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ON THE LANGUAGE OF THE GITANOS

'I am not very willing that any language should be totally extinguished; the similitude and derivation of languages afford the most indubitable proof of the traduction of nations, and the genealogy of mankind; they add often physical certainty to historical evidence of ancient migrations, and of the revolutions of ages which left no written monuments behind them.' - JOHNSON.

THE Gypsy dialect of Spain is at present very much shattered and broken, being rather the fragments of the language which the Gypsies brought with them from the remote regions of the East than the language itself: it enables, however, in its actual state, the Gitanos to hold conversation amongst themselves, the import of which is quite dark and mysterious to those who are not of their race, or by some means have become acquainted with their vocabulary. The relics of this tongue, singularly curious in themselves, must be ever particularly interesting to the philological antiquarian, inasmuch as they enable him to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion respecting the origin of the Gypsy race. During the later part of the last century, the curiosity of some learned individuals, particularly Grellmann, Richardson, and Marsden, induced them to collect many words of the Romanian language, as spoken in Germany, Hungary, and England, which, upon analysing, they discovered to be in general either pure Sanscrit or Hindustani words, or modifications thereof; these investigations have been continued to the present time by men of equal curiosity and no less erudition, the result of which has been the establishment of the fact, that the Gypsies of those countries are the descendants of a tribe of Hindus who for some particular reason had abandoned their native country. In England, of late, the Gypsies have excited particular attention; but a desire far more noble and laudable than mere antiquarian curiosity has given rise to it, namely, the desire of propagating the glory of Christ amongst those who know Him not, and of saving souls from the jaws of the infernal wolf. It is, however, with the Gypsies of Spain, and not with those of England and other countries, that we are now occupied, and we shall merely mention the latter so far as they may serve to elucidate the case of the Gitanos, their brethren by blood and language. Spain for many centuries has been the country of error; she has mistaken stern and savage tyranny for rational government; base, low, and grovelling superstition for clear, bright, and soul-ennobling religion; sordid cheating she has considered as the path to riches; vexatious persecution as the path to power; and the consequence has been, that she is now poor and powerless, a pagan amongst the pagans, with a dozen kings, and with none. Can we be surprised, therefore, that, mistaken in policy, religion, and moral conduct, she should have fallen into error on points so naturally dark and mysterious as the history and origin of those remarkable people whom for the last four hundred years she has supported under the name of Gitanos? The idea entertained at the present day in Spain respecting this race is, that they are the descendants of the Moriscos who remained in Spain, wandering about amongst the mountains and wildernesses, after the expulsion of the great body of the nation from the country in the time of Philip the Third, and that they form a distinct body, entirely unconnected with the wandering tribes known in other countries by the names of Bohemians, Gypsies, etc. This, like all unfounded opinions, of course originated in ignorance, which is always ready to have recourse to conjecture and guesswork, in preference to travelling through the long, mountainous, and stony road of patient investigation; it is, however, an error far more absurd and more destitute of tenable grounds than the ancient belief that the Gitanos were Egyptians, which they themselves have always professed to be, and which the original written documents which they brought with them on their first arrival in Western Europe, and which bore the signature of the king of Bohemia, expressly stated them to be. The only clue to arrive at any certainty respecting their origin, is the language which they still speak amongst themselves; but before we can avail ourselves of the evidence of this language, it will be necessary to make a few remarks respecting the principal languages and dialects of that immense tract of country, peopled by at least eighty millions of human beings, generally known by the name of Hindustan, two Persian words tantamount to the land of Ind, or, the land watered by the river Indus.

