Romanian 101

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Dacian Language

The Dacian language was an Indo-European language spoken by the ancient Dacians. It may have been the first language to influence the Latin spoken in Dacia, but there is very little knowledge about it. About 300 words found only in Romanian (in all dialects) or with a cognate in the Albanian language may be inherited from Dacian, many of them being related to pastoral life (for example: balaur=dragon; brânza=cheese; mal=shore; see: Eastern Romance substratum). Some linguists have asserted that Albanians are Dacians who were not Romanized, and migrated south.

A different view is that these non-Latin words (many with Albanian cognates) are not necessarily Dacian, but rather were brought into the territory that is modern Romania by Romance-speaking shepherds migrating north from Albania, Serbia, and northern Greece who became the Romanian people. However, the Eastern Romance substratum appears to have been a satem language, while the Paleo-Balkan languages spoken in Northern Greece (Ancient Macedonian language) and Albania (Illyrian language) were most likely centum languages.

The general view is that Dacian was a satem language, as was Thracian. Dacian was either close to the neighboring Albanian or Balto-Slavic branches of Indo-European, or a member of a distinct branch.

Balkan Linguistic Union

While most parts of the Romanian grammar and morphology are based on Vulgar Latin, there are however some features that are shared only with other languages of the Balkans and cannot be found in other Romance languages.

The languages of this sprachbund belong to distinct branches of the Indo-European languages: Bulgarian and Albanian, and in some cases Greek and Serbian.

Among the shared features, there are the postponed definite article, the syncretism of genitive and dative cases, the formation of the future and perfect tenses, as well as the avoidance of infinitive.

Slavic Languages

The Slavic influence was first due to the migration of Slavic tribes, which traversed the territory of today's Romania during the formation of the language. It is interesting to note that Slavs were assimilated north of Danube, whereas they almost completely assimilated the Romanized population (Vlachs) living south of Danube. An important part of this population was still Vlach in the 10th century, only to fade away along with Vlach political power. For more information about this, see Aromanian and Megleno-Romanian.

Slavic influence continued during the Middle Ages, mainly due to the fact that Church Slavonic was the main liturgical language until the 18th century. The other surrounding languages (all Slavic, with the exception of Hungarian) also influenced Romanian.

Up to 20% of the vocabulary is of Slavic origin, including words such as: a iubi=to love; glas=voice; nevoie=need; prieten=friend; However, many Slavic words are archaisms and it is estimated that only 10% of the words in modern Romanian are Slavic.

There are some Slavonic influences, both on the phonetic level and on the lexical level—for example Romanian took the Slavonic da for yes.

Other Influences

Even before the 19th century, Romanian came in contact with several other languages. Notable among these are:

~ Greek (for example: folos < ófelos = use; buzunar < buzunára = pocket; proaspat < prósfatos = fresh)
~ Hungarian (for example: oras < város = town; a cheltui < költeni = to spend; a fagadui < fogadni = to promise)
~ Turkish (for example: cafea < kahve = coffee; cutie < kutu =box; papuc < papuç = slipper)
~ German (for example: cartof < Kartoffel = potato; bere < Bier = beer; surub < Schraube = screw)

International Words

Since the 19th century, many modern words were borrowed from the other Romance languages, especially from French and Italian (for example: birou < bureau = desk, office; avion = airplane; exploata = exploit, etc). It was estimated that about 38% of the number of words in Romanian are of French or Italian origin and adding this to the words that were inherited from Latin, it makes about 75-85% of the Romanian words that can be traced to Latin.

Some Latin words have entered Romanian twice, first as part of its core or popular vocabulary and a second time as a more literary international borrowing. Typically, the popular word is a noun and the borrowed word an adjective:

~ brother: frate / fratern
~ finger: deget / digital
~ water: apa / acvatic
~ cold: frig / frigid
~ eye: ochi / ocular

Recently, an increasing number of English words have been borrowed (such as: gem < jam; interviu < interview; meci < match; manager < manager). These words are assigned grammatical gender in Romanian and handled according to Romanian rules; thus "the manager" is managerul.

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