History of Romani Linguistics

A brief history of Romani linguistics

1542 The earliest documentation of Romani: Andrew Borde publishes a transcription of 13 sentences in Romani with an English translation, under the heading 'Egipt Speche'.
ca. 1565 Johan van Ewsum publishes a Romani wordlist with a Low German translation, under the heading 'Clene Gijpta Sprake' ('The Speech of Little Egypt')
1597 Bonaventura Vulcanius publishes a Romani wordlist with a Latin translation, under the heading 'De Nubianis erronibus, quos Itali Cingaros appellant, eorumque lingua' ('On the language of those called Cingari by the Italians, who are mistakenly thought to be Nubians').
1668 Evliya Çelebi, the Ottoman explorer, includes a chapter on Gypsies in his travel book Seyahat Name, with language samples. It is the earliest documentation of Balkan Romani.
1691 Job Ludolf publishes a Romani wordlist.
1727 The Waldheim Glossary, documenting lexicon collected at an orphanage in central Germany (Saxony), contains Romani words, which are separated from the 'Cant' words in the list, and are tagged 'Gypsy language'.
ca. 1750 A Spanish-Romani vocabulary is published in Catalonia by Marqués de Sentmenat; it remains the most important source on inflected Romani in the Iberian peninsula. Romani was later banned, and abandoned as an everyday language.
1755 The Rotwelsche Grammatik, published in Frankfurt, contains the first full Romani glossary, and a "Letter from a Gypsy to his wife" written in Romani (Sinti dialect) – the earliest coherent text in Romani.
1776 Jacob Bryant circulates a Romani wordlist with comparisons with Iranian languages among a number of colleagues.
1777 Johann Christian Christoph Rüdiger, professor at the German university of Halle, writes a letter to his colleague, Hartwig Bacmeister, in which he suggests that Romani (= 'The Gypsy language') is affiliated to the languages of India. Rüdiger had based his findings on clues provided by Bacmeister and by his teacher Christian Büttner, but also on his own research, carried out with the help of a Romani speaker, Barbara Makelin, and drawing on published grammars of Hindustani. The discovery is given wide circulation among a group of colleagues.
1782 Rüdiger publishes his ideas in an article entitled "On the Indic language and origin of the Gypsies". In it he compares the grammatical structures of Romani with those of Hindustani. Based on the Sinti dialect, it is the first grammatical outline of any Romani variety, and the first systematic comparison of Romani with another Indo-Aryan language. Click here for a translation of part of Rüdiger's article. See also Matras's discussion of Rüdiger's article.
1783 Heinrich Grellmann publishes a 'Dissertation on the Gypsies', containing a chapter on language, largely plagiarised from Rüdiger. He makes an intense marketing effort, however, and to this very day he is still considered by some to have been the true discoverer of the Indian origin of the Gypsies.
1787 The Sulz Gypsy List is published in Germany, based on interrogations of the Hannikel gang. It contains wordlists and phrases in both the 'Gypsy language' (Romani), and in what it calls 'Thieves' jargon' (Cant), consistently separating the two.
ca. 1805 Ulrich Seetzen collects the first wordlist on Domari, an Indo-Aryan language of the Middle East, in the vicinity of Nablus (later published by August Pott in his 1844 book and in a subsequent article in 1846, as well as by Fr. Kruse, in an edited version of Seetzen's diaries, in 1854).
1836 The Gospels are translated into Romani for the first time, based on one of the Sinti dialects. The manuscript was completed in Friedrichslohra but was not published until 1911, when it appeared, edited by R. Finck, with Theodor Urban publishers in Striegau, carrying the title Paramisa - Amare Raieskr Jezu Christi Duk te meripen ('The story of the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ').
1844-1845 August Pott publishes a first historical-comparative grammar of Romani varieties and a comparative dictionary, drawing on several dozen published sources. Pott points to the likely affiliation with the Indian caste of the Ḍōmba.
1872-1880 Franz Miklosich publishes an original survey of Romani dialects, with a discussion of origins, migration routes, an historical-comparative grammar, and a lexicon. Based on the heavy Greek component shared by the dialects, he names a 'Greek-speaking area' as the 'European homeland of the Gypsies'.
1875 M. de Goeje suggests that the Roma had been camp-followers, providing services to military populations, and that they reached Europe together with retreating armies. The book became more widely know in the version published in 1903.
1888 The 'Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society' is formed, providing a forum for scholarly discussion on Gypsies and on the Romani language. The journal continues, with interruptions, until 1999, when it is re-named 'Romani Studies'.
1907-1908 In separate works, N. Finck and K. Patkanoff describe the speech of the Caucasian and Armenian Poša or Lom, a form of Armenian with an Indic-derived vocabulary.
1909-1913 In a series of articles in the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society, R. Stewart Macalister describes Domari, the Indic language of the Nawar or Dom metalworkers of Jerusalem.
1914-1915 Bernard Gilliat-Smith, in a series of articles in the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society, describes the Romani dialects of northern Bulgaria, and introduces the classification 'Vlax' vs. 'non-Vlax'.
1926 John Sampson publishes 'The dialect of the Gypsies of Wales', a monumental historical grammar and lexicon, describing a variety that has since become extinct.
1926 Ralph Turner publishes an article in the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society on 'The position of Romani in Indo-Aryan', arguing on the basis of detailed historical comparisons with other Indic languages that Romani emerged in central India, then migrated to the northwest.
