What writing system(s) does this language use?
The Serbian alphabet is based on the Cyrillic writing system. Two brothers named Cyril and Methodius created it using letters of the Greek alphabet in the 9th century. Cyrillic script has changed much with time, even more than the Roman script we use. Actually, modern Serbs are not able to read a three-hundred-year-old book in Serbian! This is not only because the language has changed, but also because they are not able to recognize many letters. The last big change of Serbian script happened in the 19th century, and the alphabet has remained the same since.
There are a total of thirty letters in the modern Serbian alphabet, and they are the following:
It is also possible to write Serbian using the letters of the Roman alphabet, which are used in English too, and many Serbs do so. Here is the list of Serbian Cyrillic letters compared to the Roman ones (the pronunciation is given in the brackets):
|А||A (a)||Н||N (n)|
|Б||B (b)||Њ||Nj (ny)|
|В||V (v)||О||O (o)|
|Г||G (g as in goat)||П||P (p)|
|Д||D (d)||Р||R (r)|
|Ђ||Đ (dy)||С||S (s)|
|Е||E (e, as in egg)||Т||T (t)|
|Ж||Ž (zh)||Ћ||Ć (ty)|
|З||Z (z)||У||U (oo)|
|И||I (ee)||Ф||F (f)|
|Ј||J (y)||Х||H (h, as in Loch or Bach)|
|К||K (k)||Ц||C (ts)|
|Л||L (l)||Ч||Č (ch)|
|Љ||Lj (ly)||Џ||Dž (j)|
|М||M (m)||Ш||Š (sh)|
How many people speak this language?
Serbian is the native language for about 10 million people. There are also many people who speak it as a secondary language.
native language — first language that one has learned to speak as a child; the language of one's parents. Also known as one's mother tongue.
Where is this language spoken?
Serbian is, of course, spoken in Serbia (click here to learn about Serbia). But besides Serbia, Serbian is understood in Croatia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, because these languages (Croatian, Montenegrin, and Bosnian) are so similar that everybody understands each other's languages. In fact, they are so similar that Serbian, Bosnian and Croatian are often considered just one big language: Serbo-Croatian. There are many Serbian-speaking communities in the USA, Western Europe, Australia, and many other countries where the Serbs have emigrated.
Yugoslavia — a union of present-day Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Montenegro that existed from 1918 until the 1990s.
What is the history of this language?
The Serbian language belongs to the group of languages that are called Slavonic or Slavic. These languages have many commonalities, some of which are similar word roots and similar grammar. For this reason, scientists think that all Slavonic languages originated from one common language, the so-called Protoslavonic language, that people spoke a long time ago (before 1000 A.D.). As time passed, the language spread, and people in different countries began to speak it differently. It is believed that Serbian became a separate language in 11th – 13th centuries, when the first Serbian countries were formed.
As Serbian countries changed with time, so did the language. Major events in Serbian history brought new features to language and literature. Serbian linguist Vuk Stefanović Karadžić is considered the "father" of the modern literary language. Though the Serbian language is very flexible and ever-changing, Vuk’s language stays the base and the standard of the classic style. Vuk's name (Вук) in Serbian means wolf! :)
Serbian literature is ancient and it has a special style. There are also lots of wonderful children’s books in Serbian.
Vuk Stefanović Karadžić (1787 – 1864) is considered "father" of the modern Serbian language. He is also famous by collecting Serbian proverbs and folk poems and tales. Here is one Serbian folk story written down by Vuk Karadžić:
- The Dark Realm
- People speak that once some king with his army reached the very end of the world and entered the Dark Realm, where one can't ever see anything. When they entered the Dark Realm, and walked around it, they felt some small stones under their legs, and suddenly something spoke from the dark:
- Which one of you takes these stones, he will be sorry! And which one doesn't take them, he will be sorry, too!
- Some of the soldiers tought:
- If I am going to be sorry, then why should I take them at all?
- And some:
- I'll take at least one.
- When they returned to the light, they saw that those stones were all pure diamonds. Then those who didn't take them were sorry because they didn't, and those who did take them were sorry because they didn't take some more.
Jovan Jovanović Zmaj (1833 – 1904) is one of the greatest Serbian poets for children. He wrote many beautiful poems. His name Zmaj (Змај) in Serbian means dragon! :) Here is one famous poem by Zmaj:
- A Child And A Butterfly
Oh, my little butterfly,
Would you please just come to me!
Spread your wings and twinkle by,
Here's a rose for you to see.
I would like to come and see,
I would like to twinkle by;
But, your needle might poke me
And my life might go bye-bye!
I won't do that — don't be scared —
Cross my heart so you could know.
I would only like to bend —
Count how many legs you grow.
That is something I can tell
Even if I'm not close by:
I have six legs that are swell,
And now, my dear boy, bye-bye!
What are some basic words in this language that I can learn?
- Здраво (zdravo) - Hello (informal)
- Добар дан (dobar dan) - Good Day (formal)
- Како си? (kako see) - How are you? (informal)
- Како сте? (kako ste) - How are you? (formal)
- Ја се зовем... (ya se zovem) - My name is...
- Довиђења! (doveedyenya) - Goodbye!
- Шта је то? (shta ye to) - What is that/it?
- Говорите ли енглески? (govoreete lee engleskee) - Do you speak English? (formal)
- Говориш ли енглески? (govoreesh lee engleskee) - Do you speak English? (informal)
- Где је купатило? (gde ye koopateelo) - Where is the bathroom?
- Извините! (eezveeneete) - Excuse me! (formal)
- Извини! (eezveenee) - Sorry! (informal)
What is a simple song/poem/story that I can learn in this language?
Try to learn this little folk poem from the west of Serbia:
Љуља баба дијете,
што га не зовете?
Ми смо га звали,
шећера му дали,
а оно се љути
што је шећер жути!
It sounds like this:
Lyoolya baba deeyete,
shto ga ne zovete?
Mee smo ga zvalee,
shetyera moo dalee,
a ono se lyootee
shto ye shetyer zhootee!
And that means:
Grandma holds her little child,
Why don't you kids call him?
We did call him,
We gave him some sugar to eat,
But he was angry on us,
Because the sugar was yellow!
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