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
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
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.