The most celebrated of these languages is the Sanskrida, or, as it is known in Europe, the Sanscrit, which is the language of religion of all those nations amongst whom the faith of Brahma has been adopted; but though the language of religion, by which we mean the tongue in which the religious books of the Brahmanic sect were originally written and are still preserved, it has long since ceased to be a spoken language; indeed, history is silent as to any period when it was a language in common use amongst any of the various tribes of the Hindus; its knowledge, as far as reading and writing it went, having been entirely confined to the priests of Brahma, or Brahmans, until within the last half-century, when the British, having subjugated the whole of Hindustan, caused it to be openly taught in the colleges which they established for the instruction of their youth in the languages of the country. Though sufficiently difficult to acquire, principally on account of its prodigious richness in synonyms, it is no longer a sealed language, - its laws, structure, and vocabulary being sufficiently well known by means of numerous elementary works, adapted to facilitate its study. It has been considered by famous philologists as the mother not only of all the languages of Asia, but of all others in the world. So wild and preposterous an idea, however, only serves to prove that a devotion to philology, whose principal object should be the expansion of the mind by the various treasures of learning and wisdom which it can unlock, sometimes only tends to its bewilderment, by causing it to embrace shadows for reality. The most that can be allowed, in reason, to the Sanscrit is that it is the mother of a certain class or family of languages, for example, those spoken in Hindustan, with which most of the European, whether of the Sclavonian, Gothic, or Celtic stock, have some connection. True it is that in this case we know not how to dispose of the ancient Zend, the mother of the modern Persian, the language in which were written those writings generally attributed to Zerduscht, or Zoroaster, whose affinity to the said tongues is as easily established as that of the Sanscrit, and which, in respect to antiquity, may well dispute the palm with its Indian rival. Avoiding, however, the discussion of this point, we shall content ourselves with observing, that closely connected with the Sanscrit, if not derived from it, are the Bengali, the high Hindustani, or grand popular language of Hindustan, generally used by the learned in their intercourse and writings, the languages of Multan, Guzerat, and other provinces, without mentioning the mixed dialect called Mongolian Hindustani, a corrupt jargon of Persian, Turkish, Arabic, and Hindu words, first used by the Mongols, after the conquest, in their intercourse with the natives. Many of the principal languages of Asia are totally unconnected with the Sanscrit, both in words and grammatical structure; these are mostly of the great Tartar family, at the head of which there is good reason for placing the Chinese and Tibetian.

Bearing the same analogy to the Sanscrit tongue as the Indian dialects specified above, we find the Rommany, or speech of the Roma, or Zincali, as they style themselves, known in England and Spain as Gypsies and Gitanos. This speech, wherever it is spoken, is, in all principal points, one and the same, though more or less corrupted by foreign words, picked up in the various countries to which those who use it have penetrated. One remarkable feature must not be passed over without notice, namely, the very considerable number of Sclavonic words, which are to be found embedded within it, whether it be spoken in Spain or Germany, in England or Italy; from which circumstance we are led to the conclusion, that these people, in their way from the East, travelled in one large compact body, and that their route lay through some region where the Sclavonian language, or a dialect thereof, was spoken. This region I have no hesitation in asserting to have been Bulgaria, where they probably tarried for a considerable period, as nomad herdsmen, and where numbers of them are still to be found at the present day. Besides the many Sclavonian words in the Gypsy tongue, another curious feature attracts the attention of the philologist - an equal or still greater quantity of terms from the modern Greek; indeed, we have full warranty for assuming that at one period the Spanish section, if not the rest of the Gypsy nation, understood the Greek language well, and that, besides their own Indian dialect, they occasionally used it for considerably upwards of a century subsequent to their arrival, as amongst the Gitanos there were individuals to whom it was intelligible so late as the year 1540.

Where this knowledge was obtained it is difficult to say, - perhaps in Bulgaria, where two-thirds of the population profess the Greek religion, or rather in Romania, where the Romaic is generally understood; that they DID understand the Romaic in 1540, we gather from a very remarkable work, called EL ESTUDIOSO CORTESANO, written by Lorenzo Palmireno: this learned and highly extraordinary individual was by birth a Valencian, and died about 1580; he was professor at various universities - of rhetoric at Valencia, of Greek at Zaragossa, where he gave lectures, in which he explained the verses of Homer; he was a proficient in Greek, ancient and modern, and it should be observed that, in the passage which we are about to cite, he means himself by the learned individual who held conversation with the Gitanos. (66) EL ESTUDIOSO CORTESANO was reprinted at Alcala in 1587, from which edition we now copy.

