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The American Hungarian-Slovak Bashaldo Roma and their Language

Ian Hancock

There are two opposing hypotheses regarding the origins of the Carpathian dialects, to which Bashaldo Romani belongs; Eastern European scholars such as Estreicher & Rozwadowski (1915) or Klich (1922) believe that their speakers moved north directly from Rumania in the 14th and 15th centuries, presumably as slavery was becoming more vigorously instituted there. Ficowski (1964) put the date of arrival in Polish Carpathia in the later half of the 15th Century, while Mroz (1971: 179), believes that the area had already been reached before 1360, and Kaminski, basing his conclusions on Czacki (1835) and others, believed that the first to arrive did so at the beginning of the Jagiellon dynasty in the 1380s. The basis for this argument in its modern form is primarily linguistic; the archaic nature of the Hungarian, Slovak and Polish adoptions in Carpathian Romani, and the low incidence of Rumanian-derived items, indicating (according to its proponents) an early move out of south-eastern Europe, although Kaminski (1980:362) points out that the same features are found in the non-Carpathian dialects spoken in the region as well.

The other argument regarding the origin of Carpathian Romani is that its speakers did not reach north-central Europe via the Balkans at all, but entered directly from Asia Minor. This has been upheld by Stampach (1930) and more recently by Horvathová (1964) and Kaminski (1980: 125). Horvathová’s position relies on evidence of the techniques used by that group in its interaction with the European population. The Romanian Romani scholar Nicolae Gheorghe (1983.14) has also suggested, though not on linguistic grounds, that some of the original migrants whose descendants now make up the Vlax (Laxo) population also entered the Balkans from the north of the Black Sea, crossing into Europe via the Crimea rather than the Dardanelles. The presence of Armenian, Byzantine Greek and South Slavic items in all of these dialects, however, argues against this, as well as the linguistic similarities the Carpathian dialects share with those of the Balkan group, spoken to the south of the Vlax dialects. It is clear that it is the Vlax dialects that have diverged most, especially phonologically, among the different inflected varieties of Romani spoken throughout contemporary Europe. The Carpathian Romani spoken in modern Hungary is probably the result of a population drift down into the area from the north-east since the Mediaeval period, rather than representing an unbroken continuum with the Vlax dialects spoken in the south.

In southern Poland, the Carpathian Romanies, known there as Bergitka Roma, lived separately from the earlier Romani population, the Polska Roma, as they still do today. In what is now Slovakia, some became sedentary very early on settling near castles and estates and working for the land-barons as musicians, servants, blacksmiths and sometimes soldiers (Schwicker, 1883, and Száláy, 1914). Others continued to work moving from place to place throughout the region, attracting hostility to themselves from the superstitious European peasantry which was still fearful of an imagined Islamic threat. In fact in 1549, an order was instituted which called for the mass extermination of Romanies throughout the area, on charges of their being spies for the Turks. Romanies had already been blamed for the Great Prague Fire of 1541, and racist sentiment was running high. Because of a papal edict banning Romanies from entering countries within the Holy Roman Empire, there were few places of refuge in western Europe.

Those who fled north into Poland fared better. Although the Warsaw Diet, signed in 1557, ordered the expulsion of all Romanies from that country, legislation which was reaffirmed at the General Diet of 1565 was not effective. To the west and south, Romanies were being cruelly exterminated in an ongoing pogrom, and this, together with the comparatively lenient conditions in Poland, precipitated massive migrations from those areas into that country. With the establishment of foreign monarchs in Poland following the fall of the Jagiellonian Dynasty in 1572 (King Henri Valois, a Frenchman, succeeded by King Stefan Batory, from Transylvania and King Sigismund III, from Sweden), their foreign attitudes towards Romanies were brought with them into the land, and the period of safety came to an end. The General Diet of 1578 enforced the act banishing all Romanies from Poland, and made it a punishable offence for non-Romanies to offer help to any Romanies seeking it.

Those who moved north in the Baltic lands were offered refuge on the estates if they agreed to settle there and work for the land barons and contribute to the economy. By 1588, a statute had been passed which provided for their protection, and by the end of the century, individual Romanies were being placed in charge of Romani-operated guilds on the estates and given titles, sometimes acquiring considerable local authority within that society.

Similar conditions developed in Poland in the 17th century. During this period, an increase in military activity directed in particular against Russians and Turks from the East, led to a depletion of the workforce through conscription, and at the same time caused a greater demand for food and supplies for the troops. Romanies, being exempt from military service, filled the gap and as a consequence, the intensity of anti-Romani persecution abated, at least for those who had become a part of the economic structure. Such Romanies received the approval of the state, and were given protection. ‘Foreign’ Romanies in the area were undesirable, and subject to fierce legislation, a dichotomy which caused changes in internal Romani social makeup and a readjustment of self-perception. Since for those who were regarded as leaders among the Romani artisan class, a special rank of Krol or ‘King’ had been created, probably in imitation of the practice in the Baltic estates. Romani Krolji existed from about 1640 until about 1800 in Poland, and the position was revived, in modified form, in that country in the 20th century, though among the more recently-arrived Vlax rather than the earlier population. Individuals in this kind of authoritative position were also to be found in Hungary and Transylvania as early as the 1600s. The social distinction between khereskere and dromengere ( settled and nomadic) Romanies and the existence of Romani ‘kings’, have been strongly maintained in North American Romani societies, particularly among the Vlax.

