Also called Gypsy, or Gipsy, language related to the North Indo-Aryan (Indic) languages, spoken on all five continents by Gypsies, who are generally considered by physical anthropologists to be of Indian origin. The main concentrations of Romany speakers are in eastern Europe. The Romany language, like Gypsies as a minority people, seldom has received any legal recognition.

It is likely, from the evidence of comparative linguistics, that Romany separated from related North Indian languages in about AD 1000. Modern Gypsy dialects all over the world have been classified (by the Slovenian scholar Franz von Miklosich) according to their European originals, of which there are 13: Greek, Romanian, Hungarian, Czecho-Slovak, German, Polish, Russian, Finnish, Scandinavian, Italian, Serbo-Croatian, Welsh, and Spanish. The dialectal differentiations originated during the Gypsies' stay in the regions where these languages were spoken; while living in these regions they accepted many loanwords from the native languages and sometimes phonetic and even grammatical features.

The vocalic (vowel) and consonantal systems of all Romany dialects are clearly derived from Sanskrit. Some of the changes correspond to those undergone by modern Indian languages; others represent a more archaic state (e.g., the preservation of initial consonant clusters dr-, tr- and medial sth, sth); and a few are difficult to explain. The vowels of a typical central European dialect (Cracow–Lovari) are i, e, a, o, u. Indo-Aryan retroflex consonants have disappeared from the consonantal system, while Slavic fricative and affricate sounds have been accepted.

Romany possesses a grammatical system analogous to that of the modern North Indian languages. The Romany direct case represents the Sanskrit nominative and accusative, while the oblique is derived from the genitive. Various postpositions (elements occurring after the noun) can also be added, as in Hindi or Bengali, for other syntactic purposes. The verbal system has three persons, two numbers, five tenses (present, imperfect, perfect, pluperfect, and future), and three moods.

It is in its vocabulary that Romany best reflects the wanderings of its speakers. The main sources (apart from the original Indian stock) are Iranian, Armenian, Greek, Romanian, Hungarian, and the Slavic languages. But also Indo-Aryan influences include Hindi, Sanskrit and Prakrit.

There is no tradition of writing in Romany, but a rich oral tradition exists. One of the reasons for the survival of the language is its usefulness as an argot, or secret language, since the Gypsy style of life often leads to conflict with neighbouring communities. In the 20th century several eastern European countries have published poems and folktales in Romany, using their national scripts. Non-Gypsies (or Gajos) have also sometimes published in Romany.

Romani words borrowed into
English of various dialects

English seems at times to be less of a cohesive language and more of a conglomeration of words and grammatical devices whose origins, notations and usages are vastly disparate. Someone once joked that while many languages borrow words, English follows other languages down dark alleys to bash them over the head and go through their pockets for loose grammar. While, obviously, an exaggeration this sentiment is not far wrong. Due to the imperialism over time by England and America, English speakers have never had a shortage of other languages from which to borrow words for whatever purposes they deemed necessary. Thus one can find traces of many languages in English that are geographically quite far away from the native English speaking world.

The reasons words are borrowed into a language are various, and not always easily deciphered. For example, persons aware of another language, even minimally, might borrow a word if their native language did not supply a distinction they felt important. Similarly if two cultures meet and learn from each other the terminology surrounding the shared information is also often shared. There are also cases of borrowing for cultural reasons, i.e. to purposely invoke the cultural associations with the language being borrowed from whether it be for prestige (e.g. Latin words borrowed into English) or for a colloquial, slangy or "low" association (Weinreich, pp. 56-61).

