Czech Republic: Main Romani [Romanes, Romany] dialects in use in the country and similarities with official language of the country, whether an individual who speaks a Romani dialect would also be able to understand the official language of the country (2015 - July 2019) [CZE106320.E]

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada

1. Romani Language in the Czech Republic
1.1 Romani Dialects

According to sources, Romani is an Indo-Aryan language spoken by the Roma people in Europe (ROMLEX n.d.; Matras 2006, 656; Encyclopaedia Britannica 28 Dec. 2016). Romani is related to languages spoken in India and was brought [to Europe] by communities of Indian origins (ROMLEX n.d.; Encyclopaedia Britannica 28 Dec. 2016; New, et al. 2017, 14-15). In an article published in the Journal of Language and Cultural Education, New, Kyuchukov and de Villiers [1] explain that central features of Romani are related to Sanskrit, "and thus to the modern languages of the [Indian] sub-continent, like Hindi" (New, et al. 2017, 14-15).

According to sources, Romani dialects also show important influences, including vocabulary, from other languages with which their speakers have come into contact (Matras 2006, 656; Neustupný and Nekvapil 2003; Kyuchukov Sept. 2018).

1.2 Romani Dialects in Czech Republic

Ethnologue: Languages of the World (Ethnologue), which offers profiles of over 7,000 world languages (Ethnologue n.d.), lists Carpathian Romani, [also known as Central Romani (Ethnologue 2019a)], and Sinte Romani as Romani dialects spoken in the Czech Republic (Ethnologue 2019b). Neustupný and Nekvapil [2] list the following dialects as being spoken in Czech Republic:

  1. Slovak-and-Czech Romani (Elšík, 2003, aptly calls it the 'Central' group) is the majority dialect, which further splits into an Eastern and a Western variety.
  2. Hungarian Romani is a grammatically conservative dialect, mostly spoken in Hungary and adjoining countries. It came to the Czech Republic from Slovakia.
  3. Vlach (Wallach) [Vlax] group. The particular dialect which is present in the Czech Republic is Lovari. Members of the Vlach group were itinerant until a strict law was adopted and enforced in 1958. (Neustupný and Nekvapil 2003, 264-265, parenthetical reference in original)

Kubaník, Sadílková and Červenka [3] indicate that Roma who arrived in the Czech Republic after World War II spoke "Northern- or Southern- Central Romani" and the Vlax Roma spoke the "Lovari dialect of Vlax Romani" (Kubaník, et al. 2013, 62). Similarly, Viktor Elšík, a lecturer at the Department of Linguistics at Charles University in the Czech Republic (Charles University n.d.a), in an academic article on contact between different Romani dialects, identifies three main groups of Romani dialects in the Czech Republic: Central (divided into Northern Central dialects and Southern Central dialects), Vlax and Sinti (Elšík 2003, 42-43).

Elšík further states that Roma belonging to groups traditionally speaking Central Romani dialects have "now completely shifted to languages of their matrix nationalities," such as Czech (Elšík 2003, 44). Most Vlax Romani speakers in the Czech Republic use "Lovari-related varieties" of Romani dialects and live mostly in cities, especially Prague and Ostrava (Elšík 2003, 47). According to the same source, few Sinti families still live in the Czech Republic, the majority of them having perished during World War II (Elšík 2003, 48).

Eva Eckert, a professor of linguistics at the Anglo-American University (AAU) in Prague (AAU n.d.), indicates that "the Vlach and Czech-Slovak dialects have distant genetic origins and are culturally distant as well," and that these dialects are "mutually incomprehensible for many Roma speakers" (Eckert 2016, 62, 70). Similarly, Ethnologue notes that Carpathian [or Central] Romani is "[n]ot intelligible of Vlax Romani" (Ethnologue 2019b).

1.3 Romani Language and Dialects in Relation to Czech Language

According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, Czech is a West Slavic language, related to Polish, Slovak and Sorbian (spoken in eastern Germany) languages and is the official language of the Czech Republic (Encyclopaedia Britannica 20 Apr. 2017). The source notes that several [regional] dialects exist, but that "differences between them are slight" and that standard written Czech is based on the central dialect of 16th-17th century Prague (Encyclopaedia Britannica 20 Apr. 2017).

