Serbian: Знати један језик није довољно (Znati jedan jezik nije dovoljno).

“One language is never enough,” is the title of this post, as written in Serbian. But why in Cyrillic and Latin? I’ll explain later.

Anyway, we head back over to the Balkans to learn some things about Srpski.  Beyond its home country, Serbian is spoken by 12 million people in Montenegro, Bosnia & Herzegovina and other parts in Central Eastern Europe, along with communities scattered in North America and Australia. Serbian used to be known as Serbo-Croatian, which is a descendant of Old Church Slavonic like Bulgarian and Macedonian. The predecessor was greatly influenced by the Russian Orthodox Church and later reformed by Serbian linguist Vuk Karadzic.

Serbian history, filled with triumphs and strife, goes back to the arrival of tribes from White Serbia in the 700s, which was an area located in southeast modern-day Poland. After being under Byzantine rule, like most of the Balkans, Serbia eventually gained independence, dividing into several independent kingdoms before becoming the Serbian Empire under Stefan Dušan in the 1340s. The empire reached its peak at this point, being one of the larger empires in Europe at the time.

Power struggles between royal families and eventual takeover by the Ottoman Empire led to the loss of Serbia’s power. Part of Serbia also aligned with the growing Kingdom of Hungary, later becoming the Hapsburg Empire. Serbians would gain independence shortly before WWI and the formation of Yugoslavia.

In 1914, Franz Ferdinand, the Archduke of Austria, was assassinated in Sarajevo, which set off a chain of events across Europe leading to WWI. Serbia sided with Russia against Austria-Hungary and would win, but it be very costly as over half of Serbia’s forced were killed, coinciding with a deadly typhus outbreak. Serbia later joined the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes to form Yugoslavia.

WWII and after would be rough for Serbia. Despite resistance, Yugoslavia was captured by Hitler and became a “puppet state.” Meanwhile, Croatia had declared independence and was being ruled by a fascist party called the Ustaše. The Ustaše created concentration camps, the most notorious being Jasenovac, which would play a role in the genocide of thousands of Serbs, Jews and Gypsies.

After the war ended, Yugoslavia reformed and became a socialist state. In the late 1980s, Slobodan Milošević, a corrupt leader, had risen to power as the other Yugoslav republics withdrew. Serbia would find itself in conflicts with Bosnia and later Kosovo throughout the 1990s. A decade after, Milošević would be overthrown and tried for crimes by the International Criminal Court, leading to reform by the opposing Democratic party. In 2006, Serbia officially became the Republic of Serbia.

WRITING SYSTEM: Now to explain why the title post is written in Cyrillic and Latin alphabets.  Serbia is one of the few countries that, despite having an official alphabet in Cyrillic, doesn’t care whether the language is written in either alphabet. Cyrillic comes from Serbian’s Russian influence while the Serbian Latin alphabet was created by Croatian renaissance man Ljudevit Gaj.

Serbian has 25 consonants and five vowels. I wrote the Cyrillic letters first, followed by the Latin ones. I also bolded the pronunciation of vowels and letters that didn’t have English equivalents:

А а / A a – a as in father
Б б / B b
В в / V v
Г г / G g
Д д / D d
Ђ ђ / Đ đ – a “jeh” sound with
Е е / E e – e as in bet
Ж ж / Ž ž – su as in pleasure

З з / Z z
И и / I i – e as in see
Ј ј / J j
К к / K k
Л л / L l
Љ љ / Lj lj – an “lyuh” sound as the “lli” in million
М м / M m
Н н / N n
Њ њ / Nj nj – an “ng” sound as in “ny” in canyon
О о / O o – o as in long

П п / P p
Р р / R r
С с / S s
Т т / T t
Ћ ћ / Ć ć –  similar to a soft ch as in ching (no similarities in English)
У у / U u – u as in use

Ф ф / F f
Х х / H h
Ц ц / C c
Ч ч / Č č – ch as in church
Џ џ / Dž dž – dg as in fudge
Ш ш / Š š – sh as in shock

FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Maybe its just me, but Serbian sort of sounds like Slovenian (which I wrote sounded like a Russian speaking Polish in my first impression). It sounds softer than Bulgarian and Macedonian and flows beautifully. I’m curious, though, about the differences between it and Croatian or if there is really any difference at all.

Because it’s Eurovision time, I get the privilege of posting music videos from the contest. Marko Kon and Milan Nikolic are representing Serbia this year with this humorous entry called “Cipela” (shoe). I don’t think it would get my vote if I lived in Europe, though …

SOURCES USED IN THIS POST:
History of Serb Culture
National Tourism Organisation of Serbia
Omniglot
Wikipedia (Serbia, Serbian Language, Ustaše)

6 thoughts on “Serbian: Знати један језик није довољно (Znati jedan jezik nije dovoljno).

  1. Why don’t you just use IPA? People that are learning languages should be required to learn it, so therefore you should know it. 😉

    Anyways, this project is really cool, been following it for a couple months, anxiously waiting for the next language. 😀

    1. Hi Sean,

      IPA would be GREAT to use! Unfortunately, the only people who can actually read it are linguists and people like you and me. I’m writing this blog from my perspective, so I think GA English is the perfect fit.

      Also, thank you so much for reading!

  2. >Slobodan Milošević, a corrupt leader

    “Corrupt” leader? Do you mean he took bribes? Americans usually call him “dictator”. “Dictators” don’t take bribes.

    And instead of saying that Milošević would be tried for crimes by the International Criminal Court better say that he would be poisoned by “International Criminal Court”.

  3. I love the Serbian language. It’s has all my favourite Slavisms mixed with an Italicised rhythmic pattern of speech which could beat Russian any day.

    By the way, you said the Cyrillic was influenced by Russia: this is not true, as Cyrillic is the alphabet of Orthodoxy as well, which long precedes the invention of Russia as a nation.

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