"our language"

claude hagege claude.hagege at FREE.FR
Wed Dec 25 17:38:52 UTC 2002

In connection i) with Björn Wiemer's query on languages which are named by their own speakers as "our speech/language", ii) with the interesting information given by Östen Dahl's on meänkieli as a minority kieli which, spoken in theTorne valley in Northern Sweden, has recently been officially recognized, and iii) with my own remark that there are many languages which correspond to what Björn is looking for, it may be useful to recall two further cases, besides Guarani, which I mentioned  in my message (15 Dec.), and Siriono, mentioned by Östen. One is what Greek linguists refer to as "Slavonic Macedonian" (for the obvious reason that when the Greeks are speaking of Macedonia, they mean a part of Greece, and won't refer to the  Republik of Macedonia (formerly one of the six federal republics of Socialist Yugoslavia) without adding "Slavonic". This language, still spoken in northern Greek villages between Thessaloniki and the Macedonian and Bulgarian borders, is one of the endangered languages in Europe today. It is referred to by its older users (most of them bilinguals (with Greek as the language used outside family relationships) ) as "Bulgarian" sometimes, but mostly as ta dhikà mas which, in Greek, exactly means, literally, "the one of us, that which belongs to us"; the term for "language" is not used here because the neutral plural in -a, in this case, necessarily refers in modern Greek to the language, as in milate anglika;  "do you speak English?" The other case is represented by a community of which many members precisely happened to live in Thessaloniki before their extermination by the Nazis in 1944: descendents of the Spanish Jews expelled from Spain by the Catholic Kings in 1492, and who refer to the archaic Judeo-Castilian they speak (generally called "djudesmo") as lo muestro. In this language, m- in muestro corresponds to Castilian n- in nuestro "our, ours". Therefore, lo muestro means, exactly, "ours, the one (sc. language) of us".
   Interestingly, a people may also refer to itself (not exactly to its language) as "alien" rather than as "self". It may also use both designations. Indo-Europeans referred to themselves  either as "self" or as "other". "Self" was found in the name of the Samnites, in which Samn is in all likelihood from *swe+*bh -no-, and in the old name of Sweden, o.Sw. swe:-ri:ke  "realm of self"  > mod. Sverige (Östen will correct me if I am mistaken). "other" is found in the vey name of the Aryans, from skr. à:rya  "other". By referring to themselves in this way, they meant that they had come from a territory different from the one they had conquered (cf. Pokorny, Thurneysen, Thieme, and the Gaulish tribe Allobroges (="(from) another territory" in which the root, *alyo-, corresponds to Eastern à:rya) ). According to another hypothesis, which is not backed up by convincing arguments, and which is explicitly rejected by Benveniste, the Aryans were so called because they were the best: cf. Greek ari- in àristos. I won't insist on the implications of such a hypothesis and what it is reminiscent of with respect to the 1933-1945 period. Anyway, this leads us fairly far from "our language", although the topics are not unrelated!
Best, Claude.
Claude Hagège
claude.hagege at free.fr
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