82 Other Related Languages

Macedonian and Bulgarian

These two languages are quite similar. They belong to "Eastern South Slavic" group. The most striking feature is that they lost cases, there are only basic forms for personal pronouns (nom., acc., dat.) — and the result is a grammar similar to Spanish and Italian. For instance (Macedonian):

Jas ja imam pročitano kniga-ta.
"I have read the book."

The grammar is very similar to English in some aspects: past is formed with "have" and passive participle, there is a definite article (however, appended to a noun), etc. Macedonian and Bulgarian are normally written in Cyrilic script only, but they have some different symbols, and both differ from Serbian Cyrillic. The "final L rule" is turned off. "Yat" is always e in Macedonian, but often ja in Bulgarian -- hence the name "yat"! "Yers" are split to different vowels (Macedonian : Bulgarian):

[under construction]
десет deset "ten" {deset}
име ime "name" {ime}
месо meso "meat" {meso}
пет pet "five" {pet}
се se acc. "self" {se}

млеко mleko : мляко mljako "milk" {mlijëko}
град grad "city, town" {grad}
    среда sreda : сряда srjada "Wednesday" {srijëda}
тело telo : тяло tjalo "body" {tijëlo}

сон son : сън sən "dream" {sän}
штица štica "plank" {däska}

ветер veter : вятър vjatər "wind" {vjëtär}
.. "glass" {stäklo}

Old Church Slavic is a language that was spoken 1000 years ago in today's Bulgaria, that was used to translate some Christian books. That language has all complex features we have seen in Croatian, the dual from Slovenian and much more. It helps to explain many features of today Slavic languages. It had 11 distinct vowels, for example. It's relation to Croatian is in a way what Latin is to today's Spanish.


Russian is written in Cyrillic script only, but of course it's different than Serbian, Bulgarian or Macedonian Cyrillic! Russian has a special way of writing "soft" consonants (like Croatian lj) — in my opinion, as complicated as possible. To illustrate the system, I will show declension of student "student" and učitelj "teacher" in Croatian and Russian. In both languages they have the same meaning, they are masculine animate in both languages. The Russian declension in singular is quite similar to Standard Croatian (no vocative but a separate locative case), and even closer to Čakavian or Kajkavian:

caseCroatianRussian CroatianRussian

Can you see it? Russian writes the "soft" l (= Croatian lj) as ль, but if there's a vowel after it, Russian uses special signs: l’a = l-’a = ля. Other "softening+vowel" combinations are е (’e), и (’i), ё (’o) and ю (’u).

"Non-softening" vowels are а (a), э (e), ы (i), о (o), and у (u). Russian has a sign for j (й) but uses it only at the end of a word or before other consonant; at other positions, the "combination vowels" are used. Even worse, some consonants cannot be softened (e.g č) so for instance чи is just pronounced či, and there's even spelling ночь, pronounced just noč and meaning of course "night" (Croatian noć).

Yet another complication is that Russian vowels are pronounced differently in various positions, depending on the stress; its position is roughly as in Čakavian. For instance Russian ona "she" looks identical to the Croatian word of the same meaning, but since the stress is on the last syllable — and that's not indicated in Russian spelling — it's pronounced actually as /anà/! This is a famous phenomenon called akanje. As in Čakavian, the stress often moves from case to case, and so the pronunciation changes from case to case... no wonder I understand written Russian much better than spoken, despite the Cyrillic!

Russian verbs in 1st pers. present mostly end in -u, while in Croatian there's only two (hoću, mogu). Otherwise, the system is close to Kajkavian: the future is budu + inf., or just a perf. verb, the conditional verb is always just bi. Strangely, Russian does not use the verb sam, bio but it's somehow implied:

Я студент. Ja stud’ent. "I am a student." {Ja säm student.}
Ты читал книгу. Ti čital kn’igu. "You were reading a book." {Ti si čitao knjigu.}

As you see, the "Final L Rule" is turned off in Russian. There are 5 vowels. 'Yat' is always e, and 'yer' can be either o or e. In some circumstances Russian ja (spelled of course as я) corresponds to Croatian e. Croatian sequences l/r + a/yat + consonant have additional vowels in Russian (Croatian equivalents are in curly braces {...}, all have the same meaning).

десять d’es’at’ "ten" {deset}
имя im’a "name" {ime}
мясо m’aso "meat" {meso}
пять p’at’ "five" {pet}
ся s’a acc. "self" {se}

молоко moloko "milk" {mlijëko}
город gorod "city, town" {grad}
    среда sr’eda "Wednesday" {srijëda}
тело t’elo "body" {tijëlo}

сон son "dream" {sän}
доска doska "plank" {däska}

ветер v’et’er "wind" {vjëtär}
стекло st’eklo "glass" {stäklo}

There are other differences, for instance there are no short pronouns in Russian. Some prepositions are different, etc. So much about it.

Other Slavic Languages

Belarusian and Ukrainian languages are similar to Russian, but different a bit. They both use Cyrillic script only — of course, sightly different than the Russian one. A substantial part of population of Belarus and Ukraine speaks Russian as their first language.

