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Macedonian: A Course for Beginning and Intermediate Students

November 8, 2008

Macedonian: A Course for Beginning and Intermediate Students

By Christina E. Kramer

University of Wisconsin Press, 2nd edition (2003), 530 pp., some illustrations

Reviewed by Christopher Deliso

The year 2008 was declared the ‘Year of the Macedonian language’ by the government in Skopje, a proclamation that has been echoed by the far-flung Macedonian diaspora in different ways. That said, it seemed quite appropriate to devote a short review to ‘the big red book,’ as it’s become known to foreign students of the language- Christina Kramer’s authoritative guide to this little-studied language.

This updated edition of the first comprehensive textbook for those wishing to learn Macedonian is a lucid, easy-to-use paperback book, dotted with photos of traditional life, frescoes and churches, and other enticing representative bits. The back of the book has a dual glossary of useful words and an answer key to some of the exercises presented in the book’s 16 chapters.

One of the challenges in writing any language textbook for beginners is to not get bogged down in inscrutable linguistic explanations which may mystify the layman. The author succeeds in this, though perhaps presupposes too little linguistic awareness on the part of the reader (as with the definition of the common noun, p. 14, which one would hope most people have already understood, having come this far in life). As grammatical structures become more complex throughout the book, of course, some of this background and explanation is good to have, though cumulatively it does add perhaps unnecessarily to the book’s formidable weight.

The first section of the textbook provides a lucid explanation of the Macedonian Cyrillic alphabet, helping students to sound out the letters, and write them in upper-case and cursive forms. Since the Cyrillic alphabet is the official one and widely used in Macedonia this is certainly important. Following this, subject pronouns and present-tense verbs are tackled, allowing the student to formulate simple sentences.

This little-at-a-time approach is of course utilized by many writers of language textbooks, structured with an eye to conversational practice and practical usage rather than a more linguistic design wherein the full forms of the various linguistic categories are laid out in order.

The only problem with this choice of structure is that if one has already some knowledge of the language, but with holes here and there, it becomes necessary to flip backwards and forwards in the book rather than soldier on from page 1 to the end. Thus while the book is geared towards beginners and intermediate students, it is most recommended for the former, for whom the layout is ideal and can be followed sequentially.

After orthography, pronouns and present-tense verbs, the book goes on to chart the perilous waters of nouns, in all their trans-gendered splendor. Affirmative and negative questions follow, and the chapter rounds out, as do the following ones, with a good list of relevant vocabulary words.

The textbook progresses thereafter to discuss steadily more complex grammatical forms in the following chapters, with each chapter focusing on a specific theme (for example, ‘health,’ ‘geography of Macedonia’), which in turn beget their own relevant vocabulary words. The order of presentation is odd in some cases (it seems the months of the year could have been covered earlier than chapter 9, for example), though this is the nature of sequential structure.

All in all, Macedonian: A Course for Beginning and Intermediate Students is a highly useful guide to the easiest of the Slavic languages. Learning Macedonian provides a good access point for learning Bulgarian, Serbian/Croatian/Bosnian, Slovenian and Russian. The book is a must for anyone wishing to approach the language comprehensively. Mastering the content contained within will provide a more than adequate knowledge for everyday communications and basic life in Macedonia.

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