'Who are the Gitanos? I answer; these vile people first began to show themselves in Germany, in the year 1417, where they call them Tartars or Gentiles; in Italy they are termed Ciani. They pretend that they come from Lower Egypt, and that they wander about as a penance, and to prove this, they show letters from the king of Poland. They lie, however, for they do not lead the life of penitents, but of dogs and thieves. A learned person, in the year 1540, prevailed with them, by dint of much persuasion, to show him the king's letter, and he gathered from it that the time of their penance was already expired; he spoke to them in the Egyptian tongue; they said, however, as it was a long time since their departure from Egypt, they did not understand it; he then spoke to them in the vulgar Greek, such as is used at present in the Morea and Archipelago; SOME UNDERSTOOD IT, others did not; so that as all did not understand it, we may conclude that the language which they use is a feigned one, (67) got up by thieves for the purpose of concealing their robberies, like the jargon of blind beggars.'

Still more abundant, however, than the mixture of Greek, still more abundant than the mixture of Sclavonian, is the alloy in the Gypsy language, wherever spoken, of modern Persian words, which circumstance will compel us to offer a few remarks on the share which the Persian has had in the formation of the dialects of India, as at present spoken.

The modern Persian, as has been already observed, is a daughter of the ancient Zend, and, as such, is entitled to claim affinity with the Sanscrit, and its dialects. With this language none in the world would be able to vie in simplicity and beauty, had not the Persians, in adopting the religion of Mahomet, unfortunately introduces into their speech an infinity of words of the rude coarse language used by the barbaric Arab tribes, the immediate followers of the warlike Prophet. With the rise of Islam the modern Persian was doomed to be carried into India. This country, from the time of Alexander, had enjoyed repose from external aggression, had been ruled by its native princes, and been permitted by Providence to exercise, without control or reproof, the degrading superstitions, and the unnatural and bloody rites of a religion at the formation of which the fiends of cruelty and lust seem to have presided; but reckoning was now about to be demanded of the accursed ministers of this system for the pain, torture, and misery which they had been instrumental in inflicting on their countrymen for the gratification of their avarice, filthy passions, and pride; the new Mahometans were at hand - Arab, Persian, and Afghan, with the glittering scimitar upraised, full of zeal for the glory and adoration of the one high God, and the relentless persecutors of the idol-worshippers. Already, in the four hundred and twenty-sixth year of the Hegeira, we read of the destruction of the great Butkhan, or image-house of Sumnaut, by the armies of the far-conquering Mahmoud, when the dissevered heads of the Brahmans rolled down the steps of the gigantic and Babel-like temple of the great image -

[Text which cannot be reproduced - Arabic?]

(This image grim, whose name was Laut,

Bold Mahmoud found when he took Sumnaut.)

It is not our intention to follow the conquests of the Mahometans from the days of Walid and Mahmoud to those of Timour and Nadir; sufficient to observe, that the greatest part of India was subdued, new monarchies established, and the old religion, though far too powerful and widely spread to be extirpated, was to a considerable extent abashed and humbled before the bright rising sun of Islam. The Persian language, which the conquerors (68) of whatever denomination introduced with them to Hindustan, and which their descendants at the present day still retain, though not lords of the ascendant, speedily became widely extended in these regions, where it had previously been unknown. As the language of the court, it was of course studied and acquired by all those natives whose wealth, rank, and influence necessarily brought them into connection with the ruling powers; and as the language of the camp, it was carried into every part of the country where the duties of the soldiery sooner or later conducted them; the result of which relations between the conquerors and conquered was the adoption into the popular dialects of India of an infinity of modern Persian words, not merely those of science, such as it exists in the East, and of luxury and refinement, but even those which serve to express many of the most common objects, necessities, and ideas, so that at the present day a knowledge of the Persian is essential for the thorough understanding of the principal dialects of Hindustan, on which account, as well as for the assistance which it affords in communication with the Mahometans, it is cultivated with peculiar care by the present possessors of the land.

