Symbolism and Folklorisation

Due to the newly arisen internal status of Romani as a primary identity marker in the emancipation process symbolic functions emerged. In the first instance these new functions can be attributed to emblematic texts. Such texts are "not intended to enhance the adressee's knowledge in order to action on his part, but rather to elicit emotional identification on the part of the adressee with the aesthetic symbolism of the text in its particular language-external context." (Matras 1999: 495).

Symbolic-emblematic function on the micro level is attributed to Romani single words in texts in the majority language. In this context it is worth mentioning the numerous names of newspapers and magazines in Romani, such as the quarterly journal "Romano Kipo" ("Roma Picture") which is published by an Austrian Romani association and – apart from its header – is exclusively written in German.

The same pattern – only titles and headers in Romani, the rest of the text in the respective majority language – can be observed with cultural products too. To give an example, the Austrian singer and actor Tony Wegas, who has been very popular among young Burgenland-Roma, entitled his 1994 released CD "Durada Tschal" [dureder džal] "Push Along". Aside from this main title of the CD only for one song title and its refrain the same two words in Romani are used. The function of these Romani elements in an otherwise German text only can be found in the language-external context. By using Romani the artist wants to express solidarity with his people and at the same time uses this legacy for marketing his product.

Similar symbolic-emblematic functions of expressing solidarity and raising awareness have to be attributed to adresses of welcome, politeness formulas, introductory formulas and whole speeches in Romani which are given in front of an audience consisting mostly of people with no competence in Romani. As a rule, these formulas, adresses, speeches, etc. are either repeated by the speaker in the respective majority language or translated by a bilingual participant of the event. The communicative functions are fulfilled by the repetitions in and the translations into the majority language. The functions of this kind of Romani use are in the language-external symbolic context – awareness raising, expressing solidarity, demonstrating the values of their own language and culture, etc. – and can be labelled as political folklorisation.

Another symbolic-emblematic use of Romani in the field of political folkorisation is the mobilising-rallying function; i. e. "the shaping of a text in such a way that would demonstrate ideological commitment and political allegiance and identification" (Matras 1999: 496).

maśkarthemutne bi-raipne organizàcie ... butĭ vaś-e Manuśikane Hakaja p-o maśkar-themutno nivo ... international non-governmental organisations ...human rights activities at the international level ...

example 1: "Standard" Romani (Matras 1999: 497)

The texts of example 1 are taken from the minutes of a meeting of Romani delegates at an international conference. The mobilising-rallying function becomes apparent by the use of the so called "Standard Romani" of the Romani Union. The decision for this standard was taken in the context of the Fourth Romani World Congress in April 1990 in Warsaw. In the years after, the proponents of this decision have used the conventions defining the criteria for the implementation of a written language set by the Warsaw decision and also the neologisms in internal papers as well as in publicly obtainable publications, such as the "Rromani Uniaquoro Lil", the newspaper of the Romani Union which is published irregularly. By using these conventions, ideological commitment as well as political allegiance and identification with the Romani Union, its resolutions and its decision bearers is demonstrated. In the context of political folklorisation of Romani this mobilising-rallying function can be subsumed under the emblematic function.

Almost exclusively emblematic function has to be attributed to the text in example 2. This text, which is accompanied by its German and English translations, was composed for the plate on the memorial commemorating the four young Roma who were killed by a bomb in Oberwart in February 1995. This example shows a regional group-specific codification: German conventions for the implementation of a written language are used.

Adaj, ando 4. feberi 1995, schtar terne Romen murdarde.O Erbakero Farajn Roma taj o pra-dime potschintschage pomoschin-de ada than le gondolipeske te kerel. O argondolinipe taj i buti o Reinhard Vitus Gombots kertscha.O baro bar, savo maschkare ter-dschol, neka sikal oda murdajipe taj te le but brigaschne droma le Romendar te le avre tschulipendar. O schtar lole bara, save avral ter-dschon, hi odole, save diken upro vodschi amare schtar phralendar. Here, on February 4th 1995, four young Roma were murdered.The construction of this memorial was achieved by the Roma Association of Oberwart along with the help of public funding. It was designed and realized by RV G.The big stone in the middle is meant foremost to recall the murder but also to remind us of the hardships suffered by the Roma and other minorities.The red stones forming the outer circle guard the souls of our four brothers.

example 2: Burgenland-Romani (1998)

Such bilingual commemorative texts can be found in former concentration camps and other places Roma have suffered from persecution. The function of Romani in these context is almost exclusively emblematic. As many Roma visiting these places are not used to written Romani at all, the information about the events commemorated is in most cases a secondary function of the texts in the majority languages.

