Ioan Slavici - Eminescu and Romanian language

«At the beginning, I pronounced words as they use to do it around Arad Vineyards. Eminescu got mad at me and said I was really hurting his eardrums by making such a mess out of the words. Anyway, he never became as angry and enraged as many grammarians of that time. In his opinion, the Moldavian version of the language contained the sweetest and richest sounds. But the letters we have got just cannot reproduce this. So, he was insisting upon Bucharest accent, especially the one spoken in Lucaci neighbourhood, for it was the easiest to be accurately imitated. However, he also liked everything peculiar, not only related to accents, but to ways of generally speaking. He simply eavesdropped when soldiers were talking. These people serving in Vienna had come from various corners of the Empire. He often asked them: Where do they speak like this?

So we concluded that the most suggestive language is spoken by Northern Romanians, from Suceava County to Campulung Moldovenesc, then from Nasaud to Salaj, where they use plenty of words of Latin origin, now forgotten in most of the other regions of the country. This is the very area where our regretted dead friend Simeon Marian Florian used to live. This is also the area where George Cosbuc came from. To Eminescu, anything unusual about the language was both interesting and somehow lovely. He used to ask all the time: Where do they talk like this? However, this was also what made him mock at those speaking as "they nowhere could utter". He often mentioned a so-called "gibberish talk" and this "gibberish" meant to him speaking as people did not do anywhere, including everything invented about the language as a result of temporary spurs, drawn up at once or made ignorantly enough. At that time, some persons (the same as today) used to say and even wrote "a glass with water", "having a hat above the head" or "I am going at Bucharest". Eminescu asked them again: Where do they talk like this? Then he went on laughing at them.

We are not meant to build up our language, but at least we should love it and respect those who made it as it is, so beautiful and wise as we have it now.

Even nowadays, many of our writers do not feel this way and simply "spit out the words at random". Some of them know how people speak in one region of Romania or another, but they have read neither the chroniclers, nor ecclesiastical books. Others are somehow better educated, but they have never lived among ordinary people and they feel no love for the Romanian language. Finally, a last type grew up under foreign influence or have been living within a limited suburb or among those even more limited "fashionable circles", so they got very familiar to that environment. There are just a few travelling along the path opened by Junimea (Youth Society) and, just like Eminescu, they are concerned with the whole inner life of the Romanian nation!

The ones pondering over every single word used in their work are even fewer and simply striving to lead themselves to perfection, the same as he did.

Eminescu spent every minute of his life working, because he never thought himself trained enough for what he intended to do. Out of his work, only a little part is left to us and, regarding this small amount, he considered most of his literary productions still unfinished. This is why he was so reluctant to publish them, and did it only at some other people's insistence.

It rarely happened to him to be quite satisfied with his writing. Generally, his discontent was not with the way he had written, but with expressing his thought. Now, really, it is not the right form, he said frowning. He was able to keep a manuscript hidden in his "fir-wood table", drawers for years. He could review forever what he had written or he could write the same thing many times over, because he considered that even the most beautiful icon is spoilt if there is a spot or an unfinished corner on it.

His demands of literary form were so strict, that he was never pleased with language, rhythm and rhymes as being perfectly correct and expressing the right feeling. He also stressed upon musicality of the language, pointing out that it should be built up so that even one unable to understand the words could reach the meaning.

For instance, in lines like

O, mother, darling mother, lost in time's formless haze
Amidst de leaves' sweet rustle you call my name always,

the sounds are gloomy and rough, while some other lyrics

Drowsy birds at even gliding,
Round about their nests alight,

they are soft and clear. On the contrary, some sounds are bronze-like:

That lofty Venice life is gone.

Achieving this perfection of artistic shape (which he fulfilled only in few of his poems) he had to grasp a total mastery of the language.

This actually meant a permanent toil for him, until the day when his work was abruptly put an end.»


(Translated by Junona Tutunea)


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