Serbo-Croatian is a South Slavic language with four national standards. The Eastern Herzegovinian Neo-Shtokavian dialect forms the basis for Bosnian, Croatian, Montenegrin, and Serbian (the four national standards).
- 1 Consonants
- 2 Vowels
- 3 Morphophonemic alternations
- 4 Sample
- 5 See also
- 6 Notes
- 7 References
- 8 Further reading
- 9 External links
The consonant system of Serbo-Croatian has 25 phonemes. One peculiarity is a presence of both post-alveolar and palatal affricates, but a lack of corresponding palatal fricatives. Unlike most other Slavic languages such as Russian, there is no palatalized versus non-palatalized (hard–soft) contrast for most consonants.
- /m/ is labiodental [ɱ] before /f, ʋ/, as in tramvaj [trǎɱʋaj], whereas /n/ is velar [ŋ] before /k, ɡ/, as in stanka [stâːŋka].
- /t, d, s, z, t͡s/ are dental, whereas /n, l, r/ are alveolar. /n, l/ become laminal denti-alveolar [n̪], [l̪] before dental consonants.
- /ʎ/ is palato-alveolar [l̻ʲ].
- /v/ is a phonetic fricative, although it has less frication than /f/. However, it does not interact with unvoiced consonants in clusters as a fricative would, and so is considered to be phonologically a sonorant (approximant).
- /t͡s, f, x/ are voiced [d͡z, v, ɣ] before voiced consonants.
- Glottal stop [ʔ] may be inserted between vowels across word boundary, as in i onda [iː ʔônda].
- clarification needed] has more allophones: [
/r/ can be syllabic, short or long, and carry rising or falling tone, e.g. kȓv ('blood'), sȑce ('heart'), sŕna ('deer'), mȉlosr̄đe ('compassion'). It is typically realized by inserting a preceding or (more rarely) succeeding non-phonemic vocalic glide.
/l/ is generally velarized or "dark" [ɫ]. Diachronically, it was fully vocalized into /o/ in coda positions, as in past participle *radil > radio ('worked'). In some dialects, notably Torlakian, that process did not take place, and /l/ can be syllabic as well. However, in the standard language, vocalic /l/ appears only in loanwords, as in the name for the Czech river Vltava for instance, or debakl, bicikl. Very rarely other sonorants are syllabic, such as /ʎ̩/ in the surname Štarklj and /n̩/ in njutn ('newton').
The retroflex consonants /ʂ, ʐ, tʂ, dʐ/ are, in more detailed phonetic studies, described as apical [ʃ̺, ʒ̺, t̺ʃ̺ʷ, d̺ʒ̺ʷ]. In most spoken Croatian idioms, as well as in some Bosnian, they are postalveolar (/ʃ, ʒ, t͡ʃ, d͡ʒ/) instead, and there could be a complete or partial merger between /tʂ, dʐ/ and palatal affricates /tɕ, dʑ/.
Alveolo-palatal fricatives [ɕ, ʑ] are marginal phonemes, usually realized as consonant clusters [sj, zj]. However, the emerging Montenegrin standard has proposed two additional letters, Latin ⟨Ś⟩, ⟨Ź⟩ and Cyrillic ⟨С́⟩, ⟨З́⟩, for the phonemic sequences /sj, zj/, which may be realized phonetically as [ɕ, ʑ].
Voicing contrasts are neutralized in consonant clusters, so that all obstruents are either voiced or voiceless depending on the voicing of the final consonant, though this process of voicing assimilation may be blocked by syllable boundaries.
The Serbo-Croatian vowel system is symmetrically composed of five vowel qualities /a, e, i, o, u/.  Although the difference between long and short vowels is phonemic, it is not represented in standard orthography, as it is in Czech or Slovak orthography, except in dictionaries. Unstressed vowels are shorter than the stressed ones by 30% (in the case of short vowels) and 50% (in the case of long vowels).
The long Ijekavian reflex of Proto-Slavic jat is of disputed status. The prescriptive grammar Barić et al. (1997) published by the foremost Croatian normative body—the Institute of Croatian Language and Linguistics, describes it as a diphthong, but this norm has been heavily criticized by phoneticians as having no foundation in the spoken language, the alleged diphthong being called a "phantom phoneme". Thus the reflex of long jat, which is spelled as a trigraph ⟨ije⟩ in standard Croatian, Bosnian and Ijekavian Serbian, represents the sequence /jeː/.
