How similar are Serbian and Croatian? 7 Biggest Differences

How similar are Serbian and Croatian? 7 Biggest Differences 1

How Similar Are Serbian and Croatian: 7 Biggest Differences and Which Language is Good for You to Learn

 

Dobar dan! Welcome to my blog with free Serbian Lessons for Serbian language learners. To read more about me, visit my presentation page. For frequent updates, follow me on Facebook or Instagram.

Magdalena Petrović Jelić

Serbian, Croatian Bosnian or Montenegrin: our language

There is one word that describes the relation between Serbian and Croatian with Bosnian and Montenegrin languages perfectly: NAŠKI (pronounced: nashkee). It is coined from the possessive pronoun NAŠ (ours) and the suffix -SKI that we use for making adverbs. You’ll recognize it in the names of the languages: srpski, hrvatski, engleski, norveški, italijanski (Cro. talijanski), španski (Cro. španjolski).

The term “naški” or “naš jezik” (our language) is used mainly by the people living in diaspora, where all the mentioned nations stick together. Out there, they feel the need to diminish the differences among them. That’s why they differentiate between the person who speaks “our language” (On govori naški) and the person who speaks, for example, Czech (On govori češki). A person who speaks “naški” is someone you can speak your own language with.

Imagine that there were a Serb from Belgrade, a Croat from Zagreb, a Bosnian from Sarajevo and a Montenegrin from Podgorica in one room. What do you think, how would they communicate? Do you think they would need an interpreter, or maybe several interpreters? No. They could pick an argument, each one of them in their own languages. And they would understand each other perfectly. Just like four people four people from USA, UK, South Africa and Australia would.

That is in fact how we speak, as I explained in this post.

There is a Facebook group called “Naš jezik” (our language) that gathers linguists and commoners from our region. I really enjoy being part of this group. We discuss serious linguistic matters, have fun, spread tolerance – but often also joke mercilessly.

Hopefully, this gives you the idea of how similar the languages are. “Language” is a political, and not a linguistic category. As someone once said: “A language is a dialect with an army and navy”. Montenegrin, Bosnian, Serbian and Croatian are considered languages because of politics, and not for linguistic reasons.

 

Why are Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian and Montenegrin (almost) the same?

In fact, all four languages have based their standards on the same dialect – the Shtokavian dialect (štokavski, штокавски). The name is derived from the word we use for what: što or šta. They are even based on the same subdialect: Eastern Herzegovinian (istočnohercegovački) – marked yellow in the picture below. In addition, the Serbian standard assimilated another subdialect: Shumadinian-Voivodinian (šumadijsko-vojvođanski) – marked blue in the picture.

Serbian and Croatian

Image from Wikipedia: Shtokavian subdialects according to Pavle Ivić (1988)

 

The conclusion is: weather you learn Bosnian, Montenegrin, Serbian or Croatian, you will be able to communicate across all the four countries. The vast majority of the words are the same, or incredibly similar. Conjugations and declensions are the same.

 

Why you should start with Serbian or Croatian (and not Bosnian or Montenegrin)

You may wonder why am I not going to speak about Bosnian and Montenegrin. Because I wouldn’t suggest starting with none of them. And I’ll explain why: Montenegrin and Bosnian are the newest languages. Therefore, resources available for them are quite scarce and undeveloped. Bosnian standard partly conforms with Croatian and partly with Serbian. Its main distinction is more Turkish loanwords in the standard vocabulary.

On the other hand, Serbian and Croatian already have a long tradition in being taught to foreigners, starting as Serbo-Croatian. Consequently, there are more quality books available.

Having explained all this, we can now focus on the most notable differences between Serbian and Croatian. I will also present the advantages they offer to the learners. My goal is to help you understand the differences and decide which one of the two languages to learn – or to start with.

The Biggest Differences between Serbian and Croatian

 

Difference #1: The Melody of Speech in Serbian and Croatian, Bosnian and Montenegrin

 

The most notable difference lies in the melody of speech. All of us in the four countries recognize intuitively. That’s how we can distinguish if someone is coming from another country, or even region or town in the same country. It’s impossible to explain this in writing and I will leave it to your ears. Try watching to the national televisions or listening to the national radio stations to catch the nuances of different accents, and maybe even deciding on your favorite. It will probably be easier to hear once your an intermediate Serbian or Croatian speaker.

