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World Day of Romani Language

Aktualizované 25.11.2022
Publikované 27.10.2022

It took decades to standardize Romani language

The Romani language is one of the most important elements of the Romani ethnic group. On November 5, the World Day of Romani Language is celebrated to promote the group's culture, history and education.

Romani is an Indo-Aryan language. Historically, it was mainly transmitted by word of mouth. Even though the many and varied dialects belong to the same language, sometimes the difference between them can be staggering, to the point where speakers might have a trouble understanding each other.

That is because the dialects accumulated their vocabulary in areas where the Romani people settled, along with their sound and grammatical features changing as well.

The discovery of the Indian affiliation of the Romani language is usually attributed to Calvinist pastor Vályi István, who is said to have met three speakers of an Indo-Aryan language in 18th century Netherlands. He noticed that their language bore great affinity to the language spoken by the Roma people from where he was born. When the pastor later showed them some words, they could translate them.

It is not possible to exactly determine the original scope of the Romani language, since during the migration the Roma freely adopted words from other languages. And it went both ways, for example English adopted several Romani words, for example ‘narc’, meaning police informant. Until only decades ago, the Romani language did not have a written form, remaining a spoken language. In Slovakia, the first attempts were made in 1971 when the language commission of the Union of Gypsies-Roma in Slovakia laid the foundations. They adopted the spelling rules of the Slovak dialect of the Romani language, based on the spelling principles of Czech and Slovak.

The official standardization of the Romani language in Slovakia took place in 2008.

In Slovakia, three groups of dialects are used in communication, namely so-called Slovak Romani, Hungarian Romani, and Olaš. With approximately 80 percent of speakers, Slovak Romani is the most widely spoken dialect and  has been used as the standardized form.

The Romani language is currently being spoken less and less among the Roma people. The young generation in some regions such as eastern Slovakia (the towns of Humenné, Michalovce, or Trebišov) no longer speaks Romani. Some at least do understand Romani when the older generation communicates with them.

Most research related to the language is carried out in Romani study centres at the University of Prešov and Constantine the Philosopher University in Nitra. Romani is also taught in some primary and secondary schools mostly located in eastern Slovakia. In addition, municipalities, NGOs and lawyers are also interested in the language and require translation. Romani is also used in literature, and even in media on dedicated channels.

The language is an integral part of Slovakia’s culture, where the Roma are one of the largest minorities, complementing diversity in the relatively homogeneous area of central Europe.