Introduction to the Serbian Language
by Magdalena Petrović Jelić
Serbian is a Slavic language.
It shares many roots of the words and common features with Russian, Czech, Polish, Bulgarian, Slovak, Slovenian and other Slavic languages.
Many people also ask if Serbs can understand Russians or Poles or other Slavs? The answer is yes, to a certain degree. If we speak slowly, we will probably understand many roots of words – but we won’t be able to have a long or deep conversation.
With Croats, Bosnians and Montenegrins it’s different – our standards are based on the same dialect, so we can even argue and joke and exchange ideas, with everyone speaking their own variant of the language.
Serbian is practically the same as Croatian, Bosnian and Montenegrin standard languages.
Serbian grammar is quite complex.
But let me first tell you what our language doesn’t have and what is difficult for us.
Serbian language doesn’t have:
- nasal sounds,
- articles, definite (the) or indefinite (a, an),
- continuous tenses.
That’s why we have difficulties with these features when learning a foreign language. Especially the articles are something we struggle to learn and use properly.
The standard Serbian language has this set of specific features:
- 30 sounds and 30 letters;
- 2 scripts (Cyrillic and Latin);
- 5 vowels;
- 4 tones and 6 different ways of pronouncing those vowels (I’m working on a course to teach you that as well);
- 2 standard pronunciations: ekavian and ijekavian;
- 7 cases (Nominative, Genitive, Accusative, Dative, Instrumental, Locative);
- 7 tenses (1 present, 4 past and 2 future tenses);
- 2 moods (conditional and imperative);
- 2 verbal aspects (perfective and imperfective) and
- free word order with a fixed set of rules that has to do with clitics.
The most dreaded feature of the Serbian grammar are the cases, and I talk about them in this article: The Declining Secret Revealed: What Cases are & how to Learn Them.
Are you a man or a women?
In Serbian language it makes a big difference, grammatically and lexically. We use different words and personal pronouns for men and women.
For example, if you’re male, you are my “učenik” (male student) and if you’re female, you are my “učenica” (female student). Masculine gender typically ends in a consonant, while feminine gender ends in -a.
This video will help you learn about masculine and feminine gender in Serbian. It’s perfect for beginners.