77 Kajkavian, Part 1

The first thing that one notices when listening to a typical Kajkavian speech is that it sounds different. Kajkavian is spoken in the north of Croatia, around Zagreb and in a broad diamond-shaped area between borders with Slovenia and Hungary.

Kajkavian is its various forms (there are no sharp borders when going from Kajkavian stops to Slovene or Čakavian) is spoken by some 800000 persons, or even 1.2 million -- there are no precise counts -- but the number is similar or greater to the whole population of Dalmatia! However, if you turn on any Croatian radio station, it's very unlikely that you will hear anything Kajkavian. It's even not easy to find songs on YouTube™.

However, there are some great songs, and Suza za zagorske brege is one of greatest Croatian songs, and some verses in it are without a doubt the saddest.

V jutro dišeče gda bregi su spali
A mesec još zajti ni štel
Potiho sem otprl rasklimanu lesu
I pinklec na pleča sem del

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
Preveč smo toga povedat si šteli
A se smo pozabili več

Gda smo vre prešli kraj najzadnje hiže
Vu suzah najemput sem bil
Kaj ne bi to vidla stara mi mati
Z rukami lice sem skril

Sud oko mene su disale rože
I bil je rascveteni maj

A ja nis ni jemput pogledal za sobom
Od tuge nis mogel pozdraviti kraj
Samo sem bregima dragim obečal
Da vrnul se bum nazaj

(Ana Bešenić)
"On a scented morning, while the hills were sleeping
and the Moon was reluctant to set
I silently opened the rickety gate
and put a small load on my back

My old mother followed me
silently looking down

She couldn't know what I was pondering in my soul
And why I didn't utter a word since yesterday
There was too much to say to each other,
And we have forgotten it all.

When we passed the last house
I was suddenly in tears
So that my old mother couldn't see it
I hid my face with hands

All around me, the scent of roses
And the May was blossoming

And I didn't once look behind me
Too sorrowful to say goodbye to my homeland
I only promised to the dear hills,
That I will come back"

(based on the translation by Mojast, YouTube)

Observe forms very similar to NW Čakavian: v suzah = loc. pl., z rukami ins. pl., nis {nisäm}, but there are many words and features specific to Kajkavian.


The Kajkavian sounds different because it usually has a different vowel system than other dialects. It has two types of e and sometimes two types of o; other vowels can be also pronounced in strange ways.

The 'yat' (sequences ijë, , ë and ï) is almost always "back" e (I spell it here as , e-with-a-dot-below). The 'yer' (ä) is always also , and it still disappears! The notation ä finally comes to use: all ä's from Štokavian and Čakavian are 's in Kajkavian (Standard forms are in curly braces {...}):

dẹnẹs {dänäs} "today"
dẹska {däska} "plank"
mẹgla {mägla} "fog"
lẹp {lijëp} "nice"
nedẹla {nedjëlja} "Sunday"
pẹs {päs} "dog"
  petẹk {petäk} "Friday"
sẹn {sän} "dream"
snẹha {snäha} "daughter-in-law"
stẹklo {stäklo} "glass"
stẹza {stäza} "path"
vẹtẹr {vjëtär} "wind"

Other e's (that don't have anything with 'yat' or 'yer') are pronounced differently, more open, like /æ/. The difference is similar to English "bad" (e = /æ/) vs. "bed" (). The open e is a very characteristic sound of Kajkavian. Note that the is just a special notation seldom never used in everyday life, there's no agreed way to spell two e's (scientific works usually use vs. e-with-hook-below).

Other vowels are usually pronounced much more "closed", for instance a is pronounced somewhere between Čakavian and Štokavian a and o, similar to American pronunciation of "lot". In many variants, in some words, there's "closed" o () instead of u: mọž, rọka, rọža, pọt instead of muž, ruka, ruža, put, but that does not apply to all u's in all words!

Additionally, there are variants where some long vowels are pronounced as "diphthongs": long is , long o ou; for instance, lẹp and dẹn are in some regions actually pronounced as liep dien "nice day". Unfortunately, there are many local variants and I cannot go to such details here.

There is no sound lj in most variants, usually l is used instead: prijatel (Std. prijatelj). The sound ć is fused with č, there is only one sound, spelled as č.

The "Final L Rule" does not work at all, there are final l's all over the place: čital (Std. čitao), etc. Initial čr is in same words as in NW čakavian: črn, črv "black, worm" {crn, crv}. Most consonants are softened when word-final: krv, brẹg are normally pronounced as /krf, brẹk/. This is similar to German.

There are three pitch distinctions (stress types) on a stressed vowel similar to Čakavian, in most local speeches, and can fall on any syllable.

