Language of the Romani: A Viewers’ Glossary
American Gypsies’ (premiering July 17 on the National Geographic Channel) Johns family has been in the U.S. for generations, living in Manhattan, running New York City psychic and fortune-telling parlors. But like many ethnic cultures, and perhaps more so, the Romani have strived to stay close to their traditions, laws and heritage. Although the American Romani have emigrated from many diverse countries, and speak in several different, distinct dialects, each with its own peculiarities and idioms, their common language remains a crucial part of Romani culture, and ties the groups together wherever they reside. “Amari čhib s’amari zor"—"Our language is our strength," goes a Romani saying.
The Romani have their long-ago roots in Northern India, and their language originates in Sanskrit, but like other ethnic groups, dispersed throughout Europe, they have absorbed into the language, bits of Greek and Slavic. Romani words have occasionally made their way into English slang. The colloquial for friend, “pal” (as in, he’s my pal) originates in the Sanskrit word bhratar (brother). The slang for informer, “nark” comes from the Romani nak (“nose”), and not, interestingly from narcotic, as you might think, since the word is used in pop culture often meaning drug informer. “Shiv” (knife) is another Romani word that has come to describe a knife used in violent confrontation. In British slang, words like “bloke,” and “posh” originate in the Romani language.
With more than 60 dialects, there are only four main groups, Vlax (Danubian, as in the Hungarian Danube River), Southern (Balkan), Central, and Northern. The website Gypsytown maintains a very comprehensive Romani-English dictionary, but here are a few common Romani terms some of which you are likely to hear spoken by Bobby and the rest of the Johns family. More can be found in the American Gypsy Glossary.
Bapo: Nickname for grandfather, analgous to "Grandpa"Continued on the next page