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Romanian Law Bans English in Public

Release by AP.
Source: Guardian Unlimited


” BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) – 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 more.

Instead, they’ll also have to offer what would translate into Romanian as „a kind 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 keep 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 languages.

Pruteanu’s 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 now, it dictates that any foreign texts or words spoken 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 into the outside world, and particularly the prosperous, multilingual European Union.

Pruteanu, a trained 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 ensure the 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 … and not just to the snobs and pretentious people and nouveaux riches with swanky villas,” he told senators Monday after the law was mocked and criticized.

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-imposed rules on life and conduct. They are less familiar with the English expressions flooding into the country since Ceausescu was overthrown in 1989.

„Romanians are patriotic people, and real patriots agree with this law,” said driver Dumitru Popa, 48, gazing at an advertisement for trucks that said: „Keeping the world moving” – in English only.

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 which are in vogue,” he said.

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, the equivalent of $1,500. The opposition Liberal Party has called on President Ion Iliescu not to sign it. Iliescu hasn’t said what he’ll do.

„This law is a blow to the freedoms we won after the 1989 revolution,” said Eugen Nicolaescu, Liberal Party spokesman. „It is absurd to translate stupid things into Romanian which have already been assimilated into the language and are already in the official dictionary.”

Pruteanu disagrees, even if many Romanians would end up biting off more than they could chew with his nine-word makeover for „hot dog” – or choke on „a sandwich from Hamburg” (a hamburger).

Romanians are used to seeing their Latin-based language yield to the political influences of the day – Slavic and Turkish elements, a touch of Greek, some French – considered the height of chic in the 19th century – and in more recent times Russian and now English.

Radu Trif, an author of Romania’s official DEX dictionary, calls Pruteanu’s law „absurd.”

„Nobody can police the language, and there aren’t Romanian equivalents for lots of English words, old and new,” he said.

Daniela Gyoerfi, a pop singer who posed for Playboy magazine, complains that there’s simply no Romanian equivalent for words such as „playback,” „backup vocals” and „show business.”

Gripes journalist Cornel Nistorescu: „Trying to police the Romanian language is like trying to control the flight of birds.” ”