Not to be confused with Romani language, Roman language (disambiguation), Romang language, or Romansh language.
|Native to||Romania, Moldova, Transnistria(disputed region); minority in Israel, Serbia, Ukraine, Hungary, Croatia, Bulgaria; diaspora in Italy, Spain, Germany and other parts of Western Europe|
|24 million (2016)|
Second language: 4 million
|Latin (Romanian alphabet)|
Cyrillic (Transnistria only)
Official language in
Republic of Moldova
|Regulated by||Academia Română|
Academy of Sciences of Moldova
Blue: region where Romanian is the dominant language. Green: areas with a notable minority of Romanian speakers.
Distribution of the Romanian language in Romania, Moldova and surroundings.
|This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.|
Romanian (obsolete spellings Rumanian, Roumanian; autonym: limba română[ˈlimba roˈmɨnə] ( listen), "the Romanian language", or românește, lit. "in Romanian") is an East Romance language spoken by approximately 24–26 million people as a native language, primarily in Romania and Moldova, and by another 4 million people as a second language. It has official status in Romania and the Republic of Moldova. It is one of the official languages of the European Union.
Romanian is a part of the Balkan-Romance group that evolved from several dialects of Vulgar Latin separated from the Western Romance during the 5th–8th centuries. To distinguish it within that group in comparative linguistics it is called Daco-Romanian as opposed to its closest relatives, Aromanian, Megleno-Romanian, and Istro-Romanian.
During Soviet times—and to some extent even today—Romanian was called Moldovan in the Republic of Moldova, although the Constitutional Court ruled in 2013 that "the official language of the republic is Romanian".[nb 1]
Immigrant Romanian speakers are scattered across many other countries, notably Australia, Italy, Spain, Ukraine, Bulgaria, the United States, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Greece, Turkey, Russia, Portugal, the United Kingdom, Cyprus, Israel, France and Germany.
Main article: History of Romanian
Further information: Eastern Romance languages, Proto-Romanian language, Eastern Romance substratum, Slavic superstratum in Romanian, List of Romanian words of possible Dacian origin, and Origin of the Romanians
Eastern Romance languages, like the other branches of Romance languages, descend from Vulgar Latin, adopted in Dacia by a process of Romanization during early centuries AD.
The influence of the military in Dacia is due to the distribution of the military units in this bridgehead of the Roman Empire's defense (two legiones, 12 alae, 41 cohortes and 13 numeri), contrary, e.g., to that of the Rhenish army, which was concentrated at the Germanic limes and so left little influence on the local spoken Gallo-Latin. The identification of numerous words of military (Dacian-)Roman usage – 52 semantic specific changes and inherited military Latin words with their classical meanings – is at the heart of the hypothesis that the Romanian language is the continuation of the military Latin spoken in the north-eastern frontier region of the Roman Empire. These vestiges of military usage are unique to Romanian in its language family.
Thus, Romanian is scientifically very interesting from a linguistic and historical viewpoint, since Romance languages did not prevail in the other frontier regions of the Roman Empire in Europe, Asia and Africa, although Africa's falling under Arab sway surely played a role in the ultimate demise of any Romance dialect. Also, the conservation in Romanian of these numerous vestiges of Latin military slang (sermo castrensis) – such as a (se)aține ("to waylay"), coif ("helmet"), împărat ("emperor"), a împresura ("to encircle with pressure"), a (se) (în)cumeta ("to venture"), a înțina ("to make thin a tree for its collapse on the invaders"), aținat ("made thin a tree"), mire "fiancé" (< Lat. miles "soldier", metonymy), a purcede ("to advance"), a răpune ("to kill"), rost "sense" a.s.o. (< Lat. rostrum "beak at prow of Roman warship"), (f)sat "village" (< Lat. fossatum "trench for defence", metonymy), șes "plain" (< Lat. sessus "plain place for camping", metonymy), a supune ("to subject"), tindă "veranda" (< Lat. tenda sub vallo "tent out of agglomerated fortress", metonymy), țară "homeland" (< Lat. terra "earth" ˃ Arom. țară "earth"), etc. and their absence in Aromanian (Balkan Romanian dialect spoken in peaceful area) – indicates the continuity of the Latinophones in the northern Danubian region, this despite dire and constant defensive wars with Germanic, "Turanian"[vague] (Turkic peoples and Magyars) and Slavic populations who entered and eventually settled there.
