Language and script
03. 03. 2021
Nebojša Radić

My Language is my Homeland

“My language is my homeland” joyfully exclaims the famous Portu-
guese poet Fernando Pessoa while the American writer of Romanian
origin, Andrew Codrescu complains by saying “I used to be a Roma-
nian, then I translated myself into the English Language!”
The motif of language as homeland is present in most if not all
the world literature. Language is the last safe house for a writer and a
man, the shelter yet to be conquered by an army, the sanctuary that
no outlaw dares to step in or bandit to dishonour, the intangible yet
invaluable commodity that no banker has managed to put a price
tag on.
One’s mother tongue is inseparable from one’s identity and
being. The mother tongue is the ultimate treasure that is passed
down to the next generation for safekeeping. Just remember all those
centuries of Ottoman rule over the Balkans when the folk, spoken
poetry carried the Serbian name, memories, wisdom, proverbs, and
chants.
The language is also an active component of the identity-building
process. It is not only a language that is passed to us for safe-keeping
but it comes also with the responsibility to develop it further, to nur-
ture it, enriching it, and pass it onto the next generation.
In our case, the question of language and identity has several
different, perhaps unique dimensions. For example, the question
of the formation of the languages that did not exist in former Yugo-
slavia: Bosnian and Montenegrin. The question here is: what were the
criteria for these to become “languages”? Alas, as it is widely recog-
nized, this was not a subtle linguistic point but more of a blunt pol-
itical and short-term interest of the local elite and as such consigned
to the research agenda of the history of languages (and politics too).
Therefore, for the purpose of our dialogue on these pages, I suggest
a comparative approach to the subject of the nation, ethnicity, and
their language and will just glance a look at the English and their
language.
The last time a conqueror set foot on the English “green and
pleasant” countryside was in 1066 when the Normans led by Wil-
liam (henceforth so adeptly nicknamed) the Conqueror, defeated
the Anglo-Saxons at the battle of Hastings, in the southeast of Eng-
land. The winners of this bloody battle that saw King Harold, the
last Anglo-Saxon king being transfixed by an arrow, imposed their
rule, their laws, and brought with them their own language, French.
Furthermore, many a folk story was told about Richard the Lion
Heart, one of the Great English heroes. This, although he did not
speak English and was publicly expressing his dislike of England
complaining that he would gladly sell it if he only could find a buyer!
Then there was King John called the Lackland who was so un-
popular and mean to everyone that to date no royal family would
name a child after his name, although John is a name most common
in England.
Interestingly enough, that King John was forced by some of his
barons to sign and verify the MAGNA CARTA LIBERTATUM (1215),
the first charter, bill of rights that defined the roles, duties and rights
of the King and his subjects. One interesting feature of this document
is certainly the list of names of the barons entrusted to oversee its
implementation. Most of those were Norman names. Names of the
Norman conquerors, of the powerful French-speaking aristocracy.
Hence, in the days of John Lackland, English (Anglo-Saxon)
was the language of the farmers while French was the language of
the privileged aristocracy, If we only glance at the English language
vocabulary we will see that the Anglo-Saxon words denote animals
in the fields and the French denote meat of the animals on the table:
i.e. ox Vs beef.
Joseph Williams, an American linguist, undertook to investigate
the etymology of the vocabulary in the English language. He worked
on a sample of 10,000 words taken from business correspondence.
He came up with the following:
Words of French origin made up 41%;
“Original” English words made up 33%;
Of Latin origin 15%;
Old Norse words 2%;
Dutch words 1%;
All other languages 10%.

How did such historical and linguistic circumstances influence
the English language? Well, based on the evidence we must con-
clude that such an influence was undoubtedly positive for:
English is said to be the language with the richest lexicon of all;
It became the Lingua Franca of the international affairs, and
It is the language that all other languages feel a need to “resist” to.

