Slavic influence on Romanian

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The Slavic influence on Romanian is noticeable on all linguistic levels: lexis, phonetics, morphology and syntax. This situation is due to the migration of Slavic tribes who traversed the territory of present-day Romania during the 6th century AD, corresponding with the formative stage of Eastern Romance.

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

Slavic introduction[edit]

The introduction of Slavic in post-Roman Dacia was similar to the appearance of Germanic dialects in the Western Roman Empire, where Gallic Latin, Iberian Latin, and Northern Italian dialects became somewhat Germanized. However, due to a systematically decimated Latin-speaking population during the Middle-ages migrations, Slavic remained spoken for much longer, even after their complete dissolution into the Romanian people body. This partly explains why spoken Romanian is somewhat less intelligible to speakers of Western Romance languages.

While Dacia was part of the Roman Empire for a little less than two centuries, various Slavic tribes crossed, ruled and settled the former Roman province from the 6th to the 12th centuries. Their presence was stronger in Moldova and Bessarabia, where in the 16th century Rusyn-speaking Slavs made up about a third of the population. The Moldavian principality was called by the Russian sources as Русовлахия (Russo-Vlahia). Although the Slavs migrated from the North, they were smoothly assimilated North of the lower Danube. At the same time, they assimilated large parts of the Romanized population (the Vlachs) immediately south of the Danube (Serbia, Bulgaria, Macedonia) and in the neighborhoods (Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Slavonia).

Unlike their counterparts in the west, the Dacian Romance-speaking population became rural and did not preserve written Latin for long time under the new rulers. Therefore, the written Old Church Slavonic, especially its Bulgarian redaction originating in the capital of Preslav, spread as the literary language of Wallachia and Moldavia. Modern Romania (Wallachia) continue to be surrounded by Slavic speakers (with the exception of Hungarian after the 10th-11th century), and have influenced Romanian through centuries of interaction.[1] Early Slavic features in Romanian have a primarily Balkan or South Slavic (mainly Bulgarian and somewhat less, but also present Serbian) character, while later borrowings (especially in the modern Republic of Moldova, where the majority of the population continues to be bilingual or multilingual) have Eastern European or East Slavic (mostly Russian, and less frequently Ukrainian or Ruthenian) origin.

Of great importance was the fact that Old Church Slavonic, or in other words old Bulgarian, was the liturgical language of the Romanian Orthodox Church (compared to Western and Central European countries, which used Latin) from the Middle Ages to the 18th century, and compared to the situation in Western Romance languages, which borrowed words from Classical Latin, liturgical language of Roman Catholic Church). However, Latin did hold an important position in Transylvania after the 12th century (when it was part of the Westernized, feudal Kingdom of Hungary. Liturgical Romanian was first officially used there after the union of the Romanian Orthodox Church in Transylvania with Rome,[2] giving birth to the Romanian Greek-Catholic Church in 1698 [3] (the most widespread denomination in Transylvania until World War II).[4] This caused Romanian to easier lose some of its Slavic borrowings; the first standardisation (among others, the switch to the Latin alphabet) was done by the Transylvanian School (Romanian: Școala Ardeleană).[2][dead link] However, the capital of independent Romania (Bucharest) was located in the eastern part of the country (where Hungarian, German and Latin influences were minimal).

Slavic borrowings[edit]

Two types of Slavic borrowings can be distinguished in Romanian. First came everyday words describing animals and emotional states, as well as grammatical features appearing in spoken and written Romanian. These Slavic features were incorporated into Balkan Latin through the contact of Romanian speakers with early Slav settlers, these Slavic words became Latinized. With the spread of Orthodox Christianity and Cyrillic script, literary words from Church Slavonic (old Bulgarian) were introduced to supplement Romanian with terms for abstract concepts not present in the local Romance dialect. Writing in the old Romanian language first appeared in the Cyrillic alphabet (the alphabet of the First Bulgarian Empire, created in Preslav) in the 16th century, existing in Romania until the 1860s. In Bessarabia (under Russian suzerainty) the alphabet was Cyrillic until 31 August 1989 (except for the interwar period, when it was part of the Kingdom of Romania with autonomy from Moscow). However, the predominantly Russian republic of Transnistria has kept Cyrillic as its alphabet.

