Variations: Ikavian (dite vs dijete)


You have now some basic knowledge of Croatian, and you are going to enjoy some popular Croatian tune you discovered on YouTube™. To your surprise, it contains some strange words and forms.

You look up the lyrics and find words that are not in your pocket dictionary. Then you look them up in an online dictionary, but it does not help either! What is going on?

Chances are, you picked up a song that’s not in Standard Croatian, but in a dialect – language particular to some region (this is a bit confusing, since any language is particular to a region; what is called a ‘language’, and what ‘dialect’ is simply a matter of convenience; also, dialects are usually not used by governments). There are many dialects, but there’s a big group of them, that have a characteristic i sound, and are therefore called Ikavian.

Ikavian dialects are usually found on islands and coast, cities Split and Zadar, but also inland, and in parts of Istria. Simply said, where Standard Croatian has ije or je, they have i instead. For example (I’ve listed only nominative forms):

Standard word Ikavian
dijete child dite  ▶ 
dvije two (f) dvi  ▶ 
lijep adj. nice, beautiful lip  ▶ 
mlijeko milk mliko  ▶ 
vrijeme time/weather vrime  ▶ 
djeca children dica  ▶ 
gdje where di / gdi  ▶ 
nedjelja Sunday nedilja

Sound clips in this chapter are recorded by a native speaker from Split, Croatia. As you can hear, short and long vowels are clearly distinguished (long i in dite vs. short in dica – corresponding to standard spellings ije vs je).

There’s no change for verbs that have -ije in their pers-3 and the -i- comes from the infinitive, such as:

piti (pije) drink
brijati (brije) shave

Verbs having infinitives in -jeti in Standard Croatian have -i- in all forms and appear regular in Ikavian; this includes the Ikavian version of razumjeti understand:

razumiti understand  
viditi see
živiti live
    regular verbs
  in Ikavian

There are a couple of words where just the Standard re is changed to ri:

Standard word Ikavian
mreža net mriža  ▶ 
prestati (prestane) perf. stop pristati (pristane)
rezati (reže) impf. cut rizati (riže)
sreća happiness, luck srića  ▶ 
trebati impf. need/should tribati  ▶ 
usred in the middle of usrid  ▶ 
jesti eat jisti
orah walnut orih

Ikavian pristati stop looks like another verb from the same family, meaning consent, agree – prefixes pre- and pri- have merged in Ikavian! Of course, this doesn’t apply to every re in every word – these words have to be learned.

There are some words where it isn’t re vs ri, as in the two rows in the table above. Perhaps confusingly, this applies also to the negative present tense of the verb imati have and to indefinite pronouns/adjectives like neki and nešto:

Standard word Ikavian
nemaš pres-2 you don’t have nimaš
neki adj. some niki
nešto something ništo

Why is it so? The answer is a bit of history. 900 years ago (or maybe a bit more) South Slavic dialects from the Alps to the Black Sea – covering today Slovenia, Bulgaria and everything in between – had one more vowel. We’re not sure how it was exactly pronounced, and it likely varied across that vast region; we’re sure it existed, because some old inscriptions had a special letter for it. In Latin script, it’s usually written as ě, that is, yet another letter with a weird hat (blame Czechs).

For some reason, that vowel changed its pronounciation, and in a big part of Croatia and today Bosnia-Herzegovina it changed to i. So older vrěme, trěbati and lěp changed to vrime, tribati and lip; we find the first written Ikavian forms in the 12th century.

However, in some other dialects – which were used to standardize Croatian spelling and pronunciation – ě changed – depending on the word, whether the vowel was long or short, and what sounds preceded it – to e, je or ije; in the word for walnut, it changed to a. In verbs like grějati heat it changed to i, so we got grijati, which coincides with the Ikavian form.

It’s interesting there are dialects in Croatia where the vowel ě – at least in traditional speech in villages – is a separate vowel even today. Such dialects are mostly found in the wider Zagreb area, and will be briefly introduced later. So much about history for now...

Many Ikavian dialects also have specific past-m forms: instead of -o, they have -a and -ja:

verbStd. past-m Ikavian
biti (je² +) be bio bija  ▶ 
imati have imao ima  ▶ 
vidjeti see vidio vidija  ▶ 

When the past-m in Standard Croatian ends in -ao, in such dialects it ends in only -a (and that -a is then always pronounced long, e.g. in ima above). When other vowels are found before the final -a, some people write just -a, other -ja, so you will see both bia and bija.

Many such dialects are spoken on the Adriatic coast or near it, but not all dialects on the coast are Ikavian.