Another acrolectal domain with similar symbolic-emblematic functions of Romani is religion. The use of Romani in religious services has intensified during the last decades in parallel to the self-organisation and emancipation of its speakers. Example 3 shows an intercession used in a Roman Catholic Mass which was celebrated for Roma especially.

Del, amen molinas tut, kaj amen Roma le avre manuschenca khetan ando mirnipe schaj dschijas.Amen molinas tut,schun amenge use. God, we pray to you, that we Roma can live together in peace with the other people.We ask you,to answer our prayers.

example 3: Burgenland-Romani (1996)

This use of Romani in religious services demonstrates the integration of Roma into the respective denomination. Symbolic functions again are prevailing the communicative ones. Consequently this use of Romani can be labelled religious folklorisation.

On the macro level of emblematic texts in the religious domain there are predominantly bible translations which have a tradition dating back at least to the 19th century. It seems obvious that only a minority of owners of Romani bibles uses them for edification. For the majority these bibles only have symbolic functions.

On the macro level of emblematic texts in the cultural domain there are first of all translations of world literature into various Romani varieties; i. a. the "Ramayana" translated by Leksa Manuš into Latvian Romani; parts of Dante's Divina Comedia translated into Drindari-Romani, Euripides' Medea, Shakespeare's Hamlet and de Saint-Exupery's Little Prince into Hungarian varieties of Romani, etc. Such translations have their effects on the external world, the non Roma, and demonstrate to the majority population that Romani is suitable for long complex texts of the so called "high literature". But there are also internal effects on the Roma themselves: translations of world literature demonstrate the value of Romani and its equality with other languages. This consequently strengthens the identification of Roma with their own language and culture. But the primary intention of the writer – to offer their audience reading pleasure – is mostly prevailed by the emblematic function which is in most cases the primary intention of the translator.

Aside translations, also literary production in Romani has predominatly symbolic functions. Poems like the one shown in example 4 are first of all created to demonstrate that Roma and Romani are capable of poetic language use.

E TERNE The Young
E terne manuscha kamenpe e neve djila te khelenpe ratscha andej diskurabute schejen de dikhena.E ternimata schanenschi de tehara te khelen.Muken amen te trajinasi nevi luma te dikhas.Ame terne sam taj kamas vi romanschago te keras.I bari luma boldel pestaj vi e Rom phiren neves. The young people want to dance to new songs and to flirt in the disco with girls until dawn.The youth knows about how to dance tomorrow. Allow us that we live to see the new world. We are young and we also want to lead life the Romani way.The big world goes on turning and the Roma are going on too.

example 4: Mongo Stojka (Romano Centro 13/1996: 18) / Lovara-Romani

As it is also the case for this example, such poems usually are published together with their translations into the respective majority language. The same applies for the majority of collections of fairy tales, songs and other stories. These bilingual products are also used for public readings and performances which first of all serve the ethnocultural folkloristic demands of both interested members of the majority as well as the minority, the Roma themselves. In many cases these events are connected with musical performances. Music is another one of the cultural fields contributing to the folklorisation of Romani. Aside from titles and headers in Romani, many of the booklets accompanying CDs with Romani music have lyrics translated into the majority language, reducing the Romani texts to the symbolic level.

Many of these bilingual products in particular target the majority and try to meet the folkloristic demands of non Roma interested in Romani language and culture. This also can be seen as integration of Romani culture into the majorities ethno-culture business. Consequently, some of these products contribute to the consolidation of stereotypes and strengthen prejudices.

Summing up the functional-expansion of Romani into public-formal domains, the conclusion can be drawn, that this expansion predominantly serves symbolic-emblematic demands and effectuates an at least threefold folklorisation of Romani: in the political domain, in the religious context, and in the cultural field.


Matras, Yaron (1999) Writing Romani: The Pragmatics of Codification in a Stateless Language. In: Applied Linguistics 20/4, pp. 481–502.
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