Romani iateRomani language

International Romani Day is held every year on 8 April in order to raise awareness of the real life issues concerning Romani people. This day was introduced for the first time in 1990 in Serock (Poland), the site of the fourth World Romani Congress of the International Romani Union (IRU), in honour of the first major international meeting of Romani representatives, which took place in 1971 in Chelsfield, near London.

Culture, history and, of course, language are all important components to be integrated in people’s lives. Especially language is considered an essential element as it allows people to communicate with each other wherever they are.

Let’s focus this article on Romani language. It is the official language of Romani people and it is spoken almost exclusively in Europe, apart from emigrant populations around the world. This language is recognized as a minority language in many countries, being employed as an official language only in the Republic of Kosovo and the Municipality of Shuto Orizari at present.

There are no accurate statistics for the number of Romani speakers. However, according to a conservative estimation there are some 3.5 million speakers in Europe and a further 500,000 elsewhere (it is spoken by small groups in 42 European countries). This makes Romani one of the largest minority languages in Europe, together with Catalan. The most concentrated areas of Romani speakers are found in south-eastern and central Europe, in particular in Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania, and Slovakia.

Romani Speakers and Dialects

Speakers of the Romani language usually refer to their language as řomani čhib “the Romani language” or řomanes “in a Rom way”. This derives from the Romani word řom, meaning either “a member of the (Romani) group” or “husband”.

It is believed that migration was the principal argument favouring the appearance of Romani language. Actually, most of the speaker communities in these regions consist of later immigrants from Eastern or Central Europe.

UntitledThe Romani community is a traditionally itinerant ethnicity living mostly in Europe (especially Central and Eastern) and the Americas (especially in Brazil, also includes some Romani descended from people deported by the government of Portugal), in this last case since the nineteenth century. In the same years a new wave of migration made Romani people also to move to other countries in South America and to Canada. The Romani arrived in Europe from Indian subcontinent (according to genetic and linguistics studies), and afterwards spread to the other continents. This is why the big distances between the scattered Romani groups led to the development of local community distinctions and influences, which have broadly affected the modern language, splitting it into a number of different dialects.

Romani people are also called in different ways depending on each country. There are Ciganos in Portugal; Gitanos in Spain; Romanichal in UK; and Scandinavian Travellers. Therefore, despite all people who speak Romani belong to the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European language family, there are Romani people from different countries.

Most Romani people speak one of several dialects in which this language is divided. These varieties have been influenced by the vocabulary and grammatical features of the local language of the different countries where Romani people live. Actually many Romani communities are native speakers of the language of their country of residence, others speak mixed languages based on the surrounding language with retained Romani-derived vocabulary. These mixed languages are known by linguists as Para-Romani varieties, rather than dialects of the Romani language itself.

The dialect diversity and cross-dialect communication allow Romani people to be bilingual and to borrow words, phrases and expressions from a second language. To develop a mixed language, speakers chiefly retain Romani lexical items and, at the same time, adopt second language grammatical structures.

Seven varieties of Romani are divergent enough to be considered as separate languages. The largest of these are Vlax Romani (about 500,000 speakers), Balkan Romani (600,000) and Sinte Romani (300,000).

There are a few key aspects to take into account in relation to this dialect diversity and how Romani people from different places manage to communicate with each other. On the one hand, since Romani speakers are accustomed to borrow words from the language of the country where they live, this makes it difficult when trying to communicate with Romanis from different countries. On the other hand, there is no tradition or example of a literary standard for Romani speakers to use as a guideline for their language use.

Past and Present

RomaniThe earlier history of the Romani language is completely undocumented. The first attestation of it dates from 1542 in Western Europe. Historically, Romani was an exclusively unwritten language.

Linguistic evaluations carried out in the nineteenth century showed the Romani to be a New Indo-Aryan language.

Today, a project at Manchester University in England is transcribing Romani dialects, many of which are on the brink of extinction, for the first time. Actually there are efforts to teach and familiarise the new generation of Romani people with Vlax-Romani so that the Romani language spoken in different parts of the world are connected, through a single dialect of Romani.

Something similar is already happening today in Romania, a country with a sizable Romani minority (3.3% of the total population) where there is a unified teaching system of the Romani language for all dialects spoken in the country.

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

Here is a long list of links, tools and useful resources that you can check for further information about the Romani language:




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