Krste Misirkov, On Macedonian Matters – A few words on the Macedonian literary language, 1903!


Chapter 5

A few words on the Macedonian literary language

In the previous four sections of this book my aim was to draw the attention of my compatriots to the need for making a radical change in the process of our spiritual development, and also to point out that in this respect my views are by no means something new and unsubstantiated but rather an advance in the development of our national self-awareness, and hence perfectly natural and justifiable.

It is, of course, not possible in a book as small as this to enter into more detailed consideration of all the questions involved, for each by itself might merit a whole book. At present, however, there is no great or pressing need for such detailed consideration of these matters; nevertheless, it has been necessary to say a few words about each of them, because if they are taken independent of one another they become unclear and confusing. But if the appearance of this book is to be justified, we must now, in addition to considering these matters, say a few words about the topical importance of the book and about our literary language.

Many people will perhaps say that although the problems raised in this book are indeed worthy of consideration, the moment is not yet opportune. For this book, they would say, brings us strife and discord instead of the unity which we so dearly need at present. We can start thinking about the Macedonian nation, Macedonian literature and the Macedonian literary language only when we finally begin to lead a free political life, and until then we ought to be united and leave aside the national question.

In answer to this I can only say that in my opinion the present, i.e. Mьrzsteg, reforms are the most that the revolution can hope to get out of Europe. The most foolish thing we could do would be to launch a spring revolution; it would be of benefit to no one but our enemies who are working against our national interests. A spring revolution would bring about only our own ruin and destroy all that has been so far achieved through the Revolution, because it would be directed not against the Turks but against the Reform Powers. For this would all happen not in accordance with our interests but in compliance with the calculations of certain Great Powers and small Balkan states which would force us into action and then abandon us in the middle of the road. And finally, if, in spite of all the dictates of common sense, we were to launch an uprising we would simply become the prop for a diplomatic battle against the reform states and some third force, and this would result in our destruction. This is why we should give up all idea of a spring revolution, all the more so since the reforms must be introduced, because they are bound up with the honor of two Great Powers who are capable of arranging everything as they think fit. And this is why we should rather engage in the cultural struggle in which priority shall be given to the question of our nationality and our national and religious development. So, then, now is the time to start thinking about our language, about our national literature and about our education in the national spirit1 Now is the time for interest in national and religious questions.

This interest is somewhat belated, but this does not mean that it is out of place or that it might prove injurious to us.

If we are to be consistent we must admit that the autonomy of Macedonia, for which the revolutionaries have been fighting, makes sense only if the revolutionaries have found in our people qualities which cannot be found among the other Balkan peoples, qualities pe-culiar in the Macedonians. It is only through the recognition of the specific features in the character, nature, customs, life, traditions, and language of our people that we can give tangible proof of our opposition to the partition of our country, and our desire for autonomy; for partition will destroy all that is dear to us and inflict upon us something that runs directly counter to our national spirit. Only a distinctive national consciousness can furnish us with the moral right to fight against the demands of the young Balkan states for the partition of our country and the strength to stand up against the propaganda which is paving the way for this partition. And if autonomy cannot be won, can we choose to ignore this propaganda and find some other way of fighting against those who disseminate it, in the hope that we would thereby be able to undermine even the most powerful forms of propaganda? Certainly not, because no form of propaganda – no matter how powerful it might be could offer us exactly what we have been led to expect from it. All forms of propa-ganda are designed to promote their own interests, never ours; and the people have never enjoyed any particular benefits from propaganda. Our salvation will never come through propaganda, because although today one form of propaganda may be strong, tomorrow it will be another, and the first will consequently begin to lose strength. Propaganda can only attain its ultimate objective – partition – which is not desired even by those in favor of national separatism. And national separatism, under present conditions, is not impracticable; it might even be beneficial to us, and, at all events, it would probably cause no harm.

National separatism is worthwhile for one reason only: that it must show attachment to all that is national and, above all, sympathy for the national language.

Language is the means by which we are enabled to understand the thoughts, feelings, and desires of others1 Language contains individual sounds, signs, or words for all man’s thoughts, feelings, and desires. This is why language is the spiritual heritage and treasure of a nation through which all the thoughts, feelings, and desires the people have experienced in the past are unlocked and released through words and sounds to be handed down as something sacred from one generation to another. Preserving one’s national language and defending it as something sacred means remaining faithful to the spirit of one’s forefathers and respecting all that they have done for posterity. Renouncing one’s national language means renouncing one’s national spirit. This may explain the wishes and endeavors of the subjugators, who set out with the deliberate intention of forcing the subject nations to renounce their own language and take up that of the oppressor; it so reflects the de-termination of the subject nations to preserve their national spiritual heritage, and particularly their language.

