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Istro-Romanian language

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Title: Istro-Romanian language  
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Istro-Romanian language

Vlășește, Rumârește, Rumêri-kuvinta (?)
Native to Croatia
Region Istria
Native speakers
560  (1994)[1]
Early forms
  • Istro-Romanian
Language codes
ISO 639-3 ruo
Glottolog istr1245[2]
Linguasphere 51-AAD-a

Istro-Romanian is an Eastern Romance language spoken today in a few villages and hamlets in the peninsula of Istria, on the northern part of the Adriatic Sea, in Croatia as well as in other countries around the world where the Istro-Romanian people settled after the two world wars, most notably in Italy, the United States, Canada, Argentina, Australia, Sweden, Germany, and other countries. Before the 20th century, it was spoken in a substantially broader part of northeastern Istria surrounding the Ćićarija mountain range (ancient Mons Carusadius) all the way up to Trieste. Its remaining speakers call themselves Vlahi (a name given to them by Croats), as well as Rumunski, Rumeni, Rumeri, Rumunji, as well as Ćići and Ćiribiri (this last being a nickname that was previously used disparagingly to identify the Istro-Romanian language, not its speakers).

The Istro-Romanians are labeled today into two groups: the Ćići around Žejane (denoting the people on the north side of Mt. Učka) and the Vlahi around Šušnjevica (denoting the people on the south side of Mt. Učka (Monte Maggiore). However, despite distinctions and interjection of words from other languages which varies from village to village, their language is otherwise linguistically identical.

The number of Istro-Romanian speakers is very loosely estimated to be less than 500, the "smallest ethnic group in Europe" and listed among languages that are "seriously endangered" in the UNESCO Red Book of Endangered Languages.[3] Due to its very small number of speakers living in about eight minor hamlets and two considerable villages, notably Žejane and Šušnjevica, there is no public education or news media in their native Istro-Romanian language. There are also several hundred native speakers who live not only in Queens, New York (as is mistakenly believed by newcomers to the study of the language),[4] but throughout the five boroughs of New York City, as well as in upstate New York and the neighboring states of New Jersey and Connecticut; there are also still native speakers in California. There are native speakers of Istro-Romanian in Italy, Canada, Argentina, Sweden, and Australia.

Since 2010, the Croatian Constitution recognizes Romanians ("Rumunji") as one of 22 national minorities. However, there have been many significant challenges facing Istro-Romanians in preserving their language, culture and ethnic identity, including emigration from communism and migration to nearby cities and towns after World War II, when the Paris Peace Treaty with Italy that was signed on February 10, 1947 took Istria away from Italy (which had previously gained Istria after World War I) and awarded it to Yugoslavia, the parent country of present-day Croatia and Slovenia, who split Istria in two parts amongst themselves, while Italy retained the small portion near Trieste.

Recent history

The number of Istro-Romanian speakers has been reduced due to their assimilation into other linguistic groups that were either already present or introduced by their respective new rulers of Istria: in the 1921 Italian census, there were 1,644 declared Istro-Romanian speakers in the area, while in 1926 Romanian scholar Sextil Pușcariu estimated their number to be closer to 3,000. Studies conducted in Istria in 1998 (?) by the Croatian linguist Kovačec revealed only 170 active speakers (but those counted presumably are only those still residing in the original villages where the language was actively spoken, thereby excluding those who moved to larger towns in Istria), most of them being bilingual (or trilingual), except for 27 children.

In 1922, the Italian regime of Benito Mussolini declared the village of Susnieviza — which they renamed to Valdarsa after the Arsa Valley (valle d'Arsa) region (it has since reverted to the pre-Italian name but written in Croatian as Šušnjevica) — to be the seat for the Istro-Romanians, with a designated school in the Istro-Romanian language. This was achieved through the efforts of Andrea Glavina, one of the town's native sons who had been university educated in Romania. The town of Šušnjevica (with adjacent villages) reached a population of 3,000 in 1942. After World War II and the ceding of Istria to Yugoslavia, the population of Šušnjevica alone was subsequently reduced to 200 inhabitants.

On the other hand, the major northern village Žejane and nearby hamlets at the Slovenian border are less Italianized and more Slavicized. Many villages in the area have names that are of Romanian origin, such as Jeian, Buzet ("lips"), Katun ("hamlet"), Letaj, Sucodru ("under a forest"), Costirceanu (a Romanian name). Some of these names are official (recognized by Croatia as their only names), while others are used only by Istro-Romanian speakers (ex. Nova Vas|Noselo).

