ROMANI ALPHABETS

ROMANI ALPHABET

 

A nation as Roma, who has live a nomadic life and always excluded by other nations, has managed to preserve its language with great success. Romani language was the only wealth Roma possessed and the only language they could communicate with each other that no one else could understand. Such lifestyle of Roma did not allow them put their words on paper but very often Roma themselves did not want the language to be written, and to date there are some that refuse to do so fearing to share with the others the only wealth they have.

In the last century, when Roma started to settle in different countries and started to learn the other languages, step by step they started to write Romane as well. The first writings were such that everyone was writing in his own dialect and everyone would write with the alphabet he was thought or using the alphabet of the place where he was currently living. The only difference when Roma were writing in Romani language by using the alphabet of these countries was the diphthongs.

In every country, every Roma that used to write in his language was contributing to the preservation and affirmation of Romani language. More often Romani writers wrote with the Latin alphabet because in the Balkans and Europe this alphabet is dominating but there are also places where they wrote with Cyrillic alphabet. By this alphabet were written books in Serbia, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Russia and other places where the Slavic language is spoken. We, not wanting to underestimate nobody`s contribution in this aspect, in this chapter we will only indicate those alphabets that were and are competitor for becoming a standard alphabets for Romani writing. We are grateful to all the rest that contributed to the affirmation of Romani language.

 

ALPHABET SHAYIP YUSUF – MACEDONIA

 

We will firstly show that alphabet given by Shayip Yusuf from Macedonia which to date is used by Roma and by Roma scholars in teaching the Romani language in Macedonia.

The alphabet looks like this:

Aa, Ää, Bb, Cc, Čč, Kj-kj ( Ċċ), Dd, Gj-gj, Dž-dž , Ee, Ff, Gg, Hh, Xx, Ii, Jj, Kk, Ll, Lj-lj, Mm, Nn, Nj-nj, Oo, Pp, Rr, Ss, Šš, Tt, Uu, Vv, Zz, Žž.

As seen, this alphabet has 32 letters and by this alphabet was written the first Romani grammar and the book “We learn Romani language” in Macedonia. It is clearly seen that this alphabet by the given diphthongs given as one letter, as used in a country called Yugoslavia. What is specific about this grammar is the letter Âä, which was taken as a vowel because it “is heard” in some Romani words and this letter is read like the Albanian Ëë/ɜː.

This alphabet in 1992 was modified/revised by Shayip Yusuf himself being convinced by Viktor A. Fridman and Donald Kenrick and nowadays in Macedonia Roma use the below written revised alphabet:

Aa, Bb, Cc, Čč, Čh-čh, Dd, Dj-dj, Dž-dž , Ee, Ff, Gg, Gj-gj, Hh, Xx, Ii, Jj, Kk, Kh-kh, Ll, Lj-lj, Mm, Nn, Nj-nj, Oo, Pp, Ph-ph, Rr, Ss, Šš, Tt, Th-th, Uu, Vv, Zz, Žž.

As we may see in this modified alphabet there are 34 letters and there is some novelty from the first alphabet. It is clearly seen that A. Fridman and Donald Kenrick have influenced that Shaip Yusuf to change his mind for some letters and to adapt it in today`s form.

It is very important to mention that the diphthongs kh, ph, th, qh, that were taken from the revised alphabet cannot be found at the first given alphabet, and here we may see that even though Shayip Yusuf knew about these diphthongs he did not include them on the first alphabet whereas has included the non-Roma diphthongs. Even though this alphabet was given as the alphabet to be used by all Roma from former Yugoslavia, this was not applied to date. Shayip Yusuf, who was the first to write the Romani Grammar, has given his opinion by saying that “Arli dialect must be taken as the base for the standard Romani language”. We will no longer speak about this alphabet as we saw that Shayip Yusuf has changed his mind very quickly as in above shown example as well as about other alphabets that we will further discuss about. Despite all, a great respect to Shayip Yusuf as the first person who by his alphabet has written the first Romani grammar by stating his personal opinion.

