I’ve been thinking lately a lot about Rromanes and the speed at which, for many of us, the language is disappearing. As a small child I spoke Rromanes as my first language, with Anglo-Romani as my second, and English as my third. I spoke mainly Rromanes until I entered school. My mother and her parents especially, encouraged me to speak English only. There were a lot of Romani/Romany/Romanichal/Kaale/Pavee kids in my school, so in the school yard Anglo-Romani was our lingua franca. In the classroom however, we were forced to speak English. If we slipped and said anything else we got reprimanded. In middle school, the “Gypsy” kids were separated from the “regular” kids. Along with all the others, I was in 1B and we were known as trouble-makers, idiots, low-achievers, and generally a waste of time.
Although my family were somewhat traditional (in that they did not encourage education for girls), I was allowed to continue my schooling at age 10 because I was transferred to an all-girls Catholic school. My Maami (dad’s mother) was Catholic (because, among other things, she was able to keep Sara e Kali in her prayers) and she knew the nuns who ran the school.
Anyway, it was really at this Catholic school that I was really … encouraged… to speak English only and was harshly reprimanded for speaking anything else – Rromanes or Anglo-Romani. I think as I grew into my teenage years I became more conscious of the differences between the languages my family spoke and the language the non-Roma spoke – I became embarrassed. I still spoke Rromanes with my grandmother and sometimes my father – but not really with any other members of my family, By the time I entered my 20s, I didn’t really speak Rromanes at all with anyone and had begun to forget some of the words. The more I didn’t speak it and the further I pushed it away from myself, the more I forgot. No one asked to hear stories anymore, no one was interested in the “old words”…
I find it sad how many Roma I meet online who don’t know their language or who only know parts of it. I once heard that
“e hakarimaske probleme maskare Rroma kaj vakaren verver lekte na avel kotaro čačutno dialekto ververipe, aven maj but kataro but Rroma kaj bistarde dopaš i čhib, aj na savorre o vipal o kotor”
~ the difficulties in communicating between Rroma of different dialectical backgrounds is not due to genuine dialectical differences, but far more to the fact that many Rroma have forgotten half the language and not all of them the same part.
So, now I’m trying to recover my language and finding it really hard. There aren’t many learning tools (with good reason) and … it’s frustrating at the same time that it is (for good or bad) reassuring.