The Thinking of Speaking
Issue #7 January / February 2014
Languages in Peril
The Romanian Relatives
by Lucille Martin
January / February 2014 | 

One of the less explored branches of the Indo-European languages is the Eastern Romance one, sometimes referred to as the Vlach languages. They developed in southeastern Europe from the local variant of Vulgar Latin.

The Roman Empire dominated this region east of Italy in what is now modern Croatia, Bulgaria, Albania, Greece and Romania for a long time. Latin affected most of the languages there, and one major form which developed was Proto-Romanian, the basis for modern Romanian. From this Proto-Romanian, four major languages emerged. The strongest was Daco-Romanian, which is what we now call Romanian. The other three were Istro-Romanian, Aromanian, and Megleno-Romanian. While Daco-Romanian remained strong, the other three have declined to the point of being in danger of extinction today.


Istro-Romanian is an Eastern Romance language with less than 500 speakers, making it the smallest ethnic group in Europe with a seriously endangered language. The speakers live in some villages in the peninsula of Istria, located on the northern part of the Adriatic Sea, in what is now Croatia. There are also speakers in other countries where the Istro-Romanian people settled, mainly the United States, Italy, Argentina, Australia, Germany, Sweden and Canada.

Some consider Istro-Romanian to be a dialect of Romanian, but it has independent traits and is actually related to the Dalmatian language, which was spoken several centuries ago in Dalmatia but is now extinct.

It is believed that the Istro-Romanian people migrated originally from Transylvania, Romania. The earliest possible historical record of Romanians in the Istria region is from 940 AD, when Constantine VII recorded the Romance-language speakers there, saying that they called themselves Romans. Dalmatian was one of the stronger languages being spoken in that region, but these Roman settlers in Illyria brought Latin to this region, and it mixed with the Illyrian and Ventic languages already there, including Dalmatian. Later inclusions of Slavic created a unique structure and vocabulary which became a basis for the Istro-Romanian language. One of these dialects was Istriot, which is spoken in the towns of Rovinj and Vodnjan in Croatia. Dalmatian became used less and less, replaced by these Latin creations, and eventually became extinct in 1898.

The Carnival of the IstroRomanians

The Latin people that developed in this region of Croatia became known collectively as Vlachs. There are many variants on this name in English, like Vlahs, Wallachians, Walla, Wlachs, Wallachs, Olahs or Ulahs. Now, the Vlach languages are more commonly referred to as the Eastern Romance languages, and since the creation of Romania as a nation, Vlachs is used to mainly refer to those living outside Romania, not just in this region. Serbian chronicles from 1329 refer to the Vlach population in Istria, but more recent information suggest that these people existed in other parts before that, including Friuli, which is located in northern Italy.

So if the Istro-Romanian people covered such a large area, how did they come to the edge of extinction? After World War I, Italy gained Istria, but they did not have it for long. The Paris Peace Treaty with Italy after World War II took Istria and gave it to Yugoslavia, who split it into two parts. Italy kept the part near Trieste.

Vlach Shepherd in traditional clothes

With their land divided and facing the threat of communism, the majority of speakers of Istro-Romanian left as political refugees, migrating to various parts around the world. They became minorities in every country they moved to, and so their culture and language began to decline. The ones that remained adopted other names, including Vlahi, Rumeni and Romeni. More recently, their Romanian origins are being diluted all the more as regional Croatian labels for them are replacing Romanian ones and their towns are broken up into different districts.

It is yet to be seen whether Istro-Romanian can survive. Of those in Istria, only about 350 people partially understand it while the number of active bilingual speakers are fewer than 200. Worse, fewer than 30 children speak it now, and without new generations learning it, a language can not survive. Unless there is an urgent and active effort with international support, it will probably become extinct within the next few generations.


Aromanian is an Eastern Romance language spoken in the Southeastern part of Europe. Most are in Greece, but there are also many in other countries, like Albania, Bulgaria and Serbia. In the Republic of Macedonia, Aromanian is officially recognized as a national minority. There are large Aromanian-speaking communities in Romania as well, because many migrated there from these countries after 1925. The Aromanians are also called Vlachs, mainly in Greece.

Cultural festival of the Aromanians in Macedonia

Aromanian is derived from Latin, like Romanian. It comes from the vulgar Latin which was spoken by native Balkan people under Roman rule, and was mixed with the other languages of the region, mainly Bulgarian, Greek and Albanian. It has many of the same features of modern Romanian, with both having their roots in Latin. As is the case with Istro-Romanian, some linguist try to claim that Aromanian is a dialect of Romanian. However, while Romanian has been greatly influenced by Slavic languages, Aromanian has been more affected by Greek.

The Aromanians may have originated from the colonisation of the Balkans by the Romans in the second century BC, but some evidence also suggests that the Aromanians may have been there even before then. In Greece, it is believed that the Aromanians were descended from the Greek tribes that were Latinized when Rome conquered Greece. In the countries around Greece, the Aromanians are believed to have come from the Thracian people that migrated to the mountains of the southern Balkans because of the Avar and Slavic invasions between 6th and 8th centuries AD.


