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BY 4.0 license Open Access Published by De Gruyter Mouton April 28, 2023

Giving voice to the Csángó figure: participation roles and the production of belief in language revitalisation

  • Csanád Bodó ORCID logo EMAIL logo and Noémi Fazakas

Abstract

Language revitalisation gives voice to those who participate in it. But it is not always clear whose voice the participants make heard. It is also not straightforward who hears and wants to listen to the voices that are raised during language revitalisation. In this article, we present a language educational programme which aims to give voice to the participants of the Moldavian Hungarian (also called Csángó) language revitalisation in North-East Romania. Applying the Goffmanian participation framework, we demonstrate that the participants of the programme collaborate in giving voice to a Csángó-speaking figure while covertly performing different roles. Drawing on our linguistic ethnographic research, we point out how this institutionalised participation framework promotes the achievement of one of the objectives of language revitalisation: the restoration of past language practices. Nevertheless, it also creates an obstacle to another: to the way that the speakers of this language can have a voice worth hearing. The analysis highlights the tensions of institutionalising a participatory framework in language revitalisation, which aims to produce the belief in a Csángó figure representing the essential link between language and (national) community.

1 Introduction

Language revitalisation gives voice to those who participate in it. But it is not always clear whose voice the participants make heard. It could be their own voice, the voices of those who still speak the language or something entirely different. It is also not straightforward who hears and wants to listen to the voices that are raised during language revitalisation. In this article, we present a language educational programme which aims to give voice to the participants of the Moldavian Hungarian (also called Csángó) language revitalisation in North-East Romania. School-age participants of the programme speak Romanian among themselves and with their bilingual parents and grandparents, while communicating in Hungarian, i.e., the language to be revitalised with their teachers and the so-called “godparents” whose role is to financially support their language education. Our analysis focuses on this asymmetrical production and reception of participants’ voices in language revitalisation, which is an attempt to make “vanishing” (Nettle and Romaine 2000), “endangered” (Dobrin 2012) or “silenced” (Hornberger 2006; Jonsson 2012) voices heard. We will show that the voices of Moldavian children that are worth hearing are created jointly by several actors in order to be interpreted as a success of linguistic revitalisation.

Following Bakhtin (1981), recent scholarship understands voice as dissociated from the embodied manifestations of the Self, whether they are sonic, multimodal or written in nature (Hill 1995; Levon 2012; Podesva and Callier 2015; Weidman 2021; Zuckerman 2021). Voice means “[a] figure performed through speech” (Agha 2005: 39), that is, giving voice to a figure indexes recognisable social personae in the interaction, who are not necessarily the same as the interlocutors. According to Bakhtin (1981, 1994, we always speak in someone’s voice, but this voice does not always belong to the one who is speaking. Yet voice, recognised as belonging to someone, plays a significant role in sociolinguistic theorising; the Hymesian and Blommaertian interpretation of voice is associated with social inequalities in such a way that not everybody has the “freedom to have one’s voice heard, and freedom to develop a voice worth hearing” (Hymes 1996: 64). In a context of linguistic revitalisation, the process of making “oneself understood in one’s own terms” (Blommaert 2009: 271) is about reclaiming the voice of those who have been silenced. Both approaches are similar in that they consider voice to be intrinsically linked to the tensions arising from its connection (or lack thereof) to other voices. Nevertheless, they point this out on different levels: Bakhtin in the interaction between “animated” figures, while Hymes and Blommaert in the indirect communicative effects of speaking (Dong 2017). In our research, we deploy this productive duality of theorising voice in order to highlight two sides of language revitalisation. These movements are both about how to create a figure of a speaker who can communicate in such a way that someone else’s speech, which they seek to revitalise, appears as their own, and who can make their voices heard in structurally unequal linguistic situations. In other words, language revitalisation has the dual objective to represent past practices through the linguistic evocation of a speaking figure, who – and this is the second objective – becomes worthy of being heard.

The dual objective of language revitalisation is achieved through complex institutional mechanisms that Bourdieu (1993) called the “production of belief” in constructing cultural values. Bourdieu’s focus is on the “production” of the artistic value of cultural goods, namely, the institutionalised “belief in the value of the work” (p. 36). Nevertheless, the argument he makes is much more widely applicable. According to him, the belief, be it in the value of artistic work or in a language, is generated through efficacious and continuous acts in a field of production, i.e., “the locus of the accumulated social energy which the agents and institutions help to reproduce through the struggles in which they try to appropriate it and into which they put what they have acquired from it in previous struggles” (Bourdieu 1993: 78–79). The participants of language revitalisation believe that such struggles produce a new quality of language and a related community that preserves some kind of a value from the past, as a way of making their political agenda be known (Avineri 2014; Brennan 2018; Costa 2017). We will show that the revitalisation of the Moldavian Csángó Hungarian language is about how the teachers and the language educational programme itself “try to appropriate” the voices of the children in order to produce the belief in an essential link between language and community (or even nation). These institutional actors, who mostly come from outside Moldavia, have a great impact on this work, although their contribution remains hidden for the godparents.

The production of belief has its own heroes; the key figure in language revitalisation is a younger person who, despite suppressing and hindering circumstances, is able to represent the linguistic past as authentic as it might be imagined, and who can give voice to the interests of the minoritized group to which they belong. However, the voice of this hero is created by the institutional mechanisms of belief production. As we will show, participants in linguistic revitalisation collaboratively give voice to a Csángó-speaking child, producing the belief in this interactionally constructed figure. To explore the organisation of such a collaborative production, we apply the concept of the Goffmanian participation framework. Goffman (1974, 1981 pointed out that the dyadic model of the speaker and the hearer simplifies the range of their roles that appear during interaction. Thus, the speaker is not an undifferentiated category, but consists of analytically defined participant roles that can be interpreted within interactional frameworks, which are continuously reconfigured. Our analysis will show that the emergence of the Csángó speakers who evoke the language of the past and articulate their own ambitions is enforced in a specific production format. In this format, giving voice to the Csángó speaker’s figure is related to an institutionalised participation framework that contributes to the achievement of the programme’s goals.