For over five centuries speakers of Romani and English have been in contact. The first recorded contact between English and Romani speakers occurred in 1452 (Grant 1998, p. 165). Because of the long tradition of contact with other languages via soldiers and merchants during the imperialist stages of national development in English speaking countries, the loan words that come into English from Romani are somewhat few. Grant (1998, p. 189) says that there are "over thirty non-technical terms" borrowed into English from Romani, which implies that to his best estimates there are not many more (or else he might have said over forty, etc.). Most of these, he goes on to explain, are slang or colloquialisms that entered English from Cant which acquired them from Angloromani (Ibid.). This is indicative of attitudes of the English speakers doing the borrowing (as well as the Cant speakers) towards the Roma. Words that are borrowed for use in slangy, colloquial settings are often borrowed from languages spoken by people whom are viewed dimly by those doing the borrowing (Weinreich, p. 60). This, of course, is ignoring the technical terms borrowed as jargon in association with certain professions which Roma were and are quite prolific, such as horse trading.

There are exceptions, however, where specific dialects of English have, for various reasons, borrowed more heavily from Romani than is the average, such as the regional dialect of Berwick-upon-Tweed which will be covered more thoroughly below (Pistor). In the more common instance that a speaker's dialect has not borrowed more than the norm from Romani the English speaker is quite often entirely oblivious as to the origin of the words they use (Grant 1998, p. 169). But perhaps this is a common state with unilinguals who borrow words.

Romani has traditionally been ignored or treated as a recreational project rather than "actual" research by linguists until relatively recently. This is likely a side effect of the general populace's attitude towards Roma and their social and cultural marginalisation. Those projects done in the nineteenth century are commonly based on a very small sampling of vocabulary (Grant 1999, p. 65-67). This lack of solid research on Romani in general leads to a very minimal body of material regarding words borrowed into English from Romani. The exceptions, where Romani loan words are more common than normal, attract more interest and so the average circumstance is almost negatively defined by this odd circumlocution.

Some terms borrowed into English perhaps once carried a colloquial sense, but have lost it through common use. Grant gives a few examples of words in very common use in British English which, "carry no sense of slanginess," (1998, p. 170). He gives "cosh" (< Scottish Traveller Cant kasti < Romani kasht 'wood, tree, stick') as, "stick or tubular object, not necessarily wooden, used as an offensive weapon, (as verb) to hit someone with this instrument," and notes that this term might very well be found in an official police report. He also gives "rum" (< Romani rrom?) as meaning "strange, odd," and notes that this may have been a generalization based on the fact that the Roma seemed strange and odd to the natives upon their first meeting. He then lists three terms which are in very common use, even in America: "dad," "pal," and "lollipop." He gives "pal" (< Romani phal or phral 'brother') as "friend." The other two are not as simple. "Lollipop" is "a type of sweet consisting of boiled sugar coloured with juice and eaten on a stick," and is derived from the Romani loli phabai 'red apple'. He further notes that in a personal communication Ian F. Hancock explained that the original term was "cosh lollipop" which was a sweet red apple eaten on a stick. This is of particular interest in light of the first loan word mentioned: "cosh." The last, "dad," is theorized to have come from the Romani dad 'father', but the word's true etymology is still in doubt because it has been in use for so long (c. 1500) (Grant 1998, pp. 170-171).

Grant then goes on to mention several other terms which are "slightly more colloquial in usage," of which only a few examples will be given here. "Bar" from the Romani bar 'stone' means 'pound sterling' with both meanings found in Scottish Traveller Cant. "Cove" is given as 'person' (< Romani cova the masculine singular relative pronoun). The common "cushy" 'comfortable, easy' is theorized to have ultimately come from the Romnimos kuško 'good' via the Angloromani kušti and original military slang kushti 'all right, fine'. The author is an example of unilingual English speakers using this Romani-derived word in total oblivion to its origin. Grant notes that Ronald Lee suggested that "jalopy" 'old car or one in a state of disrepair' comes from the Romani džal opre 'it starts up' with the implication that it does little else besides (Grant 1998, p. 171).