We, too, should be loyal in this way to our national language if we wish to remain faithful to the spirit of our forefathers. Loyalty towards our language is both our duty and our right. We are bound to be loyal to our language because it is ours, just as much as the country in which we live. The first voices we heard were those of our fathers and mothers – the sounds and words of our national language. Through them we were given our first spiritual nourishment, because they gave meaning to all that we saw with our own eyes.

Through the national language we are brought closer to the way of thinking of our fathers and forefathers, and we become their spiritual heirs in the same way as – through our physical strength – we perpetuate them in body. If we show contempt towards our national language we are also showing our lack of gratitude towards our parents for passing on to us their spiritual beliefs and for giving us our upbringing. Yet we have not only the duty but also the right to defend our language, and this right must be sacred to us. Whoever attacks our language is our enemy just as much as anyone who attacks our religion. Religion and language are the soul of a nation, and if the people change them they bring about a radical spiritual transformation by relinquishing the past and adopting something new. This transformation, if it takes place gradually over the centuries, is not dangerous because part will belong to one generation and part to another. Thus, part of the transformation will belong to the heritage of the nation, and only a small part will be new. Such radical changes are not dangerous only if they result from the independent development of a nation.

If, however, a nation changes the language and religion over a brief period of time and under strong influence from outside, allowing itself to be drawn unawares into this change, it is renouncing itself and its interests and surrendering both itself and its interests to the stronger nation, which will treat it as it sees fit. In other words, if a nation renounces its language, it renounces both itself and its interests, which means that it ceases to see itself through its own eyes, to judge itself and others with its own mind, and instead waits for intervention from without. A nation that has lost its language is like a man who has lost his path and does not know which way he is coming or going, and who therefore does not know why he is going one way rather than another. The faster a nation changes its language the more dangerous and desperate its position becomes.

The people of Macedonia and their interests are in grave danger from foreign propagandists who are using all means, fair arid foul, to root out our language and, hence, our spiritual interests, and foist on us instead their own languages and their own interests.

This menace not only obliges us, it gives us the full right to use every means, legal or illegal, to preserve our national language and1 through the language, our national interests. In so doing, we would not be asking for what is not ours, but simply protecting what belongs to us.

Language is the acoustic result of the physiological functioning of the human organs of speech to which a certain meaning is ascribed. The principle elements of language or human speech are: the speech organs, their physiological functioning, hearing, the psychological reception of the physiological effects of the organs of speech through hearing, and the assimilation of this process from the functioning of the organs of speech through the voice towards a certain meaning. Accordingly, language is primarily a physiological and psychological ability and, as such, depends on all that enables man to change, i.e. through the development of an individual man or of a people one may also come to understand the development of their language, and vice – versa. Man changes in time and space; so too does his language. The changes occurring in the language of a people gradually become the history of that people’s language, while the changes that take place in the various regions represent contemporary variants or dialects, sub-dialects, accents, etc.

Each national language has its history and its contemporary variants, dialects, sub-dialects, etc., and our language is no exceptions The history of our language shows that the present variants are derived from older ones, which is proof that they originate from a common Macedonian language, and that Macedonian comes from the South-Slav group, and so on. On this basis one may determine which variant or dialect in any particular period was most used in the written language.

The history of Macedonian, like the history of other languages, shows that any dialect, regional variant or accent may be used in literature. The privilege any dialect or regional, accent may enjoy through being made the vehicle of literature as historians of the language might say is not granted on the basis of any aesthetic superiority it may have, but for purely practical considerations, i.e. as a result of historical and cultural circumstances.

These circumstances can raise one dialect to the level of a literary language today, and another tomorrow.

Historical and cultural factors have always been influential in forming a literary language. For this reason we have lately been neglecting to choose the speech of one of our own regions as the general literary language, and instead we have been writing and learning in a foreign, neighboring tongue, chiefly Bulgarian. Now, however, thanks to circumstances, we are taking the dialect of central Macedonia (Veles-Prilep-Bitola-Ohrid) as our general literary language.