In the following we first outline the sociolinguistic situation of the Hungarian language in Moldavia and describe the Moldavian language revitalisation programme in Section 2. After shortly discussing the Goffmanian analysis of the participation framework (Section 3), we present our empirical ethnographic research methods in Section 4, followed by an analysis of institutional practices, which result in written texts that represent language revitalisation (Sections 5 and 6). These texts are letters addressed to the godparents who support the programme from Hungary. The letters are mentioned in a previous study as examples of the enregisterment of authenticity (Bodó and Fazakas 2018). It has been previously argued that the “authentic” Csángó dialect as performed in these texts has been commodified in order to make language revitalisation financially sustainable. Going a step further, our analysis below shows that the creation of the “authenticated object” (Maegaard and Karrebæk 2019), in our case, the letters, is inseparable from giving voice to the Csángó figure of language revitalisation. It is achieved through the development of an institutionalised participation framework, in which the participants co-create the textual embodiment of the Csángó speaker.

2 The Hungarian language in Moldavia

Before the fall of the state socialist monolingual regimes in the Central and Eastern European region, the issue of linguistic minorities was not as conspicuous as in the coming decades of post-socialist transformation. This led to the articulation of previously silenced nationalist interests involving those groups who Pogonyi (2015) calls “transborder kin-minority”. It was the time when the presence of the Hungarian-speaking population in the Moldavian region of Romania became an issue of national significance for Hungarians living elsewhere, together with the wish to integrate Csángó Hungarian speakers into the Hungarian linguistic and national community. There are several possible structural interpretations of such a nationalist project: following the accession of post-socialist states to the EU, the opposition between the left and the right (Fox and Vermeersch 2010) or the previous class-based political discourse (Kalb and Halmai 2011) is being replaced with the ethnic dimension by those who identify themselves in opposition to the EU. None of these interpretations, however, show how nationalism is related to the interactive work of the nationalised people’s linguistic embodiment, in other words, to the institutional endeavour that resulted in the participants jointly giving voice to a figure, who is the “poster child” of language revitalisation. In order to situate this figure in the context of the Moldavian Hungarian language revitalisation, we outline the narrative along whose lines the programme has evolved in Moldavia.

2.1 The Csángó narrative

When discussing the situation of the Hungarian language in Moldavia, we propose the term “the Csángó narrative” for the way the language is currently discussed in Hungarian nationalising discourses (cf. Lajos 2012). This narrative includes the following key elements: from the 13th and 14th centuries onwards, several major waves of migration from the eastern ends of the Hungarian Kingdom (Transylvania) resulted in the formation of Catholic and Hungarian-speaking communities in Moldavia. These communities are estimated to include around 50,000 speakers of Hungarian today (Tánczos 2012). They are characterised by the distance of the Csángó dialect and its speakers, both spatially and temporally, from the centre of the Hungarian language, and consequently, their unique relation to the past. For instance, Pozsony (2006: 157) writes that the Moldavian Csángós speak “an archaic Hungarian dialect, rich in medieval elements” and that the local communities can be characterised by “their isolation, fringe location and great distance from the centres of renewing Hungarian culture”. The Csángó narrative emphasises the essential relationship between these elements, thus creating the received interpretation of the present marginalisation of the Csángó people and language. In these discourses, the Hungarian language in Moldavia is usually regarded as the dialect farthest from the standard variety of Hungarian (Ferdinand 2016). The Csángó narrative is not without precedent, as it has produced its own opposition as well, when, during the political conflicts between interwar Hungary and Romania, the social elites of both countries represented the origins, ethnicity and language of the Csángós as part of their own national discourses (Davies 2019; Șerban 2021). The conflict between these discourses is still present in Moldavia; the issue of language and belonging continues to be highly debated in the local communities (Lajos 2012; Peti 2015).

In the framework of the Csángó narrative, peripheral locality is interpreted as both an advantage and a disadvantage. It is a disadvantage, as – according to the narrative – speakers of the language are exposed to the effects of Romanian linguistic nationalism due to the distance from the Hungarian linguistic centre. This results in the need for the Hungarian political-intellectual elite and Hungarian-medium schools. It is however an advantage as well, as the speakers have managed to maintain an “untouched” archaic world, with cultural, linguistic and political characteristics resembling the Middle Ages, highly appreciated by Hungarian national historiography. This image is closely connected to the idea of the “characterological figure” (Agha 2005; Johnstone 2017), voiced by the Csángó speakers in their mediatised representations. The characterological Csángó figures live in an archaic world and usually speak its ancestral language. Even if they happen not to speak it anymore, their embodiment is determined by the semiotic attributes of folk culture (folk costumes, folk music, folk arts and crafts).

The Csángó narrative shows the essential relationship between space, time and the speaker as something stable. Nevertheless, scholarly work has shown that there are significant sociolinguistic changes going on in Moldavia, described in terms of language shift (Heltai 2012; Tánczos 2012). According to the only quantitative language use survey recently conducted in a bilingual Moldavian village, there are significant differences in how speakers of different ages are speaking to their family members based on self-declaration (Peti 2015). The data follows the well-known pattern of apparent-time studies: the younger the speakers, the more they speak Romanian, and 70% of young people aged 18–35 speak exclusively in Romanian with their family members. Language choice in the generation of the parents whose children wrote the texts that we analyse shows that the vast majority of these children socialised as Romanian monolinguals within their families. Although Peti describes language shift in only one village, his findings are in accordance with observations from a wide-ranging ethnographic study of language knowledge in Moldavia; Tánczos (2012) states that the intergenerational transmission of Hungarian has practically disappeared. As we demonstrate in the next section, reference to language shift in the revitalisation of the Csángó Hungarian language is present only to an extent that is compatible with the Csángó narrative.

