Serbian language

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Spoken in

Bosnia and HerzegovinaBosnia and Herzegovina Bosnia and Herzegovina Greece Kosovo Croatia Montenegro North Macedonia Serbia
North MacedoniaNorth Macedonia 
speaker about 12 million
Official status
Official language in Bosnia and HerzegovinaBosnia and Herzegovina Bosnia and Herzegovina Kosovo Serbia

CroatiaCroatia Croatia (regional) Montenegro (regional) North Macedonia (regional) Greece
North MacedoniaNorth Macedonia 

Recognized minority /
regional language in
RomaniaRomania Romania Hungary
Language codes
ISO 639 -1


ISO 639 -2


ISO 639-3

srp, hbs (macro language, Serbo-Croatian)

The Serbian language (Serbian српски језик srpski jezik ) is a standard variety from the South Slavic branch of the Slavic languages and, like Croatian and Bosnian, is based on a štokavian dialect.

Serbian is spoken as their mother tongue by around 6.7 million people in Serbia , where it is the official language . It is also spoken by around 2 million people in Bosnia and Herzegovina , Kosovo , Croatia , Montenegro and North Macedonia . In Central and Western Europe , Australia and the USA , where there is a large Serbian diaspora, there are around 3.5 million emigrants, although their language skills vary greatly. Both the Latin alphabet and the Cyrillic alphabet are used. According to the constitution, which came into force in November 2006, the language in Serbia is officially written in Cyrillic, although the Latin form is often used in everyday life and in the media.

In terms of grammatical criteria as well as vocabulary and pronunciation, the Serbian language is so similar to the Croatian and Bosnian languages ​​that all Serbian speakers can easily communicate with speakers of Bosnian and Croatian (see also: Declaration on the common language and Serbo-Croatian language ).


Serbian is spoken as a mother tongue by over eight million people, mainly in Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Croatia . In Romania, Hungary, Albania and North Macedonia there are smaller communities with Serbian as their mother tongue. Serbian is the national official language in Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is the official language in Croatia and North Macedonia at regional and local level. There is also a large Serbian diaspora .


The Serbian language exists today for the most part in two pronunciation variants.

  • Ekavisch : in most of Serbia ,
  • (I) Ekavian (also half-Ekavian): in southwest and western Serbia as well as in Montenegro , Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia . To explain some of the differences between Croatian and Bosnian, see the article Differences between the Serbo-Croatian standard varieties.
  • Ikavic , as almost the third pronunciation variant, which is used almost only in semi-Micavian form and, after the almost complete expulsion of the young Serbian population from Croatia in particular, falls behind in use among the Serbs, is not a written language and is therefore threatened with extinction.

Regardless of the pronunciation variant, most speakers belong to the štokavian dialect group. Torlak dialects are spoken in southeast Serbia .


Cyrillic and Latin script

While the Cyrillic script is anchored in the Serbian constitution as a script for the official use of the Republic of Serbia, both Cyrillic and Latin script are used in everyday life . Also on the website of the Serbian government: “The official language in Serbia is Serbian and the officially used script is Cyrillic, while the Latin script is also in use. In the areas inhabited by ethnic minorities, the languages ​​and scripts of these minorities are officially in use, as guaranteed by law. "

This fact is also noticeable in everyday life. While in some newspapers both fonts appear mixed up, or sometimes the Latin, sometimes the Cyrillic script is available on shop windows, official documents are mostly written in Cyrillic.

The use of the different fonts depends on several factors. The respective written forms are preferred in different regions. Especially in central Serbia and the Bosnian Republika Srpska , the Cyrillic script is used more, while the Serbs of Croatia and in the northern Serbian Vojvodina prefer the Latin script. In Montenegro until about 2004 the Cyrillic script was used almost exclusively in all forms of society. Nowadays, however, Latin script is also used more and more. The writer's political orientation also plays a role. Conservative newspapers, for example, tend to use the Cyrillic script. The use of writing also depends on the subject matter of the text. Religious and traditional texts are more likely to be written in Cyrillic script, while the Latin script is used for modern content.


