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Review of  General and Applied Romani Linguistics

Reviewer: 'Viktor Elšík' ['Viktor Elšík'] Viktor Elšík
Book Title: General and Applied Romani Linguistics
Book Author: Barbara Schrammel Dieter W. Halwachs Gerd Ambrosch
Publisher: Lincom GmbH
Linguistic Field(s): Computational Linguistics
General Linguistics
Historical Linguistics
Language Documentation
Anthropological Linguistics
Subject Language(s): Romano-Greek
Romani, Carpathian
Romani, Kalo Finnish
Romani, Balkan
Romani, Sinte
Romani, Tavringer
Romani, Welsh
Romani, Vlax
Romani, Baltic
Book Announcement: 17.819

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Date: Mon, 06 Mar 2006 03:41:08 +0100
From: Viktor Elšík <>
Subject: General and Applied Romani Linguistics

EDITORS: Schrammel, Barbara; Halwachs, Dieter W.; Ambrosch, Gerd
TITLE: General and Applied Romani Linguistics
SUBTITLE: Proceedings from the 6th International Conference on
Romani Linguistics
SERIES: LINCOM Studies in Indo-European Linguistics H29
YEAR: 2005

Viktor Elšík, Department of Linguistics and Finno-Ugric Studies,
Charles University, Prague


The book under review is a proceedings volume from the Sixth
International Conference on Romani Linguistics held in 2002 in Graz,
Austria. The editors of this volume, who are all affiliated with Karl-
Franzens-Universität in Graz (the first named editor is, in addition, a
PhD student at the University of Manchester), were also the
organizers of the conference. The volume consists of 15 papers on
Romani, an Indo-Aryan language spoken by Roms and related groups
(''Gypsies'') in Europe and beyond, plus an ''Introduction'' (pp. 1-6) by
two of the editors, Barbara Schrammel and Dieter W. Halwachs.

The remaining papers are grouped into five thematic sections. Section
1 contains two papers on Romani dialectology. Yaron Matras, in
his ''The classification of Romani dialects: a geographic-historical
perspective'' (pp. 7-22), argues for a structure diffusion model of
Romani dialects, and against a strictly genealogical, migration-based,
model, which has been common in Romani linguistics. The author
exemplifies major diffusion processes within Romani and provides
them with an historical interpretation. Birgit Igla's paper ''Sinti-Manuš:
aspects of classification'' (pp. 23-42) looks into the internal diversity
and external connections of a particular dialect group of Romani
spoken in and around Germany, arriving at the conclusion that the
group is ''astonishingly homogeneous'' (p. 40).

The descriptive Section 2 starts with ''The Plaščuny and their dialect:
preliminary notes'' (pp. 43-47) by Lev N. Cherenkov. This paper is a
brief report on a little known Rom group of southern Russia, with some
remarks on their Romani dialect. The author's preliminary analysis of
the scarce linguistic data suggests that the variety is closely related to
the so-called North Central dialects of Romani, which are otherwise
spoken in and around Slovakia. Irene Sechidou's ''The dialect of Ajios
Athanasios'' (pp. 48-59) is a more substantial sketch, covering
phonology and morphology, but not syntax, of a previously
undescribed Romani dialect spoken in a neighbourhood of the city of
Serres, Greece. ''The vestiges of Caló today'' (pp. 60-78) by Ignasi-
Xavier Adiego is a descriptive study of what has remained of Spanish
Caló, the secret Gypsy ethnolect of Spanish with numerous lexical and
some grammatical borrowings from Romani. Unlike most of the 20th
century Caló research, this paper provides original and reliable data
acquired through fieldwork. Zoran Lapov's ''The Romani groups and
dialects in Croatia: with a special emphasis on the Romani borrowings
in the Croatian language'' (pp. 79-89) presents an overview of the
numerous subethnic Rom groups in Croatia, including notes on their
ethnolinguistic vitality. In the second part of the paper, the author
analyzes 13 Romani loanwords in colloquial Croatian.