 

 

 

MARCEL COURTHIADE ALPHABET

 

Now let us talk a little about another alphabet having the greatest popularity as by Romani leaders as well as by the countries where Roma live, although this alphabet as well did not reach the presumed success. It is about the alphabet given by Mr. Marcel Courthiade from France. This alphabet was published in the book “ROMANI PHONETICS” (Titograd 1986) and the book by Marcel Courthiade “Romano Startoro”/“Romani ABC book” was based on this alphabet and was distributed to many Eurpoean contries. This alphabet looks like this:

Aa, Bb, Cc, Ćć, ĆH-ćh, Dd, Ee, Ëë, Ff, Gg, Hh, Xx, Ii, Jj, Kk, Kh-kh, Ll, Mm, Nn, Oo, Pp, Ph-ph-, Rr, Ss, Śś,Tt, Th-th, Uu, Vv, Yy, Zz, Źź, Ʒ ʒ (Dz), Ǯǯ (Dž).

We could not spell the last two letters as proposed by Marcel, as they are specific symbols that cannot be found nor in a typewriter neither in computer keyboard but we have shown their spelling as given by Marcel, that are pronounced as in Serbian language.

Except these letters, other specifics were given as well which indicate how shall they be read in in spelling, those specifics are: 8 = t, n8 = nd, ҫ = s, nҫ = nc, q = k, nq = ng, thay shtar preyotime vokalya : ă = ja, ŏ = jo, ĭ = ji, ŭ = ju, ĕ = je.

As seen this alphabet has 34 + 6 + 5= 45 letters.

This alphabet was announced by the International Romani Union (IRU) as the Standard Romani language alphabet under the Resolution 7/1990 at the fourth IRU Congress (07.04.1990) in Warsaw. This Resolution was supported by 17 former most eminent Romani linguists and people who delt with the Romani issues Worldwide.

The famous motto of the alphabet was: “Every Roma will speak the same, and every Roma will read at his dialect”. This motto caused the alphabet to be massively supported by Roma thinking that this is what Roma need.

We in Prizren (Kosova), even after the book was published, even when this alphabet was “approved” as a standard alphabet, were against it and still today remained with the same opinion. Since then we said that an alphabet cannot be standardized in such way and by this alphabet Romani language cannot be standardized as Marcel thought it may be.

After a while, even the linguists who supported the alphabet at the fourth IRU Congress, started to use another alphabets seeing that the approved alphabet was difficult for spelling and was far from the reality and from that what was said. By this, the reviewer of the book Shayip Yusuf, who was present at the Congress and supported the alphabet, revised his alphabet along with two other people in 1992, as told above.

This alphabet today is only used by Marcel Courthiade at the University in France and by Romanian Roma led by Dr.Georghe Sarau, who is a linguist and can speak Romani but is not Roma himself. Georghe Sarau, who works at the Ministry of Education in Romania, after the approved Resolution in Warsaw, initiated a great action for teaching the Romani language in Romania. Many books were written using this alphabet, and even if Roma did not support this alphabet he was insisting to work with this alphabet as in elementary schools as well as at University.

 

ALPHABET RAJKO DJURIC

 

The alphabet used by Dr. Rajko Djuric is the same that of Shayip Yusuf and is the alphabet used in former Yugoslavia and today is known as Serbian alphabet written with Latin letters.

 

PRIZREN ALPHABET (SELAHETIN KRUEZI)

 

Now we will tell more about another alphabet which is thought to be the best and the easiest for the spelling in Romani language. This is the alphabet that we use in this book.

Our alphabet known as Prizren alphabet has a great history and therefore we will start telling since her first usage.

Prizren is known with Romani activities and it is known that for the first time was established the first Romani Association “Durmish Aslano” by Romani intellectuals in 1972. This was the first Association leading many activities and leaving its traces to other Romani Association of Former Yugoslavia. With the establishment of this Association, now the doors were open for Roma to write their works in Romani language as well. After the establishment of the Association Prof. Ibrahim Elshani, has issued the first Romani bulletin in Prizren known as ”Romano Alav” and ins this bulletin he gave the first Romani alphabet, him being its author. This alphabet was printed in “Romano Alav” in 1972 in its first number and continued to be used as given, although only capital letters were presented:

A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, Y, J, K, L, LL, N, O, P, Ch, R, S, Sh, T, Ou, V, Z, U (Ü), Zh.

On the second number of “Romano Alav” again Ibrahim Elshani has revised the alphabet and increases the number of the letters looking to make it more international.

However, in 1992 “Ibrahim`s alphabet” (in a meeting where attended by Ibrahim Elshani, Kuytim Paqaku, Imer Karanja and Selahetin Kruezi), the alphabet was revised and was adopted the today`s alphabet printed in the bulletin “Romano Alav” in 1992 which looks as below.