The Serbian alphabet ( Азбука Azbuka or Ћирилица Ćirilica ) in Cyrillic spelling consists of 30 letters in the following order:

  • 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
  • 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 different order in Latin notation is:

  • abc č ć d dž đ efghijkl lj mn nj oprs š tuvz ž

The digraphs dž, lj and nj are listed in alphabetical order as a single letter. There is only a very small number of words in which these groups of characters denote two separate sounds and must therefore be treated as two letters. Foreign names are usually written in Serbian as they are spoken e.g. E.g . : Grace Kelly - Grejs Keli or Shakespeare - Šekspir. In Croatian, on the other hand, names and proper names are used in their original form.

Representation in computer systems

The special characters can be created in Unicode with the following encodings from the Unicode block Latin, extended-A , whereby the letter Đ must not be confused with the Icelandic Ð (Eth), as its lowercase letter has a different form (ð):

Č : U + 010C (268) / č : U + 010D (269)
Ć : U + 0106 (262) / ć : U + 0107 (263)
Đ : U + 0110 (272) / đ : U + 0111 (273)
Š : U + 0160 (352) / š : U + 0161 (353)
Ž : U + 017D (381) / ž : U + 017E (382)

Serbian cursive

The lowercase letters Б, Д, Г, И, П, Т and Ш in Russian (left, blue), Bulgarian (center, red) and Serbian (right, yellow), both normal and italic

Пример српске ћирилице.png

Some letters in Serbian italics and handwriting differ from the corresponding letters in the internationally dominant Russian script. Small Б and Г appear in this form only in Serbian and Macedonian cursive; the other letter forms of Д, И, П, Т and Ш can also appear in Russian handwriting.

A special font is therefore required to display Serbian texts that contain italic text. Some OpenType fonts automatically choose the appropriate local form if the display program knows the text language.


The majority of the letters are generally pronounced as in German.

Cyrillic Latin Phonetic spelling description
А а A a / ⁠ a ⁠ / like German a
Б б B b / ⁠ b ⁠ / always voiced
В в V v / ⁠ ʋ ⁠ / always voiced like German w
Г г G g / ⁠ ɡ ⁠ / always voiced
Д д D d / ⁠ d ⁠ / always voiced
Ђ ђ Đ đ / / like gy in hungarian “magyar”, roughly like german dj
Е е E e / ⁠ ɛ ⁠ / always open, like in "Erna", never like in "Erich"
Ж ж Ž ž / ⁠ ʒ ⁠ / voiced sh as in "Journal" or "Garage"
З з Z z / ⁠ z ⁠ / voiced s as in "sun"
И и I i / ⁠ i ⁠ / like German i
Ј ј J j / ⁠ j ⁠ / often pronounced like a short, unstressed i
К к K k / ⁠ k ⁠ / less aspirated than in German
Л л L l / ⁠ l ⁠ / duller ( velar ) than in German; German l is often misinterpreted as lj
Љ љ Lj lj / ⁠ ʎ ⁠ / fused into one sound: palatal lateral approximant
М м M m / ⁠ m ⁠ / like German m
Н н N n / ⁠ n ⁠ / like German n
Њ њ Nj nj / ⁠ ɲ ⁠ / fused into one sound: voiced palatal nasal
О o O o / ⁠ ɔ ⁠ / always open, as o in "Uncle", never as in "up"
П п P p / ⁠ p ⁠ / less aspirated than in German
Р р R r / ⁠ r ⁠ / rolled tongue-r. Can also form a syllable as a vowel ( syllable ) R and be long or short, stressed or unstressed. Example: / kr̩k / ( Krk )
С с S s / ⁠ s ⁠ / always voiceless like German ß
Т т T t / ⁠ t ⁠ / less aspirated than in German
Ћ ћ Ć ć / / similar to tch or tj in rolls or well.
У у U u / ⁠ u ⁠ / like German u
Ф ф F f / ⁠ f ⁠ / like German f
Х х H h / ⁠ x ⁠ / always back "ah" -H, quite weak friction
Ц ц C c / ⁠ ts ⁠ / always / ts /, like German z
Ч ч Č č / ⁠ ⁠ / Tsch, as in the word "Germany"
Џ џ Dž dž / ⁠ ⁠ / dsch as in "jungle"
Ш ш Š š / ⁠ ʃ ⁠ / sh, like in "chess"

Word Accent

The Serbian standard language and most of the dialects belong to the tonal languages and are thus somewhat comparable to Chinese (in Chinese, however, tone differences affect all syllables, in Serbian only the stressed syllables). The tone differences can also express different meanings, in these cases the wrong pronunciation, i.e. H. disregarding the tone sequence can lead to misunderstandings.