The Carpathian Romanies who moved into the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in particular into the area comprising erstwhile Czechoslovakia and northern Hungary became part of a policy unique in Romani history. With the ascendance of Empress Maria Theresa to the throne in 1717, measures were taken to settle and assimilate, rather than just integrate the Roma-directed policies which were continued by her successor, her son Joseph II. They were conscripted into the army, and forbidden to speak Romani or call themselves Romanies, or wear traditional dress or play Romani music. Instead they were referred to as Uj Magyar or ‘New Hungarians’, and by law had to behave like their oppressors. The children were sent to school, and their parents were no longer allowed to pursue any of the traditional occupations. The means of achieving these aims were sometimes quite cruel and ruthless; the punishment simply for being heard speaking Romani, for example, was twenty-five lashes and a spell of forced labour. Church attendance was obligatory, and families were forcibly broken up.

It is on record that from December, 1773 all Romani children aged five and over throughout Pressburg and Fahlendorf were to be taken away to villages in other parts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and left with white families who were given up to 18 florins a year by the state for their upkeep (Liégeois, 1986:106). No regard was paid at all to Romani values or culture, and the attempts at assimilation were seen by the Romanies themselves as an effort to eradicate the Romanies as a distinct people.

Estimates of the number of Karpácki Roma or Carpathian Roma In the United States range between eighteen and twenty-five thousand. They began arriving here in the 1870s as part of a large-scale migration out of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a result of the upheavals following the takeover in 1868 of its government by members of the former Magyar nobility and clergy. This migration may have possibly also been stimulated by the huge migrations out of south-eastern Europe of the Danubian Romanies, not long liberated from Rumanian slavery and who, during the same period, spread to all parts of Europe and the Americas. Others came here as touring musicians, and were able to remain till later governmental legislation made the legal immigration of Romanies almost impossible.

The Carpathian Romani population in Europe today is centered in an area of Europe which includes part of Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Ukraine and a small section of northern Romania. In Hungary, three divisions are recognized: the population in Nógrád Country, north of Budapest, which overlaps into Slovakia, those living in Budapest and in towns along the Duna (the Danube) such as Baja, Dunaszekcsó, Kalocsa, Mohács, Pécs and Versend as far south as the Croatian-Jugoslav border, and those who travel through most parts of the country with carnivals or as knife-grinders, horse-dealers and brick-makers. Although the latter do not identify themselves with the other two groups, their dialect is close to that spoken in the communities along the Danube. The Nógrád dialect is slightly further removed, the main difference among the three being in vowel length and accentuation.

In Hungary itself, with a Romani population of something over half a million (official estimates are smaller), two-thirds have lost the Romani mother-tongue; for some, this happened in Hungary, and their language is Hungarian. For about eight percent of these, this happened in Romania, and the home language is Bayaš (Beyaš, Beas) Romanian. Of those remaining who speak dialects of Romani, the very great majority speak Vlax or Danubian dialects, i.e. those which developed in Wallachia and Moldavia during the five centuries of enslavement. The best represented of these are Lovari, Mačhari, Drizari and the closely-related Gurvari and Cerhari dialects. A small number of Sinti speakers who have migrated from Austria also lives in Hungary. None of these other varieties of Romani is easily mutually-intelligible with the Carpathian dialects. During the past century, some Carpathian-speaking Romanies in Hungary gave up their own dialect and became speakers of Lovari.

In Czech and Slovakia, which has a similar overall number of Romanies, the variety of dialect is the same, though in opposite proportions: speakers of Vlax dialects are in a minority, Sinti speakers are better represented, and Carpathian dialects constitute the biggest of the Romani language Communities. In Hungary, only a few thousand native speakers of Carpathian Romani can be found today, the gradual loss of the language having begun at the end of the 18th century as a result of Maria Theresa’s assimilationist policies. In the Czech Republic, because of the extent of Nazi genocidal policies towards the Romani people in Moravia and Bohemia, the bulk of the population come to live in Slovakia. While related dialects extend eastwards into other countries, the heartland of Carpathian Romani straddles the Hungarian-Czech/Slovak border, and it is as “Hungarian Slovak Roma” that the community most usually identifies itself in the United States today. Other labels referring to the same population are the Bašalde, a reference to the common occupation as musician, the name by which the American Vlax population refers to the Carpathian Romanies here, and Romungre, used by the European Vlax in the same way, and meaning simply “Hungarian Rom.”

The occupation of musician is only one of many undertaken by the Carpathian Romanies. In Hungary, while members of this group can be found in almost all professions, e.g. as teachers, doctors and so on, traditional means of livelihood include collectors and sellers of medicinal herbs, factory workers, basket-makers, wood-merchants, horse dealers, rag-and-bone merchants and so on. In the United States, the Carpathian Romanies have not retained any of these occupations, but instead are exceptionally well represented in the professions. Many are musicians, and play with large municipal symphonies. Others have university degrees—psychologist, banker, university lecturer, criminologist and publisher number among the occupations found among them.

