Arli Romani is a dialect of Romani (Indo-Aryan language of Indo-European origin) spoken primarily in Serbia, Kosovo and North Macedonia and, due to recent migration, also in other (especially western) European and overseas countries. It belongs to the Balkan (also called South Balkan I) dialect group of Romani, which is linguistically a heterogeneous group embracing Romani dialects spoken throughout the southern Balkans as well as in Romania, Turkey, Ukraine, Russia, Iran and Georgia. The most typical features of Arli Romani in comparison to the other Balkan dialects include the omission of -s in final and intervocalic position (e.g. in the accusative -es, in the preterite -as, or in the instrumental forms in -esa and -asa), the use of the first person singular preterite marker -um instead of -om, the imperfective marker -a-sine/-a-hine instead of -as, and the participial markers of loanwords -mo/-mi/-me which are inflected for gender and number.
The classification of Romani dialects is often made difficult by the use of the Romani groups’ self-denomination as dialect name, such as that of ‘Arli’. Some linguists employ the label ‘Arli Romani’ exclusively to those Romani dialects that are spoken by Roma who identify themselves as ‘Arli’, i.e. to the Balkan dialects spoken in Serbia, Kosovo and North Macedonia. These dialects indeed show several structural similarities and thus constitute a dialect subgroup within the Balkan dialects. However, as reported by Boretzky et al. (2008: 4), some speakers of Balkan Romani in Prilep (North Macedonia) also refer to themselves as ‘Arli’, though they speak an isolated dialect exhibiting several conservative features which cannot be subsumed under the ‘Arli Romani’ dialect group. The Romani variety spoken in Prizren (Kosovo) is another variety which is either treated as a variety of Arli Romani or as an isolated variety. Some linguist also use the term ‘Arli Romani’ (or ‘Arli-type Romani’) for the closely-related Balkan Romani varieties spoken in northern Greece and Albania, irrespective of the self-denomination of speakers.
The label ‘Arli’ (also Arlije/Arlija) derives from Turkish yerli ‘local, native, settled’ and is used as a self-denomination by the speakers. The group name refers to the fact that the Arli Roma adopted a settled way of life as they were mostly engaged in farm work and therefore were considered to be the autochthonous Romani population in the area. This stands in contrast to the Vlax Roma who arrived some centuries later and maintained an itinerant lifestyle well into the twentieth century. The earliest classification of Romani dialects in the Balkans by Paspati in 1870 is also based on the life-style of the Romani group, according to which Romani can be divided into ‘settled’ and ‘nomadic’ dialects. A similar settled nomad opposition is found in the classification model of Gilliat-Smith from the beginning of the twentieth century who divided the Romani dialects into Vlax (nomadic, Orthodox, Wallachian origin) and non-Vlax (settled, Muslim). Although these terms are obsolete in modern Romani linguistics, Arli Romani may be still referred to as a non-Vlax dialect in popular and even in some scholarly literature.
The cross-dialectal variation in Arli Romani has not yet been explored in detail. It can, however, be assumed that, on the one hand, it is largely governed by the mutual influence of the various Romani dialects and the historical and recent contact language(s) of the respective area (e.g. Serbian, Turkish, Albanian, Aromanian and/or Macedonian in case of Macedonian Arli Romani) on the other. A notable attempt at exploring the cross-dialectal variation was made by Friedman (2017) who described by using a perceptual dialectological approach seven Arli varieties (Topaanli, Barutči, Konopar, Madžur, Prištevač, Gilanli and Gavutno) which were traditionally spoken in Skopje (North Macedonia). The recent development of Skopje Arli Romani has been the formation of a koiné dialect among the younger generation.
Arli Romani participates to some extent in the formation of the Balkan Linguistic League (also called Balkan Sprachbund), though only as a recipient language. This owes to the fact that the Roma usually learnt the language(s) spoken by the local population, while others have learned Romani only in exceptional circumstances.
The sociolinguistic situation of Arli Romani is most thoroughly described for North Macedonia (e.g. Friedman 1999, 2003) where Romani is officially recognised and supported as a minority language alongside Albanian, Aromanian, Serbian and Turkish. It is quite unique that Romani has even been declared an official language in the Skopje municipality of Šuto Orizari, where the majority of the population are of Romani origin. Materials in Romani started to be published in the 70s and experienced a considerable increase in number during the 90s. The emerging standard for Romani is based on several varieties of Arli and it also incorporates some of the lexicon, as well as some typical phonological and morphological features, from other Romani dialects. For standard Macedonian Romani, the Latin alphabet is used.
Boretzky, Norbert (1999): Die Verwandschaftbeziehungen zwischen den Südbalkanischen Romani-Dialekten. Mit einem Kartenanhang. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.
Boretzky, Norbert and Birgit Igla (2004): KommentierterDialektatlas des Romani Teil 1; Vergleich der Dialekte. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.
Boretzky, Norbert, Petra Cech, and Birgit Igla (2008): Die Südbalkanischen Dialekte (SB I) des Romani und ihre innere Gliederung, Analyse und Arten. Graz: Institut für Sprachwissenschaften der Uni Graz.
Cech, Petra, Mozes F. Heinschink, and Dieter W. Halwachs (eds.) (2009): Kerzen und Limonen. Momelja hem limonja. Märchen der Arlije. Klagenfurt/Celovec: Drava Verlag.
Friedman, Victor A. (2017): Seven Varieties of Arli: Skopje as a Center of Convergence and Divergence of Romani Dialects. Romani Studies 5, 27(1): 29−45.
Friedman, Victor A. (1999): The Romani Language in the Republic of Macedonia: Status, Usage, and Sociolinguistic Perspectives. Acta Linguistica Hungarica 46(3-4): 317−339.
Friedman, Victor A. (2001): Romani multilingualism in its Balkan context. Sprachtypologie und Universalienforschung Vol. 54: 146−159.
Friedman, Victor A. (2003): Romani as a minority language, as a standard language, and as a contact language: Comparative legal, sociolinguistic, and structural approaches. In: Fraurud, Kari and Kenneth Hyltenstam (eds.) Multilingualism in Global and Local Perspectives. Secleted papers from the 8th Nordic Conference on Bilingualism, Novemeber 1-3, 2001, Stockholm, Rinkeby. Stockholm: Centre for Research on Bilingualism. 103−134.
Friedman, Victor A. (2006): Dialectological perspectives on Romani in the Balkan linguistic league. Balkansko ezikoznanie - Linguistique balkanique Vol. 45(1): 45−54.
Matras, Yaron (2005): The classification of Romani dialects: A geographic-historical perspective. In: Schrammel, Barbara and Dieter W. Halwachs (eds.) General and applied Romani linguistics. Munich: Lincom Europa. 7−26.
© Zuzana Bodnarova 2019
[romani] PROJECT - Austrian Roma incl. Arlije (University of Graz)
[romani] PROJECT - Austrian Romani incl. Arli Romani (University of Graz)
Municipality of Šuto Orizari (Skopje, Macedonia)
QUALIROM - Arlije Romani teaching materials (University of Graz)
Romani Morpho-Syntax database (University of Manchester)
RomLex - Lexical database (University of Graz)