Culture reflected in language

Most of the time, a culture’s innermost values are hidden. One of the external manifestations where they become visible is language.

What does the Romanian language tell us about the country’s cultural profile and its core values?

Romanian is a Romance language of Latin descent with many Slavic, French, English, Turkish, Hungarian and German imports. As a result of this linguistic synthesis, it is richer and more versatile than both Latin and Slavic. The great variety of organic imports and neologisms, combined with a very complex and less regular grammar leads to a bounty of synonyms and phrases from different centuries, with different etymologies and nuances, which in turn fuel increased flexibility of expression, double meanings and subtle oratory. CULTURAL TRAITS: FLEXIBILITY, SPONTANEITY, CREATIVITY, SEVERAL THINGS AT ONCE, AMBIGUITY; MORE COMMUNICATION-ORIENTED AND LESS RESULTS-ORIENTED CULTURE, FLEXIBLE TRUTH.

Romanian has 5 cases, 3 genders (although neuter is not a separate gender per se, it behaves as masculine in the singular and as feminine in the plural), 5 conjugations, 9 tenses, and 8 modes of verbs. It uses a lot of open vowels, and most of its nouns dealing with the concepts of home, food, house, family, motherland, care, world, light, peace, etc. are feminine. CULTURAL TRAITS: OPENNESS, FLEXIBLE AND FLUID TIME, FEMININITY, PERSON-ORIENTATION; RELATIONSHIPS AND SELF-EXPRESSION ARE IMPORTANT.

Romanian idiomatic expressions often contain hyperboles. When discussing distance a Romanian might say – instead of “very far” – that “it lies at the mother of the devil”. When discussing size, he/she might call something “as big as China” instead of simply “huge”. When a child is very cute, Romanians will “feel like eating him up”, or when their heart goes out to you, they might “kiss your little soul”. CULTURAL TRAITS: HIGH EMOTIONALITY, SUBJECTIVITY, HOSPITALITY.

The phrase “let us get back to our own sheep” reflects not only pastoral traditions, but also  the Romanian tendency to digress.

And the two very common yet untranslatable terms “şmecher” and “fraier” speak volumes about the Romanians’ relationship to norms and structures, rules, and official authority. CULTURAL TRAITS: DISTRUST, RELATIVE DISREGARD FOR RULES, PRAGMATIC SOLUTIONS.

You have probably also heard of “dor” – that untranslatable term which means longing, love and pain mixed together with a pinch of melancholy and patriotism. Or you might have come across “lehamite”, a typically Romanian breed of passive, resigned disgust. Not to mention Romanian humor and mockery, and the Romanian way of laughing one’s troubles away.

Eager for more? Contact me for an intercultural coaching session or a customized language class.


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