Lace avilen ko radio. Romani language and identity on the Internet

  • Daniele Leggio

Student thesis: Phd


The fall of the Eastern Block, the dissolution of former Yugoslavia and the subsequent enlargement of the European Union to include former socialist countries contributed to an increase in the movement of people from Eastern to Western Europe which began about a decade earlier. Among them, the Roma are probably the most clearly recognizable group and surely the ones that received, and keep receiving, more media attention. While their presence in the media as subjects of discussion is a topic worth analyzing, the present work is about their presence in a particular medium, the Internet, as actors and producers of content. As a population of Indian origin spread across Europe over the past five centuries, Roma have often been regarded as a diaspora. Ethnographic studies about diasporas and their usage of the Internet have often described diasporic websites as discoursive spaces in which new, hydrid identities are negotiated and stereotyping and marginalizing discourses about diasporic subjects are challenged. The role of languages in these websites, however, has often been neglected. On the other hand, sociolinguistic studies have highlighted how the Internet provides a space for vernacular language usage in which the relaxation of language norms and users' creativity play a crucial role in overcoming the limitations in text transmission imposed by the medium. A partial bridge between these two trends of studies has been provided by the analysis of code-switching in diasporic websites, which has shown how meaningful language alternation is used to flag users' hybrid identities. The study of the relationship between diasporic languages and identities on the Internet clearly appears to be in its infancy and only few case studies have looked at the interactions between each diaspora's specific cultural and sociolinguistic settings and the usage of the Internet. Furthermore, many diasporas, including the Roma, speak unwritten languages which have not been or are just starting to be standardized. Processes of language standardization have always involved both identity and language policies and have often been pivotal in struggles for nationhood or minority rights recognition. While so far such processes tended to be mostly centralized and top-down, the Internet is offering a space for the spontaneous transition from orality to literacy. Thus, analyzing the interaction between diasporic, non-standardized languages and the identities of their speakers as manifested on the Internet can provide new insights into the relations between diasporic languages and identities and into language standardization processes. The present work investigates these issues by analyzing the on-line usage of Romani, the Indic language spoken by many Roma. The study draws on data collected through an online ethnography from Radio Romani Mahala, a website created and used by the recently dispersed community of the Mitrovica Roma. The data are analyzed both qualitatively, using discourse analytic methods, and quantitatively, using traditional sociolinguistic approaches. Combining such approaches allows drawing a nuanced picture of the phenomena under observation accounting both for micro level, individual patterns of usage and macro level trends shared by all users involved. Particular attention is also paid to the emerging Romani spelling and the role played by individual users in the establishment of shared writing norms. The interdisciplinarity of this approach will show how the interplay between diasporic identities and attitudes, non-standard language ideologies and the possibilities offered by the Internet is leading to effective language codification without the intervention of a central authority and outside the frame of any nation-state policy. Such findings call for a re-thinking of current notions on linguistic human rights. Based on the viability of the Romani model, I thus propose a theory of linguistic pluralism in trans-national contexts centred
Date of Award1 Aug 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorYaron Matras (Supervisor) & Adi Kuntsman (Supervisor)


  • Cosmopolitanism
  • Diaspora
  • Internet
  • Language policy and planning
  • Romani

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