The first attestation of Romani is from 1542 CE in western Europe. The earlier history of the Romani language is completely undocumented, and is understood primarily through comparative linguistic evidence.
Linguistic evaluation carried out in the nineteenth century by Pott (1845) and Miklosich (1882–1888) showed the Romani language to be a New Indo-Aryan language (NIA), not a Middle Indo-Aryan (MIA), establishing that the ancestors of the Romani could not have left India significantly earlier than AD 1000.
The principal argument favouring a migration during or after the transition period to NIA is the loss of the old system of nominal case, and its reduction to just a two-way case system, nominative vs. oblique. A secondary argument concerns the system of gender differentiation. Romani has only two genders (masculine and feminine). Middle Indo-Aryan languages (named MIA) generally had three genders (masculine, feminine and neuter), and some modern Indo-Aryan languages retain this old system even today.
It is argued that loss of the neuter gender did not occur until the transition to NIA. Most of the neuter nouns became masculine while a few feminine, like the neuter अग्नि (agni) in the Prakrit became the feminine आग (āg) in Hindi and jag in Romani. The parallels in grammatical gender evolution between Romani and other NIA languages have been cited as evidence that the forerunner of Romani remained on the Indian subcontinent until a later period, perhaps even as late as the tenth century.
There is no historical proof to clarify who the ancestors of the Romani were or what motivated them to emigrate from the Indian subcontinent, but there are various theories. The influence of Greek, and to a lesser extent of the Iranian languages (like Persian and Kurdish) and Armenian, points to a prolonged stay in Anatolia after the departure from South Asia.
The Mongol invasion of Europe beginning in the first half of the thirteenth century triggered another westward migration. The Romani arrived in Europe and afterwards spread to the other continents. The great distances between the scattered Romani groups led to the development of local community distinctions. The differing local influences have greatly affected the modern language, splitting it into a number of different (originally exclusively regional) dialects.
Today Romani is spoken by small groups in 42 European countries. A project at Manchester University in England is transcribing Romani dialects, many of which are on the brink of extinction, for the first time.
Read more about this topic: Romani Language
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