Yesterday, I read a very interesting post on how we should inform English speaking non-Romani to refer to us. I never think twice when I tell English speaking individuals to kindly refer to us as Romani instead of “gypsy”. It is natural for me to interchange Romani, Roma & Rom appropriately while speaking English because I also speak Romanes, the language of the Romani people. However, I never thought that doing so could lead to confusion as to how we should be called in English.
The blog post I read was written by a Romani person, but done so from the perspective of an English speaking non-Romani. Though the post was written somewhat out of frustration, the explanation of why Romani, Roma & Rom cannot be used interchangeably was excellent. I thought I should share the content of this post in my own words.
When speaking English, we should be called the Romani people. Romani means “person” or “human” in our own language. It is how we call ourselves in Romanes. Romani refers to the entire ethnic population, from the Romanichal to the Kalderash to the Lovari to the Roma.
The Roma? The Roma, also spelled Rroma by some, are a sub-group of the Romani people who live in Central & Eastern Europe & parts of the Balkans. Our population is often mistakenly called the Roma. While it is far more appropriate than calling us “gypsy”, it is still incorrect.
In Romanes, the word Roma means woman. In English, the word Roma has two meanings. Roma, as stated above, refers to a Romani sub-group. Roma is also used as an adjective. Often, people who speak Romanes will talk about an ethnic Romani female as a “Roma girl” or “Roma woman”. This is out of habit & is done to signify we are discussing someone who belongs to the Romani ethnicity, and not a non-Romani individual. The same habit is applied to speaking about ethnic Romani men; we often say “Rom boy” or “Rom man”. Rom means man in our language.
These habits, however, are only half-correct, linguistically. We have our own words for a Romani girl, woman, boy and man, and for a non-Romani girl, woman, boy and man. When we speak English to non-Romani, or Romani who do not speak Romanes, they would not understand what is meant by words such as chej, raklo, chavorale or gadje. Thus, we signify the ethnicity of whom we are talking about by using Roma, Rom, or Romani as adjectives.
Using Roma or Rom to refer to our entire population is wrong. When we say, “the Roma people”, we refer specifically to a Romani sub-group. When articles are written about “the Roma people”, they often try to refer to the entire population. This is not only wrong, but leads to confusion.
When we are consistently referred to as “the Roma people” by mistake, it not only causes issues when we want to refer to the Roma sub-group, but also signifies exclusion. When we say Romani, it incorporates all sub-groups; Roma, Lovari, Romanichal, Sinti, Kale, Kalderash, Gurbeti, Ludari, Xoraxane, and so on. We often see articles & scholarly works that refer to the “Roma & Sinti”. This specifies that only two Romani sub-groups are being discussed. It also places the Sinti, who are a Romani sub-group, outside the realm of being Romani. Saying “the Roma people” or the “Roma & Sinti” discounts all other Romani sub-groups.
As you can now see, calling us Roma can be problematic. However, now you know how to appropriately & correctly use these terms. Kindly, call us the Romani people.