If you’re advanced, I suggest you to watch this excellent video: a young man from Serbia imitates different accents from EX YU (that’s short for Former Yugoslavia). He’s incredibly good at that, as you can read in the comments.

There are two videos you can watch to try and hear the difference between Serbian and Croatian pronunciations.

  1. In this video you can hear a Croatian musician Tony Cetinski (on your left) and a Serbian musician Željko Joksimović (on your right). They are interviewed about a song they recorded together (the interviewer speaks Serbian).
  2. In this video you can watch a popular Croatian singer Severina interviewed by a Serbian journalist for a Serbian TV. From the minute 7.25 you can even hear a song she sings in Ikavian, a dialect typical for her hometown Split in Dalmatia.

 

Difference #2: The Yat ReflexesIjekavian, Ekavian, Ikavian

 

Yat (ѣ) was a common Slavic long vowel, that in Eastern-Herzegovinian was replaced with -je- or -ije-, producing the pronunciation that we call “ijekavica”, while in Shumadinian-Voivodinian it was replaced with -e-, giving the pronunciation that we call “ekavica”. That’s what makes the difference between ijekavian and ekavian: “ovdje” and “ovde”, “mlijeko” and “mleko”, “djevojka” and “devojka”.

Both subdialects have several ikavian Yat reflexes: that’s why we have nisam and they say nijesam in Montenegro. That’s also why we have htio and smio from the verbs htjeti and smjeti in ijekavian.

The Serbian standard allows both pronunciations. Both are given an equal importance in our official orthography and grammar books. However, ekavian is widespread in Serbia; virtually only people originating from Bosnia, Croatia or Montenegro speak ijekavian here. On the other hand, everyone in Republika Srpska speaks ijekavian. In Croatia and Bosnia only ijekavian forms the standard.

 

Conclusion: If you decide to learn Serbian (first), your teacher and your books will probably teach you ekavian. And that’s good because it is somewhat easier to pronounce and you don’t have to remember where to put -e-, where -je- and where -ije-.

For example, this is how we decline the word time in ekavian: vreme, vremena; and in ijekavian: vrijeme, vremena

However, if you want to learn both Serbian and Croatian, you should consider starting with the latter. Because it might be slightly more difficult to remember where to put e/je/ije after you’ve accustomed to the simple e in ekavian.

For more information about Yat, You can refer to this article on Wikipedia.

 

Difference #3: Double Conjugation in Serbian vs Infinitives in Croatian

 

People in Croatia tend to use infinitives to complement modal, semi-modal or phasal verbs, for example: “ja hoću raditi”, “ti možeš doći”, “on želi učiti”, “mi volimo plivati”, “oni su počeli pričati”.

On the other hand, in Serbia people prefer to double conjugate: “ja hoću da radim”, “ti možeš da dođeš”, “on želi da uči”, “mi volimo da plivamo”, “oni su počeli da pričaju”. But using infinitives is also legitimate, especially when there are to many conjunctions “da” accumulated.

In Croatia, the extensive use of the conjunction “da” is referred to with the scornful term “dakanje”.

Using infinitives is a feature typical for Slavic languages, while double conjugating is considered a Balkan languages common feature.

 

Conclusion: For a Romance, Germanic and even Slavic language speaker, using infinitives will be very convenient and probably easier to pick up. However, double conjugation is an excellent brain-empowering exercise. Especially when you have to combine two verbs from different groups, such as:

 

ja volim da putujem

ti voliš da putuješ

on voli da putuje

mi volimo da putujemo

vi volite da putujete

oni vole da putuju

 

Quite challenging, isn’t it?

 

Difference #4: The Future Tense

 

In both standards, the future tense is the same: made from the model verb “hteti” (mostly its short or enclitic forms) and infinitive of the verb we want to use.

Ja ću ići. Ja ću raditi. Ja ću jesti.

