Description of the Romani language
• Romani is the language of the Roma, Sinti, Calé and all other ethnic
groups in Europe who speak or spoke an Indic or Indo-Aryan
• Roma call themselves Roma; Non-Roma are usually referred to as
gadže – gadžo 'non-Romani man', gadži 'non-Romani woman'.
• Romani: derived from rom; historical self-designation of speakers of
the language; used internationally
• Romani čhib: Romani language
• Amari čhib: our language
• Romanes: Romani way
• Single Romani varieties are labelled Burgenland Romani, Kalderaš
Romani, Lovara Romani, Sepečides Romani, Sinti Romani, Ursari
Romani, etc.
Roma or Gypsies?
• The word "Rom" is derived from the Romani language and
it means "human being", "someone who belongs to the
Roma ethnic group" and "man, husband".
• Origin and meaning of the word "Gypsy" is still quite
unclear; one of the theories says that this word is derived
from the Greek word "athinganos", which means
• 1st World Romani Congress – London, April 8th 1971:
Roma, flag, anthem and public holiday
Reflection question:
Which description do you prefer and why?
The origin of Romani language
• August Friedrich Pott: the first who scientifically examined the Romani
language and based on linguistic findings found out that India is the
original homeland of the Roma people.
• Fran Miklošič: wrote an important scientific work of the European
Roma, in which the first division in several Romani dialects was done.
Original homeland of the Roma: India, the valley of the southern Hindu
• Linguistic evaluation carried out in the nineteenth century by Pott
(1845) and Miklošič (1872–1880) showed that the Romani language is
to be a New Indo-Aryan language, not a Middle Indo-Aryan,
establishing that the ancestors of the Romani could not have left India
significantly earlier than AD 1000.
Romani language in Europe
• According to Miklošič the Roma first deployed in Afghanistan and
Persia, where they stayed a long time. Later they went over Iran to
Armenia, Turkey, Greece and Byzantium. Another group of Roma
traveled to Syria, Egypt, North Africa and Spain.
• Miklošič divided the European Roma into 13 groups: Greek, Hungarian,
German, Russian, Finnish, Spanish, Romanian, Czech-Moravian, PolishLithuanian, Scandinavian, Italian, Basque and Anglo-Scottish.
• According to his classification, there is just as many dialects as groups,
for the most original Romani language he established Greek, followed
by Hungarian and Romanian Romani dialect.
Romani dialects: a brief overview
• Balkan dialects: Balkan I, Zis dialects
• Vlax dialects: Southern Vlax dialects, Northern Vlax dialects
• Central dialects: Southern Central dialects, Northern
Central dialects
• Northern dialects: Northeastern dialects, Northwestern
• Dialect groups and dialects with independent
Balkan dialects
• Balkan dialects, also known as Balkan I, are spoken in Albania, Bulgaria,
Greece, Iran, Kosovo, Macedonia, Moldova, Romania, Serbia, Turkey
and Ukraine. This group includes inter alia Arli Romani (Greece, Kosovo,
Macedonia), Sepečides-Romani (Greece, Turkey), Ursari Romani
(Moldavia, Romania) and Crimean Romani (Ukraine).
• Zis dialects, also called Balkan II, are a distinct subdivision within the
Balkan group. Bugurdži, Drindari and Kalajdži Romani are spoken in
Macedonia, Kosovo and in northern and central Bulgaria.
Vlax dialects
• Southern Vlax dialects are spoken in Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina,
Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Turkey and
in southern Romania. This group includes inter alia the dialects of
Gurbet, Kalburdžu and Čergara.
• Northern Vlax dialects are spoken in Romania, Moldova, Hungary and
Serbia, as well as by migrants all over the world. The dialects of the
Kalderaš and Lovara are the most widely spread. Mačvaja Romani,
which is spoken in the USA, is also well-known.
Central dialects
• Southern Central dialects of Romani are spoken in the former Greater
Hungary, northern Slovenia, eastern Austria, Romania, Slovakia,
Ukraine and in today's Hungary. These include inter alia Burgenland
Romani, Vend Romani in Hungary, Prekmurje Romani in Slovenia and
the Romungro dialects of Hungary and Slovakia.
• Northern Central dialects are spoken in Poland, Slovakia, the Czech
Republic and Ukraine. These include East Slovak Romani or Servika
and the dialect of the Polish Bergitka Roma.
Northern dialects
• Northeastern dialects are spoken in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland,
Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. These include the varieties of Polska
Romani, North Russian or Xaladitka Romani, Latvian Lotfitka Romani
and Lithuanian dialects.
• Northwestern dialects are mainly spoken in Belgium, Germany,
France, Finland, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria and Sweden. This
group includes inter alia varieties of the Sinti Manuš cluster in
Germany, France and neighbouring countries and regions, as well as
the Romani of the Kaale in Finland and Sweden.
Dialect groups and dialects with
independent development
• Dialect groups and dialects with independent development include
the Romani variety of the Gopti, Hrvati, Dolenjski or Istriani Roma
resident in Slovenia and southern Italian dialects Abruzzian and
Calabrian Romani. The latter are early splits from the Balkan group. It
also includes the varieties Romano and Zargari spoken in Iran.
• British dialects of which Welsh Romani as described by Sampson
(1926) is the best known, but is by now probably extinct, are included
in the different varieties of Anglo-Romani. It is a Para-Romani which is
seen as their Romani by its users who describe themselves as Gypsies.
