Romani language

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romani ćhib
Native to The Balkans, Some of Eastern Europe and Romani diaspora
Native speakers
4 million or perhaps considerably more (no reliable estimate) (2011)[1]
Official status
Recognised minority
language in
Language codes
ISO 639-2 rom
ISO 639-3 rominclusive code
Individual codes:
rmn – Balkan Romani
rml – Baltic Romani
rmc – Carpathian Romani
rmf – Finnish Kalo
rmo – Sinte Romani
rmy – Vlax Romani
rmw – Welsh Romani
Glottolog roma1329[7]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.
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Romani people
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Romani (/ˈrməni/;[8] also Romany, Gypsy, or Gipsy; Romani: romani ćhib) is any of several languages of the Romani people belonging to the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European language family.[9] According to Ethnologue, seven varieties of Romani are divergent enough to be considered languages of their own. The largest of these are Vlax Romani (about 500,000 speakers),[10] Balkan Romani (600,000),[11] and Sinte Romani (300,000).[12] Some Romani communities speak mixed languages based on the surrounding language with retained Romani-derived vocabulary – these are known by linguists as Para-Romani varieties, rather than dialects of the Romani language itself.[13]

The differences between various varieties can be as big as, for example, differences between various Slavic languages.[14]


Speakers of the Romani language usually refer to the language as řomani čhib "the Romani language" or řomanes "in a Rom way".[15] This derives from the Romani word řom, meaning either "a member of the (Romani) group" or "husband".[15] This is also where the term "Roma" derives in English, although some Roma groups refer to themselves using other demonyms (e.g. 'Kaale', 'Sinti', etc.).[15] The English spelling "Romani language" may also be found, reflecting a different transcription of the Romani phoneme ř.[15]

Before the late nineteenth century, English-language texts usually referred to the language as the "Gypsy language".[15]


In the 18th century, it was shown by comparative studies that Romani belongs to the Indo-European language family.[16]

Romani is an Indo-Aryan language with strong Balkan influence. It is the only New-Indo-Aryan language spoken exclusively outside of the Indian subcontinent.[17]

Romani is sometimes classified in the Central or Northwestern branch of Indo-Aryan, and sometimes treated as a group of its own. Romani also shares many linguistics features and vocabulary with the Punjabi dialects not found in the central branch of Indo-Aryan languages.[citation needed]

Romani shares a number of features with the Central Indo-Aryan languages.[18] The most significant isoglosses are the shift of Old Indo-Aryan to u or i (Sanskrit śr̥ṇ-, Romani šun- 'to hear') and kṣ- to kh (Sanskrit akṣi, Romani j-akh 'eye').[18] However, unlike other Central Indo-Aryan languages, Romani preserves many dental clusters (Romani trin 'three', phral 'brother', cf. Hindi tīn, bhāi).[18] This implies that Romani split from the Central Indo-Aryan languages before the Middle Indo-Aryan period.[18] However, Romani shows some features of New Indo-Aryan, such as erosion of the original nominal case system towards a nominative/oblique dichotomy, with new grammaticalized case suffixes added on.[18] This means that the Romani exodus from India could not have happened until late in the first millennium CE.[18]

Many words are similar to the Marwari (Hindi) language spoken in large parts of India. However, the Romani language is nearer to the Marwari language spoken in Rajasthan, India. [19] Romani also shows some similarity to the Northwest Indo-Aryan languages.[18] In particular, the grammaticalization of enclitic pronouns as person markers on verbs (kerdo 'done' + me 'me' → kerdjom 'I did') is also found in languages such as Kashmiri and Shina.[18] This evidences a northwest migration during the split from Central Indo-Aryan, consistent with a later migration to Europe.[18]

Based on these data, Matras (2006) views Romani as "kind of Indian hybrid: a central Indic dialect that had undergone partial convergence with northern Indic languages."[18]

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 Indo-Aryan languages.[18]

Romani shows a number of phonetic changes that distinguish it from other Indo-Aryan languages—in particular, the de-voicing of voiced aspirates (bh dh gh > ph th kh), shift of medial t d to l, of short a to e, initial kh to x, rhoticization of retroflex ḍ, ṭ, ḍḍ, ṭṭ, ḍh etc. to r and ř, and shift of inflectional -a to -o.[18]

After exiting the Indian subcontinent, Romani was heavily affected by European contact languages.[18] The most significant of these was Byzantine Greek, which contributed lexically, phonemically, and grammatically to Early Romani (10th-13th centuries CE).[18] This includes inflectional affixes for nouns, and verbs that are still productive with borrowed vocabulary, the shift to VO word order, and the adoption of a preposed definite article.[18] Early Romani also borrowed from Armenian and Iranian languages.[18]

Romani and Domari share some similarities: agglutination of postpositions of the second Layer (or case marking clitics) to the nominal stem, concordmarkers for the past tense, the neutralisation of gender marking in the plural, and the use of the oblique case as an accusative.[20][21] This has prompted much discussion about the relationships between these two languages. Domari was once thought to be the "sister language" of Romani, the two languages having split after the departure from the Indian subcontinent, but more recent research suggests that the differences between them are significant enough to treat them as two separate languages within the Central zone (Hindustani) group of languages.[citation needed] The Dom and the Rom therefore likely descend from two different migration waves out of India, separated by several centuries.[22][23]

Numerals in the Romani, Domari and Lomavren languages, with Hindi and Persian forms for comparison.[24] Note that Romani 7–9 are borrowed from Greek.

