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Learn Romani: Das-duma Rromanes

Learn Romani: Das-duma Rromanes

by Ronald Lee

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Following 18 carefully structured lessons, this Romani language primer explores the vocabulary and grammar of the Kalderash Roma in Europe, the United States, Canada, and Latin America. Designed for beginner students, this course reference begins with the basic verbs and nouns and builds through to the subtler grammatical necessities of reading and speaking the


Following 18 carefully structured lessons, this Romani language primer explores the vocabulary and grammar of the Kalderash Roma in Europe, the United States, Canada, and Latin America. Designed for beginner students, this course reference begins with the basic verbs and nouns and builds through to the subtler grammatical necessities of reading and speaking the language. Quotations from native speakers, poems, songs, proverbs, and folktales add to the cultural and historical understanding of the language.

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Learn Romani

By Ronald Lee

University of Hertfordshire Press

Copyright © 2005 Ronald Lee
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-907396-42-7


Lesson one

The present tense

Read the following table aloud and look carefully at the endings. The personal pronouns (words in brackets before the verb) do not need to be used but often are employed for emphasis or clarity, for example, Mangav xabe 'I want (some) food' is a simple statement of fact as compared to Me mangav xabe! 'I want food!' or 'It's me who wants food!' with a greater emphasis. The verb conjugations (i.e. verb endings) are in italics in the table to clarify them and show who is doing the action. Romani has no infinitive like 'to want' in English, therefore the verb stem or root of a Romani verb will either be conjugated to one of its forms in the present tense, for example, mangav 'I want', or given as the verb stem mang- to which the appropriate conjugation must be added as shown below:

mang- (the verb stem or root)

(me) mangav I want
(tu) manges you want (singular)
(wo) mangel he wants
(woi) mangel she wants
o Rrôm mangel the Rom wants
(ame) mangas we want
(tume) mangen you want (plural)
(won) mangen they want

You will notice the ending < en > has two meanings and usually the sense will be clear from the situation but, if not, use the personal pronoun tume or won.

There is also a long form of the verb i.e. mangáva, mangésa, mangéla, etc. This can be ignored for now as there is no change in meaning using the shorter form given in this lesson.

Test whether you have understood

If beshav means 'I sit, I am sitting' and comes from the verb stem besh-, what is the English for:

1. beshas

2. beshes

3. beshel

4. beshen (give two meanings)

If 'he drinks' is piyel, what is the Romani for:

5. I drink

6. they drink

7. we drink

8. you drink (singular)

Check your answers on the last page of this lesson and, if you made any mistakes, look carefully at the table above again.

The definite article: the word 'the'

There are only two genders in Romani: masculine and feminine. Nouns denoting inanimate objects (like table and chair) will either be masculine and take < o > or feminine and take < e >. For example:

o grast the horse
e grasni the mare
o lil the letter
e ryat the night

Most nouns ending in a stressed < o > like balo 'male pig' use < o > and most words ending in a stressed < i > like bali 'sow' use < e >. For other nouns ending in consonants you will have to consult the word lists in each lesson and eventually a dictionary.

Learn these words with < o > or < e > in front of them. Learn 'letter' as o lil 'the letter' and e yag as 'the fire'.


Test whether you have understood and again, check your answers on the last page of this lesson. If manrro is 'bread' and bali is 'sow', what is the Romani for:

9. the bread

10. the sow

The indefinite article: the words 'a' and 'an'

The English words 'a' and 'an' (indefinite articles) have no equivalent in Romani. For example, lil 'letter' or 'a letter' and grast 'horse' or 'a horse'. You will see that sometimes < o > and < e > are used where 'the' is not used in English. This happens in front of and with people's names:

E Mára avel Mary is coming
O Stévo avel Steve is coming
Kon avel?
Who is coming?

Here are a few more examples of statements in Romani:

(Wo) avel
He is coming
(Wo) lasharel o He repairs the door
E shey phutrel o lil
The girl opens (is opening) the letter

Questions are usually asked by raising the voice, as in English, or by turning part of the sentence round: O shávo avel? (with the voice rising) or Avel o shávo? 'Is the Romani boy coming?'

In Romani, the present tense translates the following English forms: I come, I am coming, I do come and, as in English, the present tense can be used to express the future as in 'I am coming tomorrow' or 'When I come tomorrow, I'll see you.'

