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Macedonian Language Lesson 1 (hopefully 2)

Written By: Elena on March 8, 2010 No Comment

While working as a Macedonian language teacher with foreigners, I noticed peculiarities that are common for the English speaking students who have no or only little second language acquisition experience. Their name is Mr. Experts* and they come to Macedonia as experts in politics, economy, law, war, peace, and other serious matters. They all have fancy offices on the top floor, and their desk is organized impeccably, not unlike their analytic minds. After a couple of Macedonian language lessons, the Macedonian language notebook appears on their desk. When Mr. Expert opens it, he can shamefully recognize the nervous scribbles. He in fact doesn’t recognize his own writing in Cyrilic, he just remembers the act of writing. He remembers when he failed to control the hand in moving the pencil on the sheet as he remembers when he also failed to control his speech organs that are supposed to produce articulated sounds. Suddenly he realizes that he is neither able to write nor pronounce a simple noun as “book” or a “pen” in Macedonian. The ideas of a book and a pen remain floating in the air, since the sounds are as degenerated as the written letters, both created by incapable hand movement and incapable speech organs, both controlled by an incapable Mr. Expert?! Suddenly, there is this new part of him, his incapable double, with a costume and a tie, and he is mocking his own complete being. He is completely uncontrollable, frivolous, and foolish: he is writing a “Р” (‘r’ in Macedonian), instead of a “П”(‘p’ in Macedonian), and pronouncing that as an English “W”! He is pronouncing an “Е”, as an “И”, and when he realizes his own mistake, he does it again, and repeats it for other 10 times in the next 40 minutes!

Very often, what one does in an extremely frustrating situation like this one, is try to abort this foolish new being by throwing the notebook in the garbage and blocking its evolutionary process by never coming back to a Macedonian language lesson, under the excuse of not having time for that at the moment, with the career and everything.  Abort and forget.

At this point, I learned to read them this excerpt from the book called “Dictionary of the Khazars”, by the Serbian writer Milorad Pavić. It tells the story of the creation of the Slavic alphabet by Cyril and Methodius.

“And then came yet another siege of the city whose name he bore. While the Slavs besieged Constantinopole in 860’s A.D., Constantine was setting a trap for them in the quiet of his monastic cell in Asia Minor’s Olympus – he was creating the first letters of the Slavic alphabet. He started with rounded letters, but the Slavonic language was so wild that the ink could not hold it, and so he made a second alphabet of barred letters and caged the unruly language in them like a bird. Only later, when it had been tamed and taught Greek (for languages learn other languages), could the Slavonic language be caught in the original Glagolitic, rounded letters…

Daubmannus relates the following story about the genesis of the Slavic alphabet.

It was no easy task to tame the barbarians’ language. One quick three-week-old autumn, the brothers were sitting in their cell, trying to write out the letters that men would later call Cyrillic. They were not getting anywhere. From the cell you could clearly see half of October, and in it the silence was one hour’s walk long and two hours’ walk wide. Then Methodius called his brother’s attention to four jugs standing on the window of their cell, but outside, on the other side of the bars. “If the doors were locked, how could I get one of those jugs?” he asked. Constantine broke one of the jugs, then drew the fragments piece by piece through the bars and into the cell, where he reassembled the jug, bonding it with saliva and clay from the floor beneath his feet. This they now did with the Slavonic language: they broke it in pieces, drew it into their mouths through the bars of Cyril’s letters, and bonded the fragments with their saliva and the Greek clay beneath the soles of their feet.”

This somehow makes meaningful what Mr. Expert experiences as a grotesque trap. His inarticulate behavior is endowed with a new, deeper meaning, and he is incited to give it another try. And after a while, a new knowledge is born.

Elena Filipovska

*A note to the American readers – I’ve never had a female student that would enter in this category, that’s why there is only a Mr. Expert.


The Macedonian Alphabet:

Аа, Бб, Вв, Гг, Дд, Ѓѓ, Ее, Жж, Зз, Ѕѕ, Ии, Јј, Кк, Лл, Љљ, Мм, Нн, Њњ, Оо, Пп, Рр, Сс, Тт, Ќќ, Уу, Фф, Хх, Цц, Чч, Џџ, Шш

Some Glagolitic Letters:


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