Romanian alphabet

The Romanian alphabet is a modification of the Latin alphabet and consists of 31 letters:[1]

Letter Name
A, a a
Ă, ă ă
Â, â â din a
B, b be
C, c ce
D, d de
E, e e
F, f fe / ef
Letter Name
G, g ghe / ge
H, h ha / haş
I, i i
Î, î î din i
J, j je
K, k ka / kapa
L, l le / el
M, m me / em
Letter Name
N, n ne / en
O, o o
P, p pe
Q, q kü / chiu
R, r re / er
S, s se / es
Ș, ș / Ş, ş șe / şe
T, t te
Letter Name
Ț, ț / Ţ, ţ țe / ţe
U, u u
V, v ve
W, w dublu ve
X, x ics
Y, y igrec / i grec
Z, z ze / zet

The letters Q (read or chiu), W (dublu ve), and Y (igrec or i grec) were officially introduced in the Romanian alphabet in 1982, although they had been used earlier. They occur only in foreign words, such as quasar, watt, and yacht. The letter K, although relatively older, is rarely used and is still perceived as foreign due to the fact that it appears only in proper names and in international neologisms such as kilogram, broker, karate.[2]

In cases where the word is a direct borrowing having diacritical marks not present in the above alphabet, official spelling tends to favor their use (München, Angoulême etc., as opposed to the use of Istanbul over İstanbul).

Letters and their pronunciation

Romanian spelling is mostly phonetic. The table below gives the correspondence between letters and sounds. Some of the letters have several possible readings, even if allophones are not taken into account. When vowels /i/, /u/, /e/, and /o/ are changed into their corresponding semivowels, this is not marked in writing. Letters K, Q, W, and Y appear only in foreign borrowings; the pronunciation of W and Y depends on the origin of the word they appear in.

Letter Phoneme Approximate pronunciation
A a /a/ a in "father"
Ă ă (a with breve) /ə/ a in "above"
 â (a with circumflex) /ɨ/ the close central unrounded vowel as heard, for example, in the last syllable of the word roses for some English speakers
B b /b/ b in "ball"
C c /k/ c in "cat"
/tʃ/ ch in "chimpanzee" — if c appears before letters e or i
D d /d/ d in "door"
E e /e/ e in "merry"
/e̯/ (semivocalic /e/)
/je/ ye in "yes" — in a few old words with initial e: este, el etc.[3]
F f /f/ f in "flag"
G g /ɡ/ g in "goat"
/dʒ/ g in "general" or "giraffe" — if g appears before letters e or i
H h /h/ h in "house"
(mute) no pronunciation if h appears between letters c or g and e or i (che, chi, ghe, ghi)
I i /i/ i in "machine"
/j/ y in "yes"
/ʲ/ (palatalization)
Î î (i with circumflex) /ɨ/ Identical to Â, see above
J j /ʒ/ s in "treasure"
K k /k/ c in "scan"
L l /l/ l in "lamp"
M m /m/ m in "mouth"
N n /n/ n in "north"
O o /o/ o in "floor"
/o̯/ (semivocalic /o/)
P p /p/ p in "spot"
Q q /k/ k in "kettle"
R r /r/ alveolar trill or tap
S s /s/ s in "song"
Ș ș (s with comma* /ʃ/ s in "sugar"
T t /t/ t in "stone"
Ț ț (t with comma* /ts/ zz in "pizza" but with considerable emphasis on the "ss"
U u /u/ u in "group"
/w/ w in "cow"
V v /v/ v in "vision"
W w /v/ v in "vision"
/w/ w in "west"
/u/ oo in "spoon"
X x /ks/ x in "six"
/ɡz/ x in "example"
Y y /j/ y in "yes"
/i/ i in "machine"
Z z /z/ z in "zipper"

* See Comma-below (ș and ț) versus cedilla (ş and ţ).

Special letters

Romanian does not use accents. In the sense of diacritics as being signs added to letters to alter their pronunciation or to make distinction between words, the Romanian alphabet does not have diacritics. There are, however, five special letters in the Romanian alphabet (associated with four different sounds), formed by modifying other Latin letters; strictly speaking they are not diacritics, but are generally referred to as such.

