© Yaron Matras

Domari is a language of Indic (Indo-Aryan) origin, spoken by a minority population called the Dom who are dispersed throughout the Middle East. Dom communities exist in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine, and probably also in Iraq, Turkey, and Egypt. The Dom were originally itinerant traders, and are often referred to as 'Gypsies'. Like the European Gypsies or Rom, they too are believed to have descended from Indian castes of itinerant traders and service providers. The names Dom and Rom are also related. The only variety of Domari that has been extensively documented is that of Jerusalem, which is virtually the same as the Domari dialect spoken in Jordan. The Dom community in Jerusalem is very small, consisting of not more than 1,000 persons. As in other Dom communities, only the oldest generation retains knowledge of the Domari language. The language is therefore highly endangered. To find out more about Domari click here.

Domari has always been strictly an oral language. The community has been bilingual in Domari and Arabic for many centuries, and Arabic has had an immense impact on the Domari language. Not only is much of the lexicon of Arabic origin, but also much of the grammatical vocabulary: the full inventory of Arabic conjunctions and discourse particles, including all coordinating and subordinating conjunctions and co-particle (co-relatives), relative particles, phasal and focus particles, interjections, fillers and tags, prepositions, indefinite pronouns, numerals above '5', as well as modal and auxiliary verbs and their inflection. Word order and sentence structure is also identical with Arabic.

The examples, all recorded from elderly Dom in Jerusalem between 1996-2000, show Domari sentences containing Arabic grammatical loans. The Arabic items are italicised and glossed for their Arabic origin:

Counterfactual conditional conjunction and conditional particle:

(1) [Listen to example]lawaštiplekānt-om-r-a
if [Arabic]existmoneyCOND [Arabic]give.PAST-1SG-2SG-ANT
'If there had been any money, I would have given you (some).'

Subordinator introducing purpose clause:

(2) [Listen to example]warik-ar-amlāy-ēkminšāndžan-ad-is
wear-3SG-ANTveil-PRED.Mso.that [Arabic]NEG [Arabic]know-3PL.SUBJ-3SG
'She used to wear a veil so that one would not recognise her'

Adverbial subordinator (temporal: anterior):

(3) [Listen to example]qabel-mādža-mxałłaṣk-id-omkam-om
before-COMP [Arabic]go-1SG.SUBJfinish-PAST-1SGwork-1SG
'Before I left I finished my work'

Conditional conjunction:

(4) [Listen to example]izawars-ari,n-aw-am-eʔ
if [Arabic]rain-3SGNEG-come-1SG-NEG
'If it rains, I shall not come'

Adverbial conjunction (cause):

(5) [Listen to example]nakil-d-ombaraliʔann-hāwars-ari
NEGgo.out-PAST-1SGoutbecause-3SG.F [Arabic]rain-3SG
'I did not go out because it is raining'

Coordinating conjunction, time indefinite, discourse particle, auxiliary:

(6) [Listen to example]ūdaʔiman/yaʕnī/kuntama
and [Arabic]always [Arabic] [Arabic]was.1SG [Arabic]I
house-OBL-LOC-PRED.Fand.not [Arabic]exit-1SGand.not [Arabic]come-1SG
'And I was always/ I mean/ at home, not going out nor coming'

Relative and resumptive pronouns:

(7) [Listen to example]pleillito-r-imiyyā-hum
moneyREL [Arabic]gave-2SG-1SGRES-3PL [Arabic]
'the money that you gave me [it]'

Modal auxiliary:

(8) [Listen to example]amabidd-īža-mkamkara-m
Iwant-1SG [Arabic]go-1SG.SUBJworkdo-1SG.SUBJ
'I want to go to work'

Modal auxiliary and preposition:

(9) [Listen to example]ṣārqaft-ar-iminbɔy-o-skury-a-ki
began [Arabic]steal-3SG-INDfrom [Arabic]father-NOM-3SGhouse-OBL-ABL
'he began to steal from his father's house'

Modal auxiliary, indefinite marker, time expression:

(10) [Listen to example]ṣārkull lēleaw-ar-inkī-san
began [Arabic]every night [Arabic]come-3SG-INDat-3PL
'he began to come to them every night'

Auxiliary, numeral:

(11) [Listen to example]aštīkānʔašrīnkuridom-ēni
existwas [Arabic]twenty [Arabic]houseDom-PRED.PL
'there were twenty Dom households'