Grant (1998, pp. 172-173) then lists some more borrowed words which are specifically linked to the underworld, crime and other such taboo things. The list contains "(to play) hooky" (< Scottish Traveller Cant hoki 'to tell lies' < Romani xoxavel 'he cheats') meaning 'to be illegally absent or truant' and "keister" (< Angloromani kister 'to ride a horse') meaning 'backside' (but included with this term is a note that this etymology is somewhat dubious) as well as various other terms for "taboo" body parts and things, violence, people and things potentially related to crime (money, pocket-book, etc.) (Ibid.).

There have been in the past, misattributions of many slang terms to Romani. This might be because the words actually originated in one of the many cultures that are often confused with Roma (e.g. Scottish and Irish Travellers, etc.) or simply amateur etymology. The KryssTal Web Site (Katsiavriades) gives "gigolo" as a Romani loan word, but provides neither a definition nor the original Romani, let alone a source. The word is a slang term for a male prostitute (Everything2), which would put it into Grant's third category, if it is, indeed, a loan word. The Romani gadžo 'non-Romani man' or džungalo 'dirty or mean, nasty' (Matras) might either have been envisioned as the origin word, but this is pure speculation.

This is another example (as was dad) of a word getting so enmeshed into a language that those who speak it loose its origin except for a sense that the word is somewhat informal or in some manner doesn't belong with the majority of their vocabulary. Such occurrences often draw the eye of amateurs as did the exceptional dialect of Berwick-upon-Tweed (Pistor, pp. 231-242). The eyes attracted were those of the Berwickers themselves and manifested in various forms.

In the process of researching his PhD project, Pistor encountered several word lists compiled by amateurs in Berwick. The lists varied in goal and scope, and thus in what kind of information was provided. He found six projects done by high school students whose goal was to document Berwick slang and/or dialect (the distinction was not made in the projects). These often contained any words the students thought did not fit into Standard English. There were also three documents by interested adults entitled Some Gypsy Dialect still used in Berwick, Berwick Dialect - Most common words in everyday use, and The Berwick Dictionary. The former two are fairly small in scope (twenty five and twenty words, respectively), while the latter is much more broad, containing 105 words. As the titles illustrate, the amount and kind of information varied, making the documents less redundant.

Many of the words (204, in all) were not borrowed from Romani, but fall into one of several categories. Of the 204, seven were actually normal words in Standard English like bust 'to break' and 32 were variants of Standard English words, "easily attributable to influence from either Lowland Scots or the Northumbrian dialect," such as troosers for trousers. 45 additional words appear in Scots, southern Scottish and norther English dialects, showing a larger geographic distribution than simply Berwick (e.g. aye 'yes' and lassie 'girl') (Pistor, p. 233). Another 29 words were well-attested English slang words such as tube 'cigarette' and mortal 'very drunk' (Pistor, p. 233-234). Similarly ten were obviously Standard English words that had under gone a slight shift in meaning, but which are not so well attested and might very well be specific to Berwick. He cites, "brick 'hard' (as in: this test is really brick) and capture 'girl', 'girlfriend'." This left 39 items that might be of Romani origin (Pistor, p. 234)

The composition of the terms borrowed are those that would normally be expected in slang borrowings: words for people, body parts and functions, contempt, violence and other aggression, betrayal, etc. (Pistor, p. 234-235). Ten of the sixteen words referring to body parts referred to the head and parts thereof. Money is referenced by eight items, 'to look' by five, and positive evaluation by four, though negative evaluation far outweighs the positive at nineteen words (Pistor, pp. 234-235).

