Historical Documentation of English Romani
Until relatively recently, Anglo-Romani received very little study from the academic community. However a recent discovery of a documents (Winchester confessions) c. seventeenth century, indicates, British Romani was itself a dialect of the northern branch of Romani sharing a close similarity to Welsh Romani. However, the language in a modern context has deteriorated from the Indic based vocabulary, morphology, and influences from Greek and other Balkan languages of seventeenth century to a Para-Romani dialect typical of modern Anglo-Romani with sentence endings influenced by English, while Welsh Romani retains the original grammatical system.
Historically the variants of Welsh and English Romani, constituted the same variant of Romani, share characteristics and are historically closely related to dialects spoken in France, Germany (Sinti), Scandinavia, Spain, Poland, North Russia and the Baltic states. Such dialects are descended from the first wave of Romani immigrants into western, northern and southern Europe in the late Middle Ages. Few documents survive into modern times, the (Winchester confessions) c.1616 highlight the variant of English Romani and contains a high number of words still used in the modern Northern European Romani dialects and until recently Welsh Romani; Examples include; Balovas (pig meat bacon), Lovina (beer, alcohol), ruk (tree), Smentena (cream), Boba (beans) and Folaso (glove) and all such words occur in all western dialects of Romani, with little English loanwords present.
However the Winchester confessions, highlights English grammatical structures, were influencing speakers of English Romani (within a London context where the document was sourced) to an (adjective-noun) configuration rather than the (noun-adjective) configuration of other Romani dialects, including modern Welsh Romani. The document suggests a complete separation between Thieves' Cant, and the variant of English Romani of the time. This has particular implication when dating the origin and development of Anglo-Romani and split from Welsh Romani. One such study believes English Romani speakers gradually lost its distinctive syntax, phonology and morphology. While other leading contemporaries believes Anglo-Romani developed relatively recently to the Romani communities arrival in the sixteenth century, in a similar development to the Pidgin or Creol languages.
Anglo-Romani was already developing in the seventeenth century, although this change from the original English Romani was unclear. The (Winchester Confessions) disproves a sudden morphological change). and favours a strict linguistic separation between a Canting language and English Romani whose speakers used a separate and distinct Romani language when speaking amongst themselves. A situation which existed one hundred years later as testified by James Poulter 1775 as “the English Gypsies spoke a variant of their own language that none other could understand”, indicating the language was distinct from the common “Canting tongue” of England. Romani of that time was a language of every day communication, of practical use, and not a secret language.
The original Romani was used exclusively as a family or clan language, during occasional encounters between various Romani clans. It was not a written language, but more a conversational one, used by families to keep conversations amongst themselves in public places such as markets unintelligible to others. It was not used in any official capacity in schools or administrative matters, and so lacked the vocabulary for these terms. Such terms were simply borrowed from English. However, to still keep the language undecipherable to outsiders, the Romani speakers coined new terms that were a combination or variation of the original English terms. For example, a ‘forester’ is called veshengro, from the Romani word for ‘forest’, vesh; a ‘restaurant’ is a habbinkerr from the words habbin ‘food’ and kerr ‘house’, thus literally ‘foodhouse’; and a ‘mayor’ is a gavmoosh, from the words gav ‘village, town’ and moosh ‘man’, literally ‘town-man’. Gradually, British Romani began to give up their language in favour of English, though they retained much of the vocabulary, which they now use occasionally in English conversation – as Angloromani.
Its origins are in India, and the core of the vocabulary and grammar still resemble modern Indian languages like Urdu, Kashmiri, or Punjabi. Linguists have been investigating the dialects of Romani since the second half of the eighteenth century, and although there are no ancient written records of the language, it has been possible to reconstruct the development of Romani from the medieval languages of India to its present forms as spoken in Europe. Although the language remains similar at its core, it is sometimes quite difficult for Romani people from different regions to understand one another if they have not had any exposure to other dialects before.
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