Category Archives: Language

Romanian A-Z: J

This will be a short post. My dictionary doesn’t have a huge number of words beginning with J and I couldn’t think of anything much to say about most of them, so I’ll start with this:

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It’s our local parc de joacă. It caught my attention the first time we walked through the village because it seemed so out-of-keeping with the single storey village houses, semi-subsistence farm holdings and the ‘vehicle’ we saw crossing the ford:

Hay Cart 1

Interestingly, I have yet to see a child use it. Either I haven’t been around at the right moment, or they have taste!

Joacă. It’s a noun meaning ‘play’. A juca is the verb, corresponding to the Latin joco, from which we get the word ‘joke’. Un jucător is a player. The j is pronounced the same way as in French – a softer sound than in English.

My second word is județ. This refers to an administrative district, much like the English county. Hence Jud. Cluj on our address refers to the district in which we live. The comuna is a smaller administrative district comprising one or more villages. Village addresses in Romania are interesting in so far as they don’t usually require a street name. The number of the house is deemed sufficient, with the result that we have already had someone stop and ask for the whereabouts of number four hundred and eighty something! In contrast, if you live in a block of flats (apartments) you can expect to have a flat number, a stair number, a block number and a street number. That’s communist efficiency for you!

My final word is jumătate. This means ‘half’. When giving the time, it is often shortened to jumate. Hence both the following mean ‘it’s half past five’.

Este cinci și jumătate
E cinci jumate

And that’s it for today, except to note that some words that you might expect to begin with J do not. Examples include ianuarie (January), iunie (June) and iulie (July). As a result, their pronunciations are closer to the German equivalents than they are to the French.

My next letter will be L as K does not exist in the Romanian alphabet and is only used for words borrowed from other languages, such as kilometru, kilogram and ketchup.

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Romanian A-Z: Î

Having been occupied with other things, not least letters ‘home’, my blog has been silent for a while. However, today I return with a letter that doesn’t exist in English. It can be written as both î and â, the former being used at the beginning and end of words and the latter in the middle.

It is pronounced as ‘oo’, but without the rounding of the lips and hence resembles the way one might say ‘rude’ in the posher parts of South East England. This is a sound not generally found in Western European languages, being of Slavic origin, though it is also found in some North Welsh dialects. Examples are given here.

So, now that you have met î and â, I am ‘delighted’ to introduce you to the word încântat, which means just that: delighted, pleased or excited. Încântat de cunoştinţă, for example, is the polite way of saying, ‘pleased to meet you’.

It’s a word that I’m particularly fond of because of its connection with the verb a cânta, which comes from the Latin cantare and means ‘to sing’ or ‘to play’ an instrument. (Both the English word ‘cantata’ and the French chanter come from the same Latin root). This  connection appeals to me because I love to sing and I love to listen to music. Music and delight seem to me to belong together.

But there’s more. The alert among you may also have noticed the similarity between încântat and incantation.

Hmmmmm.

Such delight has a darker side, then. I mean, who knows what those people might be chanting in that strange language of theirs? It could be black magic. And even if it isn’t, we all know about the dangers of religious ecstacy, don’t we?!

Mwa ha ha ha ha

Something to remember next time you get lost in a piece of music you love 😉

Meanwhile, perhaps a more useful word for folks new to the country and its language is înțeleg (I understand) or, rather, nu înțeleg (I don’t understand). Închis (closed) is another useful word. It always helps to know whether a place is open or not.

However, my final word for today is câine:

caine-latos

This is honour of the fact that the one sound I will always associate with Romania is the barking of dogs. Often, it’s one of the first sounds we hear in the morning and one of the last we hear at night. There are dogs everywhere. Walk through any village and you will be barked at. Repeatedly. Most are kept outside, where they are either chained up, given the run of the garden or allowed to roam free. It’s rare to see one taken for a walk since their main purpose seems to be to guard property and/or deter predators. They are not, on the whole, treated cruelly, but they do seem to be largely ignored by their owners.

There are also a significant number of semi-feral dogs. Most of those we’ve seen haven’t come anywhere near us, but friends have told us that bites are not uncommon in Bucharest.