Hindi Romani Domari Lomavren Persian
1 ek ekh, jekh yika yak, yek yak, yek
2 do duj lui du, do
3 tīn trin tærən tərin se
4 cār štar štar išdör čahār
5 pāñc pandž pandž pendž pandž
6 che šov šaš šeš šaš, šeš
7 sāt ifta xaut haft haft
8 āţh oxto xaišt hašt hašt
9 nau inja na nu nuh, noh
10 das deš des las dah
20 bīs biš wīs vist bist
100 sau šel saj saj sad


Map showing the migrations of Romani people through Europe and Asia minor.

The first attestation of Romani is from 1542 CE in western Europe.[18] The earlier history of the Romani language is completely undocumented, and is understood primarily through comparative linguistic evidence.[18]

Linguistic evaluation carried out in the nineteenth century by Pott (1845) and Miklosich (1882–1888) showed the Romani language 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 on the Indian subcontinent until a later period, perhaps even as late as the tenth century.

There is no historical proof to clarify who the ancestors of the Romani 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 Anatolia 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 Romani arrived in Europe and afterwards spread to the other continents. The great distances between the scattered Romani 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.[25] A project at Manchester University in England is transcribing Romani dialects, many of which are on the brink of extinction, for the first time.[25]


Dialects of the Romani language

Today's dialects of Romani are differentiated by the vocabulary accumulated since their departure from Anatolia, as well as through divergent phonemic evolution and grammatical features. Many Roma no longer speak the language or speak various new contact languages from the local language with the addition of Romani vocabulary.

Dialect differentiation began with the dispersal of the Romani from the Balkans around the 14th century and on, and with their settlement in areas across Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries.[26] The two most significant areas of divergence are the southeast (with epicenter of the northern Balkans) and west-central Europe (with epicenter Germany).[26] The central dialects replace s in grammatical paradigms with h.[26] The west-northern dialects append j-, simplify ndř to r, retain n in the nominalizer -ipen/-iben, and lose adjectival past-tense in intransitives (gelo, geli → geljas 'he/she went').[26] Other isoglosses (esp. demonstratives, 2/3pl perfective concord markers, loan verb markers) motivate the division into Balkan, Vlax, Central, Northeast, and Northwest dialects.[26]

A long-standing common categorisation was a division between the Vlax (from Vlach) from non-Vlax dialects. Vlax are those Roma people 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. 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. The Vlax dialect group, now seen as just one of about ten groups (see below), has nevertheless become very widespread geographically.

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.[27]

According to this classification, the dialects are split as follows:

SIL Ethnologue has the following classification:

  • Balkan Romani
    • Arlija
    • Dzambazi
    • Tinners Romani
  • Northern Romani
    • Baltic Romani
      • Estonian Romani
      • Latvian Romani (Lettish Romani)
      • North Russian Romani
      • Polish Romani
      • White Russian Romani
    • Carpathian Romani (Central Romani)
      • East Slovakian Romani
      • Moravian Romani
      • West Slovakian Romani
    • Kalo Finnish Romani
    • Sinte Romani
      • Abbruzzesi
      • Serbian Romani
      • Slovenian-Croatian Romani
    • Welsh Romani
  • Vlax Romani
    • Churari (Churarícko, Sievemakers)
    • Eastern Vlax Romani (Bisa)
    • Ghagar
    • Grekurja (Greco)
    • Kalderash (Coppersmith, Kelderashícko)
    • Lovari (Lovarícko)
    • Machvano (Machvanmcko)
    • North Albanian Romani
    • Sedentary Bulgaria Romani
    • Sedentary Romania Romani
    • Serbo-Bosnian Romani
    • South Albanian Romani
    • Ukraine-Moldavia Romani
    • Zagundzi

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 of Great Britain) those with only a Romani vocabulary grafted into a non-Romani language (normally referred to as Para-Romani).