Njegovi zubi su prȁvi 'he has straight teeth'
Njegovi zubi su prâvi 'he has real teeth'
To je bio sjajan pȁs 'that was a very good dog'
To je bio sjajan pâs ' that was a good dog'

Many accent differences occur in morphological variants:

Radi! ,it works'
Radi! ,go to work'

In the vast majority of cases in writing, the description of the tone course is dispensed with. Exceptions arise with certain combinations such as

yes sam sâm 'I am alone' [m.]

Please note that sam is the 1st person singular of the verb biti (to be), while sâm is the 1st person, masculine form, of the adjective sâm (alone, [m.]). The feminine and neuter form of this adjective experience a change of accent, therefore it is called sáma (f.) And sámo (n.).

Serbian has four word accents (see below). The following syllables can be either long or short, which can also change the meaning.

Idem sa Dràganōm u bioskop 'I'm going to the cinema with Dragana [female name]'
Idem sa Dràganom u bioskop 'I'm going to the cinema with Dragan [male name]'

Origin of the tone differences

Falling accents are older. Today they usually appear at the beginning of a word (some authors do not accept the exceptions at all in written languages). Physically, these accents correspond to English and Italian and are rarely pronounced correctly by German speakers.

â - long falling, such as B. in lâž (the lie), čâst (the honor), Mârko (name)

ȁ - abbreviated, such as B. in pȁsti (to fall), žȁba (the frog), Mȉlica (woman's name)

Rising accents

Rising accents are younger, they only occur in the so-called Neo-Stokavian dialects and wherever the falling accent was not on the first syllable, as well as in most borrowings from German.

á - long-rising, such as B. in záći (setting, e.g. the sun), táma (the darkness), čokoláda (chocolate)

à - in short order, such as B. in pràtilac (the pursuer), kàžiprst (the index finger), baklàva (Baklave)

Unstressed vowel lengths

a - Short and unstressed, such as B. the second syllable in làgati (lying), or the last in sáma (alone [f.])

ā - Long and unstressed such. B. dámā (the ladies [Gen. Pl.] - compared to dám a , the lady [nom. Sg.]), Jugòslāvīja (Yugoslavia)

Vowel "r"

One of the peculiarities of Serbian is the r , which can denote both a vowel and a consonant . This vowel r is a relic of the Old Church Slavonic , and it is assumed that originally a vowel in the narrower sense was never placed before or after it. Another example of such a consonant, which used to appear as a vowel, is the l . In today's Serbian, this predominantly resulted in u . It used to be called vlk instead of today's vuk (wolf), as well as mlčiti instead of today's mučiti (torment).

As a vocal kicking r in many words on how smrt (death), vrteti (turn), rvati se (wrestling; in Serbian reflexive , so se ) crtati (draw), prst (finger), etc. as a consonant , it is found before or after a vowel, such as in ruka (the arm), praznik (the holiday), car (the emperor) or garav (sooty).

Accordingly, the vowel r can also take on all six vowel accents, so it can appear ascending (vrteti), descending (smrt) and unstressed ( smrtóvnica, the obituary ).


Serbian is one of the inflected languages , i.e. This means that nouns , as well as pronouns , adjectives and verbs are inflected. Diverse forms have been preserved. In contrast to German, Serbian has no articles. Occasionally demonstrative pronouns are used where appropriate emphasis is required. The nominal inflection is as large and complex as that of Russian and much richer than that of Bulgarian , which has lost a large part of it. In terms of verbal inflection and tenses, however, Serbian is even more complex than modern Russian, for example.

Nominal inflection

Serbian distinguishes between seven cases ( case ), which are based on gender (gender of the word, i.e. masculine, feminine or neuter ) and number (number of the word, i.e. singular , timpani and plural ). In addition to the cases known in German, nominative , genitive , dative and accusative , there are three more cases , vocative , locative and instrumental .

The vocative is the ruffall, it is used when directly addressing or calling a person (or, less often, a thing when it is personified ). Examples would be Stevane! from Stevan (Serbian for Stefan ), oče - father, from otac (the father), Bože (moj)! - (my) God !, from Bog (God) or zemljo draga - dear land, from zemlja (the land, the earth).