Aa, Bb, Cc, Dd, Ee, Ff, Gg, Hh, Ii, Jj, Kk, Ll, Mm, Nn, Oo, Pp, Qq, Rr, Ss, Sh sh, Tt, Uu, Vv, Yy, Zz.

It was me who proposed it, and after many hours of discussion, reasoning I convinced them to adopt the current alphabet.

I was prepared very much for this alphabet because after the Prizren, Macedonian and Marcel`s alphabet was published, I did not think to deal with this issue. I thought that they will do a good job and the only thing that remains for me is to write poetries, drama, student`s book etc, through which I would help the emancipation of Roma. So I translated 51 Aesop`s fairytales thinking that Romani students must learn these stories in Romani as well. After the translation, I thought of writing a dictionary helping Roma teachers to teach the students, those that do not speak Romani, as well as Romani to be studied by Roma from other places where Roma live.

When I started to translate the fairytales, and was supposed to write them, I firstly wrote a new typewriter which then cost me one salary as teacher and started to write the fairytales with Marcel`s alphabet thinking that it is International and standard for the Romani language adopted in the fourth IRU Congress in 1990. As I started writing, I stopped as I could not find some letters given by Marcel as they were not in the typewriter keyboard. Then I started thinking about new alphabet that would enable everyone to write their works without sending them to Marcel and to be dependent on him… I still keep the typewriter and I haven’t written anything with it keeping it as a symbol that gave me the idea and served as a model in adopting the alphabet…

When I started to take Romani words from the Aesop’s fairytales, I saw that there were no much letters given by Marcel and that gave me the idea by which letters must the Romani language be spelt, because I translated the way we speak and that is how the alphabet came out. Therefore, when we set with Ibrahim Elshani to revise the alphabet, I had many arguments about the given alphabet which was printed in the bulletin “Romano Alav” in September even if we agreed some months ago.

After the last conflict in Kosovo, I was not in Kosovo and the magazine again started to be issued and now again Ibrahim Elshani and Kuytim Paqaku, prepare the “ Romano Alav” in Prizren- Kosova, with another alphabet taken form Croatian alphabet and so have shown their unfaithfulness and instability in writing. They used this writing in the 4,5,6,7 editions of “Romane Alavesko”.

During this period, while I was not in Kosovo I wrote the books “We learn to Spell and Read” and “Mathematics 1” by which I thought to open the Romani classes. I sent the material to Ibrahim Elshani to be the reviewer of my books and this books made to return the writing system as before, the same as I thought and after the 8th edition of the bulletin “Romano Alav” they again started to use this alphabet and since that day, to date, all magazines, Radio and TV, Romani language tutoring use this alphabet.

After many years, to date still this alphabet is being used in Kosovo, which makes me feel happy and proud of being the author of the alphabet. Therefore I must speak a little broader about this alphabet which was briefly introduced in “Romano Alav” but after I wrote two books, I published a small leaflet where I have expressed my opinion on how to standardize the Romani language, and by this I wanted to raise the linguists` awareness on how to standardize the language. Not having in mind to benefit, I have published the leaflet on internet in “Wikipedia” and I wanted everyone to read what I thought. Now I will tell you what I thought and why I wanted to standardize the language the way I thought.

 

Explanation

 

That Roma could write the way they speak, they must have an alphabet that would be used by all Roma, we must consider the letters by which Roma would write their stories in today`s life. We think that all Roma must write with the letters that may be found in computer keyboard, which is a common standard for everyone. Today, we live in a World that people mostly work by computers. Seeing the computer`s keyboard, we may see that there are no letters with letters with accent above or below/diacritics, therefore we thought, if we could, establish the Romani alphabet to these letters.

We know that Roma live all around the World, and we also know that there are many alphabets through which people write their stories. Therefore we must also look for our alphabet in order to know how to write and read as well as the coming generations may inherit a wealth that they may use in their life. In order to know what letters does the Romani language has, there must be written: fairytales, songs, drama, to translate literatures of different languages and to compile a dictionary of such words where we may see by which letters were written all these literature in order not to inherit some letters that are not Romani.

Having before us everything what was mentioned before, we made an investigation and came up with the following conclusions:

1.The Romani language must be written with Latin alphabet which is the international spelling alphabet in the World.

2.The Romani alphabet must have only letters that will be used to write Romani words. (Here we have considered some leters that do not belong to Romani language and we will firther write about this).