I can’t say that I like any of this very much. I’m too fond of dogs. However, as with many things in a foreign culture, there is little I can do about it. It is as it is. Nonetheless, it always warms my heart when I see a Romanian interacting with a dog in a friendly and positive way because it’s something that so many never get to experience.

I’ll finish with a dog who perhaps doesn’t mind very much being ignored. We spotted him in the mountains one day:

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I’m not sure how he came there, but if you ever find yourself alone in the mountains and you hear the sound of singing…

Watch out!

Romanian A-Z: I

Today’s star of the show comes last. None-the-less, my first word has a magic of its own. It’s izbucni, which means ‘erupt’ or ‘burst out’. It’s a word that comes from the Bulgarian izbukna (meaning the same thing) and I chose it simply because I love the sound of it. No English word sounds anything like it, which is more than can be said for indirect, indiscret and infalibil!

My second word is iepure which currently stars on one of the Romanian stamps:

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It’s the rabbit (or hare) and it’s pronounced as if you were saying the i (as ee) and the e (as in bed) one after the other very quickly.

The same applies for the word ieri, which I’ve chosen for the Valerea Ierii (The Valley of Yesterday) which we visited this afternoon. Our first view of it was a few days ago, when we were on the hills above it:

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Today, we went down into the valley/village itself, where the autumn colours looked spectacular, particularly where we were able to catch them in the late afternoon sunshine:

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It’s a beautiful valley and the mountains, the forests and the colours were truly awe-inspiring!

It’s no wonder that experiences in the Carpathian Mountains are said to have provided the final inspiration for Stuart K Hine to pen these words:

When through the woods and forest glades I wander
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees,
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur,
And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze:

Then sings my soul my Saviour God to thee
How great thou art! How great thou art!

Romanian A-Z: G

So far, I haven’t talked much about Romanian cuisine, not least because I don’t consider myself sufficiently familiar with it. However, with the letter G, comes the opportunity to talk about something that has become a significant part of our diet since we arrived in Romania:

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This is a gogoșar (go-go-shar); a short, squat variety of bell pepper that is shaped rather like the Romanian doughnut from which it supposedly derives its name. It is more fleshy and flavourful than the regular variety of pepper, a difference that apparently qualifies it to be listed separately on jars of zacuscă (a kind of vegetable spread that is very popular in Romania). Clearly, gogoșari are widely grown because, along with tomatoes, they were cheaply available in every shop or supermarket and even on street corners in the height of the summer. Traditionally, they are pickled with vinegar in order to preserve them over the winter and restaurants often serve them in this form.

The letter G also brings me to a less attractive feature of Romanian life:

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Gunoi. It’s everywhere. If you have ever thought that we have a litter problem in the UK, you should try coming here. Not only do they have fly-tipping off to a fine art, but every lay by and picnic site is littered with cans and bottles. The further you go into the mountains, the less of it there is. But everywhere we have been, we have found some.

To be fair to the Romanian authorities, this is not for want of trying:

‘Depositing of rubbish prohibited’ warns the first sign. ‘Fine £500-£2000’ (which is a lot of money in Romanian terms). The second sign threatens an even bigger fine, with an accompanying notice: Don’t drop rubbish. The whole fact that this needs to be said twice is indicative of the impact such signs don’t have. The sign also warns of the danger of death (pericol de moarte), but that has to do with it being a bear reservation!

We arrived at the bear reservation by accident, having no idea it was there. We’d missed the road we had intended to take because it was indistinguishable from a farm track. However, bears or (in our case) no bears, it turned out to be a very nice spot for a picnic and with very little litter!

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Gunoi is a word of Slavic origin, but the origins of gogoșar are more obscure. Both words are pronounced with a hard ‘g’ (as in gate). However, as with many English words, if g is followed by either e or i, it is pronounced as a soft ‘g’ (as in giant or garage). If a hard ‘g’ is required in such instances, it is written gh, an example being gheață, meaning ice.

Whilst we did have a touch of frost this morning (welcome to October everyone!), my choice for a third word is gard. This originates from an ancient Proto-Indo-European word meaning ‘to enclose’ and probably entered the Romanian language via Dacian. The very similar Norse, Germanic and Slavic words all derive from the same root. It means…

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… fence!