In correspondence with the Research Directorate, a representative of Slovo 21 [4] stated that there are no "close link[s] between the Czech language and the Romani dialects – although Roman[i] might use some Czech words" (Slovo 21 25 June 2019). Further information on specific differences or similarities between Romani dialects spoken in the Czech Republic and the Czech language could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

Sources describe the existence of a Czech Romani ethnolect spoken by Roma in the Czech Republic, which is a hybrid of Czech and Romani [and Slovak (Marushiakova and Popov 2016, 47; Eckert 2016, 62)] (Zezulková Apr. 2016, 10; Marushiakova and Popov 2016, 47; Eckert 2016, 62). In a report on the literacy learning of Roma children, Marketa Zezulková, an assistant professor at the Institute of Communication Studies and Journalism at Charles University (Charles University n.d.b), refers to research by Milena Hubschmannova, [a "leading exper[t]" on Roma culture and language who passed away in 2005 (The Guardian 19 Sept. 2005)] to explain that this ethnolect "mixes Czech and Romani words, uses Romani pronunciation and grammar structure in Czech words and sentences, as well as the other way [a]round" (Zezulková Apr. 2016, 10).

1.4 Legislation Regarding Romani Language and Its Implementation

According to the Initial Periodical Report on the Implementation of the Undertakings Arising from the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages in the Czech Republic, submitted by the Czech government to the Secretary General of the Council of Europe in April 2008, article 25 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedom, which is part of the Czech Republic's constitutional legislation, guarantees to citizens belonging to national or ethnic minorities [5] "… (a) the right to education in their own language; (b) the right to use their own language when communicating with the authorities …" (Czech Republic 30 Apr. 2008, 6).

Regarding communications with the authorities, the website L'Aménagement linguistique dans le monde [6] indicates that, in practice, Czech is the only language of communication between public authorities and citizens (Leclerc 30 Nov. 2015). The source adds that the only citizens belonging to a national minority who can use their language in communication with the authorities are those who live in local communities that concentrate members of a minority group (Leclerc 30 Nov. 2015). Further and corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

In regard to the right of Roma to education in their language, [as the "school law stipulates [the provision of] local education in the language of the minority as long as 10% of the local population declares their nationality as different from Czech or Moravian" (Eckert 2016, 73)], sources indicate that education in Romani is not available for Romani children at the primary level and is only available in a few schools at the secondary level (Sadílková 2015, 198; Eckert 2016, 67). Similarly, a 2019 report of the Council of Europe's Committee of Experts on the application of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages indicates that Romani is "taught in only two institutions and is not a language of instruction in any school" (Council of Europe 21 May 2019, para. 14).

2. Linguistic Profile of Roma People
2.1 Decline in Usage of Romani Dialects

According to the 2011 census, 5,135 individuals declared themselves as belonging to the Roma ethnicity, whereas 11,746 respondents had claimed Roma ethnicity at the time of the 2001 census (Czech Republic 1 July 2013). However, according to Eva Eckert, "only 3% out of 400,000 [Roma] declared Roma [ethnicity] … during the 2001 and 2011 population censuses," and this "numerical discrepancy between the actual and reported population numbers is due to the Roma's reluctance to claim being Roma" (Eckert 2016, 64). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response. Sadílková notes that "many" Roma have "contemp[t]" regarding elements of "Romani cultural heritage, including the language" (Sadílková 2015, 193).

Sources note that usage of Romani is in decline in the Czech Republic (Eckert 2016, 60; Sadílková 2015, 194; Zezulková Apr. 2016, 9). According to the Czech Statistical Office's census data, among those who declared being Roma, in 2011, 1,857 identified Czech as their mother language and 837 declared it was Romani, while in 2001, 4,527 identified Czech as their mother language and 6,672 identified Romani as their mother language (Czech Republic 1 July 2013). According to Helena Sadílková, "the first generation of migrants in the Czech lands [Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia] as a general rule speaks Romani, the second generation largely only understands it, while the third generation no longer knows the language at all" (Sadílková 2015, 194). Zezulková notes that some Czech Roma families "appea[r] to be trapped between two languages [Czech and Romani], without having a good command of either" (Zezulková Apr. 2016, 10). According to Sadílková, the results of sociolinguistic research conducted between 2007 and 2010 by Charles University's Seminar of Romani Studies, based on a sample size of 1,128 pupils, most of whom identified themselves as belonging to the northern-central Romani group, show that 30 percent of children belonging to the northern-central dialect group who participated in the study are "fully competent speakers of Romani," while 29 percent have no competence at all (Sadílková 2015, 194-196). Sadílková also states that the Vlax Roma, who speak the Lovari dialect, "seem to have so far resisted" the "gradual language shift towards Czech" (Sadílková 2015, 194). Eckert also notes the "majority" of adults who are proficient Romani speakers "belong to the Vlach Roma who maintain Romani the best but represent a minority" (Eckert 2016, 70).

