Gitanos - Orientation

Identification. "Gitanos," the term that almost all Gypsies of Spain use to identify themselves, is also the word that non-Gypsy Spaniards use. Gitanos are monolingual Spanish speakers, and although some claim that an identifiable physical type exists, Gitanos are in fact phenotypically indistinguishable from other Spaniards. They are overwhelmingly sedentary, not nomadic. They derive their name (as do Gypsies, Gitans, Tsiganes, and Zigeuners) from the misnomer "Egyptian." The term originated with the erroneous notion, dating back to western Europe's early modern period, that "Gypsies" originally came from Egypt. Gitanos probably account for well over 99 percent of the Gypsy populations in Spain. They should be distinguished from Spain's tiny minority of Indic-speaking people, who are also glossed in English as "Gypsies." (The latter, whom both Gitanos and non-Gitano Spaniards call "Húngaros," or "Gitano-Húngaros," call themselves "Rom.") Gitanos rarely intermarry with Spain's Romany-speaking Gypsies even when they live in the same quarter, and they have many more social and economic relations with non-Gypsy Spaniards than they do with the Rom.

Demography. No reliable censuses of Gitanos in Spain exist today, although estimates vary from 100,00 to 300,000 persons. Earlier censuses are referred to in the historical Record, but only one approximation to a census, a national prison roster, has actually been found. This roster, which is considered to have comprised almost all the Gypsies in Spain, is a 1749 listing of some 9,000 Gypsy prisoners who were rounded up and incarcerated for three months under Philip VI: if correct, it would show that Gitanos in the mideighteenth century constituted about 0.2 percent of the Spanish population. While the relative proportion of Gitanos to non-Gitanos has doubled and perhaps quintupled since the mid-eighteenth century, the present Gitano incidence is still estimated as ranging from at most about 0.5 to 1 percent of the total Spanish population.

Linguistic Affiliation. Gitanos in Spain, like Gypsies in many other countries, are monolingual speakers of the Language of their own country—in this case, Spanish. In the past Gitanos spoke Caló, a speech form characterized by Spanish grammar but containing words of Indic origin. It is not known when Caló emerged, but its lexical items show it to have been derived from a language akin to Romany (Romanes), the Language of the present-day Rom. Caló was entirely distinct from Germania, or "thieves' slang," of Spain, and although it penetrated Germania, the reverse did not occur to any great extent. By the mid-nineteenth century, the different local variants of Caló together constituted some 2,000 lexical items, and Gitanos could still communicate without being understood by outsiders. Today, Caló is no longer a living speech code, although isolated lexical items may be wide-spread in the speech of some Gitanos. One interesting aspect of Caló has been the attention given to it by non-Gypsy aficionados of Gypsy culture. In the nineteenth century as well as today, non-Gypsies have taught themselves to speak, and even compose poetry, in Caló. In the present climate of Gitano consciousness-raising, both Gitanos and non-Gitanos engaged in Gypsy politics have learned to speak a form of Caló (largely from written sources), have organized classes to teach Gitanos Caló, and have composed political verse in it. Caló has contributed words to spoken Iberian Spanish, and it has found a small place in the Spanish dictionaries.

User Contributions:

Report this comment as inappropriate
Mar 22, 2013 @ 11:23 pm
That's an opinion that they are indistinguishable from ethnic Spaniards (I disagree), genetics test though demonstrate a difference in the populations despite some ancient admixture. The gitanos are a very important part of the folk culture of Andalusia and they are heavily present in that region and often those of non-Gitano heritage may also identify with the Gitanos. I'd imagine there is a similar relationship with them in Romania and even Italy despite current controversies and politics.

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: