settled ones nerves

Romani language

Romani or Romany, Gypsy or Gipsy (native name: romani ćhib) is the language of the Romani people.

The Indo-Aryan Romani language should not be confused with either Romanian (spoken by Romanians), or Romansh (spoken in parts of southeastern Switzerland), both of which are Romance languages.

Classification and status

Analysis of the Romani language has shown that it is closely related to those spoken in central and northern India. This linguistic relationship is believed to indicate the Roma's and Sinti's geographical origin. Loanwords in Romani make it possible to trace the pattern of their migration westwards. They came originally from the Indian subcontinent or what is now northern India and parts of Pakistan. The Romani language is usually included in the Central Indo-Aryan languages (together with Western Hindi, Bhili, Gujarati, Khandeshi, Rajasthani etc.). It is still debated whether the origin of the name Sinti is the same as that of the toponym for the Sindh region of southeastern Pakistan and far western India (Rajasthan and Gujarat), around the lower Indus River or is a European loanword in Romani, recognizable as such in its morphological integration into the language (plural Sinte, feminine singular Sintica). It was primarily through comparative linguistic studies of the Romani language with various north Indian dialects and languages that the origins of the Roma people were traced back to India.

Romani, Panjabi, and Pothwari share some words and similar grammatical systems. A 2003 study published in Nature suggests Romani is also related to Sinhalese, spoken in Sri Lanka.

In terms of its grammatical structures, Romani is conservative in maintaining almost intact the Middle Indo-Aryan present-tense person concord markers, and in maintaining consonantal endings for nominal case – both features that have been eroded in most other modern languages of Central India. It shares an innovative pattern of past-tense person concord with the languages of the Northwest, such as Kashmiri and Shina. This is believed to be further proof that Romani originated in the Central region, then migrated to the Northwest. Characteristic for Romani is the fusion of postpositions of the second Layer (or case marking clitics) to the nominal stem, and the emergence of external tense morphology that attaches to the person suffix. All of these features are shared between Romani and Domari, which has prompted much discussion about the relationships between these two languages.

The Romani language is sometimes considered a group of dialects or a collection of related languages that comprise all the members of a single genetic subgroup.

While the language is nowhere official, there are attempts currently aimed at the creation of a standard language out of all variants (such as those from Romania, the USA, Sweden). Also, different variants of the language are now in the process of being codified in those countries with high Roma populations (for example, Slovakia).


There are no sure historical documents about the early phases of the Romani language. The language is not directly cited in the epic Shahnameh by the eleventh century Persian poet Firdausi, who wrote about the 10,000 or 12,000 Desi musicians who were given in the fifth century C.E. by King Shankal of Kanauj (in Sindh) to Bahram Gur the King of Persia. Nevertheless, many have suggested that these people are the ancestors of the Roma.

However, research carried out already in the nineteenth century by Pott (1845) and Miklosich (1882-1888) showed this to be unlikely. The Romani language proves to be a New Indo-Aryan language (NIA), not a Middle Indo-Aryan (MIA), as it would have to be to fit Firdausi's scheme. The principal argument favouring a migration during or after the transition period to NIA is the loss of the old system of nominal case, and its reduction to just a two-way case system, nominative vs. oblique. A secondary argument concerns the system of gender differentiation. Romani has only two genders (masculine and feminine). Middle Indo-Aryan languages (named MIA) generally had three genders (masculine, feminine and neuter), and some modern Indo-Aryan languages retain this old system even today. It is argued that loss of the neuter gender did not occur until the transition to NIA. Most of the neuter nouns became masculine while a few feminine, like the neuter अग्नि (agni) in the Prakrit became the feminine आग (āg) in Hindi and jag in Romani. The parallels in grammatical gender evolution between Romani and other NIA languages have been cited as evidence that the forerunner of Romani remained in the Indian Subcontinent until a later period, perhaps even as late as the tenth century.

There are no historical proofs to clarify who the ancestors of the Roma were or what motivated them to emigrate from the Indian subcontinent, but there are various theories. The influence of the Greek language (and to a lesser extent of the Iranian languages, like Persian, Kurdish and of the Armenian language), points to a prolonged stay in Anatolia after the departure from South Asia.

The Mongol invasion of Europe beginning in the first half of the thirteenth century triggered another westward migration. The Roma arrived in Europe and afterwards spread to the other continents. The great distances between the scattered Roma groups led to the development of local community distinctions. The differing local influences have greatly affected the modern language, splitting it into a number of different (originally exclusively regional) dialects.

Today Romani is spoken by small groups in 42 European countries A project at Manchester University in England is transcribing Romani dialects, many of which are on the brink of extinction, for the first time.

