Language practices and experiences among active and heritage speakers of Romani: a cross-country comparison of Czech and Slovak Roma

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Plachetka, Martin
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University College Cork
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This study examines Romani language use, attitudes and identity issues in the context of the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Qualitative data on Roma language experiences and attitudes surrounding Romani use, transmission, maintenance and loss were collected through in-depth interviews. The research involved ten Czech Roma and ten Slovak Roma participants, thus allowing for a cross-country comparison. Thematic analysis provided findings that define the Slovak Roma as proficient and active users of Romani, whereas the Czech Roma emerge as heritage speakers of the language. The findings suggest that the Slovak Roma assign an affective value to Romani and a utilitarian language value to Slovak. On the other hand, the Czech Roma display both affective and utilitarian values to Czech, since they are not proficient speakers of Romani. The Romani language is seen as a reflection of linguistic and identity oppressions and discrimination over time. Therefore, its usage evidences a functional split between private and public domains. It is freely used with family, friends and relatives (e.g. in private), where the language receives the most positive attitudes as part of ethnic identity. On the other hand, it loses such positive attitudes in public domains, such as in formal and transactional situations (e.g. in interactions with public officials). The findings also indicate that language and identity carry a certain level of linguistic and social stigma among the participants. Although with some exceptions, the speakers positively recognise their membership of their ethnic group. However, unlike the Slovak Roma, the findings point to a slower and more gradual ethnic identity development among the Roma participants in the Czech Republic. This is attributed to their early integration within the dominant Czech society and realisation of their struggles throughout history. Overall, despite the positive attitudes towards Romani (at least in the private domains), the findings provide evidence of the presence of deep-rooted stigmas attached to the language and identity. These issues are explored using different theoretical frameworks, such as Bourdieu’s (1991) Theory of Capital, Phinney’s (1993) Model of Ethnic Identity Development and Hyme’s (1968/1974) SPEAKING Model.
Roma , Romani , Gypsy , Identity , Language use , Language attitudes , Minority , Ethnic minority , Linguistics , Czech , Slovak , Language transmission , Discrimination
Plachetka, M. 2021. Language practices and experiences among active and heritage speakers of Romani: a cross-country comparison of Czech and Slovak Roma. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.