Most Slavic words were acquired through everyday contact with Slavic merchants, peasants and soldiers. Due to the influx of Slavs, much of the original Vlach population (estimated at 1 million by the end of the Roman rule) became bilingual between the 6th and 12th centuries.[citation needed] Inter-ethnic marriages were common, as Slavs settled among the Romanians. Some words describing family relations are Slavic, or show heavy Slavic influence: nevastă "wife" < невеста, rudă "relatives" < родa (in Bulgarian); plod < плод "baby", the suffix -că added to the Latin root fi- in fiică "daughter" (compare Bulgarian: щерка or Serbo-Croatian (k)ćerka/кћерка), bunică "granny" or maică< майка (in Bulgarian) "mother". The degree to which Slavic and Romance populations interacted is also underscored by many words describing affection which are borrowed from Slavic.

Roughly a fifth of spoken Romanian colloquial vocabulary is based on common Slavic roots such as: a iubi "to love", a citi "to read", nevoie "need", cinstit "honest",prieten "friend", trebuie "necessary". This situation is akin to the number and usage of French borrowings in English. Slavic borrowings are especially frequent when strong emotional terms or feelings are involved: silă "compulsion", vină "guilt", jale "sorrow", milă "compassion", boală "illness, disease", iubire "love", dragoste "love", slavă "glory", nădejde "hope", etc. Slavic-derived adjectives and participles seem to have been borrowed in droves and form a whole lexical layer: slab, drag, bolnav, bogat, prost, drăguț, cinstit, iscusit, iubit, jalnic, zadarnic, vrednic, obraznic, voinic, groaznic, harnic, strașnic, darnic, milostiv, mucenic.[5]

Romanian uses numerous Slavic verbs to describe actions and changes of state: a lovi "to hit", a goni "to chase", a topi "to melt", a găsi "to find", a trezi "to wake up", a pomeni "to mention", etc. Many others borrowings exist in different spheres of life: silă "force", război "war", noroi "dirt", bogăție "richness", trup "body", plod "fetus", oglindă "mirror", copită "hoof", zori "dawn", zăpadă "snow", ceas "time", nisip "sand", vreme "weather", etc. Compare less-numerous Germanic borrowings in Western Romance languages, such as in Spanish: guerra "war" (Slavic război in Romanian), rico "rich" (Slavic bogat), ganso "goose" (Slavic gâscă), buscar "to search" (Slavic a găsi—"to find" in Romanian).


At the arrival of the Slavs, the Romance-speaking Vlachs were rural cattle breeders, sometimes in a season transhumant way[citation needed]; most Romanian vocabulary related to cattle and cattle-breeding is of Latin origin. In contrast, most tools and utensils related to agronomy (as well as urban life) were replaced with Slavic names: lopată "spade" (Proto-Slavic *lopata), daltă "chisel" (*delto), topor "axe" (*toporъ), sită "sieve" (*sito), nicovală "anvil" (*nakovalo), coasă "scythe" (*kosa), tocilă "grindstone" (*točilo), greblă "rake", potcoavă "horseshoe" (*podъkova), zabrea "trellis".

The names of some animals, birds, fish, and plants made a transition from the Slavic: vrabie "sparrow" (Proto-Slavic *vorbь), lebădă "swan" (*olbǫdь, *elbedь), vidră "otter" (*vydra), știucă "pike" (*ščuka), rac "crayfish" (*rakъ), păianjen "spider" (*paǫkъ), lobodă "pigweed" (*loboda), bob "seed, bean" (*bobъ), morcov "carrot" (*mъrky, OBL *mъrkъv-), sfeclă "beets" (*svekla), hreniță "water cress" (*xrěnъ), râs "lynx" (*rysь).

There are some Onomatopoeic verbs and other words, such as a plescăi "splash" (*pleskati), a tropoti "clatter", a clocoti "to boil over" (*klokotati), are closer to their Slavic than their western Romance equivalents (compare Spanish: chapoteo/roción; susurro/murmurro; eco; pataleo/trapa trapa). Certain interjections, such as ba! "oh yes!" are taken from the Old Slavic (mostly Old Bulgarian) language.

