Moldovan language

Moldovan (also Moldavian; limba moldovenească, or лимба молдовеняскэ in Moldovan Cyrillic) is one of the two names of the Romanian language in the Republic of Moldova,[1][2] prescribed by the Article 13 of the current constitution;[3] the other name, recognized by the Declaration of Independence of Moldova and the Constitutional Court, is "Romanian".

At the official level, the Constitutional Court interpreted in 2013 that the Article 13 of the current constitution is superseded by the Declaration of Independence,[4] thus giving official status to the language named as 'Romanian.'[5][6]

The language of the Moldovans has been historically identified by both terms, with "Moldovan" being the only one allowed in official use during the years of domination by the Soviet Union, in the Moldavian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic and the Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic. Soviet policy emphasized distinctions between Moldovans and Romanians due to their different histories. Its resolution declared Moldovan a distinct language independent of Romanian. Since the reintroduction of the Latin script in 1989,[7] the 1991 Declaration of Independence of Moldova identified the official language as "Romanian". The 1994 Constitution provided official status only to "Moldovan".

The status of the official language was further legislated in the early 2000s. The Parliament of the Republic of Moldova adopted a law defining "Moldovan" and "Romanian" as designations for the same language (glottonyms).[8] In 2013 the Constitutional Court of Moldova ruled that the name "Romanian," as used in the Declaration of Independence to identify the official language, prevails over the name "Moldovan," given in the Article 13.[4] The breakaway region of Transnistria continues to recognize "Moldovan" as one of its official languages, along with Russian and Ukrainian.[9]

In the general population, while a majority of the inhabitants in the capital city of Chișinău[10] and, according to surveys, people with higher education[11] name their language as "Romanian", most rural residents indicated Moldovan as their native language at the last census, as their practices are slower to change.[10]

The variety of Romanian spoken in Moldova is the Moldavian subdialect, which is also spoken in northeastern Romania. The two countries share the same literary standard.[12][13][14][15][16][17][18][19]

Written in Cyrillic, derived from the Russian alphabet and developed in the Soviet Union since the 1930s, the modern Moldovan Cyrillic alphabet is different from the Romanian Cyrillic alphabet used in the Principality of Moldavia and by the other Moldovan/Wallachian language speakers before 1857.[20]

In the 21st century, Moldovan has been declared as one of three official languages of the breakaway Moldovan territory of Transnistria, alongside Russian and Ukrainian.[9]

The word Moldavian is also used to refer collectively to the north-eastern varieties of spoken Romanian, spread approximately within the territory of the former Principality of Moldavia (now split between Moldova and Romania). The Moldavian variety is considered one of the five major spoken varieties of Romanian. All five are written identically. There is no particular linguistic break at the Prut River, the border between Romania and Moldova.

In schools in Moldova, the term "Romanian language" has been used since independence. In 2007, Moldovan president Vladimir Voronin asked for the term to be changed to "Moldovan language", but due to public pressure against that choice, the term was not changed.[21]

The standard alphabet is equivalent to the Romanian alphabet (based on the Latin alphabet). Until 1918, varieties of the Romanian Cyrillic alphabet were used. The Moldovan Cyrillic alphabet was used in 1924–1932 and 1938–89, and remains in use in Transnistria.

History and politics

Bilingual glossary in Russian and Moldavian, published in 1789
1999 Moldovan stamp celebrating 10 years since reverting to the Latin script

The history of the Moldovan language refers to the historical evolution of the glottonym Moldavian/Moldovan in Moldova and beyond. It is closely tied to the region's political status, as during long periods of rule by Russia and the Soviet Union, officials emphasized the language's name as part of separating the Moldovans from those people who began to identify as Romanian in a different nation-building process. Cyrillic script was in use. From a linguistic perspective, "Moldovan" is an alternative name for the varieties of the Romanian language spoken in the Republic of Moldova (see History of the Romanian language).

Before 1918, during the period between the wars, and after the union of Bessarabia with Romania, scholars did not have consensus that Moldovans and the Romanians formed a single ethnic group.[22] Missing out all the important moments in the, The Moldovan peasants had grown up in a different entity and missed the years of creating a pan-Romanian national political consciousness. They identified as Moldovans speaking the language "Moldovan." This caused reactions from pan-Romanian nationalists.[23] The concept of the distinction of Moldovan from Romanian was explicitly stated only in the early 20th century. It accompanied the raising of national awareness among Moldovans, with the Soviets emphasizing distinctions between Moldavians and Romanians.[24]

Major developments since the fall of the Soviet Union include resuming use of a Latin script (rather than Cyrillic letters) in 1989, and several changes in the statutory name of the official language used in Moldova. At one point of particular confusion about identity in the 1990s, all references to geography in the name of the language were dropped, and it was officially known simply as limba de stat — "the state language".

