Domari language

Native to India, Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Israel, Syria, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Jordan, Sudan, and perhaps neighboring countries[1]
Region Middle East and North Africa, Caucasus, Central Asia, India
Ethnicity Dom
Native speakers
4 million (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] The Arabs referred to them as nawar as they were a nomadic people that originally immigrated to the Middle East from India.[5]

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.[6] Descriptive work was done by Yaron Matras,[7] who published a comprehensive grammar of the language along with an historical and dialectological evaluation of secondary sources (Matras 2012).

Domari is an endangered language and is currently being shifted away from in younger generations, according to Yaron Matras. In certain areas such as Jerusalem, only about 20% of these Dom people, known as “Middle Eastern Gypsies”, speak the Domari language in everyday interactions. The language is mainly spoken by the elderly in the Jerusalem community. The younger generation are more influenced by Arabic, therefore most only know basic words and phrases. The modern-day community of Doms in Jerusalem was established by the nomadic people deciding to settle inside the Old City from 1940 until the 1967 occupation (Matras 1999).


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.[9][10]

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 do with a modified Pan-Vlakh Latin-based alphabet.

Modified Pan-Vlakh orthography

In 2012, 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:

Pan-Domari Alphabet

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

The Pan-Domari Alphabet, which was invented in 2015, is a Semitic-flavored simplification of the previous Matras notation:

The Pan-Domari Alphabet is shown in this table:

Letter Alternate§ IPA Letter Name In IPA Example
ʾ /ʔ/ ʾalefu /ʔɑ·lɛ·fʊ/ ʾalefu-bêþah alphabet
A a /ɑ/ a /ɑ/ arat night
 â Ā ā /aː/ â /aː/ âxir last, final
B b /b/ be /bɛ/ bâsbort passport
C c * * ce * Coke (Qôk)
Ĉ ĉ CH ch /tʃ/ ĉe /tʃɛ/ ĉôna boy
D d /d̪/ de /d̪ɛ/ dînar dinar
Ḍ ḍ /d̪ˤ/ ḍe /d̪ˤɛ/ ḍanḍ tooth; ḍêf guest
Ð ð DH dh /ð/ ðe /ðɛ/ ðawḥâʾ dhow (small dinghy boat)
E e /ɛ/ 'e /ɛ/ eras this
Ê ê Ē ē /eː/ ê /eː/ ĵêb pocket
F f /f/~/ɸ/1 fe /fɛ/ finĵân cup
G g /ɡ/ ge /ɡɛ/ gêsu wheat
Ĝ ĝ GH gh /ɣ/~/ʁ/2 ĝe /ɣɛ/ ĝassâle washing machine, washer
H h /h/ he /hɛ/ Hnûd Indians (Hindi)
Ḥ ḥ /ħ/ ḥe /ħɛ/ ḥaqq right
I i /ɪ/ i /ɪ/ Isrâʾîl Israel
Î î Ī ī /iː/ î /iː/ nhîr blood
J j * * je * Jeep (Ĵîp)
Ĵ ĵ J j /dʒ/ ĵe /dʒɛ/ ĵâr neighbor
K k /k/ ke /k/ kâz gas(oline), petrol
L l /l̪/ le /l̪ɛ/ Libnân Lebanon
M m /m/ me /mɛ/ mâsûra tube
N n /n̪/~/ŋ/~/ɲ/3 ne /n̪ɛ/ nohri tomato
ʿ /ʕ/ ʿayenu /ʕɑ·jɛ·n̪ʊ/ ʿIbrânî Hebrew
O o /ɔ/ o /ɔ/ oŝt lip
Ô ô Ō ō /oː/ ô /oː/ Dômarî Domari
P p /p/ pe /pɛ/ ple money, cash, moolah, funds
Q q /q/ qe /qɛ/ qayîŝ food
R r /r/~/ɾ/4 re /rɛ/ rxîṣ cheap
S s /s/ se /sɛ/ sûq market(place)
Ṣ ṣ /sˤ/ ṣe /sˤɛ/ ṣaḥafi journalist, reporter
Ŝ ŝ SH sh /ʃ/ ŝe /ʃɛ/ ŝmâriya chicken, poultry
T t /t̪/ te /t̪ɛ/ turĵman translator, interpreter
Ṭ ṭ /t̪ˤ/ ṭe /t̪ˤɛ/ ṭarmabil (motor)car, motor vehicle, auto(mobile)
Þ þ TH th /θ/ þe /θɛ/ Þawrâ Thor (name of Norse mythological idol)
U u /ʊ/ u /ʊ/ ustâz teacher, instructor, proctor
Û û Ū ū /uː/ û /uː/ ûyar town, city, vicinity; Til-Ûyar Jerusalem
V v /v/~/β/5 ve /vɛ/ vîsa visa, affidavit; qravat cravat
W w /w/ we /wɛ/ waqt time
X x KH kh /x/~/χ/6 xe /xɛ/ xarbûŝ tent; xârfân sheep, lambs
Y y /j/ ye /jɛ/ Yasûʿ Jesus
Z z /z/ ze /zɛ/ zard gold; zarf envelope
Ẓ ẓ /zˤ/ ẓe /zˤɛ/ ẓâbiṭ officer
Ẑ ẑ ZH zh /ʒ/ ẑe /ʒɛ/ ẑbin forehead
Ǝ ǝ Ė ė /ə/~/ʌ/7 ŝǝwaʾ /ʃə·wɑʔ/ ŝǝwaʾ shǝwaʾ, schwa


§ Spelling alternates are shown for certain of these sounds (i.e.: when typing on an ASCII or typeweriter keyboard, or when/where computers cannot show the proper accented Domari letters); these alternates are also used on the KURI’s Learn Domari article series.

