An Overview of the Romani Language

In any culture, language is a vital element that makes up one’s cultural identity and this is true with the Romani (who are also more widely known as Gypsies). It has only been in recent years that the Romani language has been studied, with the spelling, and the language itself, being standardized. This study was undertaken in 1990 by the Language Commission created at the Fourth World Romani Congress in Warsaw.

The Roma people were initially thought to have originated from Egypt but it has now been widely accepted that the Roma were from India, and had established themselves in Romania prior to their emigration to Western Europe. They were itinerant tribes whose nomadic lifestyle and private society soon became well known within Spain and elsewhere within Europe from the mid-15th century onwards. 

As the Roma travelled throughout Asia, the Middle East and Europe, their language changed; they soon found themselves adopting and adapting local dialects and lexicons. There have been many reasons as to why the Roma language incorporated many native words into their own language. One scholar states that, “the constant need for synonyms of affective words that have lost their expressive force”. The Romani language itself is an Indo-European language of Indian origin.

In Hungary, there are three major dialects of the Roma language; Vlach, Gurvari, and Romungro. A study undertaken to understand more about CDS (child-directed speech) in Roma families. Words were categorized into two lists – baby talk (i.e. bunny for the English word ‘rabbit’) and adult speech form. One of the fascinating aspects of this research is that the Roma infant’s linguistic environment from early on contains a rich variety of input sources. The study showed that in Roma baby-talk in Hungary “phonological changes that are not permitted in Hungarian and that are never used by Hungarian speakers are extended to Hungarian loanwords and even to Hungarian words produced during code-switching”.

Different letter combinations have different values and meanings. For example, [j]is like English “y,” [c]like “ts,” [s]like “sh,” [c]like “ch,” [z]like “s” in “pleasure,”[dz]like [s]with the tongue curled back, [ch]like [s]with the tongue curled back, [dj]like English “j,” [r]a flapped or trilled “r” as in Scottish English, [rr]a throat “r” as in French, [x]like “ch” in German “Achtung”.

The following is a list of words that can be found in the Romani language.

Abjav – “Wedding”.

Amran, Arman – “curse”.

Anav gadzikano – Non-Romani name for use in dealings with the outside world. “This may be an arbitrary choice, or may be an anglicizing (hispanizing, etc.) of the Romani name, thus o Stanko le Micosko might call himself “Stan Mitchell” in English. An individual may have several ANAVA GADZIKANE, as well as a nickname (used only in the community)”.

Anglo-Romany – The inflected dialect of Romani spoken in England until the turn of the present century, and in the United States until the 1950s.

Bangjarav – “I accuse”.

Bibaxt – “misfortune”.

Blakbolime – “shunned by the community”.

Chaj – “unmarried female”. A female is referred to chaj whatever her age if she is unmarried.

Covihani – “a witch” in the Romungro dialect.

Coxani – “a witch” in the Vlach dialect.

Del – “God”.

Farmeciv – “I curse, put a spell on” in the Vlach dialect.

Gaver – “policeman”.

Jado – “world outside of the Romani environment”.

Kalderas – The name applied to several Vlach speaking Romani groups, and their dialects. The term was originally occupational, meaning “coppersmith.” Eastern and Western Kalderas populations (in Russia and Serbia for example) differ considerably in speech and custom.

Ladz – shame, disgrace, indecency, immorality.

Love – “Money”.

Patjivalo – “Honourable”.

Rrajo – “heaven”.

Selija – “Bridal veil”.

Xoxamno – “A liar”.

The study of different languages is a vital aspect of learning – not only is it a way of being about to communicate to another person from a different culture, but it is a way for us to learn about that person’s culture and cultural identity. One of the reasons why the Romani people are much unloved by the general public is due to min-communication. The studying of their language is just one step on the path of understanding the Roma culture. 

Bibliography:

Hancock, Ian (1997) A Glossary of Romani Terms, The American Journal of Comparative Law, American Society of Comparative Law.

Reger, Zita & Gleason, Jean Berko (1991) Romani Child-Directed Speech and Children’s Language among Gypsies in Hungary, Language in Society, Cambridge University Press.

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