337. Language Politics and Language Policies in the Contemporary Western Balkans: Infinitives, Turkisms and EUrolinguistics

By
Victor A. Friedman

Victor A. Friedman is the Andrew W. Mellon Professor at the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures and Director of the Center for East European and Russian/Eurasian Studies at the University of Chicago. He spoke at an EES Noon Discussion on April 18, 2007. The following is a summary of his presentation. Meeting Report 337.

Although the Western Balkans today is generally construed as Albania and former Yugoslavia, from the point of view of Balkan linguistics, Greece is also in this region. Here I shall examine some recent policy and political developments through the prisms of linguistics and of language ideology, i.e., the ways people think about language. Because language is both act and artifact—it exists in documents and the minds of speakers but at the same time it is constituted by everyday practices—the intersections of linguistics and politics are complex. This is true in Western Europe no less than in the Western Balkans, as can be seen, for example, in official French persecution of regional languages from 1794 to 1951, the 1972 statement of Georges Pompidou, then President of France, that there was no place for regional languages in France, the exclusion of Breton schools from French public funding in 2002 (Mercator-Education: Breton, 2003), the recent contretemps over the use of Occitanian in examinations ("L'occitan interdit en Ile de France?" Communique: Federacion dels Ensenhaires de Lengua e Cutlura d'Oc, 31 October 2006), etc. It can even be argued that EU ideologies of inclusiveness are being reflected in certain types of linguistic research that peripheralize the Balkans. In order to provide the necessary context for the following discussion, I will give a brief outline of some basics of Balkan linguistics.

As the systematic study of human language, modern linguistics has its origins in nineteenth century historical linguistics, whose major achievement was the discovery of regularities in linguistic change that enabled scholars to trace the systematic development of languages from earlier forms, e.g., the reconstruction of Indo-European and the relations among its descendants. This so-called genetic linguistic model, however, was inadequate for explaining the diverse realities of human linguistic development. In the twentieth century, among the most important discoveries in historical terms was the fact that languages in contact with one another can borrow not only vocabulary, but also, potentially, any element of grammatical structure. In this regard, the Balkan languages (traditionally: Romanian, Aromanian, and Megleno-Romanian, all Romance languages; the Slavic languages Bulgarian and Macedonian, as well as southeastern dialects of the former Serbo-Croatian; Greek; and Albanian, with Turkish considered as a marginal element) have played a seminal role, one similar to that of the Indo-European languages for historical linguistics in the nineteenth century.

The special relationship holding among the Balkan languages is that they constitute what Nikolai Trubetzkoy first identified as a linguistic league (in German, Sprachbund), showing striking convergences in their structure while maintaining their distinctiveness in vocabulary and pronunciation. The essence of Trubetzkoy's model can be formulated in the following manner: Languages that show common features owing to descent from a common ancestor, e.g., the Indo-European languages, constitute a linguistic family, while languages that possess common features through structural convergences owing to prolonged multilingual contact, as is the case of the Balkan languages, constitute a different conceptual unit, the linguistic league, for which the field of study is areal linguistics. Typological linguistics examines linguistic similarities due to the nature of language itself rather than to historical relatedness.

Since the end of World War One, the Balkans have been constructed as an image of political fragmentation to the extent that "Balkanize" has entered our vocabulary as a verb meaning ‘break up a system into little pieces.' More recently, Maria Todorova (Imagining the Balkans, 1997) has popularized the use of the term Balkanism as a variant of Edward Said's Orientalism, i.e., the creation of an exotic or problematic Other against which the West can define itself as "normal." Yet, ironically, in the field of linguistics Balkanism has a much older meaning introduced by Afanasij Seliscev (Revue des etudes slaves, 1925), one that is precisely the opposite from the popular use of Balkanize. In linguistics, a Balkanism is a feature common to the Balkan languages as the result of mutual borrowing, i.e., it is evidence of shared communicative practices.

