DRC Reprint Series

Back to Part 1
Forward to Part 3




Dr. Donald Kenrick
Director, Roma Bharti (Romano Instituto, London)


The fullest recorded dialect is Domari (Nawar) and for this reason only I have taken it as a model to which other material can be referred. I have kept the original orthography of the sources in most cases.

Present Tense of the Verb




North Kara-chi

  (bring) (know) (go)
I  nan-ami  jan-ami  gesht-um
You  nan-eki  -  *gesht-oi
He/She  nan-ari  jan-ari  *gesht-id
We  nan-ani  -  *gesht-ing
You (pl)  nan-asi  -  *gesht-ikha
They  nan-andi  -  *gesht-ind
(*marks reconstructed forms)

The Domari and Kaloro forms can be derived from Sanskrit and contemporaries, though the second person singular is a problem. A different origin should be sought for the Kara-chi endings.


Both Kaloro and Kara-chi prefix 'le' to imperatives. 'le' is probably the verb 'take':

gh'andi le-tchin cut the throat (Kaloro)
le-pi drink (Kara-chi)

Past tense of the verb

  Domari Kaloro North Kara-chi
  (brought) (went out) (lost)
I nan-d-om nikil-d-om *nejus-um
You nan-d-or *nikil-d-or *nejus-un
He nan-d-a *nikil-d-i *nejus-a
She nan-d-i - nejus-a
We nan-d-en - *nejus-enge
You (pl) nan-d-es - -
They nan-d-e - *nejus-end

The Kaloro 3rd person singular in -i is consistently recorded ('ghari'-he went) and represents the feminine becoming generalized for both genders.



Domari generally + -e kajja Gorgio
    kajje Gorgios
Kaloro + -hin di village
    dihin villages

Kara-chi uses Persian plural.


Domari has six productive cases (as does 'phen' Romani) though they do not quite correspond.

Accusative -as
Dative -asta
Instrumental -asma
Associative -assanni
Ablative -aski
Directive -askara

Five cases have been recorded in Kara-chi. They are formed directly from the stem and not from the accusative (unlike Domari and 'phen' Romani).

Accusative -as
Dative -iqa
Instrumental -isan
Ablative -u
Genitive -az

Kaloro has one example of the non-productive ('old') locative: gurie ghiri - homeward he went.


Masculine adjectives end in -a, and feminine in -i, in both Domari and Kara-chi. From the recorded examples it appears that Kaloro adjectives end in -i for both genders (cf. 3rd person of past).

To be

In Domari the original present tense of 'to be' has fallen into disuse. It is replaced by the present tense of the verb meaning 'to become' which has regular endings:

homi, hweki, hori, honi, hwesi, hondi

The past of the Domari verb 'to be' has the same endings as the past of the regular verb.

astom, astor, (m) asta (f) asti, asten, astes, aste

Only the form 'it is' has been recorded in Kaloro.

esti (shortened to 'i')

The Kara-chi verb has the same endings as other verbs in the present tense, except for the third person singular.

astum, astoi, astaq, *asting, *astikha, -----, -----

Passive mood

Domari has a set of distinct forms for the passive.

One example has been recorded in Kaloro:

arattiri "it becomes night" ('phen' Romani = aratovela)

Personal Pronouns

  Domari Kaloro Kara-chi Kurbat/Krismal
I ama me ma man (Kurbat)
You atu du tu to (Kurbat)
He panji hui hu hui (Kurbat)
She panji - ohe -
We ame emi ame amin (Krismal)
You (pl) atme *dimi dime -
They panjan - hue -

The Krismal list also gives 'pari' for 'we' and a Gurbati vocabulary 'marzu' (we).

The Mugat pronouns seem to be secret formations from a local language; dakim, dakit, uajdaki (he), dakima, dakihomo, uajdakiho.

Possessive Pronouns

In Domari these are suffixed to the noun (in imitation of Arabic and Persian usage). Kaloro and Kara-chi have both suffixed and independent forms, while Kurbat has independent forms only.

Suffixed Possessive Pronouns

  Domari Kaloro N. Kara-chi
My -m -m -m
Your -r -ori  
His/Her -s -z  
Our -man    
Your -ran    
Their -san    

Example-babom 'my father' (Kaloro)

Independent Possessive Pronouns
  Kurbat Kaloro Kara-chi
My manki maghi meri
Your toiki dirki, turki *teri
His huiki oriki  
Our   emiki  
Your   *dimiki  

Note the idiomatic usage in Kaloro.
maghi dost ast - Literally "my friend is" = I have a friend.

While Kara-chi also suffixes the pronoun to the verb.
Agurum astagum - Literally "my horse is to me" = I have a horse

Model Sentences

ma thisan geshtum deh (Kara-chi)
I with-you will-go to-the-village

hidja zi Halep airom (Kaloro)
Yesterday from Aleppo I-came


The numbers 1-6, 10, 20, 100 are of Indian origin. In view off the evident inter-dialect borrowing I shall merely give a list of all the recorded forms in 'ben' dialects.