If we omit the pronoun, we’ll have the future tense in inversion. The verbs in –ći are the same here. There is a slight difference only in the verbs with infinitive ending in –ti.

So in Serbian we have: Ići ću. Radiću. Ješću.

And in Croatian we have: Ići ću. Radit ću. Jest ću.

In colloquial speech in Serbia it is very common to use da+present instead of infinitives in the future tense, which is typical for the Balkan Sprachbund. So we have another variant of the future tense: Ja ću da idem. Ja ću da radim. Ja ću da jedem.

In some parts of Croatia (including Zagreb), under the influence of the Kajkavian dialect, they use the Slavic future tense. It is compound of the perfect forms of verb to be (budem), but shortened (bum), and the participle that is also used for the past tense: Bum išel/išla. Bum radil/radila. Bum jel/jela.

 

Conclusion: The future tense is quite complex. You’ll need to learn to recognize it in all its various forms, in both languages. For your speaking, one form will suffice. Learn to use the basic standard form and only recognize the other forms in the beginning. The word order can also be tricky here, especially in elaborate sentences. Focus on noticing the parts of it, as they can be scattered around the sentence.

 

 

Difference #5: Vocabulary or Lexicon – Words Typical for a Region

 

Even though the vast majority of the words are exactly the same or slightly different, there are quite a few differences in vocabulary. Nonetheless, they are understood by both sides. We all mostly know all the variants, and we just use the one normally used in our region.

In this excellent Croatian dictionary, you’ll find many words marked as reg. (regional) and srp. (Serbian). Still, they are used.

For educative purpose, we can group the different words into five categories.

 

  1. Some of those words are just regionally colored, such as: Serbian greeting “zdravo” and Croatian “bog”, or  “hleb/hljeb” vs “kruh”, “voz” vs “vlak” etc.
  2. Other words are different because Serbs took a foreign word and Croats coined their own word: pasoš / putovnica; avion / zrakoplov; aerodrom / zračna luka.
  3. Sometimes the words are developed from the same stem with a different ending: studentkinja/studentica; sportista/sportaš; lekar/lječnik. However, the same stems and endings are used in both Serbian and Croatian languages. It’s just the specific combination of a stem with an ending that is typical for a region.
  4. Sometimes different stems are chosen for deriving a word. There is this famous, funny and illustrative example: in Serbian house is “kuća” and housewife is “domaćica”; in Croatian “kuća” is “dom” and “domaćica” is “kućanica”. (Of course, both “kuća” and “dom” are used in both languages.)
  5. In some cases Serbian loaned a foreign word while Croatian preserved the Slavic word. That’s how we use the Greek word “hiljada” for “a thousand” in Serbian, while the Slavic word “tisuća” is kept in Croatian. This also explains the different names of the months: the international names are adopted in Serbian, while the old Slavic words are kept in Croatian:

Meseci u srpskom: januar, februar, mart, april, maj, jun, jul, avgust, septembar, oktobar, novembar, decembar

Mjeseci u hrvatskom: siječanj, veljača, ožujak, travanj, svibanj, lipanj, srpanj, kolovoz, rujan, listopad, studeni, prosinac

 

Conclusion: If you prefer an easier way, then your choice here will definitely be Serbian, because it has more international loanwords. That allows you to quickly enrich your vocabulary and your ability to express yourself.

 

Difference #6: Deriving Verbs With Different Suffixes

 

Both languages still use many loan words, and derive verbs from them. This applies to the Latin and Greek international heritage and also to the new technology-related English terms, that have flooded every language. Generally speaking, the suffix -irati (essentially Latin borrowed through German) seems to be the most productive (i.e. makes the most verbs) in Croatian. On the other hand, the Slavic suffix -ovati and the suffix -isati of Greek origin are preferred in Serbia.

However, there are words that come only in -ovati pattern. Please refer to the table bellow for the examples. (In rows with only one word, it is the only form and used in both countries.)

