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  • Romani: A linguistic introduction by Yaron Matras
  • Olga Thomason
Romani: A linguistic introduction. By Yaron Matras. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Pp. 291. ISBN 0521631653. $85 (Hb).

While many minority languages of the world are well studied today and receive attention from linguists and nonlinguists, there are some that, regrettably, are underrepresented in linguistic studies. Such is the case with Romani. This well-informed book provides much needed, up-to-date information about Romani in all its aspects: historical development, phonology, morphology, syntax, lexicon, sociolinguistics, and dialectology.

The first two chapters (1–13) provide an overview of Romani-speaking populations, their histories, and the principal dialects of Romani, together with a map showing the distribution of Romani dialects in Europe and Turkey. Matras notes that British and Iberian Romani are extinct, and that Domari should be considered a different language rather than a dialect of Romani.

Ch. 3 (14–48) discusses different hypotheses concerning the place of Romani origin, migrations of the Rom, and the position of Romani in the Indo-European family. Innovative and conservative features of historical phonology, morphology, and lexicon in different dialects of Romani are presented. The discussion is supported by many examples of lexical correspondences together with an extensive table of sound correspondences between Old Indo-Aryan and Romani, including not only vowels and consonants, but also consonant clusters.

Ch. 4 (49–71) presents a comprehensive description of vowel and consonant systems in Romani. The phonological systems of Proto-Romani and Early Romani are discussed. The development of these systems into the modern dialects is presented in a set of tables for consonants and for vowels. Various phonological and morphophonological processes such as prothesis and truncation, jotation, s/h alternation, and loss of final -s are discussed within the entire range of dialects.

Chs. 5 (72–116) and 6 (117–64) treat nominal and verbal morphology in Romani, respectively. M emphasizes a unique feature of the Romani noun—the existence of two different morphological patterns: one for pre-European vocabulary and another for later European loans. Among the phenomena presented here are derivation and inflection of nouns and adjectives; the development of the pronominal system, with an emphasis on deictic and anaphoric devices; and stem-formation, derivation, and inflection of verbs. The development of tense, aspect, and modality in the various Romani dialects is also discussed.

Ch. 7 (165–90) is devoted to the syntactic structure of Romani, covering such topics as constituent order of the noun and verb phrases, negation, and complex clauses. Ch. 8 (191–213) looks at grammatical borrowings. The unique sociolinguistic situation of Romani explains the fact that it is common for Romani speakers to borrow not only the vocabulary but also various aspects of the grammatical structures of the languages with which they are in contact. Dialects of Romani display crosslinguistically rare examples of the borrowing of prepositions, negative markers, and deictic elements from German, Slavic, and Hungarian, respectively. [End Page 540]

The final three chapters (214–59) are concerned with dialectal, sociolinguistic, and language-planning aspects of Romani. The problems of dialect classification are addressed in methodological and historical terms, including different classification criteria. M also analyzes peculiarities of Romani acquisition and use, in particular, aspects of bilingualism in Romani communities and phenomenon of ‘Para-Romani’. The book ends with a brief discussion of different attempts to support the recognition of Romani as a minority language.

M’s book presents a state-of-the-art overview of Romani. Through his detailed treatment of all aspects of Romani, M has placed in his debt a broad circle of scholars ranging from socio- and historical linguists to Indologists.

Olga Thomason
University of Georgia


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