Few know that Romanian is a Romance language, similar to French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese; however, due to the country’s geographical position in Eastern Europe, surrounded by Slavic-speaking countries, people think that Romanian is part of the Slavic family. The language does have Slavic roots, but they represent only 10% of the vocabulary. With words originating from ancient Slavic and other words coming from Bulgarian, German and Turkish, Romanian is a unique Romance language.
Not only is Romanian the official language in Romania, but also in the Republic of Moldova. A former region of Romania, lost in 1940 as a consequence of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Moldova (at that time named Basarabia) was ceded to the Soviet Union. Later, it gained its independence. Nevertheless, the Romanian language has remained the national language ever since.
Romanian started forming at the beginning of the second century when the Romans conquered the territory of Dacia, located in the territory that would become Romania. Roman culture and language influenced the Dacian community, which eventually started using Vulgar Latin (common Roman) as their language.
It’s still unclear how the Romanian language and most of its Latin roots survived in a territory invaded and occupied by Slavic and Uralic populations like the Hungarians, Turks and Bulgarians. However, Roman and Latin influences were so strong that Slavic populations managed only to affect, not transform the language.
If you know some Italian, Spanish or French, you can comprehend Romanian. Several basic words are very similar to their Western European counterparts: bine is almost the same as the French and Spanish bien or the Italian bene; bun, same as bon, bueno; cu plăcere is similar to con piacere and avec plaisir; and pardon is an actual French word.
Actually, once you learn the vocabulary, Romanian is easy to read or speak. Being a phonetic language, all the words are pronounced exactly as they are spelt.
What makes Romanian a little bit difficult for foreigners are the special letters, called ‘diacritics’. These are: ă, pronounced like the second ‘a’ in the word magical; ș, pronounced as ‘sh’; ț, pronounced as ‘ts’. The last two letters, â and î, are the most difficult to pronounce. When you hear a local pronounce the country’s name, România, the â might sound like a short schwa. As for the î, you can hear a similar sound in the last syllable of the word ‘roses’.
When learning Romanian, you may have difficulty with the grammar. This is mainly because of its Macedonian, Bulgarian, Albanian and Serbian influences, as well as the fact that it was developed far from the other Romance languages. Still, contrary to other Latin languages, Romanian has kept the Latin morphological case differentiation: nominative, genitive and vocative.
Due to the Roman occupation south of the Danube river (today’s border between Romania and Bulgaria), a mix of Latin and Balkan languages developed as Romanian dialects. These are Aromanian, Megleno-Romanian and Istro-Romanian, spoken in countries like Serbia, Albania, Greece, Kosovo, Bulgaria and Croatia.
You’ve surely heard the famous song Dragostea din tei. If you listen to it, you will realize that you actually know all the lyrics by heart, even if you have no idea what they mean. The song, interpreted by the Moldovan band O-Zone, has been quite a phenomenon, and many people have been introduced to the language because of it.