In the 1870s, numbers of Carpathian families made their way into western Europe and the British Isles. Hungarian Romani show-people—-the writer’s ancestors among them—arrived in England and intermarried with British Romani families in the same profession. Family names found in this migration included Bencsi, Laszlo and Kocs. Those who were able to get to America settled in the industrial centers of the north-east, usually establishing themselves in Hungarian and Slovakian immigrant settlements where their music was familiar to, and in demand by, their non-Romani countrymen. At that time, differences were still maintained between Bašalde who were from Hungary, and those from Slovakia, though this distinction seems to have faded with time. The largest communities, with family names such as Horvath, Benci, Gina, Rigo, Dzurko, Duna, Margitza, Bailog, Bila, Charmack, Ziga, Galata, Russell and Bandy were located in lower New York City, Allentown, Braddock and Youngstown. With time, families broke up and moved on to Akron, Cleveland, Detroit, South Bend and south Chicago; today, a sizable population lives in Las Vegas and central and southern California. Wherever possible, employment as musicians was sought; in Europe, this had been the most prestigious of jobs and remains so here. Those lucky enough found full-time employment as musicians. Others played at night in cafes and clubs, supporting their families by working during the day in steel mills. It is in the nation’s main steel-producing centers that most Carpathian Romanies can be found even today.

Because of their mainstream occupations, Carpathian Romanies Americans are less visible than other sections of the Romani population. Like other Romanies, they conceal their ethnicity from the non-Rom World around them In Hungary, they are also less conspicuous than other Romani groups. Erdős writes:

Their women are either just busy in their own household, or pursue diverse professions—they wear “urban” dresses, married women are not obliged to wear kerchiefs. They live in houses with tile roofs and attics.

It may be for this reason that popular accounts of Romani Americans have generally paid them little or no attention. Romani ethnicity is strongly maintained, however. Traditional music is still played at weddings on instruments brought from Europe in the last century, and dishes such as balašinka, haluški, lékvar and páprikaš served on special occasions. Endogamous marriage, though increasing, is discouraged. It is estimated that in addition to the main population, there are some 15,000 Carpathian Romanies in this country of mixed parentage, resulting from endogamous marriage. The Carpathian Romani language is spoken in a dwindling number of families, and for a very few, continues to be learnt by the children. It is not mutually intelligible with either Vlax or Angloromani, both also widely spoken in the United States, nor do Carpathian Romanies interact socially with speakers of these other dialects.



In the past, Bashaldo Romani has been used as a written medium for personal correspondence both within the United States and with relatives in Europe. There has never been one standard spelling system, speakers literate in English, or Slovak, or Hungarian using the conventions of those languages to represent the Romani mother tongue.

The varieties of Romani most widely used today in international correspondence belong to the Vlax group, and Vlax dialects also support a rapidly growing literature. While an argument could be made for devising a spelling system based on English for speakers of American Bashaldo Romani who already all know the rules of English spelling, there are two reasons in particular why this would not be the most suitable choice: firstly, English spelling does not accurately represent Romani sounds (thus English “th” or “x” do not sound the same as the Romani sounds represented by these letters), and secondly, the Vlax orthography already in use is quite suitable for Bashaldo Romani, and has the advantage of being international (in this spelling, “Bashaldo” would be spelled Bašaldo). Once this alphabet has been mastered, learning to read other dialects will be made easier.

The Bashaldo Romani alphabet consists of the following letters and combinations of letters:

  a   b   c   č    čh   d   dž   e   f   g   h   i   j   k   kh   1   m   n   o   p   ph   r   s   š   t   th   u   v   x   z   ž

These are pronounced as follows:


as in “father,” or as in Spanish “la cucaracha”: maro “bread”


like English b: buko “liver”


like “ts” in “cats”: cidav “I pull, I drag”— it sounds like “tsidav”


like “ch” in “matches”: čačo “true”


is like ? but with a strong puff of air following: čhavo “boy.” Younger speakers don’t distinguish č and čh any more.


like English “d” but with the tongue touching the back of the top teeth: dand “tooth”

like English “j” in “jump”: džamutro “son-in-law”


like the “e” in “they”: deš “ten”


like English “f”: foros “city”


like English “g” in “go,” never as in “giant”: gadžo “non-Romani man”


like English h: hamišàgo “envious”


like “i” in “machine”: ìgen “very”


like English “y”:  jakh “eye.” “j” also occurs in combination with “d,” “1” and “n,” and is pronounced together with them as one sound: djives “day,” ljil “letter,” njilaj “summertime.” Some speakers do not sound the “j” here, saying instead dives, lil, nilaj. Remember “aj” here sounds like English “eye.”


like English “c” in “scream”: kan “ear,” ker “do”


like k, but with a strong puff of air immediately following: khand “stink,” kher “house”


more like the English “1” in “look” than in “lean”: lačho “good”


like English “m”: muj “mouth, face.” Remember “uj” here sounds like “ooey” in the word “gooey.”


like English “n” except that the tip of the tongue should be touching the back of the top teeth: nevo “new”


as in French “eau” or Spanish “dos” rather than the English “o,” which has a “w” sound following it. The Romani “o” is a single vowel sound: o: oxto “eight.”
In singing, however, the vowels o and e do acquire a glide, ou, ei (barou “big”).