 

Serbian -ovatiSerbian -isatiCroatian -irati
InteresovatiInteresirati
OrganizovatiOrganizirati
RecitovatiRecitirati
DeklamovatiDeklamirati
FotografisatiFotografirati
KontrolisatiKontrolirati
KanalisatiKanalizirati
Parkirati
Analizirati
Paradirati
Marširati
Skenirati
ModelovatiModelirati

Conclusion: If you prefer an easy way, then your choice here will definitely be Croatian. It’s obviously easier to learn foreign verbs if they follow the same pattern. However, if you prefer diversity over simplicity, have a go on the Serbian jolly suffixes.

 

Difference #7: Pronunciation of the tricky sounds

 

I’m referring here to the sounds represented by the letters Č, Ć, Dž and Đ. These sounds are clearly and strongly distinguished only in Serbia and Montenegro. The majority of Croats and Bosnians make no difference between Č and Ć, nor between DŽ and Đ. (Explanation how to pronounce C, Č and Ć can be found here.)

The difference between these sounds is very difficult to hear for a non-native. So it’s easy to give up trying to learn them. However, it’s very difficult to know what letter you should write in a word if you do not distinguish the sounds. If you read random comments on the internet, you’ll see that many Croats and Bosnians confuse the letters together with the sounds.

Luckily, there are very few examples where confusing these sounds can cause a misunderstanding. On the internet and text messages, many people even write “ošišana latinica” (“haircut Latin script”) and survive. (“Ošišana latinica” is the term for writing Serbian in Latin script without the diacritical signs – the little strokes above the letters č, ć, š, ž.)

 

Conclusion: Whether you choose Serbian or Croatian, try to learn the tricky sounds as much as you can. If it’s difficult for you to hear the difference, that’s probably because you don’t have similar sounds in your language. At least, try to remember how the words are written. But don’t take that too seriously. Even if you make a mistake, everyone will understand you.

 

Choose your language: Should you learn Serbian or Croatian?

This is the question only you can answer for yourself. I will give you a few things to consider when making your decision.

1) Do you have friends or family from Croatia or Serbia? If you do, choose the language you can speak with more people you know.

2) Do you travel to Serbia or Croatia? If you do, choose the language of the country you’ll travel to more often.

By all means, you should first learn the language of the country you have the most friends in or where you travel the most often ‒ that’s the most sensible choice. But what if you have and equal number of friends from Serbia and Croatia and travel equally often to both countries?

3) Then, take a look at the differences I explained, listen to the two languages, and pick your favorite.

After you’ve mastered the language of your choice, you will easily get acquainted with the other existing variants. You will learn Serbian and Croatian, and many different dialects or accents of the region. It will be a great source of fun. And you’ll enjoy it, I promise!

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Dobar dan! Welcome to my blog with free Serbian Lessons for Serbian language learners. To read more about me, visit my presentation page. For frequent updates, follow me on Facebook or Instagram.

Magdalena Petrović Jelić

What’s the difference between Slovenian Serbian Croatian Bosnian Montenegrin and Macedonian? How different or similar are the languages of ex Yugoslavia? Can the people understand each other speaking these languages?

 

I was born in a country named Yugoslavia

It was a big and diverse country that included 6 republics: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia; and two autonomous provinces: Vojvodina and Kosovo. The official language of the country was called Serbo-Croatian, or srpskohrvatski.

That was my favorite subject at school. Some classes included Slovenian and Macedonian songs and poems. I remember, we learned them as funny rhymes, never really understanding the languages completely – only a few words here and there.

 

In the nineties, Yugoslavia fell apart

The republics were cut off one by one, until each became an independent country. The last one to go was Montenegro, in 2004. The languages of ex Yugoslavia also fell apart.

The Serbo-Croatian language also fell apart to Serbian Croatian Bosnian and eventually Montenegrin. We never questioned that Slovenian and Macedonian were different languages.

When thousands of refugees fled Croatia or Bosnia and came to Serbia, they didn’t change the way they spoke.

 

At the university, I chose to study my favorite subject

The study group I enrolled in was called „Serbian literature and language“, but I had diverse interesting subjects, like the literature of old Dubrovnik, the Croatian literature and the Macedonian literature – all of which I had to read in original, no translation provided.