Modern language

Today's dialects of Romani are differentiated by the vocabulary accumulated since their departure from Anatolia, as well as through divergent phonemic evolutions and grammatical features. Many Roma no longer speak the language or speak various new contact languages from the local language with the addition of Romani vocabulary.

A long-standing common categorisation was a division between the Vlax (from Vlach) from non-Vlax dialects. Vlax are those Roma who lived many centuries in the territory of Romania. The main distinction between the two groups is the degree to which their vocabulary is borrowed from Romanian. Vlax-speaking groups account for the greatest number of speakers (between half and two-thirds of all Romani speakers). Bernard Gilliath-Smith first made this distinction, and coined the term Vlax in 1915 in the book The Report on the Gypsy tribes of North East Bulgaria. Subsequently, other groups of dialects were recognized, primarily based on geographical and vocabulary criteria, including:

In the past several decades, some scholars have worked out a categorisation of Romani dialects from a linguistic point of view on the basis of historical evolution and isoglosses. Much of this work was carried out by Bochum-based linguist Norbert Boretzky, who pioneered the systematic plotting of structural features of Romani dialects onto geographical maps. This culminated in an Atlas of Romani Dialects, co-authored with Birgit Igla, which appeared in 2005 and plots numerous isoglosses onto maps. At the University of Manchester, similar work has been carried out by linguist and former Romani-rights activist Yaron Matras, and his associates. Together with Viktor Elšík (now of Charles University, Prague), Matras compiled the Romani Morpho-Syntax database, which is the largest compilation of data on the dialects of Romani. Parts of this database can be accessed online via the webpage of the Manchester Romani Project. Matras (2002, 2005) has argued for a theory of geographical classification of Romani dialects, which is based on the diffusion in space of innovations. According to this theory, Early Romani (as spoken in the Byzantine Empire) was brought to western and other parts of Europe through population migrations of Rom in the 14th-15th centuries. These groups settled in the various European regions during the 16th and 17th centuries, acquiring fluency in a variety of contact languages. Changes emerged then, which spread in wave-like patterns, creating the dialect differences attested today. According to Matras, there were two major centres of innovations: some changes emerged in western Europe (Germany and vicinity), spreading eastwards; other emerged in the Wallachian area, spreading to the west and south. In addition, many regional and local isoglosses formed, creating a complex wave of language boundaries. Matras points to the prothesis of j- in aro > jaro 'egg' and ov > jov 'he' as typical examples of west-to-east diffusion, and of addition of prothetic a- in bijav > abijav as a typical east-to-west spread. His conclusion is that dialect differences formed in situ, and not as a result of different waves of migration.

In a series of articles (beginning from 1982), Marcel Courthiade proposed a different kind of classification. He concentrates on the dialectal diversity of Romani in three successive strata of expansion, using the criteria of phonological and grammatical changes. Finding the common linguistic features of the dialects, he presents the historical evolution from the first stratum (the dialects closest to the Anatolian Romani of the 13th century) to the second and third strata. He also names as "pogadialects" (after the Pogadi dialect from Great Britain) those which have only a Romani vocabulary grafted into a non-Romani language.

A table of some dialectal differences:

First stratum Second stratum Third stratum
phirdom, phirdyom phirdyum, phirjum phirdem phirdem
guglipe(n)/guglipa guglibe(n)/gugliba guglipe(n)/guglipa guglibe(n)/gugliba guglimos
pani khoni


pai, payi khoi, khoyi

kui, kuyi

pai, payi khoi, khoyi

kui, kuyi

ćhib shib shib
jeno zheno zheno
po po/mai mai

The first stratum includes the oldest dialects: Mechkari, Kabuji, Xanduri, Drindari, Erli, Arli, Bugurji, Mahajeri, Ursari (Rićhinari), Spoitori (Xoraxane), Karpatichi, Polska Roma, Kaale (from Finland), Sinto-manush, and the so-called Baltic dialects.

In the second there are Chergari, Gurbeti, Jambashi, Fichiri, Filipiji and a subgroup of the Vlax dialects of Romania and Bulgaria.

The third comprises the rest of the so-called Vlax dialects, including Kalderash, Lovari, Machvano.

Mixed languages

Some Roma have developed creole languages or mixed languages, including:


There are independent groups currently working toward standardizing the language, including groups in Romania, Serbia, Montenegro, the United States, Sweden, and other nations.

A standardized form of Romani is used in Serbia, and in Serbia's autonomous province of Vojvodina Romani is one of the officially recognized languages of minorities having its own radio stations and news broadcasts.

