Moldova – Polyglot’s Paradise?

by | Apr 9, 2015 | English, Travel

Moldova is a country of 3.5 million people landlocked between Romania and Ukraine. The country in its present de jure borders was part of the Soviet Union from 1945-1991 after which it became independent upon the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Following a war with separatists in the Transnistria region in the east of the country, the central government lost de facto control of this territory.

For more on Transnistria and traveling there, click here for my article or watch the video below.

Moldova is an interesting place for me to visit as I am currently learning Russian and Romanian, two languages that are widely spoken in the country.

Legal Status of Languages in Moldova

In the Moldovan constitution, ‘Moldovan’ written in Latin script is stated as the official language of the country. This is considered to be Romanian by another name and the ‘Moldovan’ spoken in Chisinau appeared to my ears to be a regional version of Romanian and definitely not a separate language linguistically-speaking.

Officially recognized minority languages in Moldova include Russian (language of interethnic communication) and Gagauz (Turkic language spoken in the southern region of Gagauzia).

Moldova Map

Map showing Moldova with the location of Transnistria

‘Moldovan’ is also a co-official language in the breakaway enclave of Transnistria (where it is written using the Cyrillic script) along with Russian and Ukrainian. The southern region of Gagauzia recognizes Russian as an official language along with ‘Moldovan’ (read ‘Romanian’) and Gagauz.

Update: The Constitutional Court of Moldova has since interpreted the official language to be the “Romanian” language and no longer “Moldovan”.

The reality of multilingualism in Moldova

Arcul de Triumf Chisinau

Me in Chisinau in front of the Arc de Triomphe

According to the 2004 census 75% of the population speak Romanian (or ‘Moldovan’) as their first language versus 25% for the other languages combined. In Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, almost everybody can communicate in both Russian and Romanian effectively.

The two languages intermingle on every level and you will hear and see them everywhere, in cafes and bars, signs in shop fronts, menus in restaurants.

It’s an ideal location for learning both Russian and Romanian simultaneously and I really enjoyed practicing both of them one after the other depending which I felt like speaking at any given moment.

In Tiraspol, the capital of Transnistria, the residents predominantly speak in Russian. In fact, I could not find anyone who was able to speak to me in Romanian on any of my trips there. This is in spite of its official status in the territory of Transnistria. By contrast, I traveled by bus through the south of Moldova where it appeared that Romanian dominated the conversations between the local people.

Overall, I was really impressed that it is was so easy and widely accepted to be bilingual in Moldova. This differs greatly to Belgium, where I previously lived. There linguistic tension polarizes the local people the percentage of officially bilingual Belgians is a just a little over 10% of the country’s population.

This acceptance of bilingualism is all the more impressive as Moldova suffered a civil war in the early 1990s where the imposition of the Romanian language was cited as one of the causes of conflict. In light of this circumstances, Moldovans show a remarkable tolerance for linguistic diversity in their small yet diverse country – a ‘polyglot’s paradise’ (especially if you are interested in practicing both Russian and Romanian 😀 ).

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