Borrowings from Church Slavonic include the following synonyms: a izbăvi (< избавити) "to deliver, redeem", veșnic (< вѣчьнъ, вѣчный) "forever, perpetual, undying", sfânt (a corruption of Latin sanctus and Church Slavonic свѧтъ, свѧтый) "holy, saint", a sluji (< служити) "to serve", rai (< рай) "paradise", iad (< адъ) "hell", proroc (< пророкъ) "prophet", hram (< храмъ) "church patron", duhovnic (< духовникъ) "confessor", dihanie "wild beast, monster".

Slavic (synonym) terminology is almost exclusive when used to assign titles and ranks to medieval nobility: boier "boyar", cneaz "knyaz", rob "slave" (*orbъ), slugă "servant" (*sluga), a sluji "to serve" (*služiti), etc. It is also used to describe urban life and finances which emerged with the arrival of the Slavs: a plăti "pay" (*platiti), târg "market" (*tъrgъ), rând "row" ( *rędъ), sticlă "glass" (*stьklo). Seafaring concepts have also some Slavic-borrowed synonyms: corabie "ship" (*korabjь), lotcă "boat" (*oldьja, *oldъka), and vâslă "oar" (*veslo) all come from their Slavic equivalents virtually unaltered.

Church Slavonic[edit]

Many Romanian names were also influenced by the use of Old Bulgarian in Church and in administration. Over time, especially after the Latin alphabet was adopted, some Slavic words became archaic, but others have maintained a quite widespread use. In general, most Slavic (Old Bulgarian) church borrowings have become well incorporated into Romanian and are no longer perceived as foreign by the Orthodox practicants. In fact, many Romanian words occur as a natural combination of Slavic and Romance elements: devreme "early", așijderea "likewise", a se îmbolnăvi "to fall ill", a împleti "to weave", a învârti "to turn, rotate", a îmbogăţi "to enrich", nebunie "craziness", răzbunare "revenge", răscruce "crossing", bunică "granny", portiță "wicket", româncă "Romanian woman", neașteptat "unexpected", nerușinat" "unashamed", citire "reading", iubită "girlfriend", iubesc "I love", prostie "foolishness", hulubărie "dove-cot" (synonym), slăbiciune "weakness", milos "charitable".

The indirect Slavic influence on Romanian words and expressions is also important. Many words and expressions were calqued from their Slavic equivalents or created to reproduce the patterns of Slavic speech. Words such as suflet ("soul") copy the logic of the Slavic word душа, and the original Latin anima shifted its meaning to inimă ("heart"). Other examples include lună (meaning "month" and "the moon") and lume (originally "light"), used in the sense of "the world". Certain expressions (such as din topor, "unrefined") also tend to be similar to their Slavic equivalents: топорный = грубый.

Another feature of modern Romanian which has resulted from contact with Slavic speakers is the formation of numerals from 11 to 20. For instance, unsprezece ("eleven") is based on three components (un+spre+zece, "one above [from Latin super] ten"). Although the elements are Romance in origin, the model is a word-by-word imitation of the Slavic один+на+дцать ("one above ten") not found in the West, where original whole Latin words were preserved (Spanish: once, doce, quince, veinte).

As a result of the once imposed Slavonic (Old Bulgarian) Church via the First and Second Bulgarian Empires, most Slavic borrowings in Romanian are well-preserved phonetically and have changed little over the centuries. Some phonetic adjustment has taken place in certain cases: ohileti > a ofili, ljubiti> a iubi, protiva > potrivă, podkova > potcoavă. Other Slavic (Old Bulgarian) borrowings changed their original meanings after being incorporated into Romanian speech, for example a găsi "to find" < гасить "to extinguish", a lovi "to strike" < ловить "to catch", clipă "moment" < клепание "rhythmic movement".