2.2 The revitalisation of the Hungarian language in Moldavia

Following the Romanian regime change in 1989 and in opposition to former Romanian monolingual education, a few older members of the community living in Moldavia, having a Hungarian-language educational background, started to teach Hungarian writing to the children in their villages as extracurricular activities (Pozsony 2006). Despite the interest and support from Hungary, such civil initiatives were sporadic, with varying intensities and effectiveness (Vincze 2008) until around 2,000, when a non-local (Transylvanian) ethnographer and language teacher, Attila Hegyeli, organised the Moldavian Csángó Hungarian Educational Programme currently in operation. Its aim is the teaching of the Hungarian language, initially organised as extracurricular activities, later as part of institutional education (Lajos 2015). During our fieldwork, there were some 30 locations, 45 teachers and nearly 2,000 children involved in the programme (Márton and Bilibók 2017). This programme was organised along the lines of marketing, entrepreneurial and corporate management, similar to the recent restructuring of other language revitalisation efforts (Urla 2012). More importantly, the programme is an attempt to unite its participants in a common nationalising project through the Hungarian language. From its onset, the programme has been funded by the Hungarian state, although, to varying degrees, depending on the Hungarian government’s commitment to the ideal of “nation building across borders” (Melegh 2016: 99).

The participants of the programme can be divided into three groups: the students, their teachers and the supporting godparents. The beneficiaries are mostly 6–14-year-old school children coming from rural families. They participate in the program for a variety of reasons, including the personalised education provided by teachers working as language activists, the personal contact with the godparents, or the possibility of going to camps in Hungary and Transylvania. In addition, the Hungarian state provides financial support for families whose children attend Hungarian classes. Most of the children’s teachers – except for a few from Hungary or from local communities – come from Transylvania, home of more than one million ethnic Hungarians (Laihonen and Peti 2020). Some teachers are untrained, while those who do have a teaching qualification were trained to teach Hungarian in the Transylvanian Hungarian minority education system.

The third group is made up of the sponsors of the programme, who are called godparents, drawing upon the Christian concept. In Moldavian Catholic families, children have several godparents chosen by the parents who become responsible for the religious upbringing of their godchildren. In this case, the godparents, most of whom live in Hungary, are unrelated to the children, and volunteer to support their Hungarian language studies.[1] According to the website of the Godparent Association for the Moldavian Csángó Hungarians, the sponsors donate 40,000 HUF (roughly €125) to the educational programme each year (Keresztszülők n.d.). This sum is equal to the price of a three classes per week foreign language course in Hungary. The money, which during our fieldwork was similar in extent to the support of the Hungarian state (Bodó and Fazakas 2018), was received by the organisation responsible for the education programme, and was spent on the teachers’ salaries, their housing and other maintenance expenses. The subsidy was paid by the godparents while the children were taking part in the educational programme, that is, learning Hungarian in an organised setting. Becoming a godparent in the programme does not entail a religious duty. It can be understood if we consider the marketing activity developed in order to attract potential supporters. The following quote is from a brochure compiled for such supporters, giving a general description of the programme and presenting its results and plans.

Magyar kulturális hagyományaink ápolása, és anyanyelvünk védelme, ápolása olyan sorskérdések, amelyek nélkül nemzetünk boldogulása nem képzelhető el.

A talán legsúlyosabb problémákkal e területeken ma Moldvában, Csángóföldön kénytelen szembesülni a mintegy 250 ezres katolikus csángó, akik közül 50–60 ezren ma is, a népcsoport viszontagságokkal teli történelme ellenére is őrzik magyar anyanyelvüket. Ám többségük máig olyan településen él, ahol egyáltalán nincsen semmiféle lehetőség magyar tannyelvű oktatásra.

Az idő sürget, hiszen a moldvai magyarság ma a nyelvi asszimiláció legutolsó óráit éli.

A magyarság széles összefogása és társadalmunk felelősségvállalása nélkül elképzelhetetlen, hogy sikerüljön megállítani, elodázni Moldvában az archaikusan ékes magyar nyelv, és vele a magyar kulturális örökség visszaszorulását, eltűnését.

[The safeguarding of our Hungarian cultural traditions and the protection and cultivation of our mother tongue are issues of destiny, without which the welfare of our nation cannot be conceived.

Perhaps the most serious problems are being faced by the 250,000 Roman Catholic Csángós living in Moldavia, in Csángóland, 50–60,000 of whom preserve their mother tongue even today, despite their history full of vicissitudes. The majority, however, live in settlements where there are absolutely no possibilities for Hungarian language education.

Time is pressing, as the Hungarians in Moldavia experience the last hours of linguistic assimilation.

Without a wide-spread collaboration and the responsibility of our society, it is unconceivable to be able to stop or to delay the loss and disappearance of the archaic and beautiful Hungarian language and with it, that of the Hungarian cultural heritage]

(Mentorprogram 2011; our translation).

The reference to the “vicissitudes” of the past in the text assumes that the reader is aware of the Csángó narrative, and as such, it plays its role supported by the metaphor of “language preservation”. This narrative connected to the “discourse of endangerment” (Duchêne and Heller 2007) is about the assumption that the endangerment of the Hungarian language in Moldavia is the obstacle to the prosperity of the Hungarian nation. Thus, supporting the programme has become a personal national cause, which contributes to the production of belief in controlling the “destiny” of the Hungarian nation. However, undertaking the preservation of this “archaic and wonderful” language is attractive to the godparents not only because of the nationalist agenda. In addition to funding the programme, many of the godparents develop a personal relationship with the Moldavian children, and this relationship takes the form of written correspondence between the godparents and the children. Before analysing this written communication, we discuss how the letter writing activity can be interpreted in a participation framework, in which the texts are produced through collaboration.

3 Participation framework and institutions

When Goffman engages in the decomposition of the speaker, the most known participation roles he introduces are the following: the author, who chooses the linguistic meanings and forms of utterances; the animator, who produces the sounds constituting the utterance, in Goffman’s words, “the talking machine, the body engaged in acoustic activity” (1981: 144); and the principal, who is responsible for the utterance and can be a person, a social category or an institution. According to Goffman, the principal is “someone whose position is established by the words that are spoken, someone whose beliefs have been told, someone who is committed to what the words say” (1981: 144). These roles may coincide in a given interaction but are often carried out by different participants. One example is the ghost writer (author), who writes a speech for a politician (animator) in accordance with the politics of the party (principal) represented by the politician. In this case, participants are involved in institutional communication by optimising their linguistic agency as their cooperation is about effectively communicating the political party’s message. A less-known Goffmanian role is that of the figure which can be animated in quite different forms. Among others, a “staged” figure is “a make-believe person, a stage character”, and a “natural” figure is, for example, what an actress animates “when speaking in real offstage life on her own behalf” (Goffman 1974: 523). Following the foregoing example, the unique style created or maintained by the ghost writer is in line with the party’s politics, while outlining the figure of the politician as well. For example, if a populist party’s speaker uses expressions recognised by the audience as “folksy” or “slangy”, i.e., more colloquial, this makes the political party more accessible and the politician’s appearances to the public unique. However, this staged figure is not the same as the animator’s biographical individual, whose life is only partly about politics, but also includes the other various and even mundane aspects of their life. Politicians seek, successfully or not, to conceal the discrepancy between their staged and natural figures through animation.

