Category Archives: Romani

Romani exonyms

In Romani: a linguistic introduction (Cambridge University Press, 2005), Yaron Matras gives several examples of how the Roma people have been very inventive with names for the countries and people encountered on their westward migration (pp. 26–27):

Characteristic of Romani is – alongside replications of nations’ self-ascription (e.g. sasitko ‘German’, njamco ‘German’, valšo ‘French’) – the widespread use of inherited or internal names for nations. Thus we find das ‘Slavs’ (cf. OIA dāsa- ‘slave’), a word play based on Greek sklavos; xoraxaj/koraxaj of unclear etymology, in the Balkans generally ‘Muslim, Turk’ and elsewhere ‘foreigner’ or ‘non-Rom’; gadžo ‘non-Rom’. Other inherited words for non-Rom include xalo (‘meagre, shabby’), also in the diminutive xaloro ‘Jew’, balamo and goro ‘Greek, non-Gypsy’; biboldo ‘Jew’ (‘unbaptised’), chindo ‘Jew’ (‘cut’ = ‘circumcised’), trušulo ‘Christian’ (cf. trušul ‘cross’), džut ‘Jew’ (possibly Iranian). Names attached to foreign countries by individual Romani groups often refer to incomprehensible speech, based on either lal- ‘dumb’ or čhib ‘tongue’: lallaro-temmen ‘Finland’ and lalero them ‘Bohemia’ (= ‘dumb land’), lalero ‘Lithuanian’, čibalo/čivalo meaning ‘Albania’ among Balkan Rom, ‘Bavaria’ among German Rom, and ‘Germany’ among Yugoslav Rom. More recently, barvale thema (lit. ‘rich countries’) has emerged as a designation for ‘western Europe’, lole thema (lit. ‘red countries’) for ‘eastern, communist Europe’.

Internal creations of place names are common mostly among the northwestern dialects of Romani. They are frequently either translations, or semantic or sound associations based on the original place names: nevo foro lit. ‘new town’ for ‘Neustadt’, xačerdino them lit. ‘burned country’ for ‘Brandenburg’, čovaxanjakro them lit. ‘witches’ country’ for ‘Hessen’ (German Hexen ‘witches’), kiralengro them lit. ‘cheese country’ for ‘Switzerland’, u baro rašaj lit. ‘the big priest’ for ‘Rome’, lulo piro lit. ‘red foot’ for ‘Redford’, baro foro lit. ‘big town’ for capital cities of various countries (Helsinki, Stockholm, Belgrade).

I remember thinking how it cool it was that the Chuvash coined the name чул хула ‘stone city’ for Nižnyj Novgorod, once the closest large Russian settlement, and how disappointed I was to hear that it was no longer in use. I wonder how many of these Romani examples are still current.