Rom of Czechoslovakia - Orientation

Identification. Rom is the name applied to people of Indian origin who migrated out of India about 1,000 years ago and today are commonly referred to as Gypsies. Although outsiders view all Gypsies as being the same, there were and remain castelike distinctions between different Rom groups based on occupational specialization and language. Although the Rom are now found throughout the world, caste-based restrictions are still followed by some, including the prohibition of marriage between members of different groups. The name "Rom" is derived from the name of an ancient Indian caste, "Dom," whose subcastes practiced occupations such as Blacksmithing, basket weaving, and music making. "Dom" is derived from the Sanskrit word damaru, meaning "drum." The label "Gypsy" is derived from "Egyptianos," incorrectly suggesting an Egyptian origin for the European Rom. The labels "Cikán," "Zigeuner," and "Tsiganes" all suggest ancestry among the athinganoi, a group of musicians in Asia Minor. In Czechoslovakia, "Cikán" was a derogatory term that was Officially replaced by "Rom" in 1989.

Location. Three Rom groups are found in the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic: Slovak Roms (about 80 percent of the Rom population), Hungarian Roms (about 10 percent), and Vlaxi (about 10 percent). About one-third live in the Czech part of the republic and about two-thirds in the Slovak section. There are also a few German Rom (Sinti) and Hungarian Rom families.

Demography. According to information from the National Committees (local, district and regional administrative centers), in 1987 there were 383,000 Rom in Czechoslovakia. This is probably an underestimation, as only those Rom who came to the attention of government social workers are counted. Thus, the actual number of Rom is probably close to a half-million. The Rom birthrate is about twice that of non-Roms, and projections point to a Rom population of one Million in 2020.

Linguistic Affiliation. Roms speak dialects of Romani, which is classified in the Indian Group of Indo-European Languages and which is related to Hindi, Punjabi, Rajasthani, and other Indian languages. Each Rom group speaks a distinct dialect. Dialect differences evidently existed at the time of migration out of India and have been further broadened through contact with different non-Rom groups in the Regions where Rom settled. In general, Czechoslovakian Roms are bilingual or even trilingual, speaking some combination of Romani/Slovak/Czech/Hungarian. While Romani has disappeared among the Czech Rom, a majority of Slovak Rom still use Romani, although its use is decreasing in the youngest generation.

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