Serbian (српски језик; srpski jezik) is a South Slavic language, spoken chiefly in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Croatia, and in the Serbian diaspora. Standard Serbian is based on Shtokavian dialect, like modern Croatian and Bosniak (which was formerly known as Serbo-Croatian), with which it is mutually intelligible, and was previously unified with under the standard known as Serbo-Croatian. It counts among official (and minority) languages of Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Croatia, Romania, Republic of Macedonia and Hungary.
Two alphabets are used to write the Serbian language: a variation on the Cyrillic alphabet, devised by Vuk Karadžić, and a variation on the Latin alphabet, devised by Ljudevit Gaj.
- Serbian orthography is very consistent: approximation of the principle "one letter per sound". This principle is represented by Adelung's saying, "Write as you speak and read as it is written", the principle used by Vuk Stefanović Karadžić when reforming the Cyrillic orthography of Serbian in the 19th century.
Serbian language can be written in two different alphabets: Serbian Cyrillic script
(ћирилица) and the Serbian Latin
). Both were promoted in Yugoslavia
. The Cyrillic script is official
under the 2006 Constitution of Serbia
, but the Latin script continues to gain ground as a result of its popularity among the business community and urban population. Before 1945 Serbs in Serbia did not use Latin alphabet officialy
The sort order of the two alphabets is different.
- Cyrillic order (called Azbuka (азбука): А Б В Г Д Ђ Е Ж З И Ј К Л Љ М Н Њ О П Р С Т Ћ У Ф Х Ц Ч Џ Ш
- Latin order (called abeceda): A B C Č Ć D Dž Đ E F G H I J K L Lj M N Nj O P R S Š T U V Z Ž
Equivalence of scripts
The Cyrillic letters <Љ>, <Њ> and <Џ> are represented by digraphs
in the Latin alphabet. In digraphs, letters are always written together - even in top-down text - and are also sorted
as one letter (e.g. ljubav
, 'love', comes after lopta
, 'ball'). The present Cyrillic script, having been devised for the language itself, is precise because there is no ambiguity involved in reading Lj
: for example, both Cyrillic инј
екција (mathematical injection
or medical injection
) and њ
егов ('his') are written with in Latin form. Thus, automatic transliteration of Cyrillic text to Latin is straightforward, but automatic transliteration of Latin text to Cyrillic requires additional heuristic rules.
The Serbian vowel system is simple, with only five vowels. All vowels are monophthongs. The oral vowels are as follows:
The consonant system is more complicated, and its characteristic features are series of affricate and palatal consonants. Voicing is phonemic, but aspiration is not. The consonant phoneme table for Serbian is as follows (corresponding Latin letters are below the IPA symbols)
V is often also described as a (lowered) fricative ([v̞]), which is phonetically closer. However, on phonological level, it doesn't interact with unvoiced consonants as a fricative normally would, but as an approximant.
/r/ can be syllabic, playing the role of a vowel in certain words (it can even have a long accent). For example, the tongue-twister na vrh brda vrba mrda involves four words with syllabic /r̩/. A similar feature exists in Czech, Slovak, Macedonian and many other languages. In some vernaculars /l/ can be syllabic as well. However, in the standard language, it appears only in loanwords as in the name for the Czech river Vltava for instance, or debakl (дебакл), monokl (монокл) and bicikl (бицикл).
In Serbian, the phonemes /tʃ/, /tɕ/, /dʒ/, and /dʑ/ (in contrast to Croatian and Bosnian vernaculars) have an independent phonetic realization in most vernaculars.
While the basic sound system is fairly simple, Serbian phonology is very complicated: there are numerous interactions (sandhi rules) between voices at morpheme boundaries which cause sound changes, with numerous exceptions. The changes include:
- Two types of Iotation
- So called older, reflected in all Slavic languages
- So called newer: d, t, l, n + j > đ, ć, lj, nj.
- Three types of palatalization, reflected in all Slavic languages:
- First, involving shift of velar consonants k, g and h into postalveolar č, ž and š in front of front vowels e and i,
- Second (also known as "sibilarization"), involving shift of k, g and h into alveolar c, z and s in front of e and i
- Little-known third, involving shift of k, g, h into c, z, s after e, i and a.
