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23 September 2014
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Features

Romany Language
Romany Language

Pookerin' Romany

By Simon Evans
Ever wondered where words like ‘cushti’ and ‘wonga’ come from? In fact they are Romany words, part of an ancient sanskrit language that originated in the Indus Valley in the Indian sub continent over 1000 years ago.

No one quite knows why, but tribes of people left there in the 9th century and written records suggest that they made their way across Europe first arriving in the UK in the early sixteenth century.

It was initially assumed that these dark Travellers were from Egypt and today’s word ‘Gypsy’ is a shortened version of  ‘Egyptian’.

Frank Ball
Frank Ball

Some authorities believe that Romany Gypsies are now one of Kent’s largest single ethnic minorities, this is also the case for other Eastern and Southern counties such as Cambridgeshire, Essex and Surrey.

Little wonder then that their language, Romany or Anglo-Romany, should have an impact on everyday speech in the region.

Horse drawn

A couple of generations ago when most Gypsies were still leading a horse drawn lifestyle, the children grew up on the road constantly hearing Romany spoken by their families and friends who travelled with them.

This was an Anglicised version of the language, in which Romany words are used within an English grammatical framework.

Jimmy Baker
Jimmy Baker as a young lad in the 1950's

However, now that the majority of Romany Gypsies lead a sedentary life in houses or on permanent sites, the youngsters spend a lot more time amongst non Gypsies and the use of the language is diminishing.

There are real fears that it will die out altogether and that this cornerstone of the Romany culture will disappear. One way of strengthening the language would be to compile dictionaries, audio tapes and other teaching materials so that those who wish to can learn more.

This would cause problems for many Gypsies, particularly older ones, because the language has always been kept a secret from the non Gypsy population and producing teaching materials would make it available for anyone to learn.

In addition it has always been a spoken language with little or no tradition in the written form which means that there is no body of Romany literature available in the UK.

Listen and link to...
audio Jimmy and Frank explain the Romany language >
Audio and Video links on this page require Realplayer
A guide to the Romany language >

Have your say

What's your view about the fate of the Romany language, should it remain secret? Do you think it's in decline? What do you think should be done? Give us your views on the message board:

last updated: 19/08/09
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