Monday, January 12, 2009

Now that the first working week of the new year is over, I think it is safe to say that Slovakia's transition to the new currency is going very well. I was a little late on board, making my first official euro purchase on Thursday (shoelaces, € 0.83) and making the first ATM withdrawal on Friday (€ 40), but even though I am arithmetically challenged, so far so good.

Unlike other nations - such as Malta - we were fortunate enough to avoid major linguistic issues associated with the adoption of the euro, but there are still some minor changes to consider. I, for one, rejoice at the thought of never having to decide again whether I should translate "slovenská koruna" as "Slovak crown" (which seems to have been the preferred form) or "Slovak koruna" (which sounds better to me). But that's just a minor point. As some, including this report in Pravda and this one in SME (originally by the Czech press agency ČTK), have pointed out, the real story is the changes which euro will mean for the slang terms for amounts, coins and banknotes:

desiatka/desík/desina = 10 (note the typical Bratislava suffix -ina normally used in standard Slovak to form fractions)
dvacka = 20 (but not dvacina)
pajdík = 50 (another typical Bratislava / Western Slovak formation)
kilo = 100
pětikilo = 500
liter = 1000
melón = 1 000 000 (melón also meaning, of course, "melon", especially "water melon")

But just what kind of changes should we expect? According to the Pravda editorial,

Slangové označenia peňazí ako desík, kilo, liter či melón odídu s korunou do zabudnutia. ... Liter stratí s eurom zmysel úplne. Tisíceurová bankovka totiž neexistuje, najvyššie papierové euro má hodnotu 500.

Slang terms designating money like desík, kilo, liter or melón will become obsolete. With the adoption of the euro, liter will vanish completely. There is no € 1000 note, the highest demonination is € 500.

Really? Does that mean that we will no longer count money in tens, hundreds, thousands or millions? I guess it would be absolutely futile to try to explain to a journalist that one single word can be used for an object, like a banknote, as well as a concept, like an amount. Martin Považaj, a linguist with the Slovak Academy of Sciences, did try to do so when talking to ČTK with questionable results:

"Je však možné, že niektoré z týchto slov zostanú, ale nadobudnú novú významovú náplň, to znamená, že číselná hodnota skrývajúca sa za týmito slovami zostane, ale bude sa už vzťahovať na eurá[.]"

"It is possible that some of these words will stay with us, but will acquire a new meaning, that is the numerical value behind the words will remain, but will refer to amounts in euro."

So according to Dr. Považaj, it is merely possible that with a change in extralinguistic reality, the language will follow suit. Whereas according to anybody else with a bit of understanding of language, it is, how should I put it, pretty fucking certain.
And then the author of the report helpfully adds:

Znamenalo by to, že tieto výrazy by vyjadrovali 30-krát väčšiu hodnotu, kilo by tak už napríklad nebolo 100 Sk (3,32 eura), ale sto eur (3013 Sk).

This would mean that these terms would be used for amounts 30 times higher that before, thus kilo would not mean 100 Sk (3.32 euro), but hundred euro (3013 Sk).

The fact that this needs to be spelled out astonishes me. I'm quite certain that this - together with Dr. Považaj's explanation above - is a statement to the view of Slovak as something rigid and immutable so prevalent in our society. If you want another example, just try the very next paragraph:

Slová ako päťeurovka alebo stoeurovka sa doteraz do slovníkov slovenského jazyka nedostali, podľa jazykovedcov sú však spisovné a využívajú sa v hovorovej neoficiálnej komunikácii.

Words like päťeurovka (5 € note) or stoeurovka (100 € note) have not yet been included in dictionaries of Slovak, but according to the linguists, these are standard terms which are used in spoken unofficial communication.

Two perfectly legit compounds made from two perfectly normal (and standard) words based on a long-used and perfectly standard terms (päťkorunáčka and stokorunáčka) and yet people still feel the need to ask the official body to please please pretty please validate their own words. This makes me glad we haven't had to deal with any serious linguistic issues. Although the following clusterfuck could have been pretty funny to watch...

And finally, there is the issue of the new slang term for euro. According to Mira Nábělková, a Czech linguist quoted by the SME/ČTK piece, terms like jurko, jurášky, juráše and juroše have been recorded on the internet, obviously combining the English pronunciation with Slovak suffixes. I can see why jurko (note the diminutive suffix -ko) would work, but since it happens to be the diminutive form of the name Juraj, I don't think it's very likely. As for jurášky, I only found one single occurrence, and that one insists it's a pronunciation used by speakers of English. There were a few ghits on juráše, but all of those were from websites in Czech and as for juroše, that one only appears in variations of this ČTK report. And to add one final insult, Dr. Nábělková immediately connects these imaginary slang terms for euro with Juraj Jánošík, i.e. the most stereotypical stereotype in the history of Slovak stereotypes. Even her other examples, the diminutives eurko (neuter), eurík (masculine) and eurka (feminine) seem fishy. A brief Google search quickly revealed that the feminine form is nothing of the kind, but rather Nominative plural of the neuter form (UPDATE: but only when written without diacritics, the proper plural form is eurká). Examples (the first three ghits):

