Comments on the Language and Significance of Neacșu's Letter

As opposed to the first documents of other languages, for example The Capuan Book for the Italian language, or The Strasbourg Sermons for the French one - texts that do not resemble much to the today spoken language, being very remote in time, too - the language used in Neacșu's letter is little different from the nowadays spoken Romanian language.

The introductory and closing formulas represent exceptions; it is obvious that the message had to be clear and quickly transmitted, not written by a scribe, as the document contained a secret of great importance. From the very beginning we have to notice the accuracy and brevity of the expression. The old Slavonic term "I pak" (= and, and again, as well) can lead us to the supposition that the letter of the 29th - 30th of June 1521 followed other letters of the same nature.

The attributive: "that those ships that thy highness knowest hath sailed up the Danube" brings about the same conclusion. The "I pak" formula has somehow the same value as the modern Latin term "idem", but also to mark the beginning and the end of each of the seven sentences, as they do not have punctuation marks. The chiefly oral character of the message can be perceived by the quick pass to the subject using an accusative construction "I let thee know", or by the first and third person expressions "as I heard", "a man from Nicopole came to me and told me he hath seen with his own eyes", "as I heard from the boyars and from my son-in-law Negre". In oral form, guaranteeing the authenticity of the news - the explanatory expression "and the truth is no other but this".

Perfectly intelligible, so much that we could understand the meaning of the two Slavonic words without a glossary, the text presents, however, some features characteristic to the language used in the beginning of the 16th century:
- the old auxiliary form using the plural endings for the third person singular of the past perfect "au": "au esit", "se-au dus", "mi-au spus", "au vazut", "au dat";
- lucrul ("the deed", originating in the Latin "lucrum"="gain") has here the meaning of 'deed, action'(compare with Gr. Ureche's chronicle, in the fragment showing Stephen the Great);
- "Aimintrea" ("and the truth is no other but this") is the archaic form of alminteri ("otherwise"), originated in the Latin alius + mentem;
- "corăbii" ("ships") preserves the "a", which in the 16th century the morphological alternation "a" was not extended, singular: corabie, with a, plural: corăbii;
- "tote" (all), "omin" (men), "vostre" (thy): the "oa" diphthong is spelt simply "o" (instead of "toate", "oameni", "voastre"), probably only a matter of writing method;
- omission of final "i" for the plural nouns "meșter"(i), "megiiaș"(i) - sailors, neighbours -, folk forms much used even today, the plural being shown in the first case by the definite article "nește" and in the second case by the plural form of the verb to be - "sunt" -, perhaps also a matter of the writing method;
- "de" used instead of "de la" (=from):"from the boyars, from my son-in-law";
- writing the final "u" in cumu (= that);
- the use of the folk Wallachian "miu", instead of "meu" (=my), in fact it is still pronounced that way in Wallachia mainly, prolonging the "i" vowel;
- "io", originating in the Latin "ubi" of the place adverbial where, still exist today in the south-Transylvanian dialect in the form of "iu" or "io";
- "strimt" (=narrow), from the Latin "strictus", still used today in certain dialects (see Stolnicul Constantin Cantacuzino, Istoria Țării Rumânești, in Cronicari munteni, I, p. 3, Ed. Mihail Gregorian, 1961);
- "se-au" instead of "s-au", preserving the e: "se-au dus' (=hath sailed);
- "pre" instead of "pe" (=up): "hath sailed up the Danube" etc.

Clear, concise, fluent, the expressiveness of the Romanian language in the letter of Neacșu is due to the Latin elements. The Latin words, the linguists concerned with statistics say, represents 92,31%, with an absolute frequency of 89,47%. Out of the 112 units of the text, 67 Latin originated words can also be found in other 7 new-Latin languages.
The conclusion is that the Romanian language, by the time it appeared in its written form, was fully and for a long time taking part in the European pan-Romanism.

The discovery of the letter

As many other papers regarding the national cultural history, the Letter of the boyar Neacșu was discovered by the hard-working scholar Nicolae Iorga1, in the beginning of our century, in the Brașov City Archives.

The significance of the document

The earliest written document of the Romanian language has, by its content proper, a very significant value, defining for our people's mission along the centuries: a Romanian from Wallachia warning the Transylvanians about the danger of a Turkish invasion.
Indirectly, on the cultural level exclusively, and for the spiritual life generally, to which the language phenomenon is so intimately related, the event recorded here explains the cause of the relatively late appearance of the Romanian written texts. (Neacșu's letter was contemporary with Luther, Nicolaus Copernicus and Ludovigo Ariosto, with Margaret of Navarre, François Rabelais and Albrecht Dürer; Leonardo da Vinci was already dead for two years!).

That state of facts would continue for a long period of time from that moment on. But, no matter how harsh the conditions, the first written text under the pen of a Wallachian - in the very heart of the Romanian territory, the bearer of the dialect the most resembling to the future literary form of the national language -, the Romanian written language would gloriously and brilliantly find expression in literary works that are not at all weaker than those of other peoples, up to the present days. This is the case of the chroniclers, of writers such as Dimitrie Cantemir, Ion Budai Deleanu, Vasile Alecsandri, Mihai Eminescu, Ion Creangă, Mihail Sadoveanu, and Tudor Arghezi.

The text is an excerpt from Ion Rotaru's book, Literatura română veche, București, 1981, p. 62 - 65.

[1] Actually, the letter was discovered in 1894 by the Brașov archievist Friedrich Wilhelm Stenner.

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