Boyash Pockets

The history of the Roma people speaking the Boyash dialect encompasses fascinating accounts into culture and language crossing traditional barriers and transcending alphabet and geographical borders to give a unique adaptation of a people who migrated extensively between Central and Eastern Europe.

To a native Romanian speaker, Boyash is just that: Romanian. The intelligibility between the dialect and Romanian is almost complete, but for a few borrowed words from Hungarian. Historically, the Boyash people were pushed to the periphery of the Habsburg Empire in the 14 th century and they settled there in the Carpathian Mountains (Apuseni, in the heart of the Empire’s easternmost province: Transylvania). . They even migrating to Wallachia and Moldova, the free Romanian provinces, where they were sold as slaves together with other Romani people. Till the 19 th century, when slavery was abolished, the Boyash people were used as slaves in Habsburg households and sold in markets. Due to this proximity to Romanian people in Transylvania, they abandoned the Romani language in favour of the Romanian language spoken in the region.

As a consequence, the Boyash dialect remains to this day an archaic form of the Romanian language, spelled with Hungarian phonetic rules and characters. The border between language and dialect is very thin in this particular case: Boyash is a faithful mirror of the Romanian language at the time, but has since developed in a different direction. To this day, 20 000 registered Romani people in Hungary speak Boyash. Recent efforts by non-governmental organisations in Hungary focused on giving young Boyash speaks the opportunity to study at school in Romanian and benefit from as close an education to their first language as possible. The ethnic difference is the one that crucially determines the difference between Romanian and Boyash speakers, ultimately. While accents and pronunciation vary naturally, Boyash speakers often face discrimination based on their ethnicity.

Prejudice against Roma people is still strong in European communities, Romanian included. In 2015, Romanian cast and crew produced the film entitled “Aferim!” (meaning “Bravo!” in English), directed by Radu Jude. Under the mask of comedy, the black and white motion picture actually shows the cruel reality of the slavery of Boyash people in Transylvania, down to their price being negotiated in markets. “Aferim!” tells the story of a gypsy who has run away from his master, and the chase by authorities and master alike, as well as his attempts at passing for Romanian. The film won Radu Jude the Silver Bear at the 65th Berlin International Film Festival for direction. Critics have acclaimed it as a harsh lesson of history.

Awareness of the history and rights of the Roma people as ethnic minorities in Eastern Europe has become of interest to various organisations and governmental bodies. The deeply rooted prejudice against Boyash speakers in Romanian and Hungary particularly is slowly being problematized and efforts are being made to provide an inclusive education and an inclusive community to these people while maintaining their ethnic integrity and legacy.