Vol 1 No 5 Fall/Winter 2001

What is Domari?

by Donald Kenrick

We have already printed three lessons of Domari, the language of the Gypsies of the Middle East. There have been several enquiries about the connection between Domari and Romani, the language of the European Gypsies. In this issue we publish some notes from Dr Donald Kenrick in reply to these questions. The lessons will resume in our next issue with lesson 4.

What sort of a language is Domari?
Domari is a language of Indian origin. The grammar, sounds and vocabulary are similar to Indian languages such as Punjabi and Rajasthani. It is clear that the speakers of Domari emigrated from India.

What is the link between Romani and Domari?
There are two distinct theories. Traditionally it has been asserted that Domari and Romani are the same language. According to scholars of the Gypsy Lore Society this is what happened. The ancestors of the Nawwar and the Romanies of Europe left Indian at the same time speaking the same language. Some of them stayed in Persia and the Middle East. The language was affected by Persian (Farsi) and Armenian in particular.

Early in the twentieth century the compiler of a comprehensive grammar and dictionary of the Gypsies of Wales - John Sampson - had a simple explanation for the arrival of the Romanies in Europe. This was based on a comparison of the phonetics of Romani and Indian languages. According to Sampson, a company of the caste known as Dom left India, and spent some time in Persia and the borders of the Mediterranean.

The D of Dom is a variety of ‘d’ pronounced with the tongue turned upwards typical of Indian languages). Many Dom settled in the Midle East and are known as Dom to this day. Others of the company then moved in to Armenia. Again some settled and these are known as Lom - the initial D of their name changing to L under the influence of Armenian. The rest moved into Europe where the D became R (still with tongue turned up!) and later a guttural sound - or merged with normal ‘r’ and so we have the people called the Rom or Romanies of Europe.

However recently younger scholars such as Dr. Hancock have contested this theory. In their opinion there were two distinct migrations and the Dom and the Rom left India at different times. Because Domari preserves the neuter gender for nouns whereas Romani has only feminine and masculine, these scholars think these Dom left India before the neuter disappeared in many though not all of the related languages in India itself. The Roma would have left later after the neuter had disappeared.

A few phrases (collected in the Lebanon by Marielle Danbakli using Marcel Cortiade’s questionnaire) will indicate the closeness and difference between Domari and Romani.

Domari Romani English
S-kita shturi tuKatar san tuWhere are you from?
Kakit nam-urSar to anavWhat is your name?
Ha djaghaAkava si chavoThis is a child.
Panji alatul ruariVo savaxt rovelHe always cries.

Note: "alatul" is a loan from Arabic.

A Tale

To keep up your study of Domari here is another tale from Macalister’s book. By the way, Macalister himself thought that the frequent murders in these tales were the work of young Shakir the teller’s imagination and not real events.

Minden Haleman u rauerden u garen u-desas-ta. Gara maumom washliman. Nanden wis dawai qlaranki u kunden-sa e-desas-ma. Besaui hromi djurak min o-desas-ki. Garen Till-uyarta, laherden Domeni, marde amin-kara di bakra u keren u piren. Aren min hnona, raurden, garen Chuyak-desas-ta. Zarak parda bai-im u nasra minj-is. Rasrom-us pandas-ma, ferom-is dfangak u dirdom bitas u moldom-is. Laherdom djuri pandasma, ferom-is laurie-ma, bagerdom siri-us.

Translation: We set off ourselves and travelled and went to that place. My uncle went with me. We bought (took) twenty camels from the Beduin and sold them in that place. I got married [to] a woman from that place. We went to Jerusalem, we found Dom. They killed for us two sheep and we ate and we drank. We came from there, we travelled, we went to Egypt.

A youth took my wife and ran off with her. I followed him on the road, hit him with a bullet and broke open the earth and buried him. I found the woman on the road, hit her with a stick, broke her head.

Domari Romani
kunden-sankindjam len

Till-uyar (big town) which means "Jerusalem." Compare this with English Romani Baro gav (big town) which means London.

So you can decide for yourself how close Domari is to Romani.

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