The Romani; DNA, language and migration


I’m finally getting around to the Roma. Living in the South East England, I’m very familiar with people of Roma ancestry, as a lot settled here after the second world war when the new housing was built. For the most part they’ve assimilated into the rest of the population, their only real cultural footprint being their contribution to the language. Being from the SE, I’m pretty familiar with all of these, but I know the non-English will need a translation.

  • Cushy = same root as Cushti
  • Cushti = good, from Kusko meaing good
  • Chiv = cut
  • Chav = common individual from chavvie, meaning boy
  • Cove = person, from cova
  • Shiv = Knife-like weapon
  • Nark = informant
  • Hotchpotch = mixture
  • Mush = face/mouth, man, from moosh meaning town-man
  • Rum = strange/odd, from rrom
  • Pal = friend (originally brother/comrade)
  • Minge = vagina
  • Minger = ugly woman
  • Minging=disgusting
  • Bosh = make noise
  • Gaff = place of residence, from gav, meaning village
  • Wonga = money, from vonga
  • Lollipop= from toffee apple- cosh lollipop

These are words of an Indo-European language, and it probably had an origin in the northern India/Pakistan area, the Punjab being the most likely.

I’m friends with members of three different Rom families in Kent. While some of them still retain their dark looks here (one could easily pass for Pakistani, and one got mistaken for a local on holiday in Turkey by the locals) most don’t look any different to the rest of the population due to intermarriage. 

Their assimilation into mainstream culture is more or less a done deed here. Of the Roma I know, two are prison officers and one a teacher, so the old Nazi ideology of their being inherently criminal or less intelligent has been proven to be wrong by their recent track record in the UK.

Romany migration route.


 Romany in the UK  (a short paper on the Angloromani dialect)

 DNA articles.

 A Romani mitochondrial haplotype in England 500 years before their recorded arrival in Britain

Ana L Töpf and A. Rus Hoelzel*
Received November 9, 2004; Accepted February 27, 2005.

The nomadic Romani (gypsy) people are known for their deep-rooted traditions, but most of their history is recorded from external sources. We find evidence for a Romani genetic lineage in England long before their recorded arrival there. The most likely explanations are that either the historical record is wrong, or that early liaisons between Norse and Romani people during their coincident presence in ninth to tenth century Byzantium led to the spread of the haplotype to England.

Searching for the origin of Romanies: Slovakian Romani, Jats of Haryana and Jat Sikhs Y-STR data in comparison with different Romani populations.
[My paper] Melinda Nagy, Lotte Henke, Jürgen Henke, Prasanta K Chatthopadhyay, Antónia Völgyi, Andrea Zalán, Orsolya Peterman, Jarmila Bernasovská, Horolma Pamjav
J. Selye University, Komárno, Slovakia.
Haplotype frequencies for 11 Y-STR markers (DYS19, DYS389I, DYS389II, DYS390, DYS391, DYS392, DYS393, DYS385, DYS437, DYS438 and DYS439) in a Romani population (n=63) from Slovakia, Jats of Haryana (n=84) and Jat Sikhs (n=80) from India were determined. The Slovakian Romani, the Haryana and Sikh populations were endogamous based on their unique haplotype ratio and haplotype diversity values, although the Sikh population appeared to be more diverse. AMOVA revealed non-significant differences between the Romanies and significant differences with non-Romani populations. The Macedonian Romani population differed from all Romani populations examined. Frequent haplotypes observed in Romani populations were sporadic in northwest Indian populations. Thirteen out of 316 populations worldwide were found to share the six most frequent haplotypes of the Slovakian Romanies when the screening conditions were narrowed based on the population size to be over 40, the occurrence of the haplotypes was more than one and the sum frequencies of the most frequent haplotypes was at least 0.02. The most common haplotypes were also observed in other Romani groups. When searching with two Indian (Malbar and Malaysian Indian) most frequent haplotypes under the same conditions matches could be detected in all Romani populations except for the Macedonian Romanies. The search with the Jat Sikhs and Jats of Haryana most frequent haplotypes resulted no matches in Romani populations.

Mitochondrial DNA Diversity in the Polish Roma.

