Academic journal article Romani Studies

The Oldest Attestation of the Romani Language in Spain: The Aucto del Finamiento De Jacob (Sixteenth Century)

Academic journal article Romani Studies

The Oldest Attestation of the Romani Language in Spain: The Aucto del Finamiento De Jacob (Sixteenth Century)

Article excerpt

The first document of Romani language in Spain is contained in a dramatic work roughly dating from the second half of the sixteenth century. There a Gypsy couple appears using words whose Romani character is beyond doubt, although the interpretation of the phrases, where they are recorded, is rather difficult. This attestation was noted by Carlos Claveria many years ago, but has gone practically unnoticed since then, and to my knowledge no attempt at interpretation has been essayed. In this paper the concerned passages will be edited and some proposals of analysis will be presented, enough to confirm the very Romani character of the words used. If this analysis is correct, the Auto del finamiento de Jacob can be taken as one of the oldest attestations of the Romani language in the world. Although the precise dating of the work is uncertain, the copy of the codex where it appears can be confidently situated in the last third of the sixteenth century, and the dramatic works included there are dated between 1550 and 1575.

Keywords: Romani linguistics, Iberian Romani languages, Spanish Romani, history of the Romani language

1. Introduction

In an article published in 1953, Carlos Claveria noted the possible presence of Romani words in a Spanish religious play dating from the sixteenth century. Here I reproduce the brief note in which Claveria reported this finding (Claveria 1953: 76, n. 3):

Pues no me days monrón?

.........

Ojala manguen [sic] de que ...

[Some years ago, the late lamented Amado Alonso, recently deceased, drew my attention to some texts published by Rouanet, Colección de autos, farsas y coloquios del siglo XVI, Barcelona, 1901, where there are several passages spoken by Gypsies that are difficult to interpret. I quote only one, I, pp, 209-19, where a Gypsy woman seems to use words still known today in Caló:

Pues no me days monrón?

.........

Ojala manguen [sic] de que ...]

To my knowledge, this information provided by Clavería more than fifty years ago (and which is, incidentally, imprecise and incomplete, as we shall see) has until now gone unnoticed in Romani studies. Only Bernard Leblon, in his exhaustive work on the presence of the Gypsies in Spanish literature refers briefly to this source noting only that in this work a couple of Gypsies "échangent des paroles étranges" (Leblon 1982:13). This attestation is not mentioned either when the earliest documentation of Romani is quoted,2 or in studies of the Romani language in the Iberian Peninsula.3 Clavería s article does not even appear in the excellent bibliographic collection on Romani linguistics recently published by Peter Bakker and Yaron Matras (Bakker & Matras 2003).

In the following pages I will describe this very valuable document. Firstly, I will try to contextualize it - an essential task for any attempt of appraisal and interpretation - and then I will try to evaluate and interpret it. From the outset I must confess that I am not able to offer a complete explanation of the document - many things still remain unclear to me - but I hope at least to demonstrate that the Romani character of (at least some parts of) the text is beyond doubt: I also hope that this paper will stimulate other hermeneutic attempts by scholars more trained in Romani Linguistics than me. And finally, I hope to make clear that this document is the oldest attestation of Romani in Spain and one of the oldest attestation of Romani in general.4

2. The Códice de Autos Viejos and the Aucto del Finamiento de Jacob

As we saw above Claveria, who does not seem to have gone deeply into the source, gives as his bibliographical reference Louis Rouanet's work Colección de autos, farsas y coloquios del siglo XVI (Rouanet 1901). This latter book is, in fact, a complete edition - the only one existing today - of the Códice de Autos Viejos ['Codex of old plays'], also known as Colección de Autos sacramentales, Loas y Farsas del siglo XVI (anteriores a Lope de Vega) ['Collection of sacramental plays, praises and farces of the sixteenth century (prior to Lope de Vega)'], a beautiful manuscript conserved in the Biblioteca Nacional de Madrid (Ms. …

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