Slavic influence on Romanian

The Slavic influence on Romanian is noticeable on all linguistic levels: lexis, phonetics, morphology and syntax.

The intercultural process also enriched the Slavic languages, which borrowed Vulgar Latin words and terms from Romanian, a Romance language, as, for example, mezin<medzin (from Latin medianus), the younger child, second-born, in the middle, which became 'mĕzinu' in some Slavic languages.


Map of Southeastern Europe, depicting the modern borders and the places where Balkan Romance languages were recently spoken
Geographical distribution of the four Balkan Romance variants in the early-20th-century

Romanian (or Daco-Romanian), Aromanian (or Macedo-Romanian), Megleno-Romanian and Istro-Romanian together form the Balkan Romance branch of the Romance languages.[1] The four languages descends from a common ancestor, which developed from the Vulgar Latin spoken in southeastern Europe in Classical Antiquity.[1][2] The venue of the formation of Common Romanian is uncertain, with some scholars regarding it (at least partially) as the descendant of the Latin variant of the Roman province of Dacia Trajana (located north of the Lower Danube), while others considering it as the successor of a Vulgar Latin dialect spoken in one or more south-Danubian provinces.[3][2][1] The disintegration of Common Romanian started before the 11th century, but Daco-Romanian and Istro-Romanian did not develop into separate languages until the 13th century.[1]

Proto-Slavic—the idiom from which the modern Slavic languages developed—emerged in the first half of the 2nd millennium BC.[4] The Early Slavs lived in the plains north of the Carpathian Mountains or along the middle course of the Dnieper River.[4] Their expansion accelerated after the fall of the Hunnic Empire in the middle of the 5th century AD.[5] Significant Slavic-speaking groups moved across the Lower Danube and settled in the Balkan Peninsula.[5] By the end of the 7th century, Slavic became the dominant language in most places in the Balkans.[5] Studies of the South Slavic languages revealed that Bulgarian and Serbian developed for centuries in two distant territories, separated by significant non-Slavic groups.[6]

The beginning of the contacts between the Early Slavs and the speakers of Common Romanian cannot be dated exactly.[7] According to one scholarly theory, the Romance-speaking communities came into contact with the Slavs already in the 5th or 6th centuries.[7][8] To explain the lack of early Slav loanwords in Romanian, linguist Kim Schulte says that the "contact situation can be assumed to have been one of cohabitation and regular interaction between Romanians and Slavs, without a great degree of cultural dominance of either of the two".[8] In contrast, linguist Gottfried Schramm proposes that the Romanians' ancestors lived in the mountains, surrounded by Albanian-speaking communities and thus separated from the Slavs of the lowlands until the 10th century.[9] Otherwise, he continues, the fact that Slavic loanwords appeared in Albanian earlier than in Romanian could hardly be explained.[10]

Contacts with Slavic-speaking groups intensified before the disintegration of Common Romanian and about 80 Slavic loanwords are still present in all four Balkan Romance variants.[8][11][12] The high portion of Slavic loanwords and the shared morphological and syntactical elements of Romanian and Bulgarian show that modern Romanian developed from the tongue of a mixed, bilingual population and through frequent intermarriages.[8][13] According to another scholarly approach, these elements do not reveal a widespread bilingualism or "racial intermixture", but they are the consequence of "cultural intercourse" deriving from the bilingualism of the literary class.[14]

Romanians adopted Old Church Slavonic as the language of liturgy, which gave it the "status of a cultural superstate language, particularly in semantic fields related to religious beliefs and practices".[15] Greek Catholic (or Uniate) priests were the first Romanian intellectuals to make efforts to demonstrate the Latin origin of Romanian in Transylvania in the 18th century.[16] They developed a Latin-based alphabet to replace the Cyrillic writing system and promoted the use of Latin terms in place of words of Slavic origin.[16] Wallachian writers started to advance the adoption of loanwords from Romance languages (especially from French and Italian) in the 19th century.[17]



Map of Eastern Europe, depicting a Slavic homeland and the spread of Slavs to all directions
Spread of Proto-Slavonic in the Early Middle Ages

Romanian has borrowed a significant amount of Slavic words into its vocabulary, so that for a while[when?] scholars[who?] viewed it as being a Slavic language.[18] Although the re-latinization of Romanian created synonyms or replaced some Slavic and other loanwords in the 19th century, about 11.5-14.6% of the Romanian vocabulary is still of Slavic origin.[19][20] The earliest Slavic loanwords which became part of the basic vocabulary were most likely to survive.[21] For instance, prag ("threshold"), nevastă ("wife") and rai ("heaven") survived, but postelnic ("chamberlain") disappeared.[21]

