Domari language

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Native to India, Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Israel, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Jordan, Sudan, and perhaps neighboring countries[1]
Region Middle East and North Africa, Caucasus, Central Asia, India
Ethnicity Dom
Native speakers
moribund? (2012)[1][2]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 rmt
Glottolog doma1258[3]

Domari is an Indo-Aryan language, spoken by older Dom people scattered across the Middle East and North Africa. The language is reported to be spoken as far north as Azerbaijan and as far south as central Sudan, in Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Iraq, Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Sudan, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Syria and Lebanon.[1] Based on the systematicity of sound changes, we know with a fair degree of certainty that the names Domari and Romani derive from the Indian word ḍom.[4]

Domari is also known as "Middle Eastern Romani", "Tsigene", "Luti", or "Mehtar". There is no standard written form. In the Arab world, it is occasionally written using the Arabic script and has many Arabic and Persian loanwords.[5] Descriptive work was done by Yaron Matras (1996)[6] who published a comprehensive grammar of the language along with an historical and dialectological evaluation of secondary sources (Matras 2012).


The best-known variety of Domari is Palestinian Domari, also known as "Syrian Gypsy", the dialect of the Dom community of Jerusalem, which was described by R.A. S. Macalister in the 1910s. Palestinian Domari is an endangered language, with fewer than 200 speakers, the majority of the 1,200 members of the Jerusalem Domari community being native speakers of Palestinian Arabic.

Other dialects include:

Some dialects may be highly divergent and not mutually intelligible. Published sources often lump together dialects of Domari and the various unrelated in-group vocabularies of diverse peripatetic populations in the Middle East. Thus there is no evidence at all that the Lyuli, for example, speak a dialect of Domari, not is there any obvious connection between Domari and the vocabulary used by the Helebi of Egypt (see discussion in Matras 2012, chapter 1).

The small Seb Seliyer language of Iran is distinctive in its core vocabulary.

Comparison with Romani

Domari was once thought to be the "sister language" of Romani, the two languages having split after the departure from the Indian subcontinent, but more recent research suggests that the differences between them are significant enough to treat them as two separate languages within the Central zone (Hindustani) group of languages. The Dom and the Rom are therefore likely to be descendants of two different migration waves out of India, separated by several centuries.[8][9]

There are nevertheless remarkable similarities between the two beyond their shared Central zone Indic origin, indicating a period of shared history as itinerant populations in the Middle East. These include shared archaisms that have been lost in the Central Indo-Aryan languages over the millennium since Dom/Rom emigration, a series of innovations connecting them with the Northwestern zone group, indicating their route of migration out of India, and finally a number of radical syntactical changes due to superstrate influence of Middle Eastern languages, including Persian, Arabic and Byzantine Greek.


Since Domari is a minority Middle-Eastern language for a specific community of speakers, it did not have a standard orthography for many years; therefore——many writers have used differing spelling systems (similarly to what happened with Ladino). Most Middle-Easterners used the Arabic script, while scholars made duty with a modified Pan-Vlakh Latin-based alphabet.

Yaron Matras used such a system in his recent publications on this subject——where the Pan-Vlakh orthography served as a basis, with several modifications:

  • Romani j changed to y
  • Romani c use limited to the accented form č for /tʃ/; the /dʒ/ counterpart being denoted by
  • Doubled vowel letters for long vowels (aa ee ii oo uu)
  • Diphthongs denoted with vowel pairs (ai au ei eu oi and so on...)
  • Additional letters in use for Semitic-derived words and names (ḍ ḥ ṣ ṭ ẓ ġ q ‘ ’ and so on...)

A new Semitic-flavored Latin-based pan-alphabet has recently been introduced by some scholars for the purpose of codifying written Domari.


Numerals in the Romani, Domari and Lomavren languages, with Hindi and Persian forms for comparison.[10] Note that Romani 7–9 are borrowed from Greek.

Hindi Romani Domari Lomavren Persian
1 ek ekh, jekh yika yak, yek yak, yek
2 do duj lui du, do
3 tīn trin tærən tərin se
4 cār štar štar išdör čahār
5 pāñc pandž pandž pendž pandž
6 che šov šaš šeš šaš, šeš
7 sāt ifta xaut haft haft
8 āţh oxto xaišt hašt hašt
9 nau inja na nu nuh, noh
10 das deš des las dah
20 bīs biš wīs vist bist
100 sau šel saj saj sad


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Matras (2012)
  2. Ethnologue estimates 4 million, with 2.3 million in Egypt and 1.3 million in Iran (rmt). However, these are the number of people considered 'Gypsies', regardless of the language they speak. There is no attestation of Domari speakers in Egypt or in Iran. (See Matras 2012.)
  3. Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Domari". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. The Gypsies of Lebanon: A DRC Update, April 2000, by Dr. G. A. Williams
  6. [1]
  8. What is Domari?, retrieved 2008-07-23<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. ON ROMANI ORIGINS AND IDENTITY, retrieved 2008-07-23<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. after Ian Hancock, On Romani Origins and Identity, RADOC (2007)[2]

Further reading

  • Herin, B. (2012). "The Domari language of Aleppo (Syria)" Linguistic Discovery 10 (2), 1-52.
  • Herin, B. (2014). "The Northern Dialects of Domari," Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft 164 (2): 407-450.
  • Matras, Y. (1999). "The state of present-day Domari in Jerusalem." Mediterranean Language Review 11, 1–58.
  • Matras, Y. (2002). Romani: a linguistic introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Matras, Y. (2012). A grammar of Domari. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton (Mouton Grammar Library).

External links