With the rise of the Ottoman Empire in the 13th century, all of these people fell under Ottoman rule. During the Middle Ages, the Aromanians developed semi-autonomous states in the region of modern Greece. These included Great Wallachia, Small Wallachia and Upper Wallachia (Wallachia being an alternative form of Vlachs). They played a large role in the wars of independence for Bulgaria, Greece and Albania against the Ottoman Empire. In 1905, the Aromanians were recognized as a separate nation of the Ottoman Empire, which enabled them to establish their own schools in the Aromanian language. The day of the signing of the Aromanian Iradeo, which allowed this, by Turkish Sultan Abdul Hamid II, May 23, is celebrated today as the National Day of the Aromanians.

Despite all this, the Aromanians were considered minority groups in the countries they inhabited, and they became inevitably suppressed by the growing nations of Bulgaria, Greece and Albania. While they lost property and recognition, there was still some hope from Romanian. In 1925, King Ferdinand offered Aromanians land and privileges if they settled in the region of Dobruja, which was a much contested piece of land which, at that time, was under Romanian rule. This caused a large migration, and now there are between 50,000 and 100,000 Aromanians in Romania.

Aromanian grammar book, with the title in Greek and German, 1813

After the Nazi occupation of Greece in 1941, an autonomous Aromanian state under Fascist Italian control was established in Greece. Similarly, after the fall of communism in Albania and Bulgaria in 1989, the Aromanians formed its own cultural and political societies in the Balkans. Today, most Aromanians identify themselves both as Vlachs and as members of their Balkan nations.

Aromanian has three main dialects: Gramustean, Pindean, and Farsherot. There are also a large number of regional variants, named after their regions, like Moscopole, Muzachiar, and Crushuva.

The only place where Aromanian has any official status as a language is in the Republic of Macedonia. There, it is taught as a subject in some primary schools. It may also be allowed usage in court proceedings. However, it is still largely endangered, with under 250 thousand native speakers.


The third of these Eastern Romance languages is Megleno-Romanian. It is also sometimes described as a dialect of Romanian, but others claim it is an intermediary between Aromanian and Romanian. It is spoken by the Megleno-Romanians, although they call themselves Vlahi, who live in a few villages in the Moglena region of Macedonia in Romania as well as by a very small Muslim group in Turkey, the Karadjovalides.

The prefix Megleno comes from the Moglen district north of the Gulf of Salonica in northern Greece, at the border with Macedonia. While once there were an estimated 26 thousand speakers, there are now less than 5 thousand.

Wallachia family in Macedonia during the First World War.

The Megleno-Romanians may have originated in the Axios valley in the Republic of Macedonia and they became Latinized like the others when the Roman Empire expanded. Judging by the way it has more influence by the south Slavic languages, they most likely separated from the other Latinized languages of the region at a different time. Some historians argued that they were a mix of Romanians and Pecenegs (a semi-nomadic Turkic people of the Central Asian steppes). Still others believe they were descendants of the Romanian-Bulgarian Empire (circa 1185 -1396 AD) who had retreated to the Moglen region.

While most Megleno-Romanians, or Moglen Vlachs, are Orthodox Christians, there have been some historical deviants. Most notable is that of the village of Nânti in the Upper Karadjova Plain which converted to Islam in the 17th or 18th century, making it the only instance among the Eastern Romance peoples of an entire community converting to Islam. They were expelled by force to Turkey in 1923, as part of the population exchange between Greece and Turkey. The exchange was religious based, between the Greek Orthodox citizens of Turkey and the Muslim citizens of Greece, in which the two groups essentially swapped places. Most of the Moglen Vlachs settled in Kırklareli and Şarköy, and they became known as Karadjovalides, which is the Turkish name of Moglen.

Church of St. Zlata of Meglen in the village of Saraj, Macedonia.

Another migration happened in 1926 when about 450 families of Megleno-Romanians in Greece moved to Romania, settling in southern Dobruja, which was also called Cadrilater. This didn't last long, for southern Dobruja was given back to Bulgaria in 1940, after which the Megleno-Romanians moved to other parts of Romania, including northern Dobruja, where they mixed with the Aromanians already there. Even then, more moving was done, for between 1947 and 1948, right after Romania fell under communist rule, forty Megleno-Romanian families were deported from Cerna. A few would return in later years, leaving about 1,200 speakers there.

While there are Megleno-Romanians in both Greece and Romania now, they do not have any official status in either country. As a minority, they find their culture and language dying off. Unless it can gain some kind of official status or have a significant revival attempt begun, it is unlikely that Megleno-Romanian will survive. PT

Languages in Peril - The Romanian Relatives
Writer: Lucille Martin
Zeljko: Carnival of the Istro-Romanians from Jeiăn
Olahus: Map of the Balkans
Rašo: Church of St. Zlata of Meglen
Petey: Pazin, Istria, Croatia; Map of Istria; Cultural festival of the Aromanians in Macedonia; Aromanian grammar book; Vlach Shepherd in traditional clothes; Wallachia family in Macedonia during the WWI
• "Istro-Romanian language" Wikipedia <>
• "Istroromanian language" <>
• "Language and Lexicon" <>
• "Aromanian language" Wikipedia <>
• "Aromanian language" <>
• "Aromanians" Wikipedia <>
• "Megleno-Romanian language" Wikipedia <>
• "Megleno-Romanian" Blackwell Reference Online <>
• "Megleno-Romanians" Wikipedia <>

All images are Copyright - CC BY-SA (Creative Commons Share Alike) by their respective owners, except for Petey, which is Public Domain (PD) or unless otherwise noted.


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