Istro-Romanian language: Wikis


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Spoken in  Croatia
Region Istria
Total speakers 1000
Language family Indo-European
Language codes
ISO 639-1 None
ISO 639-2 roa
ISO 639-3 ruo


Map of Istro-Romanian, made by the Romanian linguist Sextil Puşcariu in 1926.

Istro-Romanian is an Eastern Romance language. Istro-Romanian is today spoken in a few villages and hamlets in the peninsula of Istria, on the northern part of the Adriatic Sea, in what is now Croatia. Formerly it was spoken in a substantially broader part of northeastern Istria surrounding the Ciceria (now Ćićarija) mountain range (ancient Mons Carusadius) all the way up to Trieste. Its remaining speakers call themselves Vlahi (a name given to them by Slavs), Rumeni, Rumêri or Rumâri, as well as Ćići and Ćiribiri (this last being a nickname that was used disparagingly for the Istro-Romanian language, not its speakers).

The Istro-Romanians today are split into two groups: the Ćići around Žejane (denoting the people on the north side of Mt. Učka) and the Vlahi around Šušnjevica (denoting the people on the south side of Mt. Učka (Monte Maggiore). However, despite distinctions and interjection of words from other languages which varies from village to village, their language is otherwise linguistically identical.

The number of Istro-Romanian speakers is very loosely estimated to be less than 1000, the "smallest ethnic group in Europe" and listed among languages that are "seriously endangered" in the UNESCO Red Book of Endangered Languages. Due to its very small number of speakers living in about eight minor hamlets and two considerable villages notably Žejane and Šušnjevica, there is no public education or news media in their native Istro-Romanian language. Its speakers are not even recognized as an official minority in Croatia - perhaps a double-edged testimony to the fact that the greater number of Istro-Romanian speakers were forced to leave Istria and nearby cities and towns after World War II when the Paris Peace Treaty with Italy that signed on February 10, 1947 took Istria away from Italy (which had gained Istria after World War I) and awarded it to Yugoslavia, the parent country to present-day Croatia and Slovenia who split Istria in two parts amongst themselves, while Italy retained the small portion near Trieste.


Recent history

The number of Istro-Romanian speakers has reduced due to their assimilation into the respective nationalism of Istria's changing rulers: in the 1921 Italian census, under Italy, there were 1,644 declared Istro-Romanian speakers in the area and in 1926 Romanian scholar Sextil Puşcariu estimated their number to be closer to 3,000. In the 1991 census of Yugoslavia, only 811 Romanians were registered, and in the 2001 Croatian census only 137 inhabitants of the region declared Romanian as their mother tongue. Studies in Istria in 1998 (?) by the Croatian linguist A. Kovačec revealed only 170 active speakers (but these presumably are only in the original villages where the language was spoken, excluding those who left for larger towns of Istria who still speak it), most of them being bilingual (or trilingual) except for 27 children.

In 1922, the Italian regime of Benito Mussolini declared the village of Susnieviza - which they renamed to Valdarsa after the Arsa Valley (valle d'Arsa) region (it has since reverted to the pre-Italian name but written in Croatian as Šušnjevica) - to be the seat for the Istro-Romanians, with a designated school in the Istro-Romanian language. This was achieved through the efforts of Andrea Glavina (whose name is believed to have been Italianized from Glavich), one of the town's native sons who had been university educated in Romania. The town of Šušnjevica (with adjacent villages) reached a population of 3,000 in 1942 [this figure needs a formal citation], but its language then was already a hybrid of Romanian/Italian/Slavic. The population of Sušnjevica alone was subsequently reduced to 200 [source of this date is unknown, citation needed] and returned to its name prior to Italian rule after World War I.

On the other hand, the major northern village Žejane and nearby hamlets at the Slovenian border is less italianized and more Slavicized. Many villages in the area have names that are of Romanian origin such as Jeian, Buzet ("lips"), Katun ("hamlet"), Gradinje ("garden"), Letaj, Sucodru ("under a forest"), Costirceanu (a Romanian name). Some of these names are official (recognized by Croatia as their only names), while others are used only by Istro-Romanian speakers (ex. Nova Vas|Noselo).