What historical and cultural factors, then, have been preventing us from creating our own literary language and from choosing our own dialect, e.g. the central Macedonian dialect? They are as follows: We have already seen how closely national interests are bound up with language, and language with the character and spirit of the nation. We have also seen that three nations are struggling one against the other in our country to force us to accept their religious and national propaganda, and that all three together are battling against us and our interests, hoping to deal us a mortal blow by taking church and school activities into their own hands so that through these institutions they might subjugate our interests, stifle our national cons-ciousness, and force us to accept their language instead of our own But our national interests require us to keep these others at bay and defend our language against the onslaught of propaganda. This defense will be successful and will help to lay bare the propagandists’ schemes only if it is a united and general resistance. But in order to achieve this it is necessary that we should be unanimous in choosing one of our dialects as the general Macedonian literary language. And unanimity will be reached if each of us makes his choice neither according to aesthetic standards nor to local attachment, but on the grounds of common interest. Common interest demands that the peripheral dialects give way to the central dialect. Just as in any country there is a center, which is best situated in the middle of the country, towards which all aspects of life should flow, so too in the field of language there should be a center which, by virtue of its importance, would be related to the peripheral dialects in the same way as the center and capital of a state is connected to the outlying districts. All our scientists, academics, and writers should group themselves around the central dialect in order to cleanse it from the influence of other Macedonian dialects and turn it into a fine literary language. This dialect should serve to create rich and attractive scientific, academic, and literary works through which the literary language might be spread throughout Macedonia, thus eradicating all the influences from the languages of the propagandists. And while eradicating these influences and establishing our own literary language we will also force out the interests of the small Balkan states and replace them with a language embodying the interests of Macedonia.

Thus the advantages we will gain from having a common literary language will serve as a yardstick in choosing the dialect, all of which is germane to the formation of our new literary language.

When a dialect is raised to the level of a literary language, aesthetic qualities never play any part because practical application is far more important than aesthetic considerations, which are more relative and subjective.

This is why one normally feels that the dialects and accents which one is accustomed to hear are the most beautiful. This is why one cannot speak of the aesthetic when discussing language, dialects, and sub-dialects.

So, a Macedonian from the eastern, southern, western or northern part of Macedonia would have no right to object to the choice of the central Macedonian dialect as the literary language simply on the grounds that it did not appeal to his ear. There would be no reason for Kim to object to the central dialect, because the choice has been made for practical reasons.

Let us now see whether the choice of the central dialect as the literary language is, in fact, practically us t if jab le.

Bitola was chosen as the residence of the General Inspector of Macedonia and his civilian advisors, and became the capital of Macedonia. The new capital was not far from the old ones, Prespa and Prilep, and from the seat of the, until recently autocephalous, Archbishopric of Ohrid. One may say, therefore, that the central dialect is historically justified because the capitals are situated in the center, both geographically and ethno-graphically.

The central town of Macedonia is Veles, and one need go only a short distance from there to reach Bitola and Ohrid via Prilep. This movement away from the geographical center can be explained by the fact that Prilep, Bitola, and Ohrid are of greater historical importance in Macedonia and, moreover, sufficiently distant from the Serbian and Bulgarian language centers to be able to form the Macedonian language center. The Veles-Prilep-Bitola- Ohrid dialect is truly the core of the Macedonian language because to the west one finds the Debar dialect in which, for example, the word arm (raka) is pronounced roka, while in the south (the Kostur dialect) it becomes ronka, in the east (the Salonica dialect) r’ka, and in the north (the Skopje dialect) ruka.

For us, in Macedonia, the creation of a literary language is a spiritual need, for this would put an end to the abuse of our interests by the propagandists and would enable us to form our own literary and academic center so that we would no longer be dependent on Belgrade and Sofia. This, however, is no easy task, and it can only be accomplished if the Macedonian of the north will offer his hand to his brother in the south, and if the Macedonian from the east will do the same to his brother in the west. And their meeting-place will be around Prilep and Bitola.

Thus the Macedonians will create a cultural center of their own, which will come to be what Bitola now is as the capital of Macedonia, or what Ohrid, Prilep and Bitola have been in the history of Macedonia. It will, like all these places, become a geographical and language center, and all this helps towards the creation of a common Macedonian literary language with its central dialect.

In making our choice of a dialect to represent the Macedonian literary language, we should also consider the question of Macedonian orthography.