Consisting of five papers, the historical linguistic Section 3 is the
largest of all. Desislava Draganova's ''Turkish verbs in Bulgarian
Romani'' (pp. 90-98) is a comparative study on patterns of
morphological integration of Turkish loanverbs in four Romani dialects
of Bulgaria. The paper shows that although loanverbs from Turkish
generally retain much of their source language inflection in Romani,
Turkish morphology is subject to various language-internal (and
dialect-specific) restructuring processes. Using a sample of three
Romani dialects of Austria, Barbara Schrammel's ''Borrowed verbal
particles and prefixes: a comparative approach'' (pp. 99-113) explores
the role of language contact in the development of directionality and
actionality markers in Romani, including their contact-induced
grammaticalization from spatial adverbs. Helena Pirttisaari adopts ''A
functional approach to the distribution of participle suffixes in Finnish
Romani'' (pp. 114-127), showing how paradigm analogy, iconicity, and
typological convergence with Finnish conspire in triggering the
extension of a borrowed (Greek-derived) participle suffix into the
indigenous (Indo-Aryan) lexicon. Norbert Boretzky, in his
paper ''Metathesis and other, functionally related, sound changes in
Romani'' (pp. 128-143), classifies the rather numerous instances of
metathesis, prothesis and aphaeresis in the development of Romani
and its dialects. He adopts a functional view of these phonological
changes, relying on Vennemann's (1988) findings concerning
universal preferences for syllable structure. Gitte Grønning
Simonsen's paper tracks down the ''Semantic changes in body parts
from Sanskrit to Romani'' (pp. 144-149), more precisely to the extinct
but well described Welsh Romani.

Section 4 on computational linguistics contains a single
contribution, ''ROMTWOL: an implementation of a two-level
morphological processor for Finnish Romani'' by Kimmo Granquist (pp.
150-162). Though the paper describes the formal structure of a
language-specific implementation of a morphological parser, it also
entails a rather detailed and useful sketch of inflectional morphology
of Finnish Romani, an underdescribed and rather aberrant Romani

The sociolinguistic Section 5 starts with Victor A. Friedman's ''The
Romani language in Macedonia in the third millennium: progress and
problems'' (pp. 163-173). The paper describes the de-central, usage-
based process of Romani standardisation in Macedonia and examines
the challenges a stateless and non-territorial language like Romani
poses to established models of language planning. Jelena Petrović
and Lada Stefanović's ''Sociolinguistic aspects of language of Roma
refugees from Kosovo: a comparative study'' (pp. 174-181) presents
an overview of salient sociolinguistic issues in various groups of
Kosovo Roms in Slovenia and parts of Serbia. The overview also
includes groups such as Ashkali, whose members deny Rom ethnicity.
The final paper in the volume, Elena Marushiakova and Vesselin
Popov's ''Communications between nomadic Gypsy groups'' (pp. 182-
187), explores the patterns of out-group communication in three
traditionally nomadic Rom groups of Bulgaria, showing how
socioeconomic and cultural factors strongly disfavour linguistic
contacts between different nomadic groups, and between nomadic
groups and groups of sedentary Roms.


Let me start with the defects of the book. First, I have a slight problem
with the editor's characterization of Section 2 as
containing ''descriptive studies on Romani varieties'' (p. 4), since only
two papers out of four actually describe the structure of a Romani
variety. Although Adiego's paper on Spanish Caló is a description of a
variety that (a) is spoken by Gypsies, (b) contains a Romani-derived
lexical component, and (c) is referred to as ''Spanish Romani'' by the
author himself, Caló is *not* a variety of Romani in the genealogical
sense; it is a variety of Spanish. Another contribution that does not
seem to fit in Section 2 is Lapov's paper on Croatian Romani: the
paper is basically sociolinguistic, although it also contains an appendix
on Romani loanwords in Croatian, and so it would perhaps better fit
the sociolinguistic Section 5. Unfortunately, I have not been able to
see the academic relevance of Lapov's personal notes such
as ''Šaban [a popular Romani singer] 'confessed' to me that 'the
Zagreb audience is super!''' (p. 83).

