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Varieties, Dialects, and Classification

It may seem like a contradiction to subdivide a non-territorial language such as Romani into dialects whose definition is inter alia according to territorial criteria. The fact that Romani cannot be assigned clearly defined areas of distribution within the European states - as opposed to indigenous European languages ​​such as Breton, Sorbian, Frisian, etc. on whose characteristics the general definition of "minority language" is based - does, however, not exclude territoriality as a defining criterion. The first serious classification of the varieties of Romani is indirectly based on it. After detailed analysis, Miklosich (1872) concludes that the affiliation of Roma and consequently the classification of Romani varieties

are not determined by the state, but by their nationality. This affiliation allows classification into the following thirteen groups: I. Greek [...], II. Rumunian, III. Hungarian, IV. Moravian-Bohemian, V. German, VI. Polish-Lithuanian, VII. Russian, VIII. Finnish, IX. Scandinavian, X. Italian, XI. Basque, XII. English-Scottish, XIII. Spanish. Miklosich (1872: 9)

In the light of the fact that Miklosich critically interpreted and compiled the existing data, one may conclude that from at least the 18th, but probably since the 17th century there may have been a relatively stable geographical distribution of Romani-speaking groups in Europe, and that this distribution is manifested in the contact phenomena of individual Romani varieties. Using the various loanword strata of the thirteen groups, Miklosich also succeeded in roughly reconstructing the migration routes of the individual groups.1

The classification by Gilliat-Smith (1915) also follows an implicit territorial classification. He distinguishes between the Romani dialects of northeast Bulgaria which depend on Romanian‑Wallachian loanwords in Vlax and non-Vlax varieties. Despite this [± Wallachian] dichotomy being rather inconclusive due to the negative definition of most varieties, it is still used today.

Based on this classification, non-Vlax varieties are then subdivided. The groups or subgroups "Balkan, Baltic, Carpathian" introduced by Kaufman (1979) remain of great importance to the electronic documentation of Romani to this day. They are recommended and used as elements of the ISO 639-3 code both by the Open Language Archives Community (www.language-archives.org) and as part of the Ethnologue. In this context, Romani is seen as a "macrolanguage" with seven "member languages".

type name code
member languages Romani, Balkan rmn
Romani, Baltic rml
Romani, Carpathian rmc
Romani, Kalo Finnish rmf
Romani, Sinte rmo
Romani, Vlax rmy
Romani, Welsh rmw

The code for Romani as a "macrolanguage" is relatively easy to use and implement. The problem with this classification lies in the inconsistency of definition of the individual "member languages": "Welsh" is a dialect which is most likely to be extinct, "Kalo Finnish" is an isolated variety, "Sinte" represents a major dialect or dialect cluster and "Balkan, Baltic, Carpathian, Vlax" are groups of varieties.2

Regardless of this classification into "macrolanguage" and "member languages", non-Vlax varieties are subdivided into three branches for the further development of Romani linguistics. The resulting structure includes the four dialect groups Balkan, Northern, Vlax, Central which Bakker (1999: 178) describes as "consensus branching of Romani dialects" and which also forms the basis of the dialect atlas by Boretzky/Igla (2004). Although this classification is based on diagnostic characteristics – lexical and structural archaisms or innovations – and takes account of the migration history, it remains to a certain extent intuitive and unsystematic. Only the Romani Morphosyntax Database of the Manchester Romani Project allows the systematic data based analysis necessary to divide the varieties of Romani according dialectological criteria.3

Ideally, ..., a comprehensive classification of Romani dialects should take into account both the branching of individual groups through migrations, as well as the geographical diffusion of innovations through neighbouring Romani communities. Both kinds of developments may give rise to isoglosses – the differentiating features that can be taken as a basis for dialect classification. Matras (2002: 215)

Matras's analysis roughly confirms the division into Vlax, Balkan and Central dialects, but fails to include the Northern group as it is defined almost exclusively by archaisms which are a far less important diagnostic characteristic than innovation. Primarily considering the latter and placing them in context with the history of migration, the resulting rough division into Balkan, Vlax, Central, Northeast, Northwest, British and Iberian is as follows:

