The status of Romani

Numbers and distribution

There are no reliable figures about the number of speakers of Romani, either in Europe or in other continents (to which speakers have migrated primarily since the late nineteenth century). The most conservative estimate would suggest that there are upwards of 3.5 million speakers in Europe, and upwards of 500,000 in the rest of the world. The actual number may be much higher. This makes Romani the second-largest minority language (after Catalan) in the European Union since its enlargement in May 2004, with the prospect of becoming the largest minority language once Romania and Bulgaria join. The largest speaker populations are found in southeastern Europe, especially in Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Macedonia, and Serbia and Montenegro, as well as in Greece, Slovakia, Moldavia, and Hungary. Sizeable Romani-speaking populations exist in most other countries of central and eastern Europe. Romani communities that settled in the westernmost ‘fringe’ countries, such as Portugal and Spain, the United Kingdom, and the Scandinavian countries (with the exception of Finland), some 5-6 centuries ago, have abandoned Romani and have adopted the majority language (albeit retaining some Romani vocabulary in group-internal conversation). Speaker communities in these regions consist predominantly of later immigrants from central or eastern Europe.