The Romanians adopted Slavic loanwords in three chronological stages: firstly from Proto-Slavic, then from a South Slavic language (associated with Old Church Slavonic), and finally from individual Slavic languages of Southeastern, Central and Eastern Europe.[22] Certain Slavic terms were borrowed twice: both the popular verb a sfârşi and the educated form a săvîrşi derives from the Slavic term for "finish, complete" (sŭvŭršiti).[23] About 80 loanwords contains the Proto-Slavic *TorT-syllable before it underwent radical changes during the formation of Slavic languages.[24] This old syllable began with a consonant, which was followed by the vowel e or o and the consonant r or l, and a consonant closed the syllable.[25] The Romanian world for hillock (măgură) was most probably also borrowed from a reconstructed Proto-Slavic *măgula form.[24] Romanian adopted most Slavic loanwords after the change of the original *TorT-syllables was completed in the South Slavic languages in the middle of the 9th century.[24] The third phase of the adoption of Slavic loanwords started after the disintegration of Common Romanian.[26] During this stage, the speakers of particular dialects started to borrow terms from the neighboring Slavic peoples.[26] Ukrainian, Polish and Russian influenced the Daco-Romanian dialects of Moldavia and Maramureș from the 13th century; Serbian loanwords appeared in the Daco-Romanian varieties of Banat and Crișana; Bulgarian influenced the Wallachian dialects of Daco-Romanian; Istro-Romanian was exposed to a strong Croatian influence for centuries; while Aromanian and Megleno-Romanian were strongly influenced by Bulgarian and Macedonian.[26][27]

About 16.5% of the nouns, 14% of the verbs (most of which have the fourth conjugation), 11.8% of the adjectives, 20% of the adverbs and 1.6% of the function words were borrowed from Slavic languages.[27] The ratio of Slavic loanwords is especially high in the religious vocabulary (25%) and in the semantic field of social and political relations (22.5%).[28] Slavic loanwords make up more than 10% of the Romanian terms related to speech and language, to basic actions and technology, to time, to the physical world, to possession and to motion.[29] Some loanwords were used to name new objects or concepts.[30] For instance, Slavic loanwords in the Romanian vocabulary of agriculture show either the adoption of the Slavs' advanced agricultural technology by the Romanians,[30] or the transformation of their way of life from mobile pastoralism to a sedentary agriculture.[31] Other loanwords replaced inherited Latin terms.[30] For instance, it is unlikely that the Romanian ancestors had no term for love even if a iubi ("to love") is a Slavic loanword.[32] In some cases, certain dialects retained inherited Latin term which were replaced by Slavic loanwords in standard Romanian.[29] For example, the inherited Latin term for snow (nea) is only used regionally or in poems, while standard Romanian prefers zăpadă and omăt which were borrowed from Slavic languages.[29] Most Slavic loanwords are connected to situations which stir up emotions, including dragă ("dear") and slab ("weak").[33] According to Robert A. Hall, originally Slavic-speaking individuals spread these emotive terms, because they continued to use them even when they were talking in Romanian.[34] Schulte notes that in "antonym pairs with one element borrowed from Slavic, there is an intriguing tendency for the Slavic word to be the one with more positive connotation".[29] For instance, Slavic a iubi ("to love") against inherited a urî ("to hate"), and Slavic prieten ("friend") against Turkic dușman ("enemy").[29]

The influence of their Slavic neighbors on Romanian has continued. The Russian influence was increased in Bessarabia, a part of the Russian Empire that became a Soviet Republic. Russian was used in relations with citizens from other parts of the Soviet Union. The effort to establish a Moldovan identity apart of a Romanian one included trying to form a Moldovan standard language, with more Russian loans and reviving archaic words of Slavic origin.[35]

Loan translations

Cyrillic script on a plate made of stone
Plaque commemorating the founders of the Romanian Orthodox church in Streisângeorgiu, written in Old Church Slavonic

Calques (or loan translations) from Slavic languages can also be detected in Romanian.[21][36] For example, the double meaning of Slavic svĕtŭ (meaning both world and light) gave rise to the development of Romanian lume ("world") from Latin lumen ("light").[37][21] The semantic development of certain inherited Latin words was due to Slavic influence.[36] For instance, the Latin word for life (vita) developed into the Romanian term for cattle (vită) following the patern of Old Church Slavonic životŭ ("being" and "animal").[36]