Unlike Germanic languages that influenced Western Romance languages exclusively to lexicon, Slavic speech patterns have also influenced borrowing from other languages, for instance Latin schola/scola > Slav. школа, shkola > modern Romanian şcoală "school". The original Latin word been preserved in post-Roman Dacia, it would have been pronounced most probably as "scoară".[citation needed]

Slavic borrowings in Romanian help reveal the historical development of the language, although it is sometimes difficult to determine cause and effect in some developments. Whatever the cause or effect, the migration of Slavs separated the Haemus (Balkan) Latin from Western Romance and a proto-Romanian language differentiated from the Western Romance. By the sixth century the shift of the intervocal l>r (solis>soare; an, am, in, im > ân, în; si>și) stopped; new borrowings from Old Slavonic do not undergo the process: сила > silă instead of the hypothetical şiră'. New developments, such as sv>sf and h>f, occur instead. One example is sfântu, "saint", from Slavonic svętŭ, where a nasal n that has been lost in all Slavic languages except Polish (święty, i.e., świenty) made its way into the Romanian borrowing.

The affirmative particle da "yes" is of Slavic origin. Romanians came to use the word as their common form of "yes" because their Slavic neighbours were using da, rather than settle on a version of sic as in other Romance languages (Romanian și instead is used to mean "and"). Another example is the common Romanian surname ending -escu, which is of Latin origin (French -esque, as in "Romanesque", or Italian -esco, as in romanesco or tedesco "German"), but came to be used more, possibly in imitation of Church Slavonic -ьskъ (as with slověnьskъ, "Slavonic"). As with sfântu above, this seems to predate the common shift of the Slavic languages into preferring slověnьskъij over slověnьskъ, from whence the common Slavic surname ending -ski (-ский).

Dialect and style[edit]

The share of Slavic words in Romanian differs by dialect and style. The number of Slavicisms is higher in border regions with significant Slavic-speaking populations. In spoken Romanian, their share is between 5 percent in Romania and up to 20 percent in the Republic of Moldova, where Russian borrowings and constructions and minor Ukrainian loanwords are common within simple, less educated population and even most of the population as a whole, as Moldova is a multilingual country (compare Vreau un holodilnic and Vreau un frigider). In written Romanian, their share is somewhat lower (around 3 percent); Latin-based words represent over 90 percent in current language, with the remaining percent of Greek, Hungarian, and Turkish origin synonyms and words and from the Dacian substratum.

In modern literary Romanian, Slavonic influences are evident in phonetics and morphology (influenced by Slavic speakers). Phonetic Slavicisms include the iotation of the initial e in words such as el, ea, este pronounced [jel], [ja], [jeste] (compare Spanish: el, ella, estamos, without the Slavic iotation effect) and the palatalization of consonants in the plural form (for example pom-pomi and lup-lupi, pronounced [pomʲ] and [lupʲ]; compare the original Italian sound in lupi). Several Slavic prefixes and suffixes, such as ne-, -că, -iță, răs-/răz-, have become part of the Romanian lexis; -că and -iţă are markers of the feminine gender in Romanian morphology (lup-lupoaică, italian-italiancă, actor-actriță). Unlike Western Romance languages, Romanian is unusual in how its nouns undergo internal vowel modifications while being inflected (fată-fete, gheață-ghețuri). This feature is common in neighboring Slavic languages: лёд-льда, сон-сны, день-дни. These changes indicate that, unlike later-arriving Hungarians, local Slavs who settled in the Vlach lands learned Balkan Latin. This process infused Romanian with Slavic features, while leading to the assimilation of Slavs north of the Danube.

As in the Western Romance languages, the Latin sound h was lost in early Balkan Latin between the 3rd and 5th centuries (for example, hibernum > Romanian iarnă and Spanish invierno, "winter"). However, Slavic influence after the 6th century led to a reintroduction of the Slavic hard h sound into Romanian. Therefore, excepting recent neologisms, most Romanian words beginning with h are Slavic in origin: hram, hrană, hulubărie, hrean. One counterexample is hartă, "map", which is carta in both Italian and all surrounding Slavic languages which borrowed the word (as karta).