Stressed vowels carry one of the two basic tones, rising and falling.
Shtokavian dialects allow two tones on stressed syllables and have distinctive vowel length and so distinguish four combinations, called pitch accent: short falling (ȅ), short rising (è), long falling (ȇ), and long rising (é).
Most speakers from Serbia and Croatia do not distinguish between short rising and short falling tones. They also pronounce most unstressed long vowels as short, with some exceptions, such as genitive plural endings.
The accent is relatively free because it can be on any syllable except the last one. Accent alternations are very frequent in inflectional paradigms, in both quality and placement in the word (the so-called "mobile paradigms", which were present in Proto-Indo-European itself and became much more widespread in Proto-Balto-Slavic). Different inflected forms of the same lexeme can exhibit all four accents: lònac /ˈlǒnats/ ('pot' nominative sg.), lónca /ˈlǒːntsa/ (genitive singular), lȏnci /ˈlôːntsi/ (nominative plural), lȍnācā /ˈlônaːtsaː/ (genitive plural).
Research done by Pavle Ivić and Ilse Lehiste has shown that all stressed syllables of Serbo-Croatian words are basically spoken with a high tone and that native speakers rely on the phonetic tone of the first post-tonic syllable to judge the pitch accent of any given word. If the high tone of the stressed syllable is carried over to the first post-tonic syllable, the accent is perceived as rising. If it is not, the accent is perceived as falling, which is the reason monosyllabic words are always perceived as falling. Therefore, truly narrow phonetic transcriptions of lònac, lónca, lȏnci and lȍnācā are [ˈlónáts, ˈlóːntsá, ˈlóːntsì, ˈlónàˑtsàˑ] or the equivalent [ˈlo˦nats˦, ˈloːn˦tsa˦, ˈloːn˦tsi˨, ˈlo˦naˑ˨tsaˑ˨]. Ivić and Lehiste were not the first scholars to notice this; in fact, Leonhard Masing made a very similar discovery decades earlier, but it was ignored due to him being a foreigner and because it contradicted the Vukovian approach, which was then already well-ingrained.
Although distinctions of pitch occur only in stressed syllables, unstressed vowels maintain a length distinction. Pretonic syllables are always short, but posttonic syllables may be either short or long. These are traditionally counted as two additional accents. In the standard language, the six accents are realized as follows:
|ȅ||ê||short vowel with falling tone|
|ȇ||êː||long vowel with falling tone|
|è||ě||short vowel with rising tone|
|é||ěː||long vowel with rising tone|
|e||e||non-tonic short vowel|
|ē||eː||non-tonic long vowel|
Examples are short falling as in nȅbo ('sky') /ˈnêbo/; long falling as in pîvo ('beer') /ˈpîːvo/; short rising as in màskara ('eye makeup') /ˈmǎskara/; long rising as in čokoláda ('chocolate') /t͡ʂokoˈlǎːda/. Unstressed long syllables can occur only after the accented syllable, as in d(j)èvōjka ('girl') /ˈd(ј)ěvoːjka/ or dòstavljānje ('delivering') /ˈdǒstavʎaːɲe/. There can be more than one post-accent length in a word, notably in genitive plural of nouns: kȍcka ('cubes') → kȍcākā ('cubes''). Realization of the accents varies by region.
Restrictions on the distribution of the accent depend, beside the position of the syllable, also on its quality, as not every kind of accent can be manifested in every syllable.
- Falling tone generally occurs in monosyllabic words or the first syllable of a word (pȃs ('belt'), rȏg ('horn'); bȁba ('old woman'), lȃđa ('river ship'); kȕćica ('small house'), Kȃrlovac). The only exception to this rule are interjections, words uttered in the state of excitement (such as ahȁ, ohȏ)
- Rising tone generally occurs in any syllable of a word except the last one and so never occurs in monosyllabics (vòda 'water', lúka 'harbour'; lìvada 'meadow', lúpānje 'slamming'; siròta 'female orphan', počétak 'beginning'; crvotòčina 'wormhole', oslobođénje 'liberation').