Moldovan was assigned the code mo in ISO 639-1 and code mol in ISO 639-2 and ISO 639-3.[25] Since November 2008, these have been deprecated, leaving ro and ron (639-2/T) and rum (639-2/B), the language identifiers as of 2013 to be used for the variant of the Romanian language also known as Moldavian and Moldovan in English, the ISO 639-2 Registration Authority said in explaining the decision.[26][27]

Reversion to Latin script, and beyond

In 1989 the contemporary Romanian version of the Latin alphabet was adopted as the official script of the Moldavian SSR.

The Declaration of Independence[28] of Moldova (27 August 1991) named the official language as "Romanian." The 1994 constitution, passed under a Communist government, declared "Moldovan" as the state language.

When in 1992 the Romanian Academy changed the official orthography of the Romanian language, the Institute of Linguistics at the Academy of Sciences of Moldova did not make the changes. In 2001 the Moldovan Academy finally adopted the changes introduced by the Romanian Academy.

In 1996 the Moldovan president Mircea Snegur attempted to change the official language back to "Romanian"; the Moldovan Parliament, Communist-dominated, dismissed the proposal as promoting "Romanian expansionism."

In 2003, a Moldovan–Romanian dictionary (Dicționar Moldovenesc–Românesc (2003), by Vasile Stati) was published. The linguists of the Romanian Academy in Romania declared that all the Moldovan words are also Romanian words, although some of its contents are disputed as being Russian loanwords. In Moldova, the head of the Academy of Sciences' Institute of Linguistics, Ion Bărbuță, described the dictionary as "an absurdity, serving political purposes". Stati, however, accused both of promoting "Romanian colonialism". At that point, a group of Romanian linguists adopted a resolution stating that promotion of the notion of a distinct Moldovan language is an anti-scientific campaign.[29]

In the 2004 census, 16.5% (558,508) of the 3,383,332 people living in Moldova declared Romanian as their native language, whereas 60% declared Moldovan. Most of those responses were from rural populations. While the majority of the population in the capital city of Chișinău named their language "Romanian", in the countryside more than six-sevenths of the Romanian/Moldovan speakers indicated Moldovan as their native language, reflecting historic conservatism.[30]

In December 2013, the Constitutional Court of Moldova ruled that the Declaration of Independence takes precedence over the Constitution, and that the state language should be called Romanian.[31]


See also: Moldovenism
Demonstration in Chișinău, January 2002. The text on the inscription is "Romanian people—Romanian language".

The matter of whether or not "Moldovan" is a separate language continues to be contested politically within and beyond the Republic of Moldova. The 1989 Language Law of the Moldavian SSR, which is still in effect in Moldova, according to the Constitution,[32] asserts a "linguistic Moldo-Romanian identity".[7] Article 13 of the Moldovan Constitution names it "the national language of the country" (the original uses the phrase limba de stat, which literally means the language of the state).

In the breakaway region of Transnistria, Moldovan is declared an official language, together with Ukrainian and Russian.

Standard "Moldovan" is widely considered to be identical to the standard Romanian.[33] Writing about "essential differences", Vasile Stati, supporter of Moldovenism, is obliged to concentrate almost exclusively on lexical rather than grammatical differences. Whatever language distinctions may once have existed, these have been decreasing rather than increasing. King wrote in 2000 that "in the main, Moldovan in its standard form was more Romanian by the 1980s than at any point in its history".[34]

In 2002, the Moldovan Minister of Justice Ion Morei said that Romanian and Moldovan were the same language and that the Constitution of Moldova should be amended to reflect this—not by substituting the word "Moldovan" by "Romanian", but by adding that "Romanian and Moldovan are the same language".[35] The education minister Valentin Beniuc said: "I have stated more than once that the notion of a Moldovan language and a Romanian language reflects the same linguistic phenomenon in essence."[36] The President of Moldova Vladimir Voronin acknowledged that the two languages are identical, but said that Moldovans should have the right to call their language "Moldovan".[37]

In the 2004 census, of the 3.38 million people living in Moldova, 60% identified Moldovan as their native language; 16.5% chose Romanian. While 37% of all urban Romanian/Moldovan speakers identify Romanian as their native language, in the countryside 86% of the Romanian/Moldovan speakers indicated Moldovan as their native language, a historic holdover.[30] Independent studies found a Moldovan linguistic identity was asserted in particular by the rural population and post-Soviet political class.[38] In a survey conducted in four villages near the border with Romania, when asked about their native language the interviewees identified the following: Moldovan 53%, Romanian 44%, Russian 3%.[39]

Left. A Limba noastră social ad in Chișinău, to which the handwritten word "Română" was added.
Right. The inscription on the building in Chișinău: "I am Moldovan! I speak Moldovan!"

