I have been living in this beautiful town in Transylvania for almost a year, yet hardly any of my foreign friends have visited me here. It’s not that they wouldn’t be interested, but it’s just too complicated to travel here if you are not familiar with some Romanian peculiarities.
In Google Maps, the town is called Târgu Mureș. So, my friends try to find a train connection to Târgu Mureș. After searching for half an hour, they tell me: “There is no such place. Or it doesn’t have a train station.” Offended in my adopted local pride, I tell them that Târgu Mureș does of course have a train station, and that we even have international direct trains.
After some back and forth, I go to the website of our fantastic Romanian Railway and search for the connection myself. Ah! Now I see the problem. I call my friends and tell them: “You need to search for Tîrgu Mureș, not Târgu Mureș.” This question always comes next: “How long have you been living there? And you still don’t know how to spell the name of your town!” I mumble some apologies about recent linguistic and spelling reforms.
But pay attention: While your ticket will say Tîrgu Mureș, the train station where you get off is called Târgu Mureș.
After a few days, my friends call me again, telling me that if they took the train, they would spend all of their holiday on the way to Tîrgu Mureș and back home from Târgu Mureș or the other way round. – “No problem,” I reply, “we also have an international airport. WizzAir has cheap flights to here from anywhere in Europe.” (I don’t mention that only three planes land every day, that it’s the smallest airport in Europe and the only airport which doesn’t even have a cash machine. They will notice it soon enough.) A few hours later, I receive another phone call: “I don’t know what you are telling me, but there are no flights to Tîrgu Mureș.” They are already getting slightly annoyed. “Oh,” I remember now, “on the WizzAir website, it’s spelled Târgu Mureș.” The airport’s website is one of the many examples where you find both spellings used by the same organization, as if they can’t make up their mind.
At this point, my friends usually think that I have been joking and that I made up some random town. They suddenly got their vacation “cancelled” or their child becomes sick.
And they haven’t even asked about the bus website. There, you can book a bus from Târgu Mureș to Tîrgu Mureș. Confusingly, it takes between one and one-and-a-half hours to get from one name of the same city to the other.
So I decide to take a walk around town to find out once and for all what the correct spelling is. Naturally, my first stop are the signs outside of town. Sure enough, they say Târgu Mureș. (The signs also list Marosvásárhely, which I assume, based on the unpronounceability of the word, must be an Icelandic twin city.) These are the official signs, so everything is settled. Or is it? I shouldn’t have walked past City Hall on my way back home, for there I got mightily confused. Like on the city’s own website, it says Tîrgu Mureș.
At that point, I realized that I couldn’t solve this puzzle on my own. I would need to ask my Romanian friends. Many of them had studied languages, so they would be competent experts. All I got, however, was the information that the name should actually be spelled Târgu-Mureș or Tîrgu-Mureș, with a hyphen. “It is most annoying how the hyphen gets dropped and people get caught up in the â-vs-î debate,” these academics proclaimed indignantly, before arguing among themselves whether the official name should be Târgu-Mureș or Tîrgu-Mureș, in the most heated manner.
“It has always been Târgu-Mureș.” – “But there was a spelling reform in 1953!” – “That was a Communist plot!” – “It doesn’t matter whose idea it was, but the spelling is now Tîrgu-Mureș.” – “You are way behind! There was another spelling reform in 1993.” – “That was a plot by the European Union!” – “What would the EU care about our spelling?” – “We should not forget that we are the true descendants of the Romans!” – “You nationalist!” – “You internationalist traitor!” – “Anyway, a spelling reform doesn’t affect names, you dumbass.” – “It does affect official names. Târgu Jiu, Târgu Neamț, Târgu Cărbunești, they all changed their names.” – “They are losers!” – “Look how it’s spelled in your ID card!” – “In my ID card, it also says that I am 183 cm.”
