the two languages are identical, but said that Moldovans should have the right to call their language "Moldovan".[36]

In the 2004 census, out of the 3.38 million people living in Moldova, 60% chose Moldovan as their native language, whereas only 16.5% chose Romanian. While 37% of all urban Romanian/Moldovan speakers chose Romanian as their native language, in the countryside only 14% of the Romanian/Moldovan speakers indicated Romanian as their native language.[10] Independent studies found a Moldovan linguistic identity asserted in particular by the rural population and post-Soviet political class.[37] In a survey conducted in four villages near the border with Romania, when asked about their native language the interviewees stated: Moldovan 53%, Romanian 44%, Russian 3%.[38]

Left. A Limba noastră social ad in Chișinău, to which the handwritten word "Română" was added.
Right. The inscription on the building in Chisinau: "I am Moldovan! I speak Moldovan!"

When reporting on EU Council deliberations regarding an agreement between the European Community and Moldova, the Romanian rapporteur Jean Marin Marinescu included a recommendation not to make references to the Moldovan language.[39] This led to speculation in the Romanian press that supposedly the EU banned the usage of the phrase "Moldovan language".[40] However, the European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, denied these allegations and stated that the Moldovan language is referred to in the 1998 Cooperation Agreement between the EU and Moldova and hence it is considered a part of the acquis, binding to all member states.[41]


A "Welcome!" sign in Moldovan Cyrillic in Tiraspol, Transnistria, 2012. The phrase in Latin alphabet would be: "Bine ați venit!"

The language was generally written in a Romanian Cyrillic alphabet (based on the Old Church Slavonic alphabet) before the 19th century. From then and until World War I, both Old Cyrillic and Latin were used, at which point the Old Cyrillic alphabet fell out of use. In the interwar period, Soviet authorities in Moldavian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic alternately used Latin or Cyrillic for writing the language, mirroring the political goals of the moment. Between 1940 and 1989, i.e., during the Soviet rule, the new Moldovan Cyrillic alphabet replaced Latin as the official alphabet in Moldova (then Moldavian SSR).[42] In 1989, the Latin script was adopted in Moldova again, along with the orthographic rules used in Romania at the time, whilst officially Transnistria still uses the Cyrillic alphabet.[9]

See also


  1. Kogan Page 2004, p. 242
  2. "A Field Guide to the Main Languages of Europe – Spot that language and how to tell them apart"
  3. (Romanian) "Article 13, line 1 – of Constitution of Republic of Moldova"
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Hotărâre Nr. 36 din 05.12.2013 privind interpretarea articolului 13 alin. (1) din Constituție în corelație cu Preambulul Constituției și Declarația de Independență a Republicii Moldova (Sesizările nr. 8b/2013 și 41b/2013)" (in Romanian). Constitutional Court of Moldova. Retrieved 2013-12-20. 124. [...] Prin urmare, Curtea consideră că prevederea conținută în Declarația de Independență referitoare la limba română ca limbă de stat a Republicii Moldova prevalează asupra prevederii referitoare la limba moldovenească conținute în articolul 13 al Constituției.CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Moldovan court rules official language is 'Romanian,' replacing Soviet-flavored 'Moldovan'". Retrieved 2014-03-11.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Chisinau Recognizes Romanian As Official Language". Retrieved 2014-03-11.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. 7.0 7.1 (Romanian) Legea cu privire la funcționarea limbilor vorbite pe teritoriul RSS Moldovenești nr. 3465-XI din 01.09.89 Vestile nr. 9/217, 1989 (Law regarding the usage of languages spoken on the territory of the Republic of Moldova): "Moldavian SSR supports the desire of the Moldovans that live across the borders of the Republic, and considering the really existing linguistical Moldo-Romanian identity — of the Romanians that live on the territory of the USSR, of doing their studies and satisfying their cultural needs in their mother tongue."
  8. "Law nr. 546/12-19-2003 on the Politics of National Conception of Moldova" (in Romanian). Retrieved 2014-03-10.CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 "Article 12 of the Constitution of Pridnestrovskaia Moldavskaia Respublika". Retrieved 2011-02-26.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 National Bureau of Statistics of the Republic of Moldova: Census 2004: Population by main nationalities, mother tongue and language usually spoken Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Census_2004" defined multiple times with different content
  11. CBS AXA/IPP nov. 2012
  12. James Minahan, Miniature empires: a historical dictionary of the newly independent states, Greenwood Publishing Group, 1989, p. 276
  13. "The Library of Congress – Moldova, Country Study". Retrieved 2008-06-03.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
    "Encyclopædia Britannica (via". Retrieved 2008-06-03.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "NYU LAW, A country-by-country update on constitutional politics in Eastern Europe and the ex-USSR". Retrieved 2008-06-03.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "The Sovietization of Moldova". Retrieved 2008-06-03.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. "Ethnologue, data on Moldova". Retrieved 2008-06-03.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. "Disillusionment with Democracy: Notes from the Field in Moldova" (PDF). Retrieved 2008-06-03.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. "BBC on the Moldovan language".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. (Russian) Л. И. Лухт, Б. П. Нарумов. Румынский язык // Языки мира. Романские языки. М., Academia, Институт языкознания РАН, 2001
  20. Derived from the Russian alphabet and developed in the Soviet Union since the 1930s, the modern Moldovan Cyrillic alphabet is different from the Romanian Cyrillic alphabet used in the Principality of Moldavia and by the other Moldovan/Wallachian language speakers before 1857: Denis Deletant, Slavonic letters in Moldova, Wallachia & Transylvania from the tenth to the seventeenth centuries, Ed. Enciclopedicӑ, Bucharest, 1991
  21. "DECA-Press ''Professors from the University of Balti protest against replacing "Romanian language" with "Moldovan language"''". 2007-12-18. Retrieved 2015-10-16.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. King 2000, pp. 57–59.
  23. King 1999, p. 120.
  24. Library of the US Congress Country Study, Moldova – Language, Religion and Culture – Language: "Stalin justified the creation of the Moldavian SSR by claiming that a distinct 'Moldavian' language was an indicator that 'Moldavians' were a separate nationality from the Romanians in Romania. In order to give greater credence to this claim, in 1940 Stalin imposed the Cyrillic alphabet on 'Moldavian' to make it look more like Russian and less like Romanian; archaic Romanian words of Slavic origin were imposed on "Moldavian"; Russian loanwords and phrases were added to 'Moldavian'; and a new theory was advanced that "Moldavian" was at least partially Slavic in origin. (Romanian is a Romance language descended from Latin.) In 1949 Moldavian citizens were publicly reprimanded in a journal for daring to express themselves in literary Romanian. The Soviet government continued this type of behavior for decades. Proper names in Moldova were subjected to Russianization as well. Russian endings were added to purely Romanian names, and individuals were referred to in the Russian manner by using a patronymic (based on one's father's first name) as a middle name."
  25. SIL International: ISO 639 code sets: Documentation for ISO 639 identifier: mol
  26. "Code Changes: ISO 639-2 Registration Authority". US Library of Congress. The identifiers mo and mol are deprecated, leaving ro and ron (639-2/T) and rum (639-2/B) the current language identifiers to be used for the variant of the Romanian language also known as Moldavian and Moldovan in English and moldave in French. The identifiers mo and mol will not be assigned to different items, and recordings using these identifiers will not be invalid<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  27. "ISO 639 JAC decision re mo/mol". Retrieved 2011-02-26.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  28. (Romanian) Declararația de Independență a Republicii Moldova (Declaration of Independence of the Republic of Moldova)
  29. " – Linguists condemn "Moldovan language"" (in română). Retrieved 2007-11-10.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  30. "Moldovan court rules official language is 'Romanian,' replacing Soviet-flavored 'Moldovan'", Fox News, 5 December 2013.
  31. Constitution of the Republic of Moldova, Title 7, Article 7: "The law of 1 September 1989 regarding the usage of languages spoken on the territory of the Republic of Moldova remains valid, excepting the points where it contradicts this constitution."
  32. Kogan Page 2004, p 291 ; IHT [clarification needed], 16 June 2000, p. 2 ; Dyer 1999, 2005
  33. King 2000
  34. Ion Morei: The Moldovan language is identical to the Romanian language, Moldova Azi, 10 September 2002
  35. (Romanian) Din nou fără burse, Jurnal de Chișinău, 25 May 2004
  36. (Romanian) Mediafax interview
  37. Ciscel 2008, p. 104
  38. Arambașa 2008, pp. 358, 364
  40. (Romanian) "Orban a eliminat “limba moldovenească” de pe site-ul Comisiei Europene"
  41. Answer given by Mrs Ferrero-Waldner on behalf of the Commission, December 19, 2007
  42. "Language policy in the Soviet Union" Grenoble 2003, pp. 89–93


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Further reading

  • Ciscel, Matthew H. (2007). The Language of the Moldovans: Romania, Russia, and Identity in an Ex-Soviet Republic. Lanham: Lexington Books. ISBN 0-7391-1443-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> – About the identity of the contemporary Moldovans in the context of debates about their language.

External links