Representatives of the Committee for Standardization of the Serbian Language, which was not previously consulted, even before the adoption of the Law, assessed that the state government, by prescribing the obligatory official use of new words unknown in the Vukovar tradition as borkinja, pilotkinja, centarhalfkinja, vodice, nosilica and the like, he is consciously working to collapse the structure of the Serbian language, and thus the Serbian national identity.
As for the specific linguistic matter, they did not go further, as did almost all other critics.
However, as we shall see, focusing exclusively on feminine grammatical suffixes has led the dispute to the wrong track, as such creatures are only one, the most media-attractive but not necessarily the most important, aspect of gender-sensitive language, while the main problems remain in the dark.
Only these days, Matica Srpska, in a letter (unfortunately late, also due to the lack of consultations) entitled “Gender-sensitive language, femininities and gender equality”, sent to the state leadership with the signatures of fifty experts and the support of Serbian departments at all universities in Serbia, pointed to the essential linguistic weakness of the whole project – the inevitable and inadmissible repetitiveness.
The signatories give only one example, but a very convincing one, quoting the following passage from a seventh-grade geography textbook: “Native Americans are Indians and Eskimos.” They belong to the yellow race.
The ancestors of the Indians immigrated from Asia. The Indians expanded and inhabited the American continent all the way to Tierra del Fuego in the south. “
In line with the new law, the letter points out, this text should read: “Native Americans are Indians and Eskimos (Inuit). They belong to the yellow race.
Ancestors of Indians immigrated from Asia. The Indians have expanded and settled the American continent all the way to Tierra del Fuego in the south. “
To some, this may seem like a vicious parody, but the question remains for the writers of the strictly formulated Law on how a different passage should be worded without colliding with it.
The dogmatic insistence on repetition is not from yesterday, but it is gradually intensifying. The signatory of these lines has repeatedly warned about the negative effects of this phenomenon since 2005, when in his book Language and Culture (Library of the 20th Century) he quoted and commented on the letter that was published in Danas on March 25, 2004. signed by “Activists of the Center for Nonviolent Action Belgrade”.
Instead of Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo, “Serb men and women” are mentioned here, emphasizing that we must all be “aware and aware” of some things… And now, even in invitations to certain professional gatherings, “participants” are greeted. , “Who / who” are asked to send attachments, and the like.
It is even worse when one starts to “economize” by monstrous shortening, such as members, students, doctors, which can also often be found (not only in the forms), and since when does a literate person’s hair stand on end.
In addition, a series of academics, Professor Dr. Ivana Ivanović, director of the Institute and rector of the University, can be offensive, where it is pointed out six times that it is a female person (as if this biological fact is her main professional qualification).
The basic problem here is the neglect of the difference between linguistic units in isolation (as in a dictionary) and in a related text (as in a sentence), characteristic of static and non-linguistic imagining of language as essentially a mere collection of words.
More specifically, a woman who declares herself to be a minister or governor cannot be denied that right, but neither can one who wants to be a minister or governor. Analogously, the decision of some women to call themselves women’s rights activists must be respected, no matter how much this term bothers unaccustomed ears, and there are no problems with that.
But difficulties arise when they are found side by side, and they always stay so paired at every mention, fighters, students, members, not to mention the mentioned “abbreviations”.
In other words, the main problems are not morphological but syntactic-stylistic in nature – and this fact has been completely obscured in the mostly futile clashes between two extremist currents, feminist and traditionalist, over the validity of certain lexical units taken in isolation.
Fighters, pilots, experts and similarly built creatures may be accepted as completely normal in the next generations of speakers and writers of the Serbian language; but the repetitions we have illustrated will forever remain a drastic example not only of simple illiteracy but also of ideologically induced violence against language.
The new legal provisions have already entered into force. Although insufficiently thought out, they are unequivocally commanding, prescribing what all people are obliged to adhere to in a very widely understood official use of language, which includes schooling and the media, instead of being advisory (which would be more natural and easier to achieve).
As emphasized in Matica’s letter, a truly equal and democratic general solution would be to allow everyone the choice between the masculine and feminine grammatical gender to denote females.
However, the problem of lexical repetition and grammatical congruence should also be addressed when it comes to persons of both sexes together, as in the above examples.
We conclude that in the new situation, the Law should be supplemented with accompanying comments, with grammatical and stylistic instructions for its application.
It should show, on concrete examples from language practice instead of political proclamations about the importance of gender-sensitive language, how the achievement of set goals is conceived, and what will be considered allowed and what will be subject to sanctions – bearing in mind, among other possible reservations, and those set out in this small appendix to the subsequent public hearing.
Without that, this part of the Law will remain a dead letter on paper, or, in the case of serious pressure from the state, it will cause a general disturbance in public communication, without any visible benefit.
The author is a linguist, a full professor at the Faculty of Philology
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