Torlak dialect

Torlak (Cyrillic: Торлачки говор; Торлашки говор Latinic: Torlački govor), or simply Torlakian, is the name used for the Slavic dialects spoken in southern and eastern Serbia, southern Kosovo (Prizren), northeast Republic of Macedonia (Kratovo-Kumanovo), western Bulgaria (Belogradchik-Godech-Tran-Breznik), and further afield in the Caraş-Severin County in Romania. Some linguists classify it as the fourth dialect of Serbo-Croatian language (with Shtokavian, Chakavian and Kaykavian) or as the second Serbian language macro-dialect (with Shtokavian). According to other linguists, these dialects are considered western Bulgarian dialects, and there is a tendency to refer to them as Shop (Shopski). The Shop dialect is the second of two transitional dialects separating the eastern and western branches of South Slavic languages. More correctly, the two dialect regions are adjacent to one another however they be called in different parts. Torlakian is not standardized, and its subdialects significantly vary in some features.


Most Croatian linguists (like Milan Rešetar and Dalibor Brozović) and Serbian linguists (like Pavle Ivić, Asim Peco) classify Torlakian as a Shtokavian dialect, referring to it as "Prizren-Timok dialect.

Some Bulgarian linguists (Stoyko Stoykov, Rangel Bozhkov) classify Torlakian as a "Belogradchik-Tran" dialect of Bulgarian language, and claim that it should be classified outside the shtokavian area. They noted the manner of the articles, the lack of the most of the cases etc. Serbian linguist Ivić argues that some Bulgarian dialects have similarities to Serbian rather than vice versa. He says that Serbian vernaculars including those of Prizren-Timok dialect have typical West-Southslavic elements, not East-Southslavic as Bulgarian and Macedonian:

  • The two Proto-Slavic semivowels (ъ, ь) gave only one phoneme in Serbian and Slovenian
  • ǫ gave labials u and o in S.-C. and Slovenian, it gave unlabialized ъ in Bulgarian, a in Macedonian)
  • vь- gave u in West, v- in East
  • Proto-Slavic *tj gave č/ć in west, št in East
  • *čr gave cr in West, but was preserved in East
  • Epenthetic l is preserved only in west (S.-C. zemlja, Bulgarian zemja)
  • Distinction between Proto-Slavic /ɲ/ and /n/ is lost in East (S.-C. njega, Bulgarian nego).
  • Consonants in final position preserve their leniency (S.-C. grad, Bulgarian/Macedonian grat)
  • *vs stays preserved without metathesis in East (S.-C. sve, Bulgarian vse)
  • Genitive njega in West, and old genitive on O in East (nego)
  • Nominative plural of nomina on -a is on -e in West, -i in East
  • Ja 'I, ego' in West, jas in East
  • Mi 'we' in West, nie in East
  • Distinction between the plural of masculine, feminine and neutrum adjectives is preserved only in West (S.C. beli, bele, bela), not in East (beli for masc., fem. and neutr.)
  • First person singular of verbs is in West -m, and old reflex of *ǫ in East
  • suffixes *-itjь (-ić) and *-atja (-ača) are common in West, not known in East

Notes on speech

In most regions (the Slavic countries) local speech was much influenced by the standardized national language, particularly when a new word or concept was introduced. The only exception is a form of Torlakian spoken in Romania, which escaped the influence of a standardized language which has existed in Serbia since a state was created after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire. The Slavs indigenous to the region are called Krašovani (Krashovans), and are a mixture of original settler Slavs and later settlers from Timočka Krajina (eastern Serbia).

Notes on geography

Some features of Torlakian clearly show how Macedonian changes to Bulgarian, and they both blend into Serbian, respectively in the north-west and the west. Many of the Torlakian features from these parts also blend into the Shop dialects which are transitional speech forms spoken down the centre and south of the Republic of Macedonia's border with Bulgaria, and so far into each country.


Basic Torlakian vocabulary shares most of its Slavic roots with Serbian, Bulgarian and Macedonian, but also over time borrowed a number of words from Aromanian, Greek, Turkish, and Albanian in the Gora region of the Šar mountain. Also, it preserved many words which in the "major" languages became archaisms or changed meaning. Like other features, vocabulary is inconsistent across subdialects: for example, a Krashovan need not necessarily understand a Goranac.

Cases lacking inflections

Macedonian and Bulgarian the only two modern Slavic languages that lost virtually the entire noun case system, with nearly all nouns spoken in the surviving nominative case. This is also true of the Torlakian dialect. In the north-west, the instrumental case merges into the genitive case, and the locative and genitive cases merge into the nominative case. Further south, all inflections disappear and meaning is determined solely by prepositions.

Lack of phoneme /x/

Macedonian, Torlakian and a number of Serbian and Bulgarian dialects, unlike all other Slavic languages, technically have no phoneme like , or . In other Slavic languages, or (from Proto-Slavic *g in "H-Slavic languages") is common.