3.Romani alphabet should not hae letters with accent above or below/diactricts.

4.In Romani writing every letter must have only one sound/voice.

5.The Romani must be spelt the way it is spoken and to be spoken the way it is spelt, unchanged from the beginning to the end, with full accent without half voices. This is possible with Romani language because Romani language is melodic language and the spelling is phonetic.

In order to know how to write, we must know our alphabet then its spelling system then the Romani grammar by which we will write our language as given by God.

 

Letters

Romani alphabet has the following letters:

A a, B b, C c, D d, E e, F f, G g, H h, I i, J j, K k, L l,M m, N n, O o, P p, Q q, R r, S s, T t, U u, V v, Y y, Z z.

As you may see in Romani alphabet none of the letters has accents above or below/diactricts as in some other languages. This is the unique alphabet for all Roma around the orld and these letters may be found at everyone`s computer without looking in other places. We have decided for it because the same letters may be found in a typewriter, therefore people is not obliged to buy computers for writing their works. We want Roma to write as much as possible so that our language could prosper and not to be the slaves of others even in writing.

In order to make an easier alphabet, we made so that one letter may be heard as one voice. The only exceptions are the letters - s – and – h – who when put together give the voice - sh – which is read as in the words: shil – shudro – shov - shel etc. The same system was applied in other languages as well. These two letters are read as one voice, the same as all over the World.

We were persistent that every letter to give a single voice, but as the writing applies different method, we thought it was better to adopt such writing that is known to everyone and is known as the international letter.

In the alphabet, the diphthongs th, ph, kh, qh, were not written as one letter, because in pronunciation they are heard as two sounds, as for example: than, phen, kher, qhay, therefore must be spelt separately, like: t and h, p and h, k and h, q and h.

 

LETTERS OVERVIEW

Letters are divided in two groups:

We will name the groups internationally (Latin) so that everyone could understand.

1.Vowels/Vokalya and

2.Consonants/Konsonante

Vowels are: a, o, u, e, i.

Consonants are: b, c, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, q, r, s, t, v, y, z.

As you see, Romani language has 5 (five) vowels and 19-2 (nineteen-two) consonants.

Vowels are divided in two groups:

1.Soft vowels;

2.Hard vowels.

Soft vowels are: e, i.

Hard vowels are: a, o, u.

More about vowels we will write separately in this book. In this part of the book we will write only about the importance of the vowels – their role in Romani language.

Vowels in Romani language play an important role. They indicate which word belongs to what gender and the word of what gender comes after which vowel. For example the soft voiced vowel - I – indicates that the word wth this letter, if of feminine gender, for example: i juvli, i khani, i buzni, i gurumni etc.

As you may see the words begin and end with the lletter i. Every different spelling form is grammatically incorrect. Here we do not mean the dialect, but the grammar which is the same for all the dialects.

If the letter i is at the end of other word, that indicates, that the next word, is of feminine gender and that openly indicates that the letter i is the letter that indicates the feminine gender. For example: bari phurd, lugi len, buhli phal, sasti qhay, Diyanaki luludi, Romyaneski khani etc.

It is known that: i phurd, i len, i phal, i qhay, i luludi, i khani are of feminine gender and are referred as: akaya phurd, akaya len, akaya qhay, akaya luludi, akaya khani etc. Even the words: bari, lugi, buhli, sasti, Diyanaki, Romyaneski etc. indicate that the words coming after these words are words belonging to feminine gender.

 

VOWEL E

 

Many Roma think that the vowel e indicates the pular in Romani language, but the grammar proves something else and some Roma that use some other vowels for plural speak the grammatically correct Romani, but we will prove this when talking about other vowels and plural.

The vowel e (prefix) is put before the interrogative sentence– in declension: Kaske/to whom, kasta/from whom, kase/whom, kaski/whose, kasko/whose etc.

For example:

Whose are these flowers?

– e Diyanake (genitiv, juvlikano yeri, yekhipe). /Diyana`s (genitiv, feminine, singular)

– e Romyaneske (genitiv, murshikano yeri, yekhipe). /Romyan`s (genitiv, masculine, singular)

– e phurenge ( genitiv, mursh. thay juvlikano yeri, butipa). /elder`s ( genitiv, masculine and feminine, plural)

– e ternenge (genitiv, murshikano thay juvlikano yeri, butipa). Youth (genitiv, masculine and feminine, plural)

As you see in the first example, the reply to the first question starts with the letter – e – and ends the same with the letter- e -. This applies to the masculine and feminine gender, as well as in singular and plural. This indicates that at the beginning and at the end of the word comes the soft voiced vowel which is one group of vowels.