Second, the editors could have done a better job with the English of
some of the contributions. For example, the context reveals that the
modal in ''improving sound change *must not* take place'' (p. 139;
emphasis mine) was intended to express negated necessity (''need
not'') rather than necessity of a negated proposition, but this confusing
interference from the author's native German has remained
uncorrected. Also, there is certain sloppiness with regard to diacritics
in the graphical representation of some languages, almost exclusively
in references. For example, while the Czech surname Elšík is
spelled correctly in two contributions, three contributors have used
Elšik (e.g. pp. 6, 41, 59) and one Elsik (e.g. p. 140). It should
be the task of the editors to correct such misspellings, unless they
want to arouse the cultural sensitivity of a potential reviewer.

There are not many factual errors in the volume. Corrections of some
of those I have noticed follow:
East Slovak Romani does *not* possess productive causatives (pp. 9-
10), and the lexeme 'day' does *not* show de-palatalisation of its initial
dental in this dialect (p. 13);
The Slavic-derived feminine suffix /-əc-/ may combine with indigenous
noun bases in Sinti-Manuš (p. 23), e.g. /džen-əc-a/ 'female person' in
Austrian Sinti;
The North Central, but *not* the South Central, dialects possess the
suppletive copula stem in /av-/ (p. 35);
The lexeme /sapano/ 'wet' does exist in most North Central dialects (p.
39), although it is not documented in easily accessible sources;
most modern varieties of Finnish Romani do possess a ''new'' infinitive
of subjunctive origin (p. 40);
and more.

Being a proceedings volume from a conference with such a general
theme as 'Romani linguistics', the volume under review inevitably
contains thematically and methodologically diverse contributions. The
publisher's squib on the book's cover is quite correct in stating that
''[t]he collection reflects recent trends in Romani linguistics''. Apart from
continuing efforts in documenting undescribed or underdescribed
Romani varieties and in dialect classification, there is also a growing
body of theoretically oriented contributions, which may be of interest
to general sociolinguists, typologists, historical linguists and,
especially, experts in language contact. All these subdisciplines are
indeed represented in the volume. Several contributors made use of
one of two major electronic resources that have recently become
available for students of Romani, the Romani Lexical Database
(ROMLEX) and the Romani Morphosyntactic Database (RMS). This is
in line with another salient trend in Romani linguistics, viz. the use of
modern technology for language documentation and research

On the one hand, the volume suffers the usual proceedings'
weakness of containing papers of unequal depth of analysis. On the
other hand, there are several excellent contributions by junior
researchers as well as by leading figures in Romani linguistics. If I
were to highlight a single paper in this volume, I would choose
Schrammel's well-thought-out and well-written paper on the contact-
induced development of directionality and actionality markers in
Romani. In my view, no one who works on Romani can afford to miss
the book, which also contains several contributions that will be
inspiring to linguists from outside the field of Romani studies.


RMS = 'The Romani Morphosyntactic Database'. Ed. by Viktor Elšík &
Yaron Matras. University of Manchester.

ROMLEX = 'ROMLEX: Romani Lexical Database'. Ed. by Yaron
Matras, Dieter W. Halwachs & Peter Bakker. http://romani.uni-

Vennemann, Theo. 1988. 'Preference laws for syllable structures'.
Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Viktor Elšík has worked as Research Assistant in the linguistics
departments of the University of Manchester (1998-2004) and Charles
University, Prague (since 2004). He has been involved in several
international projects on language contact and linguistic typology, and
has done extensive fieldwork on Romani. His publications include a
book on Markedness and language change: the Romani sample (with
Yaron Matras, Mouton de Gruyter 2006).

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