Reviewed by Ariana Bancu Palazzolo, Northeastern Illinois Univeristy
Beiträge zur Kenntnis der Rom-Sprache, translated Contributions to the knowledge of the Romani language, is a collection of five folk tales, twenty-nine songs, and a letter written in either a Hungarian or Serbo-Croatian dialect, which were collected by several individuals. Each is presented in a two-line format: the original language in which they were written appears on the first line and a word-by-word translation into German on the second line. All five tales and the songs numbered 15–23 were collected by Janos Sipos, in a dialect of the Hungarian Gypsies. The tales comprise the first part of the book, followed by the songs/poems and, lastly, the one letter. This collection of texts can be approached in two ways: for extracting sociological and cultural facts about the life of the Romani, and for use as a research tool for the Romani language.
The stories reveal various aspects from the lives of the Gypsies, including the way they regard family life, their trades, their beliefs, and their rituals. Some of the themes repeat themselves. The contrast between poverty and richness is presented through stories of characters who lose everything then come into fortune either through marriage or by performing favors for very rich people, and then lose it all again. There is a specific scenario characteristic of marriage: men leave their wives and children in search for fortune and remarry, without any mention of the termination of the previous marriage. The fairy tales make use of some fantastic elements. In addition to the presence of kings and castles, people turn into plants or animals after they die, and the performance of a ritual returns them to their human bodies; the devil talks to a girl; a magic ring transforms body parts; potions and balms lead to miraculous healings; animals talk; and men fight dragons. The most common themes of the songs are seduction and loss of love. Usually, the songs are sung by men observing and seducing one or more women. There is one song about a boy who seduces three women, one of whom is his mother.
If this text is to be used for linguistic research, there are a few facts that need to be considered. First, this text was originally published in 1869, and the variety of German used in the translations is slightly different from the German spoken today. Second, Hungarian is an agglutinative language (i.e. prepositions and case markers are affixed to the root words), so one word is often translated with up to three German words in the text. Morpheme boundaries are not marked in the word-by-word translation so extra work is required to identify word roots and other lexical elements.