In the follow quotation S1 indicates a word was found in the students' lists only, S2 that the word was found in the adults' lists only and S1+2 that it was found in both sets (Pistor, p. 237). Notes about other references such as the Scottish National Dictionary (1931-1976) and Russell (1914-1915) are omitted as indicated by ellipsis. Refer to the original for more information. From Pistor pages 238-240:

bar 'one pound (£)' - will you lend me two bar? - S1 - (Rom. bar 'stone') - ...

bary ' nice, good, beautiful' - S1+2 - (Rom. bar-o, -i 'big') - ...

castie 'stick' - S2 - (Rom. košt/kast) - ...

chava 'man', 'child', 'boy' - S1+2 - (Rom. čavo 'boy') - ...

chi 'mind!' - that's good, chi! - S1+2 - (Rom. či 'no', also 'nothing/anything') - ...

chore 'to steal', 'thief', 'theft/raid' - he chured my pen, he's a chure, are you on the chure? - S1+2 - (Rom. čor- 'steal') - ...

coosty 'super', 'good', 'nice', 'great' - S1+2 - (Rom. kušti) - ...

cowy 'thing' - S1 - (Rom. kova) - ...

deek 'to look' - S1+2 - (Rom. dikh- 'see') - ...

fams 'hands' - S2 - (??Rom. <famble) - ...

gadgy 'man', 'person' - that old gadgie is my grandad - S1+2 - (Rom. gadž-o/i 'non-Gypsy man/woman) - ...

habbin 'food', 'bread' - S2 - (Rom. xaben 'food') - ...

jougle 'dog' - S1+2 - (Rom. džukel) - ...

keir 'house' - come to my keah, it's all over the kear - S1+2 - (Rom. kher 'house') - ...

ladged 'embarrassed' - she was ladged when she fell - S1 - (Rom. ladž 'shame') - ...

lalls 'money' - I've got nae lalls left - S1 - (?Rom. lalo 'red' or ?Rom. lil 'banknote') - ...

lowy 'money' - how much lowie have you got? - S1+2 - (Rom. love) - ...

manashy 'woman', 'girl' - S1+2 - (Rom. manuši 'woman') - ...

mang 'to look' - S2 - (Rom. mang- 'demand', 'ask' - perhaps via 'to seek'?) - ...

minge 'vagina' - S2 - (Rom. mindž) - ...

mooli 'to injure' - S2 - (Rom. mul-o/-i 'dead') - ...

mooty 'dirty' - S1+2 - (?Rom. muter 'to urinate', 'urine') - ...

moy 'mouth' - S1+2 - (Rom. muj 'mouth', 'face') - ...

muskie 'police officer' - S2 - (?Rom. moskero or ?Eng. musketeer) - ...

nash 'to leave', 'to run', 'to run away' - S1+2 - (Rom. naš- 'run', 'flee') - ...

paggered 'hit' - S2 - (Rom. pager 'to break') - ...

panny 'water', 'rain' - the panny is storming down - S1+2 - (Rom. pani 'water') - ...

peery 'foot' - S2 - (Rom. piro) - ...

peev 'alcohol' - S2 - (Rom. pi-v "I drink') - ...

sheerie 'hair' - S2 - (?Rom. šero 'head') - ...

trash 'scared' - S2 - (Rom. traš- 'to frighten') - ...

yag ' to set on fire', 'to burn oneself', 'heat', 'fire' - he's yagged that shed, I yagged myself on the cooke' S1+2 - (Rom. jag 'fire') - S2 - ...

Pistor (pp. 236-237) speculates on the possible points of entry into the Berwicker dialect that Romani used, asking the question: "In particular, was the linguistic integration of a considerable Romani-based vocabulary preceded or accompanied by a social integration of the speakers of the 'exotic' language variety?" He postulates the two most likely possible scenarios: direct contact between Berwickers and Roma or indirect contact of Berwickers with Romani (the language) via surrounding regional dialects.

Enough information is not presented to draw a decisive conclusion, but merely because information on the language of the travelling people is insufficient (Pistor, p. 237). That is, if the Berwickers had acquired their Romani-derived vocabulary indirectly from Scottish Travellers Cant a comparison of the Cant lexicon and the Berwick lexicon would show parallels. If the parallels were not present then the other case would have to be true: that the Berwickers had direct and possibly extended or frequent contact with Roma. Also weakening this possibility is the fact that only fourteen of the 39 items are known to be used in the English/Scottish dialects of the Borders. This indicates that Berwick is, indeed, an oddity as compared to other towns along the Border and that the lexical items in question cannot have been transmitted to Berwick by means of those dialect, and so must have come there by another, more direct, means.