The actual fate of the Istro-Rumanian language is very uncertain, because in Istria only about 350 people partly understand it; its active bilingual speakers are less than 200 (that is, those who openly admit they speak it, the actual number may be greater), and less than 30 children know it now. So far its speakers were mostly passive and suspicious toward external 'support' that often included recent political interests instead of real help, This was true under Italy and Yugoslavia and from all indication it remains true today. Without an urgent, effective and active international support, the unique Istro-Romanian language will probably become extinct in the next generation or two. Istro-Romanian is considered an endangered language.


Eastern Romance languages

Vulgar Latin language
Thraco-Roman culture

Romanian (Moldovan, Vlach)
Grammar | Nouns | Verbs
Numbers | Phonology | Lexis
Regulating bodies




Some linguists believe that the Istro-Romanians migrated to their present region of Istria and all the way up to the city of Trieste about 1,000 years ago from Transylvania,, while the Serbian-oriented belief would place their origins in present-day Serbia which is uncorroborated and is the consensus among linguists. The first historical record of Romanians in the Istrian region, however, dates back to 940 when Constantine VII recorded the Romance-language speakers in this area in De Administrando Imperio, saying that they called themselves Romans. In 1329, when Serbian chronicles mention that a Vlach population was living in Istria, although there was an earlier mention from the 12th century of a leader in Istria called Radul (that could be a Romanian name). There have been recent findings to suggest that the Istro-Romanian people (more probably Vlachs in general) were already present in certain regions of nearby Friuli going back to the 1200s.

Some loan words suggest that before coming to Istria, and it is speculated that Istro-Romanians lived for a longer period of time in Dalmatian mainland at Cetina river, where from medieval times are noted some related names terminating by -ul. In any case, it is linguistically evident that the Istro-Romanian dialect (or language) split from the widely spoken Daco-Romanian, an Eastern Romance language, later than did the other Romanian dialects (Aromanian and Megleno-Romanian), and is today the closest dialect to Daco-Romanian, the official language of Romania.

The first historical record of Istro-Romanians (not necessarily the "Ćići") dates back to 940 when Constantine VII recorded the Romance-language speakers in this area in De Administrando Imperio, saying that they called themselves Romans. In 1329, when Serbian chronicles mention that a Vlach population was living in the area, although there was an earlier mention (from a 12th century venetian monastery) of a leader in Istria called Radul (that could be a Romanian name). Pavle Ivić, a Serbian linguist, cited the hypothesis that a sizeable Roman population inhabited the Balkans from west to east across the former Yugoslavia before the X century. The theory is that these populations, reduced by epidemics of the plague and wars, mixed with the first Istro-Romanians who moved into Istria, but there are no known historical records to support it.

The Italian writer and historian Giuseppe Lazzarini believes that there are more than 5000 Istro-Romanian descendants in Istria today, but most of them identify themselves (census 1991: only 811 Istro-Romanians) with other ethnic groups in the revolving door rule of other nations of this region. He believes that the Istro-Romanians are the descendants of the "melting pot" of the Roman legionaries (moved by Augustus to eastern Istria to colonize the borders of Italy) and the Aromanian shepherds, escaped from the Ottoman invasions to settle in a plague depopulated Istria in the XIV century.

Istro-Romanians areas: green line in 1800, dashed lines in 1900.

There are also other linguists (A. Kovačec 1998) who say that the Istro-Romanians migrated to their present region about 600 years ago from Transylvania, after the Bubonic plague depopulated Istria, and their traditions are well conserved in the northern village of Žejane up to the present time. Another comparative support to this are also the medieval chronicles of Frangipani princes, indicating in 15th century they accepted the migrating Romance Vlachs from nearby mainland also in northern Krk island, and settled them in islander villages Poljica and Dubašnica at actual port Malinska. Their language was mostly subequal (?)to actual Istro-Romanian, including a noted Romance Paternoster (Cace nostru). These Romance islanders persisted at Malinska up to mid 19th century and then they were gradually assimilated there. Their last islander speaker at Malinska was Mate Bajčić-Gašparović; till now persisted at Malinska some their toponyms and plant names only (Tekavčić 1959, Kovačec 1998).