This categorisation can be broken into additional roles (Levinson 1988), nevertheless, several researchers point out that an exhaustive description of roles at the level of micro-analysis is a futile undertaking, as the individualisation of roles always depends on the specific interaction (Hanks 1996; Irvine 1996). Institutions, however, are in need of clear-cut participation frameworks, in particular when interacting with external stakeholders, such as clients, customers, suppliers, governments and communities. Similarly, Goffman (1981: 144) attempted to decompose the participant role of the speaker by drawing attention to “institutionalized exceptions” to the belief that “the individual who animates is formulating his own text and staking out his own position through it” (1981: 144). In the analysis of such an “exceptional” production format we will point out how institutional actors produce the belief in the unitary speaker whose participant roles coincide.

In the Moldavian language revitalisation programme, institutionalised participatory roles contribute to the co-construction of a speaking figure who represents the essential link between language and nation. We analyse the way this figure is brought to life in the letters produced in collaboration between the children participating in the programme and their teachers who help them. Striving to be in line with the educational programme’s commitments to and position towards the Csángó Hungarian language, these letters are addressed to the godparents. As sponsors of the programme from Hungary, they provide financial support “in exchange for” correspondence with the children. Our analysis points out that the letters, in a specific production and reception format, create the figure of the child speaking the Hungarian language, as the perceived success of language revitalisation.

4 Methods of analysis and data

The study analyses the written correspondence of the participants – children, teachers, and godparents – in the revitalisation of the Moldavian Hungarian language, as well as the interpretations of the letters. Our methodological stance is that the texts produced within the language revitalisation programme should be analysed from the perspective of transposition (Bauman and Briggs 1990; Maybin 2017; Silverstein and Urban 1996). According to Woydack and Rampton (2016: 712), texts – in our case letters written by children and their teachers – are seen to be “transportable ‘projectiles’ that travel across contexts”, with a focus on “entextualisation” and “recontextualisation”: “[e]ntextualisation refers to the process of selecting, designing and inscribing forms and meanings in a text that is intended to travel forwards into other settings, and recontextualisation refers to the ways in which these forms and meanings are construed, adapted and altered in the process of interpretation by the text’s recipients” (2016: 712). In our analysis, we examine how the texts created in the language revitalisation programme are entextualised by the children and their teachers and then recontextualised when interpreted by the godparents from Hungary, the recipients of the letters.

The data comes from a series of linguistic ethnographic research projects we have carried out since 2014. As the institutional support for Hungarian education in Moldova underwent significant changes in 2019, which also affected the range of participants, our data are mainly representative of the period before the change. We study Hungarian language revitalisation activities, the main participants and the relations between them, both in Hungary and Moldavia, in a total of 12 settlements. During our multi-sited fieldwork, we observed Hungarian classes in several locations, in and out of institutional education (40 classes in total), we accompanied the children to various competitions and performances, and we visited students who continued their studies in Hungarian in a boarding school reserved for them. We also participated at the teachers’ yearly meetings in Hungary with the godparents of the programme who live there. During the research, we monitored the monthly meetings of the godparents, and we were allowed to follow their communication on social networking sites dedicated to their activities in the programme. With the consent of the participants and the children’s parents, we had the opportunity to examine the correspondence. In addition to the observations, documented in fieldnotes, we recorded interviews with several actors taking part in language revitalisation. We carried out 25 individual or group interviews with 53 children who are, or were, learning Hungarian in Moldavia and with 13 parents as well as interviews with 15 teachers and 20 godparents from Hungary.

5 The correspondence: entextualisation and recontextualisation of the letters

As the above cited website of the Godparent Association writes, “being a symbolic godparent also means that you can choose a “godchild” whom you can have a close relationship with via correspondence and personal meetings. With the child’s help you can get a glimpse of the life of Csángó people, you can learn about their history, their rich traditions, and you can form friendships that last a lifetime!” (Keresztszülők n.d.; our translation). Because personal meetings are only occasional due to distance, letter writing is of particular importance and happens in an institutionalised manner. During one of the yearly preparatory courses for the newly recruited teachers we observed, they received the task to help write and also to check the correspondence of the children. The internal monitoring system of the programme also puts emphasis on this. The teachers were asked to keep a record of the children’s letters and to make sure every child wrote at least three or four times a year to their godparents: at the beginning and end of the school year, as well as around important Christian holidays, Christmas and Easter. Children should also thank the godparents for the gifts they send by writing letters.

The letters are grouped into several emic categories. One of these is the category of “introductory” letters that focus on establishing contact, while the other is that of answer letters. According to our informants, correspondence is usually carried out in the following way: introductory letters are first sent to a person responsible for contact with the godparents within the programme. She is the one to receive information from the association in Hungary regarding the application of a new godparent, and she informs the others in their internal mailing system if there is need to find a new godchild. After she reads the introductory letters, these are forwarded to the godparents, who then send their response either to the teacher or to the address of the child. As seen in the following extract, both the child and the teacher are involved in the writing process of the answer letters. The transcription keys used in the excerpts are given in the Appendix.

Extract 1
An interview involving a teacher and Csanád Bodó, asking about the practice of writing answer letters.
Csanád: Akkor ők (a diákok) ezt egyenként csinálják, tehát addig a többiekkel má- mást csinálsz-?/
[When they (the students) do this alone, do you do something else with the others?]
Teacher: /Így van.
[Correct.]
Csanád: Amíg ő ezt írja?
[Until the child writes it?]
Teacher: Igen. Hát amikor válaszlevélről van szó, akkor ö (.) az illető szépen hátul megírja, én addig közbe foglalkozom a többiekkel. Amikor befejezte, akkor a többiek olyan feladatot kapnak, hogy el tudjanak lenni magukba, ott gyorsan kijavítom, és utána megint foglalkozok velük. Ő pedig újraírja a levelet.
[Yes. When it is an answer letter, then (.) the child in question sits in the back and writes it, and until then, I work with the others, and when he or she is finished, the others get a task to work on their own. I quickly correct the letter, then go back to the others, and then the child rewrites the letter.]