One interesting feature of such an English language is that its
international dimension is characterised and defined by the non-
native speakers (us) language production for the vast majority of the
speakers are not native! Hence, the prototypical Liverpudlians/
Scouses, Mancunians, Jordies and Cockneys are not speakers of the
English that features so prominently as Lingua Franca. And how is
this interesting “situation” reflected on the identity of the “subjects”?
Well, today beyond the twilight of the “Empire where the sun
never sets”, the situation is still quite intriguing. The peoples living
here in the British Isles are the English, the Scots, the Welsh, and the
Irish. So, one feels like asking, where do these Brits come from then?
Well, the ones to call themselves the Brits are typically the English
while the Scots tend to be Scottish, the Irish tend to be Irish and the
Welsh… Welsh!
Some less young readers will recognise here the well-known
pattern and recall the days of former Yugoslavia when only the
Serbians used to be Yugoslavs while the Slovenes used to declare
themselves as Slovenes, the Croats as Croats, etc. Hence, the nation
with the majority of the population tends to identify with the broader
national construct.
And another interesting detail, the English rarely say “in Eng-
land” they prefer to use the expression “here, in this country”! Does
that not remind you of our favourite denotation for the now coun-
tries of the former Yugoslavia: “in these regions”! In the regions that
cannot be named!
Let’s now cast a glance at the Irish who had inhabited the Brit-
ish Isles even before the advent of both the Anglo-Saxons and the
Normans. For centuries, Ireland has been under fierce English rule.
In the mid-nineteenth century, during the great famine, the coun-
try lost one-quarter of its population through starvation, a number
that is comparable to that of the Serbian population that perished in
the Great War (1914-1918). During that great Irish famine and tra-
gedy, when children were starving in their helpless mother’s embrace
and when a sizeable number of the population fled to America, the
English (Queen Victoria) used to collect their taxes dutifully. The
famine was so terrifying that even the Turkish Sultan Abdul Mejid I
decided to send 10,000 Sterling to the Irish farmers to which Queen
Victoria requested that the Ottomans did not send more than 1,000
as she was herself sending 2,000 so that… The Sultan sent the 1,000
Sterling but he also sent 3 ships full of food that the English tried to
block. Nonetheless, the Ottoman sailors made it to Drogheda and
delivered their aid.
During all these centuries, the Irish adopted the English language
completely and very few people today speak Irish Gaelic.
What did the Irish make of the English language? Well, to begin
with, they won four Nobel prizes in literature: Séamus Heaney (1995),
Samuel Beckett (1969), George Bernard Shaw (1925), William Butler
Yeats (1923). For such a small country this is certainly a notable and
impressive achievement. Furthermore, Ireland used the English lan-
guage as a springboard to launch its “Celtic Tiger” economic boom
that established Ireland as a well-off European country.
Having said all of that, I feel obliged to notice that the possible
proto-inhabitants of the Isles, the Welsh did preserve their language
(Cymraeg or y Gymraeg) and are learning it and using more and
more. Hence, Wales can be said to be bilingual.
In the meantime, we Serbs endured the Turkish yoke for centur-
ies, managed to survive all the wars of the twentieth century as well
as the economic depressions. However, we preserved our language,
our customs, and our religion and we did not ask for or indeed re-
ceived any help from a “merciful” Turkish Sultan.
“My language is my homeland”, asserted Fernando Pessoa at the
beginning of this article. I translated the verse in Serbian by using the
word domovina (home is in the stem of the word) and Rade Baturan
drew my attention to the fact that this word is largely felt to be Cro-
atian and that I should substitute it with the more Serbian term
otadžbina (father in the stem).
“But Rade”, I replied, “domovina” is our word that the Croats just
borrowed from us. Why should we stop using our own words only
because someone else found them useful or beautiful?” “Furthermore”,
I added, “the metaphor wouldn’t work as well with fatherland!” “OK
then,” said Rade in agreement. I let a sigh of relief and continued this
journey down the great water flows and languages of the world.

Translated from the Serbian by Tanja Radić

Рубрике

ДОНАЦИЈЕ

Претплатите се и дарујте независни часописи Људи говоре, да бисмо трајали заједно

даље

Људи говоре је српски загранични часопис за књижевност и културу који излази у Торонту од 2008.године. Поред књижевности и уметности, бави се свим областима које чине културу српског народа.

У часопису је петнаестак рубрика и свака почиње са по једном репродукцијом слика уметника о коме се пише у том броју. Излази 4 пута годишње на 150 страна, а некада и као двоброј на 300 страна.

Циљ му је да повеже српске писце и читаоце ма где они живели. Његова основна уређивачка начела су: естетско, етичко и духовно јединство.

Уредништво

Мило Ломпар
главни и одговорни уредник
(Београд, Србија)

Радомир Батуран
уредник српске секције и дијаспоре
(Торонто, Канада)

Владимир Димитријевић
оперативни уредник за матичне земље
(Чачак, Србија)

Никол Марковић
уредник енглеске секције и секретар Уредништва
(Торонто, Канада)

Уредници рубрика

Александар Петровић
Београд, Србија

Небојша Радић
Кембриџ, Енглеска

Жељко Продановић
Окланд, Нови Зеланд

Џонатан Лок Харт
Торонто, Канада

Жељко Родић
Оквил, Канада

Милорад Преловић
Торонто, Канада

Никола Глигоревић
Торонто, Канада

Лектори

Душица Ивановић
Торонто

Сања Крстоношић
Торонто

Александра Крстовић
Торонто

Графички дизајн

Антоније Батуран
Лондон

Технички уредник

Радмило Вишњевац
Торонто

Издавач

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The Journal "People Say"

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Контакт

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т: 416 823 8121


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