Language

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

12 responses to “Language

  1. Aurora June 21, 2010 at 20:53

    Nice article!
    I love languages, and specially romance ones. I got into the Romanian language a few months ago. I think I understood a little (the latin derived parts) of it just because my native language is Spanish and my third is French. But you are right, the slavic parts are totally beyond my comprehension.

    Romanian. I guess that’s what you get when you mix slavic and latin languages.

    Thank you for the links, greetings from Mexico.

    As a side note, I’m liking this site.

  2. admin June 22, 2010 at 11:04

    Gracias Aurora! And welcome :).

  3. Vali March 25, 2011 at 18:05

    Somebody told me that Romanian sounds like “Italian spoken by the Russian mafia”. :oP

  4. Aurora March 26, 2011 at 08:57

    Vali: hahaha, up to what I’ve heard of Romanian, it makes a little sense, since it is a romance language like Italian with some Slav roots, like Russian :P one awesome language, i’d like to learn it. Too bad I’d never use it :(

  5. romania November 21, 2011 at 08:56

    hello i,m from romania vreau sa va spun ca am fost la castelul bran si ca acolo chiar simt ceva ciudat acolo chiar sunt fantome si de asemenea vreau sa va mai spun ca aveti dreptate ca toti romanii sunt vampiri!

  6. lalypop01 November 21, 2011 at 09:01

    sunt mandra ca sunt romanca

  7. lalypop01 November 22, 2011 at 09:50

    eu sunt din Transilvania

  8. DanutzaOverHere December 4, 2011 at 15:28

    Romanian is the easiest language ever because you spell exactly how write.

  9. raluralucaxoxo October 31, 2012 at 16:59

    i’m romanian ;) and your phonetic translation is very…bad.you spell it exactly like you wrote…i can’t even explain cause it’s natural for me. :( mult noroc (good luck)

  10. andrei January 18, 2014 at 17:26

    i am a romanian and i can say that you are right :))) our language is a mix between romanic languages and slavic languages….so if you want to learn it all i can say it’s good luck ;)

  11. Katrina June 24, 2014 at 02:42

    Please, do not compare the most melodious Italian language to Russian. Slavic languages are most guttural and downright ugly. I believe these languages also lack articles. As a linguist, Italian is the most musical of all. I speak all Romance languages fluently, and I can promise you that even French, which is considered such a sophisticated language is harsh-sounding and archaic. Somewhere along the way French stopped evolving….that is, why can someone come up with a word for the number 70, 80 or 90? The number 70 in French is sixty-ten; 80 is four twenties; and 90 is four twenties -ten. Seriously?
    I love Romanian…it sounds nothing like Russian to me. I also love the people…

  12. Katrina June 24, 2014 at 02:51

    Just because Romanian and Italian are written as pronounced, does not make these languages easy. The grammar is absolutely difficult. Adjectives must agree with the gender of the nouns. There are masculine, feminine and neuter articles… Trust me, compared to these languages, English is a breeze.

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