The debate got out of hand and I began to understand why Târgu/Tîrgu-Mureș has so many hospitals. I had also understood what made Târgu/Tîrgu-Mureș so special. In other cities in Romania, this was a matter of spelling. If it changed, it changed; no big deal. In Târgu/Tîrgu-Mureș however, there are basically two factions of the population (let’s call them Târgus and Tîrgus) and both of them make up around 50% of the population, making sure that the debate will never be settled.
Like in Eastern Ukraine and in Transnistria, the debate about language is not only a debate about language here. It’s a debate about identity, about history, about interpretation, about representation. Language is used not as a tool of communication, but as a divisive tool, as if people weren’t able to speak two or more languages (which even the most radical Târgus and Tîrgus implicitly acknowledge by sending their children to English- and German-speaking schools).
Now, I should say that most Târgus and Tîrgus are absolutely friendly, welcoming and helpful people. In fact, they get along in everyday life much better than their distant cousins in Buchapest and Budarest believe.
However, when I look at who goes to which church, who goes to which bar and who gets married to whom, there is still a level of (voluntary) segregation like in Alabama in the 1960s. If you are reading this from afar, you probably find all of this very funny (I can assure you that the locals don’t and that I will suffer everything from being unfriended on Facebook to finding Molotov cocktails in my mailbox), but let’s not forget that as recently as in March 1990, people were killed over this shit.
Some centuries ago, the conflict between Târgus and Tîrgus had actually escalated so much that Europe’s most peace-loving and peace-guaranteeing nation had to intervene. Germans settled the area and decreed that the town would henceforth be known as Neumarkt am Mieresch. For linguistic, political or ethnic reasons, this new name never took hold. But, in an appreciative nod to the one thing the Germans were really good at, the local beer is still called Neumarkt.
It must be really depressing if your nation is good in literature, poetry, music, football, engineering and even humor, but everything the world knows you for is beer.
Anyway, as an international visitor to Târgu/Tîrgu-Mureș you want to know how to refer to the city you are about to visit. That one is actually surprisingly easy:
- In written communication, many people avoid the problem by writing Tg. Mures. Clever, huh?
- When I first moved here, my solution was to start pronouncing the a in Târgu, but change it to an i while the sound was formed in my mouth, to create some a/i-mix. Surprisingly, this came very close to how locals pronounce it.
- Oh, I forgot to mention that the whole Târgu/Tîrgu debate is irrelevant in spoken language because both vowels are pronounced the same. Because it’s a very light vowel, almost not discernible, you do best by simply omitting it altogether instead of messing it up. Just say “Trgu” as if you were pronouncing an Arabic word with a crazy combination of consonants.
- Some people try to be very cool and say TGM, pronouncing all three letters like in NYC, and in English of course. These are the same kind of folks who order OJ instead of orange juice, so, needless to say, you better stay away from these highly annoying people.
“And what’s with the roof on top of the a and the i?” you have been wondering all along. Once you are in Târgu/Tîrgu-Mureș, take a walk to Valea Rece, the largest slum in town, and you will see where the roofs are missing. After all, a silly language dispute is more important than housing people.
Oh, the problems we have.
Love how well-documented you are, btw!
Now you know why I am so behind with all my other articles. This extreme academic rigor that I apply… (and the beautiful weather and the many books to read).
Very interesting and documented article. The only bad part of it is at the end where you refer to the beings from “Valea Rece” as “people” when the right words would be “social leeches”. And yes, I’m from Tîrgu-Mureș.
And here, ladies and gentlemen, you see a prime example of anti-Roma racism.
Not sure if you are just joking or yo’re really uninformed…
On the signs outside of town “Marosvásárhely” is the hungarian name of the town as “Neumarkt am Mieresch” is the german name. Before 1918 Transylvania was a part of Hungary and that’s why all major towns and even most of the villages have their names written in hungarian on the signs outside them.
I would hope that the rest of the article, or my whole blog if necessary, would settle the question on whether I am joking or uninformed.
