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  • Carmen Raris

The Influence of Slavic Languages on Romanian

A Latin-origin language, Romanian has been heavily influenced by Slavonic, which gives it a peculiar character, compared to the other Romance languages. The influence, manifest over several centuries, can be divided into two stages: (i) the old Slavonic input, and (ii) more recently, the 18th-19th-century imprint of the Slavic languages in the area, namely Bulgarian, Ukrainian, Serbo-Croatian and Russian.

There were several levels of Slavonic influence on Romanian: phonetic, morphological and, above all, lexical. Of these, the latter will be the focus of this post, since “the number of Slavic words introduced into Romanian is considerable” [1]. The borrowings fall under several categories:

  1. human traits (both physical and moral), social status, professions and actions: babă, slugă, stăpân, slab, prost, iubire, lovire, trăire, vesel, lene, lacom, mândru, grădinar, bogat, sărac, zidar;

  2. relatives: cumătru, nevastă;

  3. body parts: trup, gleznă, gât, obraz;

  4. food items: colac, ulei, smântână;

  5. parts of traditional dwellings: gard, grădină, grajd, grindă, iesle, pivniță, pod, prag;

  6. names of animals and birds: bivol, gâscă, cocoș, lebădă, ogar, veveriță, vrabie, zimbru;

  7. natural features: bolovan, deal, izvor, peșteră, poiană, prăpastie, zare, zori;

  8. tools, utensils, various objects: daltă, greblă, clopot, corabie, pungă, perie, sabie;

  9. time units: ceas, veac, vreme, vârstă.

Romanian also borrowed from Slavonic a range of words related to the Christian Cult. Following the layer of Latin cult words (before coming into contact with the Slavs, the Romanians had been exposed to the Latin version of Christianity), Slavic borrowings started entering the lexis as early the 9th century, when the Romanians turned to the Slavic Church founded by Cyril and Methodius: blagoslovire, colindă, Hristos, iad, icoană, liturghie, rai.

Interestingly, a number of Slavic words introduced into Romanian experienced significant semantic changes. For example, Bulgarian bazaconie means “injustice”, whereas in Romanian it acquired a different meaning, “balderdash” or “quirks”; beznă means “precipice”, while in Romanian - “darkness” or “obscurity”; and ciudă, “miracle”, ended up meaning “anger”, “spite” or “regret” in Romanian [2].

The Slavic loanwords mentioned above are but a small part of the total number of Slavic items integrated into the vocabulary of Romanian. Overall, the influence of old Slavonic as well as modern Slavic languages, especially Bulgarian, is apparent in lexical sets related to the material culture. Although some Slavic borrowings have gradually become archaisms or have been replaced by Latin-origin synonyms, their presence in Romanian points to an important stage in the history of the language.

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[1] Ovid Densuşianu, Istoria limbii române, page 169. Bucharest: Editura Științifică, 1961.

[2] See Angela Bidu-Vrănceanu et al, Dicţionar de ştiinţe ale limbii, 2nd edition. Bucharest: Nemira, 2005. Also, Marius Sala ed, Enciclopeda limbii române. Bucharest: Univers Enciclopedic, 2001.

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