I remember that I read Croatian books with pleasure and no obstacles, occasionally finding a word or two per book that I didn’t know.

But the old Dubrovnik literature! That was one of the hardest exams I had. I read old poems and novels in a dialect nobody even speaks today.

Macedonian was less challenging for me. My father’s parents were from South Serbia, and I’d learned some Torlak from them – so I could understand a lot.

(Torlakian or Torlak dialect is a mini-dispute in itself and it illustrates the mentality of the region: it is considered a Macedonian dialect by Macedonian linguists, a Bulgarian dialect by Bulgarian linguists and a Serbian dialect by Serbian linguists.)

I studied in Novi Sad together with people from Serbia, Bosnia and Montenegro. I lived together with them for 3 years in a student dormitory. We all spoke our dialects and never needed a translator.

 

When my country went out of the „dark nineties“…

I started traveling abroad and meeting new people.

In Italy, I met a girl from Split, Croatia. She was an Italian teacher, a linguist. And she insisted that her language was different from mine. Even though we could argue each one of us speaking her own language.

When I met a group of young people from Zagreb, I loved their way of speaking! I couldn’t resist imitating their accent. The words I heard from them kept slipping off my tongue unconsciously.

I met people from Macedonia, and they tried hard to make their language closer to mine so that we could understand each other easily. My Macedonian was far worse then their Serbian. My friends from Skopje explained that they had learned Serbo-Croatian at school, but actually contact with people helped them because they had a horrible teacher.

I worked for a Slovenian company and had to translate a few phrases occasionally from Slovenian to Serbian – that was a challenge.

Once I drank wine with a Croat and a Slovenian in Athens. The Slovenian did his best to speak Serbo-Croatian and we had a fun chat and a good laugh.

 

YugoslavianLanguages: just like an old joke

A Serb, a Croat, a Bosnian, a Montenegrin, a Macedonian and a Slovenian go to a bar. They all order a beer and start fighting ferociously if šljivovica and ajvar are Serbian Croatian Bosnian Montenegrin Macedonian or Slovenian invention.

No interpreters. Because the Macedonian and the Slovenian have learned some Serbo-Croatian and can make themselves clear and take part even in bar fights in the languages of ex Yugoslavia.

 

Are Serbian Croatian Bosnian and Montenegrin different languages?

There is a word that describes the relation between Serbian Croatian Bosnian and Montenegrin languages perfectly: naški. It’s coined from the possessive pronoun naš (ours) and the suffix -ski that we use for making adverbs and that you’ve seen in the names of languages: srpski, hrvatski, engleski, norveški.

The truth is that the term is used mainly by the people living in diaspora, where the mentioned nations stick together and feel the need to diminish differences among them. That’s why they make a big difference between the person who speaks “our language” (naš jezik – naški) and the person who speaks, say, Czech (češki). A person who speaks “naški” is a person you can speak your own language with.

 

So, are these four languages of ex Yugoslavia different?

The truth is that all four countries have based their standards on the same dialect, Shtokavian, and even the same sub-dialect: Eastern-Herzegovinian. The Serbian standard includes another sub-dialect: Shumadian-Voivodinian. Serbian Croatian Bosnian and Montenegrin are considered languages only because the land is divided between these nations and the language is one of the means used for creating national identity.

Are Serbian, Croatian, Macedonian, Montenegrin, Bosnian and Slovenian Mutually Intelligible?

Image source: Wikipedia

 

The differences between the standard Serbian Croatian Bosnian and Montenegrin languages are minimal. 

Just like between Spanish from Mexico, Cuba and Argentina.

Or English from England, Australia and the States.

 

So if you learn any of the four standard languages, you will be able to communicate across the area.

The vast majority of the words are the same or very similar, the conjugations and the declensions are the same.

However, there are dialects that you won’t understand. They have different grammar. Because languages spill across the borders. Like Kajkavian that goes from Zagreb to Slovenia, or Torlak that goes from South Serbia to Macedonia and Bulgaria.