In most variants, words cannot begin on i/- and u-, j- and v get prefixed to such words, e.g. vuho "ear" {uho}


Often there's no difference between ma and mi genders and noun types — there are only m nouns and m gender. The declension patterns vary a bit, here's one "average" example (according to Mijo Lončarić, Kajkavska morfologija):

ins.sg.-œm-um (-om)
gen.pl.-œv (-ih)- (-ih)-ih
ins.pl.-i, -(a)mi-am(i)-mi
loc.pl.-ẹh, -ih-ah, -ẹh, -ih-ah-ẹh, -ih

The case pattern is in many aspects similar to the Čakavian: there is no long plural, all nouns have only the short plural; there are no consonant changes before -i: korak "step", pl. koraki vs. Std. pl. koraci!

In some regions, but not everywhere, œ implies not the o/e variation, but ẹ/e, or even only e; therefore in such regions it's not selo "village", meso "meat" but selẹ, mesẹ!

The following nouns are characteristic of Kajkavian:

balta "axe" {sjëkira}
cajt "time" {vrijëme}
cucẹk "dog" (also pẹs) {päs}
cug "train" {vlak}
človẹk, čovẹk "man, human" {čovjëk}
črẹšnja "cherry" {trëšnja}
dẹkla "girl" {djëvojka}
fela "type, kind" {vrsta}
grunt "cultivated land"
hiža "house" {kuća}
kača "snake" {zmija}
klẹt "shack, small building in a vineyard"
kmica "dark, darkness" {tama, mrak}
kupica "glass (for water, wine), cup" {čaša}
kuruza "corn" {kukuruz}
lasi f pl. "hair" {kosa}
luknja "hole" {rupa}
  melja "flour" {brašno}
mẹša "(church) mass" {misa}
najže "attic" {tavan}
oblok "window" {prozor}
palnica "basement" {podrum}
pajcek "small pig" {prase}
pajdaš "buddy"
pẹnezi m pl. "money" {noväc}
pleča n pl. "back (of a person)" {leđa}
štreka "railroad" (pruga}
težak "worker" (radnik}
trsje "vineyard" (vinograd}
vanjkuš "pillow" {jastuk}
vẹs "village" (also selo) {selo}
vura "hour" {sat}
zdẹnẹc "well" {bunar}
zelje "cabbage" {kupus}

Certain nouns that were previously only found in Kajkavian (e.g. dečko "boy, boyfriend") are now used more widely and belong to Colloquial Croatian; on the other hand, many old Kajkavian words are being replaced by ones from the Standard Croatian. Furthermore, some nouns (e. g. črẹšnja, lasi, pẹnezi) are found in Čakavian as well.

In some regions, a short stress cannot be on the last syllable, therefore it's žẽna compared to Čakavian ženà. Generally, stress in Kajkavian is more similar to one in Čakavian, than to Standard Croatian or the most of Štokavian dialects.


The case patterns of adjectives again vary a bit, here's an "average" pattern:

casema        mi        n        f        
nom.sg.-, -i-, -i-œ-a
acc.sg.-œga-u (-o)
ins.sg.-ẹm (-im)-um (-om)
dat.pl.-ẹm (-im)
gen./loc.pl.-ẹh (-ih)
ins.pl.-ẹmi (-imi, -ami)

In some regions, but not everywhere, as in nouns, œ implies not the o/e variation, but ẹ/e, therefore, it's not lẹpo selo but lẹpẹ selẹ!

Another important thing is that most adjectives form comparative by adding -ši (in Standard only three use that ending). Keep in mind that in Kajkavian there's "disappearing e" instead of "disappearing a" of Štokavian, Čakavian and of course Standard:

dobẹr → bolši {dobär → bolji} "good → better"
slab → slabši {slab → slabiji} "weak → weaker"

Again, in some Kajkavian regions, -eji is used as well to form comparatives. The following adjectives are characteristic of Kajkavian:

betežẹn, betežna "ill" {bolestän}
črn "black" {crn}
glibok "deep" {dubok}
  grd "ugly" {ružän}
hud "evil" {zao}
nor "crazy" {lud}


The present tense has slightly modified and simplified endings; I have also listed "be", and its negation:

1st sg. -e-m -a-m -i-m sẹm nis
2nd sg. -e-š -a-š -i-š si nisi
2nd sg. -e -a -i je ni
1st pl. -e-me (-mo) -a-me (-mo) -i-me (-mo) sme (smo) nisme (-mo)
2nd pl. -e-te -a-te -i-te ste niste
3rd pl. -e-ju -a-ju -i-ju sọ nisọ

Some regions have -me in 1st pers. pl., others the usual -mo. As in Čakavian, "can" is just regular morem, but there's also a special verb "can not": nemrem. The comparative verb is just bi in all persons and numbers.