If Transylvania was part of Hungary until 1918, and Hungary was part of Austria until 1918, does that mean that Transylvania was (also) part of Austria?
Yes and no. It was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
On http://www.cfrcalatori.ro/ you can now search for Targu Mures :)
Oh! Can you also book tickets from Targu Mures to Tirgu Mures there? :)
Yes. You can buy online tickets. But remember to print the ticket.
For train connections you should search the DB website😃
True, that’s the best one!
I don’t know how Deutsche Bahn does it, but they sometimes have better data on trains in Eastern Europe than the Eastern European train companies themselves.
Marosvásárhely…..icelandic twin city….this hurt…..you should informe yourself first.
You’re a little bit misinformed. There was, indeed, a spelling reform (was very confusing in school). This is what they decided:
1. Every î at the beginning and ending of a word remains the same.
Example: (good) îmbarcațiune / (bad) âmbarcațiune
2. Every î in the middle of a word becomes â
Example: (good) curând / (bad) curînd
3. Every word that’s a verb the î becomes u
Example: (good) sunt / (bad) sînt / (bad) sânt
So, the name of the city in the old form of spelling was Tîrgu Mureș which became Târgu Mureș
I don’t know where you saw or heard about the hyphen, but it’s wrong. The correct way of writing it is: Târgu Mureș and not Târgu-Mureș
There’s a shorter version of the city name which is most places are still acceptable (filling out official documents), you’re basically shortening the Târgu part to Tg
So, the short form is Tg-Mureș, this is where you supposed to use the hyphen, also writing it with a dot like this Tg. Mureș is wrong.
P.S. Târgu Mureș in hungarian is Marosvásárhely, hungarians also say Vásárhely
In german is Neumarkt am Mieresch, or the short form, just Neumarkt
P.S.P.S Hungarian is not related to Iceland in any way, lexically speaking there are very very weak similarity through Finnish, have a look: http://blog.bliubliu.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/languages-distances.jpg
It’s true that there was a spelling reform, but with names of cities they decided individually and Tirgu Mures remained Tirgu Mures. Maybe it’s because in Transylvania they didn’t like this reform, for example in Cluj there are even some newspapers which use i everywhere, even in the verb sint.
Thank you for pointing that out!
The more I learn, the more confused it becomes. :-)
Thank you very much! I bet that must have been confusing at school. And it must be confusing if you get old books and read them now.
The part about Iceland and a few other things were a joke. I am not THAT stupid. :-)
I think that you do not quite understand this town, which is understandable due to the time amount spent here. The problem is that you you don’t feel it’s dynamics, more than that you are making offending and ignorant comparisons for example when you say that people live”like in Alabama in the 1960″. First of all this is Europe the so-called segregation (which is not segregation) here has nothing in common with the segregation in the US. Firstly you know little about the Civil Rights Movement and the segregation of the black community in US, secondly you know even less about the dynamics of the coexistence in this town.
Here people go to different churches because they have different religions, different faiths, the situation is the same in Germany, the Turkish community goes to a mosque and Germans go the Christian churches, are you calling this segregation in Germany too?
Calling ethnic conflicts “this shit” is extremely ignorant approach to a multicultural and multi linguistic community. There is no debate about language, language is the base of a culture and some people want to keep their language. This issue has nothing in common with Transnistria,, it has more similarities with the situation in East Tirol, Catalonia. Have you heard about the language rights of the ethnic minorities in Romania? This is not a debate, this is a human rights issue, the right to mother tongue/language is a basic human right.
Dig deeper you will understand more. By the way it’s a pity that your friends are not visiting you because a simple letter of the alphabet, I hope you will have friends who are cool enough to visit you in this town.
Honestly, it’s even sadder: Nobody visits me because I don’t even have any friends, mainly due to writing offensive articles all the time. :-(
I agree with you on the language issue. I don’t think any language should be suppressed and I think I made this clear by pointing out that people can easily speak two or three languages. Countries don’t suffer at all from multilingualism. After all Switzerland with four official languages is one of the most peaceful and prosperous countries in the world.
