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Romani dying out in Czech Republic, but not as fast as feared
12-06-2009  Rosie Johnston

The Romany language is dying out in the Czech Republic, but not as rapidly as some had feared, suggests a survey conducted by linguists at Prague’s Charles University. The results of the first study of its kind in this country suggest that around 30 percent of the Czech Republic’s Roma minority are fluent Romani speakers. Earlier today, I met one of the survey’s authors, Helena Sadílková, and asked her first whether the Romani spoken in the Czech Republic varied from that spoken elsewhere in Europe:

Helena Sadílková “There are different dialects of Romani, and the dialect depends on the ethnic group of the person who speaks the language. So that means that you can’t compare the different types of Romani on a country-by-country basis, but instead a group-by-group basis. But if you ask about the type of Romani spoken in the Czech Republic, linguistically, the most spoken dialect is the so-called ‘Slovak’ Romani, or North-Central dialect of Romani. Whereas in Romania, for example, the most spoken dialect would be Vlach Romani, I guess, which is very different from the major dialect which is spoken here.”

And the study that you have been conducting here at Charles University has been focused on the afore-mentioned Slovak Romani?

“Well actually, it was focused on all of the different dialects of Romani spoken here in the Czech Republic. So that means the North-Central dialect, and then there are speakers of the Vlach dialect – the Vlach dialect is supposed to be the most lively, the most commonly-used still as a maternal language. And then there are different sub-ethnic groups like the so-called ‘Hungarian’ or South-Central Romani dialect. And then other dialects too – so we weren’t actually focusing on one dialect, but on the group of Roma living in the Czech Republic as a minority, basically.”

And what were your findings, that Romani is dying out?

“We did the research on a group of 1,000 children of school age across the whole of the Czech Republic. We had different samples in different cities, but mostly it was concentrated in Bohemia, our research. And out of these 1,000 children, one-third are fluent speakers of Romani and we can suppose that Romani is commonly-used in their background, one-third would be children who do not know Romani at all, or only know certain words. And one-third fall somewhere in between.

“There are different ways of interpreting this. From the point of view that we had 30-40 years of very strict assimilation policy under the Communist regime here, it is actually good news that so many people speak Romani still. On the other hand, if you take the language as it is and other conditions into account, the picture doesn’t look so good, we can even say that it is grim.”

Is Romani a written language at all? If it were to be taught in schools, is there any body of literature that it could be taught from?

“If we talk about the Czech Republic, Romani has been used in a written form since the 1960s, and there is actually literature written in Romani. Romani is also used in some of the newspapers, though this is often symbolic. So this could also be taken into the class, but there basically is literature written in Romani and there are still writers who write in Romani.”

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