- Voicing and Devoicing assimilation
- Assimilation by place of articulation
- Elision in complex consonant clusters
- L→O shift, where final and pre-consonant *l was changed into an /o/
- "Labile A", referring to sound a occurring only in nominative and genitive plural of nouns with several suffixes (most commonly -ak and -ac): točak ('wheel') (N) → točka (G) → točku (D) etc.
Voicing and devoicing
In consonant clusters all consonants are either voiced or voiceless. All the consonants are voiced (if the last consonant is normally voiced) or voiceless (if the last consonant is normally voiceless). This rule does not apply to approximants a consonant cluster may contain voiced approximants and voiceless consonants; as well as to foreign words ("Washington" would be transcribed as VašinGton/ВашинГтон), personal names and when consonants are not inside of one syllable.
Serbian has an extended system of accentuation. From the phonological point of view it has four accents which are divided into two groups according to their quality:
- there are two accents with falling intonation ("old accents")- the short one and the long one
- there are two accents with rise in intonation ("new accents")- the short one and the long one
However, their realization varies according to vernacular. That is why Daničić, Budmani, Matešić and other scientists have given different descriptions of the four Serbian accents. The old accents are rather close to Italian and English accent types, and the new ones to German (this can be easily seen through loanwords).
Here is one possibility of phonetic realization of 4 Serbian accents:
- Short falling (kratkosilazni; symbol `` – double grave) as in Mïlica (PNfem). Pronunciation: /ˈmilitsa/ ('i' is stressed and short, as in English thick,cut).
- Long falling (dugosilazni; symbol ^) as in pîvo ('beer'). Pronunciation: /piːvo/ ('i' is stressed, first low, then high and then again low, as in English seek, Italian Gino, Marco).
- Short rising (kratkouzlazni; symbol ` – grave)as in màskara ('eye makeup'). Pronunciation: /ˈmaskara/ (the first 'a' is slightly stressed, the second 'a' is higher than the first one, and the third 'a' is even higher than the second one, as in German Arbeiter, Matratze).
- Long rising (dugouzlazni; symbol ´) as in čokoláda ('chocolate'). Pronunciation: /tʃɔkɔˈlaːda/ ('a' is stressed, longer than the other vowels, and the intonation is slightly rising, as in German Balade or Schokolade).
The "finest" realization—the differences between the accents are relatively small, words are pronounced without any special effort—can be found in the most respectable vernaculars of Piva and Drobnjak and in Belgrade and partly in familiar vernaculars in Kolubara district and south-western Banat. These two groups of vernaculars gave the base for Belgrade old speaker school. Already in surrounding Nikšić (Montenegro), Dubrovnik (Croatia), Užice (Serbia) area stress is more intensive.
Modern surveys have shown for instance, that there is a minimal difference in Piva and Drobnjak (where the family of Vuk Stefanović Karadžić had come from) between the syllables that carry short-stressed accent with fall intonation and the short-stressed with rise intonation. In the first edition of Vuk's dictionary (1818), Vuk even marked these two accents as one and the same accent. The difference between the short-stressed accent with falling acentuation and the short-stressed with rise accent is almost lost in two-syllable words (cf. the surveys of Pavle Ivić on Serbian prosody). The informal speech- slang in Belgrade has very special, neutralized accentuation (the oppositions falling/rising, short/long is only partly based on genuine word accents, far more on phonetic letter structure of the word).
Not only the stressed syllables can be short or long. Other syllables have that feature as well. In neo-shtokavian vernaculars, the unstressed long syllable (unstressed length) can occur only after the accented syllable (these lengths are usually called postaccent lengths. Their symbol is macron (-): dèvōjka ('girl'), Jugòslāvija ('Yugoslavia').
The phonetic realization of postaccent lengths is different. In vernaculars of Piva and Drobnjak they are rather very short, without any stress components. In some other East-Herzegowinian vernaculars, they are almost stressed (of course, less intense than the really stressed syllable). In many vernaculars—for instance in Belgrade, and in many places in Vojvodina—postaccents lengths are almost lost. That's why foreign students are not expected to pay much attention to them.