This phenomenon is the natural way the languages work. There’s nothing special about it in this area. You can see it everywhere in the world. It’s called the dialect continuum or dialect chain.  As people mix and mingle, so do dialects and languages. Establishing a standard only makes our lives, as foreign language learners, easier.

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Serbian Alphabets: Cyrillic, Latin and more

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Dobar dan! Welcome to my blog with free Serbian Lessons for Serbian language learners. To read more about me, visit my presentation page. For frequent updates, follow me on Facebook or Instagram.

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People often wonder what alphabet is used in Serbia: is it Cyrillic or Latin? How we write in Serbia today? Should you learn Cyrillic?

There’s a common misconception that the Latin alphabet is used in Croatia, while the Cyrillic is used in Serbia.

But the truth is that in Serbia we simultaneously use both scripts and alphabets.

The Serbian children learn both Cyrillic and Latin alphabet and script, both block and handwritten styles, in the first two grades at all primary schools in Serbia.

Do you wonder how we got there and how it all started?

I will illustrate this development through a brief review here, giving you the most important information.

If you happen to dislike history, please jump over to the final section entitled

Serbian Alphabets Today.

Glagolitic Alphabet – Glagoljica

Let us look back at the 9th century, when the first Slavic alphabet is believed to be invented. Its creators were probably St Cyril and his brother St Methodius, who used the new writing system to translate the Bible into Old Slavic. Old Slavic or Old Church Slavonic was the first Slavic literary language and was supposed to become the lingua franca of all the Slavs.

The original name of this alphabet was actually most probably Cyrillic! The term “glagoljica” (Glagolitic alphabet) that we use today occurred later. It is derived from the old Slavic verb glagoliti, to talk. From the same root we have the word glagol, which means ‘a verb’ in modern Serbian/Bosnian/Croatian.

Angular or Croatian Glagolitic Script

It is not known whether this writing system was constructed on the basis of an older Slavic alphabet. The Glagolitic alphabet is the first Slavic alphabet evidenced by many documents in the entire Slavic world, like the famous Codex Zographensis or Zografsko jevanđelje, today kept at the Russian National Library.

The Old Slavic Cyrillic Alphabet

I suspect that the Glagolitic alphabet was quickly replaced only because it was way too complex and therfore it took huge amounts of time to write all the books (the poor monks used to write by hand before the printing machine was invented). Indeed, it is believed that this alphabet was developed by the Saint Cyril’s disciples in the late 9th century. That is the alphabet we today refer to as Cyrillic, ćirilica.

It is based mostly on the Greek alphabet, and some letters for the specific Slavic sounds are based on the Glagolitic alphabet. There are many manuscripts written in this script, such as Miroslav’s Gospel or Miroslavljevo jevanđelje, written in Montenegro during the late 12th century and today kept at the National Museum of Serbia in Belgrade.

Miroslav's Gospel

This writing system and the Old Slavic as the literary language were used in the entire Slavic world for centuries, but every writer was unconsciously adding features of his mother tongue, the language of the common people. That is why in the 12th century we have different recensions emerging (for example Russian recension of the Old Slavic or Serbian recension of the Old Slavic).

That is also how Serbia had developed diglossia, or more accurately polyglossia. This is to say that the common people spoke their native language and dialect, while the Church used the Srpskoslovenski language (the Serbian recension of the Old Church Slavic), the Serbian schools in Austro-Hungarian empire were introducing the Russian recension with the teachers and books coming from Russia, while the Serbian intellectuals were speaking and writing the Slavjanoserpski language, a solemn mixture of the common Serbian and the Russian Old Slavic recension. 

Serbian Alphabets: Cyrillic

The understanding for the need to write in the common native language emerged in the late 18th century, and culminated in the work of Vuk Stefanović Karadžić in the first decades of the 19th century.

He was the guy who made our life simple by simplifying the Old Cyrillic alphabet and adapting it to the Serbian phonetic system. He kept 24 letters from the old alphabet, rejected those that were not pronounced in Serbian, borrowed 3 letters from different sources, and invented 2 new letters. That is how the modern Cyrillic alphabet originated.