The actual fate of the Istro-Romanian language is very uncertain, because in Istria only about 350 people partly understand it; its active bilingual speakers are fewer than 200 (that is, those who openly admit they speak it, the actual number may be greater), and fewer than 30 children know it now. Without an urgent, effective and active international support, the unique Istro-Romanian language will probably become extinct in the next generation or two. Istro-Romanian is considered an endangered language.


Some linguists believe that the Istro-Romanians migrated to their present region of Istria and all the way up to the city of Trieste about 1,000 years ago from Transylvania. The first possible historical record of Romanians in the Istria region, however, dates back to 940 when Constantine VII recorded the Romance-language speakers in this area in De Administrando Imperio, saying that they called themselves Romans, but this could also refer to speakers of Istriot or one of the Dalmatian dialects. Serbian chronicles from 1329 mention that a Vlach population was living in Istria, although there was an earlier mention from the 12th century of a leader in Istria called Radul (likely a Romanian name). There have been recent findings to suggest that the Istro-Romanian people (more probably Vlachs in general) were already present in certain regions of nearby Friuli going back to the 13th century. Pavle Ivić, a Serbian linguist, cited the hypothesis that a sizeable Roman population inhabited the Balkans from west to east across the former Yugoslavia before the 10th century. The hypothesis is that these populations, reduced by epidemics of the plague and wars, mixed with the first Istro-Romanians who moved into Istria, but there are no known historical records to support this theory.

Some loanwords suggest that before coming to Istria, Istro-Romanians lived for a period of time on the Dalmatian coast near the Dinara and Velebit mountains.[5] In any case, it is linguistically evident that Istro-Romanian split from the widely spoken (Daco-)Romanian later than did the other Romanian (=Eastern Romance) languages, Aromanian language and Megleno-Romanian.

The Italian writer and historian Giuseppe Lazzarini believes that there are more than 5,000 Istro-Romanian descendants in Istria today, but most of them identify themselves (census 1991: only 811 Istro-Romanians) with other ethnic groups in the revolving door of foreign rulers of this region. He believes that the Istro-Romanians are the descendants of the "melting pot" of the Roman legionnaires (moved by Augustus to eastern Istria to colonize the borders of Italy) and the Aromanian shepherds who escaped from the Ottoman invasions to settle in a plague-depopulated Istria in the 14th century. However, he does not relate to the fact that Istro-Romanian is linguistically closer to Daco-Romanian than to Aromanian (also called Macedo-Romanian).
Istro-Romanians areas: green line in 1800, dashed lines in 1900.

A. Kovačec (1998) hypothesizes that the Istro-Romanians migrated to their present region about 600 years ago from Romania, after the Bubonic plague depopulated Istria. This hypothesis is based on chronicles of the Frangipani princes that state that in the 15th century they accepted the migrating Vlachs from the nearby mainland and from the northern part of Krk (Veglia) island, and settled them in isolated villages at Poljica and Dubašnica and at the port Malinska. The term "vlach", however, refers to all Eastern-Romance-language speakers and cannot be associated exclusively with Istro-Romanians. In fact, pockets of Romanian-language speakers persisted in Malinska up to the mid 19th century, they gradually assimilated and their language disappeared with the last speaker, Mate Bajčić-Gašparović. Today, few Romance-language toponyms remain in Malinska. (Tekavčić 1959, Kovačec 1998)

The Transylvanian connection is emphasized by most linguists and is alive in the hand-down memories and folk songs of some of the Rumeni (Rumêri) themselves. They put themselves into either of two groups — the northern upland cici (It. cicci; S-C. ćići), and vlahi of the Arsa Valley (historical name is also Arsia; today called Raša) region. Interestingly enough, Iosif Popovici entitled his book Dialectele române din Istria (Halle, 1909) — that is, "The Dialects..." not "The Dialect..." — so indirectly he suggested that there were (and still are) several Istro-Romanian dialects in Istria. The linguistic differences, however, can be easily explained: a language evolves separately when there is a geographical border between the individual groups — in this case, the Ciceria mountain range. Indeed, there are even variations that are distinct from town to town.