No surprise, therefore, can be entertained that the speech of the Gitanos in general, who, in all probability, departed from Hindustan long subsequent to the first Mahometan invasions, abounds, like other Indian dialects, with words either purely Persian, or slightly modified to accommodate them to the genius of the language. Whether the Rommany originally constituted part of the natives of Multan or Guzerat, and abandoned their native land to escape from the torch and sword of Tamerlane and his Mongols, as Grellmann and others have supposed, or whether, as is much more probable, they were a thievish caste, like some others still to be found in Hindustan, who fled westward, either from the vengeance of justice, or in pursuit of plunder, their speaking Persian is alike satisfactorily accounted for. With the view of exhibiting how closely their language is connected with the Sanscrit and Persian, we subjoin the first ten numerals in the three tongues, those of the Gypsy according to the Hungarian dialect. (69)

   Gypsy.     Persian.    Sanscrit. (70)

1  Jek        Ek          Ega
2  Dui        Du          Dvaya
3  Trin       Se          Treya
4  Schtar     Chehar      Tschatvar
5  Pansch     Pansch      Pantscha
6  Tschov     Schesche    Schasda
7  Efta       Heft        Sapta
8  Ochto      Hescht      Aschta
9  Enija      Nu          Nava
10 Dosch      De          Dascha

It would be easy for us to adduce a thousand instances, as striking as the above, of the affinity of the Gypsy tongue to the Persian, Sanscrit, and the Indian dialects, but we have not space for further observation on a point which long since has been sufficiently discussed by others endowed with abler pens than our own; but having made these preliminary remarks, which we deemed necessary for the elucidation of the subject, we now hasten to speak of the Gitano language as used in Spain, and to determine, by its evidence (and we again repeat, that the language is the only criterion by which the question can be determined), how far the Gitanos of Spain are entitled to claim connection with the tribes who, under the names of Zingani, etc., are to be found in various parts of Europe, following, in general, a life of wandering adventure, and practising the same kind of thievish arts which enable those in Spain to obtain a livelihood at the expense of the more honest and industrious of the community.

The Gitanos of Spain, as already stated, are generally believed to be the descendants of the Moriscos, and have been asserted to be such in printed books. (71) Now they are known to speak a language or jargon amongst themselves which the other natives of Spain do not understand; of course, then, supposing them to be of Morisco origin, the words of this tongue or jargon, which are not Spanish, are the relics of the Arabic or Moorish tongue once spoken in Spain, which they have inherited from their Moorish ancestors. Now it is well known, that the Moorish of Spain was the same tongue as that spoken at present by the Moors of Barbary, from which country Spain was invaded by the Arabs, and to which they again retired when unable to maintain their ground against the armies of the Christians. We will, therefore, collate the numerals of the Spanish Gitano with those of the Moorish tongue, preceding both with those of the Hungarian Gypsy, of which we have already made use, for the purpose of making clear the affinity of that language to the Sanscrit and Persian. By this collation we shall at once perceive whether the Gitano of Spain bears most resemblance to the Arabic, or the Rommany of other lands.

   Hungarian Spanish           Moorish
   Gypsy.    Gitano.           Arabic.

