What is Romanian?

How much do you know about the Romanian language? In this post, learn more about this interesting Romance language, including where it’s spoken and the languages that have made it into what it is today.

Romanian: the ‘forgotten’ Romance language

Which language do you think Romanian is most closely related to?

If you said Italian, you’ve got it right! Romanian, like Italian, belongs to the Romance language family, along with languages like French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Catalan.

The Romance languages descend from Vulgar Latin, which was the type of Latin spoken by ordinary Romans. The word itself comes fro the Latin adverb romanice, which means ‘in Roman’ and is derived from romanicus.

Likewise, the word ‘Romania’ derives from the Latin romanus, which means ‘Roman’ or ‘of Rome’. At its peak, the Roman Empire stretched over much of Europe and the Middle East, which is how this name came to be.

Romanian is sometimes considered the ‘forgotten’ Romance language because it’s often overshadowed by the more widely spoken Romance languages such as Spanish and French. It is also geographically separated from most of the other Romance languages, being one of the very few spoken in Eastern Europe.

Where is Romanian spoken?

Romanian is the official language of Romania and Moldova, where it is also known as Moldovan. It is also an official language of the autonomous Serbian province of Vojvodina, as well as Transnistria, which is an unrecognised breakaway state that is internationally recognised as being part of Moldova.

There are around 24 million Romanian speakers worldwide, with 18 million being located in Romania and two million in Moldova.

Significantly, approximately 250,000 Romanian speakers live in Israel, and there is a substantial number of speakers in the Middle East due to the fact that almost half a million Middle Eastern Arabs studied in Romania during the 1980s. Generally, Romanian speakers can be found all over the globe due to emigration. As of the 2021 Census, 480,000 Romanian speakers were living in the UK.

What features does Romanian share with other languages?

In common with other Romance languages, a lot of Romanian’s grammar and word structures – as well as many of the words themselves – are based on Latin

Italian is very closely related to Latin in terms of its vocabulary. Unsurprising, maybe, as Rome was of course the centre of the Roman Empire. Still, the other Romance languages have strong links to Latin as well.

According to Mario Pei’s The Story of Language, Sardinian is most closely related to Latin, with an 8% difference between the languages. Italian has a difference of 12%, Spanish 20%, and then Romanian comes in with a 23.5% difference to Latin, making it more closely related than Occitan, Portuguese, or French.

What about that link to Italian?

In terms of vocabulary, Romanian is 77% similar to Italian, 75% similar to French, 74% similar to Sardinian, 73% to Catalan, 72% similar to Portuguese and 71% similar to Spanish.

Of course, due to where Romanian has historically been spoken, it also shares features with Balkan languages, such as Bulgarian, Macedonian, Albanian, Greek, and Serbo-Croatian. Some of these features include:

  • The definite article (‘the’) comes after the noun, instead of before. This also happens in Bulgarian and Albanian.
  • The dative and genitive cases have the same form when they are affecting nouns, but differ when affecting personal pronouns (‘I’, ‘you’, ‘she’, etc.). This has also been the case in Bulgarian and Greek.
  • Romanian doesn’t feature a simple future tense like Spanish or Italian do (e.g. in Spanish ver – ‘to see’; veré – ‘I will see’). Instead, it uses auxiliary verbs, like Bulgarian and Albanian. You can use a variation of the verb ‘to want’ + the short infinitive to make the future tense, or the auxiliary ‘o’ + the subjunctive present form of the verb.

Romanian has also been influenced by Slavic languages, particularly when it comes to vocabulary. It is estimated around 10-15% of modern Romanian vocabulary is of Slavic origin.

The largest part of this comes from Old Church Slavonic, which was the first Slavic literary language and was slowly replaced in Wallachia and Moldavia by Romanian during the 16th and 17th centuries. It was the official written language in these regions (which now make up parts of Romania and Moldova) from the 14th to 18th centuries.

Church Slavonic is still used as a liturgical language in some Orthodox churches today, and lots of Romanian vocabulary that deals with religion, ritual, and hierarchy is Slavic as a result of this historical influence.

Some Romanian vocabulary also derives from German, due to contact between speakers before the 19th century. Since the 19th century, many literary or learned words have been borrowed from other Romance languages, which has overall led to around 38% of Romanian vocabulary being of French and/or Italian origin. In total, approximately 75-85% of Romanian words can be traced back to Latin.

Since the start of the 20th century, an increasing number of words have been borrowed from English. English features no grammatical gender, but Romanian has three noun genders (feminine, masculine, and neuter) and words that are borrowed are assigned gender and handled according to Romanian rules. This can lead to some ‘awkward’ changes, particularly with words related to technology. For example, cookie-uri is the Romanian plural of the internet term cookie.

How to say hello (and 10 other phrases) in Romanian

Our app has 2,500 useful words and phrases in Romanian, so we’ve gathered some of them here for you. You can see their translations in Italian and French as well so you can compare how similar the languages are.

Don’t forget – if you want to hear the audio for any of these words, it’s all on our app!

Bună ziua.Hello.Ciao.Bonjour.
Bună dimineaţa.Good morning.Buongiorno.Bonjour.
Bună ziua.Good afternoon.Buongiorno.Bonjour.
Bună seara.Good evening.Buonasera.Bonsoir.
Ce mai faceţi?How are you?Come stai?Comment ça va?
Bine, mulţumesc.Fine, thanks.Bene, grazie.Ça va bien, merci.
Mulţumesc.Thank you.Grazie.Merci.
Vă rog.Please.Per favore.S’il vous plaît.
Cum vă cheamă?What’s your name?Come ti chiami?Comment vous appelez-vous?
Mă cheamă…My name is…Mi chiamo…Je m’appelle…
La revedere.Goodbye.Ciao.Au revoir.

We hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about Romanian with us today. Learn even more by checking out Romanian on the uTalk app! Every language on our app (more than 150 of them!) features 2,500 useful words and phrases, all voiced by native speakers. You’ll get 26 starter words for free to begin with, so why not give it a try?

Already speak Romanian? You can use our app to learn more than 150 languages from Romanian, too! Go to Settings (the little cog) in the app, then select Application Language and choose ‘Romanian’ from the menu to change the language you’re using the app in.

Happy language learning!

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