Romanian language

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Romanian, rarely written Rumanian or Roumanian (in its own language: româna, limba română [roˈmɨna, ˈlimba roˈmɨnə]), is a Romance language spoken mainly in Romania, in Moldova and in scattered little areas across southeastern Europe (mostly in Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, the Republic of Macedonia, Greece, Bulgaria and Ukraine).

It is the official state language of Romania and Moldova.

Naming

The language is called Romanian in the international use, in the official use of Romania and in some unofficial uses in Moldova.

In Moldova, Romanian is officially called Moldovan (in Romanian: limba moldovenească; in English: Moldovan or rarely Moldavian).

In spite of this naming discrepancy, Romania and Moldova have nearly exactly the same standard language: the possible spelling differences are insignificant compared with those of British English and American English.

Around the Balkanic enclaves where Romanian is spoken, the language may be called Vlach, especially by surrounding populations (for instance, βλάχικα, vlachika in Greek).

Classification and characteristics

The structures of Romanian are absolutely and deeply Romance and very conservative compared with their Latin origins. For example, Romanian resembles much more Latin than French does. Within the Romance family, Romanian is usually classified in the Eastern Romance subgroup along with Italian, Corsican and possibly Dalmatian (and also, although less strikingly, with Sardinian).

Romanian is the only Romance language of central Europe. Therefore, in some aspects, it could seem slightly original compared with the rest of the Romance languages since it does not have any territorial contiguity with them. This geographic isolation has implied the following features.

  • There are some conservative characteristics, inherited from Latin and lost or almost lost in other Romance languages. For instance:
    • Romanian is the sole Romance language which has conserved a sort of living declension (involving some articles, although simplified compared with Latin), e.g. lup “wolf”, lupul “the wolf”, lupui “of the wolf”, lupi “wolves”, lupii “the wolves”, lupilor “of the wolves”.
    • Some archaic Latin roots are shared only between Romanian (far eastern Romance) and other peripheric, Romance languages like Spanish and Portuguese (far western Romance), whereas more central Romance languages have adopted more innovative roots. E.g.
      • Conservative Latin mensa “table” > Romanian masă (far East), Spanish and Portuguese mesa (far West).
      • Innovative Latin tabula “table” > Italian tavola, French table, Occitan and Catalan taula...
  • Romanian has developped central European features.
    • It has a lot of interesting, Slavic borrowings (but they are not more important than the Germanic borrowings found in other Romance languages). E.g.
      • Romanian război “war” comes from Slavic razboj “killing”.
      • Spanish/Portuguese/Catalan/Italian guerra “war”, Occitan guèrra “war” and French guerre “war” come from West Germanic *werra “conflict”.
    • It shares some structural characteristics with non-Romance languages of the Balkans, due to a long contact, called the Balkan sprachbund, involving Romanian, Albanian, Serbo-Croatian, Bulgarian, Macedonian, Greek, Turkish and Romany (but there are also sprachbund phenomena in western Europe, similarly involving Romance languages, like French, and non-Romance languages, like English and German).

Dialects

The main dialects are classified in:

  • Daco-Romanian, the core group around Romania and Moldova, comprising the vast majority of the dialects and being the basis of Standard Romanian.
  • Three other dialects scattered in remote patches across the Balkans:

Writing system

Current, Latin script

Romanian is written with an adapted version of the Latin alphabet which contains 31 letters:

A Ă Â B C D E F G H I Î J K L M N O P Q R S Ș T Ț U V W X Y Z

It includes the following modified letters with diacritics: ă, â, î, ș, ț (in an accurate typography, ș and ț are best written with a comma below, nevertheless, because of computing input problems, this comma is often replaced by a cedilla, that produces ş and ţ). The letters q, w and y only occur in foreign words.

The pronunciation rules of Romanian are quite easy to learn and have only a few exceptions. The main difficulty is the place of the stress, which is not written and has to be learned with each word. The stress can fall on the last, on the second-to-last or on the third-to-last syllable. Each grapheme has a quite easily predictable pronunciation.

Grapheme Pronunciation
(IPA)
a [a]
ă [ə]
â [ɨ]
b [b]
c — [k]
— [tʃ] before e, i
cea [tʃa]
ch [k] (only occurs before e, i)
d [d]
e — [e], [e̯]
— sometimes [je] at word beginning
ea [e̯a]
f [f]
g — [g]
— [dʒ] before e, i
gea [dʒa]
gh [g] (only occurs before e, i)
h [h]
i — [i], [j]
— [i] (weak i) when final and unstressed
î [ɨ]
j [ʒ]
k [k]
l [l]
m [m]
n [n]
o [o], [o̯]
oa [o̯a]
p [p]
q [k]
r [r]
s [s]
ș [ʃ]
t [t]
ț [ts]
u [u], [w]
v [v]
w [v], [w]
x [ks]
y [i], [j]
z [z]

Former, Cyrillic scripts

For a long time, Romanian used to be written with the Cyrillic alphabet, since Romanian people belong to the cultural sphere of the Eastern Orthodox Church which favoured Greek or Greek-derived writing systems (as it is the case of the Cyrillic script).

Nevertheless, several people intented to use the Latin alphabet as early as in the 16th century and, more and more, during the 18th century. The global shift toward the Latin alphabet occurred around 1860 as a unified Romanian state had emerged in 1859. At this time, Romanian was beginning to be codified and Romanians were experiencing the romantic nationalism of the 19th century, voluntarily bringing their language to its Latin origins and to other Romance languages.

In the Soviet Union, however, Romanian-speaking communities were forced to use a new, russified Cyrillic script between 1938 and 1989, especially in Moldova that had been annexed to the USSR in 1940 (this was due to Stalin's policy of russification). Simultaneously, the Soviet power considered "Moldovan" as a distinct language from Romanian. Moldova has restored the common Latin alphabet since 1989, thanks to the Perestroyka (that is, the move towards a softer regime initiated by Mikhail Gorbachev). However, at odds on the general evolution, the separatist, pro-Russian power of Transnistria, established in 1990 in far east Moldova, goes on imposing the Soviet Cyrillic script to its Romanian-speaking community.

Footnotes