World Day of Romani Language, cherishing a linguistic survivor to the test of time

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November 5 marks World Day of the Romani Language, a celebration of a language that is over 1,000 years old and is spoken today in well over 50 states around the globe.

Proclaimed by UNESCO in 2015, upon an initiative led by the Croatian Parliament in 2009, the day serves not only to promote the language of some 10-12 million Roma living across Europe but also to improve their well-being.

According to estimates from UNESCO, Rromani Ćhib has about 33,000 words, and countless dialects, although speakers of different dialects can comprehend one another, only a few know the standard form.

But in present times, their language is at risk although spoken in Albania by nearly 20,000 people, and one of the reasons is because it is not being taught in school.

And the less a language is spoken, the more it will be consigned to oblivion. UNESCO ranked Romani in 547th place in terms of languages at risk.

Euronews Albania spoke to Emiliano Aliu, the Executive Director of Roma Versitas Albania, who counted some of the challenges that the language is facing nowadays.

“We have a great challenge that this language is getting lost among youth, due to integration, discrimination, and racism against them, causing them to forget their mother language”, tells us Aliu.

Some efforts have been made in Albania, including an initiative from Prof. Marcel Courthiade and the late professor Arben Kosturi from Korca, to open the Romani language cathedra at the Aleksander Xhuvani University of Elbasan back in 2015, generating an entirely new field of study as well as potential future workplaces for teachers of the Romani language.

But the program had to face closure four years after its creation amid low enrollment figures.

“The first generation of students began at the Aleksander Xhuvani University. There was a total of 12 students, two left, eight graduated and another two dropped out. Even the second generation was small in numbers, but in the third year, the figures fell”, added Aliu, who was also one of the professors in the program.

The Executive Director of Roma Versitas Albania suggests that state authorities should adopt a law allowing the facultative teaching of a standard Romani language in schools that have at least a 15% minority.

Another problem is discrimination which makes many Romani youngsters avoid speaking their mother language, that is why it is of utmost importance to promote the language in schools through special programs in order to remove stigmatization barriers.

Raxhi Rakipi, a member of the Roma minority, was one of the students who graduated from the program.

“I decided to study Romani as I didn’t know how to write it or read my language before … there are many children who actually don’t know how to”, he tells us.

In 2016, Albanian NGO Rromani Baxt Albania published an Albanian-Romani (and vice-versa) dictionary enlisting around 4,500 words.

The language resembles a lot Sanskrit, as well as Pothwari, serving to prove the massive movement that began from Northern India and then spread toward Europe almost a millennium ago and also making it the only Indo-Aryan language that is spoken exclusively in Europe.

In Albania, there are five tribes and a total of four dialects. Based on their arrival in Albania they are namely Meçkars, Erlij, Çergars, Bamill, and Vakarde (Kurtofe).

Today, they live across four main cities, Tirana, Fier, Korca, and Elbasan.

The community is believed to have settled in Albania around 600 years ago and has passed on the language one generation after another.

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