2.2 Knowledge of Czech Language Among Roma

Information on Czech language proficiency among Roma in the Czech Republic was scarce among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response. According to the Slovo 21 representative, Roma are able to speak Czech "very well" and are able to communicate with government officials, although a "sophisticated level" of communication may be "difficult" for them (Slovo 21 25 June 2019). The same source further noted that "older people" may have difficulties, because they "only" spoke Romani during their life (Slovo 21 25 June 2019). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

An Amnesty International report on discrimination against Roma children in Czech schools notes that "many Romani children" speak either Romani or "a mixture of Czech and/or Slovak" at home and lack a sufficient experience of standard Czech language when they enter primary school (Amnesty International 23 Apr. 2015, 21). Eckert reports that the failure to speak what is considered "'proper' Czech has been identified as a cause of removing Roma children from the mainstream education and placing them in practical schools" (Eckert 2016, 62). The Amnesty International report states that such schools offer "a reduced curriculum" that "limits their future educational and employment opportunities" (Amnesty International 23 Apr. 2015). The same source emphasizes that there are shortcomings in teaching the Czech language in "ethnically segregated" schools, and that "many" Roma pupils "struggle with basic literacy" (Amnesty International 23 Apr. 2015, 39).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

Notes

[1] William New is a professor of education and youth studies who conducts research in the field of education policy and law, including Romani education in Central Europe (Beloit College n.d.). Hristo Kyuchukov is a professor of linguistics at the University of Silesia in Katowice [Poland] (Kyuchukov May 2017). Jill de Villiers is a professor of philosophy and psychology at Smith College in the US, where she studies language acquisition (Smith College n.d.).

[2] Jiří Václav Neustupný (1933-2015) was a sociolinguist who was a professor at Monash University in Australia, where he co-founded the Japanese Studies Center and the Language Management Theory/Framework (Monash University 28 July 2015). Jiří Nekvapil is an associate professor in the Department of Linguistics at the Charles University in the Czech Republic, where he conducts research on sociolinguistics and language management (Charles University n.d.c).

[3] Pavel Kubaník is a PhD candidate in Romani studies at Charles University (Charles University n.d.d). Helena Sadílková is an assistant professor of Romani studies at Charles University (Charles University n.d.e). Jan Červenka teaches Romani studies at Charles University (Charles University n.d.f).

[4] Slovo 21 is a Czech NGO aimed at "building a multicultural society" and supporting the Roma population in "stand[ing] up for their human rights"; it has Czech and Roma members (Slovo 21 n.d.).

[5] The 273 Act on Rights of Members of National Minorities and Amendment of Some Acts provides the following definition:

(1) A national minority is a community of citizens of the Czech Republic who live on the territory of the present Czech Republic and as a rule differ from other citizens by their common ethnic origin, language, culture and traditions; they represent a minority of citizens and at the same time they show their will to be considered a national minority for the purpose of common efforts to preserve and develop their own identity, language and culture and at the same time express and preserve interests of their community which has been formed during history.

… (Czech Republic 2001, Art. 2)

[6] L'Aménagement linguistique dans le monde is a website authored by Jacques Leclerc and hosted by the Chair for the Development of Research on French-Speaking Culture in North America (Chaire pour le développement de la recherche sur la culture d'expression française en Amérique du Nord, CEFAN) at Université Laval; it presents the particular language situations and policies of different states and territories around the world (Leclerc n.d.).

References

Amnesty International. 23 April 2015. Must Try Harder: Ethnic Discrimination of Romani Children in Czech Schools. (EUR 71/1353/2015) [Accessed 16 July 2019]

Anglo-American University (AAU). N.d. "Prof. Eva Eckert, Ph.D." [Accessed 17 July 2019]

Beloit College. N.d. "Major in Education, Youth Studies: Faculty." [Accessed 17 July 2019]

Charles University. N.d.a. Department of Linguistics. "Viktor Elšík." [Accessed 17 July 2019]

Charles University. N.d.b. Prague Summer School of Journalism. "Marketa Zezulková." [Accessed 17 July 2019]

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Charles University. N.d.d. Department of Central European Studies. "Pavel Kubaník." [Accessed 17 July 2019]

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Leclerc, Jacques. N.d. "Page d'accueil." L'Aménagement linguistique dans le monde. Chaire pour le développement de la recherche sur la culture d'expression française en Amérique du Nord (CEFAN), Université Laval, Québec. [Accessed 22 July 2019]

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Zezulková, Marketa. April 2016. Exploring the Czech Roma Child's Experience of Multimodal Literacy Learning & Networking at Charles University in Prague. ISCH COST Action IS410: The Digital Literacy and Multimodal Practices of Young Children (DigiLitEY). [Accessed 16 July 2019]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: assistant professor of Romani studies; Czech Helsinki Committee; PhD candidate in Romani studies; professor of romani Studies; three Roma activists with educational background in history and/or linguistics.

Internet sites, including: Bertelsmann Stiftung; Czech Helsinki Committee; Czech Republic – Government Council for National Minorities; ecoi.net; European Roma Rights Centre; Human Rights Watch; Liga Lidských Práv; Minority Rights Group International; Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty; Romea.cz; Romodrom; UN – Refworld, UNHCR; US – Department of State.