Linguistic Balkanisms have resulted from centuries of interpenetrating, multilingual social intimacy in a context of coexistence and distinctive identity maintenance. Among the first Balkanisms to be observed was the replacement of infinitives with analytic subjunctive clauses (e.g., constructions that translate literally ‘he began that he goes' versus English ‘he began to go'). What is crucial about this and many other developments—some common to all the Balkan languages and some shared by only some of them—is that a combination of dating available from historical records plus the evidence that the relevant developments did not take place in adjacent or related languages outside the Balkans enables us to locate the pervasive adoption of the changes precisely during the late medieval and, especially, the Ottoman period (although the first attestations are often earlier). Moreover, it is precisely the languages of the Western Balkans, i.e., Macedonian, Aromanian and Albanian (especially Tosk [South]) as well as the northern dialects of Greek and the West Balkan dialects of Turkish, that show these developments to their fullest extent within their respective groups. We should note here that Romani shows significant Balkan influence in its grammar, and those dialects that remained in the Balkans show more influence than those that left. Also, the Balkan dialects of Judezmo have features that did not develop, e.g., in North Africa.

The infinitive is freighted with considerable significance in the Balkans because its replacement by the analytic subjunctive is a distinguishing feature of Balkan versus non-Balkan Slavic and the presence of a new infinitive is a salient characteristic of Geg (North) Albanian. Moreover, because infinitives are found in the languages of Western Europe, there are language ideologies that valorize them as "Western." Thus Croatian language planners claim the infinitive and eschew the analytic subjunctive, although in speech Serbs, Croats and Bosnians all use both (except in southeastern Serbia, where the infinitive is completely lacking). In Albanian, the exclusion of the infinitive from the standard language is a hallmark of its Tosk dialectal base, and while the Geg speakers of Kosovo were reluctant to challenge the unity of the standard prior to the 1999 war, more recently the Kosovar academic establishment is seeking to have the Geg infinitive accepted as part of the unified standard. They refer to this as ‘opening up the standard.' The acceptance of the infinitive has a number of additional implications, including the acceptance of the Geg future construction and short participle. Outside the establishment, insistence on Geg in Kosovo is gaining more momentum.

Although the Geg/Tosk division within Albanian might produce a second standard, it would still be seen as a variant of a single Albanian language. It is thus the case that of the Indo-European language groups represented in the Balkans, Slavic is in a unique position insofar as its Balkan territory, which itself consists largely of contiguous speech communities, is divided between dialects that show significant linguistic Balkanization and those that do not (the dividing line runs, approximately, from the confluence of the Timok and Danube southwest to the Albanian border between Decani and Djakovica), and, at the same time, only Slavic experienced the development of several distinct standard languages from its contiguous dialectal base.

It is precisely in this context of dialectal division and divergent standardizations that I wish to turn to some current issues in the Slavic dialectology of the Balkans. Dialectological maps are more than just tools of linguistics. While modern day political actors may hotly deny that such maps still imply territorial claims as they did in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, they nonetheless have implications for identities and loyalties that can translate into a variety of resources. Thus, for example, after 1991, it took a while for various agencies in Washington, DC to realize that, contrary to claims still being made at that time by the Bulgarian government, Macedonian is not a dialect of Bulgarian and would therefore require separate language-appropriate resources.

For the former Serbo-Croatian, two interesting examples are provided by Croatian dialectology and by Gora, a region of 17 Muslim villages in the southwestern-most corner of Kosovo and nine adjacent villages in Albania. The population of Gora used to be entirely Slavic-speaking but is now mixed Albanian and Slavic. These two issues are connected insofar as they both pose problems for the relationship between language and ethnicity and, as we shall see, also for Croatian in its relation to Balkan linguistics.

Maps of Serbo-Croatian dialects in the second Yugoslavia reflected the fact that dialects were determined by geography, not ethnicity. This is reflected in the last map of Serbo-Croatian dialects, published in the1988 Enciklopedija Jugoslavije, by Pavle Ivic and Dalibor Brozovic, in which Serbs, Croats, and Bosnians from the same village spoke the same dialect. The tendency to describe dialects in terms of ethnicity rather than geography, which began in the 1970s and contributed to Yugoslavia's break-up, has reached its logical conclusion in current Croatian dialectological practice: Josip Lisac's Hrvatska dijalektologija (2003) uses the 1988 Ivic and Brozovic map, claiming that any dialect spoken by an ethnic Croat is Croatian. Thus, wherever there are Catholic villages there are Croatian dialects. One result of this ethnicization of former Serbo-Croatian dialectology is that the Balkanized dialects of the former Serbo-Croatian that were called ‘Serbian' on the basis of geography (all being spoken in southern Serbia and Kosovo) are now claimed by Croatian and Bosnian as well. This same logic has been extended by Bosnian political actors to claim any Slavic dialect spoken by Muslims as Bosnian. Most recently these claims have been extended to the dialects of Macedonian Muslims and, in a reversal of Bulgarian dialectologists' Drang nach Westen, even Bulgaria's Pomaks (Slavic-speaking Muslims, mostly in the Rhodopes).