Based on the personal account of the teacher, in writing answers to godparents’ letters, she helps the children in class. The entextualisation of the letter happens with the collaboration of the teacher and the students, during which the teacher’s control of correspondence is not only present in the frequency and scheduling of contact, but also in the creation of written texts. The common feature of such letters is that there are several versions of text created with the contribution of the teachers. In half of the 12 locations we visited, the teachers showed us notebooks with the inscription “godparent”, containing the first draft of the letters written by the children to their godparents. Also, in four of the visited locations there was a separate time slot allocated for this purpose in the teacher’s schedule. In these cases, the teacher only works with the children who received letters or presents from the godparents to compose an answer.

Although they seem to be personal letters, the way they are created and received suggests that their handling is different from the practices of private correspondence. When the children write one of their “compulsory” letters, the activity does not necessarily involve working with each student separately. Although we have only met two teachers who report “helping” all of the students at once by dictating or making the children copy texts, for example Christmas greetings, the majority of the interviewed teachers condemned the practice of other teachers allegedly using this solution. In addition, several teachers reported that they were accused by godparents of having written the letters instead of their godchild. After a letter is ready, the teacher usually transmits it to the godparent either by mailing it or emailing a scanned version. If the godparent’s letter arrives directly to the children’s address, the teacher finds out about it as they usually bring the letters to the teacher so that she can help them compose their answer. In such cases, the teacher also helps the children interpret the letter received from the godparent. In one of the interviews, the teacher gave the following description of the entextualisation process of an answer letter: the godparents “send letters by email, she (another teacher in the village) prints it and when the child comes to class, we read it together and he or she answers it, I then correct it and the child rewrites it” [küldik ímélen, ő kinyomtatja, és akkor én pedig amikor jön a gyermek az órára, akkor együtt elolvassuk és úgy ő válaszol a levélre, majd kijavítom, s újraírja]. In our interviews, the teachers gave several explanations for the mediatisation of the correspondence. Some emphasised the personal nature of handwritten letters, others suggested that they were more used to them, as emails were not as common in Moldavia in 2005, at the start of the godparent movement. Some teachers mentioned that with handwritten letters, they had better control over the correspondence as opposed to the children emailing the godparents directly.

What emerges from the accounts is that the practice of correspondence, in Goffmanian terms, involves both the child as animator (and sometimes author) and the teacher as co-author, while the Educational Programme as principal takes responsibility for their jointly written words. They work together in giving voice to the staged figure of the Hungarian-speaking Csángó child. The involvement of teachers in correspondence is linked to its role in the language revitalisation programme; the letters are not only accounts of the child’s life but also of the success of the programme itself. To put it differently, the letters point out the steps of a nationalising language project, in which the representation of success is part of the teachers’ work and the condition for the programme’s further support.

It is not only the production of the children’s letters, but also their reception format that is different from the practices of private correspondence. Based on participant observation, the godparents publicly discuss the letters they receive or even share them on social networking sites, providing examples of blurring the distinction between ratified and unratified speakers, usually linked to private correspondence. In the following extract we see examples of both how the godparents interpret the result of such a comparison and the image it creates in the recipients about the way the letters are composed. Fragments in bold will be discussed in detail.

Extract 2
An interview involving a godparent and  Margit Eszter Zabolai (researcher) on the correspondence with the godchild
Godparent Az elején a tanítónéni írt. […] És akkor azt akarnám megmutatni neked, hogy honnan jutottunk hova. Mi- most is rájöttem, hogy azér (.) a leveleket közösen írják , és néhány levél [ugyanaz.]
[At the beginning the teacher used to write. […] And then I want to show you where we started and where we got. I realised that they write the letters together, and some of the letters are the same.]
Margit [A taní]tónénivel közösen?
[Together with the teacher?]
Godparent Igen, szerintem igen. (1.0) “Kedves keresztanyám! Megkaptam a csomagot, köszönöm szépen. A testvérem, (.) a kittiked testvérem tőtöt egy esztendőt . (.) Jól vagyok, kend mit csinál ? Szeretettel, {személynév}”. Na hát szóval körülbelül ilyen szintűek a leveleink (.) ((Közben előkeres egy újonnan kapott levelet.)) Na, eljutottunk idáig. Na most ez a levél az, ami (.) egy másik keresztszülővel (.) ösz- (.) véletlenül összehasonlítottuk, mer fölolvastuk egymásnak, és akkor rájöttünk, hogy (.) bizonyos mondatok (.) ugyanazok, úgyhogy a kislányok együtt írták .
[Yes, I think so. “Dear godmother! I have received your package, thank you very much. My sister, my little sister just had her birthday. I am well, how about you? Love, {personal name}”. So, this is basically the level of the letters. ((In the meantime, she looks for a letter she recently received.)) So, we got to this point. Now this is the letter we com- we accidentally compared with another godparent, because we read them to each other and we realised that certain sentences are the same, so the little girls wrote them together.]

According to this, the godparent is aware of the fact that the teacher actively participates in the creation of the letters, although she does not exactly know the extent of the teacher’s role. The final part of the excerpt shows that the partially identical wording of the letters written to the godparents is explained by the cooperation between the children and not by the intervention of the teacher, as opposed to the previous statements in her answer to our question about the teacher’s role. In Extract 2, the godparent interprets the entextualisation of the letters written by teachers and children as being the result of the joint work of children. The recontextualisation of identical texts results in a positive reaction as the cognitive dissonance is solved by believing in a cooperation between the children instead of recognising or even accepting the authorial role of the teacher.

6 The letters

In this section, the texts of the letters are analysed based on the metalinguistic comments of a teacher regarding the linguistic criteria of successful letter-writing; we then present examples for a successful and a less successful language performance. Success depends on the evaluation of the godparents; it depends on how convincingly the letters give voice to the figure of the characterological Csángó.