• Iberian dialects of Romani are also only preserved in Para-Romani
varieties: in addition to the Basque variety of Errumantxela, Castilian
and Catalan ethnolects still exist today and are collectively known as
Reflection question:
Is communication among Roma, speaking
different dialects, possible?
Why do you think is that?
• The basic vocabulary of Romani in all its variants has an Indian basis.
Thus, parts of the body, natural features, family members, common
objects, verbs relating to basic needs and actions, common
adjectives, numbers, etc. are almost all of Indian origin.
• Some 700 Indian roots have been identified which are in general use.
• There are also different layers of non-Indic words, mostly from Asian
languages, which are common to all varieties of Romani. We have
borrowings from Iranian languages (perhaps seventy), Armenian
(around fourty), Greek (a few hundred) and a few words from
Georgian. These are found in all Romani dialects.
• Apart from these, which are common to all forms of Romani, there
are dialects with borrowings from German, Hungarian, Romanian,
Turkish and Slavic languages – plus words from countries where the
speakers currently reside.
• The sound inventory of Romani does not differ significantly from that
of other European languages, most of which belong to the IndoEuropean family.
• The consonant system of Romani differs in one significant aspect
from those of other European languages: it has the aspirated plosives
(aspirated stops) characteristic of Indian languages. In the case of
Romani, these are the voiceless aspirated plosives /ph, th, kh/, which
in the majority of Romani variants, at least at the beginning of a word,
have a semantically distinct function.
: pherav
< inc.
'I fall'
: 'I fill'
: thav
< inc.
: 'thread'
: kher
< inc.
: 'house'
Romani has:
two genders: masculine and feminine
two numbers: singular and plural
eight cases: nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, vocative,
ablative, instrumental, locative
• Romani also distinguishes between beings that are alive („animate“)
and things that are not alive („inanimate“). These two types of nouns
have different forms when they are the object of an action („I see the
snake“ versus „I see the house“).
• Animate nouns get an accusative ending and inanimate nouns do not,
and they have different articles. If one says „I see the dog“ one would
say „Me dikhav le džukle“, but for „I see the house“ one would say
„Me dikhav o kher“. The word džukel „dog“ has an ending -e, but the
word kher „house“ does not.
• Romani verbs have different endings, depending on who is
performing the action. There is no original infinitive form (to do, to
walk, etc.) in Romani. If you want to say „I want to go“ in Romani, you
have to say „I want that I go“ (kamav te džal).
• Like most European languages, Romani has so-called „definite
articles“, translatable in English by „the“.
• The forms of the articles, almost all adjectives and some verbs show
different endings depending on the gender of the noun: baro manuš
„big/important man“ versus bari rani „big/important“ lady.
• Word order in Romani sentences is flexible.
• Contrary to New Indo-Aryan languages with the verb in the final
position or SOV order, Romani generally has (S)VO order in so-called
neutral declarative sentences:
'I saw a
ROMLEX documents the lexicon of Romani with translations into various
ROMAFACTS comprises fact sheets on Romani culture, history, language,
literature, etc.
ROMBASE offers didactically edited information on the socio-cultural and
socio-historical situation of the Roma.
QUALIROM offers teaching materials for a number of Romani varieties that
were developed on the basis of the Curriculum Framework for Romani of the
Council of Europe.
ROMANE LILA works on Roma and Romani culture, history etc. and their
availability in the library.
ROMANI PROJEKT GRAZ: Romani language research
ROMANI PROJECT MANCHESTER: Romani language research
What have we learned?
has its own structure
is comparable with
other languages
is a „real“ language
should be seen as an
needs to be explored,
preserved and
speakers of Romani
are bi- or multilingual
Bakker, P.; Hübschmannova M.; Kalinin, V.; Kenrick, D.; Kyuchov, H.; Matras, Y.; Soravia, G. (2000).
What is the Romani language?. UK: Gypsy Research Centre and University of Herdfordshire Press.
Halwachs, Dieter W. (1998) Amaro vakeripe Roman hi – Unsere Sprache ist Roman. Texte, Glossar
und Grammatik der burgenländischen Romani-Variante. Klagenfurt: Drava.
Halwachs, D. W. & Menz, F. 1999. Die Sprache der Roma: Perspektiven der Romani-Forschung in
Österreich im interdisziplinären und internationalen Kontext. Klagenfurt: Drava.
Matras, Yaron (2002) Romani: A linguistic introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Miklosich, Franz (1872–1881) Über die Mundarten und Wanderungen der Zigeuner Europas. XII
Teile. Denkschriften der philosophisch-historischen Klasse der kaiserlichen Akademie der
Wissenschaften. Wien: Gerold.
Miklosisch, Franz (1872) Über die Mundarten und Wanderungen der Zigeuner Europas. III.
Sitzungsberichte der philosophisch-historischen Klasse der Kaiserlichen Akademie der
Wissenschaften. Wien: Gerold: 1-46.
Miklosich, Franz (1874–1878) Beiträge zur Kenntnis der Zigeunermundarten. IV Teile.
Sitzungsberichte der philosophisch-historischen Klasse der Kaiserlichen Akademie der
Wissenschaften. Wien: Gerold.
ROMLEX: http://romani.uni-graz.at/romlex/
Romani Projekt Graz: http://romaniprojekt.uni-graz.at//
Romani Project Manchester: http://romani.humanities.manchester.ac.uk/
Štrukelj, P. (2004): Tisočletne podobe nemirnih nomadov. Zgodovina in kultura Romov v Sloveniji.
Ljubljana: Družina.

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