Avav ages
I am coming today
Avav tehára I am coming tomorrow

Word lists

These word lists give the words, including verbs, used in each lesson and may sometimes include words not used in the lesson when relevant. For example, if the word 'today' is used in the lesson the words for 'yesterday' and 'tomorrow' may also be given so that the student can make a basic list of important related words which can be learned together and interchanged in the sentences given in the lesson or used with native speakers for practice.

Words ending in < o > are always masculine and words ending in < a > and < i > can be considered feminine, however, if they are masculine this will be indicated by (m.) following the word in the list. Words ending in consonants like skamin 'chair' will also have the gender indicated in the word list as (m.) or (f.). Words which are plural like love 'money' also use < le > for the plural and the gender will be indicated as (m. pl.) masculine or (f. pl.) feminine.

ages today
ánde into, in
I come
I sit
BLDχBLD not, do not (negative particle, for example, Chi zhav 'I am not going')
doháno tobacco
Gazhi non-Romani woman, wife of a non-Romani man
Gazho non-Romani man, husband of a non-Romani woman
grasni mare
grast horse (referring to a gelding; harmasári 'stallion')
I do, make
kon? who?
I repair
lil (m.) letter
I want
manrro bread
na no (in answer to a question)
I break
I close, tie
I open
I drink (or piyav doháno 'I smoke tobacco')
rakli non-Romani girl
raklo non-Romani boy
ryat (f.) night
Romani man, husband (if Romani)
Romani woman, wife (if Romani)
Romani boy (also heard as shav 'son, boy, young man' (if

Romani), for example, O shav avel 'The young Romani
man is coming')
Romani girl
so? what?
sóba room
tehára tomorrow
wudar (m.) the door
ya yes (also áva and va)

Spoken exercises

These should be done aloud, preferably with a partner or in a group.

1. Make up as many sentences as possible, choosing one item from each column. Think of the meaning as you say them:

e shey (chi) mangel manrro
e Gazhi piyel doháno
(wo) phutrel o wudar
(woi) beshel
o raklo phagel
o Rrôm mangel doháno
o shávo lasharel

2. Answer the questions, firstly using ya 'yes' and then na 'no'. Cover the right-hand side and use it only to check your answers:

Manges manrro? Ya, (me) mangav manrro

Na, (me) chi mangav manrro
Phages o wudar?
Ya, (me) phagav o wudar

Na, (me) chi phagav o wudar
Ya, avav

Na, chi avav
Piyes doháno?
Ya, (me) piyav doháno

Na, (me) chi piyav doháno

3. Make up answers to these questions. Suggested answers are on the right-hand side:

Kon avel? O shav avel
Kon beshel?
E Rrômní beshel
So mangel?
Mangel manrro

Written exercises

Translate into English:

1. O Rrôm phandel o lil

2. E Gazhi chi piyel doháno

3. So lasharen won?

4. Manges manrro?

5. Avas

Translate into Romani:

6. What are you (one person) doing?

7. Is the (Romani) man coming?

8. She is sitting

9. The (non-Romani) boy does not want bread

10. We are repairing the door

Check your answers at the end of the lesson.

Reading exercise

Read the poem aloud. In the text you will find words and grammatical formations not yet introduced in the lesson but these are explained in the notes and you will eventually come to them as the lessons progress. Do not attempt to learn them all at this point as the exercises are there simply to help you learn how to pronounce Romani.

A Canadian-Kalderash poem from Waso Russel Demitro, 1963

Sas-pe, Dévla
Tha shai te avel-pe
Yêkh piramno thai piramni
Yêkh ambrolin po drôm
Kon telal la, Dévla, kai beshel
Yêkh kamado thai kamadi
Kon kamel-pe thai chi mai lel-pe
Mek lel shtrángo te amblavel-pe.


There was once, God,
And there may be again,
A lover and his sweetheart
A pear tree by the roadside
Who, God, is sitting under it
A lover and his lass
He who desires for himself
And does not take unto himself
Let him take a rope and hang himself.

A riddle

Kon avel ánde sóba thai chi pushel?

Who comes into the room without asking permission?

Thematic and athematic

It is very important to explain these terms at this point in order to simplify the Romani grammatical rules which will be presented throughout the following lessons. Rather than use 'regular' and 'irregular' to define which parts of speech follow the original grammar (thematic grammar) and which words do not (described as athematic grammar in this course) it will be better to introduce these two linguistic terms from the beginning.