While the writing system as a way of writing or a font is called ćirilica – ћирилица, all the Cyrillic letters in their specific order are called azbuka – азбука.

Serbian Latin Script and Alphabet - latinica i abeceda

Serbian Alphabets: Latin

The Latin script nowadays used equally in Serbia was developed from the first Croatian Latin script originated by Ljudevit Gaj. It was meant to bring together Slovenians, Croatians and Serbians living in Austro-Hungarian empire at the time.

That is why it includes both Č and Ć (most Croats do not distinguish these two sounds; Slovenians in their modern script do not have the letters Ć and Đ, since they don’t have the corresponding sounds), and that is why it suggested writing Dž, Lj and Nj as digraphs (because Slovenians do not have the [ʤ], [ʎ] and [ɲ] sounds they represent: the Cyrillic Џ, Љ and Њ). The Serbian intellectuals Vuk Karadžić and Đura Daničić took part in the second reforming of it (the latter is known to have invented the letter Đ).

The script and the way of writing is called latinica, while the corresponding letters set in their fixed order are called abeceda.

Serbian Latin Script and Alphabet - latinica i abeceda

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Serbian Alphabets Today

Throughout the years, there has been this idea that ćirilica is Serbian and latinica is Croatian. (I’d say that latinica is Latin and ćirilica is Slavic, for that matter!) However, I guess that Serbians got used to and adopted latinica much more than Croatians ever did ćirilica. When the countries split, ćirilica was completely rejected in Croatia, while we are continuing to learn and use both writing systems simultaneously and equally.

Serbia is an example of a digraphic country: our Constitution allows for both scripts (even though ćirilica is the official one), and our children learn to use both writing systems from the first grade.

That being said, one look at the Serbian reality will show you that latinica is used even more then ćirilica, both in the streets and (especially) online.

I made some photographs illustrating the simultaneous use of both writing systems. But I have to admit that I had to pick them carefully, because wherever I looked latinica mostly dominated in the streets.

For example, some traffic signs in Serbia are printed in both scripts, but many of them only in Latin.

A street sign in Serbia written in Cyrillic and Latin Script
A bookshop in Serbia with books in Cyrillic and Latin Script

The books and magazines in Serbia are printed in both scripts, but during the last decades, they are published predominantly in the Latin script. Virtually only new editions of some Serbian classics may be found in Cyrillic.

Street signs and graffitti in Serbia written in Cyrillic and Latin Script

This one is my favourite! Here you can see the names of the two streets in Novi Sad, one next to another, in the two scripts, and several graffiti written in both scripts as well.

Should you learn both Serbian Alphabets, Latin and Cyrillic?

Not surprisingly, my advice is to learn both scripts. Have no second thoughts! They both work on the same principle, they even have some common letters.

Getting used to the Cyrillic script will take you some time and practice, but it is not difficult, really. And you will be proud when you start reading all the signs and ads in the Serbian streets with ease.

But if you also learn the handwritten or cursive styles of both Serbian alphabets, the feeling will be glorious: you will be able to read anything written in this part of the world.

Copyright © Magdalena Petrović Jelić 2014, 2018

The Serbian Language: Complete Review in 9 Key Points

The Serbian Language: Complete Review in 9 Key Points 4

The Serbian Language: Complete Review in 9 Key Points

Dobar dan! Welcome to my blog with free Serbian Lessons for Serbian language learners. To read more about me, visit my presentation page. For frequent updates, follow me on Facebook or Instagram.

Magdalena Petrović Jelić

You’ve probably heard a thing or two about the Serbian language, but you’re not sure what’s true. Are Croatian and Serbian the same language? Is the grammar really that complicated? Is writing really that simple? Why do your Serbian friends seem unable to use the articles right? Hello and welcome, I present you the Serbian language through 10 key points.

#1 Serbian is a Slavic language.

It shares many common features with Russian, Czech, Polish, Bulgarian, Slovak, Slovenian and other Slavic languages. We have many similar words – just like English and German or Spanish and Italian.