1. yek, yuka, yeki, yika
2. di, didi
3. tirin, trin, teran, tron, taran
4. ishtar, shtai, schtar
5. pentch, penez, punj
6. shesh
7. hoft, haut (Persian), peng-i-dui, heft
8. haisht, hoscht (Persian), shtar wa (Arabic) shtar, iter, heshter
9. neya, nu, nah (Persian), shtar wa punj, enna (Greek)
10. dez, dest, desch, des
11. dez-i-yek
20. visht, yuksi (?)
30. si (Persian)
40. tchul (Persian), kumaki (?)
50. penche
60. trin visht
70. triin visht dez
80. heysad (Persian), shtar visht
90. sadiki dez eksik (100-10, Turkish)
100. sad

The expected ex-Indian words for 7, 8, 9 (*sat, *at, *nav) do not appear in any 'ben' (or 'phen') dialect.

Vocabulary of 'ben' Romani

First, I should like to deal with two 'languages' spoken by Romanies in the Middle East which can no longer be classed as Romani: Sim and Lafzi Mugat.


Sim is the language of the Helebi in Egypt. In the main it consists of Arabic words disguised to make them unrecognizable to the Arabs.

Sim Arabic English
mebradish bard cold
megunwara nar fire
menahrish nahar day
mubgursha bagara cow

There are a few words which are relics of their earlier Romani dialect:
sunno - dog
gaonti - village (-gav)

The grammar is Arabic:
semi - my brother

Lafzi Mugat

This is the secret language of the Mugat (Luli) in Asian USSR. They speak local languages but have preserved some 200 words of what was once probably a larger vocabulary. The sources of Lafzi Mugat, also known as "Arabi" are various.

warsit - arrive = Persian 'rasidan' reversed
dulung - trousers = Hindi do-lung 'double loin-cloth'
chila-gar - doctor = a humorous formation from 'chila' (gun-powder)

Other words belong to the common vocabulary of 'ben' Romani:

nughur - eye, cf. Ghorbati nuhur
tana-gul - partridge, cf. Ghorbati tenai (bird)
dugut - meat, cf. Ghorbati dihut
dila - tent, cf. Ghorbati dilih (house), Krismal daylah (house), Hindi dera

I now turn to 'ben' Romani proper. Here the main vocabulary element is words of Indian origin. Many are similar to European 'phen' Romani:

Bura (big), chin (cut), dai (mother), dant (tooth), de (give), gulda (sweet), ja (go), jan (know), jivi (woman), jow (barley), khani (spring, fountain), manes (man), pani (water), ratti (night).

In some cases regular phonetic correspondences exist between the forms in 'ben' and 'phen' Romani: bis (straw), vat (stone = 'phen' Romani 'bar').

I list below some common words which occur in at least two dialects. A key to the abbreviations will be found below.

Romani English Dialects
ag fire Do. Gh. Gur. Kal. Kar (S). Kol.
agora, gora horse Do. Dum. Gh. Gur. Kal. Kar (S). Kur.
aki eye Ko. Kal. Kar (S).
ana egg Do. Kal. Kol.
angul finger Kal. Kar (S).
astara, stiari star Dum. Gh. Kal. Kur.
babo father Dum. Kal. Kol.
bar brother Do. Kal. Kar (S). Kur.
ben, bhanu sister Do. Dum. Kal. Kur.
boydji dog Dum. Kal.
buhu much Dum. Gur. Kal. Kri.
chang hand Gh. Gur. Kri.
gam, gaham sun Do. Dum. Kal. Kar (S).
heiuf moon Dum. Kal. Kur.
Huia, Huva God Do. Kal. Kar (S).
lachi, lavti girl Do. Dum. Kal. Kar (S). Kur
lui iron Do. Kal.
mena bread Do. Gur. Kal. Kar (S). Kol. Kri.
orp silver Do. Dum. Kal. Kar (S).
senuta, sunno dog Gh. Gur. Hel. Kar (S).
zaru boy, son Do. Kar (S).

There are also many loan words from Arabic, Persian and Turkish: atash (fire-Persian), kapu (door-Turkish).

Key to the Abbreviations

This will also serve as a list of the main vocabularies of 'ben' Romani that have been collected.
Do Domari. The language of the Nawar. Syria, Israel, Lebanon U.I. Seetzen Reisen 1854, JGLS (NS)iii-vi
Dum. Duman. In Baghdad. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 1856 p. 285-312
Gh. Ghagar. Egypt. JRAS 1856.
Gur. Gurbati. In Jiruft and Sirjan. Journal of the Anthropological Institute 1905
Hel. Helebi. Egypt. JRAS 1856
Kal. Kaloro. In Marach, Aintab and on banks of Euphrates. Paspati. Etudes sur les Tchingianes. Const. 1870.
Kar. N. North Kara-chi. Transcaucasus. JGLS (1) iip. 21, (NS) ii p. 260-
Kar. S. South Kara-chi. Tabriz. JGLS (1) ii
Kol. Koli. Iran. JRAS 1856 p. 311
Kur. Kurbat. In Aleppo and Antioch. JRAS 1856
Kri. Krismal. In Khorasan. JAI 1906
Mugat Luli or Mugat. Asian USSR. JGLS (NS) 1.209, ii 255-9
MiS Egypt. JRAS 1856

Continue to part 3

Article reprinted on DRC web site with the permission of the author.


Reprints Index

Research Areas
Humanitarian Projects
News Clips

About DRC
Copyright © 2001
All rights reserved