Limber up for the limba română

by Bernard O'Shea

The baby of the My Five Romances family is the limba românâ, (Romanian language), which is spoken by some 26 million people worldwide, mostly in Romania and Moldova, where the locals naturally might be inclined to refer to it as Moldovan. According to some linguists, it is the closest modern language to Latin, more so than Italian itself. Since Latin has been making a comeback in recent times – some specialist language bookstores in Sydney, where I live, have whole shelves dedicated to Latin books – so maybe Romanian deserves more scrutiny. Incidentally, I learned Latin up until the age of 16 at school, and loathed it, but that was mostly due to the teachers involved.

So, why would you want to dabble in Romanian? Well, Transylvania is one of the most beautiful parts of the world, so much so that the likes of the Financial Times have been calling it “the new Tuscany“, so put Romania into your travel plans. I have been to Romania twice (see my travel stories here) and the photo above was taken in Sibiu, in Translyvania, which I would highly recommend visiting, along with Brasov and Sighisoara. Să mergem! Let’s go!

You may also hear Romanian spoken in parts of Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria and Ukraine that are close to the Romanian and Moldovan borders.

Essential vocabulary

Bună  dimineața means good morning (that t with a little squiggle underneath has an s sound, it is like the ts in the Engllsh word cats), bună ziua is good day. As evening approaches, use bună seara. To wish someone good night is noapte bună.

More casually, to say hello or hi you could just say bună, or use salut, just like the French do. Noroc is a wonderfully versatile word: it normally means luck or good luck, but can also be a hello or goodbye or even a bless you! (when someone sneezes).

There are various ways of saying How are you? A polite one is ce mai faceți? but there are also ce mai faci?, ce faceți? or cum esti?

The normal answer would be bine, mulțumesc, fine thanks or mulțumesc foarte mult, meaning thanks very much. (Mult means much, mai mult means more, while din ce în ce mai mult is a way of saying more and more. Prea mult means too much). Or you could say bine, mersi. Once you have said you are bine, you can ask și tu?, which is the informal way of saying and you? The formal way is quite a mouthful, și dumneavoastră?

Here is a song that I think you will like, and after you have listened to it just once I guarantee that you will be able to say mulțumesc with ease because it’s called Iți mulțumesc (thank you) by popular Romanian band, Directia 5. What really makes this video fun to watch is the people in it, especially the children (copii).  It was shot in Bucharest.

Other useful expressions are cu plăcere (you’re welcome), pe curînd (see you latercurînd means soon), la revedere means goodbye, while pa means bye.

If you get lost in the conversation, poftim which is one way of saying pardon, but it could also mean what? or excuse me?, depending on your intonation. If you are really lost you could say Ai putea repeta? Nu am inteles is Could you say that again? I didn’t understand.)

By the way, if you hear a Romanian say poftă do not be alarmed − they might be suggesting you go out for a meal together because poftă is appetite. Poftă bunais the equivalent of bon appetit.

Pe curînd, vă doresc o zi bună – see you later, have a nice day.

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trishwhytock March 19, 2013 - 11:35 am

Would love to visit Romania before it changes too much!

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Bernard O'Shea March 19, 2013 - 7:44 pm

Well, it’s only four or five hours away by plane…. I reckon you could sneak away for a long weekend at least

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