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The Macedonian Language

Probably the most important issue to highlight before entering into an exploration of the Macedonian is that along with the controversy of Macedonian ethnicity, the very existence of the Macedonian language is a divisive subject. Politicians, linguists and the Macedonian people themselves often hold views falling at opposite ends of the spectrum regarding all aspects of the Macedonian language. It is inevitable therefore, that the views expressed in this article may be altogether rejected by some people, and embraced wholeheartedly by others.

According to the Macedonian view, which is now prevalent and which has gained official recognition in books in the Republic of Macedonia, Macedonian was the first official language of the Slavs, thanks to Saint Cyril and Methodius's introduction of Slavic literacy language through the Glagolitic script that was based on the Southern Macedonian dialect of Thessaloniki.

The Macedonian language has the status of official language only within the Republic of Macedonia and is a recognised minority language in parts of Albania. The language is taught in some universities in Australia, Canada, Croatia, Russia, Serbia, United States and the United Kingdom among other countries.

Bulgaria recognised the Macedonian language between 1944 and 1948, the date of the Tito-Stalin split. This date also coincided with the first efforts of Bulgarian linguists to “Serbianise” the Macedonian language. Although Bulgaria was the first country to recognise the independence of the Republic of Macedonia, in somewhat of a backward step it has since refused to recognise the existence of a separate Macedonian nation and a separate Macedonian language. Unlike Bulgaria, since the end of the Second World War, Serbia has acknowledged the separate Macedonian nation and its language.

The initial acceptance by Bulgaria of the Macedonian language has been totally retracted now, as Bulgarian linguists and scientists regard Macedonian as a dialect of the Bulgarian language. It seems however, that there has been much confusion and debate centring around what exactly constitutes a dialect of a language. For example, one group of languages has evolved from Latin, another group of languages have evolved from German. Does this mean that what we consider as languages in their own right are actually dialects of Latin and German respectively? It would seem absurd to claim such a thing to most people, although this is what is being claimed in the case of Macedonia. Although described as being dialects of Bulgarian prior to the establishment of the standard version of the language, the current academic consensus outside Bulgaria is that Macedonian is a language in its own right within the South Slavic dialect continuum, which is not contested by Serbia. Indeed, as Macedonia is now a Republic, and Macedonian is the official language of that Republic, it seems that Bulgaria is fighting a losing battle in maintaining that the language is actually a Bulgarian dialect. It is undeniable that Macedonian is closely related to standard Bulgarian, but given the intertwined histories of the two places this is hardly surprising. Macedonian also shares other common characteristics with Romanian, Greek and Albanian, yet it is not claimed that it is a mere dialect of any of these languages. Links between the tongues are inevitable given that they all belong to the Balkan sprachbund. This means that they belong to a group of languages which share grammatical and lexical features based on geographical proximity. It is interesting to note however, that although Macedonian is closely related to all these other languages, that they are from different language groups – Romanian is a romance language whereas Greek and Albanian comprise their own separate branches of the Indo-European family.

In 2002 there were 2,022,547 forming the population of the Republic of Macedonia, and of these 1,344,815 were native speakers of the Macedonian language. Ethnic Macedonian communities also live in Albania, Bulgaria and Greece. It is difficult to provide an accurate picture of how many people outside Macedonia speak ‘Macedonian’ because differences are very apparent in different countries. For example, in Greece, although groups may be considered to be speaking dialects heteronymous with standard Macedonian, they do not all identify their language with their national identity. The Slavic speaking minority in Greece varies on how it describes its language - most describe it as Slavic and proclaim a Greek national identity, although there are smaller groups, some of which describe it as Macedonian and espouse an ethnic Macedonian national identity, and some who describe it as Bulgarian and profess to a Bulgarian national identity.

In terms of Macedonian dialects, they can be divided into Eastern and Western groups. Western dialects include the Ohrid - Prespa Group, the Debar Group, the Polog Group and the Kostur - Korca Group. Eastern dialects consist of the entire eastern part of the Macedonian region. Some dialects are found in places such as Greece and Bulgaria, making it a complicated patchwork quilt of language. Due to the confusing question of what is a language and what is a dialect, and the many different variations of Macedonian, there has been a lot of effort put into ‘standardising’ the language, which saw an attempt to purify the Macedonian lexicon. This meant that words which had found their way into the language from Serbia and Bulgaria were rejected in favour of words from Macedonian dialects. Of course it would have been impossible to eradicate all Serbian and Bulgarian influence from the language totally but the policy has been to discourage the use of such words, in order to protect the Macedonian language itself.

>> Macedonian Translation Service

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