There’s another variation in verbs which roughly corresponds to Ikavian (but not completely): nu/ni variation. In verbs that have standard infinitives in -nuti, and pres-3 in -ne – and there are many such verbs – there’s -niti in the infinitive and forms derived from it, while the present forms are unaffected. For example, let’s take the verb gurnuti perf. push:

form Standard ni-form
inf gurnuti gurniti
past-m gurnuo gurnija
past-f gurnula gurnila
pres-3           gurne

Furthermore, most coastal dialects, be Ikavian or not, have another interesting feature: in verb and case endings, where Standard Croatian has -m, they have -n instead:

verbStd. pres-1 coast
biti (je² +) be sam san  ▶ 
imati have imam iman  ▶ 

For nouns and adjectives (example for the instrumental case):

wordStd. I coast
žena woman/wife ženom ženon
moj my m, n mojim mojin
f mojom mojon

This change affects only word-final m’s: endings -mo (pres-1pl) or -ma (DLI-pl) aren’t affected.

There’s another feature that doesn’t completely overlap with the change from -m to -n: loss of lj. Instead, such dialects have usually just j:

Standard word coast
people ljudi m pl. judi
love ljubav f jubav
trouble nevolja nevoja

There are some specific constructions used today in Split and the surrounding area. The most common is:

u¨ + G (Split area) = std. kod¨ + G

Therefore, you often hear and read u nas instead of kod nas for at our place, here (i.e. German bei uns).

Furthermore, there are a lot of specific words in Dalmatia (this list is by no means exhaustive, there are many hundreds specific words):

Standard word Dalmatia
pillow jastuk kušin (»)  ▶ 
towel ručnik (») šugaman (»)  ▶ 
clock, hour sat ura  ▶ 
plate (to eat from) tanjur (») pjat / pijat  ▶ 
fork vilica pirun (»)

Many of these words also appear in the Northern Adriatic, i.e. in the Rijeka area and Istria. One of the main differences is that Split area consistently uses the Standard stress system, with all shifts, etc. while in Rijeka, the ‘western’ stress prevails.

Use of Ikavian is very widespread in Split and surrounding areas in everyday communication. A lot of local musicians produce music with Ikavian words. There are even novels and newspaper columns written in Ikavian. There are movies and ‘telenovelas’ with a lot of Ikavian forms. Since such songs and ‘telenovelas’ are quite popular in countries of former Yugoslavia, everyone understands a bit of Ikavian, despite it having no official status anywhere. (There’s a small population in Northern Serbia, called Bunjevci, which is – controversially – sometimes considered a separate ethnic group in Serbia, and their language is Ikavian. They have primary schools in Ikavian.)

The difference Ikavian vs. Standard Croatian is similar to e.g. difference between Standard Serbian and Standard Croatian. However, bear in mind that there are dialects in Croatia that much more divergent, to the point of being barely understandable, having specific sounds, case forms, and so on! They will be described in A8 Dialects.

Finally, Ikavian is far from homogeneous. What is spoken on islands would be very different than what is spoken inland. Generally, on islands and smaller towns, you’ll see larger difference from the Standard and more specific forms.

There’s a difference that is completely independent of Ikavian, but some Ikavian dialects, including Dalmatian hinterland, have it: loss of h. It was replaced by either v or j, depending on the surrounding sounds, or simply lost, e.g. in the beginning of the word (I have listed only nominatives):

Standard word h-less
kruh bread kruv  ▶ 
hladan adj. cold ladan  ▶ 
snaha son’s wife snaja
suh adj. dry suv  ▶ 

Today, most people in Split – especially when they speak privately – don’t have h in most words. This produces, with other differences described above, e.g. past forms tija and tila, corresponding to Standard htio and htjela. (However, not all words above are really used in Split; for example, the word for son’s wife is actually nevista in Split.)

This loss also happened in large parts of Bosnia and whole Serbia (however, Standard Serbian has restored h at the beginning of words, so it’s hladan and suv in Standard Serbian.)

There are also Ekavian dialects, where all changes are similar to ones described above, but have e instead of i (lep, etc.). In these dialects, the vowel ě merged with the ordinary e almost always (but in some words and endings, it changed to i). They prevail in Serbia, and the Standard Serbian in Serbia is Ekavian; the verb meaning heat is grejati there. You can find more about Ekavian in A9 Bosnian, Serbian and Montenegrin.

This overview of Ikavian was intentionally brief and light; there are whole books written about various dialects, mostly dictionaries of local speech for some town or region. Unfortunately, little is available online.

Please don’t think ‘Ikavian equals ‘Dalmatian’. For example, Dubrovnik is a city in Dalmatia, but the dialect spoken there is very different from one spoken in Split, and by no means Ikavian.

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5 Easy Croatian: Variations: Ikavian (dite vs dijete) N A  DL  G 24 I You have now some basic knowledge of Croatian, and you are going to enjoy some popular Croatian tune you discover...

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