Linguists and translators in Europe are perplexed at the news that Slovakia is implementing a controversial new Language Act which will change the attitude of the authorities to the freedom of language use in this small Central European country which has a population of just over 5 million. Such legislation may not mean a great deal in Slovakia’s comparatively ethnically homogeneous neighbours such as Austria, the Czech Republic or Poland but for a country with large Hungarian and Roma minorities this ‘Act of Language Purity’ could be the start of what many believe to be Slovakia’s turn towards language ‘fascism’.
The new Language Act will come into force on the 1st August 2009 and stipulates that all official names in foreign languages will have to be translated into Slovakian or the institutions and companies responsible for these foreign affectations will face fines of approximately €5,000. The fines can be meted out to public offices, companies, advertising agencies, police officers and court judges alike. All are equal in the eyes of the (language) law. The Slovakian Ministry of Culture has already laid out the official procedure for meting out fines which will use a ‘three-strikes-and-you’re-out’ policy. Two official warnings will precede the ‘language’ fine.
However, observers outside of Slovakia and the sizeable Hungarian minority within Slovakia (almost 10% of the population) has labelled this linguistic legislation an act of language imperialism and an attempt to assimilate the Hungarian population into the Slovakian one. The Roma population stands at almost 2% with other linguistic minorities amounting to approximately 3% which means that 15% of the population of Slovakia will be adversely affected by this new legislation, not including of course various other institutions and companies that use other languages in their work.
Questions are being asked about the real reasons behind this move to ‘purify’ the linguistic landscape of Slovakia. Is it indeed cultural and linguistic? A need to nurture the Slovakian language and free it from the all-encompassing grasp of English (“I’m loving it” ; “Connecting People” ; “Just Do It”) or is it a political move that panders to conservatism and language imperialism? Either way, the future of translation in Slovakia and Slovakian translation will most certainly be influenced by this move.