as in English “spray”: pivos “beer”


 like p, but followed by a strong release of air: phen “sister”


trilled, like a Scottish “r,” not rolled like an American one: Rom “a Romani man”


like English “s”: skamin “chair”


like English “sh” in “shoes”:  šukar “beautiful”


like English”t” in “stay,” but with the tongue touching the back of the top teeth: tato “hot”


like the above, but with a strong release of air immediately following: thulo “fat”


like English “u” in “June”: tumen “you” (plural)


like English “v”:  vaš “for,” veš “forest.” For many speakers, this sounds like a “w”
in all positions, so that bijav “wedding” can sound like “biauw.”


this is like “ch” in Scottish “loch” or German “achtung,” and not like the English

“x”: xaben “food,” oxto “eight”


like English “z”: zumin “soup”


like the “s” in English “pleasure”: žeba “pouch,” žamba “frog”

Stress in Bashaldo Romani is usually on the last-but-one syllable, and is marked with a grave accent (`) in this description only when it does not fall here (thus unmarked words are assumed to have penultimate stress), thus baro “big,” rakli “non-Romani girl.” Some words, especially verbs, have unpredictable stress, however: bešèl or bèšel “she sits,” šùkar  or šukàr “beautiful.”

When the sounds b, d, dž, g or ž are in word-final position, they are pronounced p, t, č, k and š, that jag “fire” sounds like jak, although the plural remains as jaga. Also, final aspirated sounds, čh, kh, ph and th usually lose the aspiration and sound like č, k, p and t, so that jakh “eye” sounds like jak, but remains as jakha in the plural.

The dental consonants, i.e. those made with the tip of the tongue touching the back of the top teeth, viz. d, n, l, t are often followed by a j (“y”) sound if the next vowel is i (or sometimes e). Thus pirani “sweetheart” is pronounced as though written “piranji,” although the plural, pirana, does not have this feature.


Bashaldo Romani nouns have two genders, masculine and feminine, two numbers, singular and plural, and three cases, subject, oblique and vocative. In addition, the verbs have two base tenses, present and past, from which all other verb-forms can be made.

All varieties of Romani descend from one single language which began to break up into different dialects after the Roma first arrived in Europe in the 13th or 14th century. The origins of the language are in India, and the basic vocabulary and structure of Romani are Indian. This constitutes the core of the language, and its grammar is very regular and predictable. Since leaving India nearly 1,000 years ago however, new words for new concepts have been picked up along the way, and these do not generally conform to the core grammar. The grammatical behaviour of these words must be learnt separately. For example, the “native” way of pluralizing nouns which end in a consonant is usually to add an -amas “meat,” masa “meats.” The word mas is Indian (compare modern Hindi mas which has the same meaning), but foros “city” is from Greek, and does not conform to the native grammar, making its plural f6ri instead. In this short outline, non-core words will be indicated when they occur.

2a. Masculine and feminine

These words refer simply to whether a noun belongs to the category which takes o or e for “the.” The masculine set takes -o, and often end in the same letter:

o baličho

“the pig”

o khoro

“the jug”

o mačho

“the fish”

Sometimes masculine words end in a consonant:

o čekat

“the forehead”

o čhon

“the moon”

o sap

“the snake”

The feminine set has e for “the.” These words usually end in an -i, or a consonant:

e bori

“the bride”

e čhuri 

“the knife”

e pirani

“the girlfriend”

e bokh

“the hunger”

e čham

“the cheek”

e jag

“the fire”

2b. Singular and plural

The forms given above are all singular. To indicate plurality, the form of the noun must change. For regular masculine items which end in -o, this becomes -e:







For regular feminine items which end in –i, this becomes -a:







Nouns ending in a consonant, whether masculine or feminine, add a final -a:














“Romani men”

These are names of the different cases nouns and pronouns have in Romani. Subject refers to a noun’s being the subject of the sentence, oblique means it is the object of the sentence, and the vocative case is used only when addressing a person or a thing directly, thus “Anna, come here!” “Oh happy day!,” etc.

The subject has a verb with it, and that verb has to agree with that subject. I sing, the boys run, my sister draws. The object is what the action of the verb refers to, thus I sing a song, the boys see Anna, my sister eats fish.

The oblique case, besides being the form of the object of the sentence, is also the form which takes a number of postpositions. These translate some words which in English are put before the noun, i.e. are prepositions. Romani has prepositions as well as postpositions. An example of a postposition is -tar, which means “from.” This can only be attached to the oblique case, for example bokh, “hunger,” has the oblique form bokha, which with the postposition gives bokhatar “from hunger.”

All words describing nouns, whether they are adjectives, possessive pronouns, demonstratives, numerals, &c., must agree with those nouns according to gender, number and case.

2c. Articles: Definite and indefinite

The indefinite article is “a” or “an” in English. There is no separate word for this in Romani, but the word for the numeral “one” (jekh) can be used. This has no separate feminine form, but it does have oblique forms, jekhe for masculine, and jekha for feminine. Of course there are no plural forms for this word.