6.1 Metalinguistic voicing

Extract 3 is about the conditions identifiable in the acts of giving voice regarding the success of a letter written to the godparents.

Extract 3
An interview involving Csanád Bodó, a teacher, and János Imre Heltai (researcher), where the teacher is asked to describe how he thinks a good letter for a godparent should be.
Teacher Hát én sejtem, hogy mit várnak el a keresztszülők.
[I rather suspect what godparents expect.]
Csanád És mi az?
[And what is it?]
Teacher Hát nyilván sok köszönetet, köszönetet, köszönetet. Legyen benne valami csángós utalás , hogy akkor na csángó keresztgyereke van és akkor ez milyen. (Nevet.) De ezt tudom- mondom, hogy ezt tudom, hogy elvárják. Ezt elvárják a keresztszülők.
[Of course, it will be many thanks, thanks, thanks. It ought to contain some Csángó-like element that s/he has a Csángó godchild and how it is like (Laughs.) But I know it- As I said I know that they expect it. This is what godparents expect.]
János Milyen egy csángós utalás?
[How is a Csángó-like element?]
Teacher Hát hogy vittem az ünüt az ulicába . Szeretik ezeket a kifejezéseket. (Nevet.) Ez van.
[That I drove the cow on the street. They like such expressions as these. (Laughs.) This is how it is.]

According to this account, the letters have to fulfil two affective-textual expectations: showing gratitude and the Csángó-ness of the text, both being the responsibility of the teacher, acting as principal and author of the letters. The quoted expression vittem az ünüt az ulicába ‘I drove the cow on the street’ needs a closer analysis. The teacher gives an example for the way he produces representations of the “Csángó-like” mode of writing a letter, but also gives voice to a child who is involved in the correspondence as a Csángó. The representation of the Csángó-like language becomes stylised, that is, marked and exaggerated (cf. Rampton 2009) as the teacher “crams” into this short utterance language features that are used differently in Hungary or not used at all. First, the meaning of the verb vittem in Hungary is “to take, to carry”; the meaning “to drive”, documented in the dictionary of Moldavian Hungarian dialects (henceforth: MMTnySz.), is carried by the verb hajt in Hungary).[2] Second, the ünü noun is not used in this form and in this meaning in Hungary: according to the concise dictionary of current – i.e. standard – Hungarian (ÉKsz.), the ünő variety is used with the “young female deer” meaning, while the “any female ruminant” meaning is archaic (cf. the historical-etymological dictionary of Hungarian, TESz.) and the “cow” one is regional (cf. the new dictionary of Hungarian dialect – i.e. non-standard – words, ÚMTsz.). Third, the ulica ‘street’ lexeme is a Moldavian Romanian loanword (Márton 1972), although recognizable for speakers in Hungary, using the word utca for ‘street’. And finally, the case suffix of the word ulica is also marked: the corresponding structure used in Hungary – if we do not take into account the lexical differences – would be the word ulicán (standard Hungarian utcán) with the -n superessive suffix. Additionally, the suffix of the ulicába form would be ulicában in standard Hungarian. These stylisations are intended to result in a representation of the childrens’ language with “Csángó-like elements” as an archaic, regionally bound dialect that is different from the normative expectations of literacy, a unique code that embodies, i.e. gives voice to, the figure of the Moldavian Csángó child and makes believing in the work of language revitalisation possible. Giving a stylised voice lies in attempting to establish the authenticity of the letters written together. The teacher distances herself from her act of “inventing” a language by laughing; nevertheless, this authenticity is established for the godparents by meeting the expectations regarding the Csángó narrative. The linguistic production of belief in this narrative thus contributes to the continuation of the support for the programme.

6.2 Success

Giving voice to the Csángó figure is only successful if it is recognised as authentic, and authenticity is determined by the addressees themselves. As we see in Extract 2, the letters from the early stages of the correspondence are the starting point against which the godparent measures the linguistic development of the child attending Hungarian classes. Although Extract 2 is short, it includes several features previously mentioned while analysing Csángó-like stylised voices. One of such features is the naming of a sibling, whom the writer refers to by birth order – literally identified as the second sister. The Moldavian expression for this however – kettedik ‘the second one’ – cannot be reproduced by the godparent as she reads the letter out loud (in Hungary this form would be the suppletive második ‘the second one’ which cannot be derived from the ordinal number kettő ‘two’), and she creates a nonsense word, kittiked. The second one is the testvérem tőtött egy esztendőt structure, literally ‘my sister spent a year’. Its meaning, ‘my sister had her birthday’ is expressed quite differently by the speakers from Hungary (cf. a testvéremnek születésnapja volt). The lexical elements of the structure are familiar to Hungarians living in Hungary, even though the esztendőt lexeme is both archaically and regionally marked in Hungarian as spoken in Hungary (ÉKsz.; ÚMTsz.). Finally, in the Jól vagyok, kend mit csinál? fragment the archaic kend form of addressing can be characterised in the same way as the lexeme esztendő (ÉKsz.). The following structure however (mit csinál ‘how are you?’, literally ‘what are you doing?’) is the loan translation of the Romanian ce faceți? greeting. In sum, Extract 2 shows phenomena that are recognised as archaic and dialectal Hungarian, as well as Romanian influences that remain hidden for the reader who does not speak Romanian.

Extract 4 continues on from Extract 2, and here the godparent illustrates the development of the language skills of the child, interpreting it as the result of several years of learning Hungarian.