When reporting on EU Council deliberations regarding an agreement between the European Community and Moldova, the Romanian reporter Jean Marin Marinescu included a recommendation to avoid formal references to the 'Moldovan language.'[40] The Romanian press speculated that the EU banned the usage of the phrase "Moldovan language".[41] However, the European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, denied these allegations. He said that the Moldovan language is referred to in the 1998 Cooperation Agreement between the EU and Moldova, and hence it is considered a part of the acquis, binding to all member states.[42]


A "Welcome!" sign in Moldovan Cyrillic in Tiraspol, Transnistria, 2012. The phrase in Latin alphabet would be: "Bine ați venit!"

The language was generally written in a Romanian Cyrillic alphabet (based on the Old Church Slavonic alphabet) before the 19th century. From then and until World War I, both Old Cyrillic and Latin were used, at which point the Old Cyrillic alphabet fell out of use. In the interwar period, Soviet authorities in Moldavian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic alternately used Latin or Cyrillic for writing the language, mirroring the political goals of the moment. Between 1940 and 1989, i.e., during the Soviet rule, the new Moldovan Cyrillic alphabet replaced Latin as the official alphabet in Moldova (then Moldavian SSR).[43] In 1989, the Latin script was adopted in Moldova again, along with the orthographic rules used in Romania at the time, whilst officially Transnistria still uses the Cyrillic alphabet.[9]


Moldovan is so distinct from Romanian in terms of lexicon, because it contains Russian borrowings and constructions and minor Ukrainian loanwords that is common in colloquial sociolect.


Main article: Moldavian phonology

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Moldovan language.