Vlax Romani grammar may be treated in two categories: thematic and athematic. These have two different historical origins, and different surface morphology (word formation). Thematic grammatical rules apply to words in the original stock, i.e. words of Indian origin, as well as to words acquired from all other languages the ancestors of the Roma met on the journey westwards before reaching Europe. These include items (words) from Persian, Kurdish, Ossetian, Armenian, Georgian and Byzantine Greek among others. Athematic grammatical rules apply to words acquired from other languages after crossing into Europe, including later Greek, South Slavic, Romanian, East Slavic, Hungarian, German, English and so on. It is their athematic lexicons (groups or lists of loan words which differ from one Romani dialect to another) which present the principal barrier to mutual intelligibility among speakers of the different Romani dialects.

Thematic items are almost always stressed on their final syllable, and athematic items are almost always stressed on other syllables, thus shukar, thematic (with stress on the < ar >) and múndro, athematic (with stress on the first vowel or syllable < ú >) which both mean 'beautiful'.

To make the above more understandable, it has been said that Romani is a 'Balkanized Indian language'. This becomes very clear when we realize that the thematic vocabulary and grammatical rules were common to all Roma when they entered Europe. Once there, small groups left this population and made their way to central, eastern, western, southern and northern Europe. The vast majority, however, remained in the Balkans where their Romani gradually adopted batteries of loan words from Balkan languages. Because of centuries spent in Romanian-speaking regions, mainly under slavery, the Kalderash and other Vlax-Romani groups adopted a huge battery of Romanian loan words and other groups adopted words from other Balkan languages such Serbian, Bulgarian and other Slavic languages, Turkish, Greek and Albanian. These adopted loan words are athematic and have their own grammatical rules that differ somewhat from the thematic grammatical rules of the original common language often referred to as 'proto Romani'.

The first lesson in this course presents the thematic grammatical rules. The athematic grammatical rules are gradually introduced from Lesson two onwards but some athematic nouns have already appeared in the word list from Lesson one. The distinction between thematic and athematic grammatical rules will become clearer as the student progresses through the course from Lesson three onwards.

Answers to questions in this lesson

1. we sit

2. you sit (to one person)

3. he sits, she sits

4. you sit (to more than one person) or they sit

5. (me) piyav

6. (won) piyen

7. (ame) piyas

8. (tu) piyes

9. o manrro

10. e bali

Answers to the written exercises

1. The Rom is closing the letter (closes the letter)

2. The non-Romani woman is not smoking (doesn't smoke)

3. What are they repairing?

4. Do you want some bread?

5. We are coming

6. So keres?

7. Avel o Rrôm?

8. Woi beshel

9. O raklo chi mangel manrro

10. Lasharas o wudar

Answer to the riddle:

the wind (e balwal)


Lesson two

Word list

aswin teardrop
bakro sheep (ram)
balo pig
baro big, important
barvalya rich
bikinas we sell
bírto tavern, bar
chorro poor, miserable
das we give
I see
dui two
fóro city, town
hai and (also thai and tha)
kai where (interrogative and relative)
kalo black
kher house
love money
marel he beats, hits
mulo dead
parno white
phuro old
sap (m.) snake
sastri iron
savo which
I cut
shuri knife
so what (interrogative and relative)
stagi hat
terno young, inexperienced
than place, spot, location
tsino small
turbáto wild, mad
vôrdòn caravan (horse-drawn) (also 'travel trailer', 'station
(m.) wagon' or 'van' in modern Romani)
wudar door
wêrsh forest, bush
I go (zhal 'he, she goes'. See Lesson three for
verbs in < al >)

Plural nouns

In Romani the following changes to plural nouns take place (athematic plural rules will be introduced in later lessons): Masculine nouns ending in < o > change to < e >:

balo 'pig' bale 'pigs'
Gazho 'non-Rom' Gazhe 'non-Roma'

Masculine nouns ending in a consonant have an < a > added:

sap 'snake' sapa 'snakes'
kher 'house' khera 'houses'

For masculine nouns ending in a diphthong add < ya >:

rai 'gentleman' raiya 'gentlemen'
rashai 'priest' rashaiya and rasha 'priests'
xulai 'landlord' xulaiya 'landlords'
shoshoi 'rabbit' shoshoiya 'rabbits'
mui 'mouth' muiya 'mouths'


Excerpted from Learn Romani by Ronald Lee. Copyright © 2005 Ronald Lee. Excerpted by permission of University of Hertfordshire Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Ronald Lee is the president of the Romani Community and Advocacy Center in Toronto, Ontario. He is also the Canadian representative of the Roman National Congress and author of Goddam Gypsy. He teaches a course on the Romani diaspora in Canada at the University of Toronto. He lives in Hamilton, Ontario.

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