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The Istro-Romanian language (Istro Romanian: Rumârește) is an Eastern Romance language, spoken in a few villages and hamlets in the peninsula of Istria in Croatia, as well as in diaspora, most notably in Italy, Sweden, Germany, Northern and Southern America, and Australia.

Vlășește, Rumârește, Rumêri-kuvinta (?)
Native toCroatia
Native speakers
300 (2007)[1]
L2 speakers: 1,100 (2007)[1]
Early form
Language codes
ISO 639-3ruo
Linguasphere51-AAD-a (varieties: 51-AAD-aa to -ab)

While its speakers call themselves Rumeri, Rumeni, they are also known as Vlachs, Rumunski, Ćići and Ćiribiri. The last two, used by ethnic Croats, originated as a disparaging nickname for the language, rather than its speakers.

Due to the fact that its speakers are estimated to be less than 500 (the "smallest ethnic group in Europe"), it is listed among languages that are "seriously endangered" in the UNESCO Red Book of Endangered Languages.[3]

It is also considered by some Romanian scholars as an idiosyncratic offshoot dialect of Romanian.[4]


Official statusEdit

Since 2010, the Croatian Constitution has recognized Istro-Romanians as one of 22 national minorities. However, because of its very small number of speakers, living in about eight minor hamlets and two considerable villages, notably Žejane and Šušnjevica, there is no public education or mass media in Istro-Romanian language.

The fate of the language is very uncertain; active speakers are fewer than 200, in addition to about 350 people who only understand it. Most important, there are only about 30 children who know it. Without urgent, effective and active international support, the language will probably become extinct in the next generation or two.

Recent historyEdit

There have been many significant challenges facing Istro-Romanians in preserving their language, culture and ethnic identity, including emigration from communism and migration to nearby cities and towns after World War II, when a peace treaty of February 10, 1947 transferred Istria from Italy (which had held it since World War I) and awarded it to Yugoslavia, the parent country of present-day Croatia and Slovenia, which divided Istria between themselves, while Italy still retained a small portion near Trieste.

Before the 20th century, Istro-Romanian was spoken in a substantially broader part of northeastern Istria surrounding the Ćićarija mountain range (ancient Mons Carusadius). The Istro-Romanians now comprise two groups: the Ćići around Žejane (denoting the people on the north side of Mt. Učka) and the Vlahi around Šušnjevica (denoting the people on the south side of Mt. Učka (Monte Maggiore). However, apart from borrowings from other tongues which vary from village to village, their language is linguistically identical. There are also several hundred native speakers who live in the United States – not only in Queens, New York (as has been mistakenly believed by some),[5] but throughout the five boroughs of New York City, as well as in upstate New York and the neighboring states of New Jersey and Connecticut; there are also still native speakers in California. There are further groups of native speakers in Italy, Canada, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Peru, Venezuela, Sweden, and Australia.

The number of Istro-Romanian speakers has been reduced by their assimilation into other linguistic groups that were either already present or introduced by their respective new rulers of Istria: in the 1921 Italian census, there were 1,644 declared Istro-Romanian speakers in the area, while in 1926 Romanian scholar Sextil Pușcariu estimated their number to be closer to 3,000. Studies conducted in Istria in 1998 (?) by the Croatian linguist Kovačec revealed only 170 active speakers (but those counted presumably are only those still in villages where the language is actively spoken, thereby excluding those who moved to larger towns in Istria), most of them being bilingual (or trilingual), except for 27 children.

On the other hand, the major northern village Žejane and nearby hamlets at the Slovenian border are less Italianized and more Slavicized. Many villages in the area have names that are of Romanian origin, such as Jeian, Buzet ("lips"), Katun ("hamlet"), Letaj, Sucodru ("under a forest"), Costirceanu (a Romanian name). Some of these names are official (recognized by Croatia as their only names), while others are used only by Istro-Romanian speakers (ex. Nova Vas|Noselo).


The first possible historical record of Romanians in the Istria region dates back to 940 when Constantine VII recorded the Romance-language speakers in this area in De Administrando Imperio, saying that they called themselves Romans, but this could also refer to speakers of Istriot or one of the Dalmatian dialects. Serbian chronicles from 1329 mention that a Vlach population was living in Istria, although there was an earlier mention from the 12th century of a leader in Istria called Radul (likely a Romanian name).[citation needed]

Some loanwords suggest that before coming to Istria, Istro-Romanians lived for a period of time on the Dalmatian coast near the Dinara and Velebit mountains.[6]

The Italian writer and historian Giuseppe Lazzarini believes that there are more than 5,000 Istro-Romanian descendants in Istria today, but most of them identify themselves (census 1991: only 811 Istro-Romanians) with other ethnic groups in the revolving door of foreign rulers of this region. He believes that the Istro-Romanians are the descendants of the "melting pot" of the Roman legionnaires (moved by Augustus to eastern Istria to colonize the borders of Italy) and the Aromanian shepherds who escaped from the Ottoman invasions to settle in a plague-depopulated Istria in the 14th century. However, he does not relate to the fact that Istro-Romanian is linguistically closer to Daco-Romanian than to Aromanian (also called Macedo-Romanian).