The Transylvanian connection is emphasized by linguists, but more importantly, is alive in the memory and folk songs of some of the Rumêri themselves. They break themselves into two distinct groups - the northern upland ćići (It. cicci) of surrounding Mune and Žejane area speaking now the original distinct Istro-Rumanian (Balkanic Romance), and the southern lowland vlahi of the Šušnjevica region that are now more italianized speaking a hybrid Italian/Rumanian. Interestingly enough, Iosif Popovici entitled his book Dialectele române din Istria (Halle, 1909) - that is, "The Dialects..." not "The Dialect..." - so indirectly he admitted there were (and still are) several types of Istro-Romanian dialects in Istria. Their linguistic differences, however, can be easily explained by how a language can evolved differently when there is a separation of two like groups by a natural border between them - in this case, the Ciceria mountain range, and the major historical impact of Italians southwards.

Insofar as Romanian linguists are concerned, the opinions are divided: Prof. Dr. Iosif Popovici (1876-1928), who had travelled extensively in Istria, endorsed the theory that the Istro-Romanians were natives of Ţara Moţilor (Western Transylvania) who emigrated sometime during the Middle Ages into Istria. ("Dialectele române din Istria", I, Halle a.d.S., 1914, p. 122 and following). This opinion was shared by Ovid Densusianu (1873-1938), a Romanian folklorist, philologist, and poet who introduced trends of European modernism into Romanian literature, who did not hold to the belief that Istro-Romanians are native to Istria, where we find them today (or he was still finding them in the 1930s when he researched for his book Histoire de la langue roumaine, I, p. 337): "Un premier fait que nous devons mettre en evidence, c'est que l'istro-roumain n'a pu se développer à l'origine là où nous le trouvons aujourd'hui" (The primary issue is that the Istro-Romanian dialect, because of its close similarity to other dialects spoken in isolated areas of present-day Romania, simply could not have originally developed where it is found today).

There is also the common error made of confusing the "ćići" and "vlahi" with the "morlacchi" (Slavic: Murlaki) who are an entirely different ethnic and linguistic group of Dalmatian mainland and Herzegovina.


The Istro-Romanian language bears close resemblance to Daco-Romanian, and most Romanian linguists consider it to be a dialect rather than a separate language. Another view is that Istro-Romanian is more closely related to the extinct Dalmatian language, but this is not supported by linguistic evidence and therefore is not accepted. In fact, Istro-Romanian is sometimes confused with Istriot (obviously, by people who know neither language), which is another seriously endangered language of southern Istria. Istriot is considered either a descendant of or closely related to one of the Dalmatian dialects.

One peculiarity of Istro-Romanian (IR) compared with Romanian dialects is the use of rhotacism (with the intervocalic /n/ becoming /r/, for instance lumină (meaning "light" in Romanian) becoming lumira). This is one of the reasons that some Romanian linguists think that Istro-Romanian evolved from the Romanian language spoken in the Apuseni or Maramureş area of Transylvania, which has some similar traits. According to Popovici this characteristic is very old as it is found in very few words of Slavic origin which entered into Daco-Romanian (DR) before the 12th century. Other Slavic elements in Istro-Romanian, i.e. Croatian and Slovene as well as Italian ones, especially from the Venetian dialect which was prevalent in Istria, do not show signs of rhotacism, except its partial presence in Chakavian dialect of nearby Adriatic islanders.

Other characteristics of Istro-Romanian include:

  • Prosthetic a- as in Aromanian (AR) aruşine < DR ruşine does not exist, however by false analogy an organic a- may disappear e.g. (a)prope, (a)ratå, (a)ve;
  • stressed á may become å /ɔ/ which can also be found in the Banat region of Romania;
  • ă-á becomes a-å, e.g. DR măritá > IR maritå (to marry), DR arătá > IR (a)ratå (to show);
  • au becomes åv, a similar change appears in Aromanian, e.g. DR aud > AR avdu, IR åvdu (I hear); likewise DR preot > AR/IR preftu (priest);
  • -e preceded by labials remains unaltered, whereas in DR it becomes , e.g. IR per < DR păr (hair/pear tree), IR pemint < DR pămînt (ground);
  • stressed DR -eá- becomes stressed -é-, e.g. DR leac > IR lec (remedy), DR leagăn > IR legăr (cradle/swing), DR fată > IR fetĕ (girl);
  • The consonant groups and are only found in IR, AR and Megleno-Romanian (MR). These groups show that the Romanian dialects in Istria separated from DR before the 13th century, when and tended towards k' and g', e.g. Latin inclūdēre > IR cľide, MR ancľide > DR închide (to close), Latin glacia > IR gľåţĕ, AR/MR gľeţ > DR gheaţă (ice);
Istro-Romanian Aromanian Megleno-Romanian Romanian Italian English
pićor = foot cicior picior picior gamba leg
kľeptu cheptu kľeptu piept petto chest
bire ghine bini bine bene well, good
bľerå azghirari zber zbiera ruggire to roar
fiľu hilj iľu fiu figlio son
fiľa hilje iľe fiică figlia daughter
ficåt hicat ficat fegato liver
fi hire ire fi essere to be
fľer heru ieru fier ferro iron
viţelu yitsãl viţål viţel vitello calf
(g)ľerm iermu ghiarmi vierme verme worm
viu yiu ghiu viu vivo alive
vipt yiptu vipt cibo food, grain
mľe(lu) njel m'iel miel pecora lamb
mľåre njare m'ari miere miele honey

The results of these changes in IR can be outlined in the following:

pi > , ć
bi >
fi >
vi > (g)ľ
mi >

  • Words only found in Istro-Romanian and the Daco-Romanian dialects of the Banat and Oltenia:
Istro-Romanian Banat/Oltenia Daco-Romanian Italian English
amănåt amînat/amînat târziu tardi late
(a)stårĕ astară/asară astăseară stasera tonight
bericåtĕ beregată/beregată gât gola throat
lomi lomui a rupe rompere to break
prigodĕ prigoadă/afacere afacere commercio business
zgodi zgođi/întâmpla a se întâmpla succedere/accadere to happen

However, the similar words zgoda (happening) and prigoda (business) are widespread in Croatian and Serbian, and may be also Slavic loanwords; also above Istro-Romanian mľelu is similar to Chakavian mjelić (lamb) of some Adriatic islanders. Lomi is a Slavic loanword coming from "lomiti" in Croatian meaning to break.




There is no local literary tradition; however, Andrea Glavina, an Istro-Romanian who was educated in Romania, wrote in 1905 Calendaru lu rumeri din Istrie ("The Calendar of the Romanians of Istria"). In this book he wrote many folkloristic tales of his people. A series of actual Istro-Romanian tales and original folk songs recently is noted also by A. Kovačec (1998).

When Andrea Glavina created the first Istro-Rumanian school in Valdarsa (where he was the first mayor) in 1922, he composed the following "Imnul Istro-romanilor" (it was partly influenced by recent Romanian language):

Imnul Istro-romanilor Inno Istrorumeno
Roma, Roma i mama noastra

noi Romani ramanem

Romania i sara noastra

tot un sang-avem

nu suntem siguri pe lume

si'nea avem frati

Italiani cu mare lume

mana cu noi dati

ca sa fim frate si frate

cum a dat Dumnezeu

sa traim pana la moarte

eu si tu si tu si au

Roma, Roma e' la nostra madre

noi rimaniamo Romani

la Romania e' la nostra sorella

abbiamo tutti un sangue

non siamo soli al mondo

se abbiamo fratelli

Italiani dal nome illustre

ci hanno dato una mano

siamo fratelli e sorelle

come l'ha stabilito il Signore

cosi' lo sosterremo fino alla morte

io con te e tu con me

See also


  • Wolfgang Dahmen: Istrorumänisch. Lexicon der romanistischen Linguistik. III, Tübingen, 1989, pp. 448-460
  • Nerina Feresini: Il Comune istro-romeno di Valdarsa. Edizioni Italo Svevo. Trieste: 1996
  • August Kovačec: Istrorumunjsko-hrvatski rječnik s gramatikom i tekstovima (Glosar Istroroman-Croat cu gramatica si texte). Verba moritura vol. I, 378 p. Mediteran, Pula 1998
  • Josif Popovici: Dialectele romîne din Istria, Halle, 1909
  • Pavao Tekavčić: Due voci romene in un dialetto serbo-croato dell'Isola di Veglia (Krk). Studia Romanica 7: 35-38, Zagreb 1959

External links


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