This linguistic evidence challenges the Roeslerian theory. The vestiges from Latin military slang particularize the Romanian language in the neolatin area, together with its isolated history. According to Cristian Mihail, the Roslerian theory is annihilated because of the fact that the Romanian words in common with the Albanian words not preserve the sound „l” between vowels – in accordance, i.e. with Rom. "māgurā" and Alb. "magulë" etc. – likewise with Romanian words from Latin linguistic stratum (Rom. "scara" < Lat. "scala" etc.) unlike the words from Slavic later stratum, which preserve the sound „l” intervowels (cf. Rom. "mila", no "*mira" < Sl. "mila") would prove that the Romanian words in common with the Albanian words proceed of a latter stratum in Balkan region, near the Albanians, as supporting also by linguistics the continuity of the Latinophons (Romanians) in the Nordic-Danubian region.
The Roman Empire withdrew from Dacia in 271–272 AD, leaving it to the Goths. The history of Eastern Romance between the 3rd century and the development of Proto-Romanian by the 10th century, when the area came under the influence of the Byzantine Empire, is unknown. It is a matter of debate whether Proto-Romanian developed among Romanized people who were left behind in Dacia by the Roman withdrawal or among Latin-speakers in the Balkans south of the Danube.
During the High and Late Middle Ages, Romanian became influenced by the Slavic languages and to some degree by Greek. Romanian remains unattested throughout the Middle Ages, and only enters the historical record in the early 16th century.
The use of the denomination Romanian (română) for our beautiful language (limba noastră cea frumoasă) and use of the demonym Romanians (Români) for speakers of this language predates the foundation of the modern Romanian state. Although the followers of the former Romanian voievodships used to designate themselves as "Ardeleni" (or "Ungureni"), "Moldoveni" or "Munteni", the name of "rumână" or "rumâniască" for the Romanian language itself is attested earlier, during the 16th century, by various foreign travellers into the Carpathian Romance-speaking space, as well as in other historical documents written in Romanian at that time such as Cronicile Țării Moldovei (The Chronicles of the land of Moldova) by Grigore Ureche.
In 1534, Tranquillo Andronico notes: "Valachi nunc se Romanos vocant" (The Wallachians are now calling themselves Romans). Francesco della Valle writes in 1532 that Romanians are calling themselves Romans in their own language, and he subsequently quotes the expression: "Știi Românește?" (Do you know Romanian?).
After travelling through Wallachia, Moldavia and TransylvaniaFerrante Capecci accounts in 1575 that the indigenous population of these regions call themselves "românești" ("romanesci").
Pierre Lescalopier writes in 1574 that those who live in Moldavia, Wallachia and the vast part of Transylvania, "se consideră adevărați urmași ai romanilor și-și numesc limba "românește", adică romana" (they consider themselves as the descendants of the Romans and they name their language Romanian).
The Transylvanian SaxonJohann Lebel writes in 1542 that "Vlachi" se numeau între ei "Romuini" and the Polish chronicler Stanislaw Orzechowski (Orichovius) notes in 1554 that în limba lor "walachii" se numesc "romini" (In their language the Wallachians call themselves Romini).
The Croatian prelate and diplomat Antun Vrančić recorded in 1570 that "Vlachs in Transylvania, Moldavia and Wallachia designate themselves as "Romans" and the Transylvanian HungarianMartin Szentiványi in 1699 quotes the following: «Si noi sentem Rumeni» ("Și noi suntem români" – "We are Romans as well") and «Noi sentem di sange Rumena» ("Noi suntem de sânge român" – We are of Roman blood).