Subject forms of the definite article “the,” have already been given: o for masculine singular and masculine and feminine plural, and B for feminine singular nouns. The oblique forms are le for masculine singular and masculine and feminine plural, and la for feminine singular.

2d. Oblique noun endings

When a noun stands as the object of a verb, or if it is to take a postposition, it must have the appropriate oblique ending. Nouns which are not joined with postpositions do not need the oblique endings, however, unless they stand for living things. Thus, it would be necessary in a sentence such as “I see the man,” since “man” is animate, but not in “I see the chair,” since “chair” is inanimate.

The regular oblique endings are:

Masculine singular


le gadžes

“the man”

Masculine plural


le gadžen

“the men”

Feminine singular


la raklja

“the girl”

Feminine plural


le rakljen

“the girls”

Using the verb dikhel/-en “see,” the following constructions will illustrate the number, case and gender distinctions in the nouns and articles:

o raklo dikhel jekhe gadžes

“the boy sees a man”

e rakli dikhel jekha gadža

“the girl sees a woman”

jekh raklo dikhel le gadžes

“a boy sees the man”

jekh rakli dikhel 1a gadža

“a girl sees the woman”

o rakle dikhen 1e gadžen

“the boys see the men”

o raklja dikhen le gadžjen

“the girls see the women”


a.  Present tense endings

In the above sentences, the word for “see” has two forms: dikhel and dikhen. These consist of a stem, dikh-, and the endings -e1 and -en. The endings relate to the subject of the verb dikh-, and must match with it; thus, -el is singular, and matches with “the boy.” It will also match with “he” or “she” or “it.” The -en ending is plural, matching with “the boys” and “the girls” in the above sentences. It will also match with “they.” There are separate words for “he,” “she,” “it” and “they” which can be used, but they are not always necessary since the ending will also give you the same information. Thus dikhel means “he sees,” “she sees” or “it sees,” and dikhen means “they see.”

The endings for the present tense are plural numbers, and each is divided into singular and first, second and third persons:



1st person



2nd person



3rd person



The personal pronouns which can go with these are:

me “I”

amen “we”

tu “you”

tumen “you” plural

jov “he”

jon “they”

joj “she”


Remember that jov and joj—which sounds like “yoi”— also mean “it,” depending on whether the thing referred to is a masculine or a feminine noun. The present tense of “see” is as follows:

me dikhav

“I see”

tu dikhes

“you see,” talking to one person

jov dikhel

“he sees” or “it sees”

joj dikhel

“she sees” or “it sees”

amen dikhas

“we see”

tumen dikhen

“you see,” talking to more than one person

jon dikhen

“they see”

Other verb stems which fit into this same pattern are:










“hold, catch”





“arrive, reach”





“make, do”

















“roast, bake”













“find, keep”





“tell, say”


























3b. Infinitives

It is not necessary to include the personal pronouns with the verbs they accompany, since the verb endings indicate the person.  There are exceptions to this—they may be kept for emphasis, or to avoid ambiguity, but there is one instance in which including the appropriate personal pronoun is necessary: when the construction would otherwise be interpreted as infinitive.

The infinitive is the form of the verb without a subject. In English, this is usually the verb preceded by to: “to run,” “to go,” &c. Romani originally did not have an infinitive, but instead constructed the equivalent by creating a sentence within the sentence introduced by te “that.” Thus “I like to dance” would be translated word for word as “I like that I dance,” kamav te khelav.  In Vlax dialects this is still how these constructions are made. In the Central dialects, however, the third person plural, which ends in -en, has become frozen as the infinitive, so that while this sentence would have the form kamav te khelav in Vlax, it can only be made unambiguous by including the appropriate pronoun in Bashaldo: kamav te khelen “I want to dance,” but kamav te jon khelen “I want them to dance.”


Adjectives usually go before the noun, as in English, and must agree with it in number, gender and case. The endings for adjectives which end in a vowel are:

Masculine singular subject


Masculine plural subject


Masculine singular oblique


Masculine plural oblique


Feminine singular subject


Feminine plural subject


Feminine singular oblique


Feminine plural oblique


These are for core, or native, adjectives. Adjectives taken from other languages, such as Slovak or Hungarian, behave differently and will be dealt with later. Adjectives that end in a consonant don’t usually change their form, e.g. šukar “pretty,” tang “narrow.”

The following sentences will illustrate the adjectival endings:

o phuro gadžo dikhel 

 “the old man sees”

o phure gadže dikhen

 “the old men see”

dikhel le phure gadžes

 “he sees the old man”

dikhel le phure gadžen

 “he sees the old men”

e phuri gadži dikhel

“the old lady sees”

o phura gadža dikhen

 “the old ladies see”

dikhel la phura gadža

 “she sees the old lady”

dikhel le phure gadžjen

 “she sees the old ladies”

o šukar gadžo dikhel

 “the handsome man sees”

e šukar gadži dikhel

 “the pretty lady sees”

dikhel la šukar gadža

 “he sees the pretty lady”

dikhel le šukar gadžes

 “she sees the handsome man”

4a. Equative, comparative and superlative adjectives

Equating two things adjectivally requires the construction ajso + ADJ + -sar, which is the equivalent in English to as + ADJ + as:

ajso baro sar

“as big as”

tu hal ajso phuro sar miro dad 

“you are as old as my father”

ajso, which has the alternate pronunciations kajso and aso, also means “so” or “very” or “such;” with this last meaning, it must agree with the number, gender and case of the adjective following it:

ajse bare jakha

“such big eyes!”