I’ve chosen it because the high fences and gates that ‘guard’ the fronts of the houses were one of the first things I noticed about Romania. To me, they look grim and forbidding and hence detract hugely from the natural beauty of the towns and villages:

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Their purpose, so we have been told, is to ‘keep the thieving gypsies out’. Certainly, they don’t seem to have a lot to do with the need for privacy, since the people frequently sit out in the street on summer afternoons and evenings chatting to passers-by. But all this just for gypsies? Really?

Whatever the thinking behind them, they have given me a lot of food for thought. They seem to me to be representative of something in human nature. Just recently, I have been reading ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ and I have found it more than a little frightening to note the similarities between some of the comments I have heard concerning the Roma people and those that were used to justify the slave trade.

The Northumbria Community speaks of ‘intentional, deliberate vulnerability’ and of ‘breaking down the walls’ and both ideas have resonated with me for a long time. For as long as we are building walls to keep each other out, whether real or metaphorical, we have a problem. We cease to think of each other as fully human and the world becomes a very tragic place.

Yet we continue to do it. All of us. Churches included. We continue to resist the one thing necessary to break down the walls:

Intentional, deliberate vulnerability.

Romanian A-Z: F

F is the first letter of another of my favourite Romanian words: fluture. I love it because of its resemblance to the English ‘flutterer’ which, in this case, seems particularly apt:

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Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus)

These little guys rarely stay still long enough to have their photograph taken, which is why I have yet to catch one with its wings open. However, they are extremely common in the meadows and grass verges here and hence live up to their name.

This, I think, is a Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas):

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It’s hard to be sure, because, like their blue cousins, fluttering by is what they seem to like to do best! Again, I’ve seen quite a lot of them on my walks, but not close enough to really study them. As the summer has worn on, with the ground growing ever drier, there have been fewer flowers open for them to feed from.

Interestingly, whilst fluture is thought to be related to the Albanian flutur (butterfly) and the Latin fluito (float), the word ‘flutter’ comes from an Old English word, flote or flota (also meaning float). This, in turn, is related to both Old Norse (flota) and Old High German (flozzan). These similarities suggest to me a common root and last time I looked into this I found an article suggesting that the word originated in the Carpathian Mountains (i.e. Romania), but I cannot say if that is true or not.

In contrast, there seems to be little linguistic agreement on European words for butterfly, but I can’t help feeling that the Romanians win on this one, with their ‘flutter-by’!

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Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria)

My second choice for F moves from faună to floră and floare frumoasă (beautiful/pretty flower):

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This is an Autumn Crocus (Colchicum autumnale) or Brândușa de Toamnă. We first stumbled upon some near a patch of woodland on one of the hills overlooking Luna de Sus. More recently, I came upon these, also growing wild:

They are very poisonous due to their colchicine content. The symptoms resemble those of arsenic poisoning, although the drug can be used to treat gout.

My third word for F is furtună. The reason for this is that we’ve had quite a few of these in the past few days. On Sunday, western Romania was hit by a particularly fierce one:

http://www.business-review.eu/news/video-western-romania-hit-by-powerful-storm-8-dead-dozens-injured-147930

As this shows, the winds that accompany these summer storms can be quite scary. Linked to a sudden change in temperature, they seem to come out of nowhere, which is something I find quite unnerving. On Sunday afternoon in Cluj, the temperature was a psaltry 30+ degrees C. Less than an hour later, it had plunged to less than 20. Not weather I was particularly used to in SW England!

We’ve heard and seen quite a bit of thunder, lightning and heavy rain since, the latter being extremely good news. The above article doesn’t mention them, but other reports on Sunday’s storms suggested that the lightning sparked a number of wildfires.