  1. Kogan Page 2004, p. 242
  2. "A Field Guide to the Main Languages of Europe – Spot that language and how to tell them apart"
  3. (Romanian) "Article 13, line 1 – of Constitution of Republic of Moldova"
  4. 1 2 "Hotărâre Nr. 36 din 05.12.2013 privind interpretarea articolului 13 alin. (1) din Constituție în corelație cu Preambulul Constituției și Declarația de Independență a Republicii Moldova (Sesizările nr. 8b/2013 și 41b/2013)" (in Romanian). Constitutional Court of Moldova. Retrieved 2013-12-20. 124. [...] Prin urmare, Curtea consideră că prevederea conținută în Declarația de Independență referitoare la limba română ca limbă de stat a Republicii Moldova prevalează asupra prevederii referitoare la limba moldovenească conținute în articolul 13 al Constituției.
  5. "Moldovan court rules official language is 'Romanian,' replacing Soviet-flavored 'Moldovan'". Retrieved 2014-03-11.
  6. "Chisinau Recognizes Romanian As Official Language". Retrieved 2014-03-11.
  7. 1 2 (Romanian) Legea cu privire la funcționarea limbilor vorbite pe teritoriul RSS Moldovenești nr. 3465-XI din 01.09.89 Vestile nr. 9/217, 1989 (Law regarding the usage of languages spoken on the territory of the Republic of Moldova): "Moldavian SSR supports the desire of the Moldovans that live across the borders of the Republic, and considering the really existing linguistical Moldo-Romanian identity — of the Romanians that live on the territory of the USSR, of doing their studies and satisfying their cultural needs in their mother tongue."
  8. "Politics of National Conception of Moldova". Law No. 546/12-19-2003 (in Romanian). Retrieved 2014-03-10.
  9. 1 2 3 "Article 12 of the Constitution of Pridnestrovskaia Moldavskaia Respublika". 24 December 1995. Retrieved 14 July 2016.
  10. 1 2 "Population by main nationalities, mother tongue and language usually spoken, 2004" (XLS). National Bureau of Statistics of the Republic of Moldova. Retrieved 14 July 2016.
  11. CBS AXA/IPP nov. 2012
  12. James Minahan, Miniature Empires: A Historical Dictionary of the Newly Independent States, Greenwood Publishing Group, 1989, p. 276
  13. "The Library of Congress – Moldova, Country Study". Retrieved 2008-06-03.
    "Encyclopædia Britannica (via". Retrieved 2008-06-03.
  14. "A country-by-country update on constitutional politics in Eastern Europe and the ex-USSR". NYU LAW. Retrieved 2008-06-03.
  15. "The Sovietization of Moldova". Retrieved 2008-06-03.
  16. "Ethnologue, data on Moldova". Retrieved 2008-06-03.
  17. "Disillusionment with Democracy: Notes from the Field in Moldova" (PDF). Retrieved 2008-06-03.
  18. "BBC on the Moldovan language".
  19. (Russian) Л. И. Лухт, Б. П. Нарумов. Румынский язык // Языки мира. Романские языки. М., Academia, Институт языкознания РАН, 2001
  20. Denis Deletant, Slavonic Letters in Moldova, Wallachia & Transylvania from the Tenth to the Seventeenth Centuries, Ed. Enciclopedicӑ, Bucharest, 1991
  21. "Professors from the University of Balti protest against replacing "Romanian language" with "Moldovan language"". DECA-Press. 2007-12-18. Retrieved 2015-10-16.
  22. King 2000, pp. 57–59.
  23. King 1999, p. 120.
  24. Library of the US Congress Country Study, Moldova – Language, Religion and Culture – Language: "Stalin justified the creation of the Moldavian SSR by claiming that a distinct 'Moldavian' language was an indicator that 'Moldavians' were a separate nationality from the Romanians in Romania. In order to give greater credence to this claim, in 1940 Stalin imposed the Cyrillic alphabet on 'Moldavian' to make it look more like Russian and less like Romanian; archaic Romanian words of Slavic origin were imposed on "Moldavian"; Russian loanwords and phrases were added to 'Moldavian'; and a new theory was advanced that "Moldavian" was at least partially Slavic in origin. (Romanian is a Romance language descended from Latin.) In 1949 Moldavian citizens were publicly reprimanded in a journal for daring to express themselves in literary Romanian. The Soviet government continued this type of behavior for decades. Proper names in Moldova were subjected to Russianization as well. Russian endings were added to purely Romanian names, and individuals were referred to in the Russian manner by using a patronymic (based on one's father's first name) as a middle name."
  25. SIL International: ISO 639 code sets: Documentation for ISO 639 identifier: mol
  26. "Code Changes: ISO 639-2 Registration Authority". US Library of Congress. The identifiers mo and mol are deprecated, leaving ro and ron (639-2/T) and rum (639-2/B) the current language identifiers to be used for the variant of the Romanian language also known as Moldavian and Moldovan in English and moldave in French. The identifiers mo and mol will not be assigned to different items, and recordings using these identifiers will not be invalid
  27. "ISO 639 JAC decision re mo/mol". Retrieved 2011-02-26.
  28. "Declaratia de Independenta a Republicii Moldova" [Moldovan Declaration of Independence] (in Romanian). 27 August 1991. Archived from the original on 5 March 2009.
  29. " – Linguists condemn "Moldovan language"" (in Romanian). Retrieved 2007-11-10.
  30. 1 2 "2004 Population Census". National Bureau of Statistics of the Republic of Moldova. Retrieved 14 July 2016.
  31. "Moldovan court rules official language is 'Romanian,' replacing Soviet-flavored 'Moldovan'", Fox News, 5 December 2013.
  32. Constitution of the Republic of Moldova, Title 7, Article 7: "The law of 1 September 1989 regarding the usage of languages spoken on the territory of the Republic of Moldova remains valid, excepting the points where it contradicts this constitution."
  33. Kogan Page 2004, p 291 ; IHT , 16 June 2000, p. 2 ; Dyer 1999, 2005
  34. King 2000
  35. Ion Morei: "The Moldovan language is identical to the Romanian language", Moldova Azi, 10 September 2002
  36. (Romanian) Din nou fără burse, Jurnal de Chișinău, 25 May 2004
  37. (Romanian) Mediafax interview
  38. Ciscel 2008, p. 104
  39. Arambașa 2008, pp. 358, 364
  40. Marinescu, Marian-Jean (7 November 2007). "Report on the proposal for a Council decision concerning the conclusion of the Agreement between the European Community and Republic of Moldova on the readmission of persons residing without authorisation" (DOC). European Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs. Retrieved 14 July 2016.
  41. (Romanian) "Orban a eliminat "limba moldovenească" de pe site-ul Comisiei Europene"
  42. Answer given by Mrs Ferrero-Waldner on behalf of the Commission, December 19, 2007
  43. "Language policy in the Soviet Union" Grenoble 2003, pp. 89–93


    • Arambașa, Mihaela Narcisa (2008). "Everyday life on the eastern border of the EU – between Romanianism and Moldovanism in the border area of the Republic of Moldova and Romania". South-East Europe Review (3): 355–369. 
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    • King, Charles (1999). "The Ambivalence of Authenticity, or How the Moldovan Language Was Made". Slavic Review. 58 (1): 117–142. doi:10.2307/2672992. 
    • King, Charles (2000). The Moldovans: Romania, Russia and the Politics of Culture. Hoover Institution Press. ISBN 0-8179-9792-X. 
    • Grenoble, Lenore A. (2003). Language Policy in the Soviet Union. Springer. ISBN 1-4020-1298-5. 
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    Further reading

    • Ciscel, Matthew H. (2007). The Language of the Moldovans: Romania, Russia, and Identity in an Ex-Soviet Republic. Lanham: Lexington Books. ISBN 0-7391-1443-3.  – About the identity of the contemporary Moldovans in the context of debates about their language.
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