Extract 4
(see Extract 2)
Godparent De hát ez olyan édes , hogy (.) “Kedves keresztanyám!
Hogy még vannak? Mit csinálnak {személynév} és {személynév}?
Ezek az unokáim, mer őket is elvittem a {településnév}-i táborba, (.)
tehát találkoztak a gyerekek.
Nagyon köszönjük a csomagot, és anyám köszöni a kávét.
Hogy telt a karácsony?
Az ártificsik nagyon szépen (3.0) voltakvagy nem tudom, micsodáztak,
amikor meggyújtottuk este.
Ez (.) csillagszórót küld[tem],
[But this is so sweet, look “My dear godmother!
How are you? How is {personal name} and {personal name}?
These are my grandchildren. I took them to the camp in {name of settlement}, so the children have met.
Thank you very much for the parcel and my mother thanks you for the coffee.
How was Christmas?
The fireworks were very beautiful” or I don’t know what they did “when we lit them in the evening.”
I (.) sent a sparkler,]
Margit [mhm].
Godparent ez az artificsi.
Nagyon örültünk a másik dolgoknak. (.)
Kifogyott a vakáció, és most menünk az iskolába.
Péntekend , (.) január 30-án (.) kapunk egy hetet vakációt, és aztán még
kell menjünk. (.) {A kistestvér személyneve} nagyon szereti az édese-
Ez minden levelébe benne van, (.) hogy a cukrot nagyon szereti.
Most es kért, (1.0) de elfogyott. Mondom neki, hogy nincs, de ő mégis
csak [akar].”
[That is what she calls fireworks.
“We were very happy for the other things.
The holiday is over so we go to school.
On Friday, January 30th, we get a week of holiday, and then we have to
go back. {The name of a younger sibling} loves sweets.”
This is present in every letter, that she loves candy.
“She asked for some, but I have none left. I told her I have no more but
she still wants some.”]
Margit (laughs)
Godparent (1.0) “Aki engedett a hó- Kiengedett a hó, és most nagyon sár van.
Jól vagyunk, de apám beteg, fáj a hasa jobb fele. (.)
Várjuk haza! (.) Sok segítsége- (.)
Sok egészséget mindenkinek, sok szeretettel, {személynév}”
[‘The snow started to melt and it is very muddy.
We are fine but my dad is ill, the right part of his belly hurts.
We expect you to come! Much help-
Much health to everyone, love, {personal name}”]

Despite the differences in the length and sophistication of the two texts, the second one also includes the features we have discussed above: archaisms and regionalisms (e.g. menünk ‘we go’ and péntekend ‘on Friday’ vs. megyünk and pénteken as used in Hungary), Romanianisms the godparents can decipher and not necessarily identify as Romanian (see hogy még vannak ‘how are you’ and mit csinálnak, lit. ‘what are you doing’, cf. Romanian ce mai faceți), as discussed in relation to the second extract. In addition, there is only one linguistic element in the letter that is followed by a metalinguistic comment by the godparent: the Romanian-origin word ártificsik (cf. Romanian artificii ‘fireworks’). The godparent who does not speak Romanian is either familiar with it or is helped by the explanations of the teacher frequently attached to the letter. This appears either right after the expression the teacher considers necessary to explain, or at the end of the letter. The godparent’s enthusiastic meta-comment accompanying reading the text reveals that she considers the letter to be a document indicating the success of the linguistically articulated relationship developed with the child. This is based on a belief that can be interpreted in a reception format, meaning that the child is identical with all the relevant roles of the speaker composing the letter, i.e., author, animator, principal, and figure of the text at the same time.

6.3 Failure

The production of belief in the Hungarian-speaking Csángó child is not always successful. In our last extract we present a part of the introductory letter of a ten-year-old Moldavian girl. In the interview we recorded with the teacher, she described her and one other child of the same age, who started going to the Hungarian class together and became godchildren around the same time in the following way: “they cannot write continuously yet [i.e., in Hungarian]. And then I talk with them, they tell me sentences, I write them down. And then I type it and send it” [Ők még nem tudnak folyamatosan írni. És akkor velük beszélgetek, ők mondanak mondatokat, én írom le. És akkor én be szoktam gépelni, és úgy küldöm el]. The result of this joint work is Extract 5 from a letter, in which the meaning of the words with an asterisk is given at the end of the typed text in standard Hungarian.

Extract 5
Fragment of a letter written for a godparent
Tettem kendeteknek egy rajzot, mindcsak én csináltam. Írja rajta, hogy kolindálás . Ez akkor volt, mikor tartottuk a Húsvétnak a vasárnapját, s mentünk minden házhoz mondani: “ Christos a înviat! ”*, s kaptunk érte veres tojást vagy cukorkát. Tanító néninél es voltunk kolindálni , ő csinált rólunk egy pózát .*
[I am sending you a drawing, I made it myself. It says carolling. This happened when we were celebrating Easter Sunday and went to every house and said ‘Christ is risen’ *, and we received red eggs or candy. We went to carol to our teacher, and she took a picture * of us.]

Compared to other letters written to the godparents, this short fragment contains several Romanian loan words. These are even emphasised in the notes, although it needs to be mentioned that there are no explanations for the words kolindálás ‘caroling’ and kolindálni ‘to carol’, and the readers who are not familiar with the Moldavian cultural context and with this particular custom, will have difficulties in understanding the text. In addition to the higher percentage of Romanian loan words, this text is also different as none of the other letters contain Romanian text segments. Even if it is a phatic linguistic element related to the Easter holiday, it is difficult for the godparent to fit a Romanian language greeting into the Csángó narrative about Moldavian Hungarians, who are fighting for their mother tongue, the index of national unity.

This was confirmed when we met the Hungarian godmother of the child nearly a year after the writing of the letter. The godparents and Moldavian Hungarian teachers meet once a year in Budapest. In this meeting hosted by a local school, the teachers working in the different villages have “office hours” in separate classrooms for the godparents. As the teacher who helped with the writing of the letter quoted in Excerpt 4 finished working in the programme, the godmother had the opportunity to personally meet the new teacher of the godchild she undertook to support (this was her first encounter with the programme’s staff). According to our fieldnotes, in the meeting the godmother asked the teacher how much her goddaughter knows Hungarian. The teacher’s answer was: “She understands everything, but writing is more difficult for her. They speak Csángó at home”. Since the godmother did not ask for any explanations of the word Csángó, it was presumed that in this context the glottonym was interpreted as the dialect of the Hungarian language. This interpretation is supported by the widespread Hungarian discourse that Csángó is a Hungarian dialect, despite the criticism expressed by several scholars (Bodó et al. 2017; Sándor 2012). Then the godmother started asking questions about the means of communication: “And how can I communicate with her if she can’t write in Hungarian?” The Hungarian teacher who had been working for only six months in the programme, looked at his fellow teacher sitting next to him for help, and as his colleague remained silent, he said: “Well, through us”. This dialogue points out that in spite of the letters sent by the Moldavian child, namely the cited letter of introduction and the compulsory letters written since then, neither the godmother, nor the less-experienced teacher is convinced that the godparents would be able to get into a direct and written contact with the godchild. This doubt of the godmother can be linked to the language of the letters, which is not characterised by the control of (seemingly) avoiding the Romanian language influences just like other children’s letters. As the new teacher, not completely familiar with the institutional expectations on giving voice to the characterological figure, gave such a straightforward answer regarding the willingness to help, the reaction did not reinforce the belief in the production of the Hungarian-speaking Csángó. This example also shows that the production format has an impact on the reception format of the letters; the godparent’s question about the child’s Hungarian language skills may be related to the multilingualism of her letter.

