A Few Words

Ljubomir Lukov

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Know Your Languages: Romanian-The Only Member of the Romance Language Family Spoken in Eastern Europe

Posted by Ljubomir Lukov on Apr 2, 2015 6:53:17 PM

UnknownWhen it comes to Romania, there seem to be two classic misconceptions. The first:  there are vampires everywhere.  The second:  Romanian is a Slavic language.  Both are utter nonsense.

Romanian is actually a Romance language and holds the intriguing status of being the only member of the Romance language family spoken in Eastern Europe. As such, it is more closely related to French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Catalan than the languages spoken in Russia and other Slavic countries. That isn’t to say, however, there is no Slavic influence on the language.  Romanian contains many words from the surrounding Slavic languages, as well as from French, Old Church Slavonic, German, Greek and Turkish.

Like other divisions of Romance languages, Romanian descends from Vulgar Latin. The history of the Romanian language can be traced back to the Dacians (pronounced dachyanz), who were a civilization that occupied the area now known as Romania about 2,000 years ago. Linguists have found that approximately 160 words from modern day Romanian can be linked back to the language of the Dacians. Some of these words include:

copil = child

prunc = baby

baci = shepherd making cheese

gard = fence

brad = fir

copac = tree

images-5The region, known as Dacia, was ruled over by the Romans for about 160-165 years, starting in 106 AD. The Romans had a tremendous impact on the land and its people and the name Romania comes from the Latin word Romanus, which translates to “citizen of the Roman Empire.” Linguists attest that Romanian is, much like the other Romance languages, fairly easy for English speakers to understand. This is due to it being a phonetic language, which means that words are pronounced just as they are spelled.

Between the 7th and 9th century, the Slavs also influenced what has become modern day Romanian. During this time, Slavs came to the area and gained knowledge of Latin. Just as the Dacians were adopting Slavonisms, the Slavs began adopting the Romance language that would become Romanian. They seemed to prefer using words of their native language whose meanings and expressive connotations of which they were familiar. This was evidenced by the Slavs insistence on continuing to use their own language’s emotional terms. Hence, Romanian is the only Romance language that has not preserved the words amor, carus, amare, sponsa, etc. They have been replaced by dragoste, drag, a iubi, nevasta, logodna (betrothal) and a logodi (to betrothe). The most prominent influence passed on to Romanian from the Slavs is in word pronunciation. An example of such a word is trup, which means body.

images-3Romanian has an alphabet consisting of 31 letters. Certain letters and letter combinations differ slightly from those found in English. Some examples are:

Romanian Letter             Pronunciation

e                                                  as in tell

i                                                   [e] as in pick

j                                                   as in leisure

ce                                                as in check

gi                                                 [dsi] as in gin

ge                                                [dse] as in gender

chi                                               [ki] as in skill

che                                              [ke] as in chemistry

ghi                                               [gi] as in give

ghe                                              [ge] as in guess


Romanian is the official language of Romania.  Approximately 24 million people speak Romanian as their primary language. An additional four million people speak it as their secondary language. The language itself is about 1,700 years old.

images-4The modern Romanian language has four core dialects: Aromanian, Megleno-Romanian, Daco-Romanian and Istro-Romanian. Speakers of the language can be found all over the world, from Australia to the United States and from Russia to Canada. Romanian is one of the official languages of the European Union as well as the Latin Union.  Interestingly, neighboring Moldolva speaks what they call Moldolvan, but others say it is Romanian. Moldovans insist that their language is separate and distinct from Romanian.  This contentious debate has divided scholars through the years in regards to the differences between the two languages.  Many linguists consider it a different language, even if the two are almost identical (vocabulary is slightly different, but such words could be regionalisms).

Romanian has been studied by historians and linguists for nearly 1,000 years. The history of the Romanian people is one brimming with stories of being conquered by larger and stronger civilizations. The language itself illustrates their perseverance and strength. From its Dacian roots to the Vulgar Latin and Slavic influences, Romanian is a language built and fostered by a populace of survivors.  

Topics: Know Your Languages

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