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Let’s „pROMise“ to preserve Romanes

A language in its spoken and written form is a huge part of what makes up our social and cultural identity. The language of the Roma people, known as „Romanes“ or „Romani chib“, is at risk of extinction. Find out what the project "pROMise" is doing to help preserve the language. 

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Promise Logo - Preserving the Romanes language project

Although they do not have their own state, Roma are citizens of almost all the countries in the world. In that sense preservation of their language, known as „Romanes“ or „Romani chib“, has never been an easy task. In a world that is rapidly changing and digitalising, this language is facing serious danger to be forgotten or even lost forever. Especially if we take into account that by taking words from other languages Romanes has, already, suffered a great loss.  

There are countless of reasons why “The Romanes” or “Romani chib” must be preserved. From the linguistic point of view, as analysis confirmed, it is an ancient language which belongs to the Indian branch of languages and is closely connected to the languages spoken in northern India and Pakistan. This means it is a valuable source for socio-linguists, which can help us understand integration and cohesion of Roma communities. But far more important, and possibly the most important reason to preserve it, is the fact that this language is the only living identity of the Roma in the whole world. Now it is facing the danger of extinction. 

Thirty three thousand words, 17 dialects and 60 sub-dialects

If we talk about facts, we can say that Romanes has about 33,000 words which represent a good basis for its modernization and final standardization. Challenge lies in its dialects. Today, the dialects in the Romanes are very different (there are 17 main dialects and around 60 sub-dialects) and they are becoming more and more different, because Roma people are embracing words from the languages of the people with whom they are living. Sadly, many of the Roma people today do not speak the Romanes or the new dialects.

Let’s talk about facts and figures

During our research in the frame of the small strategic partnership „pROMise“, we conducted a survey which included 737 Roma and 249 experts in the partner countries, Germany, North Macedonia, Greece, Italy, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania from December 2018 until June 2019. Tis enabled us to find out what is the opinion of the 249 experts in different fields (Ministry of culture, Ministry of Education, Employee of the Cabinet of the State President, school teachers etc.) regarding the status of the Romanes and their attitude towards it. In this sense, now we know that:

  • 56 percent of the questioned experts speak Romanes;
  • More than 10 different dialects are spoken among experts;
  • 11 percent of them do not know which dialect they speak;
  • 84 percent learned it at home.
  • The majority of 86 percent speak Romanes at home.

However, 100 percent of the questioned experts consider Romanes an important part of the Roma’s cultural identity. All of them agree that it is important to preserve Romanes for coming generations and as a possible way to do this they suggested:

  • Teaching it in Primary Schools (74 percent);
  • Publishing stories for children in Romanes (67 percent);
  • Producing a Romanes primer (62 percent);
  • Publishing stories for adults in Romanes (58 percent); and
  • 97 percent of the experts expressed their readiness to contribute to projects with which Romanes would be preserved and used for education measures.

When it comes to the surveyed Roma, we found out that:

  • 79 percent of them speak Romanes;
  • More than 15 dialects are spoken by the involved Roma;
  • 23 percent of them do not know which dialect they speak;
  • 78 percent learned the language at home; and
  • 67 percent speak Romanes at home with their family.

And 96 percent of them consider that Romanes is an important part of their cultural identity, as well as 84 percent of them would teach their children to speak their language.

When it comes to preservation of the Romanes, views of the Roma (93 percent) are very similar to the one we got from the questioned experts. They say that it is of great importance to preserve the language for future generations. As possible ways they stated:

  • Teaching it in Primary School (63 percent);
  • Publishing stories for children in Romanes (44 percent);
  • Producing a Romanes primer (34 percent); and
  • Publishing stories for adults in Romanes (32 percent).

Since language is the most important system of communication, identity, socializing and cultural integration, it is of utmost importance to encourage Roma to return to their language and cultural tradition if they wish to preserve their identity. In this sense it would be reasonable and important to include Romanes in adult education measures and life long learning offers. On our path of achieving this goal, we created two projects which are dealing with Romanes. “Sasas jekhvar jek” is related to Roma fairytales. In the end, fairy tales are a relevant part of the cultural identity of Roma and they will be used for intercultural and cross-generational learning and for improving basic skills. On the other hand, in “Proud” we are exploring how and in which way an online platform would be a reasonable tool for both preserving Romanes as part of the Roma’s cultural identity and for enabling them to participate in lifelong learning.  

So, let us try to preserve Romanes and let that be our „pROMise“.

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About the author:

Ronald Schönknecht - Jugendstil e. V.
Ronald Schönknecht is one of the founder of JugendStil e.V. which was fonded in 2002. After his vocational training, he studied social sciences and worked as a streetworker and later as the manager of a not-for-profit education provider. JugendStil e. V. originally mainly delivered youth projects. From 2007, the focus shifted to projects benefitting the Roma communities. Since 2007 he is coordinating the European network "Mentoren der Vielfalt Europas" (Mentors of the Diversity of Europe) which currently has 33 member organisations from 15 countries.  Ronald Schönknecht has more than 20 years experience in managing projects funded by the European Union.

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