Variations: Traditional Dialects #1



If you would really like to learn dialects in Croatia, a separate course or textbook would be needed. So far, nobody has written something like it, but it can be done. (Maybe I’ll find some time one day?) Consider this a lightweight overview.

For reasons which aren’t easy to explain, in mid 1960’s there was a kind of revival of traditional dialects in Croatia. A part of that revival was a music festival in Krapina, a town northwestern from Zagreb, dedicated to songs in the local dialect.

On a cold Sunday morning back in December of 1968, Ana Bešenić, a scared, modest and cold 15-year-old high school student from Petkovec, a small village near Varaždinske Toplice, north from Zagreb – from a home with only one lightbulb, turned off early each evening to save money – rang on the door of the home of composer and singer Zvonko Špišić in Zagreb, and told him she wrote some verses for the festival. He almost sent her home. After reading the verses, he decided to write a tune; together, they adapted the verses a bit, and the song was performed on the festival. It starts with these lines:

V jutro dišeče [gda bregi su spali

a mesec još zajti ni štel]

potiho sem otprl rasklimanu lesu

i pinklec na pleča sem del

It’s hopeless to look into standard dictionaries. You can ask someone who natively speak that dialect, or someone who at least understands words in this song. Luckily for you – everyone in Croatia understands these words, as the song became immediately very, very popular and still is; sung by professional singers, by common people in house parties and around campfires, it kind of became a folk song. We can start understanding it by explaining the verbs from the lines above:

deti (dene) perf. put
dišati (diši) smell (pleasantly)
otprti (otpre) perf. open
spati (spi) sleep
šteti (hoče) want

Note that spati (spi) sleep is archaic in most parts of Croatia today, but the verb zaspati (zaspi) inch. fall asleep was clearly derived from it many centuries ago.

These verbs have a bit specific forms:

dojti (dojde, došel, došla) perf. come
najti (najde, našel, našla) perf. find
zajti (zajde, zašel, zašla) perf. set (Sun and Moon)

The corresponding standard verb forms would be doći (...), naći and zaći.

The adjective dišeči is the present adjective of dišati (diši), so it means pleasant-smelling, i.e. fragrant.

The lines above translate as:

In a fragrant morning, when hills were sleeping
And the Moon was still unwilling to set
I quietly opened the rickety gate
And put the bag on my back

This song, Suza za zagorske brege, is usually considered one of the greatest Croatian songs ever. And, like a lot of very popular Croatian songs, it’s not in Standard Croatian. The song goes on:

Stara je mati išla za menom
nemo vu zemlu gledeč
Ni mogla znati
[kaj zbirem vu duši
i zakaj od včera nis rekel ni reč

In that dialect, instead of lj, there’s l: zemla ground, earth, country instead of zemlja, prijatel friend instead of prijatelj.

We can summarize some specific forms of the present tense of the verb be:

biti be this dialect standard
pres-1 sem² sam²
neg. pres-1 nis nisam
neg. pres-3 ni nije

Almost immediately later, we have a line:

v suzah najenput sem bil

So, if v¨ is in, what’s the form suzah? It looks like a case of suza tear, we assume he was in tears, but what’s that case?

This is the locative case. In this dialect – and actually, in many old dialects – cases D, L and I are distinct in plural and have special, so-called older endings:

suza tear older standard
D-pl suzam suzama
L-pl suzah
I-pl suzami

(These endings are really older than the standard endings; Slovene, Russian and Polish have such endings.)

To help you decipher these two cases in chapters about dialects, they will be highlighted with different colors:  light green  for L and  green  for D, if you place your mouse over an example sentence – or touch it, if you use a touchscreen. Moving your mouse (or touching somewhere else) will remove the highlight.

In real life, some local dialects have slightly different endings, approaching standard ones. Many people mix their dialect and the standard language, so you’ll often see a mixture of endings. For example, a few lines later, we have (the preposition z¨ corresponds to both standard s¨/sa and iz¨; here it means with because it’s followed by I):

z rukami lice sem skril

This is just not one of the saddest lines in any Croatian song – he hides his face with his hands so that his mother can’t see he’s crying – but it’s also the line which was originally sung by Vice Vukov as z rukama, i.e. with the standard I-pl ending; however, all modern performances by bands using traditional instruments, and almost all other modern performances use the more characteristic z rukami with hands. This song, and its variations, are fully examined in the Examples section below.

Dobro mi došel prijatel
vu stari zagorski dom
budi kak doma vu vlastitoj hiži
tu pri pajdašu si svom

Vre je stara hiža ova
al još navek tu stoji
nemreš srušit ovog krova
taj se ničeg ne boji

The fourth line has an interesting construction:

pri + D = std. kod¨ + G

You’ve probably noticed interesting stress in present tense forms of some verbs: stoji he/she/it stands and boji se² he/she/it is afraid. Such stress is impossible in standard Croatian, but it can be guessed from it.

Verbs which have an underline – i.e. the fixed stress – in present tense forms in the standard stress scheme will have fixed stress one one syllable to the right in this (and many other) dialects:

verb standard “old” dialects
be afraid of boji se² boji se²
hold drži drži
stand stoji stoji

Why the form sem² instead of sam²? Why e in rekel vs rekla? To answer these questions, another bit of history.

Roughly 1100 years ago, before any of the today dialects (some of which were later used as languages) in the Slovenia-to-Serbia area were differentiated, there was yet another vowel, which can be written as ə.

For example, the pres-1 of biti be was səm², while the word for wind was větər. Many words had this vowel: pəs dog, kəsno late, tənək thin, məgla fog, stəza path, dənəs today etc. The past-m of reći perf. say was rekəl. We don’t know how ə was exactly pronounced (and it likely varied by region) but we’re sure it existed, since old writings have a special letter for it.

And then, in many dialects, the system got simpler. The vowel ə merged with other vowels, but it happened differently in different regions. In most dialects, it changed to a, but in the area around today Zagreb it changed to ě.

So after ə was gone, we had ě left, precisely the vowel that changed into either a plain e (giving rise to the “Ekavian” prounciation), or i (in “Ikavian” areas), and even into either ije or je. The last option happened in parts of Croatia and Bosnia, and that was taken as the basis of Standard Croatian.

But something else happened in the area around Zagreb: there ě usually has remained a separate vowel to this day. The word for wind there is actually větěr (the unstressed ě is often pronounced like e in English the), while e.g. the e in the word pet five is pronounced somewhat like a in English bad or e in English bed.

To illustrate this, here are these two words pronounced by a native, Kajkavian speaker from a village near Zagreb:

pet  ▶  five
devet nine
pěs dog
větěr  ▶  wind

Unfortunately, these two sounds are often spelled the same, and that gives the impression that Kajkavian is Ekavian, but it’s not. (Kajkavian in towns such as Zagreb, Samobor and Varaždin was really Ekavian, but villages kept the older system.)

But these were all songs in traditional styles, often sung by people in traditional costumes (of course, it was all dress-up: both songs were originally sung on the Krapina Festival by Vice Vukov, who was born in Šibenik, where a completely different dialect is spoken, and local folk costumes look completely different).

There was the Krapina festival, but it had a very local... MIK... even more local... Only Split festival.

TV series Mejaši, broadcast 1970, 7 one-hour episodes, followed by Gruntovčani, broadcast 1975, 10 one-hour episodes, and that was it.

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5 Easy Croatian: Variations: Traditional Dialects #1 N A D G L  24  I V UNDER CONSTRUCTION! PLEASE BE PATIENT :) If you would really like to learn dialects in Croatia, a separat...

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