BA Malyarchuk, T Grzybowski, MV Derenko, J Czarny, D Miścicka-Śliwka

Summary Mitochondrial DNA variability in the Polish Roma population has been studied by means of hypervariable segment I and II (HVS I and II) sequencing and restriction fragment-length polymorphism analysis of the mtDNA coding region. The mtDNA haplotypes detected in the Polish Roma fall into the common Eurasian mitochondrial haplogroups (H, U3, K, J1, X, I, W, and M*). The results of complete mtDNA sequencing clearly indicate that the Romani M*-lineage belongs to the Indian-specific haplogroup M5, which is characterized by three transitions in the coding region, at sites 12477, 3921 and 709. Molecular variance analysis inferred from mtDNA data reveals that genetic distances between the Roma groups are considerably larger than those between the surrounding European populations. Also, there are significant differences between the Bulgarian Roma (Balkan and Vlax groups) and West European Roma (Polish, Lithuanian and Spanish groups). Comparative analysis of mtDNA haplotypes in the Roma populations shows that different haplotypes appear to demonstrate impressive founder effects: M5 and H (16261-16304) in all Romani groups; U3, I and J1 in some Romani groups. Interestingly, haplogroup K (with HVS I motif 16224-16234-16311) found in the Polish Roma sample seems to be specific for Ashkenazi Jewish populations. 

Frequencies of mtDNA haplogroups in southeastern Europe–Croatians, Bosnians and Herzegovi

S Cvjetan, HV Tolk, LB Lauc, I Colak, D Dordević, L Efremovska, B Janićijević, A Kvesić, IM Klarić, E Metspalu, M Pericić, J Parik, D Popović, A Sijacki, R Terzić, R Villems, P Rudan

Mitochondrial DNA polymorphisms were analyzed in of 1,610 randomly chosen adult men from 11 different regions from southeastern Europe (Croatians, Bosnians and Herzegovinians, Serbians, Macedonians and Macedonian Romani). MtDNA HVS-I region together with RFLP sites diagnostic for main Euroasian and African mtDNA haplogroups were typed to determine haplogroup frequency distribution. The most frequent haplogroup in studied populations was H with the exception of Macedonian Romani among whom the most frequent were South Asian (Indian) specific variants of haplogroup M. The multidimensional scaling plot showed two clusters of populations and two outliers (Macedonian Romani and the most distant from mainland Croatian island of Korcula). The first cluster was formed by populations from three Croatian islands (Hvar, Krk and Brac) and the second cluster was formed by Macedonians, Serbians, Croatians from mainland and coast, Herzegovinians, Bosnians, Slovenians, Poles and Russians. The present analysis does not address a precise evaluation of phylogenetic relations of studied populations although some conclusions about historical migrations could be noticed. More extended conclusions will be possible after deeper phylogenetic and statistical analyses.

Dissecting the molecular architecture and origin of Bayash Romani patrilineages: Genetic influences from South-Asia and the Balkans

Irena Martinovi Klari et al.

The Bayash are a branch of Romanian speaking Roma living dispersedly in Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe. To better understand the molecular architecture and origin of the Croatian Bayash paternal gene pool, 151 Bayash Y chromosomes were analyzed for 16 SNPs and 17 STRs and compared with European Romani and non-Romani majority populations from Europe, Turkey, and South Asia. Two main layers of Bayash paternal gene pool were identified: ancestral (Indian) and recent (European). The reduced diversity and expansion signals of H1a patrilineages imply descent from closely related paternal ancestors who could have settled in the Indian subcontinent, possibly as early as between the eighth and tenth centuries AD. The recent layer of the Bayash paternal pool is dominated by a specific subset of E1b1b1a lineages that are not found in the Balkan majority populations. At least two private mutational events occurred in the Bayash during their migrations from the southern Balkans toward Romania. Additional admixture, evident in the low frequencies of typical European haplogroups, J2, R1a, I1, R1b1b2, G, and I2a, took place primarily during the early Bayash settlement in the Balkans and the Romani bondage in Romania. Our results indicate two phenomena in the Bayash and analyzed Roma: a significant preservation of ancestral H1a haplotypes as a result of considerable, but variable level of endogamy and isolation and differential distribution of less frequent, but typical European lineages due to different patterns of the early demographic history in Europe marked by differential admixture and genetic drift.


14 responses to “The Romani; DNA, language and migration

  1. While Spanish language is also influenced by Romani, the only coincidence I could find was that of “chav”: “chaval” in Spain, “chavo” in Mexico. It’s curious that some of the Romani-based terms are so widespread in internationally English (chav, pal, cushy, lollipop).

    I understand, from their genetics, that the Roma appear to be much more diverse in the Balcans and that the “Western” (Northern and Western actually) group of them appear to be largely the result of a founder effect (i.e. a rather small original porpulation). They do appear to have mixed heavily in the Balcans or Anatolia prior to their main expansion in Europe.

    What is not fully clear is that they are from NW Indian origin or how they arrived to Anatolia. Their strong Y-DNA H rather suggests a more southernly origin within India (maybe Sri Lanka? Romani language has been sometimes related with Sinhalese).