In Romania, the country with the largest identifiable Roma population, there is a unified teaching system of the Romani language for all dialects spoken in the country. This is primarily a result of the work of Gheorghe Sarău, who made Romani textbooks for teaching Roma children in the Romani language. He teaches a purified, mildly prescriptive language, choosing the original Indo-Aryan words and grammatical elements from various dialects. The pronunciation is mostly like that of the dialects from the first stratum. When there are more variants in the dialects, the variant that most closely resembles the oldest forms is chosen, like byav instead of abyav, abyau, akana instead of akanak, shunav instead of ashunav or ashunau, etc.

An effort is also made to derive new words from the vocabulary already in use, i.e., xuryavno (airplane), vortorin (slide rule), palpaledikhipnasko (retrospectively), pashnavni (adjective). There is an ever-changing set of borrowings from Romanian as well, including such terms as vremea (weather, time), primariya (town hall), frishka (cream), sfïnto (saint, holy). Sanskrit-based neologisms include bijli (bulb, electricity), misal (example), chitro (drawing, design), lekhipen (writing), while there are also English-based neologisms, like printisarel < "to print", prezidento < "president".

Language standardization is presently also being employed in the revival of the Romani language among various groups (in Spain, Great Britain, and elsewhere), which have ceased to speak the language. In these cases, a specific dialect is not revived, but rather a standardized form derived from many dialects is learned.

Romani loanwords in English

Romani has lent several words to English, including pal and possibly lollipop These mostly turn up in slang—such as gadgie (man), shiv or chiv (knife), cushty or cooshtie (good) — and in regional dialects, such as radge (adj bad or angry, noun a state of irritation) in northeast England and southeast Scotland and jougal (dog) in southeast Scotland and parni (water) and bewer (woman) in West Yorkshire in England, also seen as beor in Corkonian slang within Hiberno-English. Urban British slang shows an increasing level of Romani influence, with some words becoming accepted into the lexicon of standard English (for example, chav from an assumed Anglo-Romani word, meaning small boy, in the majority of dialects).


The following table shows the distribution of Romani speakers in Europe according to Bakker et al. (2000) The last column shows the percentage of Romani speakers in the Roma population in each country.
Country Speakers %
Albania 90,000 95%
Austria 20,000 80%
Belarus 27,000 95%
Belgium 10,000 80%
Bosnia and Herzegovina 40,000 90%
Bulgaria 350,000 80%
Croatia 28,000 80%
Czech Republic 140,000 50%
Denmark 1,500 90%
Estonia 1,100 90%
Finland 3,000 90%
France 215,000 70%
Germany 85,000 70%
Greece 160,000 90%
Hungary 260,000 50%
Italy 42,000 90%
Latvia 18,500 90%
Lithuania 4,000 90%
Republic of Macedonia 215,000 90%
Moldova 56,000 90%
Netherlands 3,000 90%
Poland 4,000 90%
Romania 433,000 80%
Russia 405,000 80%
Serbia and Montenegro 380,000 90%
Slovakia 300,000 60%
Slovenia 8,000 90%
Spain 1,000 1%
Sweden 9,500 90%
Turkey 280,000 70%
Ukraine 113,000 90%
United Kingdom 1,000 0.5%

Some words and phrases

Sastipe Hello.
Sad san? How are you?
So kedes? What are you doing?
Pachave tut Thank you.
Naj pala soste! You're welcome!
Katar aves? Where are you from?
Sar buchhos tuke? / So si tjiro nav? What's your name?
Me buchhov man o ... My name is... (masc.)
Me buchhov man e ... My name is... (fem.)
Miro nav si o/e... My name is... (alternative)
Va Yes
Na No
Tjiri familija si vi tusa? Is your family with you?
Kaj djas? Where are you going?
Chi pachave tut I don't understand you
Hacheres man? Do you understand me?
T'aves mansa Come with me
Ava kari Come here

See also

Notes and references

  • Bakker Peter et al. 2000. What is the Romani language? Hatfield: University of Hertfordshire Press.
  • Hancock, Ian. 2001. Ame sam e rromane džene / We are the Romani People. The Open Society Institute, New York.
  • Lee, Ronald. 2005. Learn Romani Das-dúma Rromanes Hatfield: University of Hertfordshire Press
  • Masica, Colin. 1991. The Indo-Aryan Languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Matras, Yaron. 2002. Romani: A linguistic introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Sarău, Gheorghe. 1997. Rromii, India şi limba rromani. Bucureşti.
  • Sarău, Gheorghe. 2000. Dicţionar rrom-român / Dikcionaro rromano-rumunikano. Dacia, Cluj-Napoca. ISBN 973-35-0987-6.

External links

(Note: For links to a variety of Romani media, chatroom and history and culture sites, see in particular the links pages of the Manchester University Romani project.)

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