Vlach Gypsies of Hungary - Orientation



Identification. Vlach Gypsies are one branch of the Romany-speaking Gypsies who lived for several hundred years in Romania until they began migrating to other parts of the world in the middle of the nineteenth century. The majority of Vlach Gypsies now live in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Romania. In Hungary they are mostly found in the Eastern and northern regions of the country. The origin of the ethnonym "Rom" is obscure, though one Hungarian scholar has speculatively suggested it might derive from the north Indian Dom caste. The term "vlach" (Hungarian olah ) derives from the association of these Gypsies with the old Romanian principality of Wallachia. The Hungarian word cigany (Gypsy) is found in the Hungarian language from the Middle Ages and is cognate with terms for Gypsies in other European languages such as German zigeuner. "Cigany" has negative connotations of deceit and laziness. The term "Rom" distinguishes Vlach Gypsies from other Gypsy groups in Hungary such as Romanian-speaking "Boyash" Gypsies and Hungarian speaking "Romungro" Gypsies.

Location. Gypsies tend not to rely directly on the natural environment for their livelihood; instead, they are dependent on human environments, so they live wherever the non-Gypsy environment provides them with the human resources they need to carry out their economic activities. Since at least the early 1960s, when nomadism was suppressed in Hungary, the Rom (like most Gypsies in eastern Europe) have been more sedentary. Today, Rom are as likely to be found in towns as in villages, but almost always in the poorer areas. Large concentrations of Rom reside in the inner cities of Budapest, Pecs, and Miskolc.

Demography. Approximately 100,000 Rom live in Hungary today; this figure accounts for 20 percent of all the Gypsies in the country. When the Rom migrated into Hungary after their liberation from slavery in the Romanian principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia, some moved on to western Europe and even to the New World. The majority remained in the countries that came under Russian control after World War II. We do not know what percentage of the world's Rom live in modern Hungary.

Linguistic Affiliation. Rom speak Romany (also spelled "Romani") or Romanes as they say. The vocabulary items of the Romany spoken by any one group of Rom are deeply Influenced by the country where they happen to reside. The syntactical structure remains more constant. Romany spoken in Hungary belongs to the Balkanic Language Group. Some 800 words or so of its basic vocabulary (words that are shared throughout all variants of Romany spoken around the world today) are of north Indian, Persian, and Armenian origin. Romany spoken in Hungary seems to have become recently homogenized, with the merging of alternate dialects, possibly as an expression of growing ethnic self-awareness. Scholars disagree about the extent to which Romany across the world may be treated as one language—certainly Rom manage to communicate in it wherever they find one another.


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