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Writing Romani

For many centuries, use of the Romani language was limited to informal oral conversation mainly in the family context. First efforts to write the language for the purpose of academic documentation and analysis were made by scholars in the eighteenth century.

In the nineteenth century, Christian missionaries distributed the earliest Gospel translations in Romani, and in the early twentieth century Romani was standardised in the Soviet Union for the purpose of school instruction and for educational and political publications.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, initiatives were taken in several different countries (including Finland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Yugoslavia) to devise writing systems for Romani, based on the local dialects of the language.

The democratisation process in central and eastern Europe in the early 1990s opened new opportunities for Romani-language publications. Newly-formed cultural associations produced newsletters, journals, and websites in the language, and authors published poems, short stories, translations, and dictionaries in Romani.

Despite the efforts of some activists, there is no uniform or 'standard' Romani. In each country, written Romani is based on the local dialect of the language. The spelling is often a combination of the conventions used for the respective state language, extended or modified to include a number of additional letters and symbols.

Romani speakers from different countries thus use different forms of Romani, in both grammar and spelling, but these are largely compatible and users can understand each others' way of writing across national borders.

Use of written Romani on the internet is especially prolific. Many thousands of young people write in Romani on a regular basis in online chat forums and email networks. Romani has also become the language of international conferences of Romani activists, and international organisations such as the Council of Europe and the European Commission provide interpretation for Romani at events that deal with the situation of Roma in Europe.

In 2009, the Council of Europe launched a European Curriculum Framework for Romani, with guidelines for the inclusion of the language in the school curriculum. This follows a series of expert reports and recommendations by European bodies such as the European Parliament and the European Charter for Minority or Regional Languages to recognise Romani as a minority language and to promote its use in schools and in the media. Currently, only Romania provides extensive opportunities to Romani children to learn Romani at school, while in other countries, among them Finland, Sweden, Austria, Bulgaria, and the Czech Republic, there have been various initiatives to produce Romani-language textbooks.