Moldova is a little land-locked country squeezed in between Northern Romania and Southern Ukraine with 2,6 million inhabitants.
The main language of Moldova is Moldovan, which is considered by most as a dialect of Romanian. The differences between Romanian and Moldovan are small, and the distinction is probably mostly political. In Moldova, the Russian language is the primary language of close to 10% of the population, but Bulgarian, Gaugauz and Ukrainian are also official minority languages.
In the following, I’m going to briefly cover what the linguistic landscape of Moldova looks like, both in terms of the native language, the official languages but also the foreign languages that are spoken in the country.
The Romanian Language: The Official Language Of Moldova
Romanian is the official language of Moldova. It is sometimes referred to as Moldovan, and in the past, as Moldovian. There is some controversy in Moldova about the official language and its status.
The Romanian (or Moldovan) language is a Romance language with Latin roots but with significant Slavic influences.
Around 80% of the Moldovan population speak Moldovan as their first language. The Moldovan language (or dialect) differs only slightly from the standard Romanian language spoken in Romania. In the North of Romania and close to the borders of Moldova, the Moldovan dialect of Romanian is commonly spoken and here, too it is referred to as Moldovan.
While part of the Soviet Union, the Moldovan language used to be written with an adapted version of the Cyrillic alphabet. Since 1989, the Romanian version of the Latin alphabet has been used to write Moldovian, except for in the breakaway state of Transnistira, where the Cyrillic alphabet is still in use.
Minority Languages Of Moldova
Apart from Romanian or Moldovan, a number of minority languages ore spoken in Moldova.
Unlike Romania, Russian is an important language in Moldova and it used to be taught in schools as the first foreign language. In 2014, around 14% of Moldovans spoke Russian as their first language, some 9% of them being ethnic Russians.
As a second language, Russian is spoken by almost everyone in Moldova and the Russian language is used as a form of Lingua Franca used by the country’s different ethnic groups to communicate.
The Bulgarian minority in Moldova is represented by around 65.000 people. Close to 80% of them speak Bulgarian as their mother tongue, but especially the Bulgarians in Urban areas tend to prefer to communicate in Russian.
The “Bessarabian Bulgarians” of Moldova originally settled on Moldovan soil around the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century and especially in the wake of the Turko-Russian wars in the era.
Bulgarian is a South-Slavic language mostly spoken in Bulgaria, but minorities equally exist in Romania and Ukraine.
Interestingly, the Romanian language doesn’t seem to be spoken in Bulgaria.
The Gaugauz language is a language spoken in the Southern Moldovian region of Gaugazia as well as in Ukraine.
The Gauguaz language belongs to the Turkic family of languages, meaning that it is unrelated to both Moldovan (and Romanian) and the Slavic languages such as Russian. Gauguaz is closer to such languages as Turkish and Kazakh.
A little under 3% of the Moldovan population speak Gaugauz today.
The Ukrainian language is spoken by close to 3% of the Moldovan population by members of the Ukrainian minority.
A large part of the Moldovan Ukrainians, 37%, speak Russian, and not Ukrainian as their first language and most of these Russo-phone Ukrainians live in the region of Transnistria, whereas the rest are scattered throughout the country.
Ukrainian, Like Russian, is an East-Slavic language.
The Romani language is equally spoken in Moldova by 0.21% of the population.
The Romani language is an Indo-Aryan language that originally came from the northern part of the Indian Sub-Continent. It is spoken throughout Europe by the people sometimes referred to as Gypsies.
Foreign Languages In Moldova
English is taught in Moldovan schools, but the language is generally not spoken at a high level throughout the country. Russian seems to remain the strongest foreign language in Moldova and most are able to communicate in it.
Many Moldovans migrate to other European countries, where they often learn the languages. These are languages such as French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Greek, Turkish and German.
Moldovan: A Language Or A Dialect Of Romanian?
So is the Moldovan language really a separate language, or is it just a dialect of Romanian?
This question, in other variations, keeps coming up when I research countries and minority languages throughout the world.
In Switzerland, the Swiss-German dialect spoken is unintelligible for Germans and Austrians, but Swiss-German is considered as a dialect. And in Algeria, the local Derja is considered a dialect of Arabic, even through it has different vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation.
And then there are other cases, like that of Czech and Slovak – two languages that are mutually intelligible and very similar, but which are considered two different national languages of their respective countries.
Why this difference?
What it really comes down to are two things: Politics and Identity.
The Swiss decided that their language was a dialect of German, the Algerians considers their language Arabic and the Czechs and Slovaks – they decided that their tongues were separate languages. Much like the Danes, Swedes and Norwegians.
The thing with Moldova is that politicians and different ethnic groups can’t seem to agree on the matter. The Moldovan declaration of independence called the language “Romanian” but later constitutions calls it Moldovan.
For the Moldovan tongue to be recognized as a language, it needs one thing:
Someone who, without hesitation, says that it is.