Romani (Romanes, Romane, Romnes, Romacilikanes)
Romani :: Language-genetic affiliation
Romani is the only Indo-Aryan language that has been spoken exclusively in Europe since medieval times. Its ancient origin is in the so-called Central Indo-Aryan languages, from which languages such as Hindi, Rajasthani and Gujarati also descend. This is confirmed both by a layer of phonological developments that took place in the transition period from Old to Middle Indo-Aryan, during the first half of the first millennium, and are specific to the Central group. Further developments in phonology and morphology testify to a split from the languages of India in the medieval period. Romani shows a number of innovations that are typical of the early New Indo-Aryan period, but also a number of remarkable archaisms, especially the retention of the present-tense verb conjugation. Some innovations, such as the renewal of the past-tense conjugation, are shared specifically with the group of so-called Northwesten Indo-Aryan frontier languages, such as Kashmiri, and point to a period of settlement in this region after moving away from the central regions. This overall profile of development is shared with Domari, though despite remarkable similarities the two languages also differ in several fundamental traits, not least in some basic vocabulary and grammatical vocabulary items, which makes it unlikely that they split from the same medieval ancestor language. Romani further sets itself apart from the other Indo-Aryan languages through a series of independent developments in phonology and morphosyntax, some of them a result of contact with languages of western Asia and the Balkans.
Romani :: Historical distribution
Romani is one of several Indo-Aryan languages that are spoken outside of India by populations who historically specialised in itinerant trades and services. The others include Romari in the Middle East, Parya and Jat in the Middle East and Central Asia, and the vocabulary used by the Lom of the Caucasus. The Rom appear to have left India in connection with the Muslim raids sometime around the tenth century, and migrated first into the eastern areas of the then Byzantine Empire, spreading westwards into the Balkans in following centuries. The collapse of the Byzantine Empire drove some Romani-speaking populations to emigrate further to the west and spread all across Europe from the late fourteenth century onwards, while under the Ottoman rule some groups migrated east as far as Iranian Azerbaijan and in the Russian Empire Romani speakers settled in the Ural regions and even in Russian-dominated Kharbin in China. A fairly large emigration of Rom from around the Transylvanian regions took place in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many of them heading toward urbane centres in North and South America.
Romani :: Present-day distribution and status Map
As a result of this migration stages, Romani communities are dispersed all across Europe and beyond. The highest density of Romani-speaking populations remains in the Balkans, especially Bulgaria, Macedonia, Serbia and Romania. Use of Romani as the everyday language of Romani communities declined in the European fringe regions during the nineteenth century, and the language is no longer used among communities in Sweden, Norway, Britain, Spain and Portugal, although these communities retain a considerable vocabulary of Romani origin that is inserted into in-group conversation in the majority language (so-called 'Para-Romani'). In many industrialised regions of eastern Europe, Roma were encouraged to abandon their language in pursuit of greater chances of social integration. This was also the case already in Hungarian monarchy, as well as in Turkey, both of which countries have large populations of ethnic Roma or Gypsies who no longer speak Romani. Despite the language's decline in some regions, Romani can now safely considered to be the largest minority language within the European Union, with upwards of 3.5 million speakers. Traditionally an oral language, with no accepted standard or literary tradition, it has become a regular medium of trans-national communication among Rom from different countries since the early 1990s, and is now widely used, in different dialectal variants, in numerous publications, websites, and in personal electronic correspondence. Some states and multilateral organisations have granted Romani partial recognition and promote its use at various levels in documents, broadcasting and the education system.
Romani :: General structural characteristics
Like other Indo-Aryan languages, Romani is an inflectional language. Some of its inflection is comparatively recent and shows strong agglutination, while in other domains Romani is rather archaic, preserving the Old Indo-Aryan present tense person conjugation and certain consonant clusters. Romani morpho-syntax is strongly modelled on that of late Byzantine Greek and other languages of the Balkans. It is, for example, the only Indo-Aryan language that has preposed definite articles and that relies exclusively on prepositions for local relations. Greek influence is even productive in the domain of inflectional morphology of both nouns and verbs. Individual dialects of Romani show numerous borrowings from their subsequent contact languages, both in lexicon and in grammatical vocabulary and even inflection. Romani is unique among the languages of Europe in preserving the Indo-Aryan phonemic distinction between aspirated and non-aspirated stops (cf. kher 'house', kham 'sun' vs. ker! 'do!', kam 'perhaps'), and some dialects preserve a retroflex /ɽ/.
Romani :: Selected references to Yaron Matras's work
- 2006. with Viktor Elšík. Markedness and language change: The Romani sample. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
- 2005. The classification of Romani dialects: A geographic-historical perspective. In: Halwachs, D. & Schrammel, Barbara, Ambrosch, Gerd. eds. General and applied Romani linguistics. Munich: Lincom Europa. 7-26.
- 2004. Romacilikanes: The Romani dialect of Parakalamos. Romani Studies 14-1: 59-109.
- 2002. Romani: A linguistic introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- 2000. with Peter Bakker et al. What is the Romani language. Interface series. University of Hertfordshire Press.
- 1999. Writing Romani: The pragmatics of codification in a stateless language. Applied Linguistics 20-4, 481-502.
Romani :: Links to other websites
- University of Manchester Romani Project
- University of Manchester Language Contact: Veronica Schulman's case study on Greek Romani
- Graz University Romani Project
Romani :: Sound samples
- Speaker of Lovari (Transylvanian) Romani (recorded in Hamburg, Germany, 1990)
- Speaker of Sinti (German) Romani, concentration camp survivor (recorded during a visit to the site of a former camp, 1993)
- Speaker of Angloromani - mixed English-Romani speech of English Gypsies (recorded in the northeast of England, 2007)
- Speaker of Kelderash Romani (recorded in Pitesti, Romania, 2004)