A to Z challenge · Bloggers · languages

R is for … Romani

Blogging from A to Z

Theme: Languages of the World


Romani (Řomani ćhib) refers to a group of languages spoken by the Romani people. These languages belong to the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European language family and are the only Indo-Aryan languages spoken exclusively outside the Indian subcontinent. Romani should not be confused with either Romanian, or Romansh, both of which are Romance languages. The ancestor of Romani is thought to have been the language of the Roma people of central India. Linguistic data suggest that the Roma left the Indian subcontinent in the second half of the first millennium AD, passing through what is now Afghanistan, Iran, Armenia, and Turkey. The cause of the Roma emigration is unknown due to the absence of written records. What is known is that they reached the Balkan peninsula by the 14th century AD. Some Roma migrated south to North Africa and reached Europe through the Strait of Gibraltar.

The development of Romani was strongly influenced by its contact with European languages. The greatest influence came from Byzantine Greek which had an impact on Romani vocabulary, phonology and grammar.

The Roma are popularly known in English as Gypsies, a word which is derived from the word Egypt, based on the mistaken belief that they were natives of Egypt. The term was never used by the Roma to describe themselves. In Europe, Gypsies are also known as Tsiganes, Zigeuners, and Gitanos.

T’aves baxtalo – Welcome!

Fascinating facts about the Roma

During WWII in Nazi Germany and Nazi-controlled countries, the Roma were commonly persecuted for being “racially inferior” because of their traditions and beliefs. As a result, thousands of Romani people were slaughtered throughout the Soviet Union and Serbia after Germany invaded. Thousands more were then killed in concentration camps when neighbouring countries deported them. Imprisoned Roma were subjected to cruel medical experiments by the infamous Dr. Joseph Mengele and were killed in droves alongside Jewish and other minority victims. In the countries that the Nazis invaded or were allied with, Roma were frequently targeted by killing squads, and in Croatia nearly the entire Roma population of 25,000 people were murdered.

The Roma are descendants of the Dom caste in Northwestern India, who were known to be commercial nomads. Dom people were most often employed as cleaners, entertainers, metal workers, and sometimes farm workers. In modern times, the Roma have continued their legacy of living a nomadic lifestyle and do not typically settle in one area for very long, which has led to various social complications regarding the national policies of different European states.

Weddings in the Roma culture are multi-day affairs with various religious and cultural traditions blended together. In addition to church services, which usually incorporate Orthodox Greek religious and Roma cultural elements, the bride and groom participate in other practices. For example, one common ritual that is still practiced is a mock kidnapping where the groom’s family and friends will stage a break-in to the bride’s home to whisk her away to the ceremony. The groom will also then negotiate what is called a bride price, in a symbolic gesture to an old practice. Finally, the couple is crowned and the celebration begins. Marriages are often arranged by the parents and the wedded pair are usually just teenagers when they exchange their vows.

Roma live in bands of traveling communities known as kumpanias*, which are typically made up of 30 to 40 families that all share one primary profession or skill-set. These groups move from place to place for primarily economic reasons. Currently, there are approximately nine recognised kumpanias, although about one third of Roma have declared that they do not officially affiliate themselves permanently with one group or another. The decrease in their nomadic lifestyle habits can likely be attributed to restrictions that were placed on kumpanias based in communist countries like the Soviet Union, which frequently prohibited them from moving between areas.


*Update* “kumpania” (“kompaniya”) is a Russian word that means a group of friends. The Rom word for their travelling bands is “tabor,” and among themselves, they do note a distinction between “tabor Rom” and “city Rom.”

Thanks to koolkosherkitchen for the correction 🙂

Thanks for reading 🙂