Old-Time Language

Dear Reader,

Allow me to show you a great little book. I took it from that forsaken village I recently visited (more on that – here).

It is a tiny little book indeed, 30 pages and about the size of my hand. Its title is Vitosha and the Sofia Plain and it does not say anything on the subject which I don’t know.

Book front cover
Book front cover

What it however has, is an exquisite old-style language. It was published in 1937 and its vocabulary is very typical of the period – dignified, simple but in the same time elaborate, also totally free of jargon and overtly foreign words. It is the style of language one can encounter in Victorian literature and movies up to, say, around the mid-1950s.

Book back cove
Book back cover

The choice of words in this book is indicative  not only of the personality and values of the author, but, given that it is a book directed at schoolchildren and intended for educational purposes, it is also indicative of the state policy priorities of the time.

Its language is not devoid of emotion and attitude, as opposed to today’s educational language, in which objectiveness and lack of emotion are a must.

I wonder – what have we gained and lost by this shift to the objective and the non-committal?

Let me try to translate for you:

Front Cover:
Publication Series Pretty Bulgaria;
Author Ivan Velikov;
Vitosha and the Sofia Plain; Hemus (publishing house).”

Hemus is an old name for the Balkan Mountains by the way. In today’s Bulgarian, the Balkans are literally called Old Mountains, while the appellation Balkans is relegated to the poetic realm.

Back Cover:

“Publication Series Pretty Bulgaria;
Illustrated brochures with engaging geographical content, intended for children aged between 10 and 14 years.
Edited by Ivan Velikov, former distinguished teacher. (this is a recognition I am not sure which institution used to award and for what accomplishments).
The objectives of the Pretty Bulgaria publication series are: to enrich and solidify the knowledge on fatherland geography of school-age children and to instill into the young readers that our beautiful land would always generously endow those among its sons and daughters who love it and mindfully and honourably make use of its natural riches encompassing fields, rivers, forests, mountains, seas and underground resources.
The series would be especially useful to schoolchildren of the fourth grades, as it fully covers the fourth-grade geography curriculum of the Fatherland Knowledge department.
Brochures published within this series: 1. Proud Balkans; 2. Calm White Danube; 3. The Danube Valley; 4. The Black Sea and its Cities; 5. Vitosha and the Sofia Plain; 6. Pernik, Dupnitsa, Kyustendil (those are towns in Bulgaria); 7. The Rila Mountains; 8. The Pirin Mountains; 9. The Rhodope Mountains; 10. The Mid-Forest Belt; 11. The Thracian Valley.

Each brochure sells for three Bulgarian levs.”

There. Would you ever read something like that in a present-day textbook? I doubt it! And still, it was written less than 100 years ago. 

Book first page
Book first page

A few notes:

  • Proud Balkans, or Proud Old Mountains (Горда Стара планина), is the first line of the current Bulgarian anthem. It is a magnificent composition, which I invite you to listen to here. This particular recording features Bulgarian world-renowned operatic bass Nicola Ghiuzelev (1936-2014) (Никола Гюзелев), world-renowned operatic soprano Rayna Kabaivanska (b. 1934) (Райна Кабаиванска), pop singer Orlin Goranov (b. 1957) who is also an operatic tenor, and pop singer Roberta, known for her husky contralto voice.
  • Calm White Danube (Тих бял Дунав) is the opening line of a much loved patriotic march-style song, honouring poet and revolutionary Hristo Botev and his group of rebels against the Ottoman rule, who crossed the Danube from Romania to Bulgaria on the Radetzky passenger steamship in 1876. The verses used as song words were written by national poet Ivan Vazov.

So, as you see, geography and patriotism used to go hand in hand. Not so today. 

However, we should be Bulgarians not only by God’s mercy, but also by a deliberate choice, and including such an angle to our language of today could help us rediscover the strength and beauty of our roots.

And yes, I do mean that.