The locative stands for the question where? While the locative was originally used without a preposition , in today's Serbian it only exists with such. It mainly comes after u (in), but also after a number of other prepositions. It should be noted that the ending is always the same as in the dative case, but the two cases are by no means to be regarded as a synthesis of a single one, according to which there would be a total of six cases. This is evident from the pronunciation. For example it is called (k) sâtu (towards the clock, dative), but na sátu (on the clock, locative).

The instrumental answers the question with what? It can occur both with and without prepositions and is thus easily comparable with the Latin ablative (both with and without cum ). For example, one says nožem (with the knife, from nož ), silom (with strength, from sila ) or s drûgom (with the friend, from drug ). In addition, it has a temporal character, such as in jutrom (in the morning) or noću (at night), furthermore pod nogama (under the feet, actually legs) from noga , pod a mnom (under me), pod tobom (under you) Etc.

Singular Plural
Nominative dom, mask. (the home, the dwelling) selo, neutr. (the village) rana, fem. (the wound) dom ovi sel a ran e
Genitive dom a sel a ran ē 1 dòm ōvā 1 sél ā 1 rán ā 1
dative dom u sel u ran i dom ovima sel ima ran ama
accusative cathedral 2 selo ran u dom ove sel a ran e
vocative dom e selo ran o dom ovi sela rane
Instrumental dom om sel om ran om dom ovima sel ima ran ama
locative (u) dom u (u) sel u (u) ran i (u) dom ovima (u) sel ima (u) ran ama

Notes :

1 It should be noted that the pronunciation here is case-sensitive!
2Animate nouns have an ending in the accusative singular, namely -a . Therefore, it is covek [ekav.] / Čovjek [ijekav.] (Man) in acc. Sg. Covek a / čovjek a

(This is only an incomplete list of the declensions. It does not apply to all words, because there are several other classes.)

Verbal inflection

The verbs are inflected according to tense , number and mode . Furthermore, in Serbian, like in Russian and other Slavic languages, there are two different aspects , the completed and the unfinished. Here is a brief overview:

There are eight different tenses in Serbian. This wealth, however, is nowhere near as flourishing in the spoken language as it is in the written language. Some forms have literally disappeared, so that their correct formation can cause confusion even for native speakers. B. the past tense , which is almost without exception only to be found in older literature. Others are hardly or not at all known in the other Slavic languages ​​because they are very old forms, such as B. the aorist , which is still in use here and there, but generally disappears, especially in the language of children and youth.

Using the example of peći (to fry), these forms are only given here in the first person singular:

Present tense (yes) pečem,

four past tenses:

Aorist , (yes) pekoh, imperfect pecijah (yes), Perfect yes sam Pekao / pekla (m./f.) Or Pekao / pekla sam, perfect progressive ja sam bio Pekao or bio sam Pekao

two future forms:

Future tense yes ću peći or pećiću, future tense II (kad) budem pekao .

and two modes conditionales (similar to the subjunctive in German):

Conditional present yes bih pekao or pekao bih and conditional perfect yes bih bio pekao or bio bih pekao. pekao (m.), pekla (f.), peklo (n.) are the PPAs .

Note that peći denotes the unfinished aspect. For the perfect one, however, one says is peći. So it says (yes) is pečem instead of (yes) pečem, also yes sam is pekao.

The corresponding forms can occur both in the active , as shown above, and in the passive . The latter constructed with the PPP and the various forms of biti / bivati (to be). The PPPs of peći are pečen (m.), Pečena (f.), Pečeno (n.) .

Rection and flexion of the numeralia

When counting, there is a special feature: If the amounts involved are between two and four, then not the plural but the timpani is used. All other quantities beyond five are used with the plural, namely with the genitive ( Genitivus partitivus ). The timpani comes from a time when there was still the dual in Serbian , which is still preserved in today's Slovenian or Sorbian . The form of the timpani is now almost congruent in nouns with the genitive singular, both in pronunciation and in writing, except for feminine the a-declension, where the ending (-e) is always short instead of long; and for adjectives and pronouns also with the genitive singular but only in the indefinite form.

So it says:

  1. jedan muškárac - a man
  2. dva (tri, četiri) muškárca - two (three, four) men; ona dva (tri, četiri) mlada muškárca - those two (three, four) young men (where ona , mlada Gen.Sg. are indefinite form; * onog, * mladog (Gen.Sg. certain form) are not possible)
  3. pet muškárāca - five men (and beyond five); onih pet mladih muškárāca - those five young men.