Comparing two things adjectivally requires the equivalent of the English adjective plus -er: “bigger,” “older,” &c.  In Romani, this is formed by adding -eder to the adjective stem:













“Than” is translated by using either sar, or the ablative or “from” postposition with the noun (see below), remembering to put the noun and whatever goes before it into the oblique case first:

bareder sar me

“bigger than I (am)”


“father,” subject


“father,” oblique

mire dadestar

“from my father, than my father”

tu hal phureder mire dadestar

“you are older than my father”

Superlative forms, corresponding in English to the adjective + -est, e.g. “biggest,” “oldest,” are constructed by prefixing naj- or leg- or jekh- to the comparative form:

joj hi e naj-phureder

 “she is the eldest”

miro kher hi o leg-bareder

 “my house is the biggest”

Two adjectives have irregular comparatives and superlatives: lačho, “good,” and phuj “bad.” These have the following forms respectively: feder and goreder:

ada hi o jekh-feder

“this is the best”

ada hi o jekh-goreder

“that is the worst”


There are three main kinds of adverbs: those which are derived from adjectives: those derived from prepositions, and those derived from neither. The first type is formed, with one or two exceptions, by adding -es to the adjective stem:






“happy, lucky”


“happily, luckily”




“Gypsily, in the Gypsy manner”




“in the non-Gypsy way”





An exception is mišto “well” beside lačhes.  Adjectives ending in consonants mayor may not take the -es ending. Those which belong to the non-native category take -nes or no ending:

giljavel šukar/giljavel šukares

“she sings beautifully”

kerel hamišàgo/hamišagones

 “he’s acting jealously”

bešel bidno/bidnones

“he lives wretchedly”

Adverbs derived from prepositions usually occur in sentence-final position, and are formed from the preposition stem plus the suffix –l or -al:

angle o kher


“in front of the house”

o kher anglal pal mande


“the house in front”

me som palal


“I am behind”

pal mande


“behind me”

opre o fedèlo


“above the roof”

o fedèlo opral


“the roof above”

The third kind of adverb refers to time, manner or place, i.e. it deals with when, how or where the action occurs. Some of these adverbs include:


“still, yet”


















“how much”

Adverbs can be made from other adverbs as well, e.g. akana “now,” akanakes “currently,” adadives “today,” adadivesutno “daily.”

Some prepositions have been listed above in the discussion of adverbs: angle “in front of,” pal “behind,” opre “above.” Others include bi “without,” khatar or khatal “from,” vaš “for,” maškar “between” or “among,” paš “near,” pre or pro “to” or “into,” ke or ko “to” or “towards” and tel “under.” Most of these can be used to form the corresponding adverb: telal “underneath.”

There is a special postpositional ending, -te/-de (see next), which goes with nouns preceded by prepositions, cf. pal mande, but this is not used unless there is no definite article in the construction. Thus you’d say and’ o veš “in the forest” and not *ande le vešeste, but you would have to say ande jekh bare vešeste “in a big forest” because the article here is indefinite, not definite.

The same suffix can be used to mean “to the place of” or “at the place of” someone or something, thus geljom ke le Imrešte “I went to Imre’s,” avilje amende “they came to our place.”


These are like prepositions, but go after the noun or pronoun instead of before it, and they must always go with the oblique form, never the subject.   Attach them—do not write them as separate words. There are four of these:


One of its uses has been introduced in 6, above.  It is also the one used with possessive constructions (see below).  After an –n, it becomes –de.


This means “with.”  After an -n, it becomes –ca.


This means “to” or “for,” and makes the dative case.  After an –n, it becomes –ge.


This means “from” or “by” or “than.”  After an –n, it becomes –dar.


8a.  To be, present tense

me som

“I am”

tu sal

“you are,” singular

jov, joj hin

“he, she, it is”

amen sam

“we are”

tumen san

“you are,” plural

jon hin

“they are”

The third person singular, and the third person plural, both have the same form, which is hin, or for some speakers, hi. In addition to this variant there are third person forms which are distinguished for number and (in the singular only) gender:

jov hino

“he, it is”

joj hini

“she, it is”

jon hine

“they are”

Remember that joj hini sounds like “yoi heen-yee,” an –n– before an –i– usually having a “y” sound following it.

This dialect does not have the postpositioned variants of “be,” -lo, -la and -le, found in other branches of Romani (e.g. Northern Romani baro hi-lo, or Vlax baro-lo, “he is big”), although the forms listed here, like the be verb in all Romani dialects, often come after the noun or pronoun, or even the rest of the sentence:

o čhibalo som

“I’m the boss”

o čhibalo hin oda manuš

“that man is the boss”

mire lačhe graja hine

“they’re my nice horses”


These behave the same way as the adjectives described above, and take the same endings. The stems for the possessive pronouns are as follows:






“your,” singular


“your,” plural


“his, its”




“her, its”




“his, her, its own”


“their own”

In ordinary speech, the vowels before the r’ s in these words get dropped, so that miro, leskero, etc., will sound like m’ro, lesk’ro, &c.