Istro-Romanians areas: green line in 1800, dashed lines in 1900.

A. Kovačec (1998)[citation needed] hypothesizes that the Istro-Romanians migrated to their present region about 600 years ago from Romania, after the Bubonic plague depopulated Istria. This hypothesis is based on chronicles of the Frangipani princes that state that in the 15th century they accepted the migrating Vlachs from the nearby mainland and from the northern part of Krk (Veglia) island, and settled them in isolated villages at Poljica and Dubašnica and at the port Malinska. The term "vlach", however, refers to all Eastern-Romance-language speakers and cannot be associated exclusively with Istro-Romanians. In fact, pockets of Romanian-language speakers persisted in Malinska up to the mid 19th century, they gradually assimilated and their language disappeared with the last speaker, Mate Bajčić-Gašparović. Today, few Romance-language toponyms remain in Malinska. (Tekavčić 1959, Kovačec 1998)

The Transylvanian connection is alive in the hand-down memories and folk songs of some of the Rumeni (Rumêri) themselves. They put themselves into either of two groups—the northern upland cici (Italian: cicci; Serbo-Croatian: ćići), and vlahi of the Arsa Valley (historical name is also Arsia; today called Raša) region. Iosif Popovici entitled his book Dialectele române din Istria (Halle, 1909)—that is, "The Dialects..." not "The Dialect..."—so indirectly he suggested that there were (and still are) several Istro-Romanian dialects in Istria. The linguistic differences, however, can be easily explained: a language evolves separately when there is a geographical border between the individual groups—in this case, the Ciceria mountain range. Indeed, there are even variations that are distinct from town to town.[original research?]

Insofar as Romanian linguists are concerned, the opinions are divided: Prof. Dr. Iosif Popovici (1876–1928), who had traveled extensively in Istria, promoted the hypothesis that the Istro-Romanians were natives of Țara Moților (Western Transylvania) who emigrated to Istria in the Middle Ages. ("Dialectele române din Istria", I, Halle a.d.S., 1914, p. 122 and following). This opinion was shared by Ovid Densusianu (1873–1938), a Romanian folklorist, philologist, and poet who introduced trends of European modernism into Romanian literature. He did not hold the belief that Istro-Romanians were native to Istria where found today (or where found in the 1930s when he did the research for his book Histoire de la langue roumaine, I, p. 337): "Un premier fait que nous devons mettre en evidence, c'est que l'istro-roumain n'a pu se développer à l'origine là où nous le trouvons aujourd'hui" (The primary issue is that Istro-Romanian, because of its close similarity to other dialects spoken in isolated areas of present-day Romania, as well as its close resemblance to Daco-Romanian, simply could not have originated in isolation where it is found today).


The Istro-Romanian language bears close resemblance to Daco-Romanian, and most Romanian linguists consider it to be a dialect rather than a separate language. Istro-Romanian is sometimes confused with Istriot, the other seriously endangered language of southern Istria which is considered either a descendant of or closely related to one of the Dalmatian dialects.

One peculiarity of Istro-Romanian (IR) compared with Romanian dialects is the use of rhotacism (with the intervocalic /n/ becoming /r/, for instance lumină (meaning "light" in Romanian) becoming lumira). According to Popovici this characteristic is very old as it is found in very few words of Slavic origin which entered Daco-Romanian (DR) before the 12th century. Slavic elements in Istro-Romanian, i.e. Croatian and, more significantly, Slovene, as well as the Western Romance languages that have been historically prevalent in Istria, various Istrian dialects of Venetian and Italian—show no signs of rhotacism, except for its partial presence in the Chakavian dialect and in nearby islands which may have derived from a common root.

Other characteristics of Istro-Romanian include (note: the lexicon used below is not universally recognized):

  • Prosthetic a- as in Aromanian (AR) arușine < DR rușine does not exist, however by false analogy an organic a- may disappear e.g. (a)prope, (a)ratå, (a)ve;
  • stressed á may become å /ɔ/ which can also be found in the Banat region of Romania;
  • ă-á becomes a-å, e.g. DR măritá > IR maritå (to marry), DR arătá > IR (a)ratå (to show);
  • au becomes åv, a similar change appears in Aromanian, e.g. DR aud > AR avdu, IR åvdu (I hear); likewise DR preot > AR/IR preftu (priest);
  • -e preceded by labials remains unaltered, whereas in DR it becomes , e.g. IR per < DR păr (hair/pear tree), IR pemint < DR pământ (ground);
  • stressed DR -eá- becomes stressed -é-, e.g. DR leac > IR lec (remedy), DR leagăn > IR legăr (cradle/swing), DR fată > IR fetĕ (girl);
  • The consonant groups and are only found in IR, AR and Megleno-Romanian (MR). These groups show that the Romanian dialects in Istria separated from DR before the 13th century, when and tended towards k' and g', e.g. Latin inclūdēre > IR cľide, MR ancľide > DR închide (to close), Latin glacia > IR gľåțĕ, AR/MR gľeț > DR gheață (ice);
  • The labials p, b, f, v and m show the following evolutions in the Eastern Romance languages:
Istro-Romanian Aromanian Megleno-Romanian Romanian Italian English
pićor cicior picior picior gamba leg
kľeptu cheptu kľeptu piept petto chest
bire ghine bini bine bene well, good
bľerå azghirari zber zbiera ruggire to roar
fiľu hilj iľu fiu figlio son
fiľa hilje iľe fiică figlia daughter
ficåt hicat ficat fegato liver
fi hire ire fi essere to be
fľer heru ieru fier ferro iron
vițelu yitsãl vițål vițel vitello calf
(g)ľerm iermu ghiarmi vierme verme worm
viu yiu ghiu viu vivo alive
vipt yiptu aliment cibo (vitto) food, grain
mľe(lu) njel m'iel miel agnello lamb
mľåre njare m'ari miere miele honey

