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.
|S-kita shturi tu||Katar san tu||Where are you from?|
|Kakit nam-ur||Sar to anav||What is your name?|
|Ha djagha||Akava si chavo||This is a child.|
|Panji alatul ruari||Vo savaxt rovel||He always cries.|
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