In Palia de la Orăștie (1582) stands written «.[...] că văzum cum toate limbile au și înfluresc întru cuvintele slăvite a lui Dumnezeu numai noi românii pre limbă nu avem. Pentru aceia cu mare muncă scoasem de limba jidovească si grecească si srâbească pre limba românească 5 cărți ale lui Moisi prorocul si patru cărți și le dăruim voo frați rumâni și le-au scris în cheltuială multă... și le-au dăruit voo fraților români,... și le-au scris voo fraților români" and in Letopisețul Țării Moldovei written by the Moldavian chronicler Grigore Ureche we can read: «În Țara Ardialului nu lăcuiesc numai unguri, ce și sași peste seamă de mulți și români peste tot locul...» ("In Transylvania there live not solely Hungarians or Saxons, but overwhelmingly many Romanians everywhere around.").
Nevertheless, the oldest extant document written in Romanian remains Neacșu's letter (1521) and was written using Cyrillic letters (which remained in use up until the late 19th century). There are no records of any other documents written in Romanian from before 1521.
Miron Costin, in his De neamul moldovenilor (1687), while noting that Moldavians, Wallachians, and the Romanians living in the Kingdom of Hungary have the same origin, says that although people of Moldavia call themselves Moldavians, they name their language Romanian (românește) instead of Moldavian (moldovenește).
Dimitrie Cantemir, in his Descriptio Moldaviae (Berlin, 1714), points out that the inhabitants of Moldavia, Wallachia and Transylvania spoke the same language. He notes, however, some differences in accent and vocabulary. Cantemir's work provides one of the earliest histories of the language, in which he notes, like Ureche before him, the evolution from Latin and notices the Greek and Polish borrowings. Additionally, he introduces the idea that some words must have had Dacian roots. Cantemir also notes that while the idea of a Latin origin of the language was prevalent in his time, other scholars considered it to have derived from Italian.
The slow process of Romanian establishing itself as an official language, used in the public sphere, in literature and ecclesiastically, began in the late 15th century and ended in the early decades of the 18th century, by which time Romanian had begun to be regularly used by the Church. The oldest Romanian texts of a literary nature are religious manuscripts (Codicele Voroneţean, Psaltirea Scheiană), translations of essential Christian texts. These are considered either propagandistic results of confessional rivalries, for instance between Lutheranism and Calvinism, or as initiatives by Romanian monks stationed at Peri Monastery in Maramureş to distance themselves from the influence of the Mukacheve eparchy in Ukraine.
The language remains poorly attested during the Early Modern period.
Further information: National awakening of Romania
The first Romanian grammar was published in Vienna in 1780. Following the annexation of Bessarabia by Russia (after 1812), Moldavian was established as an official language in the governmental institutions of Bessarabia, used along with Russian, The publishing works established by Archbishop Gavril Bănulescu-Bodoni were able to produce books and liturgical works in Moldavian between 1815–1820.
The linguistic situation in Bessarabia from 1812 to 1918 was the gradual development of bilingualism. Russian continued to develop as the official language of privilege, whereas Romanian remained the principal vernacular.
The period from 1905 to 1917 was one of increasing linguistic conflict, with the re-awakening of Romanian national consciousness. In 1905 and 1906, the Bessarabian zemstva asked for the re-introduction of Romanian in schools as a "compulsory language", and the "liberty to teach in the mother language (Romanian language)". At the same time, Romanian-language newspapers and journals began to appear, such as Basarabia (1906), Viața Basarabiei (1907), Moldovanul (1907), Luminătorul (1908), Cuvînt moldovenesc (1913), Glasul Basarabiei (1913). From 1913, the synod permitted that "the churches in Bessarabia use the Romanian language". Romanian finally became the official language with the Constitution of 1923.
Romanian has preserved a part of the Latindeclension, but whereas Latin had six cases, from a morphological viewpoint, Romanian has only five: the nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, and marginally the vocative. Romanian nouns also preserve the neuter gender, although instead of functioning as a separate gender with its own forms in adjectives, the Romanian neuter became a mixture of masculine and feminine. The verb morphology of Romanian has shown the same move towards a compound perfect and future tense as the other Romance languages. Compared with the other Romance languages, during its evolution, Romanian simplified the original Latin tense system in extreme ways,[unreliable source?] in particular the absence of sequence of tenses.