Many people also ask if the Serbs can understand the Russians or Poles or other Slavs. The answer is yes, to a certain degree. If we speak slowly, we will probably recognize and understand many words. We will survive in a Slavic country, we’ll get important information. But we won’t be able to have a long or deep conversation, unless they know the Serbian language or we know their language.

 

#2 Standard Serbian language is the same as Croatian, Bosnian and Montenegrin standards.

Things are different with Croats, Bosnians and Montenegrins. Our standards are based on the same dialect. Our languages are basically the same. We can even argue and joke and exchange ideas, with everyone speaking their own variant of the language. I wrote more on the subject in this article.

This similarity is the reason why the Serbian language is taught together with Croatian, Bosnian and Montenegrin at universities around the world. This is why they use the not so popular term BSCM for it.

 

#3 Slavs can learn Serbian very quickly.

You bet they can! If you know a Slavic language, you have a huge advantage over non-Slavic speakers. In fact, I speak almost exclusively Serbian from the very first class with any student that knows a Slavic language. In my experience, they can understand about 85% of what I speak. However, sometimes they find it difficult to stop using their language’s grammar when speaking or writing Serbian. That’s their weak point.

 

#4 Serbian writing is simple.

Tha’ts true – even though it hasn’t always been that way. It used to be quite complex, but it was reformed in the 19th century. You can read more about that in this article. Today we have a phonetic orthography – that means we write as we speak. Each sound has it’s own letter and it’s very easy to learn. However, for some English speakers it’s quite challenging to stop reading the vowels the English way. They need lots of practice to start reading the Serbian way automatically.

What makes our writing complex is the simultaneous usage of two scripts: Latin and Cyrillic. Many Serbian learners avoid the Cyrillic script as it scares them in the beginning. But many insist in using it and end up reading it with ease. Here you can start learning the Serbian Cyrillic script, which is said to be perfectly adapted to the Serbian language.

 

#5 Serbian grammar is complex.

You bet it is. But let me first tell you what the Serbian language doesn’t have and what is difficult for us to learn in other languages:

  • Umlauts, in German or French.
  • Vowels between [a] and [e] (like in the word “can” or “hat”), or between [i] and [ə] shwah (like in “sin”).
  • Nasal sounds, like in French.
  • Articles: definite (the) or indefinite (a, an).
  • Conjunctive – it’s even difficult to understand the purpose of it.
  • Continuous tenses – they are comparable to our verbal aspects.

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. If I’m making mistakes in English, that’s usually in articles – and you’ve probably already noticed that!

 

#6 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.

 

#7 The standard Serbian language has this set of specific features:

  • 2 standard pronunciations: ekavian and ijekavian.
  • 2 scripts (Cyrillic and Latin),
  • and 2 alphabets, accordingly.
  • 30 sounds and 30 letters.
  • 5 vowels.
  • A consonant that can act as a vowel: R.
  • 4 tones and a post-tonal length. That means 6 different ways of pronouncing a vowel (I teach about this in the Serbian Cyrillic Reader course).
  • cases (Nominative, Genitive, Accusative, Dative, Instrumental, Locative);
  • definite and indefinite form of adjectives;
  • 7 tenses (1 present, 4 past and 2 future tenses);
  • 2 moods (conditional and imperative);
  • verbal aspects(perfective and imperfective) and
  • free word order with a fixed set of rules that has to do with clitics.

 

#8 You don’t need all of this grammar when you start learning Serbian!

Take it easy. For example, the most dreaded feature of the Serbian grammar are the cases. You don’t have to learn them all, especially in the beginning! If you’re not familiar with a language with cases, make sure you learn only 4 of them for the first 6 months or a year: Nominative, Accusative, Locative and Genitive. (I talk about them in this article about how to learn the Serbian cases.)

 

#9 Beginners should learn the grammar slowly and patiently.

It’s the best to take it easy. Learn it piece by piece and make sure to memorize lots of vocabulary. That will be of tremendous help. Learn to recognize two parts of a word: the root, that tells you the meaning, and the ending, that tells you what role this word plays in a context. Learn to recognize the root, and guess the function and meaning. Tip: open your mind in terms of word order, as I explain in this video.

 

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