Balkan dialects

Balkan dialects, also known as Balkan I, are spoken in Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Iran, Kosovo, Macedonia, Moldova, Romania, Serbia, Turkey and Ukraine. This group includes inter alia Arli Romani (Greece, Kosovo, Macedonia), Sepečides-Romani (Greece, Turkey), Ursari Romani (Moldavia, Romania) and Crimean Romani (Ukraine).4

Constitutive features:

sine 'he/she was'
ov, oj, on 'he, she' sg., 'they' pl. personal pronoun
mo, to 'my, your' possessive pronoun
akava, adava demonstrative pronoun
-in- (-iz-) loan verb marker (in the Black Sea region)
-en / kerden 'they made' 2.pers.pl.perf
ka (ma) future particle

Zis dialects

Zis dialects, also called Balkan II, are a distinct subdivision within the Balkan group. Bugurdži, Drindari and Kalajdži Romani are spoken in Macedonia, Kosovo and in northern and central Bulgaria.

Constitutive features:

zis 'day', zi 'soul'
buci 'work', cin- 'to buy'
mo, to 'my, your' possessive pronoun
-iz- loan verb marker

Map showing the Balkan dialects and the Zis dialects within

Vlax dialects

Southern Vlax dialects

Southern Vlax dialects are spoken in Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Turkey and in southern Romania. This group includes inter alia the dialects of Gurbet, Kalburdžu and Čergara.

Constitutive features:

seha/sesa 'he/she was'
vov, voj, von 'he, she' sg., 'they' pl. 3. pers personal pronoun
mənro,čo 'my, your' possessive pronoun
gava demonstrative pronoun
-isar- loan verb marker
-en/kerden 'they made' 2.pers.pl.perf
ka future particle
-em/sem 'I am' 1.pers.sg.perf
-uri/-ura plural suffixes
in/ni negation particle
a- in ašunav 'I hear' prothetic -a
buči 'work', dživeh 'day', marno 'bread', dej 'mother'

Northern Vlax Dialects

Northern Vlax dialects are spoken in Romania, Moldova, Hungary and Serbia, as well as by migrants all over the world. The dialects of the Kalderaš and Lovara are the most widely spread Mačvaja Romani, which is spoken in the USA, is also well-known.

Constitutive features:

sas 'he/she was'
vov, voj, von 'he, she' sg., 'they' pl. 3. pers personal pronoun
muro, čiro 'my, your' possessive pronoun
-isar- loan verb marker
-en/kerden 'they did' 2.pers.pl.perf
či negation particle
-em 1.pers.sg.perf
-uri/-ura plural suffixes
buči, bukji 'work', džes 'day', šavo 'child', žanav 'I know', manro, manřo 'bread', dej 'mother', khanči 'nothing'

Map showing the Vlax dialects

Central dialects

Southern Central dialects

Southern Central dialects of Romani are spoken in the former Greater Hungary, northern Slovenia, eastern Austria, Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine and in today's Hungary. These include inter alia Burgenland Romani, Vend Romani in Hungary, Prekmurje Romani in Slovenia and the Romungro dialects of Hungary and Slovakia.

Constitutive features:

sina 'he/she was'
ov, oj, on 'he, she' sg., 'they' pl. 3. pers personal pronoun
ada demonstrative pronoun
-in- loan verb marker
-al/sal 'you are' 2.pers.sg.perf
-eha/kereha 'you shall/will do' 2.pers.sg.fut
-ahi [- perfective]
di 'day', leha 'with him', maro 'bread'

Northern Central dialects

Northern Central dialects are spoken in Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Ukraine. These include East Slovak Romani or Servika and the dialect of the Polish Bergitka Roma.

Constitutive features:

ehas/has 'he/she was'; hin 'he/she is'
jov, joj, jon 'he, she' sg., 'they' pl. 3. pers personal pronoun
kada demonstrative pronoun
-in- loan verb marker
-al/sal 'you are' 2.pers.sg.perf
-eha/kereha 'you shall/will do' 2.pers.sg.fut
-as [- perfective]
leha 'with him', maro 'bread'

Map showing the Central dialects

Northern dialects

Northeastern dialects

Northeastern dialects are spoken in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. These include the varieties of Polska Romani, North Russian or Xaladitka Romani Latvian Lotfitka Romani and Lithuanian dialects.