Thus, monosyllabics generally have falling tone, and polysyllabics generally have falling or rising tone on the first syllable and rising in all the other syllables but the last one. The tonal opposition rising ~ falling is hence generally possible only in the first accented syllable of polysyllabic words, and the opposition by lengths, long ~ short, is possible even in the non-accented syllable as well as in the postaccented syllable (but not in the preaccented position).
Proclitics, clitics that latch on to a following word, on the other hand, may "steal" a falling tone (but not a rising tone) from the following monosyllabic or disyllabic word. The stolen accent is always short and may end up being either falling or rising on the proclitic. The phenomenon (accent shift to proclitic) is most frequent in the spoken idioms of Bosnia, as in Serbian it is more limited (normally with the negation proclitic ne) and it is almost absent from Croatian Neo-Shtokavian idioms. Such a shift is less frequent for short rising accents than for the falling one (as seen in this example: /ʒěliːm/ → /ne ʒěliːm/).
|in isolation||with proclitic||Translation|
|rising||/ʒěliːm/||'I want'||/neʒěliːm/||'I don't want'|
|/zǐːma/||'winter'||/uzîːmu/||/ûziːmu/||'in the winter'|
|/nemoɡǔːtɕnoːst/||'inability'||/unemoɡǔːtɕnosti/||'not being able to'|
|falling||/vîdiːm/||'I see'||/nevîːdim/ (rising)||/něvidiːm/||'I can't see'|
|/ɡrâːd/||'city'||/uɡrâːd/||/ûɡraːd/||'to the city' (stays falling)|
|/ʃûma/||'forest'||/uʃûmi/||/ǔʃumi/||'in the forest' (becomes rising)|
Serbo-Croatian exhibits a number of morphophonological alternations. Some of them are inherited from Proto-Slavic and are shared with other Slavic languages, and some of them are exclusive to Serbo-Croatian, representing later innovation.
The so-called "fleeting a" (Serbo-Croatian: nepóstojānō a), or "movable a", refers to the phenomenon of short /a/ making apparently random appearance and loss in certain inflected forms of nouns. This is a result of different types of reflexes Common Slavic jers */ъ/ and */ь/, which in Štokavian and Čakavian dialects merged to one schwa-like sound, which was lost in a weak position and vocalized to */a/ in a strong position, giving rise to what is apparently unpredictable alternation. In most of the cases, this has led to such /a/ appearing in word forms ending in consonant clusters, but not in forms with vowel ending.
The "fleeting a" is most common in the following cases:
- in nominative singular, accusative singular for inanimate nouns, and genitive plural for certain type of masculine nouns:
- in genitive plural forms of feminine nouns ending in a consonant cluster:
- in nominative singular indefinite masculine forms of adjectives and pronouns:
The reflex of the Slavic first palatalization was retained in Serbo-Croatian as an alternation of
- /k/ → /t͡ʂ/
- /ɡ/ → /ʐ/
- /x/ → /ʂ/
before /e/ in inflection, and before /j, i, e/ and some other segments in word formation. This alternation is prominently featured in several characteristic cases:
- in vocative singular of masculine nouns, where it is triggered by the ending -e:
- in the present stem of certain verbs before the endings in -e:
- pȅći ('to bake') – present stem pèk-; pèčēm ('I bake'), but pèkū ('they bake') without palatalization before the 3rd person plural ending -u
- strȉći ('to shear') – present stem stríg-; strížem ('I shear'), but strígū ('they shear') without palatalization before the 3rd person plural ending -u
- mȍći ('can – present stem') mog-; mȍžeš ('you can'), but mògu ('I can'), without the palatalization before the archaic 1st person singular ending -u
- in aorist formation of some verbs:
- in derivation of certain classes of nouns and verbs:
- before the "fleeting a", and before the endings -an, -ji and several others:
- dȃh ('breath') → dášak ('puff'), Kartága ('Carthage') → Kartážanin ('Carthaginian'), bȏg ('god') → bȍžjī ('god's'), strȃh ('fear') → strášan ('fearsome')
- a few words exhibit palatalization in which /ts/ and /z/ palatalize before vowels /e/ and /i/, yielding /ʂ/ and /ʐ/. Such palatals have often been leveled out in various derived forms. For example:
- strȋc ('uncle') – strȋče ('uncle! ') – stríčev ('uncle's'), lòvac ('hunter') – lȏvče ('hunter!') – lóvčev ('hunter's'), zȇc ('hare') – zȇče ('hare!') – zȅčevi ('hares'), ȕlica ('street') – ȕličica ('alley'), ptȉca ('bird') – ptȉčica ('small bird') – ptičùrina ('big ugly bird')
- vȉtēz ('knight') – vȉtēže ('knight! '), knȇz ('prince') – knȇže ('prince!')
