Aspects of the early history of Romani.
Author: Zoller, Claus Peter
Pub Date: 01/01/2010
Publication: Name: Acta Orientalia Publisher: Hermes Academic Publishing Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 Hermes Academic Publishing ISSN: 0001-6438
Issue: Date: Annual, 2010 Source Volume: 71
Accession Number: 300544840
Full Text: 14 Compound building

There is the Romani adjective sernango 'bare-headed' which is a compound consisting of sero 'head' and nango 'naked'. There are also the following compounds with first element a body part followed by a qualifying adjective: kasuko 'deaf' probably built with kan 'ear' and suko 'dry', and punrango 'barefoot' which is built with punro 'foot, leg', a side-form of pinro 'ditto', plus again nango. These words look like loan formations after a Dardic model, compare Indus Kohistani sis-lut and Phalura sisa-luto both 'bare-headed' (second element < OIA *lutta/luttha 'defective' [11076]; also in Shina luto, Burushaski loto 'barhauptig, entblosst, schamlos'). Nominal head-modifier constructions with the adjective following the noun are quite common for instance in Indus Kohistani.

15 The -do Suffix

We have already come across this suffix above in section 4 in Romani basaldo 'musician', Rom.T. basado 'violinist' and in Indus Kohistani gildo 'singer', and I have pointed out that Rom.S. ghildo 'fest, party' must formerly have had the same meaning. The second element -do derives < OIA dadhati 'places, lays on, gives, seizes' (6145) but with the meaning 'produce/belt out/perform a song'. The ending has nothing to do with the homophonous Romani participle as claimed by Boretzky and Igla (1994:411)--compare e.g. mardo 'beaten'--with the agent nouns here under discussion. There are at least two more Romani words with the same suffix: lurdo 'soldier' is an agent noun connected with lurel 'to rob' which is < OIA *luttati 'plunders' (11078), and kheldo 'player' which is also an agent noun connected with khelel 'to play, dance' which derives < OIA *khel-/khell- 'play' (3918).

16 The conjunct verb del

In Romani one finds a number of verbal expressions consisting of a noun and the verb del. It seems so that in some of these expressions del goes back to OIA dadhati 'places, lays on, gives, seizes' (6145) while in other cases it goes back to the very similar OIA dadati 'gives' (6141). In any case it is not always clear whether a conjunct verb has been inherited or borrowed in the north-west. Yet, a north-western influence seems highly probable in case of several of the following expressions:

kandel 'to obey' is probably a conjunct verb built with kan 'ear', cf. Hindi kan dena 'to listen' and Kalasha ko karik 'to listen to, to obey' (with karik < OIA karoti 'does' [2814]).

xanrudel 'to scratch, scrape' is probably a conjunct verb with first element < OIA kandu- 'itching, the itch' (2688) and has a parallel in Indus Kohistani kan diy[??]v 'to scratch (o.s.), itch'.

dei chik or cikdel 'to sneeze' has usually NIA parallels with the verb directly derived from the noun chikka- 'sneeze' (5032) as in Hindi chikna. However, conjunct formations are again found in Dardic as in Gauro chigi gho 'to sneeze' with the verb deriving < OIA ghatate 'is busy with' (4407).

cucidel 'to breastfeed' with the noun deriving < OIA *cuccu-'female breast, nipple' (4855) has a direct parallel in Kalasha cucu dek 'to breastfeed' (cf. Hindi dudh pilana).

cumi-del 'to kiss' has conjunct verb parallels e.g. in Hindi cumban karna 'to kiss' and in Bangani khubi denn[??] 'to kiss' (lit. 'to give a kiss').

boldel 'to turn, return, bring back' is a conjunct verb as Talos' reconstruction [*bol[??]l2 'rotates tr' shows. I agree with him that bol-derives < OIA valati, valate 'turns, turns to, speeds towards' (11405), but his claim that the Romani form actually derives < the weak form ulyate is phonologically difficult and would be without parallel. There is another parallel in Indus Kohistani b[??]l kar[??]v 'to swing (on a swing)' (with kar[??]v < OIA karoti 'does' [2814]) and in Burushaski bili man'--'schaukeln', balbalan 'herunterrollen' etc.

brisind del 'it rains' has a parallel in Indus Kohistani [??]z diy[??]v 'to rain' (but with first element < OIA abhra--'rain') and in Kalasha basik dyek 'to rain'--cf. the differently formed Hindi baris hoti hai, barsna.

