Romani Language - Dialects


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. The two most significant areas of divergence are the southeast (with epicenter of the northern Balkans) and west-central Europe (with epicenter Germany). The central dialects replace s in grammatical paradigms with h. 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'). Other isoglosses (esp. demonstratives, 2/3pl perfective concord markers, loan verb markers) motivate the division into Balkan, Vlax, Central, Northeast, and Northwest dialects.

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.

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

  • Northern Romani dialects in northern, western and southern Europe, most of Poland, Russia and the Baltic States
  • Central Romani dialects from southern Poland to Hungary and from eastern Austria to Ukraine
  • Balkan Romani dialects
  • Vlax Romani dialects

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.

Read more about this topic:  Romani Language

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