 

The role of hard vowels in Romani language

As told above, the hard vowels are: a, o, u.

The masculine gender in Romani language is indicated by hard voice “o”, for example: o qhavo, o Rom, o grast, o jukhol etc. because it is said: akava qhavo, akava Rom, akava grast, akava jukhol etc. as you may see, the masculine gender in Romani language starts with the hard voices vowel and the last vowel is always hard.

The plural in Romani language is always with the voice “o”, as in masculine as well as in feminine gender. For example: o mursha, o juvla, o qhaya, o daya, o romnya, o khanya, o thuda etc. here we may see that before every word comes the hard vowel - o – and the mentioned words start an end with the hard vowel.

 

Vowels between consonants

When the Romani language is spoken and written, vowels are never placed one after another. This is very important to know and by keeping this system we will speak and write the Romani language more melodically, because the language itself is melodic. We shall not lose its melody by writing or speaking incorrectly.

Romani words always have a consonant between two vowels.

Between two vowels, between other consonants are mainly found these consonants - n, y, s, sh, h, t and k.

 

The letter L

The letter L plays two roles while reading. When placed before hard vowels a, o u it is pronounced as Serbian “ L” as for example: palal, balal, telal, lolo, kalo, mulo, luno, luludi etc. but when placed before soft vowels e, i it is pronounced as Serbian lj, as for example: tele, gele, kali, loli, lil etc. there are some words that do not consist to this system, but all Roma that can speak Romani know when to distinguish and use this letter.

 

Why Q and not Ch

Many Roma to date have spelt the letter “Q” and “Ch/tʃ”, thinking that this is an easier letter because the same is spelt in English and they want it to be more international. We did not adopt is as such spelling is not compatible with Romani language system.

Firstly, we said that we are are trying to adapt a system where one letter will indicate one voice.

Secondly, in Romani language two same consonants never come one after another, and therefore we have taken Q as Ch. We will show this by examples: chhuri, chhay, chhavo, chhib etc. Here we can see that two same consonants come one after another, which is not in accordance with Romani language system. We want to use the language as given by Lord and therefore we are investigating its system.

Here you may clearly see that, if we would write these words with letter q, than we wil not face the same problem as above: qhuri, qhay, qhavo, qhib so we fulfil the language requirements. We must note that the letter Sh, the one we have adopted, never after sh comes the letter – h – therefore here we don’t have this problem.

As you see, in Romani alphabet there are 24 letters by which we may write in Romani language. We must also note that among these 24 letters, two letters C and F are not Romani (24-2=22).

The letters C & F

When writing in Romani language, some letters are spelt frequently because they are frequently found in these words, but some words are found less, whereas in some dialects are not even heard. Here we mean the letters c and f which not frequently are found in spelling.

The letter c for example is found in some words that can be replaced by the letter s which is heard in some dialects. For example: curula, cidipe, olenca, malenca etc. which may be spelt as: surula, sidipe, olensa, malensa etc. which in fact is heard in some Romani dialects.

The letter c was placed in Romani speaking when Roma interacted with other nations. Instead of it was always used and today is pronounced as s and therefore we want to keep the speaking originality and everywhere where the letter c is heard to be replaced by the letter s. by doing so we will speak Romani as Roma and not as non-Roma.

The letter f is found in other people`s language which was borrowed in Romani language. As their original Romani version is unknown, we will spell them as spelt in language from where they derive from. For example: fabrika, felyastra, folklori, fudbali etc. are not Romani word but in order to have these expressions in Romani language, we must write them as shown above. The letter f is not a Romani letter.

 

By writing as told above we will take away may other letters that are not Romani and our language will be written with 22 letters and so would be proven some scientists point of view that Roma once wrote with only 23 letters. In our alphabet the 23rd letter is sh which we have spelt with the letters s and h although we believe that our predecessors wrote it differently.

For the thesis that Roma have written with 23 letters you may further read in “Seoba Roma/Migration of Roma” by Dr. Rajko Djuric, on the page 229, where he states that: “there are some scientists like Ž.A. Dekurdemans who tells about Romani spelling with 23 letters (hieroglyphics) but its view is opposed by many scientists.”

We do not oppose it, we believe in it and we have told its reality by writing this and many other books.

 

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