Friday 29 May 2015

Missing kidneys

Soon after the wars in former Yugoslavia, politicians from all sides actively nationalised their languages. Antun Vrdoljak, Croatian TV chief in the 1990s, declared that,"Language preserves the nation's history and culture ... language is the womb." At its most xenophobic, the Croatian Education Minister, Jasna Gotovac, said, "The fight for our language and culture is a part of the war." Alija Isakovic, a linguist who published a Bosnian-language dictionary in besieged Sarajevo warned against a purge of Turkish words. "If they do," he said, "none of them will have a kidney." The common word for kidney being 'bubreg'. This might all seem to be archaic thinking, but this process applied to contemporary words as well. 'Helikopter' was to be zrakomlat, 'telefon' – brzoglas, 'aeroport' - zračna luka; making the internationally comprehensible into a jumble of incomprehension. We were criticised for calling the music centre in Mostar, ‘Muzički Centar Pavarotti’. Croatian politicians had recently discovered an ancient term for music, 'glazba' and were offended that we were not using that in place of a word recognised from Beijing to Buenos Aires. When a politician from the west side of town visited my office I gave him coffee from a džezva, served with rahat lokum (turkish delight). At that time, even coffee breaks could be political acts. Read more about the politics of language in 'Left Field'.

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