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About Serbian-Latin Language

Serbian (Serbian Cyrillic: Српски, Serbian Latin: Srpski, pronounced [ˈsr̩pskiː]) is a South Slavic language, spoken mainly in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Croatia, and in the Serbian diaspora. Serbian is the official language in Serbia, Montenegro, one of the official languages in Bosnia and Herzegovina and a minority language in Croatia, Hungary, Republic of Macedonia, Romania and Slovakia. Standard Serbian is based on Stokavian dialect. Standard Serbian is mutually intelligible with Bosnian and Croatian, so the most linguists still regard the three as just one genetic language—Serbo-Croatian.

Serbian is the only European language with active digraphia, using both Cyrillic and Latin alphabets. Serbian Cyrillic alphabet was devised in 1814 by Vuk Karadžić, who created the alphabet on phonemic principles. Latin alphabet is the same as for other Serbo-Croatian varieties, and based on the Ljudevit Gaj reforms.

Status in Montenegro

Serbian was the official language of Montenegro until 2007 when the new Constitution of Montenegro replaced the Constitution of 1992. Amid opposition from pro-Serbian parties, Montenegrin language was made the sole official language of the country and Serbian was given the status of a recognised minority language along with Bosnian, Albanian, and Croatian. As per 2003 census results, 63.49% of the population declared their mother language as Serbian, compared to 21.96% who declared as Montenegrin, the latter being mainly concentrated in Old Montenegro.


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 this 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 16th century 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 the islands of Mljet and Šipan). In the 1920s and 1930s the royal government tried to settle people from this poor mountainous area to the Kosovo basin. Vojvodina was settled with inhabitants from this area after WWII.

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.

Writing system

Standard Serbian language uses both Serbian Cyrillic script (ћирилица) and Serbian Latin script (latinica). Although Serbian language authorities recognize the official status for both scripts in contemporary standard Serbian language, due to historical reasons, Cyrillic was made the Official script of Serbia's administration by the 2006 Constitution. But the law does not regulate scripts in standard language, or standard language itself by any means, leaving the choice of script as a matter of personal preference and to the free will in all aspects of life (publishing, media, trade and commerce, etc), except in government paperwork production and in official written communication with state officials. Serbian is a rare and excellent example of synchronic digraphia, a situation where all literate members of a society have two interchangeable writing systems available to them.

Alphabetic order

The sort order of the ćirilica (ћирилица) alphabet:

  • 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

The sort order of the latinica (латиница) alphabet:

  • Latin order (called Abeceda (абецеда): 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


Phonology order of the Serbian language is:

  • Vowels - the Serbian vowel system is simple, with only five vowels. All vowels are monophthongs.
  • Consonants - the consonant system is more complicated, and its characteristic features are series of affricate and palatal consonants. Voicing is phonemic, but aspiration is not.
  • Phonetic interactions - while the basic sound system is fairly simple, Serbian phonology is very complicated: there are numerous interactions (sandhi rules) between sounds at morpheme boundaries which cause sound changes, with numerous exceptions.
  • 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 (i.e. voiceless consonants may precede voiced approximants). In writing, (de)voicing is not reflected in spelling of foreign words ("Washington" would be transcribed as Vašington/Вашингтон), personal names and a number of compound words, where it might introduce ambiguity. Unlike many other Slavic languages, final devoicing is not present in Serbo-Croatian.


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 scholars 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 easily be seen through loanwords).


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:

  • The number of Turkish loanwords is also significant. There are according to Abdulah Škaljić, ("Turcizmi u srpskohrvatskom jeziku" - "Svjetlost" Sarajevo), 8,742 Turkish words in the Serbo-Croatian language, but far fewer than that number are in use today. Most of these words are not Turkish in origin but Arabic or Persian; they entered Serbian 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; a borrowing from Italian) is current; some 30–50 years ago avlija (авлија < Turkish avlı) was a common word for courtyard or backyard in Belgrade, today it is the native Slavic 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, generally corresponding with how many Muslims live in an area. Many Turkish loanwords are usual in the vernaculars of Vojvodina, Slavonija, Montenegro and Lika as well.
  • There are plenty of loanwords from German. The great number of them are specific for vernaculars which were situated in the 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 not taken directly from Italian, they show specific, not regular, adaptations. For instance špagète for Italian spaghetti rather than the "expected" špàgete. The most common informal Serbian greeting is "Ćao", after the Italian "Ciao" which coincidently is Slavic in origin as Ciao.
    • On the other hand, as in Croatia there are plenty of Italian loanwords in the coastal vernaculars, as well as in the vernaculars near the coаst; Serbs in Montenegro use more than those in Serbia. 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) ('prosciutto'). 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).
  • 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), jeftin (јефтин). 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 telegraf, 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.

Serbian literature

Miroslavljevo jevanđelje (The Gospel of Miroslav), a manuscript, ca. 1180Serbian 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 14th and 15th centuries 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 the 1950s, a few centuries or even a millennium longer then by most other "epic folks". Goethe and Jacob Grimm learned Serbian 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 the works of poets and historians like Gavrilo Stefanović Venclović, who wrote in essentially modern Serbian in the 1720s. 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.


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