Magazine article New Internationalist


Magazine article New Internationalist


Article excerpt

Praise, blame and all points in between? Give us your feedback.

The New Internationalist welcomes your letters. But please keep them short. They might be edited for purposes of space or clarity. Letters should be sent to or to your local NI office. Please remember to include a town and country for your address.

Significant differences

Re: 'When is a language not a language?' (NI 473) which states that Macedonian and Bulgarian are 'more or less the same language'. While there are commonalities between the two languages as they belong to the South Slavic section of the Slavic language group, there are also significant differences which set them apart as distinct languages. For example, verb conjugation is different, as is the use of demonstrative pronouns, the use of the definite article is more complex in Macedonian (three forms versus one in Bulgarian), the double object exists in Macedonian whereas it does not in Bulgarian, accentuation is different, not to mention pronounced lexical differences (identical words can have completely different meanings). Such differences make mutual intelligibility difficult at times. In any case, a degree of mutual intelligibility does not make distinct languages the same (eg Spanish/Portuguese, Russian/Ukrainian).

Bulgarian nationalists have long used the myth that Macedonian and Bulgarian are the same language, by which they mean that Macedonian is Bulgarian, to denationalize and forcibly assimilate the sizeable Macedonian minority living in Bulgaria and to deny the distinct ethnic identity of Macedonians in the Republic of Macedonia, Greece and Albania.

Chris Popov Executive Member, Australian Macedonian Human Rights Committee

Speak, memory

Thank you for the focus on disappearing languages. I would like to tell you about a project, the Memory Book for Africa, which supports parents, carers and grandparents to record essential information about their family history, traditions and beliefs. As far as possible these books of memories and guidance will be written in the family's first language. We have managed to have the Memory Book guidelines translated, so far into Acholi, Ateso, Luganda, Lusoga, KiSwahili and Runyankore, all spoken in Uganda - though increasingly not by the younger generations. So as well as ensuring that children, who are at risk of being orphaned or separated from their com- munity, grow up with a strong sense of identity, they will also have a chance to read and hold on to vital personal information in their mother (or more likely grandmother's) tongue.

In time we hope to extend to other languages and would be happy to hear from potential translators whose work could be added to the website.

Carol Lindsay Smith London, England

Difference creates conflict

You presented an entirely one- sided view that endangered languages must be saved because 'your language makes you what you are' - in other words, different from other people. On the contrary, I suggest that if we all spoke the same language we could focus on 'what we are' as human beings and maybe get along a lot better.

Most conflicts exhibit the common theme of tribalism and nothing better allows one set of people to define themselves as a separate tribe than language.

If you had the time travel luxury of guiding the birth of language on planet Earth would you:

(a) get everyone to speak the same language to promote commonality and mutual understanding, or

(b) split people into tribes and make up thousands of different languages to promote difference, complexity and conflict? …

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