A table of some dialectal differences:

First stratum Second stratum Third stratum
phirdom, phirdyom

phirdyum, phirjum

phirdem phirdem







pai, payi

khoi, khoyi

kui, kuyi

pai, payi

khoi, khoyi

kui, kuyi

ćhib shib shib
jeno zheno zheno
po po/mai mai

The first stratum includes the oldest dialects: Mećkari (of Tirana), Kabuʒi (of Korça), Xanduri, Drindari, Erli, Arli, Bugurji, Mahaʒeri (of Pristina), Ursari (Rićhinari), Spoitori (Xoraxane), Karpatichi, Polska Roma, Kaale (from Finland), Sinto-manush, and the so-called Baltic dialects.

In the second there are Ćergari (of Podgorica), Gurbeti, Jambashi, Fichiri, Filipiʒi (of Agia Varvara)

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

Mixed languages

Some Romanies have developed mixed languages (chiefly by retaining Romani lexical items and adopting second language grammatical structures), including:

Geographic distribution

Romani is the only Indo-Aryan language spoken almost exclusively in Europe (apart from emigrant populations).[29]

The most concentrated areas of Romani speakers are found in southeastern Europe, in particular in Macedonia, Bulgaria, and Romania.[29] Although there are no reliable figures for the exact number of Romani speakers, it may be the largest minority language of the European Union.[30]


The language is recognized as a minority language in many countries. At present the only places in the world where Romani is employed as an official language are the Republic of Kosovo [31] and the Municipality of Shuto Orizari within the administrative borders of the Macedonian capital of Skopje.

The first efforts to publish in Romani were undertaken in the interwar Soviet Union (in Cyrillic) and in communist Yugoslavia.[32]

Some traditional communities have expressed opposition to codifying Romani or having it used in public functions.[29] However, the mainstream trend has been towards standardization.[29]

Different variants of the language are now in the process of being codified in those countries with high Romani populations (for example, Slovakia). There are also some attempts currently aimed at the creation of a unified standard 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 (3.3% 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".

Romani is now used on the internet, in some local media, and in some countries as a medium of instruction.[29]


Historically, Romani was an exclusively unwritten language;[29] for example, Slovakian Romani's orthography was codified only in 1971.[33]

The overwhelming majority of academic and non-academic literature produced currently in Romani is written using a Latin-based orthography.[34]

The proposals to form a unified Romani alphabet and one standard Romani language by either choosing one dialect as a standard, or by merging more dialects together, have not been successful - instead, the trend is towards a model, where each dialect has its own writing system.[35] Among native speakers, the most common pattern for individual authors to use an orthography based on the writing system of the dominant contact language: thus Romanian in Romania, Hungarian in Hungary and so on.

To demonstrate the differences, the phrase [romaɲi tʃʰib], which means "Romani Language" in all the dialects, can be written as románi szib, románi čib, romani tschib, románi tschiwi, romani tšiw, romeni tšiv, romanitschub, rromani čhib, romani chib, rhomani chib, romaji šjib [16] and so on.

A currently observable trend, however, appears to be the adoption of a loosely English and Czech-oriented orthography, developed spontaneously by native speakers for use online and through email.[34] Most linguists adhere to a system Ian Hancock calls Pan-Vlax.[36]

The Pan-Vlax system is as follows:

Romani "Pan-Vlax" alphabet
Grapheme Phoneme Example
A a /a/ akana now
B b /b/ barvalo rich
C c /ts/ cìrdel he pulls
Č č /tʃ/ čačo true
Čh čh /tʃʰ/ čhavo boy
D d /d/ dorjav river
Dž dž /dʒ/ džukel dog
E e /e/ ertimos forgiveness
F f /f/ foros town
G g /ɡ/ gadže non-Rom
H h /h/ harmasari stallion
I i /i/ ičarel he crushes
J j /j/ jag fire
K k /k/ kaj where
Kh kh /kʰ/ khamesko sunny
L l /l/ lašo good
M m /m/ manuš man
N n /n/ nav name
O o /o/ oxto eight
P p /p/ pekel he bakes
Ph ph /pʰ/ phabaj apple
R r /r/ rakli girl
S s /s/ sunakaj gold
Š š /ʃ/ šukar sweet/good/nice
T t /t/ taxtaj cup
Th th /tʰ/ them land
U u /u/ lip
V v /ʋ/ voro cousin
X x /x/ xarano wise
Z z /z/ zèleno green
Ž ž /ʒ/ žoja Thursday

The use of the above graphemes is relatively stable and universal, taking into account dialectal mergers and so on. However, in certain areas there is somewhat more variation. A typically diverse area is in the representation of sounds not present in most varieties of Romani. For example, the centralised vowel phonemes of several varieties of Vlax and Xaladitka, when they are indicated separately from the non-centralised vowels, can be represented using ə, ъ or ă.[36] Another particularly variant area is the representation of palatalised consonants, which are absent from a number of dialects. Some variant graphemes for /tʲ/ include tj, ty, ć, čj and t᾿.[34] Finally, the representation of the phoneme /ɻ/ (the reflex of the Sanskrit retroflex series[citation needed]), which in several dialects has been merged with /r/, tends to vary between rr, ř and rh, and sometimes even gh, with the first two being the most frequently found variants.[36]

