Exploring ties between Romani culture and the field of translation

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Oral Tradition

The formal academic study of oral traditions, and the "genres" and performances that help define them, began to flourish in the second half of the 20th c. It drew significantly on the works of Parry & Lord, Walter Ong, Ruth Finnegan and John Miles Foley, to name but a few. Initial research conducted in the Balkans led to further investigation of oral storytelling traditions in Africa, Australia, Latin America, and among various groups of Indigenous peoples around the world. Prior to this, cultural production had mainly been viewed through a literary frame of reference. It had focused on canonical and historical works produced in literate, elite circumstances, where the authority of the written text predominated, and where orality was relegated to the status of folkloric and popular. Many cultures, however, are sustained through oral tradition. A rich repertoire of stories, legends, myths, proverbs, poetry, songs and games transmits diverse bodies of social knowledge, including oral law (codes of conduct and behavior) from generation to generation. Investigating narration through an oral frame of reference reveals uniquely deployed and sophisticated systems of verbal structures and patterns (mnemonic, formulaic, rhythmic) in conjunction with performance structures (auditory, kinesic, visual, tactile, somatic). These aspects render each oral narrative event both an act of continuity with the past and an act of creative and collective co-performance in the present. The focus on oral tradition also led to important developments in the oral narrations of history. Oral historians study the life stories of individuals and communities of people in a certain time and place, and in terms of the historical contexts that produce them. These narrations include eyewitness accounts and testimonies. There are insights to be gained and challenges to be surmounted in documenting oral tradition and oral history. Speech must be transcribed in written format, including annotations of ellipses, pauses and gestures. Likewise, the non-linear, dynamic and interactive nature of oral events challenges sequentiality and notions of individual authorship as it generously allows for adaptation, innovation and alternative versions to emerge between the narrator and audience. Finally, methodologies strive to account for individual subjectivities and the power relations existing between researchers and those researched, which has yielded guidelines on ethics and legal implications.

The vast repertoire of oral stories, legends, tales and traditions in Romani communities has been documented over a period of 150 years by non-Romani folklorists and researchers. Indeed, the categories and frames of reference applied to their transcription, analysis and presentation can sometimes be "foreign" to the cultural works themselves. As the input and number of Romani researchers continue to grow and as more works are transcribed, translated and studied, the current classification systems may be revised. Notwithstanding, according to Bakker & Kyuchukov (2000: 48-56), the two most formalized genres within Romani communities overall are paramisa / paramiča ("tales") and gil`a / dija ("songs"), with possible sub-genres including bare paramisa ("long tales"), xarne ("short stories"), and vitezika paramisa ("tales about heroes"). Other proposed genres are the divano ("narrative to comment and criticize social situations") in the Kalderaš communities, god`aver ("proverbs" or "wise words"), garadino alav ("riddles"), of which versions of the language game sar pes phenel - s`oda hin? ("how do you say? what does it mean?") are popular. Stories in extended families are widespread, as are narratives of the mule ("spirits of the dead"), čohaňa ("witches") and sune ("dreams"). Stories and legends are notorious, of course, for crossing boundaries and borders. Along these lines, statistical analysis performed by researcher Heinz Mode on Romani, Indian, Persian and Turkish stories have inspired him to put forth the hypothesis that Romani groups migrating to Europe helped introduce and circulate the early models and motifs of Indian stories on the continent, which subsequently nourished the narrative traditions of many countries. Dora Yates and Diane Tong are two very well-known researchers who have recorded Romani paramiča.


Bakker, Peter and Kyuchukov, Hristo (eds), "Romani Folklore" in What is the Romani language? (Paris / Hertfordshire: Centre de recherches tsiganes / University of Hertfordshire Press, 2000).

Belišová, Jana (ed), Phurikane gil`a - Ancient Roma Songs (Bratislava: Zudro Association, 2005). Available online.

Bernal, Jorge (ed), Le Paramícha le Trayóske - Los cuentos de la vida. Selección de Cuentos Gitanos. Rromanés-Castellano (Buenos Aires: Comisión para la Preservación del Patrimonio, 2005). Available online.

de Gila, Vania (ed), La Prière des Loups. Récits tsiganes. Edition bilingue., "Tradition Orale" (Port-de-Buc: Éditions Wallâda, 2005)

ROMBASE, "Oral Literature", University of Graz, Austria. Available online

Rromane Garadune Lava - Roma Találós Kérdések - Rromani Riddles (Budapest: Romano Kher, 1999)

Sijerčić, Hedina (ed), Romani Folktales series. Bilingual. Gurbeti dialect. (Toronto: Magoria Books, 2009)

Sijerčić, Hedina (ed), Rromane Paramicha. Stories and Legends of the Gurbeti Roma. Bilingual. English and Gurbeti dialect. (Toronto: Magoria Books, 2009)

Translation Romani

Random Romani Word Other Romani Word
Lashi baxt (Kalderash)
Bah(x)talipe(s)ha|Bah(x)ta(s)ha (Gurbeti)
But baxt! (Lovari)
Sukar/latchi baxt (Xoraxane)
 Good luck (EN)  Boa sorte (PT)  Bonne chance (FR)  Buena suerte (ES)  Viel Glück (DE)  Sok szerencsét (HU)  Buona fortuna (IT)  Bol şans (TR)  Hodně štěstí (CS)

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