1  Jek       Yeque             Wahud
2  Dui       Dui               Snain
3  Trin      Trin              Slatza
4  Schtar    Estar             Arba
5  Pansch    Pansche           Khamsa
6  Tschov    Job. Zoi          Seta
7  Efta      Hefta             Sebea
8  Ochto     Otor              Sminia
9  Enija     Esnia (Nu. PERS.) Tussa
10 Dosch     Deque             Aschra

We believe the above specimens will go very far to change the opinion of those who have imbibed the idea that the Gitanos of Spain are the descendants of Moors, and are of an origin different from that of the wandering tribes of Rommany in other parts of the world, the specimens of the two dialects of the Gypsy, as far as they go, being so strikingly similar, as to leave no doubt of their original identity, whilst, on the contrary, with the Moorish neither the one nor the other exhibits the slightest point of similarity or connection. But with these specimens we shall not content ourselves, but proceed to give the names of the most common things and objects in the Hungarian and Spanish Gitano, collaterally, with their equivalents in the Moorish Arabic; from which it will appear that whilst the former are one and the same language, they are in every respect at variance with the latter. When we consider that the Persian has adopted so many words and phrases from the Arabic, we are at first disposed to wonder that a considerable portion of these words are not to be discovered in every dialect of the Gypsy tongue, since the Persian has lent it so much of its vocabulary. Yet such is by no means the case, as it is very uncommon, in any one of these dialects, to discover words derived from the Arabic. Perhaps, however, the following consideration will help to solve this point. The Gitanos, even before they left India, were probably much the same rude, thievish, and ignorant people as they are at the present day. Now the words adopted by the Persian from the Arabic, and which it subsequently introduced into the dialects of India, are sounds representing objects and ideas with which such a people as the Gitanos could necessarily be but scantily acquainted, a people whose circle of ideas only embraces physical objects, and who never commune with their own minds, nor exert them but in devising low and vulgar schemes of pillage and deceit. Whatever is visible and common is seldom or never represented by the Persians, even in their books, by the help of Arabic words: the sun and stars, the sea and river, the earth, its trees, its fruits, its flowers, and all that it produces and supports, are seldom named by them by other terms than those which their own language is capable of affording; but in expressing the abstract thoughts of their minds, and they are a people who think much and well, they borrow largely from the language of their religion - the Arabic. We therefore, perhaps, ought not to be surprised that in the scanty phraseology of the Gitanos, amongst so much Persian, we find so little that is Arabic; had their pursuits been less vile, their desires less animal, and their thoughts less circumscribed, it would probably have been otherwise; but from time immemorial they have shown themselves a nation of petty thieves, horse-traffickers, and the like, without a thought of the morrow, being content to provide against the evil of the passing day.

The following is a comparison of words in the three languages:-


           Hungarian  Spanish      Moorish
           Gypsy.(72) Gitano.      Arabic.

Bone       Cokalos    Cocal        Adorn
City       Forjus     Foros        Beled
Day        Dives      Chibes       Youm
Drink (to) Piava      Piyar        Yeschrab
Ear        Kan        Can          Oothin
Eye        Jakh       Aquia        Ein
Feather    Por        Porumia      Risch
Fire       Vag        Yaque        Afia
Fish       Maczo      Macho        Hutz
Foot       Pir        Piro, pindro Rjil
Gold       Sonkai     Sonacai      Dahab
Great      Baro       Baro         Quibir
Hair       Bala       Bal          Schar
He, pron.  Wow        O            Hu
Head       Tschero    Jero         Ras
House      Ker        Quer         Dar
Husband    Rom        Ron          Zooje
Lightning  Molnija    Maluno       Brak
Love (to)  Camaba     Camelar      Yehib
Man        Manusch    Manu         Rajil
Milk       Tud        Chuti        Helib
Mountain   Bar        Bur          Djibil
Mouth      Mui        Mui          Fum
Name       Nao        Nao          Ism
Night      Rat        Rachi        Lila
Nose       Nakh       Naqui        Munghar
Old        Puro       Puro         Shaive
Red        Lal        Lalo         Hamr
Salt       Lon        Lon          Mela
Sing       Gjuwawa    Gilyabar     Iganni
Sun        Cam        Can          Schems
Thief      Tschor     Choro        Haram
Thou       Tu         Tucue        Antsin
Tongue     Tschib     Chipe        Lsan
Tooth      Dant       Dani         Sinn
Tree       Karscht    Caste        Schizara
Water      Pani       Pani         Ma
Wind       Barbar     Barban       Ruhk