The English-based orthography commonly used in North America is, to a degree, an accommodation of the Pan-Vlax orthography to English-language keyboards, replacing those graphemes with diacritics with digraphs, such as the substitution of ts ch sh zh for c č š ž.[36]

An orthographical standard intended for cross-dialect use was introduced by Marcel Courthiade in 1989[37] and has been adopted by the International Romani Union.[38] However, the IRU standard has yet to find a broad base of support from Romani writers. One reason for the reluctance to adopt this standard, according to Canadian Rom Ronald Lee, is that the proposed orthography contains a number of specialized characters not regularly found on European keyboards, such as θ and ʒ.[39]

The International Standard orthography, uses similar conventions to the Pan-Vlax system outlined above. Several of the differences are simply graphical, such as replacing carons with acute accents, transforming č š ž into ć ś ź. However, its most distinctive feature is the use of "meta-notations", which are intended to cover cross-dialectal phonological variation, particularly in degrees of palatalisation; and morpho-graphs, which are used to represent the morphophonological alternation of case suffixes [40] in different phonological environments.[41] The three "morpho-graphs" are ç, q and θ, which represent the initial phonemes of a number of case suffixes, which are realised /s/, /k/ and /t/ after a vowel and /ts/, /ɡ/ and /d/ after a nasal consonant. The three "meta-notations" are ʒ, ŏ and ă, the realisation of which varies by dialect. The latter two, for example, are pronounced /o/ and /a/ in Lovaricka, but /jo/ and /ja/ in Kalderash.[36]


The Romani sound system is not highly unusual among European languages. Its most marked features are a three-way contrast between unvoiced, voiced, and aspirated stops: p t k č, b d g dž, and ph th kh čh,[42] and the presence in some dialects of a second rhotic ř, realized as uvular [ʀ], a long trill [r:], or retroflex [ɽ] or [ɻ].[42]

The following is the core sound inventory of Romani. Phonemes in parentheses are only found in some dialects:

Eastern and Southeastern European Romani dialects commonly have palatalized consonants, either distinctive or allophonic.[42] Some dialects add the central vowel ə or ɨ.[42] Vowel length is often distinctive in Western European Romani dialects.[42] Loans from contact languages often allow other non-native phonemes.[42]

Conservative dialects of Romani have final stress, with the exception of some unstressed affixes (e.g. the vocative ending, the case endings added on to the accusative noun, and the remoteness tense marker).[42] Central and western European dialects often have shifted stress earlier in the word.[42]

At the end of the word, voiced consonants become voiceless and aspirated ones lose aspiration. However, both are kept written as voiced / aspirated one.[16] Examples:

written form pronunciation meaning
gad [gat] shirt
gada [gada] shirts
ačh! [at͡ʃ] stop!
ačhel [at͡ʃʰel] (he, she) stops


Romani Translation Etymology
pani water Sanskrit. pānīya (पानीय), cf. panjabi. pāṇī (ਪਾਣੀ)
maro bread Sanskrit. maṇḍaka (मण्डक) « kind of bread », cf. sindhi. mānī (مَانِي) « bread »
tato warm Sanskrit. tapta (तप्त), cf. rajasthani. tātō (तातो)
laʒ shame Sanskrit. lajjā (लज्जा), cf. marathi. lāja (लाज)
jakh eye Sanskrit. akṣi (अक्षि), cf. Gujarati. āṅkha (આંખ)
ćhuri knife Sanskrit. kșurī (क्षुरी), cf. Urdu. churī (چھری)
thud milk Sanskrit. dugdha (दुग्ध), cf. bundeli. dūdha (दूध)
kham sun Sanskrit. gharma (घर्म) « heat », cf. Hindi. ghāma (घाम)
phuv earth Sanskrit. bhūmi (भूमि), cf. Hindi. bhū (भू)
pućh/el to ask Sanskrit. pṛcchati (पृच्छति), cf. Urdu. puch (پوچھ), cf. Bengali. puchā (পুছা)
avgin honey Persian. angabīn (انگبین)
mol wine Persian. mul (مل), cf. Urdu mai (مے)
ambrol pear Persian. amrūd (امرود)
ćerxen star Persian. čarx « sky » (چرخ)
zumav/el to try, to taste Persian. āzmūdan (ازمودن)
rez vine kurdish. rez (رز)
vordon ǀ verdo cart ossetian. wærdon (уæрдон)
grast ǀ graj (north) horse Armenian. grast (գրաստ) « sumpter , sorry horse »
xumer dough Armenian. xmor (խմոր)
morthǐ skin Armenian. mortʰi (մորթի)
ćekat ǀ ćikat forehead Armenian. čakat (ճակատ)
patǐv honor Armenian. pativ (պատիվ)
khilǎv plum Georgian. kʰliavi (ქლიავი)
càmla chestnut Georgian. tsabli (წაბლი)
grubo fat Georgian. kʰoni (ქონი)
camcàli eyelash Georgian. tsamtsami (წამწამი)
drom road Greek. drómos (δρόμος)
stadǐ hat Greek. skiádi (σκιάδι)
xoli ǀ xolǐn gall, anger Greek. kholí (χολή)
zervo left Greek. zervós (ζερβός)
xin/el to defecate Greek. khýnō (χύνω) « to empty »
pùśka gun Slavic. puška (пушка)
pràxo dust, ash Slavic. prach / prah (прах)
ùlica street Slavic. ulica (улица)
kòśnica basket Bulgarian. košnica (кошница)
gurùśa (north) penny polish. grosz
kaxni ǀ khanǐ hen Czech. kachna « duck »
ràca duck Romanian. rață, cf. slovène. ráca
màćka cat Hungarian. macska
mangin ǀ mandǐn treasure Turkish. mangır « penny », through a tartar dialect.
bèrga (north) mountain German. Berg
niglo (sinto) hedgehog German. Igel
gàjza (sinto) goat alsatian. geiss