The addition of Slavic verb stems ending in -i (a iubi, a citi, a goni, a izbi, a răni, a primi) and (a posomorî, a omorî, a târî) has led to an expansion of this conjugation pattern in Romanian, applied especially to Slavic borrowed verbs: a opri, a zdrobi, a toropi, a osteni, a podi, a vărui, a beli, a cerni, a plesni, a coji, a ţocăi, a născoci, a grohăi, a glumi, a trudi. By contrast, in Western Romance languages the number of verbs in the original Latin -i group shrank with time.

The tendency of late Latin was to drop all noun cases and redistribute the neutral gender between masculine and feminine (as in all modern Western Romance languages). Slavic influence has kept Romanian from losing these features. Certain indirect sentence structures—such as mi-e bine and mi-e frig (literally "cold is to me") are also Slavic-influenced (compare dobro mi je and hladno mi je). In the Western Romance direct constructions are used instead (Spanish: estoy bien, or French: j'ai froid and Italian: ho freddo). The preservation of cases and the neutral gender has also occurred under Slavic influence, and is not observed in modern Western Romance. Romanian has also developed a Slavic-influenced vocative case, ending in -o: Fetițo!.

Romania and Moldova[edit]

The sustainability of Slavic elements in Romanian is also evident in the toponymics of Romania and Moldova. Despite the fact that Dacia was a core of the empire's influence, the Romance-speaking population left the original Roman cities after the decline of the Roman Empire and the great migrations and shifted to rural cattle-breeding in 'villa' properties (see village). As a result, no original Roman place names survived north of the Danube. Newly founded settlements were largely a result of Slavic (and, later, Hungarian) presence. A lot of new[citation needed] Slavic place names were given to (old)[citation needed] cities and villages throughout Romania and Moldova: Cernavodă, Prilog, Dumbrava, Bistrița, Talna, Rus, Bistra, Glod, Ruscova, Straja, Putna, Hulub, Bâc, Tecuci, Potcoava, Corabia, Lipova, Holod, Topila, Ostrovu. These new place names survived as the cohabitation with the assimilating Slavs was less contradictory compared to that with Avars, Pechenegs, Hungarians, etc.

South of the Danube (where South Slavs eventually settled), the Romanian (Vlach) population was outnumbered and partially assimilated. The processes of linguistic exchange in the Balkans appear to be unequal, most likely due to social and political circumstances.

List of Romanian words of Slavic origin[edit]


azvârli - to throw


babă - old woman

basm - fairytale, fiction

bici - whip

bivol - ox

boală - disease

bogat - rich

boier/boiarin - nobleman


ceas - clock

citi - to read

clipă - moment


dar - gift

devreme - early

dragoste - love

dumbrava - grove


evreu - jew



găsi - find

grajd - stable

greblă - rake


hohot - peal

hrană - food


iubire - love

izvor - fountain


jale - sorrow

jăratic - embers



liturghie - liturghy

lovi - to strike


mac - poppy

milă - mercy

morun - sturgeon


nădejde -hope

neamţ - German



potrivi - to match

praf - dust

prost - dumb



rod - outgrowth


scoică - shell

sfânt - saint

slava - glory

slobod - free (note: rarely used, latin "liber" is a lot more common)

slovă - Chirillic letter

sluji - to serve

sticlă - glass


tigvă - skull

topor - axe


ungur - Hungarian


vârtej - whirl

vifor - storm

voinic - sturdy

vrăjitor - wizard





zăpadă - snow

zăvor - latch


  1. ^ Melodie Hanners, "The History of the Romanian Language". Archived from the original.
  2. ^ a b P.S. Florentin Crihălmeanu in Formula AS: "După unirea cu Roma, «boscorodirea», specifică epocii de dominație slavonă, va fi înlocuită cu slujba în limba română (curăţată pe cât posibil de impuritățile slavone, prin osârdia extraordinară a latiniștilor Școlii Ardelene)."[dead link]
  3. ^ History of the Romanian Church United with Rome (in Romanian)
  4. ^ The census in 1930 recorded a Greek-Catholic relative majority (31.1% of the population), whereas Orthodox Church came only second (27.8% of the population).
  5. ^ Romanian language Retrieved 2012-02-17.