Czech has a spelling similar to Croatian (actually, Croats "borrowed" it from Czechs) but is more complicated in some aspects of grammar. For instance, Croatian distinguishes nouns and adjectives with "soft" endings (on č, ć, đ, lj, š, nj, lj, ž, j) and "hard" endings (anything else) only by occasional -e- vs. -o- in endings. Not so in Czech. There are quite different patterns for nouns ending on a soft or hard consonant:

ma  mi  n     ma  mi  n    
nom. sg.--o --e
acc. sg.-a--e-
dat. sg.-u, -ovi-u-i, -ovi-i
loc. sg.-u, -e, -ě
gen. sg.-a-u, -a-a-e
ins. sg.-em

I have omitted patterns for a- and i-nouns for brevity. You see, it's more complicated than Croatian.

Czech words are always stressed on the first syllable: marks á, ó etc. mean long vowels, a distinction that's really important to Czech. Some sounds have more than one spelling for historic reasons: i can be also spelled y, ú can be also spelled ů. There are special sounds spelled as d', ň, ř and t', in addition to Croatian-like č, š and ž.

There's also a "vowel-like" l in words like pln "full" {pun} and vlk "wolf" {vuk}, in addition to vowel-like r that's also shared by Croatian.

Destiny of 'yat' and 'yer' is not simple at all in Czech, as illustrated by the following words. All have the same meanings in Croatian and Czech except hrad "castle" vs. grad "city".

deset "ten" {deset}
jméno "name" {ime}
maso "meat" {meso}
pět "five" {pet}
se acc. "self" {se}

mléko "milk" {mlijëko}
hrad "castle" {grad "city"}
    středa "Wednesday" {srijëda}
tělo "body" {tijëlo}

sen "dream" {sän}
deska "plank" {däska}

vítr "wind" {vjëtär}
sklo "glass" {stäklo}

Compare them with the corresponding Russian words above!

Updated 2013-02-22


Niby filozof said...

The Polish language is a West Slavic language written in the Latin alphabet. The Polish version of the Latin alphabet has 32 letters and 7 diagram characters. The Polish alphabet differs from other Latin Slavic alphabets in that it has no carats and the “v” sound in Polish words is always written as “w”. Polish retains the Old Slavonic nasal vowels ą,ę in spelling not always in writing. Note: the ą is not a nasal “a”, but a nasal “o”. Polish softens the c,d,n,s,z – ć, dz, ń, ś ,ź. Croatian Đ, ž, dž is dź, ż, dż.

Polish words In italic/ pronounciation in(….)
Dziesięć "ten" {deset}
imię (imie/imje)"name" {ime}
mięso (mienso/mjenso) "meat" {meso}
pięć (pjenć/pieńć)"five" {pet}
się (sie/sjem) "self" {se}

mleko "milk" {mlijëko}
gród (archaic; today we call cities „miasto”) "city, town" {grad}
środa "Wednesday" {srijëda}
ciało "body" {tijëlo}

sen "dream" {sän}
deska "plank" {däska}

wiatr (vjatr)"wind" {vjëtär}
szkło(shklo) glass" {stäklo}

Declension of student In Polish

Nom sg student
Gen. sg studenta
Dat sg studentowi
Acc sg studenta
Instr sg studentem
Locat sg studencie
Vocat sg studencie

Declension of nauczyciel “teacher”

Nom sg nauczyciel
Gen sg nauczyciela
Dat sg nauczycielowi
Acc sg nauczyciela
Inst sg nauczycielem
Locat sg nauczycielu
Vocat sg nauczycielu

For comparison the feminine form of teacher „nauczycielka”

Nom sg nauczycielka
Gen sg nauczycielki
Dat sg nauczycielce
Acc sg nauczycielkę
Inst sg nauczycielką
Locat sg nauczycielce
Vocat sg nauczycielko

Niby filozof said...

Polish orthography demands time. The biggest problems in learning Polish are rz/ż, u/ó. Even many Poles do not understand why we write rz; it is a natural consequence of the fact that the r is always rolled. The worst thing is that in translation words or Polish language courses "przestępstwo" are translated as "pshe" not as "pr'e". I noticed this that after I tried speaking with a Bosniak in a half Polish-SCB, he started repeating the rolling r, and soon even he was pronouncing the words with the proper "rz" sound.
Our pronounciation is a result of our national character. The modern Polish was formed in constant relationship with the Belarussian and Ukrainian languages, there are many similarities which nationalism tells us don't exist.

Fred said...

This is a pretty good summary of the Slavic language relationships. As a Croat (from New Zealand) and a pretty good speaker of Czech, I have learned most of my Croatian with Czech as reference point. It is enjoyable to me to note the differences and similarities between languages and I agree with a commenter above about Polish - I can read it at basic level but can't understand much listening to it.

It is funny how the same words crop up in the other languages but with different yet related meanings. For instance, "brzo" means "early" in Czech whereas it more or less means "quick". "Vrata" means "gate" in Czech but "door" in Croatian. There are numerous instances like this.

I think Croatian is simpler to learn - in Czech there are a variety of words used where "da" would be in Croatian. For instance, Czech has a special class of conditional called "aby" which translates as "in order to" or "in order that". Instead of "Mislim da", Czech uses "Myslím že". I have to say, I like listening to Czech because the long vowels make the language sound more musical to my ears but that's me. Neither approach is necessarily better - each language has its own way of pronouncing essentially the same words which is cool.

Thanks for this site - I used your lessons as a starting point (alongside Teach Yourself Croatian) to get a pretty good grasp on the language before heading to Dubrovnik last year. Keep up the good work, I am learning a tremendous amount from your informative posts.

Fred Lunjevich

Anonymous said...

I love this language. I learn croatian with a native teacher and now I'm able to understand the Croatian culture.

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