- August 20, 2012
How much does ‘Žyviec’ cost?
Not so long ago when I was shopping in the mall ‘Europe’ in the capitol city, I discovered a wide range of beers from Poland. Well, in the times when the temperature between Vilnius and Warsaw is way below 0′, at least we can see that the trade was not hindered.
I looked at the prize tag which presented a bit distorted name of one of the most famous brands of beer in Poland- ‘ Žyviec’.
It seemed to be fine- the 17th article of the bill concerning the national language points out that in the Republic of Lithuania all public signs should be written in the national language. And we are aware that the letter ‘w’ is as unknown to the Lithuanian alphabet like Cyrillic or Chinese ideographs. But fine- I checked some other prize tags- and surprise- ‘Franziskaner Weissbier’ is written as… ‘ Franziskaner Weissbier’. We’ve got a big and beautiful letter ‘W’ at the beginning of the word and a German name written without any mistake. When I asked one of the shop- assistants what’s the reason of having 2 different approaches towards foreign brands of beer, she could not give me any answer different from ‘someone must have made a mistake while writing the prize tag’.
Sure, someone simply ‘must have made a mistake’.
I do not want to blame anyone or accuse the shop- assistants from this mall, and I definitely do not want to to start a new Polish- Lithuanian ‘conflict’ so I did not demand further explanations. But it is not the only case: I once received a registered letter from Moldova, where on the envelope my name was written in the way I write it. But the postman left the notification in my mailbox and wrote my name as Kšystop Kolanovski. Again, I do not suspect that the postman was being rude (next time he met me halfway and wrote my name as Krzysztof Kolanovvski) but let us think: how the postman would fill in the notification for a French woman living in Vilnius named Monique Dubois (fictional character)? Would he be able to write in Lithuanian as ‘Monik Diubua’? I think not but I suspect that he would even use the letter ‘q’ (non- Lithuanian one!).
What is the meaning of this? That the majority of the Lithuanian society is not aware of the bill’s requirements concerning the national language and remembers about this only in the Polish- Lithuanian context. Why care about the details? Surely it does not bother anyone to see ‘Maxima’ or widely- spread signs in English, French or Italian names of restaurants or even Царское село written in Cyrillic (Carskoje Sieło).
The majority of restaurants in Vilnius offer a menu translated to other languages. But if a gas station near the border offers in Polish ‘sandwiches’ and ‘coffee’, someone will take a picture and send it to the press (anyway, the gas station promised to have the advertisement written also in Lithuanian but never fulfilled it). The same type of people will be offended by the bilingual signs in the buses but later when they give their address to a foreign contractor they write ‘ Konstitucijos ave’ or ‘Vilniaus street’.
Like the postman mentioned above. He did not know that a) there are some principles of transcribing the surnames and Polish names which he did not obey (certainly not ‘ Kšystop’, rather ‘ Kšištof’) and b) I am a foreigner, and foreigners’ surnames should be written as they are printed in the documents issued in their fatherland. But why bother about the details if it is fine to say that ‘Polish surnames must be written in Lithuanian’?
A common argument against ‘ the Polish surnames’ is that if we legalise the non- Lithuanian letters like ‘w’ or ‘ł’, ‘ż’ or ‘ś’ we will have to write Russian surnames in Russian, Chinese in Chinese language etc. I do not want to repeat that in other countries (except Lithuania and Latvia) the matter of writing surnames in the Latin alphabet basing on the original spelling does not cause any problems. But let us see how in Lithuania writing Chinese surnames looks like. It is enough to skim the newspaper and we find: Hu Jintao, Jiangas Zeminas (Jiang Zemin), Wenas Jiabao (Wen Jiabao) or Mao Zedongas. It is not a Lithuanian spelling but…. a Chinese spelling with Lithuanian suffixes- it is called pinyin, an official transcription of the Chinese language! If I wanted to get hysterical I would say that Vilnius in case of Chinese surnames acts as Beijing tells to! The same goes with Arabian or Persian surnames: Mahmoudas Ahmadinejadas, Basharas Al Assadas, Yasseras Arafatas. Again the same English spelling (not Lithuanian!) with suffixes. In this case, Polish is more rigorous- when the surnames are spelled in the alphabet different than the Latin one, in Poland they are written phonetically.
It all proves that the discussion about ‘the letter ‘w’ is pointless and the party supporting the phonetic spelling matching the Lithuanian orthography and offended by the Polish signs in the buses cannot propose anything else than playing mind games (‘Fight, the enemy is on the attack!’). I do not want to repeat the argument about the famous ‘WC’ sign. Eventually, Remigijus Šimašius ironically proposed to change this abbreviation into Lithuanian ‘VK’ (vandens kambariukas- water closet).
But we can also observe 2 more things: first of all, it is not about improving the spelling of foreign names or public signs in Lithuania and hardly anyone- except linguists- seem to care about it. It looks as if only one rule was applied: we must write in Lithuanian all surnames and names borrowed from languages related to our (not only from Polish, but also from Latvian and Russian) and other ones as we please because not everyone will be able to read them in the first place.
Secondly, the majority of Lithuanian people are not bothered by the sign ‘WC’ or name ‘Żywiec’ or even by the spelling of English and American surnames in English, German ones in German or French ones in French. Probably they would not be even bothered by spelling Polish surnames in Polish if it was not presented as consent for annexation of a part of the Lithuanian territory by Poland. But this hysteria must end one day if we take into account that while talking to ‘normal people’ (not necessarily on the Internet forum) it turns out that hardly anyone got hysterical about this, but their voice is not heard.
Tłumaczenie Kamila Jędrzejewska w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Kamila Jędrzejewska within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.