An Etymological Study of the Gypsy Language
Brushing back the layers of time revealing the mysteries of the Roma’s long march west
The language of thieves, tatar, egyptian or even gibberish are just some of the slanderous labels attributed to the language of the Gypsies. The Indo-Aryan language family of the Roma, akin to Hindustani, Bengali, Punjabi, Singhi, Nepali, was a sound Europeans had never heard before. The phonetics and the timing of their arrival drew associations to the enemy Tatar and the Turks – many were accused spies. The language was banned in many corners of Europe, forbidden in the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the cost of flogging; Spain, Germany and England all took great effort to wipe out the Gypsy culture.
The Roma survived much in part because the language survived. Lacking their own homeland, the language tended to fill the gap as their singular unifying identifier: it defined them, united them and gave their wandering race something concrete to cling onto preventing them from slipping down into the great European melting pot that had absorbed all the other eastern invaders before them. Within their tight nit communities Romani stood as the designated national language while outside their domain, it became a useful tool for discreet communications, a secret language, so to speak, to both shield and protect - as demonstrated through this funny anecdote told by Romanian-Roma Ghiocel Cobzaru:
“A Gypsy boy accused
of stealing is called-in to the court house.
“Excuse me mister judge, the
father says, “the boy doesn’t understand.”
The boy replies, “tami dada” (yes, father)
The man turns back to the judge, “you heard him mister judge, the boy didn’t steal anything.”*
The Gypsy language was used as a tool of defense in an often hostile world much like Yiddish of the Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jedezmo. “It is the protective nature of Jewish and most clearly Gypsies that keeps outsiders from knowing about their own affairs that makes it difficult for the outside world to comprehend the Roma ways,” writes Walter O. Weyrauch’s in Romani Legal Traditions and Culture. *
Gypsy and the Jewish cultures have many parallels - they drastically split in
the area of literacy.......
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