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Spanish Caló

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Spanish Caló

Native to Spain, Portugal
Native speakers 76,000  (2009)
Language family
Language codes
ISO 639-3 rmq
Linguist List
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Caló (Spanish: [kaˈlo]; Catalan: [kəˈɫo]; Portuguese: calão [kɐˈlɐ̃w]) is a language spoken by the Spanish and Portuguese Romani. It is a mixed language (referred to as a Para-Romani language in Romani linguistics) based on Romance grammar, with an adstratum of Romani lexical items[1] through language shift by the Romani community. It is often used as an argot, a secret language for discreet communication amongst Iberian Romani. Portuguese calão, Catalan caló, and Spanish caló are closely related varieties that share a common root.[2]

Spanish caló, or Spanish Romani, was originally known as zincaló. Portuguese calão, or Portuguese Romani, also goes by the term lusitano-romani.


The Spanish and Catalan term caló means "the language spoken by the Iberian Romani", while calé refers to the Romani people in Iberia. On the other hand, the Portuguese term calão (from Spanish caló), language of the ciganos, also means slang or profanity.

The root kāl- traces back to Sanskrit meaning "black" or "dark".

Nomenclature and dialect divisions

Three main groupings of dialects are distinguished in what is technically Iberian caló but most commonly referred to simply as (Spanish) caló or Spanish Romani:

  • Spanish caló (Spanish: caló español)
  • Catalan caló (Catalan: caló català)
  • Portuguese calão (Portuguese: calão português)

In modern Romani linguistics, all three are joinly referred to as Iberian Romani (Spanish: iberorromaní or romaní ibérico).[2]

Linguistic features


Caló has six vowels:[2]

Front Central Back
Close i   u
Mid ə
Open a

It has the following consonant inventory:[2]

  Bilabial Labiodental Alveolar Postalveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosive p  b   t  d     k  ɡ  
Affricate     t͡s  d͡z t͡ʃ  d͡ʒ      
Fricative   f s ʃ   x h
Nasal m   n        
Approximant     l   j    
Tap     ɾ        
Trill     r        

Notable phonological features of Iberian Caló are:[2]

  • the loss of the distinction between aspirated /pʰ tʰ kʰ tʃʰ/, unaspirated /p t k tʃ/ and voiced /b d ɡ dʒ/ in Iberian Caló.
  • the merger of /b/ and /v/betacism.
  • affrication of /t d/ to /tʃ dʒ/ before the front vowels /i/ and /e̞/ – nearly much as Brazilian Portuguese /ti/, /di/, [tʃi ~ tʃɪ] (some unstressed /te̞/) and [dʒi ~ dʒɪ] (some unstressed /de̞/).


Spanish Romani:

Y sasta se hubiese catanado sueti baribustri, baribustri, y abillasen solictos á ó de los fores, os penó por parabola: Manu chaló abri á chibar desqueri simiente: y al chibarle, yeque aricata peró sunparal al drun, y sinaba hollada, y la jamáron as patrias e Charos. Y aver peró opré bar: y pur se ardiñó, se secó presas na terelaba humedad. Y aver peró andré jarres, y as jarres, sos ardiñáron sat siró, la mulabáron. Y aver peró andré pu lachi: y ardiñó, y diñó mibao á ciento por yeque. Penado ocono, se chibó á penar á goles: Coin terela canes de junelar, junele.
Parable of the Sower, Luke, 8, 4-8, as published by George Borrow in 1838 [3]

Compare with a Spanish version:

Cuando una gran multitud se reunió y personas de cada ciudad fueron donde Jesús, Él les habló con una parábola. «Un campesino salió a sembrar su semilla. Al sembrar algunas cayeron en la carretera; fueron pisoteadas y se las comieron los pájaros del cielo. Otras semillas cayeron encima de la roca, tan pronto como crecieron se secaron porque no tenían humedad. Otras cayeron entre los espinos, y los espinos crecieron con éstas y las sofocaron. Otras cayeron en tierra buena; crecieron y dieron fruto, cien veces más.» Después de decir estas cosas gritó, «¡Aquel que tiene oídos para escuchar, que escuche!»[4]



Many Caló terms have been borrowed in Spanish (especially as slangisms and colloquialisms), often through Flamenco lyrics and criminal jargon (germanía).