The difference between “his” and “his own” can be shown in the following two sentences:

phaglja leskero pindro

 “he broke his leg,” i.e. someone else’s leg

phaglja peskero pindro

 “he broke his leg,” i.e. his own leg

Some sentences containing possessive pronouns are:

dikhav tiro kher

“I see your house”

dikhav tira phenja

“I see your sister”

amare khera

“our houses”

tumare romnja kinde mačhe vaš pengere čhavorende

“your wives bought fish for their children.”


The same endings also are attached to nouns when they are possessive. As with all case endings, they cannot go immediately onto the base form of the noun, but must join onto the oblique:

le khereskero falo

“the wall of the house,” lit. “the house’s wall.”

mira phenjakere čiraxa

“my sister’s shoes”

Note that the articles and possessive pronouns preceding the inflected nouns must also agree in number, gender and case.


11a. Preterite

There are only two distinct forms for each verb, the present and the preterite. All other tenses are made from these. The preterite expresses the simple past, and is constructed on the pattern STEM + infix + ENDING.

The stem is almost always the present tense verb minus any ending, although there are a number of exceptions to this. The infix is most often either a -d- or an -l-, less often an -n- or a -t-, and the endings are as follows:










-ja, -jas


The preterite equivalents of the verbs listed on page 11 are as follows:


 “I grew”


“I wanted”


“I heard”


 “I caught, I held”


 “I wrote”


“I reached, arrived”


 “I asked”


 “I made , did”


 “I broke”


 “I slept”


 “I smeared”

 liljom , lijom

 “I took”


 “I wiped”


 “I gave”


 “I baked”


 “I fell”


 “I wept”


“I drank”


 “I hid”


 “I found, kept”


“I kissed”


 “I said”


 “I ran”


 “I fled”


“I begged”


 “I collected”


“I came”


 “I sold”


“I insulted”


“I died”


“I hit, beat”


 “I bought”


 “I stayed”


 “I coughed”


 “I went”


 “I ate”

11b.  Past participles

Past participles are made from the preterite stem, but since they behave as adjectives, they must take the appropriate adjectival endings:


“I break”


 “I broke”

Preterite stem:  phag-l-  “broken:”

o skamin hino phaglo

“the chair is broken”

e lavuta hini phagli

“the fiddle is broken”

o skamina hine phagle

“the chairs are broken”


4a.  Subjunctive of “to be”

Unlike other varieties of Romani, the Bashaldo dialect includes a distinct form of “to be” which expresses an unreal, or wished-for, situation. This is probably a result of influence from Czech, Slovak or Hungarian, all of which have special subjunctive forms, although the same has not happened in the Vlax or Northern dialects. In English, the subjunctive is usually signalled by the word if, e. g. “if I were rich, I would buy it” -- compare the non-subjunctive “Since I am rich, I will buy it.”  Were and would are necessary rather than am and will because the situation is not an actual one.

In Carpathian Romani, these subjunctive forms of be are te uljom “if I were” te uljam “if we were” te uljal “if you were” te uljan “if you were” te ulja(s) “if he/she/it were” te ule “if they were”

te uljom barvalo, šaj kinav les

“if I were rich, I could buy it”

Šaj here means “can,” and is invariable, i.e. it doesn’t change for number, tense or person.

4b.  -as forms

The two basic verb forms already discussed, the present and the preterite, also serve as the basis for two more tenses, made by adding -as (which is never stressed) to either one. The imperfect, with the pattern PRESENT TENSE + -as is in common use, and expresses habitual action completed some time before the present:


“I see”


“I saw, I used to see”

cf. dikhljom

“I saw, I have seen”

The pluperfect, with the general pattern PRETERITE + -as is less frequently heard. It refers to action completed some time before a more recent episode between the time it happened and the present:


“I saw”


“I had seen”

For this last tense, the third person preterite singular must retain its optional final -s which then becomes -h- between vowels before taking the -as. The third person plural preterite has the same form but without the -j- of the singular:


“I’d seen”


“we’d seen”


“you’d seen”


“you’d seen”


“he’d, she’d seen”


“they’d seen”


pindžaravas la èlet but maseka angla tute

“I’d recognized her months before you did”

kerelas buči andre o foros

“he used to work in the city”

The subjunctive of be also has a pluperfect form:

te uljomas

“If I had been”

te uljamas

“If we had been”

te uljalas

“If you’d been”

te uljanas

“If you’d been”

te uljahas

“If he/she’d been”

te ulahas

“If they’d been”


te uljahas sigeder, joj šaj ulja e angluni

“If she’d been quicker she would have been the first”


13a. Personal oblique

When personal pronouns are in object position in a sentence, they have the following forms:

man “me”

amen “us”

tu or tut “you”

tumen “you”

les “him”

len “them”

la “her”

pen “themselves”

pes “him/herself”



me dikhav tut

 “I see you”

joj dikhel len

 “she sees them”

jon handžen pen

“they’re scratching themselves”