The letter â is used exclusively in the middle of words; its majuscule version appears only in all-capitals inscriptions.

Writing letters ș and ț with a cedilla instead of a comma is considered incorrect by the Romanian Academy. Actual Romanian writings, including books created to teach children to write, treat the comma and cedilla as a variation in font. See Unicode and HTML below.

Î versus Â

The letters î and â are phonetically and functionally identical. The reason for using both of them is historical, denoting the language's Latin origin.

For a few decades until a spelling reform in 1904, as many as four or five letters had been used for the same phoneme (â, ê, î, û, and occasionally ô), according to an etymological rule.[4] The 1904 reform saw only two letters remaining, â and î, the choice of which followed rules that changed several times during the 20th century.

During the first half of the century the rule was to use î in word-initial and word-final positions, and â everywhere else. There were exceptions, imposing the use of î in internal positions when words were combined or derived with prefixes or suffixes. For example the adjective urît "ugly" was written with î because it derives from the verb a urî "to hate".

In 1953, during the Communist regime, the Romanian Academy eliminated the letter â, replacing it with î everywhere, including the name of the country, which was to be spelled Romînia. The first stipulation coincided with the official designation of the country as a People's Republic, which meant that its full title was Republica Populară Romînă. A minor spelling reform in 1964 brought back the letter â, but only in the spelling of român "Romanian" and all its derivatives, including the name of the country. As such, the Socialist Republic proclaimed in 1965 is associated with the spelling Republica Socialistă România.

Soon after the fall of the Ceauşescu regime, the Romanian Academy decided to reintroduce â from 1993 onward, by canceling the effects of the 1953 spelling reform and essentially reverting to the 1904 rules (with some differences). The move was publicly justified as the rectification of a Soviet influence on the Romanian culture and as a return to a traditional spelling that bears the mark of the language's Latin origin. The political context at the time, however, was that the Romanian Academy was largely regarded as a Communist and corrupt institution — Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife Elena had been its honored members, and membership had generally been granted on political grounds —, so the Academy was in dire need of recovering its lost prestige. The 1993 spelling reform, seen as a break-up with the Academy's Communist past, served this purpose. The national community of linguists as well as the foreign linguists specialized in Romanian vehemently opposed the spelling reform, but their position was not taken into consideration.

According to the 1993 reform, the choice between î and â is thus again based on a rule that is neither etymological, nor phonological, but positional: the sound is always spelled as â, except at the beginning and the end of words, where î is to be used instead. Exceptions include proper nouns where the usage of the letters is frozen, whichever it may be, and compound words, whose components are each separately subjected to the rule (e.g. ne- + îndemânaticneîndemânatic, not *neândemânatic). However, the exception no longer applies to words derived with suffixes, in contrast with the 1904 norm; for instance what was spelled urît after 1904 became urât after 1993.

Although the reform was advertised as a means to show the Latin origin of Romanian, statistically only few of the words written with â according to the 1993 reform actually derive from Latin words having an a in the corresponding position.[5] Moreover, there are words that used to be closer in spelling to their Latin etymon before the 1993 reform than after; for example rîu "river", from the Latin rivus, became râu; the same is true for rîde < ridere, sîn < sinus, strînge < stringere, lumînare < luminaria, etc.

Quite a number of people prefer the simpler 1964 norm. Most publications that continued to use the old spelling norm have switched to the 1993 norm, but a few, such as Dilema Veche, still use the older norm. Some publications, such as România literară, magazine of the Writers' Union of Romania, and publishing houses such as Polirom, allow authors to choose either spelling norm. Dictionaries, grammars and other linguistic works have also been published using the î and sînt long after the 1993 reform.[6]

Many modern English textbooks still insist on the spelling of "I am" as eu sînt, in spite of the modern spelling being eu sunt - the actual pronunciation of sunt in rapid speech remains obscure, although most speakers tend to use the sound of î.