I find it fascinating to imagine how the Romanian language must sound to a non-native speaker. I cannot do that fully, so I’m relying on feedback from others. Most people I asked cannot categorize it, some can’t even describe it.
Here’s a soundbite, what does it resemble to you?
And here’s a spellbite of a dialogue I’ve been told sounds very funny to someone who doesn’t understand a bit:
- Salut. [Suh-loot, = hello]
- Ce faci? [Chay futch = What/how are you doing]
- Bine. Tu ce faci? [Bee-nay = good. Too chay futch = what/how are you doing]
- Aşa şi-aşa. [Uh-shush-yah shah = so-so]
People I asked what the language sounds like gave a variety of answers – “weird”, “undescriptive”, “resembles Russian”, “resembles Latin”, “resembles Italian”, “doesn’t resemble anything familiar”.
Facts: Romanian is a romance or romanic language, i.e. descending from Latin, the language of ancient Rome. Around 70% of the vocabulary is of Latin origin. The tricky thing is – a layer of Slavic elements got embedded in the language, making for ~20% of the vocabulary and some of the grammar rules. The remaining 10% are words from other languages, either integrated during a longer period in history (Turkish, Hungarian, German) or adopted in more recent times (French, English).
This melting pot, but especially the Slavic layer complicates the language quite a bit, making it tougher to learn properly, even by romance “cousins” like Italian, French, Spanish or Portuguese (for example, we use the latin “NU” for “no”, but the Slavic “DA” for “yes”). In reverse though, for Romanians it is much easier to learn other romance languages. Most do it to a decent level of understanding just from watching TV (kids from Italian cartoons, housewives from Spanish/Portuguese telenovelas :P).
For more “technical” information and data, wikipedia to the rescue:
- here about the language in general
- here for a useful phrase book
- here for a (potentially even more useful, depending with whom you hang out) list of profanities
- here for a Romanian-English dictionary, and here for a list of dictionaries to other languages