Academic journal article Romani Studies

'Gypsy' Groups in Eastern Europe: Ethnonyms vs. Professionyms

Academic journal article Romani Studies

'Gypsy' Groups in Eastern Europe: Ethnonyms vs. Professionyms

Article excerpt

Two types of ethnonym - endonyms (used within a community itself) and exonyms (used by other Gypsy groups and the macro-society) - correlate in complex ways. We concentrate on cases characteristic of the Balkans and the Gypsy groups who migrated from there in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Among these groups, ethnonyms are formed on the basis of the economic activities characteristic for a given Gypsy group (so-called professionyms), for instance Kalajdzi, Demirdzi, Kelderari, and Kosnicari/Sepetci. We analyse the different ways in which endonyms and exonyms function. In doing so we show the emergence and decline of specific group appellations and how particular Gypsy groups are distinguished from others through the clear expression of group ethnonyms.

Keywords: Gypsies, Roma, groups, ethnonyms, endonyms, professionyms, Romani, dialects

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Who are the 'Gypsies' in Eastern Europe?

It is necessary to start by specifying terms. We do not use the word 'Gypsies' as it is used in the English-speaking world (scholarly work included)1 to signify nomad communities, which is to say a community or communities as defined by their way of life, regardless of their ethnic origins and identity. For us, Gypsies are definitely not communities characterised exclusively by their way of life. We use the word 'Gypsies' with reference to the way it is used across Eastern Europe: as the name of a clearly defined and distinctive ethnic community, an 'inter-group ethnic formation' (Marushiakova and Popov 1997: 47-8), known in various countries by similar names (Cigáni, Cikáni, Cyganie, Cigonai, Cigani, Cigany, Tigani, ..., etc.), whose ancestors migrated from the Indian subcontinent to Europe more than a millennium ago. Their ethnic identity2 (on the level of community) is in most cases that of the Roma. However, together with this, as a manifestation of the phenomenon of preferred ethnic identity (Marushiakova 2008: 476-8), some of them have the identity of Turks, Bulgarians, Serbs, Albanians, Romanians, Hungarians, Ukrainians, etc.

We are aware that the name used in English ('Gypsies') is not quite accurate in our case, but we are using it because of the lack of another umbrella term that more adequately reflects the unity of this heterogeneous community. So our usage of the word Gypsies coincides with the Gypsy II as described by Matras (Matras 2004: 55-6).

A s stated above, a clear idea of the so-called Gypsies (Cigáni, Cikáni, etc.) as a separate, clearly defined ethnic community with common origins has existed for centuries in the public discourse of the entire region. This is to say that everyone in Eastern Europe knows 'who they are'. Therefore, problems in this respect can arise only from the identification of certain individuals, outside the social environment in which they were born and bred, but not in regard to the community on the whole. In Eastern Europe the 'Gypsies' are solely considered in primordial terms, within an ethnic discourse (as with any other ethnic community). In other words, one is born a 'Tigan', one cannot become one, and one remains a 'Tigan' for life (the same as one's ancestors), regardless of lifestyle, education, profession, social status, etc., and identity (whether real or publicly declared).

I n the general social and political context of Eastern Europe, 'Gypsies', as any other nation in the region, can be considered as an 'imagined community' (Anderson 1991). However, unlike other nations, the Gypsy nation has been imagined not by its own members, but by the rest of the population that have been living alongside them for centuries. Thus it turns out, somewhat paradoxically, that the boundaries of this community (in the sense used by Barth 1969) are determined not in fact by its members, but by the surrounding populations, regardless of the self-perception of the 'Gypsies' and their identity (or at least the identity they would like to demonstrate in public). …

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