Vol 1 No 3 Fall/Winter 2000

Learning Domari - Unit 2

Compiled by Dr. Donald Kenrick

Do these people I know speak Domari? (2)

In Egypt there are three dialects spoken by Gypsy-like clans: Domari, European Romani and a variety of Arabic which some people call Sim. The majority of people called 'Ghajar' by Egyptians do not speak Domari but Sim using many words which are not known to the Egyptians. A better clan name to use for them would be Helebi.

Examples of these words are:

mebradish or masaqiash cold
mishwashesh tent
shamala hand
sanwa dog

These words are suggested to see if particular Gypsies are in fact Helebi. Sim is still considered to be a secret language and attempts to learn the vocabulary may be misunderstood.

How to learn Domari

This course is not designed for you to study all the units and then go out speaking fluent Domari. Like the sister course Learn Romani it is to be used alongside work with a Domari 'informant.'

I suggest you start each session by speaking Domari for as long as possible, using your existing knowledge. After formal greetings, ask about health, discuss the weather. Then use some of the words (below). Then move on to new work. Get sentences, short accounts of what your informant did yesterday or will do later today. Compare these with the grammar in the lessons. If something does not correspond to the lessons, the Domari speaker is right. This may be because of dialect differences, older people preserving old traditional (historical) forms, younger people changing the language, or something that will be made clear in a later unit. Then tell him/her what you are doing or did. Note any corrections. Build up your own dictionary with each word illustrated by a sentence if possible.

A note on pronunciation

The units do not generally point out long and short vowels (or indeed medium length vowels), or the 'neutral' vowel - as the second vowel in English 'father'. This is partly because of the difficulty of sending this information clearly for those of you who are receiving the units by e-mail system without accents; just as underlining and bold letters disappear. But you can work out a way for yourself where length is important for understanding: a long vowel as -aa- for example. Also you can mark the stress with what the French call an acute accent. (accent aigu).


Masculine and feminine

Those learners who have studied French, German or Spanish will not be surprised to find that every object (not just a person) is treated grammatically as if it was either masculine or feminine. Think of le pain and la pomme.

This does not mean that Dom or French speakers think, for example, that 'bread' is masculine and 'water' feminine. We could divide words into say group A and group B but there is an established convention in language teaching to use the terms 'masculine' and 'feminine'. Masculine and feminine nouns referring to objects do affect other words in the sentence in the same way as do the words for male or female persons.

Group A (masculine) nouns end in -a, -o or a consonant

Group B (feminine) nouns usually end in -i or a consonant.

Some dialects also have a traditional (historical) neuter gender ending in a consonant

Look at the examples below.



kadja non-Dom (compare Romany 'Gorgio') kadji non-Dom woman
zaro boy kuri house
manus man    

Adjectives (describing words) end in -a for the masculine and -i for the feminine



kushtota zaro little boy kushtoti lafti little girl

Stress on the-o-


A common way of forming the plural is by changing the endings -o or -a to -e or adding -e to a noun ending in -i.

For example kadja becomes kajje, kadji becomes kadjie, zaro becomes zare, and lafti beomes laftie.

Endings (case endings ) for the noun

Nouns have endings where often English uses a preposition before the noun.

For example 'in (a) village' becomes 'village-in'

First you need to learn the forms a noun takes when it is the object of an action.

Most nouns ending in -a and -o add -s
Most nouns ending in a consonant add -as*

* This 'a' is very short and should be pronounced as the 'er' in father.

Exceptions will be listed in a later unit

Nouns ending in -i add -a

Examples of the changes when a noun is the object of an action:













These changes should always be made when the noun is a person or animal. They can be ignored for the present by the beginner when the noun is a thing. More on this in a later unit.

But when we add the so-called case endings they are normally added to this object (accusative) form.

In this unit we only look in detail at one case ending -ma (in, with an instrument).

kuri is 'house'

I saw the house can be:

dakardom kuri
dakardom kuri-a

But 'in the house' has the ending 'ma' added to the form 'kuri-a'
kuri-a-ma means 'in the house'
kuri-a-man-ma means 'in our house' (also kuri-a-min-ma)

Note the usage: Dom-as-ma or Domariy-as-ma = in the Domari language


The past tense of verbs

First revise the endings of the verb in the present in Unit 1 (nanami etc). Make sure you know them by heart.

