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23 September 2014
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Romani today
The history of Romani

Romani today by Prof. Yaron Matras

The language-name 'Romani' refers to two separate, albeit related phenomena. The Romani language proper, which has its own vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammatical rules, is now spoken in Britain almost exclusively by families who emigrated from central or eastern Europe in recent years.

Some, originating in Russia, came already via France in the 1950s. Others, probably several thousand, arrived during the 1990s directly from Poland, Lithuania, Slovakia, Bosnia, and other countries. Most of them live in the London area. However, some are dispersed in other urban areas throughout the country. Members of this immigrant minority usually refer to themselves in their language as Roma, though in their countries of origin they are often called 'Gypsies' by the majority population. They call their language Romanes or Romani Chib 'the Romani language' - hence our term 'Romani' (sometimes spelled 'Romany' in older publications).

In central and eastern Europe, there are now anywhere between 3-5 million speakers of Romani, dispersed throughout different countries and different regions. Romani is now probably the second-largest minority language in the EU since the enlargement in 2004. Unlike the British Romani population that has lived in the country for many centuries, the eastern European Romani immigrants are not travellers, they do not live in caravans, and they do not specialise in mobile trades, but have a variety of different occupations.

The second phenomenon that is referred to as 'Romani' involves the occasional use of Romani words in English conversation. This is common among the families of British Travellers of Romani origin (others, like the Irish or Scottish Travellers, do not use Romani, but have their own special vocabularies). It is difficult to estimate the number of users of Romani vocabulary, but it may be as high as 40,000. Many of the British Romanies live in caravans. Each family or clan tends to favour a particular caravan site, and is usually based in a particular region. There are British Romanies all over the country.

It is reported that the older generations used to use many more Romani words in everyday conversation, but that use of the Romani vocabulary has now declined. Speakers may insert a Romani word occasionally when welcoming Romani guests or when meeting with other family members. Sometimes the use of Romani is for humour, and sometimes British Romanies will use Romani words among themselves in public places in order to prevent Gaujos (non-Gypsies) from understanding what they are saying. Thus, someone might say: 'the moosh is dikkin us!' meaning 'the man is watching us!'. Insertion of the odd Romani word into English conversation is often referred to by scholars as 'Angloromani'.

Neither Romani proper, nor Angloromani, are written languages, and they are not usually used in schools or the media. (However, in central and eastern Europe, use of Romani in the media, especially on the internet, is growing, and there are even periodicals in the language). But in the past few years there have been private initiatives to introduce Romani as a medium of instruction.

In London, a small charity offers afternoon and weekend classes for Romani children, where they learn to read and write in Romani, as does a church operated by British Romanies in the Birmingham area. A London-based immigrant from Belarus, Valdemar Kalinin, recently received an international prize for writing Romani poetry. In churches that bring together British Romanies and recent Romani immigrants, services are sometimes held in Romani. Many British Romanies are now trying to learn and revive the language of their ancestors.


Your Comments
What is your experience of Romani?

Jan Kurpiel katar Sheffield
Hiya. I am trying to learn as much of the language as possible, so that i can pass it on to my children in the future. It's great being able to communitcate with Romanes from all over the world and i would recommend learning it to anyone.

Edward Woods from Boston
I am of the Welsh Kalo, but I do not speak romani. My great grand-parents stopped speaking it when they came to America. I am trying to learn the Kalo chib.

Bryn Heron, Northampton
My Puri dai and the Rom spoke the pure, inflected chib. Their grandchildren, me included, have only the pogerdi chib, now. I married away from the kawlo rattee, a gawji whom I love to this day. Apart from my grandparents, I have never heard the pure chib spoken I agree with Jacqueline, though - if you want the pukkered chib, go to the kawlo ratte, not the Romanes Rai or Rawnee.

tracy foster- australia
i loved your site and wish i could speak with the romani tongue. unfortunately my grandmother (fullblood romani) passed on when my father was 9. now it is my mission to get my own computer with sound so i can continue my learning path into my heritage, i feel i must keep this alive in my family so i may pass it down to future generations. thankyou.

Alcuin in London
Same old story, sorry to say. My mum wanted me to learn Romani. My dad wanted me to learn Welsh. The school wanted me to learn French and German and Latin. The school won.

prissy smith
i think things like this are a good thing but still no one listerns properly to what true romanys have to say just get pushed aside like we have always done for hundreds of years.

Jacqueline from Suffolk
Far from being a "phenomenon" the language is alive and well> I wish the BBC had asked a British Traveller for a view and they would have got it from the Gry's mui

Len Smith from New Forest
English Romany, not 'angloromani' as non Gypsy scholars want to call it, is alive and reasonably well in many corners of Britain. I doubt that ANY of these so called experts have EVER heard it spoken at its richest, in times of need or under stress, when it can be spoken without the inclusion of a single English word. Admittedly, word order and emphasis have had to replace extensive grammar much of the time. Those of us who speak the jib, very much encourage its use, and would be happy to see a joint effort with speakers of Eastern European Romani dialects, to repair our dialect where it is wearing somewhat thin.

Gerard from Scotland
I come from an Irish Romani background . At home we largely speak either Irish or English , but whe we use either we use a lot of Romani words . Although I cannot have a fluent converstion with a Eastern European Roma , we share enough words to get the gist.

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