Although in this case we did not have the opportunity to monitor the development of the participants’ relationship further, in our interviews several godparents reported that after years of correspondence and support, meeting their godchildren was disappointing. They were confronted with the fact that against their expectations, the child did not speak Hungarian well enough or at all (for a similar case see Zakariás 2022). A teacher recalled one godparent who, after overhearing his godchild talking to another child in Romanian, decided to withdraw support and asked the teacher she was in contact with for a new godchild. As with the two figures of the imaginary politician mentioned earlier, the discrepancy between the staged and natural figure of the Csángó child becomes visible here. The godparent as the overhearer of the child’s Romanian language words, formulates the same expectations as other institutional and individual supporters of language revitalisation, who believe that the legitimacy of teaching Hungarian lies in the practices of monolingualism. This case highlights how language revitalisation is embedded in the hierarchy of differences outlined along the divergent commitments to the belief in the national language.

There are many opportunities, to use Goffman’s words, bystanders and overhearers witness the language practices of Moldavian children. The texts produced in the Hungarian language classes, such as letters and essays, are published in journals or volumes released by the programme (Bodó and Fazakas 2018). Such instances also include the exclusively Hungarian-language stage performances at the representative Csángó Ball, held yearly in Budapest and attended by prominent right-wing politicians; it is also an integral part of the teachers’ annual visit to Hungary. Here, an insight into the broader representation of the Csángó figure shows how the practice of language revitalisation is embedded in the processes of nation-building through the production of belief.

7 Conclusion

In this article, we discuss institutional voicing of past language practices within the Goffmanian participation framework in connection with the revitalisation of the Hungarian language in Moldavia. We show that the letters written by the teachers and the children are produced through giving voice to the Csángó figure. The laminated indexicalities of the letters serve to meet the expectations of Hungarian godparents who become involved in the language-centred production of belief in the unification of the Hungarian nation. The collaborative wording of the letters is a contribution to language revitalisation through the voicing of a Csángó-speaking figure. In other words, giving voice fulfils the objectives of nationalising language revitalisation: the co-construction of a Hungarian-speaking Moldavian Csángó figure, who becomes worthy of being heard by using an archaic Hungarian dialect without Romanian elements, a language that probably never existed.

The analysis demonstrates that the different social positions, motivations and sociolinguistic trajectories of the participants contribute to the development of a practice, in which an institutionalised participation framework is maintained. Giving voice is covertly assigned to participant roles in the programme in order to optimise the process of linguistic revitalisation. Although the children appear to play all the Goffmanian roles, they are only the animator of the letters, while the role of the author is usually fulfilled by the teacher, and the Educational Programme as the principal takes the responsibility for their words. Their joint work brings to life a figure who speaks an invented Csángó dialect of the Hungarian language that produces a community with the godparents through belief. The programme’s success, measured by the fact that the recipients of the letters provide financial support, relies on the child being seen as the sole author – since that is the role that depends on linguistic competence. On a more general level, we have argued that the production of belief in the essential link between language and a (national) community can only happen through an institutionalised participation framework, which produces the unitary speaker’s figure, and, at the same time, hides its production from those who want to hear the authentic speakers of the revitalised language. The children’s voice becomes heard, but they are only worth hearing insofar as they speak the language others wish to hear.

Our argument that having voice and being heard are two interrelated but different objectives of language revitalisation point out the need for understanding how language-centred social movements correlate with tension-filled issues of power and inequality. It is the collaborative production of the nationalist belief in the Hungarian language that perpetuates unequal power relations between the participating godparents, teachers and children: godparents in Hungary who know what they wish for, teachers who want to address these wishes and children who unwittingly contribute to addressing them. Albeit with different roles, interests and responsibilities, it is through institutionalised participatory frameworks that the belief in the figure speaking on behalf of the language revitalisation movement is produced. Whether this is done overtly or, as we have seen here, in covert ways, the research on institutional practices of language revitalisation should include the study of how participants give voice to a figure worth being heard.


Corresponding author: Csanád Bodó, Institute of Hungarian Linguistics and Finno-Ugric Studies, Eötvös Loránd Tudományegyetem, Budapest, Hungary, E-mail:

Award Identifier / Grant number: K 112447, K 131562

  1. Research funding: This work was supported by Országos Tudományos Kutatási Alapprogramok (K 112447, K 131562).

Appendix: Transcription keys

[overlap] Overlapping speech
[..] Omitted ‘side-talk’
{name} Anonymised name
((comment)) Comments
xxx- self-interruption
xxx/ or /xxx joining (speaker change without pause)
(.) Short pause
(1.0) Timed pause

Abbreviations

ÉKsz.

Pusztai, Ferenc (ed.). 2003. Magyar értelmező kéziszótár. 2nd edn. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó.

TESz.

Benkő, Loránd (ed.). 1967–1976. A magyar nyelv történeti-etimológiai szótára. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó.

MMTnySz.

Péntek, János (ed.). 2016–2017. A moldvai magyar tájnyelv szótára. Vol. I/1–2-II. Kolozsvár: Erdélyi Múzeum-Egyesület.

ÚMTsz.

B. Lőrinczy, Éva (ed.). 1970–2010. Új magyar tájszótár. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó.

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Received: 2022-08-11
Accepted: 2022-11-07
Published Online: 2023-04-28
Published in Print: 2023-05-25

© 2023 the author(s), published by De Gruyter, Berlin/Boston

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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