The structure of Romanian numerals from eleven to nineteen also reflects Slavic influence, according to most linguists' view.[37][34][38] In these numerals, the unit digit is followed by the prepositional infix spre ("on", evolved from Latin super, meaning "above") before the decad digit: unsprezece ("one-on-ten"), doisprezece ("two-on-ten"), nouăsprezece ("nine-on-ten").[39] The same pattern is common in all Slavic languages, but it is also present in Albanian and a similar structure exists in Hungarian.[40] The structure of the Romanian decades above ten follows a digit-decad system: douăzeci ("two-tens" for 20), treizeci ("three-tens" for 30) and patruzeci ("four-tens" for 40).[40] Old Church Slavonic displayed the same transparent structure and it can also be detected in modern Slavic languages.[41]


More than 17% of the prefixes (about 15 morphemes) were borrowed from Slavonic languages, but four-fifths of these morphemes are unproductive.[42] Slavic prefixes that are similar to prefixes inherited from Latin are the most productive.[42] This category includes ne- and prea-: for instance, nemică ("nothing") preserved a Latin prefix, but necinstit ("dishonest") contains a prefix borrowed from Slavic.[43] A third prefix, răz-, also belongs to this group, according to a number of scholars.[43] They propose that the ră- prefix in the verbs răscoc ("overbake") and răzbat ("go through") retained the Latin re- prefix.[43] Suffixes from Slavic languages also appeared in Romanian.[44][45] Among the suffixes of Slavic origin -ac, -nic and -uș are still especially popular.[45]


Loanwords from other languages were rarely subject to fundamental phonological changes, most probably because their steady influx contributed to the "relatively large phonological inventory" (Kim Schulte) of Romanian.[46] Slavic languages had more than 30 two- or three-member consonant clusters (groups of consonants without an intervening vowel).[47] These clusters were alien to Common Romanian, but many of them appeared in Romanian through borrowing of Slavic terms.[47] Early Slavic loanwords contain two-member consonant sequences.[47] Most Slavic consonant clusters with a first fricative were fully adopted: vlădică ("bishop" from vladika), slugă ("servant" from sluga), zmeu ("dragon" from zmij).[48] The cluster "șt" can be detected in both Slavic loanwords and terms inherited from Latin.[49] The phonetical changes which resulted in this consonant sequence may have started before the first contacts with the Slavic peoples, but early contacts with South Slavic peoples clearly influenced its present form.[50] The word-initial "zdr"-cluster appears both in Slavic loanwords, like zdravăn ("strong") and a zdrobi ("to crush"), and in words of unknown origin, like a zdruncina ("to shake") and a zdrăngăni ("to tinkle").[51]

Slavic loanwords spread the consonant "h" in Common Romanian
Slavic origin is attributed to the vowel "ɨ" by a number of linguists

Most linguists attribute the pre-ioticization of some Romanian words—the appearance of the semi-vowel "j" before a world-initial "e"—to contacts with speakers of Proto-Slavic.[52] Pre-ioticization can only be detected in eight forms of the verb a fi ("to be") and in four personal pronouns, but three archaic demonstratives also displayed this phonetic change.[49] Linguist Grigore Nandriș says that pre-ioticization can hardly be attributed to Slavic influence, because the Latin e vowel transformed into a diphthong long before the first Slavic loanwords appeared in Common Romanian.[53] Palatalization of consonants before the vowel "i" is also attributed to Slavic influence by a number of scholars, but others maintain that it developed internally.[54][55] The palatalization of the last consonant of masculine nouns and of verbs before "i" ending is a prominent example of this development: for instance, the last consonant of the Romanian word for coin (ban) changes from "n" to "ɲ" in plural (bani).[54][37]