The future is formed either with verb bum + past part., or just present of perf. verbs is used. The verb bum is shortened budem and of course has present forms only:

bum čekal {čekat ću} "I will wait"
buju pili {pit će} "They will drink"
kupim to {kupit ću to} "I'll buy that"

Past participles of course have -l in sg. m, and ë is inserted instead of ä. In i/je-verbs pattern is modified:

rekẹl, rekla {rekäo, rekla} past part. "say" (perf.)
vidẹl, vidla {vidio, vidjëla} past part. "see" (perf.)

Infinitive is used only in constructs with other verbs, it's not used to form any tenses. There are two types of infinitives: with and without final -i. One with -i is used with non-motion verbs:

Nemrem spati. {Ne mogu spavati.} "I can't sleep."
Idem spat. {Idem spavati.} "I'm going to sleep."

For example of verb forms, here's a popular song in Kajkavian Kaj nam pak moreju:

Igramo polku, glazba nam svira      
Kaj nam pak moreju
Vužgi po bajsu, dosti je mira
Kaj nam pak moreju
Dignimo čaše u zdravlje naše
Kaj nam pak moreju
Kakav je da je, život nam paše
Kaj nam pak moreju

Igrame, pevame
I pajdaše dobre sebi zoveme
Igrame, pevame
I do zore mi se doma ne dame

The following verbs are characteristic of Kajkavian:

bẹžim, bẹžal "run" {trčim}
dẹnem, dẹl perf. "put" {stavim}
hičem, hital ~ hitim, hitil "throw" {bacam ~ bacim}
(h)očem, štel (!) "want" {hoću, htio, htjëla}
jamram "whine" {kukam}
naredim perf. "make" {napravim}
pem perf. "go" {idem}
razmem "understand" {razumijem}
rivam ~ rinem "push" {guram ~ gurnem}
spominam "talk" {razgovaram}
vlečem, vlekẹl, vlekla "pull" {vučem, vukäo, vukla}
zimam ~ zemem, zel "take" {uzimam ~ uzmem, uzeo}

Many Kajkavian verbs are also used in NW Čakavian; among them, all verbs derived from idem have -jdem (Std. -đem):

dẹlam "work" {radim}
dišim, dišal "smell" {mirišem, mirisao}
dojdem, došël, došla, dojti "come" {dođem, došäo, došla, doći}
iščem, iskal "search" {tražim}
kurim "burn" {palim}
mučim, mučal "keep silent" {šutim, šutio, šutjëla}
najdem, našël, našla, najti "find" {nađem, našäo, našla, naći}
otpirem, otpiral ~ otprem, otprl "open" {otvaram ~ otvorim}
peljam ~ do- "carry, bring" {vozim ~ dovezem, dovezao, dovezla, dovesti}
povẹdam ~ velim "tell, say" {govorim, kažem}
prosim "please, kindly ask" {molim}
spim, spal "sleep" {spavam}
tancam "dance" {plešem}
tẹčem, tẹkẹl, tẹkla, tẹči "run" {trčim}
zabim ~ po- "forget" {zaboravljam ~ zaboravim}
zapirem, zapiral ~ zaprem, zaprl "close" {zatvaram ~ zatvorim}

Updated 2013-03-08


Anonymous said...

So the conjunction "što" (as in "žao mi je što...) in the Kajkavian dialect would also be "što" or "kaj"? Or would it be as in Slovene?

Daniel N. said...

As far as I can tell, it is kaj.

Maria Violet said...


Anonymous said...

Do you happen to know where I might find a detailed grammar of literary Kajkavian? Either as a book, or a PDF, or any website? It can be in just about any language, not only English or Croatian. And thank you so much for the information you have provided on Croatian dialects - it is so valuable! Your hard work is greatly appreciated! This blog is a treasure! :-D

Daniel N. said...

Nažalost, nisam siguran, ali potražit ću. Što se tiče pohvala, hvala -- ali ovo još nije izdaleka gotovo.
Neki podaci o dijalektima su dosta teško dostupni, a i moje znanje nije preveliko... Svaka pomoć je dobrodošla. lp Daniel

Anonymous said...

We always say "kaj" where "što" is in standard croatian or in štokavian dialect:
"kaj ima?" = "što ima?"
"žao/žal mi je kaj..." = "žao mi je što..."
"kaj si delal jučer? = "što si radio jučer?"
So we always use "kaj" where in štokavian or standard croatian is used "što"...even when you ask as in question: "what?" in kajkavian is "kaj?" not "što?"...

Grgo said...

Maybe this can help you, relatively new website about Kaikavian language

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