Perspectives | Culture

To blend or not to blend? Albanian is ever-evolving

By - 20.10.2016

Albanian speakers face numerous problems with new words and expressions that will take time to be standardized.

Technological development, and societal evolution in general, necessarily produce the need to name things. Discoveries and inventions, complex phenomena and new relations require a series of names and expressions that are used to explain and identify them. But even beyond this, language as a live and a dynamic phenomenon always and by all means goes, and must go, in line with human development because of our need to explain, name, and clearly identify concrete things and abstract phenomena.

To this end, languages use a couple of methods to create new words and to name things which did not previously need such a thing. We are talking about word formation and borrowing.

In brief, the most simple explanation of word formation would be to use two or more words in order to build new words — like, for instance, in + as + much for inasmuch, de + solve for dissolve, word + less for wordless and so on and so forth.

Borrowing is even more simple. A foreign language word is adapted (or borrowed along with its pronunciation) such as (words in Albanian borrowed from other languages) ‘taxi,’ ‘basketball,’ ‘computer,’ etc.

And here begin the clashes!

Besides technological developments that have imposed new expressions, numerous words and expressions are now in usage in daily discourse.

The endless debate analyses whether it is better to form new words or borrow the expression by adapting their pronunciation to the rules of our language. Those in favor of the first method are known as purists, because they consider a language to have vast possibilities to form new words, and with this a language preserves its originality — since by borrowing words a language slowly loses its unique character, and consequently a nation loses its national and linguistic identity.

Those in favor of the latter — and they usually do not oppose word formation within reasonable limits — use the argument that in many cases borrowings do not necessarily have their 100 percent equivalent in the source language (exploration is not the same as research, and research is not the same as investigation), and they rightly consider that in certain cases word formation may result in silly expressions that never find their place in the source language.

How are we to use thousands of expressions deriving from technological development, from media development? ‘Google it’ or ‘search for it using Google search engine’? ‘Post it’ or ‘write it on a social media’? ‘Tweet’ or ‘chirp’? These are the dilemmas that daily users face when using expressions that have become an inseparable part of their lives.

An Albanian dictionary produced using a computer had, on its last page, the definition of ‘John Doe,’ but the word ‘computer’ was not to be found in the dictionary!

However, it is not only these expressions that have found their place in our daily language. Besides technological developments that have imposed new expressions, numerous words and expressions are now in usage in daily discourse. Institutions are ‘attacked’ (Germanic root) or ‘assaulted’ (borrowed from Latin), an ‘initiative’ (Latin) is ‘backed’ (Germanic) or ‘supported’ (Latin), ‘inputs’ (in + put) and ‘contributions’ (Latin) cannot be ‘disregarded’ (dis + regard) or ‘neglected’ (Latin) and so on and so forth. These words are used interchangeably in media, in public debates, in public and political discourse.

And this is where the purists explode!

English is the way it is as a result of the Norman conquests ... Spanish has thousands of words of Arabic origin.

There have been dozens of initiatives of the type: Let’s clean our beautiful language; let’s remove unnecessary expressions or Slavic-Italian barbarisms from our pure language; let’s root out words of Turkish, Arabic, Latin (?) origin from our unique language. These initiatives were followed by Albanian-Albanian glossaries (and those are Albanian-Albanian glossaries and nobody can deny that), where teachers and other language enthusiasts provided expressions that MUST replace foreign expressions.

One should not neglect the good intentions of these enthusiasts who want our language to preserve its unique character, and to use its own words before borrowing foreign words; enthusiasts who consider that every word has and should have its Albanian equivalent (a Facebook group that discusses the use of Albanian language provided proposals for ‘basketball,’ and ‘football,’ by translating literally basket + ball, and foot + ball, with the results being quite funny); enthusiasts who believe that these borrowings may cause identity crises and many other arguments which — up to a certain extent — are right, but never beyond that extent!

English is the way it is as a result of the Norman conquests. Prior to this conquest, Anglo-Saxon language was predominantly made up of pastoral words. With the Norman conquest, Latin words found their place in daily usage, especially when it came to administration, courts and so on.

Spanish has thousands of words of Arabic origin. Many words that start with a or al  like almohada (pillow), alfombra (carpet), aceite (oil), are of Arabic origin. I do not believe that the Real Academia Espanola had ever considered rooting out these words once and for all and replacing them with the splendid Spanish that sounds like no other. No, by no means! Because those words and expressions found their way and are part of national and linguistic identity! Part of an undeniable history, like it or not!

We lack a systematic approach to dealing with the rapid language development that is the result of societal development. Languages need to name and identify things that become part of life, and in different places there are various institutions that work towards finding solutions to these challenges. Academies and language institutions every year introduce new words to dictionaries, words that have found their place in everyday usage. Dictionaries then give explanations, use, etymology.

In our case, an additional problem is the lack of mutual cooperation and communication. Who should undertake this role in our case? The Academy of Science of Albania? The Academy of Science of Kosovo? An all-Albanian language institution?

There is no such a thing as bad language, there is no such thing as language that sounds bad, there is no such thing as language that should die.

If a translator or a user says that Albanian language is poor (in relation to other languages, of course) they will be called a traitor (quite a romantic notion, wouldn’t you agree?) If a translator or a user says that a page in English is translated into a page and a half in Albanian, they would be advised that this does not mean that Albanian is poor just because it uses other ways to say one thing. If a translator or a user says that adverbs (which in some languages are expressed with one sole word) in Albanian are usually expressed with three words, they would be reminded that this is not a shortage but a beauty.

That is not true if we are pragmatic and say that the art is to say much with few words (potentially with one word), that a polyglot should be called ‘polyglot,’ a blog should be called ‘blog’ because, for instance, if we are translating sections of an online magazine (like K2.0) such as blogs, in Albanian this section cannot be put as writers’ own experiences because that is graphically impossible. Therefore, when we discuss language use we should always bear in mind a series of implications in a number of life aspects, and not only a chit-chat in a bar of a south-western province (for illustrative purpose only).

Language as a phenomenon, as a tool, is a miracle in itself, and this is the core element that distinguishes us from animals (though they too communicate, but on a more primitive level), and each and every language is beautiful in itself, because it indicates the way of thinking, the way of acting. There is no such a thing as bad language, there is no such thing as language that sounds bad, there is no such thing as language that should die. Nevertheless, there are richer and poorer languages. There are languages with more possibilities to make up new words, and languages that are more conservative in this respect. There are language institutions that work for the benefit of the language, and there are institutions that work against a language and, consequently, against overall societal development.

As a conclusion, we do not have more than two ways of making up words to describe things and phenomena that are part of our lives. We will either form new words using tools that we have or borrow words and adapt the pronunciation. This word-formation or borrowing should then be officialized with contemporary languages and updated every year at a super-linguistic congress. Should this not be the case, we will continue to have senseless clashes of groups of irrational purists on one side and the careless but pragmatic borrowers on the other.

Image: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0.