The Bulgarian Academy of Sciences has continued claims that Macedonian and the dialects of southeastern Serbia are Bulgarian even after Bulgaria's official recognition of the Macedonian standard language in February1999. This is possible in part because official recognition was extended only to the standard and not to the dialects. Nonetheless, Bulgarian dialectologists have been curiously scrupulous in following the analyses of Serbian dialectologists. In Serbo-Croatian maps prior to 1985, the border between Macedonian and Serbian followed the political/administrative border between the Republic of Serbia (including Kosovo) and the Republic of Macedonia. The general Bulgarian dialect atlas of 1988 included all of Macedonia, as well as much of eastern Serbia, but none of Kosovo. During the 1980s however, the Macedonian dialectologist Bozidar Vidoeski published material arguing that since certain crucial Macedonian dialect features extended into Gora, that dialect should be classified as Macedonian. Ivic accepted these arguments and as a result the 1988 map excludes Gora from Serbo-Croatian. Bulgarian dialectologists then followed their Serbian counterparts in the 2001 general Bulgarian dialect atlas, which now included all of eastern Serbia in addition to Macedonia but still excluded Kosovo except for Gora, which it claimed as Bulgarian. Since the break-up of Yugoslavia, however, Serbian dialectological opinion has retreated somewhat from that of the late 1980s, and studies of the Goran dialects published in Serbia treat them either as Serbian or as a special transitional type.

Meanwhile, in Gora itself, four Slavic identities compete for Goran loyalty: Bosniac, Bulgarian, Macedonian and Serbian, to which can be added Turkish, Pomak, Albanian and a distinct Goran identity. Ethnopolitical tensions between Gorans and Albanians in Kosovo run high, belying any attempt to explain these tensions in religious rather than linguistic terms. For the foreigner unsure of whether to address an unknown interlocutor in Goran or Albanian, the neutral greeting is Turkish.

At the southwestern end of the Macedonian dialectological spectrum, in northern Greece, EU policies of regional and minority language protection have had only mixed success. On the positive side, in October 2005, the European Court of Human Rights found Greece in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights with respect to members of its Macedonian minority and ordered the government to pay 35,000 euros in compensation to the European Free Alliance-Rainbow, an ethnic Macedonian organization in Greece that had suffered persecution. Part of the funds were used to publish a book with the mixed Macedonian and Greek title Bukvar anagnostiko (‘Unknown primer' Thessaloniki, 2006), which included a photo-reproduction of the Macedonian primer published in Athens in 1925 in accordance with the Treaty of Sevres and the Charter of the League of Nations (but never distributed or used), a modern Macedonian primer, and several essays in Greek, English and Macedonian on the Macedonian language in Greece. The book was thus aimed at both domestic and international audiences. Unfortunately, on September 29, 2006 in Thessaloniki, at the inauguration of an exhibition of primers from all over the world by collector Juries Cabals of Latvia, a Macedonian primer published in the Republic of Macedonia was removed by the organizers at the orders of the Deputy Mayor for Culture and Youth of that city.

To the east, however, in Greek Thrace, where there is a Pomak population, a different set of contestations is being played out. Here, Turkish is the only recognized minority language and Muslim is the only recognized minority ethnicity. Because the Greek state recognizes minorities on the basis of religion rather than language, Pomaks have no educational institutions and send their children to Turkish-language schools on religious grounds. (Macedonian-speaking Muslims in western Macedonia sometimes send their children to Albanian or Turkish schools, the crucial difference being that in Macedonia there are schools available in the children's native language, so that a conflict arises between ideology and best educational practice.) While the Greek government continues to discourage Macedonian, however, it has recently permitted the publication of school materials in pomakika using the Latin alphabet and based on the Rhodopian Slavic dialects of Greek Thrace. (In Bulgaria, these dialects are considered Bulgarian and are spoken by both Christians and Muslims.)