Romanian A-Z: E (a note about pronunciation)

In my last A-Z blog, I talked about our expedition to the historical settlements of Criș and Sighișoara, focusing primarily on the characteristics of the Saxon buildings. As a result, I didn’t say much about the pronunciation of excursie, expediție and explorare. So, for the sake of those who enjoy the language side of things…

Romanian spelling being phonetic, the letter e is almost always pronounced ‘eh’ as in ‘bed’. Unlike English, this also applies at the end of words:

Excursie – ex-coor-see-eh
Expediție – ex-pe-deets-ee-eh
Explorare – ex-plo-rah-reh

However, there are a few instances, at the beginning of words, when ‘e’ is pronouced ‘yeh’ or ‘y’ instead:

I am – Eu sunt – yeu soont
He is – El este – yel yes-teh
She is – Ea este – yah yes-teh

As it happens, the pronouns Eu, El and Ea aren’t used much, anyway. The person to whom the speaker is referring is indicated by the verb, adjective or context instead. For example:

He is my brother: Este fratele meu
I am his sister: Sunt sora sa

This is just as well because I struggled with the pronunciation of Eu at first. I suspect it may be easier for those who speak Welsh, but I’ll come to that in a later post.

 

Romanian A-Z: D

Even a cursory glance at a Romanian dictionary shows that a lot of words beginning with D resemble English ones. Delicat (delicate), desperat (desperate), dezgust (disgust), dispărea (to disappear), discuție (discussion), doctor and durabil (durable), to mention just a few. So my first word today is document – chosen in honour of the Romanian bureaucratic system.

In Romania, you need a document for everything. For example, to obtain a Registration Certificate (proof of residence), you need to have a Romanian bank account. But when you go to open a bank account, they want the number on the Registration Certificate that you don’t have. That’s in addition to your passport number. There are ways round this, as the bank clerk eventually discovered, but it gives you an idea of the kind of thing I mean. As EU citizens, obtaining the Registration Certificates still proved relatively straightforward for us. Buying a second-hand car, on the other hand… Well, let’s just say it’s likely to be Christmas before all the paperwork is finally completed. And I’m not joking.

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The whole thing has been complicated by the fact that the car we have bought originated in Germany, but it’s not a simple matter even when that’s not the case. This gives you an idea of the amount of documentation that is required to complete the process, including face-to-face appointments with at least two different administrative bodies. In our case, the process has currently stalled pending an ‘urgent’ appointment with the police on 7th September. Even then, the registration (if it goes ahead) will only be temporary, the first available appointment for the ‘roadworthiness’ test being in December!

My second word is drum. Always helpful if you have wheels:

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This one is newly surfaced, having been little more than a dirt track earlier in the year. However, potholes are a common sight on most of the roads in the area. In fact, they are not unlike some of the back roads across the Somerset Levels, just without the subsidence! But whether the roads themselves are good or not, the words ‘drum bun!‘ (literally, ‘good road’) are used to wish people well on their journey – similar to the British ‘farewell’ and the French ‘bon voyage’. So it’s a word worth knowing.

My third word is actually a collection of words, all with the same Latin root:

Domn: gentleman
Domnul: Mr
Domnule: Sir (e.g. Scuzați-mă, domnule – Excuse me, sir)
Doamnă: Lady, woman (polite), madam, Mrs
Domnișoară: young lady, Miss
Doamne: God/Lord
Dumnezeu: God (from Latin Domine and Deus)
Dumneavoastră: polite form of you/your (literally your lord/ladyship)

All these are important to know and distinguish between if you want to be polite. The last is used in a similar way to the French polite form, so you hear it a lot on aeroplanes and in offices, for example.

In contrast, God is addressed with the familiar form tu, just as s/he used to be in English:

Sfințească-se numele TăuHallowed be Thy name

This is a paradox that English is no longer capable of expressing in the same way; that we can be on intimate terms with the one whom Christians call Lord or Doamne.

Doamne. Not a word we’ve heard very much. For various reasons, we haven’t had the opportunity to explore much in the way of church services yet. Nor have we heard it used as an expletive. However, one evening, when we were in the city of Cluj, we heard the sound of chanting issuing from the Orthodox church; a strangely haunting melody (if you can call it that) that moved me to worship even without being aware of the words. So I thought I’d leave you with this similar-sounding cry from Psalm 141:

Lord God, I call to you! Hear my prayer! Set a guard over my mouth. Keep watch over the door of my lips. Do not let my heart be drawn to what is evil…