The appearance of the letter h in the alphabet is reserved mostly for loanwords, and toponyms within the Republic of Macedonia but outside of the standard language region. In Macedonian, this is the case with eastern towns such as Pehčevo. In fact, the Macedonian language is based in Prilep, Pelagonia and words such as thousand and urgent are iljada and itno in standard Macedonian but hiljada and hitno in Serbian. This is actually a part of an isogloss, a dividing line separating Prilep from Pehčevo in the Republic of Macedonia at the southern extreme, and reaching central Serbia, (Šumadija) at a northern extreme. In Šumadija, local folk songs may still use the traditional form of I want being oću (оћу) compared with hoću (хоћу) as spoken in standard Serbian.

Syllabic /l/

Torlakian has preserved much of the ancient syllabic /l/ which, like /r/, can serve the nucleus of a syllable. This is still the case in the Czech and the Slovak languages, as well as the southern dialects of Poland (eg. Silesian). In standard Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian, the syllabic /l/ eventually became /u/ or /o/. In Bulgarian, it became preceded by the vowel represented by ъ (or [[Schwa|/ə/]]), to separate consonant clusters. Not all Torlak subdialects preserved syllabic /l/ to the full extent, but it is reflected either as full syllabic or in various combinations with [ə], [u], [ɔ] or [a]. Naturally, the /l/ becomes velarized in most such positions, giving .

Torlakian Krašovan (Karas) влк /vɫk/ пек'л /pɛkəl/ с'лза /səɫza/ жлт /ʒɫt/
Northern (Svrljig) вук /vuk/ пекал /pɛkəɫ/ суза /suza/ жл'т /ʒlət/
Central (Lužnica) вук /vuk/ пек'л /pɛkəɫ/ сл'за /sləza/ жл'т /ʒlət/
Southern (Vranje) в'лк /vəlk/ пекал /pɛkаl/ солза /sɔɫza/ ж'лт /ʒəɫt/
Western (Prizren) вук /vuk/ пекл /pɛkɫ/ слуза /sluza/ жлт /ʒt/
Serbian standard вук /vuk/ пекао /pɛkaɔ/ суза /suza/ жут /ʒut/
Bulgarian вълк /vəlk/ пекъл /pɛkəl/ сълза /səlza/ жълт /ʒəlt/
Macedonian волк /vɔlk/ пекол /pɛkol/ солза /sɔlza/ жолт /ʒɔlt/
English wolf (have) baked tear yellow

Cultural marginalization and ethnic affiliation

The regional names once used by many people in the Torlakian-speaking region was Torlaci (Torlaks) and Šopi (Shops). However, except for mutual understanding, Torlakian speakers seldom had other common ethnic or national consciousness , apart from being Slavs and, mostly, Christians. The borders in the region frequently shifted before the Ottoman conquest among Byzantine, Bulgarian and Serbian rulers. With Ottoman influence ever weakening, the increase of nationalist sentiment in the Balkans in late 19th and early 20th century, and the redrawing of national boundaries after Balkan wars and World War II, the traditional Torlakian-speaking region was split. As a result, Torlakian has become a minority in three countries.

Today, there is no state-sanctioned education in Torlakian language or culture, and the usage of both the language and the regional name Torlaci is gradually vanishing. Torlakian is now seen in Serbia—and to a degree in the Republic of Macedonia and Bulgaria—as an uneducated and provincial dialect of the dominant language. Also, among the traditional speakers of Torlakian are Slavs of Kosovo and Metohija such as the Muslim ‎Gorani and Catholic Janjevci, as well as Catholic Krasovani from Romania, whose ethnic affiliations are appropriated by neighboring nations.


Literature written in Torlakian is rather sparse, as the dialect has never been an official state language, and for the most part of the history literacy in the region was limited to Eastern Orthodox clergy, which chiefly used Old Church Slavonic in writing.

One of the earliest literary monuments influenced by Torlakian dialects is Manuscript from Temska from 1762 in which its author Kiril Zhivkovich from Pirot considered his language "Simple Bulgarian".

Serbian writer Bora Stanković used a lot of Torlakian dialect in his novels, which describe the life of people in Southern Serbia in early 20th century. Comedian writer Stevan Sremac, although born in Vojvodina, spent some of his life in southern Serbia, and his novels Zona Zamfirova and Ivkova slava depict the mentality and language of its inhabitants.

The recent screening of the film Zona Zamfirova by director Zdravko Šotra attracted huge popularity in Serbia and Montenegro. However, many spectators, especially from northern Serbia, commented that "the film was good but it really needs subtitles".


General references

  • Dijalekti istočne i južne Srbije, Aleksandar Belić, Srpski dijalektološki zbornik, 1, 1905.
  • Sprachatlas Ostserbiens und Westbulgariens, Andrej N. Sobolev. Vol. I-III. Biblion Verlag, Marburg, 1998.
  • Encyclopedia of the Languages of Europe, Glanville Price, Blackwell Publishing, p. 423.
  • Language and Conflict: A Neglected Relationship, Dan Smith, Paul A Chilton - Language Arts & Disciplines, 1998, Page 59
  • South Slavic and Balkan Linguistics, A. Barentsen, Rodopi, 1982
  • Hrvatska dijalektologija 1, Josip Lisac, Golden marketing – Tehnička knjiga, Zagreb, 2003.
  • The Slavonic Languages, Bernard Comrie, Greville G Corbett - Foreign Language Study, 2002, pp 382-384.


See also

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