Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Old So and So

Mighty Boosh and the Nanageddon song

The other day as I was complaining to a new translator friend about the aging of the Slovenian population and the lack of a great feeling of youthful energy here (I think the words "this is old people heaven" were uttered), and he gave me a very interesting fact. Apparently in previous generations your grandparents and elders were referred to in the plural. This means that when referring to your grandmother, instead of saying ona je (she is) you would say oni so (they are). Meaning that your grandmother (or grandfather) was held up as this superhuman, larger-than-life, so nice they named it twice being, more than just a mere mortal, she was Supergranny!

Now, I am all for respecting my elders, but that just seems excessive. No matter how lovely your grandparents are/were they are certainly human and fallable. Now I don't know why this terminology went out of favor; my friend suggests that the country changed over from a feudal way of thinking and oni so went out "their" door. I can't be sure, but I am glad to hear it is gone. I know I am biased in this regard, but I like to hear about positive change here. While I respect aspects of the past, I'd be horrified to have to live in it.


Sladki said...

My grandmother who is in her 80's still - when she mentions her mother - refers to her as "so mama rekli" or in english "they said so - meaning momma said so in plural. I guess it was just the way she was brought up in meaning of respect to her elders.

Nice blog btw ;)


Camille Remarkable said...

Thanks for reading Sladki!

alcessa said...

Camille: it is not so much about plural, it is more of a ... damn. Do you know the concept of "vikanje"? :-) So, it is a polite way to "vikati" someone in their absence, because we also use the plural form when "vikati" someone present - we don't really think plural here, we think politeness.

I guess I was lucky for being allowed to "tikati" my Granny :-) and I think you are right about this.

Camille Remarkable said...

@alcessa - i am familiar with vikati and i figured the intent was to be polite, but oni strikes me as above and beyond polite. it is almost like grandma is unreachable, like you can't sit down and just have a chat with her about the good old days. i think it, linguistically, puts a lot of distance there. of course, in practice, every relationship is different and i'm sure there were many people who would use oni and then knock back a pivo with gran, but as you know (even better than i), language still has power.

alcessa said...

Yes, I'd say it is true: children and grandchildren of such linguistically distanced grannies and mothers were not allowed to come all too close in any way.
I was allowed to raid my granny's wardrobes and tickle her and cuddle with her, but I cannot imagine doing the same to some one wanting the distance by means of polite speech and I am sure they wouldn't want these things to be done to them...

But probably there is a special reason this phenomenon exists: possibly old people are/were not left alone (or they thouhgt they won't be) when not being able to take care for themselves, if they (thought they) inspired that much respect (old people's home is a relatively new invention - sorry for not using the PC expression)..

Anonymous said...

It's called "onikanje" and it is a wery arhaic way to exspress respect for someone. Alltough it's still used when you really respect someone. But many people nowdays consider that as a joke. But in some village restaurants (old so :D) You can be "onikan".

Regards, Miha

BeautyinBaltimore said...

I don't think it is a horrible way of looking to elders. In the states we are obssessed with people who are 17-21 yrs old. This seems like a nice change.

jana said...

Maybe you really "should" spend more time in Ljubljana. For one, you'll get your fill of youthful spirit if you hangout around all the najstniki on the busses and in the streets of the centre, and of course, at BTC ... Then you might see that a little more "onikanje" in "vikanje" could do us all some good.
I think this question is worth some more research -- for example, from when and how did this practice come into use? Is it only a part of Slovenian language, or do other Slavic languages also practice this? Did the Austro-Hungarian influence have an impact on this practice? Any linquists or historians in da' house?

Camille Remarkable said...

Hey Jana,
I have no doubt that I need to spend more time in Ljubljana but I think I get a sight of how the masses are living by living here in Radovljica. ;)

I am in no way encouraging disrespect and if it is between onikanje and tikanje i would air on the side of oni but what's wrong with vi? I think vi is lovely (and something the English language is sorely lacking, though it is possible to approximate it with metadiscursive).

Like I mentioned, my translator friend said it had something to do with the feudal system where all the land was in the hands of the eldest family member which gave them god-like status. Beyond that, I'd love to hear from any linguists out there. This is fascinating to me.