The majority of specialists say the consonant "h" was alien to Common Romanian, but borrowings from Slavic languages—like duh ("spirit") from *duxŭ, and hrean ("horseradish") from *xrĕnŭ—enabled its appearance in Romanian.[37][56][57] In contrast to this view, Nandriș writes that certain Arumanian and dialectical Daco-Romanian terms show that the consonant "f" developed into "h" before the disintegration of Common Romanian (for instance, the Aromanian and dialectical Daco-Romanian word for iron, h'er descends from ferrum).[53] Linguist Graham Mallinson emphasizes that the consonant occurs in Romanian in positions alien to Latin.[57] Linguist Peter R. Petrucci proposes that Romanian loanwords containing "f" in place of the Proto-Slavic "x" were modelled on Macedonian patterns, because Proto-Slavic "x" developed into "v" in Macedonian in word-final position and after "u".[58] According to Mallinson, "x" changed to "v" at a relatively late period of the development of Daco-Romanian, because Istro-Romanian retained the original "x" consonant.[57] Petrucci proposes that the change of word-initial "v" to "h" in the Moldovan dialect of Daco-Romanian is to be attributed to Ukrainian influence either through language shift from Ukrainian or through the bilingualism of masses of Moldovans.[58]

Many linguists propose that the appearance of the vowel "ɨ" is most probably due to Slavic influence.[46][59] For instance, Mallinson argues that the vowel first appeared in Slavic loanwords, like rîs ("lynx") and smântănă ("sour cream"), but later it also influenced the phonetic evolution of inherited lexical items.[60] Romanian scholars tend to regard the development of the vowel as the result of internal phonetic changes.[60] Petrucci emphasizes that three of the earliest Slavic loanwords which now contain "î" could have originally contained "i" in Romanian, because the vowel shift from "i" to "î" is well-attested in similar position in inherited words.[61]


Romanian is the sole Romance language still using the vocative case when addressing a person: domnule ("sir!"), Radule ("Radu!"), soro ("sister!"), Ano ("Anne!").[34][62] Unlike Latin, which use a distinct vocative ending only in the singular of one of the six classes of nouns, Romanian has three distinct vocative forms.[63] The -e ending of masculine nouns in vocative corresponds to the specific Latin vocative suffix, but neither the -o vocative ending of feminine nouns, nor the -lor ending of plural forms can be detected in Latin.[63] Since the vocative also exists in Slavic languages, linguists agree that contacts with Slavic-speaking groups enabled its preservation in Romanian, with some even suggesting that the vocative case (re-)appeared in Romanian as a consequence of a language shift from Slavic.[34][64][65] Even if Common Romanian retained at least the traces of the vocative case, the vocative suffix of feminine nouns can most probably be attributed to the parlance of an originally Slavic-speaking group.[66][67]

The appearance of two forms of the infinitive, a short and a long form, is one of the distinctive features of Daco-Romanian and Istro-Romanian in comparison with other Romance languages.[68] The shortening of the infinitive can also be detected in the development of Bulgarian and Macedonia: for example, Old Church Slavonic viděti ("to see") shortened into vidět in Middle Bulgarian which became vidě in Bulgarian.[69] Linguists Jacques Byck and Ion Diaconescu maintain that the infinitive shortened without external influence during the development of Romanian.[70] Alexandru Graur, Ivan Gălăbov and Alexandru Rosetti argue that South Slavic influence gave rise to this specific morphological change.[71] Petrucci offers an interim explanation, saying that the infinitive was shortened at an early stage of the development of Romanian, but a language shift from South Slavic is responsible for the development of the two forms of infinitive.[72]

Romanian has a neuter (or ambigeneric) gender, with neuter singular adjectives and articles corresponding to their masculine forms, and with neuter plural adjectives and articles matching their feminine variants.[73] Since other Romance languages have not preserved the Latin neuter gender, Graur, Nandriș, Mallinson and other linguists propose that the existence of the neuter in Romanian should most probably be attributed to Slavic influence.[74][73] In contrast with them, Petrucci maintains that the Romanian tripartite gender system is the result of the internal development of the language.[75]