See also: List of countries where Romanian is an official language and Romanian-American
|Countries where Romanian is an official language|
|Transnistria (Eastern Moldova) 3||31.9%||177,050||555,500|
|minority regional co-official language:|
|Other neighboring European states (except for CIS where Romanian is not official)|
|Other countries in Europe (except for CIS)|
|Rest of Europe||0.07%||75,000||114,050,000|
1 Many are Moldavian who were deported
Romanian is spoken mostly in Central and the Balkan region of Southern Europe, although speakers of the language can be found all over the world, mostly due to emigration of Romanian nationals and the return of immigrants to Romania back to their original countries. Romanian speakers account for 0.5% of the world's population, and 4% of the Romance-speaking population of the world.
Romanian is the single official and national language in Romania and Moldova, although it shares the official status at regional level with other languages in the Moldovan autonomies of Gagauzia and Transnistria. Romanian is also an official language of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina in Serbia along with five other languages. Romanian minorities are encountered in Serbia (Timok Valley), Ukraine (Chernivtsi and Odessa oblasts), and Hungary (Gyula). Large immigrant communities are found in Italy, Spain, France, and Portugal.
In 1995, the largest Romanian-speaking community in the Middle East was found in Israel, where Romanian was spoken by 5% of the population. Romanian is also spoken as a second language by people from Arabic-speaking countries who have studied in Romania. It is estimated that almost half a million Middle Eastern Arabs studied in Romania during the 1980s. Small Romanian-speaking communities are to be found in Kazakhstan and Russia. Romanian is also spoken within communities of Romanian and Moldovan immigrants in the United States, Canada and Australia, although they do not make up a large homogeneous community statewide.
According to the Constitution of Romania of 1991, as revised in 2003, Romanian is the official language of the Republic.
Romania mandates the use of Romanian in official government publications, public education and legal contracts. Advertisements as well as other public messages must bear a translation of foreign words, while trade signs and logos shall be written predominantly in Romanian.
The Romanian Language Institute (Institutul Limbii Române), established by the Ministry of Education of Romania, promotes Romanian and supports people willing to study the language, working together with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Department for Romanians Abroad.
Main article: Moldovan language
Romanian is the official language of the Republic of Moldova. The 1991 Declaration of Independence names the official language Romanian. The Constitution of Moldova names the state language of the country Moldovan. In December 2013, a decision of the Constitutional Court of Moldova ruled that the Declaration of Independence takes precedence over the Constitution and the state language should be called Romanian.
Scholars agree that Moldovan and Romanian are the same language, with the glottonym "Moldovan" used in certain political contexts. It has been the sole official language since the adoption of the Law on State Language of the Moldavian SSR in 1989. This law mandates the use of Moldovan in all the political, economical, cultural and social spheres, as well as asserting the existence of a "linguistic Moldo-Romanian identity". It is also used in schools, mass media, education and in the colloquial speech and writing. Outside the political arena the language is most often called "Romanian". In the breakaway territory of Transnistria, it is co-official with Ukrainian and Russian.
In the 2014 census, out of the 2,804,801 people living in Moldova, 24% (652,394) stated Romanian as their most common language, whereas 56% stated Moldovan. While in the urban centers speakers are split evenly between the two names (with the capital Chișinău showing a strong preference for the name "Romanian", i.e. 3:2), in the countryside hardly a quarter of Romanian/Moldovan speakers indicated Romanian as their native language. It should be noted that unofficial results of this census first showed a stronger preference for the name Romanian, however the initial reports were later dismissed by the Institute for Statistics, which led to speculations in the media regarding the forgery of the census results.
In Vojvodina, Serbia
Main article: Official status of Romanian language in Vojvodina
The Constitution of the Republic of Serbia determines that in the regions of the Republic of Serbia inhabited by national minorities, their own languages and scripts shall be officially used as well, in the manner established by law.
The Statute of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina determines that, together with the Serbian language and the Cyrillic script, and the Latin script as stipulated by the law, the Croat, Hungarian, Slovak, Romanian and Rusyn languages and their scripts, as well as languages and scripts of other nationalities, shall simultaneously be officially used in the work of the bodies of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina, in the manner established by the law. The bodies of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina are: the Assembly, the Executive Council and the Provincial administrative bodies.