Pistor mentions Kirk Yetholm, about 35 km southwest of Berwick, as a possible source of the Romani words indicated to him by "a number" of Berwickers and a few obscure references in older writings (Pistor, p. 236). This view is further validified by mention of Yetholm by George Borrow in Romano Lavo-Lil: Word book of the Romany or, English Gypsy language. Other writings mention Yetholm as a center of Romani activity as early as the 17th century, though the exact manner of the "settlement" remains unclear due to conflicting reports (Ibid.). All evidence agrees, though, that there were Roma in the area of Yetholm for quite some time allowing ample opportunity for language dissemination, which is reflected in the dialects of the English speakers in the surrounding areas.

Such saturation of English with Romani, even as small as the list is, is quite rare, whereas borrowing into Romani from the language of the gadže around them is much more common which is evidenced by the presence of specific grammatical rules for Athematic words (i.e. words borrowed since entering Europe) (Hancock 1995, p. 54). Words from American Vlax such as ajso 'ice cube', djuso 'orange juice', badla 'bottle', and freno 'friend' are becoming more frequent (Hancock 1995, p. 53).

There are some Roma, though, who are helping to preserve older Romani forms in lieu of neologisms based on English words. This is achieved, both passively and actively, by Roma who distrust or dislike gadže and so dislike their language or simply by virtue that some Romani who know more of the old words will marry into a dialect group where they are being lost, thus breathing life into the "true" Romani words (Hancock 1976, p. 1-3).

Gathering data about words borrowed into gadžo languages from Romani is the kind of Etymological inquiry that would help flesh out the serious linguistic study of Romani, especially if attestations could be gathered and people interviewed from more than one country and region. Until, however, projects like RomLex (Matras) progress further so that comparable glossaries of Romani are more readily available, research on loan word etymologies will be plagued by guesswork or else will be restricted to Romani linguists who are familiar with several dialects of Romani.

On the whole it can be said that, while many English speakers probably know and use words that may have originated in Romani, few are aware of it and so the terms do little to heighten awareness of linguistics in general, etymology in specific, the Romani language or Romani culture, thus proving interesting almost exclusively to those already aware of these topics.


Works Cited

Everything2. http://www.everything2.com.
The Everything Development Company. May 7, 2003.

Grant, Anthony P. "Romani words in non-standard British English and the development of Angloromani."
The Romani Elements in Non-Standard Speech. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1998.

Grant, Anthony P. "Romani in the wilderness: On the marginalisation of Romani within general linguistics in Britain and America, and some consequences of the 'Rise of the amateur'."
Grazer Linguistic Studies 51 (1999): 65-81 (acquired at: [Romani] Project. http://www-gewi. kfunigraz.ac.at/romani. Romani Project. May 7, 2003).

Hancock, Ian F. A Handbook of Vlax Romani.
Columbus: Slavica Publishers, Inc. 1995.

Hancock, Ian F. Patterns of English lexical adoption in an American dialect of Romanes.
Austin: Author, 1976.

Katsiavriades, Kryss and Talaat Qureshi. The KryssTal Web Site.
http://www.krysstal.com/borrow.html. KryssTal. May 7, 2003.

Matras, Yaron, Dieter Halwachs and Peter Bakker et al. Romlex.
http://www-gewi.kfunigraz.ac.at/romlex. Open Society Institute. May 7, 2003.

Pistor, Jutta. "Berwick-upon-Tweed: Romani words in an English dialect."
The Romani Element in Non-Standard Speech. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1998.

Weinreich, Uriel. Languages in Contact.
The Hague: Mouton, 1974.

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