Insofar as Romanian linguists are concerned, the opinions are divided: Prof. Dr. Iosif Popovici (1876–1928), who had traveled extensively in Istria, promoted the hypothesis that the Istro-Romanians were natives of Țara Moților (Western Transylvania) who emigrated to Istria in the Middle Ages. ("Dialectele române din Istria", I, Halle a.d.S., 1914, p. 122 and following). This opinion was shared by Ovid Densusianu (1873–1938), a Romanian folklorist, philologist, and poet who introduced trends of European modernism into Romanian literature. He did not hold the belief that Istro-Romanians were native to Istria where found today (or where found in the 1930s when he did the research for his book Histoire de la langue roumaine, I, p. 337): "Un premier fait que nous devons mettre en evidence, c'est que l'istro-roumain n'a pu se développer à l'origine là où nous le trouvons aujourd'hui" (The primary issue is that Istro-Romanian, because of its close similarity to other dialects spoken in isolated areas of present-day Romania, as well as its close resemblance to Daco-Romanian, simply could not have originated in isolation where it is found today).

Presumed to be the Istro-Romanians' relatives, the Morlachs in what is now in the Croatian region of Morlachia inhabited a wide range of Dalmatia in the past, but are now a small ethnic group whose numbers are likewise decreasing. The common error that has been made is in confusing the "ćići" and "vlahi" with the "morlacchi" (Slavic: Murlaki; English: Morlachs) who are an entirely different ethnic and linguistic group on the Dalmatian mainland and Herzegovina. The Morlachian language, which became extinct in the early 20th century, belongs to an entirely different sub-group of the Eastern Romance languages, distinct from the Romanian and Italian languages.


The Istro-Romanian language bears close resemblance to Daco-Romanian, and most Romanian linguists consider it to be a dialect rather than a separate language. Istro-Romanian is sometimes confused with Istriot, the other seriously endangered language of southern Istria which is considered either a descendant of or closely related to one of the Dalmatian dialects.

One peculiarity of Istro-Romanian (IR) compared with Romanian dialects is the use of rhotacism (with the intervocalic /n/ becoming /r/, for instance lumină (meaning "light" in Romanian) becoming lumira). This is one of the reasons that some Romanian linguists think that Istro-Romanian evolved from the Romanian language spoken in the Apuseni or Maramureș area of Transylvania, which has some similar traits. It could also be a coincidental development, due to influence of surrounding languages. According to Popovici this characteristic is very old as it is found in very few words of Slavic origin which entered Daco-Romanian (DR) before the 12th century. Other Slavic elements in Istro-Romanian, i.e. Croatian and, more significantly, Slovene, as well as the Western Romance languages that have been historically prevalent in Istria, various Istrian dialects of Venetian and Italian—show no signs of rhotacism, except for its partial presence in the Chakavian dialect and in nearby islands which may have derived from a common root.

Other characteristics of Istro-Romanian include (note: the lexicon used below is not universally recognized):

  • Prosthetic a- as in Aromanian (AR) arușine < DR rușine does not exist, however by false analogy an organic a- may disappear e.g. (a)prope, (a)ratå, (a)ve;
  • stressed á may become å /ɔ/ which can also be found in the Banat region of Romania;
  • ă-á becomes a-å, e.g. DR măritá > IR maritå (to marry), DR arătá > IR (a)ratå (to show);
  • au becomes åv, a similar change appears in Aromanian, e.g. DR aud > AR avdu, IR åvdu (I hear); likewise DR preot > AR/IR preftu (priest);
  • -e preceded by labials remains unaltered, whereas in DR it becomes , e.g. IR per < DR păr (hair/pear tree), IR pemint < DR pămînt (ground);
  • stressed DR -eá- becomes stressed -é-, e.g. DR leac > IR lec (remedy), DR leagăn > IR legăr (cradle/swing), DR fată > IR fetĕ (girl);
  • The consonant groups and are only found in IR, AR and Megleno-Romanian (MR). These groups show that the Romanian dialects in Istria separated from DR before the 13th century, when and tended towards k' and g', e.g. Latin inclūdēre > IR cľide, MR ancľide > DR închide (to close), Latin glacia > IR gľåțĕ, AR/MR gľeț > DR gheață (ice);
Istro-Romanian Aromanian Megleno-Romanian Romanian Italian English
pićor cicior picior picior gamba leg
kľeptu cheptu kľeptu piept petto chest
bire ghine bini bine bene well, good
bľerå azghirari zber zbiera ruggire to roar
fiľu hilj iľu fiu figlio son
fiľa hilje iľe fiică figlia daughter
ficåt hicat ficat fegato liver
fi hire ire fi essere to be
fľer heru ieru fier ferro iron
vițelu yitsãl vițål vițel vitello calf
(g)ľerm iermu ghiarmi vierme verme worm
viu yiu ghiu viu vivo alive
vipt yiptu vipt cibo (vitto) food, grain
mľe(lu) njel m'iel miel agnello lamb
mľåre njare m'ari miere miele honey

