Romani, Romanes, Romany

The language of the Roma, the Sinti, and the Calé.

Romani and Romanes are the general names for the "language of the Roma, the Sinti, and the Calé". Romani is the only Indo-Aryan language that has been spoken exclusively in Europe since the middle ages. It is part of the phenomenon of Indic diaspora languages spoken by travelling communities of Indian origin outside of India. The name Rom or Rrom, which is the self-designation of the speakers, also surfaces in other travelling (peripatetic) communities that speak Indian languages or use an Indic-derived special vocabulary: Lom (Caucasus and Anatolia) and Dom (Near East). In India itself, groups known as Dom are castes of commercial nomads: service-providers such as metalworkers and entertainers.

Roma means all groups residing in central and eastern Europe, or respectively, those who in the 19th and 20th century emigrated from central and eastern Europe to western Europe and overseas. The term Sinti comprises those subgroups which entered the German speaking cultural area at a relatively early point in time and who for the most part live in western Europe today (Germany, France, Italy, Austria, etc.). Calé defines, among others, groups who have been living for a long time on the Iberian Peninsular (Spain, Portugal).

The name Romani is derived from an adjective: romani čhib 'Roma-tongue, Roma-language'. This definition is used in the English-speaking world as Romany and in the international linguistic context as Romani. Moreover, most definitions for new-Indian languages (eg. Hindi, Panjabi, Maharathi, and Bengali), to which the "language of the Roma, the Sinti, and the Calé" is to be related, likewise end in -i. The international name Romani thus simultaneously implies its belonging to the language family.


Proto-Romani is believed to have split from subcontinental Indo-Aryan during the transition period from Middle to New Indo-Aryan. It retains some conservative features especially in the verb inflection, but also in nominal inflection. Phonology and lexicon point to an ancient affinity with the so-called Central Indo-Aryan languages, such as Hindi. On the other hand, there are morphological and arguably some phonological parallels with the languages of the extreme Northwest, such as Kashmiri. It is therefore assumed that Proto-Romani split off from the Central branch, then underwent a shared areal development with the North-western languages, before leaving India. A similar profile is shared by Domari, the language of the Near Eastern Dom. The linguistic history of both groups thus points to successive migrations of the speaker populations, leading ultimately to their present locations.

Proto-Romani must have been spoken in Asia Minor by the eleventh or twelfth centuries. It absorbed Iranian and Armenian influences. The strongest impact however was Greek, which has made a significant contribution not only to the Romani lexicon but also to derivational and inflectional morphology and to the syntactic typology of Romani. Features such as the preposed definite article, Verb-Object word order, and the split between factual and non-factual complementisers can be attributed to Greek influence, while the emergence of prepositions, the reduction and ultimate loss of the infinitive, and the structure of relative and adverbial clauses may have been triggered already by Iranian influence.

Early Romani

Owing to the Greek impact, Early Romani as spoken in the late Byzantine period was already a member of the Balkan linguistic area or so-called Balkan Sprachbund. With the decline of the Byzantine period, Romani-speaking populations began to emigrate away from the Balkans, settling in central and in western Europe during the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. This emigration carried with it a split into dialect branches. Several morphological and phonological isoglosses emerged in all likelihood in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, splitting the Romani-speaking landscape into several groups. These internal isoglosses were accompanied by the influences of various contact languages, the most significant of those being Turkish, Romanian, Hungarian, Western Slavonic, and German. The earliest attestations of Romani are in the form of short sentences and wordlists dating from between the mid-sixteenth and mid-seventeenth centuries. These sources represent dialects from western Europe, southern Europe, and the Balkans, and their features conform rather closely to the type of dialectal variation found in Romani today.