Variations: Regional

Some colloquial words in Croatian – which often means very frequent in speech and writing – vary by region, they are known only in one region, e.g. šlapa house slipper, to the point that frequently people from other regions will not be able to understand it.

Most variations in vocabulary are inland vs. coastal regions. The following colloquial nouns are commonly used in the coastal region, while other words dominate the inland region (this is just a short list, there are many more):

  Std./inland coast
bed sheet plahta lancun (»)
fork vilica pirun
pillow jastuk kušin (»)
towel ručnik (») šugaman (»)

(If you go to villages in the inland regions, you might hear more words for the terms above, but these things I leave for later.)

This is maybe the right place to look into the regions of Croatia. What are “coastal areas” in Croatia, and how many people live there? Only about 1/3 lives at the coast or near it, as this map of Croatia, where each black dot represents 10,000 people, clearly shows:

(I had to distort shapes of bigger cities to fit all the dots, but it’s fairly representative; there should be 408 dots, representing the population estimate for 2018.)

So, most people live inland. But, somehow, coastal areas are culturally as important as inland areas, as you’ll see in the following chapters.

There are many terms which are specific for coastal regions, related to the coastal way of life, such as šterna cistern, or kaić, a small wooden boat, usually propelled by oars. Such words often have no true inland equivalents.

Furthermore, both regions are far from homogeneous. For example, the word for the tracksuit has roughly the following variation (maybe there are even more terms, and, frankly, I don’t know what is used on some islands):

region form
inland (Zagreb area) trenirka
inland (Osijek area)
coast (except Split)
coast (Split) tuta

However, the main variation in many terms is still inland vs coast. Many such terms are related to home, especially food an cooking. Often, there are triplets – one colloquial word dominates inland, another dominates coastal areas, and there’s a standard word which is used rarely:

  Standard inland coast
clothing iron glačalo pegla šumpreš
screwdriver odvijač (») šrafciger kacavida
shoelaces vezice f pl. žniranci m pl. špigete f pl.
small meal
lunch during work
ručak (ručk-)
gablec marenda
(see below)
tomato rajčica paradajz pomidor (RI)
pom (ST)
pomadora (DU)
bathroom sink umivaonik (») lavabo m lavandin (»)

So, here’s is the third term used for the clothing iron in Croatia. Some coastal-specific terms, such as šumpreš, are getting rare, at least in public, while inland (or standard) terms dominate. (Try Googling™ for šumpreš). However, marenda or pomidor are very common.

Some of these terms have further local variations (abbreviations above stand for RI – Rijeka, ST – Split, DU – Dubrovnik). You can also hear pomidora and maybe even more words for tomato.

Also, precise meanings of these words can vary: in Split, marenda is a small meal, snack, while in Rijeka, marenda also means lunch (i.e. a cooked meal, eaten at the lunch break at work).

The noun lavabo changes like any masculine noun, e.g. u lavabou in bathroom sink – the final vowel is never dropped, unlike in auto (aut-) m car.

There are also triplets where all three terms are common in real life:

  Standard inland coast
screw (noun) vijak (vijk-) šaraf (») vida
slice (of cake, bread) kriška šnita feta
faucet / tap slavina pipa špina

You can find more about features of language colloquially used in most coastal regions in Variations: Ikavian (dite vs dijete). (Note that colloquial use in Croatia includes also many novels, poetry and popular songs.)

English has many word pairs, where one word is an inherited Germanic word, and another came from French or Latin (e.g. freedom/liberty, stay/remain, etc.). Croatian has similar pairs, where one word is inherited from Slavic, while another is Turkic or Greek:

  Slavic Turkic/Greek
bed postelja krevet
well zdenac (zdenc-) bunar (»)
kerchief rubac (rupc-) marama

Both words are used, and interestingly, often Turkic or Greek words prevail in standard use, even in actual speech, while Slavic prevail in some western regions, which were less influenced by Turks, and are found in poetry.

Besides colloquial words, there are colloquial ways of expressing various things. One such thing is telling time in 12-hour manner, and in quarters and halves. It has two variants, inland and coastal:

time inland coast
14:00 dva dva
14:15 frtalj tri dva i kvarat
14:30 pol(a) tri ® dva i po(l)
14:45 tri frtalj tri
tri frtalja tri
tri manje kvarat
15:00 tri tri

Observe that inland, number of quarters is relative the last full hour, but expressions use the next hour! This is a quite non-obvious way to express time. This is similar to ways in Southern Germany and Austria – and frtalj (») comes from German ‘viertel’ – meaning quarter. (Note this is one more rare word where stress shifts even in the ‘western’ stress scheme.) The same non-obvious was to refer to time is common in Hungarian.

This is only a very shallow outline of the real language diversity in Croatia. If we would add neighboring countries (i.e. Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia) we would have more variation, especially in terms related to home and cooking, names of various tools, etc. Terms in Serbia sometimes are more common with colloquial terms in inland Croatia, due to the common German influence, so paradajz is spoken in both Zagreb and Belgrade; however, there are also many terms used in Serbia which are almost unknown in Croatia. A very brief overview of such terms is given in A9 Bosnian, Serbian and Montenegrin.


® Expressing 14:30 as pola tri is also very common in Serbia and Bosnia, but tri frtalja tri = 14:45 is unknown in these countries.

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5 Easy Croatian: Variations: Regional Some colloquial words in Croatian – which often means very frequent in speech and writing – vary by region, they are known only in one regi...

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