The Romanian Language

Romanian , the limba română , is the official language of Romania, Moldova and the Serbian Autonomous Province of Vojvodina.

Romanian is an Indo-European language, the major member of the Eastern group of Romance languages. It is closest to modern Italian in terms of mutual intelligibility, but also shares many grammatical features and word origins with the other Romance languages

Romania, which has the Transylvanian plateau at its centre and much of its southern border formed by the Danube, is positioned at the heart of the territories once occupied by the Dacian peoples. Long before the Roman Empire had stretched northwards across the Danube the Dacians had made considerable economic and cultural progress with gold mines contributing to their interest in Roman eyes. They came into repeated conflict with the expanding Roman Empire and there was intermittent warfare between Dacians and Romans from the first century bc onwards. They were finally subdued by the Romans under Trajan in a series of campaigns between 101 and 106 ad and the region became the Roman province of Dacia. This remained under direct Roman control for nearly two centuries, until about 270 ad, when the Romans were no longer able to sustain a military presence north of the Danube.

The Dacians spoke an Indo-European language about which little is known; it is possible that a few hundred words derived from their language may have survived into present-day Romanian, though this remains speculative. What is clear is that the language which gave rise to modern Romanian developed on a foundation of demotic Latin, perhaps acquired by Romanized Dacians or imported north of the Danube by migrants from the south, whose forebears had spent longer within the orbit of Roman culture. It acquired its identity as a language between the seventh and tenth centuries AD , during which time those who spoke it became known to their non-Romanian neighbours as Wallachians (Vlakhi to the Serbs). It is remarkable that their language survived to become the most widely spoken of the Balkan languages despite its heartland being overrun in succession by Goths, Slavs, Magyars, Bulgars and Turks.

Modern Romanian reflects the linguistic diversity of the different peoples who have passed through or settled in these regions, with many loan words taken in from Slavic sources. Old Church Slavonic exercised a strong influence through its use as the liturgical language of the Romanian Orthodox Church, until it was replaced by Latin with the formation of the Romanian Greek-Catholic Church in Transylvania in 1698. Turkish, Hungarian, Albanian and German have also been important sources of word borrowings. However there has been a tendency since the nineteenth century for the Romance component in Romanian to be accentuated, in particular by the assimilation of French and Italian loan words which have tended to displace their Serbian equivalents. The result has been that as much as 90 per cent of modern Romanian is ultimately derived from Latin.

The more recent Romance borrowings are easier for English speakers with some knowledge of Latin or French and Italian to recognize than the original Romanian Latin-based words are. This is because Romanian developed in relative isolation from the other major Romance languages over a number of centuries, while being in close contact with Hungarian and Slavic influences. It is helpful to be aware of some of the changes which occurred as Latin became Romanian:

Hard g and k (velar) consonants next to other consonants such as t (dentals) changed to p b or m (labial consonants) e.g.:

octo → opt 'eight'
signum → semn 'sign'
lingua → lembă 'language'
cognatus 'kinsman' → cumnat 'brother-in-law'
coxa → coapsă 'thigh'
factum 'deed' → fapt 'fact'

Qu changed to pbefore a, except when beginning question words, e.g.:

quattuor → patru 'four'
equa → iapă 'mare'


quando → când 'when'
quid → ce 'what'

In recent years there have been increasing borrowings from English, and the English speaker will have no difficulty recognizing words like polivinil, sandviș and computer or a phrase like ‘specialist în fizioterapie’!