Morphology, parts of speech


Nominals in Romani are nouns, adjectives, pronouns, and numerals.[16] Some sources describe article as a nominal, too.

The indefinite article is often borrowed from the local contact language.[43]


General Romani is an unusual language, in having two classes of nominals, based on the historic origin of the word, that have a completely different morphology. The two classes can be called inherited and borrowed,[16] but this article uses names from Matras (2006) [44] ikeoclitic and xenoclitic. To which of the two classes a word belongs is obvious from its ending.


The first class is the old, Indian vocabulary (and to some extent Persian, Armenian and Greek loanwords).[16] The ikeoclitic class can also be divided into two sub-classes, based on the ending.[44]

Nominals ending in o/i

The ending of words in this sub-class is -o with masculines, -'i with feminines. -'i marks "add suffix and change d, t, n, l before the suffix to ď, ť, ň, ľ".[16]


  • masculine
    • o čhavo - the son
    • o cikno - the little
    • o amaro - our (m.)
  • feminine
    • e rakľi - non-romani girl
    • e cikňi - small (note the change n > ň)
    • e amari - ours (f.)
Nominals without ending

All words in this sub-class have no endings, independent of gender.


  • masculine
    • o phral -the brother
    • o šukar - the nice (f.)
    • o dat - the father
  • feminine
    • e phen - the sister
    • e šukar- the nice (m.) - same as f.
    • e daj - the mother

The second class are the loanwords from European languages.[16][45][46] (Matras adds, that the morphology of the new loanwords is maybe borrowed from Greek.)

The ending of borrowed masculine is -os, -is, -as, -us, the borrowed feminine ends on -a.

Examples, from Slovakian Romani:[16][45]

  • masculine
    • o šustros - shoemaker
    • o autobusis - bus
    • o učiteľis - teacher (m.)
  • feminine
    • e rokľa - skirt
    • e blaka - window
    • e učiteľka - teacher (f.) (from "učiteľka" in Slovak)

Basics of morphology

Romani has two grammatical genders (masculine / feminine) and two numbers (singular / plural).[43]

All nominals can be in singular or plural.[47]


Nouns are marked for case, the most basic of which are the nominative and accusative case.

The vocative, nominative and indirect case are a bit "outside" of the case system[48] – they are produced with only adding suffixes to the root.

Example: the suffix for singular masculine vocative of ikeoclitic types is -eja.[49][50]

  • čhaveja! - you,boy(or son).!
  • cikneja! - you, little one!
  • phrala! - brother!

The other five cases are a little different. They are all derived from an "indirect root", that is made a little differently for each type;[16] the indirect root is the same as the accusative case. To this root, every case adds its own suffix – with disregard to gender or type. These are: -te/-de (locative and prepositional), -ke/-ge (dative), -tar/-dar (ablative), -sa(r) (instrumental and comitative), and -ker-/-ger- (genitive).[43]

Example: The endings for o/i ending nominals are as follows:

sg. nom. sg. acc. pl. nom. pl. acc.
čhav-o čhav-es čhav-e čhav-en
řomn-i řomn-ja řomn-ja řomn-jen

Example: the suffix for indirect root for masculine plural for all inherited words is -en,[48][51] the dativ suffix is -ke.[52][53]

  • o kozaro - mushroom
  • kozaren - the indirect root (also used as accusative)
  • Ňila phiras kozarenge. – In the summer we go on mushrooms (meaning picking mushrooms)

There are many declension classes of nouns that decline differently, and show dialectal variation.[43]

Slovakian Romani also uses these nine cases:[54]

  • nominative
  • vocative
  • accusative
  • dative
  • locative
  • ablative
  • instrumental
  • genitive
  • indirect case

The indirect case is used when a word functions as an attribute before a word,[55] and is not considered a case in some literature.


