A8 Dialects

This chapter uses specific stress symbols,
different than in the rest of Easy Croatian.

(This chapter is under construction.)

I'll give a brief overview of dialects in Croatia and neighboring countries.

Croatia belongs to the South Slavic language area, and to the wider Slavic area. Both these areas are essentially dialect continua, that is, areas where any dialect is similar to the dialect next to it, which is similar to the one next to it, and so on: difference between dialects increases with distance, and there are very few sharp dialect borders.

Many features of South Slavic dialects change roughly in the northwest-southeast direction, represented by the arrow in this map:

(The arrow should go, and does go further into Macedonia and Bulgaria, but I will concentrate on dialects in Croatia and countries next to it.)

Going in the direction of the arrow (i.e. to the south-east), features change in this way:

• There are fewer noun forms (that is, different case endings). In Slovenia, nouns have singular, dual and plural forms, and 6 cases with different endings in plural. In the area around Niš, Serbia, there is only singular and plural, and only two cases (N and A). In Macedonia, nouns have no cases! This doesn't apply to the vocative case, though.

• There are more verb tenses in use. In the western parts of Croatia, the aorist tense is very rarely used. It doesn't exist at all in Slovenia. In Serbia, it's used every day in speech. When you reach Macedonia, there are 9 tenses.

Infinitives are less used and finally disappear in South of Serbia, where only da + present is used.

Vocatives are more often used – in western parts of Croatia, vocatives are rare, N is used when calling someone. In Bosnia and Serbia, they are frequently used.

• There are more Greek and Turkish loan words further you go to the south-east.

There are couple of forms that are specific for ‘west’ and ‘east’:

  ‘west’ ‘east’
you can moreš možeš
four men/boys četvero četvoro

Each feature splits the area at a different line. Standard Croatian has the ‘eastern’ možeš, but the ‘western’ četvero.

Furthermore, there's something interesting: most dialectal variation is in the northwest. In the central and southeastern areas, there's less dialects on the same land area. (That's due to history.) It's obvious from this simplified and not-too-accurate dialect map, showing the dialects in villages in middle 20th century (click on the image to enlarge):

Dialects are marked with the following two-letter abbreviations, here grouped into traditional dialect groups (the usual term in Croatian is narječje):

‘Slovene’: CR - Carinthian, ST - Styrian, PA - Pannonian, UC - Upper Carniolan, LC - Lower Carniolan, RV - Rovte, LI - Littoral;

‘Kajkavian’: ZM - Zagorje-Međimurje, TP - Turopolje-Posavina, KP - Križevci-Podravina, PR - Prigorje;

‘Čakavian’: NČ - Northwestern Čakavian, CČ - Central Čakavian, SČ - Southeastern Čakavian;

‘Štokavian’: SL - Slavonian, WI - Western Ikavian, HK - Herzegovina-Krajina (East Herzegovinian), EB - East Bosnian, ŠV - Šumadija-Vojvodina, SM - Smederevo-Vršac, ZS - Zeta-Sandžak, KR - Kosovo-Resava;

‘Torlak’: PM - Prizren-South Morava, TL - Timok-Lužnica.

There are other ways to divide dialects: for example, the classification of ‘Čakavian’ dialects shown here is after Dutch linguist Willem Vermeer; you'll find other ways to classify them in many books. Some dialects shown here together are usually shown separately – even if they are quite alike neighboring ones – for traditional (and political) reasons (e.g. Lower Carniolan dialects in Croatia are usually shown separately as ‘goranski’, etc.

The grouping of dialects into ‘Kajkavian’, ‘Čakavian’ and ‘Štokavian’ is usually presented as something fundamental. However, it's not really so: for example, Northwestern Čakavian dialects have a lot of similarities with the Littoral dialects in Slovenia; ‘Kajkavian’ Zagorje-Međimurje dialects have many similarities with Pannonian dialects in Slovenia; ‘Torlak’ dialects are often grouped with ‘Štokavian’, but they have many similarities with dialects in Macedonia and Bulgaria as well; there's no sharp border between Southeastern Čakavian and ‘Štokavian’ Western Ikavian; ‘Štokavian’ Slavonian dialects have similarities with ‘Čakavian’ dialects, etc.

The Origin of Dialects

Western South Slavic Dialects differ in many ways, one of them is development of old vowels. Western South Slavic, some 1000 years ago, had the following vowels (the situation was different in Eastern South Slavic, i.e. today Macedonia and Bulgaria), and all of them could be either short or long:

i                   u
ě     ə     ö
e ë    o 
  l   r

To mark long vowels, in descriptions of old, reconstructed forms, and in brief descriptions of various dialects, I’ll just write them double, e.g. aa or ee. For instance sun was sllnce and hand was rööka.

Developments of the old vowels ě and ə – often called yat and yer – are most obvious to the majority of speakers. Actually, ‘Ijekavian’, ‘Ikavian’ and ‘Ekavian’ are just different developments of the vowel ě (yat).

The vowels ë and ö were nasal, like in today French or Portuguese.

There were also two specific consonants, usually labelled as d' and t'. They were palatal (softened) d and t. The verb doći (dođe) was earlier dojti (dojde); in some dialects, jt and jd have later changed.