Many verbs form the past by adding -d- to the stem (basic form) of the present and then a set of endings which are not the same as those used in the present. You will see they are the same as those of 'stom' given in Unit 1 ('I am' or in some dialects 'I was').

nandom I brought   nanden we brought
nandor you brought   nandes you* brought
nanda he brought   nande they brought
nandi she brought      

* more than one person

You must learn thoroughly the verb endings for the present and the past

chahada or shahada - he said*

Many words which traditionally (historically) have 'ch' change this to 'sh' where the language of the majority population is Arabic.
So 'chona' or 'shona' - another word for 'a boy'

You will also hear
nandos - he (she) brought
nandend - (or nanded -) they brought
before a pronoun object (see below)

If a verb has a pronoun object (me, you, him etc) this is added at the end of the verb

nanandi-san - they bring them
nandend-san - they brought them
laherdos-san - he saw (found) them

Revise the endings (possessive pronouns) in Unit 1. These are used for pronoun objects


nam-um - my name
laherdos-um - he saw (found) me

Irregular past tenses

gara - he went (also minda)
ara - he came

A sad tale

Before you go on to more grammar, look at this story. It is one of several published in the Gypsy Lore Society Journal by Robert Macalister, one of the few Europeans who have studied Domari language. Some of the stories are original Dom tales, others are translations of a story told in Arabic.

Garen ama u bai-om u zaro, pitr-om.
Garen Haurin-i-ta.
Siten pand-as-ma
Ara uhu qautar
parda zar-es.
Roren ame, ama u dai-us
dfin-kerden-is zares.
u manden-is
Siten de-as-ma.
Are qaut-e, parde kiyek-man u nasre.

We went, I and my wife and a boy, my son
We went to Haurin
We slept on/in the road
This hyena came
he took the boy.
We cried, I and his mother.,
We went.
we buried him, the boy
and we left him.
We slept in the village.
Thieves came, they took our things and ran away.

Try this story on your Dom contacts and note anything they say about any differences in their dialect.

Notes on the story:
Do not confuse 'bai' (= djar 'wife') with 'boi' (father)
dfin-kerden literally ' we did burial.'
There are many phrases with ker- (do,make) and a noun
we cried (past) ror-en
we cry (present) ruw-ani

Haurin-i-ta. To Haurin
-ta meaning 'to' is used in the same way as -ma

With regard to the second -i- , I am grateful to Yaron Matras for pointing out in his article (see below) that with place names, the final vowel is repeated - stressed - to give the equivalent of the accusative (object) form before an addition such as -ta or -ma.
So we find Amman-a-ma (in Amman)

The case endings

We give here the endings of the noun. At this stage use the list for reference. They will be dealt with in future units.

Object/accusative(see above) -s,-a

The endings below are normally added after -s or -a

-ma in, with (a thing)
-ta to
-ki from,of
-kara towards
-sanni with (together with a person)

Some words to learn for food and eating

ana egg
ata flour
bokal hungry
chiri, shuri knife
drak grapes
gir butter
kir milk (sometimes = cheese)
kirwi coffee (also qahwa, qahve* - from Arabic)
lon salt
mana bread
mashi fish
masi meat
pani water (also me)
pirum I drank
piyami I drink
shay tea

* ahwe in Jerusalem. If your native language is French you will need to consciously put a glottal stop (see pronunciation guide in Unit 1) at the beginning. ?ahwe.
In general any word borrowed from Arabic will be in the pronunciation of the local dialect.

In this unit, and indeed in later units, I am making use of the analysis of grammar in Matras' article "The state of Present-Day Domari in Jerusalem" in Mediterranean Language Review (Wiesbaden) 11 (1999). This reflects changes in the language over the years and also gives a more detailed analysis than did Macalister. I have however simplifed some of the explanations for the benefit of the learner with little previous experience of studying languages or of linguistic terminology.

Keep the vocabulary and sentences you are collecting rolling in. Although I have no intention of writing a study of the dialects of Domari, it would be helpful to know where these come from - country and name of the clan (Dom, Gorbat etc) and the age of the informant.

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