Before 1400, most Serbian vernaculars had two accents, both with fall intonation—the short one and the long one. That is why they are called "old accents". By 1500, the old accents moved by one syllable towards the beginning of the word, changing their quality to rising accents. For instance junâk (hero) became jùnāk. The old accents, logically remained only when they were on first syllable. Not all dialects had that evolution; those who had it are called neo-shtokavian. The irradiation point was in east Herzegovina, between Prokletije mountains and town of Trebinje. Since the 1500s people had been emigrating from this area. The biggest migrations were to the north, then toward Military Krajina and to the seaside (Dalmatia, Istria, Dubrovnik area, including islands of Mljet and Šipan). In 1920s and 1930s royal government tried to settle people from this poor mountainous area to Kosovo basin. Vojvodina was settled with inhabitants from this area after the WW II.
When all old accents had moved to the beginning of the word for one syllable, this was the result:
- In words with two or more syllables the last syllable cannot be stressed
- One-syllable words can have only falling accents
- In polysyllabic words, if an inner syllable is stressed, then it can have only a rising accent (there are exceptions- in standard and in many vernaculars, for instance when there is a ` - - combination)
- In a word with two or more syllables, if the first syllable is stressed, than it can have any of the four accents.
see Serbian grammar
Further in Serbian conjugation
Serbian verbs are conjugated in 4 past tenses - perfect, aorist, imperfect, and pluperfect, of which the last two have a very limited use (imperfect is still used in some dialects, but majority of native Serbian speakers consider it archaic); 1 future tense (aka 1st future tense - as opposed to the 2nd future tense or the future exact, which is considered a tense of the conditional mood by some contemporary linguists), and 1 present tense. These are the tenses of the indicative mood. Apart from the indicative mood, there is also the imperative mood. The conditional mood has two more tenses, the 1st conditional (commonly used in conditional clauses, both for possible and impossible conditional clauses), and the 2nd conditional (without use in spoken language - it should be used for impossible conditional clauses). Serbian language has active and passive voice.
As for the non-finite verb forms, Serbian language has 1 infinitive, 2 adjectival participles (the active and the passive), and 2 adverbial participles (the present and the past).
- Most of the words in Serbian are of Slavic origin. That means that their roots continue some words reconstructed for Proto-Slavic language. For instance, srce ('heart'), plav ('blue').
- There are many loanwords from different languages:
- There are plenty of loanwords from German. The great number of them are specific for vernaculars which were situated in Austrian monarchy (Vojvodina, Slavonija, Lika and partly Bosnia). Most cultural words attested before World War II, were borrowed from (or via) German, even when they are of French or English origin (šorc, boks). The accent is an excellent indicator for that, since German loanwords in Serbian have rising accents.
- Italian words in standard language were often borrowed via German (makarone). If they were taken directly from Italian, they show specific, not regular, adaptations. For instance špagète for Italian spaghetti rather than the "expected" špàgete. The most common Serbian greeting is "Ċao", after the Italian "Ciao"
The number of Turkish loanwords is also significant. There are according to Abdulah Skaljic, ("Turcizmi u srpskohrvatskom jeziku" - "Svjetlost" Sarajevo), 8,742 Turkish words, but far fewer than that number are in use today. Most of these words are not Turkish in origin but Persian; they entered the Serbian language via Turkish. However, these words are disappearing from the standard language at a faster rate than loanwords from any other language. In Belgrade, for instance, čakšire (чакшире) was the only word for trousers before World War II, today pantalone (панталоне) is current; some 30-50 years ago avlija (авлија < Turkish avlı) was a common word for courtyard or backyard in Belgrade, today it is dvorište (двориште); only 15 years ago čaršav (чаршав) was usual for tablecloth, today it is stoljnjak (стољњак). The greatest number of Turkish loanwords were and are in the vernaculars of south Serbia, followed by those of Bosnia and Herzegovina and central Serbia. Many Turkish loanwords are usual in the vernaculars of Vojvodina, Slavonija, Montenegro and Lika as well.
