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Sentences / Syntax
Romani-Project Graz / Dieter W. Halwachs
Contrary to New Indo-Aryan languages with the verb in the final position or SOV order, Romani generally has (S)VO order in so-called neutral declarative sentences.
As indicated by the brackets in the illustration 1, pronominal subjects are optional in Romani, because they are contained in the verbal ending. The position of the subject shows variance between categorical contrastive SV word order which, as in the example above, corresponds to the neutral declarative sentence, and thetic continuative VS word order, as demonstrated in the following final sequence of a Lovara fairy tale.
The change in the general word order from SOV to SVO is the result of Romani’s Europeanisation through contact with Greek and subsequently the languages of the Balkans. This alteration can also be seen in the dichotomy of factual and non-factual subordinating conjunctions mentioned above. Additional innovations include the relative clause, the use of prepositions and the definite article. Generally, these phenomena do not occur in the New Indo-Aryan languages on the Indian subcontinent.
In noun phrases, which can comprise a head NOUN (a noun or pronoun) and [OPTIONAL] constituents in a generally fixed order, the preposition is always in the initial position:
The following example, a prepositional phrase with a postposed noun phrase as an option extension, demonstrates all possible constituents in a noun phrase:
As shown in the example above, the noun is generally in the nominative form when following prepositions. Exceptions are the aforementioned bi ‘without’ and vaš ‘because of’, which require the genitive and dative respectively:
Contrary to the nouns, which are in the nominative form in the majority of cases and varieties, pronouns following prepositions are usually locative-marked:
Another distinctive feature of Romani is the genitive noun phrase with its “double case” where the case of the determining article correlates with the genitive attribute, which in turn correlates with the head noun in case, number and gender:
As shown in the introductory example, genitive nouns can also take the optional place after the head noun which does, however, not affect the “double case”. This is also demonstrated in the following example from the Lovara Romani which shows the genitive plural suffix -ger- contracted to -g-:
While the postnominal position of genitives is quasi systemic in some Romani varities, the attributes following the head noun of the noun phrase usually carry discourse-pragmatic functions:
The position of the verb depends – as shown initially – on discourse-pragmatic factors with regard to the subject. A similar, if softened, form applies to its position with regard to the object. Generally, the verb is positioned before the object – (S)VO. This applies to pronominal objects in particular: Even in Burgenland Romani, which like all other Vend varieties of the south central dialects shows a contact-induced tendency towards verbs in final positions, direct pronominal objects are usually positioned after the verb:
In contrast, nominal objects in Burgenland-Romani are often found in front of the verb, most likely due to the influence of Hungarian contact varieties:
Indirect objects are usually positioned after direct ones. The verb position in interrogative sentences is the same as in declarative sentences:
Contact-induced word order is a characteristic which Romani shares with many other dominated languages. It is primarily rooted in the plurilingualism of adult Roma and the dominance of the primary contact language, i.e. the local majority language. The resulting contact-induced variance in Romani introduced in this section is further discussed in the following description of complex clauses.
The word order in subordinate clauses is generally the same as that of main clauses and displays the (S)VO order described above.
As with other European languages, Romani also uses relative clauses. The most commonly occurring elements introducing relative clauses (“relativiser”) are kaj ‘where’ and so ‘what’.
If the relative clause’s head noun does assume non-subject roles, resumptive pronouns are obligatory. In this function we find kon ‘who’ and savo ‘which’, which correlate with the reference-noun of the main clause.
Complements of epistemic verbs describing independent and real processes and conditions are marked by the factual or epistemic conjunction kaj; modal complements are introduced by the non-factual or modal conjunction te, which occurs as ti in some varieties.
While te/ti are rarely substituted by loans, kaj is often replaced: In Vlax varieties by the functionally equivalent Romanian kê or ke; in varieties under Greek influence by the also equivalent Greek oti; in central varieties by the Hungarian hod/hodž/hoď/hot/hoj < hun. hogy.
The conjunction te/ti marks modal and aspectual verb complements as well as direct statements.
In the first example, te marks the complement of the modal verb ‘to want’, in the second one that of the inchoative verb astaren ‘to begin’. The last example is a directive speech act which in English is expressed by the use of the modal verb ‘should’.
Generally, adverbial clauses are introduced by semantically specified conjunctions which can be roughly divided into three categories: The first two consist of the conjunctions kaj and te which, as in their function as verb complements, differ with regard to their factuality. The third category comprises all those subordinate conjunctions which are based on interrogatives or which correspond to these. The non-factual te/ti introduces final, conditional and consecutive clauses.
In contrast, kaj introduces causal clauses:
An example for the third category is the interrogative pronoun kana ‘when’ in its function as a conjunction with temporal, simultaneous meaning:
Additionally, variety-specific loans which either completely replace the original conjunctions or which occur simultaneously with these; combinations of elements of the three categories with loan conjunctions, prepositions and other particles may also occur. The following table shows an incomplete list of types of subordinate clauses and conjunctions based on purely semantic criteria (Ill.4).
An extended description of the Syntax of Romani is presented in chapter 7 “Syntactic typology” in Yaron Matras (2002) Romani. A linguistic introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 165-191.