The results of these changes in IR can be outlined in the following:

pi > , ć
bi >
fi >
vi > (g)ľ
mi >

  • Words only found in Istro-Romanian and the Daco-Romanian dialects of the Banat and Oltenia:
Istro-Romanian Banat/Oltenia Daco-Romanian Italian English
amănåt amînat/amînat amânat rinviata postponed
(a)stårĕ astară/asară diseară stasera tonight
bericåtĕ beregată/beregată gât gola throat
lomi lomui a rupe rompere to break
prigodĕ prigoadă/afacere afacere commercio business
zgodi zgođi/întâmpla a se întâmpla succedere/accadere to happen

However, the similar words zgoda (happening) and prigoda (business) are widespread in Serbo-Croatian, and may also be Slavic loanwords; also, Istro-Romanian mľelu is similar to Chakavian mjelić (lamb) of some Adriatic islands. Lomi is a Slavic loanword, coming from "lomiti" (to break) in Serbo-Croatian. There are Slavic loanwords in other Eastern Romance languages, too, including Daco-Romanian.



There is no local literary tradition; however, Andrea Glavina, an Istro-Romanian who was educated in Romania, wrote in 1905 Calendaru lu rumeri din Istrie ("The Calendar of the Romanians of Istria"). In this book he wrote many folkloristic tales of his people. A series of actual Istro-Romanian tales and original folk songs recently is noted also by A. Kovačec (1998).

When Andrea Glavina created the first Romanian school in Valdarsa (where he was the first mayor) in 1922, he composed the following "Imnul Istro-romanilor" in Romanian language:

Imnul Istro-romanilor (Romanian) Inno Istrorumeno (Italian)
Roma, Roma i mama noastră

noi Români rămânem

Romania i sora noastră

tot un sâng-avem

nu suntem singuri pe lume

și 'neă avem frați

Italiani cu mare nume

mâna cu noi dați

ca sa fim frate și frate

cum a dat Dumnezeu

să trăim până la moarte

eu și tu și tu și au
Roma, Roma è nostra madre

noi rimaniamo Romani

la Romania è nostra sorella

abbiamo tutti un sangue

non siamo soli al mondo

se abbiamo fratelli

Italiani dal nome illustre

ci hanno dato una mano

siamo fratelli e sorelle

come l'ha stabilito il Signore

così lo sosterremo fino alla morte

io con te e tu con me

See also


  1. ^ Istro-Romanian at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Istro Romanian". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ Goran Filipi, Istrorumunjski lingvistički atlas. Atlasul lingvistic istroromân. Atlante linguistico istroromeno, Pula, Znanstvena zadruga Mediteran, 2002, p.52.


  • Wolfgang Dahmen: Istrorumänisch. Lexicon der romanistischen Linguistik. III, Tübingen, 1989, pp. 448–460
  • Nerina Feresini: Il Comune istro-romeno di Valdarsa. Edizioni Italo Svevo. Trieste: 1996
  • August Kovačec: Istrorumunjsko-hrvatski rječnik s gramatikom i tekstovima (Glosar Istroroman-Croat cu gramatica si texte). Verba moritura vol. I, 378 p. Mediteran, Pula 1998
  • Josif Popovici: Dialectele romîne din Istria, Halle, 1909
  • Pavao Tekavčić: Due voci romene in un dialetto serbo-croato dell'Isola di Veglia (Krk). Studia Romanica 7: 35-38, Zagreb 1959

External links

  • - Associazione di amicizia Italo-Romena
  • Istro-Romanian Community Worldwide
  • UNESCO Red Book on Endangered Languages - entry for Istro-Romanian
  • Listening to (and Saving) the World’s Languages - this is a New York Times article that focuses solely on a small segment of what is a much larger and untapped Istro-Romanian community. The native speakers reside not only in Queens but throughout the five boroughs of New York City, as well as elsewhere in the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut tri-state area and other parts of the U.S.A., Canada, Australia, Argentina, Germany, Sweden and, of course, Italy.
  • Istro-Romanian Swadesh list of basic vocabulary words (from Wiktionary's - Swadesh list appendix)
  • The Lost Languages, Found in New York -
  • The IstroRomanians in Croatia
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