Linguists with expertise in endangered languages agree that more than half of all world languages are going to disappear, and that humanity is at a turning point in history given that the majority of world languages will most likely become extinct in the next two generations. Authors who use language for creating parallel worlds agree that the language they use in their literary works is the best one to express their deepest turmoil. Politicians consider the language they use on a daily basis (including English,used for official international communication) as the best sign system for resolving the issues their respective electorates encounter. The language(s) of mass media and social networks are becoming ever more dominant and it sometimes seems as if they actually shape our reality; these languages are in fact codes, comprising photographs, montage and message(s), with the visual aspect becoming a significant element of such languages. On the other hand, during this year the COVID-19 pandemic obliterated one crucial dimension from the human communication– namely, live personal contact, in which non-verbal expression and body language play an extremely important role.With the direct human contact diminished, the internet codes are becoming an even more omnipresent power, gaining frightening dominance.
The language used in literature and the one utilized in politics or the one employed by media and social networks, on the other hand, have never been the same. These are usually seemingly similar communication systems, but it always turns out in the end that the differences between them are substantial. There is a particularly significant difference between a kind of literature which strives to critically examine and reflect on our times, even during the pandemic, and politics. For this kind of literature to exist at all, it had to make its own language shift,especially in post-conflict zones, as was the case with the post-Yugoslav countries. The literature that has emerged in this region since the 1990’s (and especially after the year 2000)has started a quiet revolution in discourse while attempting to distance itself from the 1980’s literary production, which became way too close to the militaristic narratives of the mainstream politics. If the linguists, who deal with language extinction and language change, addressed this issue they would be able to notice a profound change in the use of language. This positive development in reshaping of the literary language is currently disrupted, and forcefully altered by the radical intrusion of the COVID-19 virus into the everyday spoken interactions, which are marked by the restrictive measures: social distancing reduced contacts, contact less communication, online mediation of experiences. Conversely, the new language, which emerged by re-ordering of priorities, re-shaping of discourse and imagination in the post-conflict zone of former Yugoslavia, additionally brought about a new sense of life and a desire for connecting in solidarity with authors, not only from the Balkans but also from around the world. It is this new feeling that we try to build our festival around, deeply believing in the importance of bringing together authors, both regionally and internationally, whose authentic languages are set against the flood of the often very problematic public discourses.
The language of politics in the post-Yugoslav societies remained rather trapped in the past, not having the capacity to even validly describe the issues those societies have been facing (not to mention that resolving them is impossible if we are unable to even name the problems). Limited vocabulary, rigid use of grammar with frequent use of polite form of address, as the only signifier of the pro-European agenda, have led to the exhaustion of possibilities for solving deep political problems. The change of language is the only viable form of the system’s reform. Not speaking like we spoke yesterday – not writing like we wrote the day before yesterday – means not thinking like we did in all those past decades. Is this leap forward possible? This question is particularly pertinent for writers and literary festival Polip has certainly been one of the dynamic answers to this question over the last nine years.
In its tenth jubilee year our festival, like the rest of the world, is facing an additional dilemma – how to transform the language so that it can enable deeper and more meaningful communication during the COVID-19 pandemic? We decided to adapt the presentation format to the new situation: local writers from Pristina and all those who can reach Pristina easily will read Live, while writers from abroad and all those who are unable to travel because of the pandemic will partake in the festival either by their works being included in the “Beton International” newspaper, or via video recordings of their works or live readings via the Internet. Online availability of all content on our website will enable all those interested to both follow Polip events and make video-calls from all around the globe.
However, these changes in the presentation format do not change our conviction that in order to change undemocratic, nationalistic, racist and all other ideological, simplified, exclusionary and intolerant discourses, it is necessary to fundamentally change the language of politics, while persistently working on the vitality of the literary language.Just like people, languages are growing old, dying, changing or finding new speakers – or new writers, for that matter, who will use them to express their own fears and hopes. Thus, one of the most important tasks that literature has at this very moment is to influence the language change in the spheres of social and political life. Finally - or initially – in the communication sphere between I and You. The beginning of the language revolution starts exactly there, because it doesn’t happen between the We and You, as it is predominantly the case in politics. I and You or You and I have the power to change the language, and whoever changes the language has already changed yesterday’s world and opened it up for our shared future.