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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.