1927- In the Soviet Union, Romani is recognised as one of numerous ethnic languages. Romani schools are opened, and teaching materials in Romani are published, along with numerous translations of both political and literary texts, including a Romani translation of Pushkin. A selection of Romani texts from this era is displayed on the web by the rombiblio project.
1936- 'Race hygienist' Robert Ritter and his associate Eva Justin, who on behalf of the Nazi state investigate the Gypsies' alleged genetic pre-disposition to criminality, attempt to learn Romani in order to facilitate access to the community. Contrary to post-war popular narratives, however, they are not assisted by any professional linguists. Siegmund A. Wolf, to whom they turn for lessons, refuses to cooperate, and is later harassed by the authorities.
1943 The only known case of a linguist specialising in Romani who cooperated with the Nazi regime is that of the Austrian Johann Knobloch (who after the war became influential within the academic community as professor of linguistics at Bonn university). Knobloch was recruited as a PhD student by the SS's 'Ahnenerbe' organisation to record the speech of Gypsies held at Lackenbach concentration camp in Austria. The assumption of the SS had been that, isolated from 'foreign elements', the speech of so-called 'pure-blooded' Gypsies would regain its 'Aryan purity'. Parts of Knobloch's dissertation on the speech of the Burgenland Roma were published as a book in 1953.
1963 Olof Gjerdman and Erik Ljungberg publish a grammar and dictionary based on the speech of Johan Dimitri Taikon, a Swedish Kelderash Rom. The book is widely cited, contributing to the prominence of the Kelderash dialect in scholarly discussions of Romani.
1963-1969 Kiril Kostov, Jan Kochanowski, and Donald Kenrick complete the first modern PhD dissertations in Romani linguistics; Kostov and Kenrick write about the Romani dialects of Bulgaria, Kochanowski on dialect classification and text comparison, with special attention to Baltic Romani.
1963-1969 Jan Kochanowski and Ian Hancock are the first students of Romani origin to be trained in linguistics. Some of their earliest publications appear in the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society.
1970 The Iranianist Gernot Windfuhr publishes an article in the journal Anthropological Linguistics, describing a Romani dialect that is spoken in the village of Zargar, in Iranian Azerbaijan. The dialect shows traces of Greek and Slavic influences and is clearly related to the Balkan dialects of Romani, a first and so far isolated indication of an eastward migration of Roma.
1971 At the World Romani Congress, an international meeting of activists and intellectuals representing Romani interests, a working group is formed to consider the standardisation and unification of Romani and the formation of a literary language.
1979 Ian Hancock guest-edits a special issue of the International Journal for the Sociology of Language devoted to 'Romani sociolinguistics', the first modern edited collection on Romani linguistics.
1980 The first normative Romani grammar is published in the then Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia by Krume Kepeski and Šaip Jusuf, based on a manuscript that had already been in circulation for a decade. The grammar is based on a combination of the Arli and Džambazi dialects.
1986 Norbert Boretzky publishes his first article on Romani – a sketch of the Gurbet dialect of Priština – launching two decades of research devoted to the dialects of the language.
1986 A conference on 'Romani language and culture' takes place in Sarajevo, bringing together for the first time international scholars with an interest in Romani descriptive linguistics and standardisation.
1990 The first academic degree programme in Romani Studies (including language and linguistics) is launched by Milena Hübschmannová at the Charles University in Prague.
1990 The Heinschink Collection is stored at the Phonogram Archive of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna. The largest collection of its kind, it contains over 650 hours of audio documentation of Romani speech and songs, recorded over a period of more than three decades by Mozes F. Heinschink all over Europe.
1991 Peter Bakker & Marcel Cortiade co-edit a collection of papers devoted to Para-Romani – the use of Romani vocabulary in a non-Romani grammatical framework.
1992 The constitution of the Republic of Macedonia recognises Romani as one of several minority languages in the country. A standardisation conference is held, attended by Romani representatives, government representatives, and linguists. Romani is recognised officially as a minority language also in Finland and Austria.
Feb 1993 The Council of Europe calls for support of the Romani language, including research and training in translation (Parliamentary Assembly Resolution 1203).
May 1993 The First International Conference on Romani Linguistics takes place in Hamburg. Proceedings are published in 1995 as 'Romani in contact', edited by Y. Matras, with John Benjamins Publishing Co., Amsterdam. Subsequent conferences take place in Amsterdam (1994), Prague (1996), Manchester (1998), Sofia (2000), Graz (2002), Prague (2006), and St. Petersburg (2008).
Autumn 1993 The 'Romani-Projekt' – an academic and applied research project in Romani linguistics – is launched at Graz University, Austria, under the direction of Dieter W. Halwachs, with government support. One of the project's principal area of activities is the codification and revitalisation of Roman, the Romani variety of the Burgenland district, which had almost become extinct. The language is now part of the school curriculum, and is used in two magazines, in numerous other publications, as well in computer games.
1993-2003 A decade of intense activities in Romani linguistics: numerous publications, teaching of Romani linguistics at more than twenty universities, and support for research on Romani linguistics by national research councils in Germany, Austria, the United Kingdom, Finland, and other countries.
2003 A modern Bibliography of Romani Linguistics is published by Peter Bakker & Yaron Matras. Covering a century of scholarly work on Romani, it names over 2,500 titles of books and articles.
Jan 2006 Manchester Romani Project launches the Romani Linguistics Site
2007 The Council of Europe prepares a European Language Curriculum Framework for Romani, in collaboration with linguists, teachers and community activists, for implementation in schools across the continent.