A Sociolinguistic Perspective on Roma Group Names in Transylvania

By Urech, Evelyne; Van Den Heuvel, Wilco | Romani Studies, December 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

A Sociolinguistic Perspective on Roma Group Names in Transylvania


Urech, Evelyne, Van Den Heuvel, Wilco, Romani Studies


This article focuses on one aspect of a sociolinguistic survey which was done between summer 2007 and summer 2009 by SIL International in collaboration with Manchester University. The article evaluates data compiled from over 130 interviews with different Romani speakers from all over Transylvania. The aspect considered here is the relationship between group names and different dialects of Romani. Both the endonyms (how Roma groups designate themselves) and exonyms (how members from other Roma groups refer to them) are considered. As one of our main findings, we describe a clear correlation between present-day language varieties and two common group names, Corturari 'Tent Roma' and Romungri 'Hungarian Roma', which reflects a major division of Romani speakers into groups that have been travelling around and those groups that have been settled for a longer period of time.

Keywords: dialects, dialectology, endonyms, ethnonyms, exonyms, group names, Romania, Transylvania

A note on spelling

Group names will be given in the plural form throughout the article. For all group names based on Romanian words, the Romanian spelling is used (e.g. Cäldärari, Bätest, Läutari). Group names based on words from languages other than Romanian (but which are used as well when speaking Romanian) are dealt with analogously (e.g. Lovari, Calaposi, Cantale). For Romani words, and any other group names, the usual academic transliteration is used (e.g. kast, roma vlaxika, Cerhari, Burgudzi).

Table 1 lists the equivalent of several sounds in different writing systems. Strict phonetic notation (IPA) and the official orthography for Romani dialects spoken in Romania are not used in this article but rendered here for the ease of use for readers more familiar with one of these transliteration systems.

1. Introduction

1.1. Background

The research presented in this article forms only a part of a broader, ongoing survey of Romani dialects and the sociolinguistic situation of Roma in Romania. The project stands under the aegis of SIL International and is carried out by a team of researchers affiliated with this organisation.1 Part of the research tools and valuable feedback was provided by Yaron Matras of Manchester University, who was also involved in planning the survey. Field work was divided into two periods: a period of pilot testing done in the Mureç County in May and June 2007; and a phase of extensive data-gathering all over Transylvania between July 2007 and June 2009. Survey team members visited 111 Roma communities, collecting 135 short word lists, 21 longer word lists, and conducting 131 sociolinguistic interviews, through the medium of Romanian or, in a few cases, Hungarian.

This article addresses one specific aspect of the survey, i.e., Roma group names. A thorough report of the full survey will be published in the SIL International electronic survey report series (http://www.sil.org/SILESR/).

1.2. Methodology

1.2.1. Research tools

The survey draws on the following research tools.

1.2.1.1 Word lists

Two word lists were used in order to identify local language varieties of Romani. One of them comprises of 32 words and short phrases, containing some of the key diagnostic features of Romani dialect variation. The initial version of this list was provided by Yaron Matras from Manchester University and has been slightly elaborated by the survey team in the course of the research. Respondents were asked to translate the 32 items from either Romanian or Hungarian into their variety of Romani. All the answers were electronically recorded and transcribed on paper on the spot using the IPA notation. Later, recordings were listened to again to check for things we might have missed. The use of this short word list enabled us to efficiently classify local varieties of Romani, while also minimising any hesitancy of respondents to participate in the survey as it was not too time-consuming. …

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