Greek loanwords were very common in Old Serbian (Serbian-Slavonic). Some words are present and common in the modern vernaculars of central Serbia (as well as other areas) and in the standard language: hiljada (хиљада), tiganj (тигањ), patos (патос). Almost every word of the Serbian Orthodox ceremonies are of Greek origin (parastos (парастос)).
The number of Hungarian loanwords in the standard language is small: bitanga (битанга), alas (алас), ašov (ашов)). However, they are present in some vernaculars of Vojvodina and Slavonia and also in historical documents, local literature. Some place names in northern central Serbia as Barajevo, are probably of Hungarian origin.
Classical international words (words mainly with Latin or Greek roots) are adapted in Serbian like in most European languages, not translated as in Croatian. For instance Serbian atmosfera, Croatian ozracje, S telefon, C brzojav, S avion, C zrakoplov.
Two Serbian words that are used in many of the world's languages are vampire and paprika. Slivovitz and ćevapčići are Serbian words which have spread together with the Serbian food/drink they refer to. Paprika and slivovitz are borrowed via German; paprika itself entered German via Hungarian. Vampire entered most West European languages through German-language texts in the early 18th century and has since spread widely in the world.
- On the other hand, as in Croatian, there are plenty of Italian loanwords in the coastal vernaculars (in Spič, Paštrovići, Boka Kotorska, Dubrovnik area and at Kvarner coast), as well as in the vernaculars near the coаst. In some Croatian vernaculars, Italian loanwords made up to 40-50% of the vernacular vocabulary in the 1930s. Most common are words borrowed from Venetian (brancin, altroke, ardura, karonja ('lazy man'), pršut(a)). Some toponyms such as Budva and Boka Kotorska ('bay of Kotor') are borrowed from Venetian.
- In the coastal area, many words were borrowed from the Dalmatian language (murina, imbut), a Romance language, that was extinct by 1900. Many toponyms were also borrowed from Dalmatian (Kakrc, Luštica, Lovćen, Sutomore< Sancta Maria).
Serbian literature emerged in the Middle Ages, and included such works as Miroslavljevo jevanđelje (Miroslav's Gospel) in 1192 and Dušanov zakonik (Dušan's Code) in 1349. Little secular medieval literature has been preserved, but what there is shows that it was in accord with its time; for example, Serbian Alexandride, a book about Alexander the Great, and a translation of Tristan and Iseult into Serbian. Although not belonging to the literature proper, the corpus of Serbian literacy in the 1300s and 1400s contains numerous legal, commercial and administrative texts with marked presence of Serbian vernacular juxtaposed on the matrix of Serbian Church Slavonic.
In the mid-15th century, Serbia was conquered by the Ottoman Empire and, for the next 400 years there was no opportunity for the creation of secular written literature. However, some of the greatest literary works in Serbian come from this time, in the form of oral literature, the most notable form being Serbian epic poetry. The epic poems were mainly written down in the 19th century, and preserved in oral tradition up to 1950s, that is few centuries or even a millennium longer then by most other "epic folks". Goethe and Jacob Grimm learned Serbian language in order to read Serbian epic poetry in original. By the end of the 18th century, the written literature had become estranged from the spoken language. In the second half of the 18th century, the new language appeared, called Slavonic-Serbian. This artificial idiom superseded works of poets and historians like Gavrilo Stefanović Venclović, who wrote in essentially modern Serbian in 1720s- just, these vernacular compositions have remained cloistered from the general public and received due attention only with the advent of modern literary historians and writers like Milorad Pavić. In the early 19th century, Vuk Stefanović Karadžić, promoted the spoken language of the people as a literary norm.
Serious Serbian and Croatian dictionaries regularly include Croatian only, and Serbian only words. Three Serbian words that are used in many of the world's languages are vampire, paprika (borrowed via Hungarian), and slivovitz. The English word nightmare is also most probably of Serbian origin. It originated from the name of a demon in Serbian folklore - Mora, which denotes a female demon that comes at night and sits upon its sleeping victims, giving them bad dreams.
- Rečnik sprkohrvatskog književnog i narodnog jezika (Dictionary of Serbian standard language and vernaculars) is the biggest dictionary of Serbian language and still unfinished. Starting with 1959, 16 volumes were published, about 40 are expected. Works of Croatian authors are excerpted, if published before 1991.