1. ... na ktore mimochodom sa eurka uz vyfasovali ... (which, by the way, they already got euros for)
2. ... a nosi eurka za kazdy mliecny zubok ... (who brings euros for every milk tooth)
3. ... a ked majitelom Slovanu dojdu eurka ... (and when the proprietors of Slovan run out of euros)

From the final list of terms collected on the internet, eurčeky is another nonce formation, but euráče, euráky, euráčiky (another diminutive) and - much less common - euroše are in actual use with euráče being the most common, at least according to raw ghits (2460 vs. 116, 224 and 109). I guess only time will tell which one(s) will be left standing. But if you want to come back in a few months and find out, be sure not to rely on Pravda, SME or ČTK.

22 comments:

John Cowan said...

Well, I don't know. When the English decimalized their currency back in 1971, you'd have thought they'd keep the names shilling and florin for the 5p and 10p coins (those having the same value, and indeed the same size, as their non-decimal predecessors). But no, a generation later they are still locked into calling them /'faivpi/ and /'tEnpi/ respectively.

bulbul said...

Yeah, but AFAIK those single-use terms, used exclusively for money and just British money. Not so much for desina, kilo or liter, those are basically just numbers that can be used with any currency. If I decided to by that shiny new Palm Pre in the US, I will pay päť kíl in USD for it, if I buy it here, I will fork over štyri kilá in €. People who were making 60 litrov B€ now make 2 litre. No big deal. Except, of course, if someone asks me to lend them a pajdík, I will be even more wary than usual.
I will need to check what happened in Slovenia.

trevor said...

The Dutch hung on to ton (= 100,000), clarified sometimes in the transition as being a euroton or a guldenton, and various local slang terms were also maintained.

The Spanish seven years on still enumerate large sums in pesetas. Given the havoc ECB rates have inflicted on its economy, perhaps there's an element of prescience in that.

Etienne said...

Actually, there might simply appear a total mismatch between the original and recent (post-euro)numerical values of spoken Slovak terms relating to currency: in Quebec French, to this day, a quarter coin (twenty-five cents) is often referred to as a "trente sous": this goes back to (British) pre-1858 currency, where a pound was divided into 120 pence, hence "quarter" = 30 pence.

David Marjanović said...

Emphasis added:

pětikilo

So Western Slovak is even more western than I'd have thought?

BTW, my uncle knows people in Vienna who called the 100 Schilling bill Kilo (not the amount, just the bill). One wonders how old that term is.

And of course I confirm that most Austrians still think in Schilling. There probably aren't any French left who think in vieux Francs, though.

bulbul said...

Etienne,

a mismatch is very unlikely. As I said above, and perhaps should have emphasized in the post, all those terms are amounts, the only strange thing is that they are almost exclusively used when talking about money. The switch to euro does not involve any change in the way we count them of the type you describe or the one the Dutch had to deal with. In the past few days, I've heard people using pajdík, kilo and liter the same way they did before 1.1.2009, only now they refer to amounts in euro. No biggie.

David,
So Western Slovak is even more western than I'd have thought?
There a nice dialect continuum with Czech, if that's what you mean. So 'five' is indeed 'pjet' in Western Slovak. As for the way I wrote it, well, 'pjetikilo' just don't look right :)

David Marjanović said...

all those terms are amounts

Now that is strange.

a nice dialect continuum with Czech, if that's what you mean.

Yes, thanks.

Adrian said...

John: "Shilling" and "bob" both survived into the next generation. (I was born in 1966 and use(d) both.) "Florin" didn't, but I don't think it was ever used as much as the other two.

Panu said...

I can see why jurko (note the diminutive suffix -ko) would work, but since it happens to be the diminutive form of the name Juraj, I don't think it's very likely.

Why so? In Finnish, "eero" (the first name Eero) has wide currency as a slang term for euro.

Panu said...

has wide currency

Pun not originally intended.

Anonymous said...

David Marjanović -

Yes, there ARE still many French people who still think in Old Francs. I have friends who do, constantly when speaking of large amounts of money (property prices). First they say "x millions" and then they look at us and change it to "sous" and then we try to tell them what the Euro would be while they calculate on their fingers (they are very fast at it). These are not very old people. Barely 60.

David Marjanović said...

I stand corrected.

Chris said...

When I was in Brussels about five years ago, the toilet attendant at the station demanded change in centimes.

I agree with Adrian that the old English slang hung on for anybody who was over about 12 at the time of decimalisation. Oddly enough, 10 bob for 50p most of all, and that was a completely new coin (10 shillings was paper).

Radovan Garabík said...

I came to this discussion late, but neverthless... Mira Nábělková is not a Czech linguist, she is a Slovak one (well, depending on how you look at it, she is living and working in Prague, but that's about it...)

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