The results of these changes in IR can be outlined in the following:

pi > , ć
bi >
fi >
vi > (g)ľ
mi >

  • Words only found in Istro-Romanian and the Daco-Romanian dialects of the Banat and Oltenia:
Istro-Romanian Banat/Oltenia Daco-Romanian Italian English
amănåt amînat/amînat amânat rinviata postponed
(a)stårĕ astară/asară deseară stasera tonight
bericåtĕ beregată/beregată gât/beregată gola throat
lomi lomui a rupe rompere to break
prigodĕ prigoadă/afacere afacere affare business
zgodi zgođi/întâmpla a se întâmpla succedere/accadere to happen

However, the similar words zgoda (happening) and prigoda (business) are widespread in Serbo-Croatian, and may also be Slavic loanwords; also, Istro-Romanian mľelu is similar to Chakavian mjelić (lamb) of some Adriatic islands. Lomi is a Slavic loanword, coming from "lomiti" (to break) in Serbo-Croatian. There are Slavic loanwords in other Eastern Romance languages, too, including Daco-Romanian.



There is no local literary tradition; however, Andrei Glavina, an Istro-Romanian who was educated in Romania, wrote in 1905 Calendaru lu rumeri din Istrie ("The Calendar of the Romanians of Istria"). In this book he wrote many folkloristic tales of his people. A series of actual Istro-Romanian tales and original folk songs recently is noted also by A. Kovačec (1998).

When Andrei Glavina created the first Romanian school in Valdarsa (where he was the first mayor) in 1922, he composed the following "Imnul Istro-romanilor" in Romanian language:

Imnul Istro-romanilor (Romanian) Inno Istrorumeno (Italian) Istro-Romanian Hymn (English)
Roma, Roma i mama noastră

noi Romani rămânem

România-i sora noastră

tot un sâng-avem

nu suntem singuri pe lume

și 'neă avem frați

Italiani cu mare nume

mâna cu noi dați

ca sa fim frate și frate

cum a dat Dumnezeu

să trăim până la moarte

eu și tu și tu și eu.

Roma, Roma è la nostra madre

noi rimaniamo Romani

la Romania è la nostra sorella

abbiamo tutti un sangue

non siamo soli al mondo

ma ci abbiamo fratelli

Italiani dal nome illustre

stringi la mano con noi

siamo fratelli e sorelle

come l'ha stabilito il Signore

vivere fino alla morte

io con te e tu con me.

Rome, Rome is our mother

we remain Romans

Romania is our sister

we all have one blood

we're not alone in this world

but we have brothers

Italians of distinguished names

shake hand with us

to be brothers and sisters

as decided by the Lord

to live til death

me with you and you with me

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Istro-Romanian at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Istro Romanian". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ Salminen, Tapani (1999). "Endangered languages in Europe: indexes". Retrieved 2018-11-24.
  4. ^ "Romanian language". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2018-11-24.
  5. ^ Roberts, Sam (29 April 2010). "The Lost Languages, Found in New York". Retrieved 2018-11-24.
  6. ^ Goran Filipi, Istrorumunjski lingvistički atlas. Atlasul lingvistic istroromân. Atlante linguistico istroromeno, Pula, Znanstvena zadruga Mediteran, 2002, p.52.


  • Wolfgang Dahmen. “Istrorumänisch”, in Lexikon der romanistischen Linguistik, vol. 3. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer, 1989, pp. 448–460
  • Nerina Feresini. Il Comune istro-romeno di Valdarsa. Trieste: Edizioni Italo Svevo, 1996.
  • Vasile Frățilă. “La terminologia del corpo nel dialetto istroromeno”, in Actas del XXIII Congreso internacional de lingüística y filología románica, vol. 3, Sección 4: Semántica léxica, lexicología y onomástica. Ed. by Fernando Sánchez Miret. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer, 2003, pp. 169–80.
  • August Kovačec. Istrorumunjsko-hrvatski rječnik s gramatikom i tekstovima (= Glosar istroroman-croat cu gramatica si texte). Verba moritura vol. I, 378 p. Mediteran, Pula 1998
  • Josif Popovici. Dialectele romîne din Istria. Halle, 1909
  • Pavao Tekavčić. “Due voci romene in un dialetto serbo-croato dell'Isola di Veglia (Krk)”, Studia Romanica 7 (1959): 35-38.

External linksEdit