The Romanian language and script are officially used in eight municipalities: Alibunar, Biserica Albă (Serbian: Bela Crkva), Zitiște (Žitište), Zrenianin (Zrenjanin), Kovăcița (Kovačica), Cuvin (Kovin), Plandiște (Plandište) and Sečanj. In the municipality of Vârșeț (Vršac), Romanian is official only in the villages of Voivodinț (Vojvodinci), Marcovăț (Markovac), Straja (Straža), Jamu Mic (Mali Žam), Srediștea Mică (Malo Središte), Mesici (Mesić), Jablanka, Sălcița (Salčica), Râtișor (Ritiševo), Oreșaț (Orašac) and Coștei (Kuštilj).
In the 2002 Census, the last carried out in Serbia, 1.5% of Vojvodinians stated Romanian as their native language.
Regional language status in Ukraine
In parts of Ukraine where Romanians constitute a significant share of the local population (districts in Chernivtsi, Odessa and Zakarpattiaoblasts) Romanian is taught in schools as a primary language and there are Romanian-language newspapers, TV, and radio broadcasting. The University of Chernivtsi in western Ukraine trains teachers for Romanian schools in the fields of Romanian philology, mathematics and physics.
In Hertsa Raion of Ukraine as well as in other villages of Chernivtsi Oblast and Zakarpattia Oblast, Romanian has been declared a "regional language" alongside Ukrainian as per the 2012 legislation on languages in Ukraine.
In other countries and organizations
See also: Romanian diaspora
Romanian is an official or administrative language in various communities and organisations, such as the Latin Union and the European Union. Romanian is also one of the five languages in which religious services are performed in the autonomous monastic state of Mount Athos, spoken in the monk communities of Prodromos and Lacu.
As a second and foreign language
Romanian is taught in some areas that have Romanian minority communities, such as Vojvodina in Serbia, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Hungary. The Romanian Cultural Institute (ICR) has since 1992 organised summer courses in Romanian for language teachers. There are also non-Romanians who study Romanian as a foreign language, for example the Nicolae Bălcescu High-school in Gyula, Hungary.
Romanian is taught as a foreign language in tertiary institutions, mostly in European countries such as Germany, France and Italy, and the Netherlands, as well as in the United States. Overall, it is taught as a foreign language in 43 countries around the world.
Romanian has become popular in other countries through movies and songs performed in the Romanian language. Examples of Romanian acts that had a great success in non-Romanophone countries are the bands O-Zone (with their No. 1 single Dragostea Din Tei/Numa Numa across the world in 2003–2004), Akcent (popular in the Netherlands, Poland and other European countries), Activ (successful in some Eastern European countries), DJ Project (popular as clubbing music) SunStroke Project (known by viral video "Epic sax guy") and Alexandra Stan (worldwide no.1 hit with "Mr. Saxobeat)" and Inna as well as high-rated movies like 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, 12:08 East of Bucharest or California Dreamin' (all of them with awards at the Cannes Film Festival).
Also some artists wrote songs dedicated to the Romanian language. The multiplatinum pop trio O-Zone (originally from Moldova) released a song called "Nu mă las de limba noastră" ("I won't forsake our language"). The final verse of this song, Eu nu mă las de limba noastră, de limba noastră cea română is translated in English as "I won't forsake our language, our Romanian language". Also, the Moldovan musicians Doina and Ion Aldea Teodorovici performed a song called "The Romanian language".
Main article: Romanian dialects
The term "Romanian" is sometimes used also in a more general sense, encompassing four varieties: (Daco-)Romanian, Aromanian, Megleno-Romanian, and Istro-Romanian. The four languages, whose mutual intelligibility is low, are the offspring of the Romance varieties spoken both to the north and to south of the Danube, before the settlement of the Slavonian tribes south of the river: Daco-Romanian in the north, Aromanian and Megleno-Romanian in the south, whereas Istro-Romanian is thought to be the offspring of an 11th-century migration from Romania. These four are also known as the Eastern Romance languages. When the term "Romanian" is used in this larger sense, the term "Daco-Romanian" is used for Romanian proper. The origin of the term "Daco-Romanian" can be traced back to the first printed book of Romanian grammar in 1780, by Samuil Micu and Gheorghe Șincai. There, the Romanian dialect spoken north of the Danube is called lingua Daco-Romana to emphasize its origin and its area of use, which includes the former Roman province of Dacia, although it is spoken also south of the Danube, in Dobrudja, Central Serbia and northern Bulgaria.
