Gypsy language book reaches new audience

An East Anglian man's labour of love has become the most definitive guide to the language of gypsies and has even been listed as one of the world's top 10 reference books.

It is a book which began with a schoolboy's index cards and has been more than 50 years in the making.

An East Anglian man's labour of love has become the most definitive guide to the language of gypsies and has even been listed as one of the world's top 10 reference books.

Now James Hayward is about to reprint his book, Gypsy Jib, amid successful sales all over the world.

Mr Hayward, 68, from Wissett, near Halesworth, first started recording gypsy language at the age of 12 or 13. Inspired at first by his grandmother, a Romany gypsy who was born in a travelling wagon, his quest to record a dying language has been spurred on by the fact that he has no children of his own to pass it to.

He said: "I started out on a card index that I started putting together when I was at grammar school. It was schoolboy stuff, I only had about 100 words, but nevertheless. I wanted to make sure that someone after me could read this and find out what I knew. I used to walk around with stuff in my head that no-one else knew."

He said it was "a great surprise" to find the book rated among the top 10 reference books in the world. Gypsy Jib was praised by the journal Reference Reviews, which is devoted to reviewing new reference books. His book was rated alongside the Oxford Encyclopaedia of American Literature, Macmillan's Encyclopaedia of Religion, and the Design Encyclopaedia, from Lawrence King and the Museum of Modern Art.

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He said: "Its birth pangs were fairly humble and it was alongside big hitters like the Oxford University Press."

The Romany language originated in north-east India and spread to other countries. In this country its speakers mixed it with English to create their own form of Romany, which was still incomprehensible to non-gypsies.

Mr Hayward says it is "almost extinct" now, though its presence is still felt in words like lolly, meaning money, which comes from the Romany word lolli, meaning the colour red as well as copper coins. The words cosh and cushy or cushti- popularised by Del Boy in TV's Only Fools and Horses - have also come from Romany and can be traced back to Sanskrit.

A weekly programme on BBC Eastern Counties radio, including Radio Norfolk, has also helped to bring Romany language and culture to a wider audience. Rokker Radio is named after the gypsy word for a chat or natter, and Mr Hayward has already featured on it.

He said: "People are getting more interested in who the gypsies are and the language they speak. A lot of the gypsies are unfortunately finding themselves in planning disputes, trying to find stopping places, which has explosive repercussions, and some people want to find more about them because of that."

Now semi-retired, Mr Hayward runs a second-hand bookshop in Halesworth. He said: "It is very difficult to say how satisfied I am that I have done it. I have made the book and I have sold it. Those people that told me it wasn't worth doing were wrong."

Gypsy Jib is published by Holm Oak Publishing and is available from the James Hayward Bookshop in The Thoroughfare, Halesworth, at www.gypsyjib.com or by telephone on 01986 781392.