(I'm using slightly specific symbols here; usually, in specialized literature, ę and ǫ are used instead of my ë and ö. Unfortunately, they are not displayed properly on some mobile phones and e-book readers. Also, and are usually used instead of l and r. Neither symbols are compatible with the IPA notation).

Then, we need marks for various types of stress. I’ll use the following marks for stress and tones within one syllable:

a short, stressed
aa long stressed vowel with a falling tone
aa long stressed vowel with a rising/flat tone

The tone I mark as aa is also called ‘neoacute’; it doesn’t exist in Standard Croatian.

And finally, I’ll use the following marks for two-syllable tones, where the stressed syllable has another syllable with the high tone that follows it:

a...a short stressed + a high tone following it
aa...a long stressed

This can be summarized simply: the first underscored vowel is stressed, the underscores mark high tones.

If you are going to read any dialectological works, you’ll see the standard ‘accent marks’. Unfortunately, they are not rendered well on some mobile phones and e-book readers, they are difficult to distinguish at small font sizes, and, finally, they are quite counter-intuitive. Here's how my marks translate to the standard ones (the diacritics are also shown in brackets):

aa = ā (–)
a = (\\)
aa = (^) 
aa = ã (~)
a...a = à...a (\)
aa...a = á...a (/)

Therefore, what I write as e.g. öö is in most linguistic works written as ǫ with-a-tilde-above.

Stress systems in various dialects have the origin in the old system, reconstructed for the old West South Slavic, for the period od some 1000 years ago, where there were at least 2 tones on the syllables. The stress could have been on any syllable, and unstressed syllables could be also short or long. The reconstructed forms of some words are:

mlěěko milk
rööka hand
větər wind
kljuuč key (G kljuuča)
sestra sister (G-pl sestəər)
žena woman, wife (A že)

(It's possible to reconstruct even earlier forms – in many cases, thousands years earlier – but they aren't important here.)

‘Kajkavian’ (Zagorje-Međimurje)

An example ‘Kajkavian’ dialect is the speech of Konjščina, with a detailed description by Vedrana Gudek, available online.

The first impression anyone has about ‘Kajkavian’ are specific vowels. While there are only 5 vowels in e.g. Zagreb, the traditional speech of Konjščina has many more:

short   long/diphtongs
ie   ee
uo   ou

The vowel ε – a kind of ‘open e’, like in English bad or German ä – is the characteristic vowel for ‘Kajkavian’. Unfortunately, it’s usually written just as e: there's no proper orthography for it (dialectologists usually use ȩ, which is not visible on all devices, or sometimes with æ).

Vowels ie, uo, ou are diphtongs, similar to English ow in low, how, but the i's and u's in them are, unlike in English, pronounced very quickly, they are very short, so I could have written them also as ie, uo, ou.

Unfortunately, long vowels ii, εε are too usually written just with i and e. Here are a couple of words with various vowels:

die  ▶  child (djete, usually spelled dijete)
mεεse  ▶  meat (meso)
rouka  ▶  hand (ruka)
suonce  ▶  sun (sunce)

The sound clips are by a native ‘Kajkavian’ speaker, from a village 14 km from Konjščina, speaking a very similar dialect. (For comparison, forms spoken in Zagreb are given in brackets).

In ‘Kajkavian’ (and in dialects in Slovenia) there's one important constraint: normally, only stressed vowels can be long, i.e. there are no unstressed long vowels, while stressed vowels can be either long or short. Since the vowel length and stress often changes according to the word form (i.e. gender, case), this produces many alternations:

dober (m) vs. duobra (f) good
rouka (N) vs. rukami (I-pl) hand

These are specific developments of old vowels and consonants in this dialect (other ‘Kajkavian’ dialects have very similar developments):

e, ë ě ə o ö l
short ε e e o
u ou
long εε ie ie
ou ou

Many ‘Kajkavian’ dialects (but not all) have -e instead of -o in all neuter nouns and adjectives in neuter gender, i.e. εle village vs. std. selo.

When compared with the forms reconstructed for the old language – some 1000 years ago – in most ‘Kajkavian’ dialects (but not all) the stress has shifted from the very end of the word, becoming the ‘neoacute’ on the preceding syllable; sometimes, the syllable that gets the stress will be lenghtened:

röökarouka hand
ženažεεna woman, wife
viinoviino wine

The old jd and jt are mostly unchanged in ‘Kajkavian’, while t' changed into č, and in most dialects d' into j.

There's no ć sound – only č, which is pronounced a bit ‘softer’ than in the Standard Croatian. Consonants at the end of words become ‘devoiced’, i.e. d is pronounced as t, b as p, g as k, z as s, etc. For instance, the z in mraz frost is actually pronounced as s, while the pronunciation of genitive mraza is as z, since the consonant is not final.

The present tense verb plural endings in this dialect are more regular than in Standard Croatian; the ending for the 1st pers. plural is quite specific:

sing. plur
1st -m -mε
2nd -tε
3rd - -ju

Northwestern ‘Čakavian’

(Coming soon)

These are specific developments of old vowels and consonants in this dialect; more western dialects have only e from ě, while more eastern dialects have mostly i, and e in some words:

  ë ě   ə ö l
short e
(e, o)
u u
long ee
aa uu uu
(el, ol)

(the rest is coming soon)

5 Easy Croatian: A8 Dialects This chapter uses specific stress symbols, different than in the rest of Easy Croatian. (This chapter is under construction.) I...

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