  2. Luis,

    Although not shown on the map, they spent a long time in Iran, where they are often referred to as Domari, more here:

  3. I am Romani.
    Some of the words you have put are wrong.
    Mush = man. Manushi = women. Mui means mouth. Mush to mean mouth is not Romani it is a different origin – perhaps London Cant.
    Nahk = nose.
    Minger & Minging aren’t proper Romani.
    Kovva means stuff. People is either foki or Manusha. Lollipop comes from Lolli pabai meaning ‘red apple’ – lollo = red & lolli = red (f)(m). pabai = apple. Wonga / Vonga actually means coal and is used for money in a slang way. Lovva means money. Never heard Rum to mean strange or odd. Perhaps another origin. Sometimes Irish Shelta (backslang Gaelic spoken by Irish travellers) get confused with Romani. Irish travellers call themselves “Needi”.

  4. It is proven the Ghorbati (Domari) & the Romani did not leave India as a single. Ghorbati (Domari) speaks a different indic language which is more Hindi based. Romani speak a language which is more Panjabi & Rajasthani based. Obviously the two will look similar as all Hindustani languages that have descended from Sanskrit are similar so therfore many words will still be the same. Due to the root language showing differences, the Romani therefore did not split from the Domari. The two may have similarities may back in India but this is not proven as the two must have been seperated for a considerable time whilst back in India to speak seperate Indian language origins.

  5. I have seen some site that suggest that amongst some Romani groups such as the Sinte Y DNA haplogroup R2 is very common. Google or Wiki R2.

  6. It is believed by some scholars that the Romani must have left India after 1000ad due to some words being present and also due to certain grammar. If this is the case the Romani must have made their way to what is now Turkey relatively quickly either as military serving in Islamic armies or they fled along the Silk trade routes into a non-Islamic country. In NW India around the time leading up to 1000ad alot of Persian influence would have been present. Many of the words found in Romani are also found in Urdu. Turkey at the time was called Byzantium and Greek was the spoken language. At the time Armenia was falling to Islamic invasions and the Byzantine Empire was flooded with Armenian refugees. Some areas such as Cilicia had so many Armenians it was known as “little Armenia”. After Indian (Sanskrit, Rajasthani, Panjabi & Persian) the next level of words absorbed are from Greek and Armenian which suggests a significent stay with these spoken languages. Historical records suggest the Romani stayed in Asia Minor (Byzantine Empire) for approx’ 300yrs before war pushed them into Europe.

  7. You base your observations just one 3 romas and conclude that all romas must be the same. What a bold generalization.

  8. Ive seen on a map that chromosome H is most common in southern Bihar,si a sinhala origin in less likely(but not excluded)
    Others studies ive seen show the blood-type similarity betwin north-India kshatrya and romas.
    This is from wiki
    at ancestry of the Romani

    While the South Asian origin of the Romani people has been long considered a certitude, the exact South Asian group from whom the Romanies have descended has been a matter of debate. The recent discovery of the “Jat mutation” that causes a type of glaucoma in Romani populations has confirmed the theory that the Romani people are the descendants of the Jat people found in Northern India and Pakistan.[14]

    But romani Y genes are almost inexistent in jat-Punjab.
    It seems to me that romas are a mix betwin bihari males married whit jat women. 🙂

  9. “Turkey at the time was called Byzantium and Greek was the spoken language. ”

    Byzantium was a city, Turkey however is not. Byzantium is now Istanbul and is the old Constantinople. Turkey was for many years known simply as Anatolia, not Byzantium.

  10. A couple of points about some of the words listed.

    Cushy = good, and coming from a Romani language is debatable. Cushy is more likely to have come from Old French “couchee” meaning lounge, couch, lying down, comfortable. The phrase “you have a cushy (comfortable) job” fits this translation better.

    Mush = mouth face is an accurate translation although the general spelling indicates m/ah/sh not m/oo/sh. The phrase “I’ll punch you in the moosh” means your going to get a smack in the mouth. Mush (a sloppy soft mess) is what the mouth becomes after you have been beaten up.

    Nark = Informant is also accurate but a little history needs to be applied to this. Police have always used informants and the most pliable informants are the ones with a need that can be used as leverage. Nark comes from Narcotics because the Narks were the people who could be used as informants quite easily. Nark could possibly have a Romani origin but it is by no means a certainty.

  11. Not so .Indo-romas people from Romania use the word MUI for face/mouth.

  12. The Roma across Europe fall into distinct groups apparently:

    What I would like to know is how similar culturally are the Roma in say Hungary and Albania (different groupings), for eg in their beliefs about marime, the Gaje, childrearing etc. Are they very similar from Spain across the Balkans despite these groupings? Ref.?

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