There are some exceptions to the process of palatalization. The conditions are:
- before the diminutive suffix -ica
- mȁčka • ма̏чка ('cat') → mȁčkica ('kitten'), p(j)ȅga ('freckle') → p(j)ȅgica ('small freckle'), bùha ('flea') → bùhica ('small flea')
- before the possessive suffix -in in adjectives derived from hypocoristic nouns:
- báka ('grandma') → bákīn ('grandma's'), zéko ('bunny') → zékīn ('bunny's'), máca ('kitten') → mácin ('kitten's')
Doublets exist with adjectives derived with suffix -in from trisyllabic proper names:
- Dànica → Dàničin : Dànicin, Ȉvica → Ȉvičin : Ȉvicin, Ànkica → Ànkičin : Ànkicin
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The output of the second and the third Slavic palatalization is in the Serbo-Croatian grammar tradition known as "sibilantization" (sibilarizácija/сибилариза́ција). It results in the following alternations before /i/:
- /k/ → /ts/
- /ɡ/ → /z/
- /x/ → /s/
This alternation is prominently featured in several characteristic cases:
- in the imperative forms of verbs with stem ending in /k/, /ɡ/ and one verb in /x/:
- pȅći ('to bake' present stem) pèk-; pèci ('bake!' 2nd person singular imperative)
- strȉći ('to shear' present stem) stríg-; strízi ('shear!' 2nd person singular imperative)
- vȓći ('to thresh' present stem) vŕh-; vŕsi ('thresh!' 2nd person singular imperative)
- in masculine nominative plurals with the ending -i:
- jùnāk ('hero') → junáci
- kr̀čag ('jug') → kr̀čazi
- prȍpūh ('draught [of air]') → prȍpūsi
- in dative and locative singular of a-stem nouns (prevalently feminine):
- mȃjka ('mother') → mȃjci
- nòga ('leg') → nòzi
- snàha ('daughter-in-law') → snàsi
- in dative, locative and instrumental of masculine o-stems:
- jùnāk ('hero') → junácima
- kr̀čag ('jug') → kr̀čazima
- in the formation of imperfective verbs to perfective verbs
- dȉgnuti ('to lift') – dȉzati ('to keep something ifting')
- uzdàhnuti ('to sigh') – ùzdisati ('to keep sighing') but first-person singular present: ùzdišēm ('I sigh')
In two cases there is an exception to sibilantization:
- in nominative singular of masculine nouns:
- in monosyllabic borrowings:
- Bȁsk ('Basque') →Bȁski, brȍnh ('bronchus') →brȍnhi, ȅrg → ȅrgi
- in toponyms in plural form, usually from a region where Kajkavian dialect is spoken:
- Čȅhi ('Czechs'), Nȍvāki ('Novaks')
- some surnames that are not identical to some general noun of the standard language
- Srȅćko → Srȅćki, Zelénko → Zelénki
- with nouns having 'fleeting a' in the ending -cak
- natucak → natucki
- in monosyllabic borrowings:
- in dative and locative case of feminine and masculine a-stems
- in hypocorisms
- báka ('grandmother') →báki, séka ('little sister') →séki, bráco ('little brother') →bráci, zéko ('bunny') →zéki, stríko ('uncle [affectionate]') →stríki
- in words whose stem ends in a single consonant:
- dȅka ('blanket') →dȅki, kȕka ('hook') →kȕki, koléga ('colleague') →kolégi, pjȅga ('freckle') →pjȅgi, zȃliha ('supply') →zȃlihi
- in names and surnames
- Jȇlka → Jȇlki, Lȗka → Lȗki, Jȁdrānka → Jȁdrānki
- in nouns ending in -cka, -čka, -ćka, -ska, -tka, -zga:
- kȍcka ('cube') →kȍcki, tȍčka ('point') →tȍčki, prȁćka ('sling') →prȁćki, pljȕska ('slap') →pljȕski, pȁtka ('duck' feminine) →pȁtki, màzga ('mule') →màzgi
- in some toponyms
- Kȑka → Kȑki, Kartága ('Carthage') → Kartági
- in nouns ending in suffix -ka with stem-final sonorant:
- intelektùālka ('an intellectual' feminine) →intelektùālki, kàjkāvka ('Kajkavian speaker' feminine) →kàjkāvki, srednjòškōlka ('high school girl') →srednjòškōlki
- in hypocorisms
Doublets are allowed in the following cases:
- nominative plural of some masculine borrowings:
- flamìngo → flamìnzi : flamìngi
- in nominative plural of surnames who are identical with some general masculine noun:
- Bȅg → Bȅgi : Bȅzi, Dȕh → Dȕhi : Dȕsi
- in nominative plural of masculine nouns with "fleeting a" and the ending -čak, -ćak or -đak
- máčak ('cat' masculine) →máčki : máčci, òplećak ('ephod') →òplećki : òplećci, omeđak → omećki : omećci
- in dative and locative of some feminine foponyms with stem ending in a single consonant:
- Líka → Líci : Líki
- in dative and locative of some toponyms ending in -ska, -ška:
- Àljaska ('Alaska') →Àljaski : Àljasci, Gràdiška → Gràdiški : Gràdišci
- in dative and locative of some feminines ending in -ska, -tka, -vka:
- gȕska ('goose') →gȕski : gȕsci, bȉtka ('battle') →bȉtki : bȉ(t)ci, trȃvka ('blade of grass') → trȃvci : trȃvki
There are two types of consonant assimilation: by voicing (jednačenje po zvučnosti) and by place of articulation (jednačenje po m(j)estu tvorbe).
Assimilation of voice
All consonants in clusters are neutralized by voicing, but Serbo-Croatian does not exhibit final-obstruent devoicing as most other Slavic languages do. Assimilation is practically always regressive, i.e. voicing of the group is determined by voicing of the last consonant. Sonorants are exempted from assimilation, so it affects only the following consonants:
- /b/ ↔ /p/
- kobac ('Hawk') →kobca : kopca (nominative → genitive, with fleeting a)
- top ('cannon') + džija → topdžija : tobdžija ('cannonman')
- /ɡ/ ↔ /k/
- burek ('burek') + džija → burekdžija : buregdžija ('Burek-baker')
- /d/ ↔ /t/
- pod- ('under-') + platiti ('pay') → podplatiti : potplatiti ('to bribe')
- /d͡ʐ/ ↔ /t͡ʂ/
- vrač ('sorcerer') + -bina → vračbina : vradžbina ('witchcraft')
- /ʒ/ ↔ /ʃ/
- težak ('heavy') →težki : teški (singular → plural, with fleeting a)
- /z/ ↔ /s/
- uzak ('narrow') →uzki : uski (singular → plural, with fleeting a)
- s- ('off-') + baciti ('throw') →sbaciti : zbaciti ('throw off')
- /d͡ʐ/ ↔ /t͡ʂ/
- uč ('learn-') + -benik → učbenik : udžbenik ('textbook')
Furthermore, /f/, /x/ and /ts/ don't have voiced counterparts, so they trigger the assimilation, but are not affected by it.
As can be seen from the examples above, assimilation is generally reflected in orthography. However, there are numerous orthographic exceptions, i.e. even if voicing or devoicing does take place in speech, the orthography does not record it, usually to maintain the etymology clearer.
Assimilation by place of articulation
Assimilation by place of articulation affects /s/ and /z/ in front of (post)alveolars /ʃ/, /ʒ/, /t͡ʂ/, /d͡ʐ/, /tɕ/, /dʑ/, as well as palatals /ʎ/ and /ɲ/, producing /ʃ/ or /ʒ/:
- /s/ → /ʃ/
- pas ('dog') + -če → pašče ('small dog')
- list ('leaf') + -je → listće : lisće : lišće ('leaves')
- prositi ('to beg') + -nja → prosnja : prošnja ('begging')
- snositi ('to bear') + -ljiv → snosljiv : snošljiv ('bearable')
- /z/ → /ʒ/
- miraz ('dowry') + -džika → mirazdžika : miraždžika ('girl with dowry')
- grozd ('grape bunch') + -je → grozđe : grožđe ('grapes')
- paziti ('to care') + -nja → paznja : pažnja ('care')
- paziti ('to care') + -ljiv → pazljiv : pažljiv ('careful')
Simultaneously, assimilation by voicing is triggered if necessary.