We shall offer no further observations respecting the affinity of the Spanish Gitano to the other dialects, as we conceive we have already afforded sufficient proof of its original identity with them, and consequently shaken to the ground the absurd opinion that the Gitanos of Spain are the descendants of the Arabs and Moriscos. We shall now conclude with a few remarks on the present state of the Gitano language in Spain, where, perhaps, within the course of a few years, it will have perished, without leaving a vestige of its having once existed; and where, perhaps, the singular people who speak it are likewise doomed to disappear, becoming sooner or later engulfed and absorbed in the great body of the nation, amongst whom they have so long existed a separate and peculiar class.

Though the words or a part of the words of the original tongue still remain, preserved by memory amongst the Gitanos, its grammatical peculiarities have disappeared, the entire language having been modified and subjected to the rules of Spanish grammar, with which it now coincides in syntax, in the conjugation of verbs, and in the declension of its nouns. Were it possible or necessary to collect all the relics of this speech, they would probably amount to four or five thousand words; but to effect such an achievement, it would be necessary to hold close and long intercourse with almost every Gitano in Spain, and to extract, by various means, the peculiar information which he might be capable of affording; for it is necessary to state here, that though such an amount of words may still exist amongst the Gitanos in general, no single individual of their sect is in possession of one-third part thereof, nor indeed, we may add, those of any single city or province of Spain; nevertheless all are in possession, more or less, of the language, so that, though of different provinces, they are enabled to understand each other tolerably well, when discoursing in this their characteristic speech. Those who travel most are of course best versed in it, as, independent of the words of their own village or town, they acquire others by intermingling with their race in various places. Perhaps there is no part of Spain where it is spoken better than in Madrid, which is easily accounted for by the fact, that Madrid, as the capital, has always been the point of union of the Gitanos, from all those provinces of Spain where they are to be found. It is least of all preserved in Seville, notwithstanding that its Gitano population is very considerable, consisting, however, almost entirely of natives of the place. As may well be supposed, it is in all places best preserved amongst the old people, their children being comparatively ignorant of it, as perhaps they themselves are in comparison with their own parents. We are persuaded that the Gitano language of Spain is nearly at its last stage of existence, which persuasion has been our main instigator to the present attempt to collect its scanty remains, and by the assistance of the press, rescue it in some degree from destruction. It will not be amiss to state here, that it is only by listening attentively to the speech of the Gitanos, whilst discoursing amongst themselves, that an acquaintance with their dialect can be formed, and by seizing upon all unknown words as they fall in succession from their lips. Nothing can be more useless and hopeless than the attempt to obtain possession of their vocabulary by inquiring of them how particular objects and ideas are styled; for with the exception of the names of the most common things, they are totally incapable, as a Spanish writer has observed, of yielding the required information, owing to their great ignorance, the shortness of their memories, or rather the state of bewilderment to which their minds are brought by any question which tends to bring their reasoning faculties into action, though not unfrequently the very words which have been in vain required of them will, a minute subsequently, proceed inadvertently from their mouths.

We now take leave of their language. When wishing to praise the proficiency of any individual in their tongue, they are in the habit of saying, 'He understands the seven jargons.' In the Gospel which we have printed in this language, and in the dictionary which we have compiled, we have endeavoured, to the utmost of our ability, to deserve that compliment; and at all times it will afford us sincere and heartfelt pleasure to be informed that any Gitano, capable of appreciating the said little works, has observed, whilst reading them or hearing them read: It is clear that the writer of these books understood

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