To begin with, a few remarks should be made concerning orthography and the direction of our cultural development. The orthography of a language should, like the formation of a literary language, develop gradually and consciously. For an illiterate man is capable of learning the alphabet of a nation more cultured than his own and of expressing his thoughts through this foreign alphabet or else applying it to the sounds of his own language. But if his own language contains sounds which do not exist in the language from which he has borrowed the alphabet, he will amend it in order to distinguish between the sounds of the two languages. This borrowed and amended alphabet is handed down from generation to generation, changing in the process until it is made to suit the language of the borrower. Thus, gradually and imperceptibly, we see the formation of an alphabet belonging to a nation at a low cultural level in contact with nations at e higher level. But this process of assimilation can be justified only if the two neighboring nations are politically unequal, i.e. the more cultured nation ruling, and the other, less cultured, subject or deprived of even the minimum political freedom. It is a different matter, however, if both nations have their own states. In such a case the borrowing is gradual and insignificant. Thus Christianity and literacy were introduced in Macedonia earlier than in any other Slav country; they expanded over the centuries, moving constantly upwards, i.e. progressively. This is why there are no historical references to the conversion of the Macedonians to Christianity. But the conversion of a nation to Christianity entails a change in its level of literacy; and failure to mention our conversion means bypassing the process of our development towards literacy.

This is why our spiritual revival, and the spread and development of literacy in Macedonia, which took place for geographical and historical reasons in the first millennium A.D., did not follow the direction taken by other Slav nations. In Macedonia the process was gradual and imperceptible, while with the other Slav nations it was quicker and more clearly defined.

At the time when Turkey overran the Balkan peninsula, a certain change occurred: the Turkish rulers severed all our links with the past. Macedonia, being the central province of the empire, was hardest hit by this abrupt break, and, therefore, at the time when the other Slav Orthodox nations were gradually developing their own literary language and orthography, we were losing our linguistic coherence and had almost completely renounced our language for the purposes of literature. From time to time, during the 19 th century, attempts were made to write in Macedonian, but for historical reasons these attempts were not nearly as successful as might have been expected.

The efforts of Macedonian writers in the 19 th century failed, unfortunately, to attract much following. This is why any attempts that may be made now, in the 20th century, to write in Macedonian are more likely to be made for amusement’s sake than for patriotic reasons or out of the desire to set about the language in a systematic way. Here lies the essence of our Macedonian national and spiritual revival in comparison with the development of the other Orthodox Slav nations; i.e. just as we were once the first of all Slav peoples to accept Christianity and the alphabet, so, later, when all the Orthodox Slavs were gradually developing their literary language, their literature and orthography, we were left lagging behind without any literary tradition. And not because we do not have one, but because we have come to forget our tradition through learning in a foreign tongue. We should now hasten to work out our literary language, fix our orthography, and set about creating a literature which would meet all our requirements. Through our present national revival we are setting ourselves against the other Orthodox Slavs, just as we did in the past; only, in the past we led the spiritual revival, which took place slowly in Macedonia but quickly elsewhere, and now the opposite is true: in the past they were hard pressed to catch up with us and they went about it with speed and purpose, now we should do the same.

The development of a nation’s language and orthography depends on the development of the nation itself. If a nation gradually builds up its alphabet and gradually alters it, and if this process is not impeded or interrupted by any historical events, the literary language and the orthography will then contain many elements which do not truly correspond to the sounds of the language as it is spoken at that moment. But if the cultural development of the nation spans two periods, between which there is a third – forming a barrier, an insurmountable obstacle – then the new period in the development of the national consciousness brings about a revival of the national spirit, which, though perpetua-ting the old principles, now embraces new aspirations in keeping with the spirit of the time and the specific needs of life. This revival is also reflected in the literary language and the orthography, thus both are in a sense freed of those elements of tradition which no longer accord with the state of the spoken language.

Hence, the history of the cultural development of a people, in accordance with its progress, is completed either through a purely etymological or historical orthography or through a mixed etymological-phonetic, historical-phonetic, or simply phonetic orthography.

These three types of orthography depend on the degree of attachment to the old or new forms of the spoken or the literary language. One of the three orthographies comes to be used for the literary language of an awakening nation, depending on the tendency dominant at the time of revival.

One thing is sure: our orthography and the development of our literary language should be entirely dependent on the tendency guiding us in our national awakening. And in this book one may see what sort of tendency this might be. However, I should like to take the liberty of repeating it: firstly, Macedonia should take up a neutral attitude to Bulgaria and Serbia, and remain at an equal distance from both these states; secondly, Macedonia should be linguistically united. These principles should guide us in creating our literary language and orthography.

These principles entail: 1. The adoption of the Prilep-Bitola dialect, as the central dialect in Macedonia for the purpose of creating a literary language equally different from Serbian and Bulgarian, 2. The adoption of a phonetic orthography with letters as used in this back and with minor concessions to etymology, 3. The collection of lexical material from all the regions of Macedonia.

(Page 132-145)

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