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (October 2011)
A historical /l/ in coda position has become /o/ and is now so spelled, and produces an additional syllable. For example, the Serbo-Croatian name of Belgrade is Beograd. However, in Croatian, the process is partially reversed; compare Croatian stol, vol, sol vs. Serbian sto, vo, so ('table', 'ox' and 'salt').
/sjêʋeːrniː lědeniː ʋjêtar i‿sûːnt͡se‿su‿se prěpirali o‿sʋǒjoj snǎːzi/
[sjêʋeˑrniˑ ɫědeniˑ ʋjêtar i‿sûːnt͡se‿su‿se prěpiraɫi o‿sʋǒjoj snǎːzi]
Orthographic version (Croatian)
Sjeverni ledeni vjetar i Sunce su se prepirali o svojoj snazi.
- Differences between Serbo-Croatian standard varieties
- Language secessionism in Serbo-Croatian
- Pluricentric Serbo-Croatian language
- Serbo-Croatian grammar
- Serbo-Croatian kinship
- Serbo-Croatian language
- Serbo-Croatian relative clauses
- Shtokavian dialect
- South Slavic dialect continuum
- Standard language
- Montenegrin alphabet
- Morén (2005:5–6)
- Landau et al. (1999:68)
- Kordić (2006:5)
- Landau et al. (1999:66)
- Jazić (1977:?), cited in Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996:188)
- Wayles Brown & Theresa Alt (2004), A Handbook of Bosnian, Serbian and Croatian, SEELRC
- Landau et al. (1999:67)
- Trubetskoi, Nikolai S (1969), Principles of phonology. (Grundzüge der Phonologie), University of California Press, p. 59
- Gick et al. (2006:?)
- Wyn Johnson; David Britain (2007), "L-vocalisation as a natural phenomenon: explorations in sociophonology" (PDF), Language Sciences (29): 304
- Stevanović, Mihailo (1986). Савремени српскохрватски језик. Belgrade: Naučna knjiga. p. 82.
И при изговору сугласника ж и ш [...] врх се језика диже према предњем делу предњег непца, и овлаш га додирује на делу одмах иза алвеола.
- P. A. Keating (1991). "Coronal places of articulation". In C. Paradis; J.-F. Prunet. The Special Status of Coronals (PDF). Academic Press. p. 35.
- Ćavar (2011:1)
- Barić et al. (1997:49) "Prednji je i složeni samoglasnik, dvoglasnik (diftong) ie. Pri njegovu su izgovoru govorni organi najprije u položaju sličnom kao pri izgovoru glasa i, a onda postupno prelaze u položaj za izgovor glasa e. U hrvatskom književnom jeziku dvoglasnik je ie ravan diftong."
- Kapović (2007:66) "Iako se odraz dugoga jata u kojem ijekavskom govoru možda i može opisati kao dvoglas, on tu u standardu sasma sigurno nije. Taj tobožnji dvoglas treba maknuti iz priručnikâ standardnoga jezika jer nema nikakve koristi od uvođenja fantomskih fonema bez ikakve podloge u standardnojezičnoj stvarnosti."
- Kordić, Snježana (1998). "Diletantski napisana gramatika: recenzija knjige Vinka Grubišića, Croatian Grammar" [An amateurish grammar book: Review of the book Vinko Grubišić, Croatian Grammar] (PDF). Republika (in Serbo-Croatian). Zagreb. 54 (1–2): 254. ISSN 0350-1337. ZDB-ID 400820-0. Archived from the original on 25 August 2012. Retrieved 16 June 2015. (CROLIB).
- Alexander (2006:356)
- Lehiste (1963)
- Lehiste (1986)
- Alexander (2006:354)
- Kordić (2006:8)
- Kordić (2006:7)
- Browne (1993:312)
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- Croatian for travellers, with audio files