The Role of Language in the Transnational Formation of Romani Identity (ROMIDENT)

Project Participants

The project will examine the role that language plays in forging a new, institutionalised concept of identity and a new identity manifestation among the trans-national Romani population of Europe. In the past two decades (with earlier roots going back to the late 1960s), Romani activists and their supporters have been engaged in forging a modernised identity based largely on a sense of loyalty toward the common language. A central objective of the Romani political movement is the safeguarding and codification of the Romani language, its use as a vehicle of communication in political and cultural activism, and its recognition by governments. The historical narrative that is being developed by activists relies on language as a clue to the territorial origin of the Roma in India, and in some depictions as a clue to their social affiliation in India and even to the circumstances that brought their ancestors to Europe. At the same time, the reality on the ground is one of pluralism of activity centres and strategies and of pluralism in the shapes and forms of language that are promoted and codified.
We understand the process of identity formation as creativity, and the means that support identity forging (historical narratives, codified language and literacy, concrete and virtual forms of organisation, association and representation) as innovations. We wish to examine how innovations related to the shaping and use of language serve particular creative processes of identity formation and identity representation. We are interested in particular in the tension between top-down processes of identity building and the uniformity that they tend to propagate, and bottom-up processes and the pluralism that they entail. We wish to explore the effect that these processes have on the shaping of language, both in the declarative sense (language as an object of attention) and in the technical sense (so-called corpus-planning or adopting technical solutions for codifying and using language in new contexts). We intend to examine the following questions:
1) What roles does language play in forging a modernised Romani identity – as a cultural asset upon which identity is predicated, as an emblem of identity, and as a vehicle through which identity is presented and communicated?
2) Which social conditions and attitudes support pluralism in identity formation, and which are the forces that promote uniformity instead?
3) What role do new technologies play in the innovative use and innovative shaping of language?
4) What role do European-led initiatives and processes have on raising the profile of Romani in individual countries? How do local initiatives -- NGOs, local authorities, individual activists -- react to the implementation of a Council of Europe initiative on Romani, and how are members of Romani communities inspired to engage in ‘language activism’ through transnational encounters?
5) How does the Romani model in its pluralist and trans-national context contribute to our theoretical understanding of trans-national and diasporic identity formation in the age of globalisation?