late-del (Sinti) 'to kick' is a conjunct formation with first component deriving < OIA *latta--'foot, kick' (10931); it has a parallel in Indus Kohistani [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] 'to kick' and probably also in Bangani l[??]tti denn[??] 'to clear off, push off'. Less close is Hindi latti marna 'to kick' or even latiyana 'ditto'.

sol del 'to whistle' (discussed above in section 4) has exact parallels in Indus Kohistani sur-suri diy[??]v, Shina suruki d--and Bangani ser denn[??] all 'to whistle', but also in Hindi siti dena 'to whistle'.

jiv del (Rom.T.) 'it is snowing' (with first word < OIA hima--'cold, frost, snow' [14096]) can be compared with Kalasha kirik dyek 'to snow' (with first word < OIA kiri--'scattering, heap' [3175]) and also with Indus Kohistani hiu ring[??]v 'to snow' (lit. 'snow be attached') but hardly with Hindi barf parna 'to snow' (lit. 'snow to fall').

17 Mythology


Regarding Romani kakaraska 'magpie', discussed above in section 9, Iversen writes: "Mention may be made of the fact that for the older "travellers" this bird played a special part, as it was a prophetic bird from which they took auguries. A similar superstition is also found among English Gipsies..." However, this must not be something specific to Roma traditions since the magpie has been regarded in Germanic mythology as a messenger of the gods or of the goddess of death Hel (see Wolfgang Epple). Moreover, since the word designates different birds we cannot know whether the Roma word previously also referred to the magpie. It is therefore difficult to say when and where the Roma adopted this mythologem.


According to Hermann Berger (1985: 793), there is a being in Roma mythology called Hagrin which is a "Damonische[s] Wesen in Gestalt eines gelblichen Stachelschweins von 1/2 m Lange und 1 Spanne Breite. H. qualt Tiere im Schlaf, besonders solche, die gerade geworfen haben, indem er sich ihnen auf den Rucken setzt und seinen Urin daran herabfliessen lasst, wodurch eiternde Geschwure entstehen" (my rendering: The Hagrin is a demonic being in the shape of a porcupine with a length of 1/2 m and a breadth of 1 span. H. afflicts sleeping animals, especially those which have just delivered, by sitting on their back and by having its urine running down over them, through which purulent abscesses develop). A parallel is found in Shina and Burushaski hargin 'Drache, Ungeheuer, ensteht aus einer gewohnlichen Schlange, wenn sie gross und alt wird' ('dragon, monster, evolves from an ordinary snake when it becomes big and old'). The description of the Hagrin also resembles strikingly what Karl Jettmar (1975: 285) says about a constrictor in the Hindukush: "Ferner horen wir von einer Riesenschlange mit goldener Mahne, Hargin genannt ..." ('In addition do we hear of a constrictor with golden mane and called Hargin'). Unfortunately Jettmar does not tell us more about this strange creature, but not only do both beings have basically the same name, but the porcupine is of yellowish colour which corresponds with the golden mane of the constrictor. It is thus likely that the ancestors of the Roma acquainted themselves with this myhological being in the northwest of South Asia.


The data presented in this article provide ample support for some important theses of Turner which have been quoted above in section 1: Romani belongs originally to the inner branch of Indo-Aryan; the speakers of early Romani left their original home (probably located somewhere in the Ganges valley) before the time of the Ashoka inscriptions; after leaving their original home the speakers of early Romani came in contact with speakers of Indo-Aryan languages in the north-west of the subcontinent, that is with speakers of Dardic, Nuristani and, perhaps, West Pahari. (50) This contact must have continued over several hundred years before the Roma left South Asia. (51) There have been different views whether or not the languages of the north-west left clear-cut traces in Romani. As pointed out above, Turner was sure that some northwestern words were borrowed into early Romani. Matras, however, is sceptical and finds that the "... lexical evidence remains marginal and largely inconclusive. Noteworthy is the fact that there are hardly any phonological innovations that are shared with the North-western languages..." (2002: 47). However, elsewhere (52) Matras admits north-western influence, and as an example he refers to the Romani pronominal suffixes (as in the Romani past-tense forms kerdjo-m 'I did', kerdja-s 'he/she did' etc.). The geographical extent of languages with pronominal suffixes, however, does not coincide with my postulated north-western branch. The north-western branch comprises Nuristani, Dardic and West Pahari whereas pronominal suffixes are found in Kashmiri, Shina, Lahnda, Sindhi, Poguli and some dialects of Panjabi. In other words, it is likely that early Romani adapted this pattern in the north-west, but it is not a pattern characteristic of the northwestern branch of Indo-Aryan. Note also that although early Romani has been in long contact with languages in the north-west there are only few traces of depalatalization--that is phonetically e.g. the change of [t[??]] to [ts]--even though depalatalization is widespread and old in that area. However, there are some Nuristan, Dard and West Pahari languages where depalatalization is not found. Thus we may assume that in the first millennium AD this process was less comprehensive than it is today. There is no doubt that the strongest influence on early Romani came through contact with languages of the north-western branch, and the influence is found on all levels of grammar. In addition, there are even a few traces of mythologems originally located in the north-west.


