Manfri's Word List: Welsh Romani

This list of Welsh Romani words is taken from the book "In the Life of a Romany Gypsy" by Manfri Frederick Wood. It's a great book to read if you're interested in the life of the British gypsies. The author is a gypsy himself. He has this to say about the speech of the English Romanies:

"Nowadays no English Romany that I know of can still speak or even understand the old Romany language that I described earlier in the book. The last three Welsh Romanies to speak the language perfectly without mixing any English or Welsh into it were Manfri, Howell and Jim Wood of Bala, Merioneth. They are all dead now. There are still a number of quite good Welsh Romany speakers around even today, but they all mix a certain amount of English and Welsh into their Romany, and their grammar is not as pure any more as that of the three people I have mentioned. To get an idea of what Romany was like at the time when it was still a language in its own right in this country, one has to study John Sampson's book, The Dialect of the Gypsies of Wales; and to get an idea of the right intonation of the language on can listen to a recording of a Welsh Romany conversation between Manfri and Howell Wood at Bala - recorded by Peter Kennedy, and available for students at the Sound Library, Cecil Sharp House, Regent's Park Road, London NW1.

The Romany spoken by the English Gypsies today is best described as an English dialect that contains a certain amount of Romany, slang and old cant. It is not often that any of us actually speak in this dialect. We only slip into it when we hold a confidential conversation of the type a Gorgio would have between his own four walls. In a sense we are always in the public eye, and even when one is not particularly trying to hide anything it is good to be able to have some private conversation whenever one feels the need to. Nowadays, I doubt if any English Gypsy uses more than about 150 Romany words in the course of one year's conversation - I use rather fewer than 150 myself nowadays, though I can understand probably 2,000 Romany words if I hear them. Before the war my grandparents still spoke whole sentences in the old Romany language in between English Romany speech, and they had Romany terms for every fruit, herb, flower, tree, bush and so on - hundreds of words that you would not even find in Sampson.

The word list I give here includes all the words I still use today and as many as I could recall of my grandparents' vocabulary. As to the pronunciation - this varies from speaker to speaker; "u" and "oo" in my spelling can be pronounced as either "u" in "but" or "u" in "put" or "oo" in "fool", "a" in "chavi" is like "a" in "hat", but it is a long vowel like the "a" in "far". The English word "far" is pronounced "fur" in my part of the country; "dog" is pronounced "dogue" - to rhyme on "rogue" - but it is a pure "o" sound that does not lead into a "u" as in standard English; also "dogue" and a few other words would come out low as compared to the rest of the sentence, very similar to the drop of your voice when you sing "never" in "Auld Lang Syne" - "and never brought to mind". There are a number of other peculiarities in the pronunciation of some of the travellers when they switch over to the dialect; there is, for instance, the trick of not moving the lips when speaking it. If my father caught any of the youngsters in our tribe speaking like that he would whip them, as he considered this very bad manners, a debasement of the language and, what is worse, a Pikie trick.

So here, for what it is worth, is a list of all the words I could think of in the space of one week, with the best compromise spelling I could devise." ("In the Life of a Romany Gypsy", pages 117-119)

A-G H-P R-Y


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