Romani shows the typically Indo-Aryan pattern of the genitive agreeing with its head noun.


  • čhav-es-ker-o phral - 'the boy's brother'
  • čhav-es-ker-i phen - 'the boy's sister'.[43]

Adjectives and the definite article show agreement with the noun they modify.


  • mir-o dad - 'my father'
  • mir-i daj - 'my mother'.[43][56]


Romani derivations are highly synthetic and partly agglutinative. However, they are also sensitive to recent development - for example, in general, Romani in Slavic countries show an adoption of productive aktionsart morphology.[57]

The core of the verb is the lexical root, verb morphology is suffixed.[57]

The verb stem (including derivation markers) by itself has non-perfective aspect and is present or subjunctive.[43]


Similarly to nominals, verbs in Romani belongs to several classes, but unlike nominals, it is not based on historic origin. However, the loaned verbs can be recognized, again, by specific endings, which some[57] argue are Greek origin.

Irregular verbs

Some words are irregular, like te jel - to be.

Class I

The next three classes are recognizable by suffix in 3rd person singular.

The first class, called I.,[16][58] have a suffix -el in 3rd person singular.

Examples, in 3 ps. sg:[58]

  • te kerel -to do
  • te šunel - to hear
  • te dikhel - to see
Class II

Words in the second category, called II.,[16][58] have a suffix -l in 3rd person singular.

Examples, in 3 ps. sg:[58]

  • te džal - to go
  • te ladžal - to be ashamed, shy away.
  • te asal - to laugh
  • te paťal - to believe
  • te hal - to eat
Class III

All the words in the third class are semantically causative pasivum.[59]


  • te sikhľol - to learn
  • te labol - to burn
  • to marďol - to be beaten
  • te pašľol - to lie
Borrowed verbs

Borrowed verbs from other languages are marked with affixes taken from Greek tense/aspect suffixes, including -iz-, -in-, and -is-.[43]


The Romani verb has three persons and two numbers, singular and plural. There is no verbal distinction between masculine and feminine.

Romani tenses are, not exclusively, present tense, future tense, two past tenses (perfect and imperfect), present or past conditional and present imperative.

Depending on the dialect, the suffix -a marks the present, future, or conditional.[43] There are many perfective suffixes, which are determined by root phonology, valency, and semantics: e.g. ker-d- 'did'.[43]

There are two sets of personal conjugation suffixes, one for non-perfective verbs, and another for perfective verbs.[43] The non-perfective personal suffixes, continued from Middle Indo-Aryan, are as follows:[43]

Non-perfective personal suffixes
1 2 3
sg. -av -es -el
pl. -as -en

These are slightly different for consonant- and vowel-final roots (e.g. xa-s 'you eat', kam-es 'you want).[43]

The perfective suffixes, deriving from late Middle Indo-Aryan enclitic pronouns, are as follows:

Perfective personal suffixes
1 2 3
sg. -om -al/-an -as
pl. -am -an/-en -e

Verbs may also take a further remoteness suffix -as/-ahi/-ys/-s.[43] With non-perfective verbs this marks the imperfect, habitual, or conditional.[43] With the perfective, this marks the pluperfect or counterfactual.[43]

Class I

All the persons and numbers of present tense of the word te kerel[61]

sg pl me kerav amen keras tu keres tumen keren jov kerel jon keren

Various tenses of the same word, all in 2nd person singular.[16]

  • present - tu keres
  • future - tu ka keres
  • past imperfect = present conditional - tu kerehas
  • past perfect - tu kerďal (ker + d + 'al)
  • past conditional - tu kerďalas (ker + d + 'al + as)
  • present imperative - ker!
Class II

All the persons and numbers of present tense of the word te paťal[61]

sg pl me paťav amen paťas tu paťas tumen paťan jov paťal jon paťan

Various tenses of the word te chal, all in 2nd person singular.[16]

  • present - tu dzas
  • future - tu dzaha
  • past imperfect = present conditional - tu dzahas
  • past perfect - tu dzaľom' (irregular - regular form of tu paťas is tu paťaňom)
  • past conditional - tu dzaľahas
  • present imperative - dzaľa!
Class III

All the persons and numbers of present tense of the word te pašľol.[16] Note the added -uv-, which is typical for this group.

sg pl me pašľuvav amen pašľuvas tu pašľos tumen pašľon jov pašľol jon pašľon

Various tenses of the same word, all in 2nd person singular again.[16]

  • present - tu pašľos
  • future - tu pašľa
  • past imperfect = present conditional - tu pašľas
  • past perfect - tu pašľiľal (pašľ + il + 'al)
  • past conditional - tu pašľiľalas (pašľ + il + 'al + as)
  • present imperative - pašľuv![62]


Valency markers are affixed to the verb root either to increase or decrease valency.[43] There is dialectal variation as to which markers are most used; common valency-increasing markers are -av-, -ar-, and -ker, and common valency-decreasing markers are -jov- and -áv-.[43] These may also be used to derive verbs from nouns and adjectives.[43]


Romani syntax is quite different from most Indo-Aryan languages, and shows more similarity to the Balkan languages.[56]

Šebková and Žlnayová, while describing Slovakian Romani, argues that Romani is a free word order language[16] and that it allows for theme-rheme structure, similarly to Czech, and that in some Romani dialects in East Slovakia, there is a tendency to put a verb at the end of a sentence.

