Politics will decide future of the Macedonian language

Modern historyPolitics will decide future of the Macedonian language

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In his work “The Languages of the New Europe” from 1928, French linguist Meillet leaves a thesis that is truly correct from today’s perspective: “Politics will decide the future of the Macedonian language”.

How right he was, one would have to say how right he is, since the efforts of anti-Macedonian propaganda still questions the Macedonian language and deny its existence peculiarity.

Almost 20 years later, according to Meillet’s thesis, the Macedonian language got its literary recognition and was codified. Today, about 75 years after the recognition, there are still forces at work who would love to “erase” this fact from history. It is thanks to such far-sighted authors as Antoine Meillet that historical evidence exists for the existence of the Macedonian language despite these efforts!

Who was Antoine Meillet?

Paul Jules Antoine Meillet (11 November 1866 Moulins, France – 21 September 1936 Châteaumeillant, France) was one of the most important French linguists of the early 20th century. He began his studies at the Sorbonne University, where he was influenced by Michel Bréal, Ferdinand de Saussure and the members of the L’Année Sociologique. In 1890, he was part of a research trip to the Caucasus, where he studied the Armenian language. After his return, de Saussure had gone back to Geneva so he continued the series of lectures on comparative linguistics that the Swiss linguist had given.

Meillet completed his doctorate, Research on the Use of the Genitive-Accusative in Old Slavonic, in 1897. In 1902, he took a chair in Armenian at the Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales and took under his wing Hrachia Adjarian, who would become the founder of modern Armenian dialectology. In 1905, he was elected to the Collège de France, where he taught on the history and structure of Indo-European languages. One of his most-quoted statements is that “anyone wishing to hear how Indo-Europeans spoke should come and listen to a Lithuanian peasant”. He worked closely with linguists Paul Pelliot and Robert Gauthiot.

A must read: Macedonians in Bulgaria called for the ‘legalization of the Macedonian language’ in 1922

Today Meillet is remembered as the mentor of an entire generation of linguists and philologists, who would become central to French linguistics in the twentieth century, such as Émile Benveniste, Georges Dumézil, and André Martinet.

In 1921, with the help of linguists Paul Boyer and André Mazon, he founded the Revue des études slaves. The Revue des études slaves is a journal of Slavic studies.

Politics will decide the future of the Macedonian language

Here we read the passage of Meillets view of the Macedonian langue:

The dialects of Macedonia are a part of the South Slavic group; those who speak them may, according to the circumstances, take as their common language Serbian or Bulgarian. Their dialects, differing among themselves, are not truly Serbian nor truly Bulgarian, especially if one is thinking of written Bulgarian, which is based on dialects quite far removed from the Macedonian dialects. Without doubt the simplification of the nouns is the same in Macedonia as in Bulgaria, but this is the effect of a tendency which is manifested also in the Serbian dialects of the Balkan region. Headmasters in the Bulgarian or Bulgarized schools have, in the last third of the 19th century, taken strong action in Macedonia; and it is this which has given the Bulgarians cause to claim the country for their common language; but there was no continuous action in a language of civilization: in the middle ages influences varied depending on the political situation; and, since the Turkish conquest, the literary tradition has ceased to play an appreciable role. Thus, while the politicians have claimed the dialects of Macedonia for such or such a group, disinterested linguists cannot but reserve their opinions.

In reality these dialects do not properly belong to either the one or the other of the two groups under dispute. And, even if the linguistic data had a neatness which they do not have, any particular resemblance to another group would not be at all decisive. It is puerile to call in linguistics in questions of borders of this sort. It is politics which will decide the linguistic future of Macedonia.

Antoine Meillet

Source: A. Meillet, Les langues dans l’Europe nouvelle (Paris, 1928), pages 132-133 (in the online edition pages 167-168)

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