13b. The dative case

The dative case expresses “to” or “for” someone or something. In English, those two prepositions are used before a noun or pronoun; in Romani, the same function is performed by the postposition ke attached to the oblique.  Remember that this becomes –ge after a preceding –n-:


“to me, for me”


“to, for us”


“to, for you”


“to, for you”


“to, for him”


“to, for them”


“to, for her”


 “to, for themselves”


“to, for him/her- self”




jov kindja les mange

“he bought it for me”

čhidjom tuke o baldo

“I threw the ball to you”

If the actual prepositions meaning “to” (pre or ke) or “for” (vaš) are used, the prepositional ending –te/-de, discussed at §§ 6 and 7, must be attached instead:

jov kindja les vaš mande

 “he bought it for me”

čhidjom o baldo ke tute

“I threw the ball to you”

14.  NOUNS

14a. The dative case

Nouns follow exactly the same pattern as the pronouns:

jov kindja les le rakleske

“he bought it for the boy”

čhidjom la rakljake o baldo

“I threw the girl the ball”


15a. The imperative

The imperative applies to the first person plural, when it means “let’s – ,” or to the second person, either singular or plural, when it is used for suggesting or ordering. When it simply means “let’s,” it takes the form of the first person plural verb without the pronoun:


“let’s listen”

 cf. amen šunas

“we listen”

When the verb is an order to someone, e.g. “listen!,” it is usually the stem alone in the singular, and the stem + -en for the plural:


“listen!,” to one person


“listen!,” to more than one person

A politer way of expressing a desire for someone to do or be something is to use the fully inflected forms preceded by te, best transslated as “may:”

te šunes

“may you please listen” sg.

te šunen

“may you please listen” pl.

te aves baxtalo

“may you be lucky” sg.

te aven baxtale

“may you be lucky” pl.

te dživel dugo

“may he live a long time”

15b.  Negation

Verbs are negated by placing the word na before them:

me na šunav

“I don’t hear”

joj na dikhlja man

“she didn’t see me”

Imperative verbs take ma instead of na:

ma šun!

 “don’t listen!”

ma dikhen!

 “don’t look!”

The BE verb has its own negative form in the third person present tense, which is nane, “he/she/it isn’t, they aren’t”:

me na som tiro bači

 “I’m not your uncle”

tu na sal miro bači

 “you’re not my uncle”

jov nane amaro bači

 “he isn’t our uncle”

The word šaj means “can, be able.” This has the negative naši or našči, “cannot.” These two words are not conjugated, i.e. they do not change their form like other verbs. In combination with the subjunctive be, they mean “would/could” and “wouldn’t/couldn’t.”

Besides šaj, there is a fully-conjugated verb birinen, which has as its basic meaning “manage, bear” but which can also be used to mean “be able”:

me našči kerav ništa

“I can’t do anything”

me na birinav te kerav ništa

“I can’t do anything”

15c. Mosi, musi

Like šaj/našči, this is also invariable, and means “must, have to.”  It is followed by te:

amen mosi te dzas

“we have to go”

15d. Kampel

Another word that can occur in the same position is kampel “it is necessary.” This is an impersonal verb which only occurs in the third person singular, and unlike šaj/našči or mosi can be marked for tense: kampela “will have to,” kampljahas “had to.” It takes the dative case of the noun or pronoun:

amenge kampel te džas

“we have to go”

mire baratoske kampljahas te rakhav

“I had to find my friend”

15e.  Iteratives

Another verb form only found in Bashaldo Romani is the iterative. This expresses what is sometimes called frequentative, or habitual, or repetitive action, and is made by infixing -ker-, which is from the verb meaning “make/do,” between the stem and the ending. The following examples will illustrate its use:


“I bite”


“I keep biting, I bite repeatedly”


“she sets alight”


“she is in the habit of setting things alight”


“they sit”


“they are all in the act of sitting”

After stems ending in -g, the ~ ~s elided:


“I break”


“I’m breaking repeatedly”


“I cut”


“I cut over and over”

The same construction, i.e. with infixed -ker-, is found in the Balkan dialects, but there it has a causative function—beškerav for instance would mean “I make someone sit down” and also in some Northern dialects, where it extends the semantic range of the basic meaning: činav “I cut,” čingerav “I tear.” It does not occur in Vlax. Its origin is Indian, where the same frequentative function survives, e.g. in Panjabi pek-ata he “he cooks,” pek-aya kar-ta “he generally cooks,” cf. Romani pek-el, pek-ker-el.

15f.  Future Tense

The future tense is made by adding an -a to the present-tense.

me dikhava

 “I shall see”

tu dikhesa 

 “you will see”

15g.  To Be - Past and Future

The past tense of be is as follows:

me somas

“I was”

 amen samas

“we were”

tu salas

“you were”

 tumen sanas

“you were”

jov/joj (e)sas

“he/she was”

jon (e)sas

“they were”

There is no future tense for this verb. Instead, the future of av- “come” or “become” is used:

me avava

“I will be”

Me avava is usually contracted to me’ ava “I shall be,” also “I shall come,” “I shall become.”


I want to thank the Godla, Bandy and Gina families of Chicago and Dearborn, and especially Bill Duna of Minneapolis, for their patience in letting me pick their brains in the preparation of this grammatical sketch.


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