The dom and the rom

May 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

With the Libyan crisis having dominated the news, let us examine the linguistic landscape of the country. Unsurprisingly for north Africa, most Libyans experience Arabic diglossia with the domains divvied up between a local variety of Arabic and Classical Arabic. However a number of other languages are spoken in the country, though most of the international workers from the surrounding North African and Mediterranean region have left. There are also Berber languages spoken, Nafusi being the largest. However the second largest minority language, is not a Berber language, rather it is Domari, with 33 000 speakers. The Dom are the distant distant cousins of the Rom, both groups leaving India in the first millennium of the common era. The Rom or Romany referred to as Gypsies and variant forms of Zigeuner, Tsigane, Gitane etc form one of Europe’s largest underclasses. Likewise in the Middle East the Dom are powerless within the borders of these nations, with their largest populations in Iran and Egypt. Rarely literate in the dominant language, and living among (but apart from) other powerful groups the Dom and the Rom are constantly subject to attitudes of aggression, in some places with state sanction.

The Domari language has a number of dialects. Libyan Dom speak Helebi as do the group in Egypt. The most well document variety is that spoken by the tiny 2000 strong community in Jerusalem. You can visit the Domari Research Centre here


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