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Claus Peter Zoller

University of Oslo

(1) The structuring of these subgroups is discussed in section 2.

(2) The presentation of the language names follows the system found in R. L. Turner's A Comparative Dictionary, of the Indo-Aryan Languages. There are, however, additional languages not found in Turner for which I have used simplified transliterations. For the varieties of Romani I have used own abbreviations. All language names, their linguistic affiliations and the abbreviations are found at the end of the article before the bibliographical references. Note also that if a word is said by me to be found, e.g. in Norwegian Romani this does not exclude the possibility that it may also be found in other varieties.

(3) Throughout this article I use the notion '(languages of the) north-west' for the geographical area of the mountainous tract between the Yamuna valley in the south-east and eastern Afghanistan in the north-west. This covers the linguistic area of West Pahari, Dardic and Nuristani. The notion 'west' I use for the catchment area of the Indus River.

(4) For instance Masica holds this view, see Masica 1991: 460.

(5) In a paper from 1919 Grierson gave up his former idea that Romani is related to the language of the Doms of Bihar, however, only to make another untenable claim, namely to locate their home in the Dard languages area (see Turner 1927: 4).

(6) Under every topic Turner also discusses various problematic cases. Only some of them are taken up here in case they are seen as relevant for my arguments.

(7) Dumaki has also a retroflex s, but this is only found in borrowings from surrounding Dardic and Burushaski.

(8) I think that Turner is here not completely right. At least sometimes this process went like this: dirghah > *drirghah > drigha (see Zoller forthcoming).

(9) Many more examples, also involving borrowed words, are found in Boretzky 2005.

(10) Note that Turner is not concerned here with the issue of inner and outer branch. However, his notion of Central group resembles that of the inner branch.

(11) I have cautiously standardized the many different transliterations and transcriptions used in the various quoted sources. Care should be taken that in Romani transcription the sound j is an approximant, whereas the same letter is a palatal voiced affricate in languages spoken in South Asia; the Romani sibilant g is equal to the Indo-Aryan sibilant s, Romani c corresponds to Indo-Aryan c, whereas c corresponds to c and c.

(12) Figures in parentheses refer to entries in Turner's Comparative Dictionary of the Indo-Aryan Languages.

(13) The word with this verbal ending is again discussed below in section 16.

(14) Discussed again below in section 15.

(15) The -.s- is an allophone of -s-.

(16) On the closely related Rom. Syr. silda 'cold, unhappy' see below in this section.

(17) The word is discussed again below in section 8.

(18) The typical European Romani word is silalo icy, frozen'.

(19) chumut rarely also 'beautiful girl'.

(20) It is very likely that the inner (or central) languages exerted a heavy influence on the Pahari languages and large parts of the north-western languages. Influence in the other direction was certainly much less pervasive. Thus, as long as there are no clear markers identifying a word as belonging to the north-west, the following examples having such parallels can be either borrowings from the central area into the north-west or they belong to a common heritage.

(21) The lemma is also found in Sinhalese. But Sinhalese (including Maldivian) cannot simply be allocated to the outer languages. For the time being the question has to remain open.

(22) See Siegmund Andreas Wolf Grosses Worterbuch der Zigeuner-sprache.

(23) The similarity between the Dumaki and the Domari words was already noted by Lorimer.

(24) A probably older form is found in Rom.T. kahnji 'hen'.

(25) According to Gerard Fussman this is an onomatopoetic form (see 1972, entry 36).

(26) The reference to Lumsden is found in Morgenstierne 1954: 154.

(27) On this variety of German see

(28) According to Iversen (1944: 10) this is "... the secret idiom of the Westgothian pedlars ("knallarna") ..."

(29) According to Iversen (ibid.) it is an "... idiom used by the "nasare", a sort of pedlars corresponding to the German Hausierer ..."

(30) This is, according to Iversen (1944: 9), "... the idiom of the Swedish chimney sweepers."

(31) of course this did not include Domari.

(32) Bhatise. Turner mentions only Rom.Wel. kakh and Rom.G. kak.

(33) Kalasha.

(34) Indus Kohistani.