Constitutive features:

isys 'he/she was'
jov, joj/jej, jone 'he, she' sg., 'they' pl. 3. pers personal pronoun
Adava, dava demonstrative pronoun
-in- loan verb marker
-e/kerde 'you did' 2.pers.pl.perf
-a/kerdja 'he/she did' 3.pers.sg.perf
- ine / kerdine 'they did' 3 .pers.pl.perf
pšal 'brother', maro 'bread'

Northwestern dialects

Northwestern dialects are mainly spoken in Belgium, Germany, France, Finland, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria and Sweden. This group includes inter alia varieties of the Sinti Manuš cluster in Germany, France and neighbouring countries and regions, as well as the Romani of the Kaale in Finland and Sweden.

Constitutive features:

his 'he/she was', hom 'I am', ho 'what' Sinti only
jov/job, joj, jon 'he, she' sg., 'they' pl. 3. pers personal pronoun
kava demonstrative pronoun
-av-/-ar- loan verb marker
-al/sal 'you are' 2.pers.sg.perf
leha 'with him', maro 'bread', dīves 'day'

The group also includes the northwestern Skandoromani in Sweden, Norway and probably Resande living in Denmark, known pejoratively as Tatars. This is a so-called Para-Romani variety. In contrast to the inflectional varieties of Romani, Para-Romani varieties are ethnolects of the respective majority language with primarily lexical elements from Romani. After the shift to the majority language and partial linguistic assimilation, such an ethnolect functions as a linguistic factor for identity, but also as a secret code which is incomprehensible to outsiders. Speakers of such an ethnolect often see it as their "Romani language".

Map showing the Northern dialects

Dialect groups and dialects with independent development

Dialect groups and dialects with independent development include the Romani variety of the Gopti, Hrvati, Dolenjski or Istriani Roma resident in Slovenia5 and southern Italian dialects Abruzzian and Calabrian Romani. The latter are early splits from the Balkan group. It also includes the varieties Romano and Zargari spoken in Iran.

British dialects

British dialects of which Welsh Romani as described by Sampson (1926) is the best known, but is by now probably extinct, are included in the different varieties of Anglo-Romani. It is a Para-Romani which is seen as their Romani by its users who describe themselves as Gypsies.6

Iberian dialects

Iberian dialects of Romani are also only preserved in Para-Romani varieties: in addition to the Basque variety of Errumantxela, Castilian and Catalan ethnolects still exist today and are collectively known as Caló.

Summarising this list results in the following division, neglecting only Dolenjski Romani of all dialects mentioned above:

Groups / dialects or varieties / (Para-Romani Varieties) / DIALECT CLUSTER

1. ^ For details see Matras (2002: 218f.)

2. ^ Despite these apparent shortcomings, which become even more obvious in light of the currently used classification, the ISO 639-3 codes of the "member languages" are not negligible as they represent the generally accepted standard of definition of Romani and its varieties. Within the ROMLEX project, the lexical documentation of varieties of Romani, the problem was solved by extending the ISO code with a fourth letter. For example, the Vlax varieties Gurbet, Kalderaš and Lovara Romani have the codes [rmyg], [rmyk], and [rmyl], Arlije and Bugurdži as Balkan varieties [rmna] and [rmnb] and Burgenland-Romani is defined as a Carpathian variety with the code [rmcb]. The last example illustrates the problem with this approach: Burgenland-Romani is a south-central variety, whereas the definition of Carpathian by Kaufman covers only the north-central varieties. This distinction between north-central and south-central will be discussed further below.

3. ^ Information about the Romani Morphosyntax Database can be found on the website of the Manchester Romani Project

4. ^ The information on the individual dialects refers to the original distribution areas which are roughly determined by Miklosich's classification of contact languages. Recent migrations are not taken into account. For example, Arli speakers are today found in almost all western European countries and beyond (USA, Australia, etc.). The same applies to the other dialect groups. The characteristics of each group listed below follow Matras's descriptions on the website of the Manchester Romani Project

5. ^ See also Cech (2007).

6. ^ See also Matras (2010).