Examples are gachó/gachí ("man/woman", from gadjo/gadji), chaval ("boy", originally "son", a cognate of English chav[5]), parné ("money"), currelar or currar ("to work"), fetén ("excellent"), pinreles ("feet"), biruji ("cold"), churumbel ("baby"), gilí ("silly, stupid"), chachi ("outstanding, genuine"), (un)debel/debla ("god/goddess"), mengue ("demond"), chorar ("to steal"), molar ("to like"), piltra ("bed"), acais ("eyes"), chola ("head"), jeró ("face"), napia ("nose"), muí ("mouth"), lache ("shame"), pitingo ("vain"), chungo ("bad, nasty, dodgy"), guripa ("cheeky, soldier"), ful ("fake"), potra ("luck"), paripé ("pretence"), juncal ("slender, graceful"), pure/pureta ("old"), sobar ("to sleep"), quer or queli ("house"), garito ("house, gambling den"), jalar ("to eat"), cate ("hit"), diñar ("to give, to die"), palmar ("to die, to snuff it"), chinarse ("to get upset"), apoquinar ("to pay"), langui ("lame"), chalado or pirado ("crazy"), pirarse ("to leave", "to make oneself scarce"), changar ("to break"), chivarse ("to denounce sb, to squeal"), chivato ("informer"), hacerse el longuis ("to pretend to be absent-minded"), pringar ("to get sb mixed up, to overdo"), chingar ("to fuck, to bother"), chinorri ("little"), najar ("to flee"), privar ("drink, to drink"), mangar ("to steal"), jiñar ("to shit"), nanay ("no way, there isn't"), chorizo ("thief"), achantar ("to get intimidated"), pispar ("to nick"), birlar ("to nick"), achanta la muí ("shut your mouth"), canguelo or cangueli ("fear"), bujarra (pej. "homosexual"), cañí ("gypsy"), calé ("gypsy"), caló ("language of the Iberian Kale"), calas ("money"), payo ("non-romani person"), menda ("myself"), chusma ("pleb") and galochi ("heart").[6]

Some words underwent a shift in meaning in the process: camelar (etymologically related to Sanskrit kāma, "love, desire") in colloquial Spanish has the meaning of "to woo, to seduce, to deceive by adulation" (but also "to love", "to want"; although this sense has fallen into disuse),[7] however in Caló it more closely matches the Spanish meanings of querer ("to want" and "to love"). In addition camelar and the noun camelo can also mean either "lie" or "con".

Caló also appears to have influenced quinqui, the language of another Iberian group of travellers who are not ethnically Romani.


To a lesser extent than in Spanish, Caló terms have also been adapted into Catalan as slangisms and colloquialisms.

Examples are halar (pronounced: [həˈɫa] or [xəˈɫa]; "to eat"), xaval ("boy"), dinyar(-la) ("to die"), palmar(-la) ("to die"), cangueli ("fear"), paio ("non-Romani person"), calé ("money"), caló ("language of the Iberian Kale"), cangrí ("prison"), pispar ("to nick"), birlar ("to nick"), xorar ("to steal"), mangar ("to steal"), molar ("to like"), pringar ("to get sb mixed up, to overdo"), pirar(-se) ("to leave, to make oneself scarce") sobar ("to sleep"), privar ("drink, to drink"), xusma ("pleb"), laxe ("shame"), catipén ("stink"), xaxi ("outstanding, genuine"), xivar-se ("to denounce sb, to squeal"), xivato ("informer"), xinar(-se) ("to get upset"), fer el llonguis ("to pretend to be absent-minded") and potra ("luck").[8][9]

Language maintenance

There is a growing awareness and appreciation for Caló: "...until the recent work by Luisa Rojo, in the Autonomous University of Madrid, not even the linguistics community recognized the significance and problems of Caló and its world."[10] Its world includes songs, poetry and flamenco.

As Iberian Romani proper is extinct and as Caló is endangered, some people are trying to revitalise the language. The Spanish politician Juan de Dios Ramírez Heredia promotes Romanò-Kalò, a variant of International Romani, enriched by Caló words.[11] His goal is to reunify the Caló and Romani roots.

See also


External links

  • The Romany language in Spain
  • Romanò-Kalò (As promoted by Juan de Dios Ramírez Heredia)
  • Diccionario de la Real Academia Española.

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