(35) Kalasha with meaning 'multi-stranded bunch (of beads)'.

(36) Phalura and Kalasha.

(37) Jaunsari. Regarding the ending in chomut cf. Satlaj Group joth 'moon' which is discussed above in section 5.

(38) Khowar. See comments in section 4.

(39) Pasai.

(40) Maiya. See Fussman 1972, entry 19, but aspiration is not confirmed in Zoller 2005.

(41) Parachi.

(42) Bhatise.

(43) Shina.

(44) Dameli and meaning 'bird', thus < related OIA paksin- 'bird' (7636).

(45) West Pahari Rambani with meaning 'birds' and thus going back to OIA *paksirupa- 'bird' (7637).

(46) Kalasha.

(47) Kalasha.

(48) See copper.en.xml

(49) On seli 'bran' and Rom.G. seli 'bran' see above section 4 where I have suggested an effect of epenthesis.

(50) It is self-evident to presume that in the second half of the first millennium the differences between the Dard languages and the varieties of West Pahari were less developed than they are now.

(51) It goes without saying that these linguistic matters say nothing about the ethnic, social, cultural etc. features of the speakers. It is thus also impossible to say whether the speakers of Romani at the time of their leaving the subcontinent were the progeny of those who left their original home. Such questions are anyway not part of this article.

(52) Matras-Rmni_ELL.pdf (second page) and Matras 2009:11-3ff.

<                  historically deriving from
>                  historically developing into
[left arrow]       borrowed from
IIr                Indo-Iranian
MIA                Middle Indo-Aryan
NIA                New Indo-Aryan
OIA                Old Indo-Aryan
PIE                Proto Indo-European

Variants of Romani

Note that the following list of abbreviations is only meant as an
approximation; mostly it does not refer to variants known under
specific names.

Rom.               Romani
Rom.Arm.           Armenian Romani
Rom.As.            Asian Romani
Rom.Burg           Burgenland Romani
Rom. Dol.          Dolenskji Romani
Rom.Eur.           European Romani
Rom.F.             Finnish Romani
Rom.G.             Greek Romani
Rom.Germ.          German Romani
Rom.H.             Hungarian Romani
Rom.Lov.           Lovari Romani
Rom.N.             Norwegian Romani
Rom.Pers.          Persian Romani
Rom.S.             Swedish Romani
Rom.Sp.            Spanish Romani
Rom.Syr.           Syrian Romani
Rom.T.             Transylvanian Romani
Rom.Wel.           Welsh Romani
Rom.Zak.           Zakopane Romani

Lesser known languages and their affiliations

Ashkun             Nuristani
Bangani            West Pahari
Bashgali           Nuristani
Bashkarik          Dardic
Bauri              West Pahari
Bhadrawahi         West Pahari
Bhalesi            West Pahari
Brokskad           Dardic
Chilis             Dardic
Chitkuli           Western Himalayish (Tibeto-Burman)
Dameli             mixed Nuristani and Dardic
Deogari            West Pahari
Dogri              transitional between W. Pahari and Panjabi
Dumaki             Central Indo-Aryan
Gambiri            Nuristani
Gari               Western Himalayish (Tibeto-Burman)
Gauro              a variety of Indus Kohistani
Gawar-Bati         Dardic
Indus Kohistani    Dardic
Inner Siraji       West Pahari
Ishkashmi          Iranian
Jaunsari           West Pahari

Kalasha            Dardic
Kanashi            Western Himalayish (Tibeto-Burman)
Kannauri           Western Himalayish (Tibeto-Burman)
Kashmiri           transitional between West Pahari and Dardic
Kati               Nuristani
Khasdhari          a variety of Bangani
Khashi             West Pahari
Khashali           West Pahari
Khetrani           Outer Indo-Aryan
Khowar             Dardic
Koci               West Pahari
Kotgarhi           West Pahari
Kului              West Pahari
Maiya              old designation for Indus Kohistani
Ningalami          Dardic
Pangwali           West Pahari
Parachi            Iranian
Pasai              Dardic
Phalura            Dardic
Poguli             West Pahari
Prasun             Nuristani
Roshani            Iranian
Rudhari            West Pahari
Sainji             West Pahari
Sarikoli           Iranian
Satlaj             Group West Pahari
Savi               Dardic
Satoti             a variety of Indus Kohistani
Shina              Dardic
Shughni            Iranian
Shumashti          Dardic
Torwali            Dardic
Tregami            Nuristani
Waigali            Dardic
Wakhi              Iranian
Wotapuri           Dardic
Yazghulami         Iranian
Yidgha-Munji       Iranian
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