However, Matras describes it further.[63] According to Matras, in most dialects of Romani, Romani is a VO language, with SVO order in contrastive sentences and verb-subject-object order in thetic sentences.[56] The tendency to put verb on the end in some dialects is the Slavic influence.

Examples, from Slovakian Romani:[64]

  • Odi kuči šilaľi. - This cup is cold.
  • Oda šilaľi kuči. - This is a cold cup.

Clauses are usually finite.[56] Relative clauses, introduced by the relativizer kaj, are postponed.[56] Factual and non-factual complex clauses are distinguished.[56]

Romani in modern times

Romani has lent several words to English such as pal (ultimately from Sanskrit bhrātar "brother"[65]) and nark "informant" (from Romani nāk "nose"[65]). Other Romani words in general slang are gadgie (man), shiv or chiv (knife). Urban British slang shows an increasing level of Romani influence,[citation needed] 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). There are efforts to teach and familiarise Vlax - Romani to new generation of Romani so that Romani spoken in different parts of the world are connected through single dialect of Romani. Indian Institute of Romani Studies, Chandigarh published several Romani language lessons through its journal Roma during the 1970s.[39] Occasionally loanwords from other Indo-Iranian languages such as Hindi are mistakenly labelled as Romani due to surface similarities (due to a shared root), such as cushy, which is from Hindi (itself a loan from Persian kuš) meaning "excellent, healthy, happy".[65]

