Vol 1 No 2 Spring/Summer 2000

Learning Domari - Unit 1

Compiled by Dr. Donald Kenrick

Domari is the language spoken by the Dom of the Middle East. It has several dialects and no standard written form. This course is based mainly on the articles by Macalister and material collected by Marielle Danbakli in Syria. Learners are invited to contribute words and sentences from their Dom contacts for future lessons.

Do these people I know speak Domari?

Not all commercial nomads in the Middle East speak Domari and not everyone who speaks Domari calls himself/herself Dom!

Arabs may call the Dom by various names such as Nawwar, Zutt or Ghajar. These may be considered pejorative and should be avoided.

Before preceding with the course, check that the people you are working with do speak Domari. The following list of parts of the body can be used to check. They were in fact collected from a man who called himself a Ghorbat rather than a Dom, but they are similar to those in word lists taken from Dom. Many of these words are similar to European Romani.

ear kan
elbow anshk
eye aky
finger ankl
hand xasht
head ser
knee lurk
lip usht
mouth zawr
nail nathi
neck kark
nose nak
tongue (also language) jib
tooth dand

Guide to Pronunciation

There is no standard way of writing Domari. This section is to help you read the words and phrases in this course.

ch as in English church
sh as in English ship
j as the s sound in English treasure
dj as the j or dg in English judge
r rolled as in the North of England or Scotland
x as the ch sound in Scottish loch or in German doch
g g is always hard as in 'got' (never as in 'gem')
s s as in 'sit' (never as in 'raise')

Stress on a particular syllable will be noted enclosed in parentheses following the word.

In Arabic loan words the following sounds occur.

H Arabic ha. - a whispered h. Try whispering Hallo Harry
gh Arabic ghain - a gargling sound similar to Parisian French r. It is a voiced equivalent of x
' Arabic 'ain. Made by tightening the throat before a vowel
? Arabic alef. A glottal stop as in Cockney wa'er (water)

To hear the difficult sounds ask your Dom or Arab friends to pronounce these Arabic words.
haddad ironworker
lugha language
'ayn eye
?ana I

Loans from Arabic may also have emphatic sounds d k s t. Sounds in Turkish will be looked at when we get Dom dialect material from Turkey. Loans from Persian (Farsi) should not cause any problem.

The present tense of 'to be'

In Domari dialects spoken in Arab lands the word for "am," "are" and so on is usually omitted.

Ama Hasan - I am Hasan (literally I - Hasan)
AHmed bokal - AHmed (is) hungry

This is normal in Arabic (and indeed in Hebrew and Russian)

The present tense of other verbs (for actions taking place now)

All verbs have the same endings except 'to be' (when expressed) which we deal with later.

We take as an example the verb 'bring'

I bring nan-ami
you bring nan-eki
he brings\she brings nan-ari
we bring nan-ani
you bring (plural)* nan-asi
they bring nan-andi

Most verbs follow this pattern. The words for I, you etc., are often left out (as in the above table) as the ending shows who is doing the action.

Example sentences:

djami - I go, I am going
na djami - I am not going
piyeki qahwa - you are drinking coffee, (as a question) do you drink coffee? = do you want coffee
ara - yes
hai? - no
bas (Arabic) - no

If possible do not refuse hospitality if you want to have good relations with the Dom. Vegetarians will need to be very tactful.

The (definite article)

Translation of 'a' and 'the' will be dealt with in a later lesson. For the moment they can be ignored.


In Arabic speaking lands Muslim greetings in Arabic are commonly used.

I, you, etc (pronouns)

I ama
you atu
he panji
she panji
we ame
you* atmen
they panjan
You may also hear 'urin' instead of 'panjan'


The verb 'homi' (I become) which may be found in some dialects follows the same pattern as 'nanami' with a vowel, change o>e in the 'you' forms.

homi, hweki, hori, honi, hwesi, hondi

to be

The present tense of to be is traditionally as follows:

I am stom
you are stor
he is sta
she is sti
we are sten
you are* stes
they are ste

* to more than one person

We also find 'astom' and 'shtum'

BUT some dialects replace 'stom' etcetera by the forms of 'homi' (see above) and then use 'stom' etcetera for the past tense! This has some advantages as you will find out.

Because this verb is often left out, it may take you some time to find out the usage in the dialect of your informants.

my, your, our (possessive pronouns)

These are shown by putting an ending after the noun (This is different from European Romani).

my -m
your -r
his, her -s
our -man OR -ma
your (plural *) -ran
their -san
* belonging to more than one person

The following table gives an example of the possessive form of "name" and "language".

my name nam- um
your name nam- ur
his/her name nam-us
our language jbu-ma

Sometimes -is instead of -us is added for 'his' and 'hers', for example, qandis - his whip.

More on this in a later lesson

Useful vocabulary for conversation

Male learners should ask about male members of the informant's family (and female learners about female members of the family). You can also practice conversation by showing photos of your family and talking about them.

beyn - sister
baar - brother (a long 'a'' as in English 'father')
babu - father
dadi - mother
djar - wife
mans - husband
kamruz - girl, daughter
lafti - girl, sister
mam - cousin
boy - zaro

You may also hear 'boi' (father), 'dai' (mother) and 'bai'(wife)

haa baarum - this is my brother
keetur mans-ur? - Where is your husband?
na djami - I don't know.
baare sta - (he) is outside.

The numbers

1 yek
2 di
3 tirin
4 ishtar
5 pench
6 shesh
7 hoft
8 haysht or haytek (pronounced as 'high-tech')
9 nu
10 dez

The numbers may vary a bit from group to group but they will have similar forms to those given
More numbers in future lessons. The numbers 1-6 identify the language as Domari.

(We are working together to build up a practical course in modern Domari.

Donald Kenrick, February 13, 2000)

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