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Romani or Romany, Gypsy or Gipsy (native name: rromani ćhib) is the language of the Romani people. It is an Indo-Aryan language, sometimes included in either the "Central" or the "Northwestern" group, sometimes treated as a branch of its own.

Romani is a macrolanguage in the ISO 639 classification, taken to consist of seven sub-languages or major dialects. The largest dialect is Vlax Romani with close to 1.5 million speakers, followed by the Balkan, Carpathian and Sinte variants with a few hundred thousand speakers each.

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 geographical origins of the Romani people (Roma, Sinti, etc.). 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 Indiamarker and parts of Pakistanmarker. The Romani language is usually included in the Central Indo-Aryan languages (together with Western Hindi, Bhili, Marathi, 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 Sindhmarker region of southeastern Pakistan and far western India (Rajasthanmarker and Gujaratmarker), around the lower Indus Rivermarker 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 Romani people were traced back to India.

Romani and Punjabi share some words and similar grammatical systems. A 2003 study published in Nature suggests Romani is also related to Sinhalese, spoken in Sri Lankamarker. According to Oriental Society of Linguistics, Ancestral Studies and History (OSLASH), 2009 Romani is also related to Divehi language spoken in the Maldivesmarker and Indiamarker.

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 Romaniamarker, the USAmarker, Swedenmarker). Also, different variants of the language are now in the process of being codified in those countries with high Romani populations (for example, Slovakiamarker).


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 Zott musicians who were given in the fifth century A.D. by King Shankal of Kanaujmarker to Bahram Gur the King of Persia.

Linguistic evaluation carried out in the nineteenth century by Pott (1845) and Miklosich (1882-1888) showed that the Romani language is to be a New Indo-Aryan language (NIA), not a Middle Indo-Aryan (MIA), establishing that the ancestors of the Romani could not have left India significantly earlier than AD 1000.

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 Romanies were or what motivated them to emigrate from the Indian subcontinent, but there are various theories. The influence of Greek, and to a lesser extent of the Iranian languages (like Persian and Kurdish) and Armenian, points to a prolonged stay in Anatoliamarker 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 Romanies arrived in Europe and afterwards spread to the other continents. The great distances between the scattered Romanies 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 [22516]. A project at Manchester Universitymarker in Englandmarker is transcribing Romani dialects, many of which are on the brink of extinction, for the first time.[22517]


Today's dialects of Romani are differentiated by the vocabulary accumulated since their departure from Anatoliamarker, as well as through divergent phonemic evolution and grammatical features. Many Romanies 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 Romanies who lived many centuries in the territory of Romania in slavery. 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.

There is also a number of languages, in which Romani is divided:

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.

Note: some lists of countries do not include all ones mentioned in the book.

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 Britainmarker) 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, phirdyomphirdyum, phirjum phirdem phirdem
guglipe(n)/guglipaguglibe(n)/gugliba guglipe(n)/guglipaguglibe(n)/gugliba guglimos

pai, payikhoi, khoyi

kui, kuyi
pai, payikhoi, 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 Finlandmarker), 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 Bulgariamarker.

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

Mixed languages

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


The following table shows the distribution of Romani speakers in Europe according to Bakker et al. (2000) [22518]. The last column shows the percentage of Romani speakers in the Romani 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%
Montenegro 30,000 90%
Netherlands 3,000 90%
Poland 4,000 90%
Romania 433,000 80%
Russia 405,000 80%
Serbia 350,000 85%
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%

Writing and literature

Though there are some writers who compose in Romani (mainly in Eastern Europe), there is no tradition of writing in Romani. One of the reasons for its survival was its usefulness as a secret language or argot. Printed anthologies of Romani folktales and poems began in the 20th century in Eastern Europe, using the respective national scripts (Latin or Cyrillic).

An orthographical standard intended for cross-dialect use was introduced by Marcel Courthiade in 1989 and has been adopted by the International Romani Union.


Groups in several countries—including Romaniamarker, Serbia, Montenegro, the United States, Sweden, and elsewhere—are currently working independently of each other toward standardizing the Romani language.

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, a country with a sizable Romani minority (2.5% of the total 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 Romani 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). Hindi-based neologisms include bijli (bulb, electricity), misal (example), chitro (drawing, design), lekhipen (writing), while there are also English-based neologisms, like printisarel "to print".

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. Additional Romani words are sometimes used as slang, such as gadgie (man), shiv or chiv (knife), cushty or cooshtie (good - perhaps a variant of 'cushy', also of possible Romani origin). Some Romani words have entered regional dialects, such as radge (adj. bad or angry, noun a state of irritation) in northeast England and southeast Scotland; jougal (dog) in southeast Scotland; as well as parni (water) and bewer (woman) in West Yorkshiremarker in Englandmarker, also seen as beor in Corkmarker 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).

Some words and phrases

O' Del >>> GOD!

La show o' del >>> GOD is Good

swin dow dojeo >>> Holy spirit

Sastipe >>> Hello.

Sar son >>> How are you?

Con son >>> Who are you?

So keres >> What are you doing?

pa chiv tuka >>> Thank you.

Ni eve tuka >>> You're welcome!

Katar aves >>> Where are you from?

Sar buchhos tuke? or So chero nav? >>> What's your name?

May buchhov >>> My name is... (masc.)

Va or ya >>> Yes

Na >>> No

kai chi familia >>> Is your family with you?

kai zash >>> Where are you going?

Chi pachave tut >>> I don't understand you

Hacheres man? >>> Do you understand me?

Hidee mansa >> Come with me

Ava kari or Hidee cutka >>> Come here

See also

Notes and references

  1. Romany language - Britannica Online Encyclopedia
  2. Norbert Boretzky: Kommentierter Dialektatlas des Romani. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2004 p. 18-26
  3. Courthiade, Marcel. 1989. La langue Romani (Tsigane): Évolution, standardisation, unification, réforme. In: Language Reform. History and Future, Vol IV, edited by Fodor, I. & Hagège, C. Hamburg: Helmut Buske Verlag. 87-110.
  4. Matras, Yaron (1999). Writing Romani: The pragmatics of codification in a stateless language. Applied Linguistics, vol. 20, pp 481-502.
  • 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 Universitymarker Romani project.)

Suggested further reading

  • (A lexicon and grammatical overview of Swedish Scandoromani; includes several Traveller song texts in extenso)

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