Background Information

Number of Speakers: ~25 million

Key Dialects: Daco Romanian, Macedo Romanian, Megleno Romanian, Istro Romanian

Geographical Center: Romania


Romanian is the official language of Romania and claims a total of 25 million speakers (Grimes 1992). Approximately 20 million live in Romania (90% of the population); 3 million in Moldovia (Moldovian Romanian); and 875,000 in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Greece, and Albania. Immigrant communities throughout Europe, Canada, Australia, and the United States also use it.

Linguistic Affiliation

Romanian is a Romance language belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European family. Although closely related to Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese, it is the only Romance language to have developed in eastern Europe. For this reason, it is sometimes classified as Balkan Romance. It does share approximately 70 percent of its vocabulary with the other Romance languages, mostly Italian and French followed by Sardinian, Catalan, Portuguese, Rhaeto Romance, and Spanish.

Language Variation

Scholars disagree about how to classify dialects of Romanian. Some argue that variants that were traditionally considered to be dialects — namely, Megleno Romanian, Istro Romanian, and Aromanian — should now be considered separate languages. The more or less acceptable dialect divisions are: Eastern Daco Romanian (including Moldavian); Western Daco Romanian (including Transylvanian); Southern Daco Romanian (including the standard, Muntenian/Wallachian); Aromanian (including Macedo Romanian and spoken in northern Greece, Albania, and the south of the former Yugoslavia); Megleno Romanian (spoken in a small area north of Salonika); and Istro Romanian (spoken on the Istrian peninsula of the former Yugoslavia). Some of the various dialects, while not immediately mutually intelligible, can be understood with effort. Other sources break Romanian down to the following dialects: Moldavian, Muntenian (Walachian), Transylvanian, Banat, Bayash.


Romanian is written in a Roman alphabet that was instituted in 1859. Prior to that it was written in a Cyrillic alphabet introduced into Romanian via Old Church Slavic, the language for religious texts. The Roman alphabet now used in Romanian employs diacritics over certain vowels. In addition, a cedilla is used under the letters s and t to represent [sh] and [ts], respectively. Cyrillic continues to be used for Moldavian, which is treated as a separate language largely for political reasons.

Linguistic Sketch

Romanian is an inflected language comparable to other Romance languages. However, unlike other Romance languages, Romanian has retained a case system. It uses two nominal cases: the nominative/accusative and genitive/dative. A third and rarely used case, the vocative, is a Slavic influence and is in the process of disappearing. Three grammatical genders, masculine, feminine, and irregular (masculine in the singular and feminine in the plural) are distinguished. Word order is Subject-Verb-Object, although OVS also occurs.

Romanian has seven vowels and three diphthongs. Consonant clusters occur at the beginning of syllables, which is unusual among Romance languages. Stress can occur on any syllable. Varying the stressed syllable can change meaning.

Romanian has borrowed vocabulary from the surrounding Slavic languages, most noticeably in the religious sphere. Turkish and Greek words entered the language during the period that the Greeks rules Romania on behalf of the Turks, from 1711-1821.

Role in Society

Romanian is the national language of Romania, where it is spoken as a first language by more than 90 percent of the population. Romania is, however, also home to a sizable Hungarian ethnic minority as well as to Germans, Romany peoples, Turks, Tatars and others Slavic language speakers.

Romanian is used in all spheres of life. Educational instruction is in Romanian through the university level, although schooling is also available in German and Hungarian for minorities. In 1990, there were 1,700 magazines and newspaper in publication, the vast majority of which were in Romanian. Standard Romanian is used and accepted at all levels of society.


Latin (primarily Vulgar Latin) was introduced to the regions of the Carpathian Mountains and the lower Danube by the Roman armies of the emperor Trajan (AD 106-271) and was adopted by the indigenous people of the region. Romanian is thought to have developed from Latin during the fifth and sixth centuries. During the seventh and eighth centuries, the Romanian speaking population came into contact with and were influenced by their Slavic neighbors. However, the essential Latin character of Romanian endured despite a long period of isolation from Western Latin languages. Other influences include Hungarian, Turkish, and Modern Greek. The earliest written texts in Romanian date from the sixteenth century, the first extant text being a letter from 1521. Texts appearing shortly thereafter are primarily religious translations from Old Church Slavic.

Romanian’s modern standard language developed in the late 18th and early 19th centuries during a movement to “relatinize” the language. Intellectuals and writers, particularly in Transylvania (the “Transylvania School”), embraced Western Latin cultures and languages, attempting to purge the language of Slavic elements. During this period, the first Romanian grammars were written, translations from Western literature were made, and use of the Roman alphabet became standard. This trend continued through the unification of the country in 1859, and survives up to the present day in the Romanian Academy, which has taken responsibility for the “reromancing” of the language since the 1940s. Neologisms, for example, are generally not taken unaltered into the language; an attempt is made to unify them for grammatical gender and number.


Allen, C. G. 1975. A Manual of European Languages for Librarians. London: Bowker.

Comrie, B., ed. 1987. The World’s Major Languages. New York: Oxford University Press.

Grimes, B. F., ed. 1992. Ethnologue: Languages of the World. Dallas, Texas: Summer Institute of Linguistics.

Linguistic Society of America. 1992. Directory of Programs in Linguistics in the United States and Canada. Washington, DC: Linguistic Society of America.

Mallinson, G. 1987. “Rumanian.” In B. Comrie, ed. The World’s Major Languages, pp. 303-321. New York: Oxford University Press.

Mallinson, G. 1992. “Rumanian.” In W. Bright, ed. International Encyclopedia of Linguistics. Vol. 3:346 350. New York: Oxford University Press.

Niculescu, A. 1981. Outline History of the Romanian Language. Budapest, Hungary: Editura Stiintifica Si Enciclopedica.