  1. ^ a b c d Maiden 2016, p. 91.
  2. ^ a b Andreose & Renzi 2013, p. 287.
  3. ^ Hall 1974, pp. 82, 91.
  4. ^ a b Sussex & Cubberley 2006, p. 19.
  5. ^ a b c Sussex & Cubberley 2006, p. 20.
  6. ^ Nandriș 1951, p. 18.
  7. ^ a b Petrucci 1999, p. 4.
  8. ^ a b c d Schulte 2009, p. 235.
  9. ^ Schramm 1997, pp. 319-320.
  10. ^ Schramm 1997, p. 320.
  11. ^ Petrucci 1999, pp. 5-6.
  12. ^ Schramm 1997, p. 333.
  13. ^ Sala 2005, p. 92.
  14. ^ Nandriș 1951, pp. 34-36.
  15. ^ Schulte 2009, pp. 235-236.
  16. ^ a b Mallinson 1988, p. 415.
  17. ^ Mallinson 1988, p. 416.
  18. ^ Millar & Trask 2015, p. 292.
  19. ^ Dindelegan & Maiden 2013, p. 3.
  20. ^ Schulte 2009, p. 243.
  21. ^ a b c d Mallinson 1988, p. 414.
  22. ^ Petrucci 1999, pp. 5–6.
  23. ^ Mallinson 1988, p. 413.
  24. ^ a b c Petrucci 1999, p. 5.
  25. ^ Carlton 1991, p. 145.
  26. ^ a b c Petrucci 1999, p. 6.
  27. ^ a b Schulte 2009, p. 236.
  28. ^ Schulte 2009, pp. 239, 243.
  29. ^ a b c d e Schulte 2009, p. 244.
  30. ^ a b c Sala 2005, p. 89.
  31. ^ Schramm 1997, p. 309.
  32. ^ Sala 2005, p. 88.
  33. ^ Hall 1974, pp. 91-92.
  34. ^ a b c d Hall 1974, p. 92.
  35. ^ Fedor, Helen (1995). Belarus and Moldova : country studies. Washington DC: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress. pp. 121–122. Retrieved 4 June 2020. Stalin justified the creation of the Moldavian SSR by claiming that a distinct "Moldavian" language was an indicator that "Moldavians" were a separate nationality from the Romanians in Romania. In order to give greater credence to this claim, in 1940 Stalin imposed the Cyrillic alphabet on "Moldavian" to make it look more like Russian and less like Romanian; archaic Romanian words of Slavic origin were imposed on "Moldavian"; Russian loanwords and phrases were added to "Moldavian"; and a new theory was advanced that "Moldavian" was at least partially Slavic in origin. In 1949 Moldavian citizens were publicly reprimanded in a journal for daring to express themselves in literary Romanian. The Soviet government continued this type of behavior for decades. Proper names were subjected to Russianization (see Glossary) as well. Russian endings were added to purely Romanian names, and individuals were referred to in the Russian manner by using a patronymic (based on one's father's first name) together with a first name.
  36. ^ a b c Nandriș 1951, p. 34.
  37. ^ a b c d Posner 1996, p. 253.
  38. ^ Petrucci 1999, pp. 109, 113.
  39. ^ Petrucci 1999, pp. 109–110.
  40. ^ a b Petrucci 1999, p. 111.
  41. ^ Petrucci 1999, p. 112.
  42. ^ a b Sala 2005, pp. 109–110.
  43. ^ a b c Sala 2005, p. 109.
  44. ^ Sala 2005, p. 110.
  45. ^ a b Posner 1996, p. 254.
  46. ^ a b Schulte 2009, p. 246.
  47. ^ a b c Petrucci 1999, p. 85.
  48. ^ Petrucci 1999, pp. 85–86.
  49. ^ a b Petrucci 1999, p. 51.
  50. ^ Petrucci 1999, pp. 54–56.
  51. ^ Schulte 2009, p. 247.
  52. ^ Petrucci 1999, pp. 49, 51.
  53. ^ a b Nandriș 1951, p. 30.
  54. ^ a b Hall 1974, p. 93.
  55. ^ Posner 1996, pp. 252-253.
  56. ^ Petrucci 1999, p. 83.
  57. ^ a b c Mallinson 1988, p. 396.
  58. ^ a b Petrucci 1999, p. 84.
  59. ^ Petrucci 1999, pp. 62-63.
  60. ^ a b Mallinson 1988, p. 393.
  61. ^ Petrucci 1999, pp. 66–67.
  62. ^ Petrucci 1999, p. 101.
  63. ^ a b Petrucci 1999, p. 102.
  64. ^ Mallinson 1988, p. 400.
  65. ^ Petrucci 1999, p. 103.
  66. ^ Petrucci 1999, p. 106.
  67. ^ Nandriș 1951, p. 33.
  68. ^ Petrucci 1999, p. 122.
  69. ^ Petrucci 1999, p. 125.
  70. ^ Petrucci 1999, p. 124.
  71. ^ Petrucci 1999, p. 123.
  72. ^ Petrucci 1999, pp. 127-129.
  73. ^ a b Petrucci 1999, p. 90.
  74. ^ Mallinson 1988, pp. 400-401.
  75. ^ Petrucci 1999, p. 137.


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