- Rečnik srpskohrvatskoga književnog jezika in 6 volumes, started as a common project of Matica srpska and Matica hrvatska, but only the first three volumes were also published in Croato-Serbian (hrvatskosrpski).
- There are no high-standard volume dictionaries whether of Serbian nor of Croatian language. Matica srpska is preparing one. Several volume dictionaries were published in Croatia (for Croatian language) during the 90s and till today (Anić, Enciklopedijski rječnik, Hrvatski rječnik). .
- Standard dictionaries
- Specialized dictionaries
- Phraseological dictionaries
The Rječnik hrvatskoga ili srpskoga jezika (I-XXIII), published by Yugoslav academy of sciencies and arts (JAZU) from 1880 to 1976 is the only general historical dictionary of Serbo-Croatian language. His first editor was Đuro Daničić, followed by Pero Budmani and famous Vukovian Tomislav Maretić. The sources of this are, especially in first volumes, mainly Štokavian.
The standard and the only completed etymological dictionary of Serbian language is so-called "Skok", written by Croatian linguist Petar Skok: Etimologijski rječnik hrvatskoga ili srpskoga jezika ("Etymological dictionary of Croatian or Serbian language"). I-IV. Zagreb 1971-1974.
There is also a new monumental Etimološki rečnik srpskog jezika (Etymological dictionary of Serbian language). Up to now, two volumes were published: I (with words on A-), and II (Ba-Bd).
There are specialized etymological dictionaries for German, Italian, Dalmatian, Turkish, Greek, Hungarian, Russian, English and other loanwords (cf. chapter word origin).
- Kosovsko-resavski dialect dictionaries:
- Gliša Elezović, Rečnik kosovsko-metohiskog dijalekta I-II. 1932/1935.
- Prizren-Timok (Torlakian) dialect dictionaries:
- Brana Mitrović, Rečnik leskovačkog govora. Leskovac 1984.
- Nikola Živković, Rečnik pirotskog govora. Pirot, 1987.
- Miodrag Marković, Rečnik crnorečkog govora I-II. 1986/1993.
- Jakša Dinić, Rečnik timočkog govora I-III.1988-1992.
- Jakša Dinić, Timocki dijalekatski recnik ,(Institut za srpski jezik, Monografije 4;ISBN 978-86-82873-17-4) Beograd 2008 ,
- Momčilo Zlatanović, Rečnik govora južne Srbije. Vranje, 1998, 1–491.
- East-Herzegowinian dialect dictionaries:
- Milija Stanić, Uskočki rečnik I–II. Beograd 1990/1991.
- Miloš Vujičić, Rečnik govora Prošćenja kod Mojkovca. Podgorica, 1995.
- Srđan Musić, Romanizmi u severozapadnoj Boki Kotorskoj. 1972.
- Mihailo Bojanić/ Rastislava Trivunac, Rječnik dubrovačkog govora. Beograd 2003.
- Svetozar Gagović, Iz leksike Pive. Beograd 2004.
- Rada Stijović, Iz leksike Vasojevića. 1990.
- Drago Ćupić Željko Ćupić, Rečnik govora Zagarača. 1997.
- Vesna Lipovac-Radulović, Romanizmi u Crnoj Gori jugoistočni dio Boke Kotorske. Cetinje Titograd, 1981.
- Vesna Lipovac-Radulović, Romanizmi u Budvi i Paštrovićima. Novi Sad 1997.
- Rečnik sprskih govora Vojvodine. Novi Sad.
- Mile Tomić, Rečnik radimskog govora dijaspora, Rumunija. 1989.
Figures of speakers according to countries:
- Serbia: 6,540,699
- Montenegro: 401,382 (2003)
- Bosnia-Herzegovina: 1,600,000
- Germany: around 507,000
- USA: around 500,000
- Canada: 55,545 (2001 census, 40,580 of that in Ontario)
- Croatia: 44,629 (2001)
- Republic of Macedonia: 33,315 (2001)
- Romania: 20,377 (2001)
- Australia: 50,000 (2001)
Differences among similar languages