This applies up to dvadeset (twenty). For 21 (31, 41,…) rule 1 applies, for 22–24 (32–34, 42–44,…) rule 2 and for all other rule 3.

Unlike in German, the numbers themselves are bent beyond one :

jedan, jedna, jedno (one, one, one)

dva, dvije [ijekav.] / dve [ekav.] , dva (two, similar to the Latin duo, duae, duo )

tri (three), as well as

četiri (four) are the same for all forms in the nominative.

jedan is always declined parallel to the noun, dva here and there, tri and četiri, however, rarely. It is called jednoga muškarca (one man, Gen.), jednoj ženi (one woman, Dat.), Dvaju žena (the two women or “two” women, Gen.), rarely troma muškarcima (the three men, Dat. ) or četirma ženama (the four women, dat.). From pet (five) the numbers are indeclinable.


Due to the pronounced inflectional character of Serbian there is basically a free word order . This is due to the fact that sentence elements are uniquely determined by their suffix and are therefore easy to assign even if they are scattered across the sentence. The common word order is subject-predicate-object (SPO), such as B.

Stevan sluša muziku. (Stefan listens to music.) (SPO)

However, the following constructions are also quite common, especially if the sentence is not used alone:

Stevan muziku sluša. (SOP)
Muziku sluša Stevan. (OPS)
Muziku Stevan sluša. (OSP)
Sluša Stevan muziku. (PSO)
Sluša muziku Stevan. (POS)

In all cases, the different sentence stresses can result in a different meaning, e.g. B .:

Je l 'Stevan ne voli muziku? Sluša Stevan muziku (ali mu danas nije dobro).
Stevan doesn't like music? Yes, Stevan is listening to music (but he's not doing well today).
Ko najčešće sluša muziku? Sluša Stevan muziku, sluša Milica muziku ...
Who listens to music the most? Stevan listens to music, Milica listens to music ...
Šta Stevan voli da radi? Sluša Stevan muziku, ne prestaje.
What does Stevan like to do? Stevan listens to music all the time.

Language example

Universal Declaration of Human Rights , Article 1:

"Сва људска бића рађају се слободна и једнака у достојанству и правима. Она су обдарена разумом и свешћу и треба једни према другима у духу братства сусрети. ”

“Sva ljudska bića rađaju se slobodna i jednaka u dostojanstvu i pravima. Oni su obdarena razumom i svešću i trebaju jedni prema drugima u duhu bratstva susreti. "

“All people are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should meet one another in a spirit of brotherhood. "


  1. European Commission: Euromosaik ( Memento from December 25, 2013 in the Internet Archive )
  2. Communication on the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages , accessed on December 10, 2015
  3. Council of Europe publishes report on minority languages ​​in Hungary , press release (2010), accessed on 10 December 2015
  4. ^ Government of the Republic of Serbia - Ministry for Diaspora ( Memento of December 13, 2009 in the Internet Archive )
  5. John Frederick Bailyn: To what degree are Croatian and Serbian the same language? Evidence from a Translation Study . In: Journal of Slavic Linguistics . tape 18 , no. 2 , 2010, ISSN  1068-2090 , p. 181–219 ( online [PDF; accessed on October 11, 2019]): “An examination of all the major 'levels' of language shows that BCS is clearly a single language with a single grammatical system. (...) There is no doubt of the near 100% mutual intelligibility of (standard) Croatian and (standard) Serbian, as is obvious from the ability of all groups to enjoy each others' films, TV and sports broadcasts, newspapers, rock lyrics etc. "
  6. Danko Šipka: Lexical layers of identity: words, meaning, and culture in the Slavic languages . Cambridge University Press, New York 2019, ISBN 978-953-313-086-6 , pp. 166 , doi : 10.1017 / 9781108685795 : "Lexical differences between the ethnic variants are extremely limited, even when compared with those between closely related Slavic languages ​​(such as standard Czech and Slovak, Bulgarian and Macedonian), and grammatical differences are even less pronounced. More importantly, complete understanding between the ethnic variants of the standard language makes translation and second language teaching impossible. "
  7. Art. 10 of the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia of November 8, 2006
  8. Home> Facts about Serbia> Basic Facts> Population, Language and Religion
  9. Ortografske, sintaksičke i morfološko-ortoepske greške u upotrebi glagolskih oblika. In: host.sezampro.yu. Archived from the original on January 11, 2004 ; accessed on February 28, 2015 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Serbian  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations