Effort to purify language has Romania tongue-tied
By Alison Mutler
Oct. 19, 2002
BUCHAREST, Romania - Pity the humble hot dog. Under an unusual new law,
Romania's fast-food vendors won't be able to hawk the English-only version any
Instead, they'll also have to offer what would translate into Romanian as "a
of sausage in a kind of roll." Computer companies advertising a "laptop" would
also peddle "an apparatus for putting at the top of the lap." Politicians could
gathering for a "summit" as long as they also called it "a high-level meeting."
It's windy and awkward, but Sen. George Pruteanu says it's the only way to
preserve Romanian from the growing influence of English and other foreign
His legislation, which passed Parliament last week, has some Romanians up in
arms and others bent over with laughter. But to Pruteanu, a self-declared
protector of the native tongue, it's no joke.
It still awaits legal fine-tuning and presidential approval, but as it stands,
that any foreign texts or speaking at public events - political campaigns, pop
festivals, TV broadcasts and the like - must be accompanied by a Romanian
translation. Trademarks are exempt.
The debate touches sensitive nationalist chords. Supporters say it bolsters the
country's self-esteem, while opponents say it's a retreat into narrow-mindedness
at a time when Romania is striving to mesh with the outside world, particularly
prosperous, multilingual European Union.
Pruteanu, a linguist who speaks correct if somewhat affected Romanian, says 80
percent of the country's 22 million people are confused by the English
expressions that cross their lives. Legal action, he insists, is needed to
survival of the native tongue.
"The law aims to give the crowds of people who don't speak foreign languages
the sensation that the street also belongs to them . . . a nd not just to the
and pretentious people . . . with swanky villas," he told senators Monday.
Pruteanu's law appeals to those older than 45, who grew up under Nicolae
Ceausescu's communist dictatorship and tend to be more used to state rules on
life and conduct. They are less familiar with the English expressions flooding
the country since Ceausescu was overthrown in 1989.
"Romanians are patriotic people, and real patriots agree with this law," driver
Dumitru Popa, 48, said, gazing at an ad for trucks that said, in English:
the world moving."
But Andrei Plesu, a former foreign minister, believes the law reeks of false
patriotism and will restrict the language's natural development.
"I am much more concerned about grammatical errors, which cannot be punished
and are multiplying each day, than about a few English expressions . . . in
Cartoonists have been mocking the law with sketches of fictional "tongue police"
who haul off teenagers who utter the English word "cool."
The law would carry a fine of up to 50 million lei, about $1,500. The opposition
Liberal Party has called on President Ion Iliescu not to sign it. Iliescu hasn't
what he'll do.