Transylvanian Ethnic Groups - Orientation



Identification. Transylvania is a multiethnic region located in the present-day state of Romania. Its principal Ethnic groups, or nationalities, are Romanians, Hungarians, and Germans; there are also Serbs, Gypsies, and Jews in the Region, as well as small numbers of others (such as Armenians). It is difficult to give basic facts about Transylvania, since members of the different groups—particularly the Romanians and Hungarians—disagree on fundamental points of information.

Location. Disagreement begins with the territory to which the label "Transylvania" applies (since the region does not now have any administrative status, there are no political boundaries to simplify the problem of its designation). Some people use the term to include all the territory of Romania west and north of the watershed of the southern and eastern Carpathian Mountains, to the Hungarian and Ukrainian borders. Others use it in a narrower sense, to refer to the Central plateau (400-600 meters in elevation) encircled by the eastern, southern, and western Carpathians; the remaining areas between this plateau and the Hungarian and Ukrainian borders are then called Banat, Crişana, and Maramureş. The former, more inclusive definition (somewhat more common) will be used here. Transylvania thus defined lies between approximately 45.5° and 48° N and 20.5° and 26° E. It occupies 41.9 percent of the total surface area of Romania. The climate is continental, with relatively dry, warm summers and cold winters.

Demography. Population figures for the different groups are another area of disagreement. Romanian statistics gave the country's population, as of 31 December 1988, as 23,112,000; of this, the counties of Transylvania comprised 35 percent, distributed in 16 of Romania's 39 counties. Official statistics showing Romania's ethnic groups by county or region have not been published for many years. Even the national percentages for each group (not published since 1977) are disputed, Hungarians claiming that the official statistics understate the numbers of Hungarians in Romania. Since it: is therefore impossible to say exactly what proportions each nationality represents of the Transylvanian population, only estimates are available. In 1977, official figures gave the national population as 89.1 percent Romanian, 7.7 percent Hungarian, 1.5 percent German, and .2 percent Serbian (down from 1966 percentages of 85.7 percent, 9.1 percent, 2.2 percent, and .3 percent). Given that most Hungarians, Germans, and Serbs in Romania lived in Transylvania, the approximate proportions for Transylvania's nationalities as of 1977 were: slightly more than 70 percent for Romanians, about 22 percent for Hungarians, about 4.3 percent for Germans, and about .6 percent for Serbs. Extensive emigration of Germans during the late 1970s and 1980s reduced their numbers from the roughly 325,000 of the 1977 census; informal estimates as of 1990 put them at 200,000 to 250,000. The figure often used for Hungarians as of 1990 was about 2,000,000 (some Hungarian sources put the number as high as 2,500,000). Until accurate statistics are collected and published, it is probably safest to speak of Hungarians as constituting about 8 percent of the population of Romania and about one-fourth of Transylvania. Gypsies were generally underenumerated and often did not declare Gypsy identity, making it impossible to state the size of this minority. While these population figures may seem vague, figures offering greater precision are probably motivated by one or another group's bias and cannot be accepted with confidence.

The Hungarian and German minorities are concentrated in different parts of Transylvania. Hungarians are most Numerous in the eastern counties of Harghita and Covasna, the north-central city of Cluj (Hungarian: Kolozsvar), the surrounding Cluj and Mureş counties, and the western portions of the counties of Satu Mareş Arad, Bihor, and Timiş (all bordering on Hungary). Germans are concentrated in southern Transylvania, particularly the cities of Brassov (German: Kronstadt) and Sibiu (German: Hermannstadt) and their environs. Serbs are found largely in the city of Timişoara and the counties of Timiş and Caraş-Severin, which border on Serbia. Romanians and Gypsies are found in all parts of the region, somewhat less numerous in the two eastern counties (Harghita and Covasna) where Hungarians have their highest densities.

Linguistic Affiliation. Each of Transylvania's major Ethnic groups is distinguished from the others by both language and religious affiliation. The language of Transylvanian Romanians is Romanian, a Romance language of the Indo-European Family having some elements of Slavic vocabulary and grammar. Although some differences in pronunciation and lexicon exist among them, the speech of Transylvanian Romanians is fully intelligible both among themselves and with Romanians from elsewhere in the country. Hungarian, of the Finno-Ugrian Language Family, is the first language of Transylvanian Hungarians. While it is marked by regionalisms and other features that distinguish it from the language spoken in Hungary, Hungarian-speakers from Transylvania and Hungary have no difficulty in understanding one another. Particularly during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when the heartland of Hungary was occupied by the Ottomans and Transylvania was a quasi-independent principality, many Hungarians came to regard Transylvanian Hungarian as the proper literary form; from this has come their present notion that Transylvanian Hungarian is the "purest" form of this language. Transylvania's Germans are all schooled in High German (Hochdeutsch) and, through it, they communicate freely both with one another and with Germans from Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. Domestically, however, many of them use one of two dialects that are not mutually comprehensible, known as Saxon and Swabian. These were brought into the region in two different waves of migration, one in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the other in the eighteenth (see History below). The differences between Saxon and Swabian, together with the tendency for Swabian-speakers to be concentrated in southwestern Transylvania and Saxon-speakers in the southcentral and southeastern zones, meant that up to 1940, speakers of Saxon and Swabian did not often intermarry. Following World War II, the numbers of Germans declined markedly, not just from the emigration of the 1970s and 1980s but also from deportation and exile between 1945 and 1951, which halved Romania's prewar German minority of nearly 700,000. This, together with the increased social and geographical mobility of Germans under Communist-party rule, led to increased Intermarriage between Swabians and Saxons (such couples Usually spoke Hochdeutsch in the home, rather than either dialect).

Of Romania's other groups, Serbs speak the South Slavic language known as Serbo-Croatian, comprehensible to Serbs from Yugoslavia. Gypsies employ both Romani (of the Indo-Iranian Subfamily of Indo-European) and Romanian; many of them also speak Hungarian and/or Serbian, from their circuits across the borders of the three countries. Jews may have as their domestic language Yiddish, Romanian, or Hungarian, the latter two depending in part on which nationality they or their families had oriented to historically; many Transylvanian Jews do not know Yiddish.


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