See also


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  13. Matras (2006)"In some regions of Europe, especially the western margins (Britain, the Iberian peninsula, Scandinavia), Romani- speaking communities have given up their language in favor of the majority language, but have retained Romani-derived vocabulary as an in-group code. Such codes, for instance Angloromani (Britain), Caló (Spain), or Rommani (Scandinavia) are usually referred to as Para-Romani varieties."
  14. Hübschmannová, Milena (1993). Šaj pes dokaveras - Můžeme se domluvit . Olomouc: Pedagogická fakulta UP Olomouc: p. 23. ISBN 80-7067-355-9. (Czech)
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 15.4 Matras (2005, 1.1 Names)
  16. 16.00 16.01 16.02 16.03 16.04 16.05 16.06 16.07 16.08 16.09 16.10 16.11 16.12 16.13 16.14 16.15 16.16 16.17 Šebková, Hana; Žlnayová, Edita (1998). Nástin mluvnice slovenské romštiny (pro pedagogické účely). Ústí nad Labem: Pedagogická fakulta Univerzity J. E. Purkyně v Ústí nad Labem: p. 4. ISBN 80-7044-205-0. "V 18. století bylo na základě komparatistických výzkumů jednoznačně prokázáno, že romština patří do indoevropské jazykové rodiny a že je jazykem novoindickým" ["In the 18th century, it was conclusively proved on the basis of comparative studie that Romani belongs to the Indo-European language family and is a New-Indian language"]
  17. Schrammel, Barbara; Halwachs, Dieter W. (2005). "Introduction". General and Applied Romani Linguistics - Proceeding from the 6th International Conference on Romani Linguistics (München: LINCOM): p. 1. ISBN 3-89586-741-1.
  18. 18.00 18.01 18.02 18.03 18.04 18.05 18.06 18.07 18.08 18.09 18.10 18.11 18.12 18.13 18.14 18.15 18.16 18.17 Matras (2006, History)
  19. "Romany-English Glossary". Retrieved 28 August 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. Matras, Yaron (2002). Romani: A Linguistic Introduction, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-02330-0
  21. Matras, Yaron (2006). "Domari" (PDF). In Keith Brown (ed.). Encyclopedia of Languages and Linguistics (Second ed.). Oxford: Elsevier. The morphology of the two languages is similar in other respects: Both retain the old present conjugation in the verb (Domari kar-ami ‘I do’), and consonantal endings of the oblique nominal case (Domari mans-as ‘man.OBL’, mans-an ‘men.OBL’), and both show agglutination of secondary (Layer II) case endings (Domari mans-as-ka ‘for the man’). It had therefore been assumed that Romani and Domari derived form the same ancestor idiom, and split only after leaving the Indian subcontinent.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. "What is Domari?". University of Manchester. Retrieved 2008-07-23<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. "On romani origins and identity". Retrieved 2008-07-23<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. after Ian Hancock, On Romani Origins and Identity, RADOC (2007)[1]
  25. 25.0 25.1 "Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Achievement". Ethnic Minority Achievement. Archived from the original on 2009-06-08. Retrieved August 12, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. 26.0 26.1 26.2 26.3 26.4 Matras (2006, Dialect diversity)
  27. Norbert Boretzky: Kommentierter Dialektatlas des Romani. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2004 p. 18-26
  28. 28.0 28.1 28.2 28.3 Matras, Yason (2005). Schrammel, Barbara; Halwachs, Dieter W.; Ambrosch, Gerd (eds.). "The classification of Romani dialects: A geographic-historical perspective" (PDF). General and Applied Romani Linguistics - Proceeding from the 6th International Conference on Romani Linguistics. München: LINCOM. Retrieved 14 September 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  29. 29.0 29.1 29.2 29.3 29.4 29.5 Matras (2006, Definitions)
  30. Matras (2005, 1.2 Numbers and distribution)
  31. Constitution of the Republic of Kosovo: [2] (PDF; 244 kB), page 8
  32. Kamusella, T. Language in Central Europe's History and Politics: From the Rule of cuius regio, eius religio to the National Principle of cuius regio, eius lingua? Journal of Globalization Studies. Volume 2, Number 1, May 2011 [3]
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  34. 34.0 34.1 34.2 Matras, Yaron (2002). Romani: A Linguistic Introduction, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-02330-0.
  35. Matras, Yaron. "The Future of Romani: Toward a Policy of Linguistic Pluralism".
  36. 36.0 36.1 36.2 36.3 36.4 Hancock, Ian (1995). A Handbook of Vlax Romani, Columbus: Slavica Publishers. ISBN 0-89357-258-6.
  37. 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.
  38. Matras, Yaron (1999). Writing Romani: The pragmatics of codification in a stateless language. Applied Linguistics, vol. 20, pp 481-502.
  39. 39.0 39.1 Lee, Ronald (2005). Learn Romani: Das-dúma Rromanes, Hatfield: University of Hertfordshire Press. ISBN 1-902806-44-1.
  40. Whether these endings are to be analysed as postpositions or case endings is still a matter of debate in Romani linguistics. See, for example, Hancock (1995) and Matras (2002) for varying approaches.
  41. Matras, Yaron (1999). Writing Romani: The pragmatics of codification in a stateless language. Applied Linguistics, vol. 20, pp 481-502.
  42. 42.0 42.1 42.2 42.3 42.4 42.5 42.6 42.7 42.8 42.9 Matras (2006, The sound system)
  43. 43.00 43.01 43.02 43.03 43.04 43.05 43.06 43.07 43.08 43.09 43.10 43.11 43.12 43.13 43.14 43.15 43.16 43.17 43.18 Matras (2006, Morphology)
  44. 44.0 44.1 Matras (2006)
  45. 45.0 45.1 45.2 Hübschmannová, Milena (1974). Základy Romštiny
  46. Matras 2002: p. 73
  47. Hübschmannová 1974: p.4, V 1.3
  48. 48.0 48.1 Šebková, Žlnayová 1998, p. 52–54
  49. Šebková, Žlnayová 1998, p. 47
  50. Hübschmannová 1974 – p. 31, V2,1.
  51. Hübschmannová 1974 - p. 43, V4
  52. Šebková, Žlnayová 1998, p. 76–78
  53. Hübschmannová 1974 - p. 60, V7.
  54. Šebková, Žlnayová 1998, p. 21
  55. Šebková, Žlnayová 1998, p. 52
  56. 56.0 56.1 56.2 56.3 56.4 56.5 Matras (2006, Syntax)
  57. 57.0 57.1 57.2 Matras 2002 - pg 117
  58. 58.0 58.1 58.2 58.3 Hübschmannová 1974 - p. 20, V1.
  59. Hübschmannová 1974 - p. 57, V4,1.
  60. Hübschmannová 1974 - p. 54, S.
  61. 61.0 61.1 Šebková, Žlnayová 1998, p. 38
  62. Šebková, Žlnayová 1998, p. 107
  63. Matras 2002 - p. 167-168
  64. Hübschmannová, Milena (1974). Základy Romštiny. Praha: Academia Praha: p. 7, par. 1,1.
  65. 65.0 65.1 65.2 Hoad, TF (ed.) Oxford Concise Dictionary of Etymology (1996) Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-283098-8


  • Matras, Yaron (2005). "The status of Romani in Europe" (PDF). University of Manchester.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Matras, Yaron (2006). "Romani" (PDF). In Keith Brown (ed.). Encyclopedia of Languages and Linguistics (Second ed.). Oxford: Elsevier.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

External links