This article deals with the Romanian (i.e. Daco-Romanian) language, and thus only its dialectal variations are discussed here. The differences between the regional varieties are small, limited to regular phonetic changes, few grammar aspects, and lexical particularities. There is a single written standard (literary) Romanian language used by all speakers, regardless of region. Like most natural languages, Romanian dialects are part of a dialect continuum. The dialects of Romanian are also referred to as subdialects (see reasons for this terminology) and are distinguished primarily by phonetic differences. Romanians themselves speak of the differences as accents or speeches (in Romanian: accent or grai).
Depending on the criteria used for classifying these dialects, fewer or more are found, ranging from 2 to 20, although the most widespread approaches give a number of five dialects. These are grouped into two main types, southern and northern, further divided as follows:
- The southern type has only one member:
- The northern type consists of several dialects:
- the Moldavian dialect, spoken in the historical region of Moldavia, now split among Romania, the Republic of Moldova, and Ukraine (Bukovina and Bessarabia), as well as northern part of Northern Dobruja;
- the Banat dialect, spoken in the historical region of Banat, including parts of Serbia;
- a group of finely divided and transition-like Transylvanian varieties, among which two are most often distinguished, those of Crișana and Maramureș.
Over the last century, however, regional accents have been weakened due to mass communication and greater mobility.
See also: Romance languages
Romanian is a Romance language, belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European language family, having much in common with languages such as French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese.
However, the languages closest to Romanian are the other Eastern Romance languages, spoken south of the Danube: Aromanian/Macedo-Romanian, Megleno-Romanian and Istro-Romanian, which are frequently classified as dialects of Romanian. An alternative name for Romanian used by linguists to disambiguate with the other Eastern Romance languages is "Daco-Romanian", referring to the area where it is spoken (which corresponds roughly to the onetime Roman province of Dacia).
Compared with the other Romance languages, the closest relative of Romanian is Italian; the two languages show a limited degree of asymmetrical mutual intelligibility, especially in their cultivated forms: speakers of Romanian seem to understand Italian more easily than the other way around. Romanian has obvious grammatical and lexical similarities with French, Catalan, Spanish and Portuguese, with a high phonological similarity with Portuguese in particular; however, it is not mutually intelligible with them to any practical extent. Romanian speakers will usually need some formal study of basic grammar and vocabulary before being able to understand more than individual words and simple sentences in other Romance languages. The same is true for speakers of these languages trying to understand Romanian. Because of its separation from the other Romance languages, it has diverged from them and is an outlier in various ways, somewhat like English in regards to the other Germanic languages.
Romanian has had a greater share of foreign influence than some other Romance languages such as Italian in terms of vocabulary and other aspects. One such study was done by Italian-American linguist Mario Pei in 1949, which analyzed the differentiation degree of languages in comparison to their inheritance language (in the case of Romance languages to Latin comparing phonology, inflection, discourse, syntax, vocabulary, and intonation) revealed the following percentages (the higher the percentage, the greater the distance from Latin):
- Sardinian: 8%
- Italian: 12%
- Spanish: 20%
- Romanian: 23.5%
- Occitan: 25%
- Portuguese: 31%
- French: 44%
The lexical similarity of Romanian with Italian has been estimated at 77%, followed by French at 75%, Sardinian 74%, Catalan 73%, Portuguese and Rhaeto-Romance 72%, Spanish 71%.
|native||above 3%||between 1–3%||under 1%||n/a|
Keats or Dylan? A key aspect of the mid-20th century was the quarrel between popular and serious culture. In his 1941 essay England Your England, George Orwell sought to define Englishness through a scrutiny of seaside picture postcards. Years later, the French essayist Roland Barthes applied literary judgment to ephemera in much the same way.