The influence of Turkish vocabulary on the languages of the former Ottoman Empire has been tremendous and, in the colloquial Balkan languages of the early nineteenth century, its position was not unlike that of the French lexicon in English. With the rise of Balkan standard languages, however, large numbers of Turkish words were stylistically lowered and limited to colloquial usage or made obsolete. The process was repeated as each language standardized, e.g., for Greek, Bulgarian and Romanian beginning with in the nineteenth century and Macedonian and Albanian in the twentieth. It is worth noting that many of these same words were eliminated from Turkish starting in the 1920s owing to the fact that they are ultimately of Arabo-Persian origin, and even in languages that standardized in the nineteenth century, anti-Turkism campaigns were also carried out in the twentieth. After 1989, however, there was a resurgence in the use of Turkisms in formal discourse in all the ex-communist Balkan countries except on the territory of the former Serbo-Croatian. Outside of those territories, Turkisms were associated with the colloquial and therefore with democracy, whereas on the territory of the former Serbo-Croatian, Bosnian language planners laid claim to the Turkish heritage of Serbo-Croatian as specifically theirs on the basis of the association of Turkish with Islam.

In the case of Romani and Aromanian, however, since literary norms are currently in the process of elaboration, the colloquial nature of Turkisms means that they are in competition with neologisms or loanwords from related languages and are available for language planners. The use of Turkisms in official documents indicates that the function of Turkisms in Romani and Aromanian are following their own path of development and are more resistant to stylistic lowering.

One can say, however, that in the context of the Balkans, English is the Turkish of the twenty-first century: it has become the lingua franca and, as elsewhere in the world, it is also the source of puristic anxieties. Because English is the vehicle of new technologies as well as the principal language of international politics and trade, in the Balkans, as elsewhere, language establishments are expressing concern over the effect of English, especially on the lexicon. The power and prestige of English have resulted in a flood of new words and phrases, but the basic grammatical structures of the Balkan languages are no more affected by English than they were by Turkish. Concerns with purism now, as in the past, reflect anxieties about social and political control and intergenerational competition.

As knowledge of English has increased dramatically in the Balkans, especially among young people, more people now know English than the languages of their neighbors. Moreover, owing to the influences of national ideologies and the compartmentalization of language instruction and language study, students in the Balkans are taught differences and not shown the structural similarities that resulted from centuries of multilingualism and, arguably, peaceful coexistence. Native speakers of a language are not aware of its underlying structures unless they learn it as an object of study, which is also the case with regard to structural similarities for multilingual speakers in countries such as Macedonia, studying the different languages in isolation, or learning them without formal instruction. It is thus the case that instruction in Balkan linguistics has considerable potential for creating a sense of mutuality, a potential that might still be realized.

This brings us back to the position of the Balkans in Europe. Recent research on language change and language contact has challenged Balkan linguistics from two opposing directions. On the one hand, arguments that structural borrowing does not occur or is extremely rare are bolstered by phonological data, although the data themselves all involve English, and the reliance of some approaches on the notion of "imperfect learning" locates structural change in a realm perilously close to nineteenth-century ideas of "impurity." On the other hand, typological approaches to areal linguistics that I call "Eurological" argue for Europe as a convergence area with the center located at the Romance-Germanic border from Holland to Northern Italy, of which the Balkan Sprachbund is a periphery.

Balkan Slavic dialectological data, however, show that precisely the superficiality of morphosyntactic phenomena makes them amenable to structural borrowing, while at the same time phonological diffusion takes place without the transmission of structural constraints. Salient examples occur along the Albanian-Slavic contact zone. Thus, while we can speak of a shared Balkan morphosyntax, it is more appropriate to speak of Balkan phonologies rather than Balkan phonology.

Finally, the dialectology and history of these phenomena demonstrate that while "Eurology" has ideological value and current interest, an attempt to project the present onto the past by conflating areal and typological linguistics obscures the role of the Ottoman Empire in Balkan linguistic convergence. We know from documentary evidence that it was precisely during the Ottoman period—when everyday communication within southeastern Europe was relatively free—that the Balkan linguistic league took its modern shape independently of developments in Western Europe. Now that these regions are in a new and intensive multilateral contact we can expect different developments, and the past can be harnessed to inform the present in constructive ways, especially if we examine the development of Balkan linguistic mutuality as it developed during the early modern period. It provides a model that can be both ideologically rewarding and academically significant.
 

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