1 The letter fe may be sounded either as a labiodental /f/ or a bilabial [ɸ] fricative, depending on the context, or origin of a given word/name.

2 The letter ĝe usually represents a voiced velar fricative /ɣ/, but may be sounded as a velarolaryngeal [ʁ] in words/names derived from Arabic, Farsi, and Urdu.

3 The letter ne usually represents a voiced dental nasal /n̪/; however, it manifests as a velar [ŋ] before the letters g ĝ k q x, but as a palatal [ɲ] before the letters ĉ ĵ y.

4 The letter re represents a flapped [ɾ] or a trilled [r] rhotative resonant continuant, depending on the position within a word/name, and whether it appears singly or doubly.

5 The letter ve shows up mainly in words and names derived from foreign loans, and may represent either a voiced labiodental /v/ or a voiced bilabial [β] fricative.

6 The letter xe (pronounced as KHEH) usually represents a voiceless velar fricative /x/, but usually is sounded as a velarolaryngeal /χ/ one in scores of loan words/loan names which are derived from Arabic, Farsi, and Urdu.

7 The vowel letter called ŝǝwaʾ (its name derives from the cognate Hebrew vowel point for this very same sound) represents the mean-mid central spread neutral vowel as it exists in the English words about, taken, pencil, lemon, and circus. While its normal manifestation is indeed [ə], it may vary in the direction of either a higher-mid [ʌ] or a fronted lower-mid [ɜ] one, depending on the dialect spoken.

Inventory of Vowels:

There are five main vowel sounds, however this inventory shows the variation and quantity of short vowels. Most are interchangeable with a vowel sound next to it, however all of the sounds produced above are identical to the local Palestinian Arabic (Matras 1999).

Inventory of Consonants:

Most of these consonants are influenced by Palestinian Arabic such as gemination, however consonants such as [p], [g], [tf] and [h] are not found in the local dialect. There is speculation among linguists that these sounds are considered a part of the pre-Arabic component. Alveopalatal affricatives such as [tf] and [d3] are also consonants that differ in sound from Arabic (Matras 1999).

Comparing Arabic and Domari:

The biggest difference in expression of language between Arabic and Domari is where the stress is placed. Arabic has phoneme-level stress while Domari is a language of word-level stress. The Domari language emphasizes stress on the final syllable as well as grammatical markers for gender and number. Most nouns, besides proper nouns, adopted from Arabic sound distinct because of the unique stresses in Domari (Matras 1999). Domari is thought to have borrowed a lot of words and grammatical structure from Arabic. However, this is not entirely true. Complex verbs and most core prepositions did not transfer into the realms of grammar of the Domari language. The syntactic typology remains independent of Arabic influence. It also important to note that the numerals used by the Doms were inherited from Kurdish. Even though Domari was influenced by local Arabic, the language also felt the impacts of Kurdish and certain dialects of Iranian in the grammar of the language.[11]


Here is a table of the numerals (1-10, 20, and 100) in Hindi, Romani, Domari, Lomavren, and Farsi (Modern Persian) for comparison.

Numeral Urdu Romani Domari Lomavren Farsi (Persian)
1 aik ekh, jekh yek, yika yak, yek yak, yek
2 do duj luy du, do
3 tīn trin tirin tərin se
4 cār štar ŝtar iŝdör čahār
5 pāñc pandž panĵ penĵ panǰ
6 che šov ŝaŝ ŝeŝ ʃaʃ, ʃeʃ
7 sāt ifta hawt, hoft haft haft
8 āt̥h oxto hayŝt, haytek haŝt haʃt
9 nau inja nu nu nuh, noh
10 das deš dez las dah
20 bīs biš wîs vist bist
100 sau šel say say sad

Domari today

The Domari language is fluently spoken only among the elder generation in the Dom community. These nomadic people have been bilingual for many generations, however recently there has been a language shift towards the dominant geographic language, Arabic. In the 1940s, the Dom began to abandon their nomadic culture and began settling and working in the local economy. This led to the next phenomenon, the assimilation of Dom children in the primary school system which marked the first generation to grow up in an academic environment alongside Arab children. Consequently, this 1940 generation do not fluently speak the Domari language. Arabic replaced their native Domari and became the language of cross-generation communication. In Jerusalem, it is estimated that there are about 600-900 members of the Dom population. Less than 10% can effectively communicate in the Domari language.[12]


  1. 1 2 3 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. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Domari". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  5. Matras, Yaron (2000). "Two Domari Legends about the origins of the Doms" (PDF).
  6. The Gypsies of Lebanon: A DRC Update, April 2000, by Dr. G. A. Williams
  7. Matras, Yaron (1996). Brown, Keith, ed. "Domari" (PDF). Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics. Oxford: Elsevier.
  9. What is Domari?, retrieved 2008-07-23
  10. ON ROMANI ORIGINS AND IDENTITY, retrieved 2008-07-23
  11. "The Domari Language of Aleppo (Syria)". Linguistic Discovery. 10(2).
  12. Matras, Yaron. "Language contact, language endangerment, and the role of the 'salvation linguist'". Language Documentation and Description. 3.

Further reading

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