Some of the best essayists have been American: only a loquacious journal such as the New Yorker could accommodate the long stroll as perfected by EB White or James Thurber. Craig Raine comes close to their waspish tone at times. No subject is too lowly or vulgar for his long-drawn-out analysis; the literary and cultural essays in More Dynamite contain allusions to Darth Vader, Edward Scissorhands, Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Koons, among others.
As a poet and a novelist, Raine is much interested in the mortifications and lavatorial functions of the human body. In donnish tones, he dilates loftily on the consistency of menstrual blood ("a brown viscous discharge"), Damien Hirst's "prepuce" and Rimbaud's poetic homage to his lover Paul Verlaine's arsehole. "Good writing is bound to give offence," Raine told us in his recent novel The Divine Comedy; these essays do not disappoint. Swipes are taken at Samuel Beckett ("a very uneven writer"), Geoffrey Hill ("But is this great poetry?") and the children's author Michael Rosen ("The trouble is, he isn't a writer"). Other authors are arraigned on charges of plagiarism, more or less. Derek Walcott lifts from Robert Lowell; Beckett lifts from Marcel Proust. ("Krapp's Last Tape is a kind of dwarf À la recherche, shrunk in the wash.") Any writer whom Raine considers overrated is smartly tossed and gored. Don Paterson, the Scottish poet, is subjected to such a drubbing that I wondered if Raine was not a writer after all, but a super-brilliant hack who gluts himself on causing injury to others.
For all their cleverness, the essays verge at times on the smarty-pants. Franz Kafka's hero is likened to a breakfast cereal ("K would like to be special K"), while John Updike's prose radiates something of "the beloved dinginess of Duraglit", whatever that may mean. By contrast, Raine's appreciations of Philip Larkin, Kipling and Elizabeth Bishop are models of lucid exegesis and sympathy. Eliot's Inferno, a bravura performance, seeks to exonerate the author of The Wasteland from accusations of antisemitism. Raine's chief target is Anthony Julius, former lawyer to Diana, Princess of Wales, whose TS Eliot, Anti-Semitism and Literary Form charged the poet with Jew-hatred as well as misogyny. Julius had made these charges with scant evidential rigour or regard for verification, according to Raine, and it is certainly true that Julius can be slipshod (in a Times book review not long ago he mis-spelled my name a total of 15 times).
Though Raine may love the sound of his own opinionated voice, as an essayist he is excited by pretty well anything of human concern, interest and puzzlement. Inevitably, many of his friends are here (Martin Amis, Tom Stoppard). So the impression is of a charmed circle, but the writing is nonetheless enjoyable for that. To judge by this collection, anyway, the essay as an art form looks in fine fettle.
Herta Müller, who won the Nobel prize for literature in 2009, is the daughter of a German-Romanian SS veteran. She was born in Romania's German-speaking Banat region, where Nazi misrule was superseded in the postwar years by communist misrule. Her essay collection, Cristina and Her Double, chronicles life in the totalitarian darkness of Nicolae Ceausescu. In a dictatorship that eroded all humanity, resistance was hopeless. As a casualty of the Securitate's psychological violence, Müller lost her job as a teacher in the 80s and was afterwards banished to a tractor factory, where her job was to translate instructions for hydraulic machinery.
Müller's essays provide a gloss on her extraordinary novel The Land of Green Plums as well as her love-hate relationship with her Führer-doting father. (An alcoholic, he is seen to lament a lost Romanian idyll of plum brandy, strudel pastry and beer-swilling Herrenvolk.) Nazi Romania had much in common with Stalinist Romania, not least a dewy-eyed nationalism. In an especially chilling essay, Always the Same Snow, Müller relates how even snow could betray the whereabouts of a runaway dissident. In January 1945, the Soviet authorities press-ganged thousands of Transylvanian Saxons resident in Romania and sent them to slave labour camps in the Siberian ice fields. Muller's mother was caught up in the arrests and deported as a "counter-revolutionary". Müller meanwhile, burdened by her German heredity, reflects bitterly on her parents' political allegiances and her own wretched fate under Ceausescu. These angry, raw essays tell of political oppression with a sombre eye and a deft economy of words.