100% hilarious. It made my day. Thing is – I always write it as Tg-Mures :) . Enjoy your staying – if you’re still there.
Thank you very much!
Yes, I am still in your/our lovely town until October.
:))) … this was very entertaining. This Targu / Tirgu Mures issue is indeed very annoying but you get used to it. I always spell Tg Mures anyway. Hope you enjoy / enjoyed your stay
Oh yes, I am enjoying my stay here very much. Tg Mures is a really lovely place with very welcoming and genuinely friendly people. I am still staying here until October.
You forgot about the ș vs ş issue. Which makes for a big total of 24 different ways to commonly spell the complete name: T[âîai]rgu[ -]Mure[șşs]. And yes, of course, you’ll encounter *any* of these in some written texts. At least with that, I think we’re some champs. :)
The people from Voiteg(via railway)/Voiteni(via landroad) don’t come even close to us…
Take care and enjoy all the oddities you might (and wiill :) ) still encounter!
Now I can upgrade my article to a book. Actually, I might even get a PhD grant and live for a few years off it while “researching” this further.
Maybe we should apply to the Guinness Book of Records for the town name with the most possible spellings.
Someone once informed me that î was a “Stalinist letter” which I felt was a bit harsh.
My wife’s home town, though she calls it Vasarhely, being from the other 50% (the 50% who call it that, rather than the 50% who call it Tirgu and the 50% who call it Targu. That seems a lot of people? 150%)
I experience the CFR website problem too, the first time I tried it. Took me ages to work out.
:) . I belong to the 50% who call it Tg-Mureș . Andreas – shall I assume that , by now, you must have visited the Cultural Palace, the Teleki library and you are aware of SMURD ? :)
I always like going to the Cultural Palace. It’s such a beautiful building, and on a hot summer day, I like spending time in the paintings gallery or in the concert hall. I take a book with me an enjoy listening to the practicing artists.
I haven’t been to the Teleki library yet, unfortunately, and luckily I haven’t had to call/visit SMURD yet.
What a great read, fascinating and informative. Thank you.
Thank you very much!
When I set out to write about it, I wouldn’t have thought myself how interesting this debate about a vowel could turn out.
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Very interesting reading about some remote part of the world you never knew of.
But it’ not that remote. It’s in the center of Romania, almost in the heart of Europe.
Awesome article, Andreas!!!! Quite interesting. I would never imagine this little city passed through many conflicts. Maybe that’s why romanians are so interesting at all (not especially TGM – loved this).
You write so well :)
You could tell me more about this “German invasion” in the past.
Loved to know more about this city I’d never imagine to know. Thanks.
I am glad people around the world are learning about Targu Mures. I hope I will find some small towns in Brazil that I can make more known in a similar way.
No confusion! In the communist era was changed the old romanian spelling, and so it became Tîrgu Mureș. Now, this change was abolished, and it’s Târgu Mureș again. Brasil is in portuguese and some languages, Brazil is in english and some other languages.
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This article has now inspired a Romanian journalist to dig a bit deeper: http://www.punctul.ro/denumirea-corecta-a-municipiului-tirgu-mures-targu-mures-tirgu-mures-sau-targu-mures/
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It’s because we have some idiots in the spelling academy or whatever it’s called that think they own the rights to the language. Imagine if someone did that with English. It was a completely irresponsible move to change the spelling rules in ’93. I do favour the a variant, because it seems that the sound switched in most words where you can find it from an initial Latin a rather than an initial i (though most is the key word here). Targu doesn’t matter, because it’s a slavic origin word anyway. But just fuckin leave it, if that’s the way people have spelled it for decades. Why go to all this trouble?
Nice dig at the silly Hungarian/Romanian rivalry in the town.
I will stick with Targu in written expression and Tirgu in spoken communication because that’s how I first encountered it. I am too old to learn a new town name every year.
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