Written by: Milica Bokšan

Počni da pričaš i reći ću ti odakle si. (= Start talking, and I’ll tell you where you’re from.)

Serbian dialects are so specific that you can instantly tell who’s from which village or town by hearing them talk.

Usually, people acquire the language as it’s taught in schools, so dialects are heard less and less.

But let’s continue, and this will become much clearer!

Division of Serbian Pronunciations

The Serbian language has two main pronunciations.

According to the pronunciation of the old voice JAT, Serbian pronunciations are divided into:

  • ekavski (= ekavian pronunciation)
  • ijekavski (= ijekavian pronunciation)

There’s also a third Serbian pronunciation.

It’s called ikavski (= ikavian pronunciation), but this pronunciation did not become part of the Serbian official language.

This is the simplest way to explain all of this:

If the letter E replaces the former sound JAT, it’s an ekavski izgovor.

For example:

The word mleko belongs to ekavian pronunciation.

If the letter group JE or IJE replaces the former sound JAT, it’s an ijekavski izgovor.

For example:

The word mlijeko belongs to ijekavian pronunciation.

Depending on the length of the pronunciation of the letter E in the word, the word will have either JE or IJE in ijekavian pronunciation.

Since the E in the word mleko is long, it will have IJE when it comes to ijekavian pronunciation.

But, for example, the word pesma has a short E, so in the ijekavian pronunciation, it will be pjesma.

In case the old voice JAT was replaced with the letter I, it’s ikavski izgovor.

For example:

The word dite (= child) belongs to ikavian pronunciation.

Each of these pronunciations has its Serbian dialects.

Serbian Dialects

First things first, let’s remember some basic grammar definitions.

Dialects are language varieties spoken by people in a certain geographical area.

The Serbian language has 5 different dialects.

Each of the Serbian dialects has its own characteristics.

The main differences are based on using cases and accents.

Ekavian pronunciation has three dialects:

  • prizrensko-timočki dijalekat

Prizrensko-timočki dialect has two cases, nominative and accusative, and one syllable in a word is pronounced stronger and shorter.

You can hear it in southeastern Serbia and southern Kosovo.

For example, in the famous Serbian movie (and book) Zona Zamfirova, you can hear how the prizrensko-timočki dialect sounds:

  • kosovsko-resavski dijalekat

This dialect has only two falling accents.

It is spoken in eastern central Serbia and central Kosovo.

Maybe you heard of the Serbian band Hurricane? These words are pronounced by Sanja Vučić, a former member of this band.

She’s a Serbian singer from Kruševac who’s extremely proud of her Kosovo-Resava dialect!

You can listen to how a few words sound in this dialect:

  • šumadijsko-vojvođanski dijalekat

It has all 7 Serbian cases and 4 accents.

This dialect is spoken in central and northern Serbia, including Belgrade.

Listen to an insert from the Pop Ćira i pop Spira movie to hear this dialect.

When it comes to Ijekavian pronunciation, it has two dialects:

  • zetsko-južnosandžački dijalekat

Zetsko-južnosandžački dialect has two falling accents and there is no difference between accusative and locative.

This dialect is spoken in the eastern part of Montenegro and southwestern Serbia. In southwestern Serbia, it belongs to Ekavian pronunciation, while in Montenegro it belongs to the Ijekavian pronunciation.

Listen to these people from Novi Pazar, a small town in southwestern Serbia:

  • istočnohercegovački dijalekat

It has all 7 Serbian cases and 4 accents.

It’s spoken in southwestern Serbia, the western part of Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia.

Listen to the Serbian folk fairytale Đevojka brža od konja (= A Girl Faster Than a Horse) to get familiar with this dialect:

It is considered the dialect that is the most close to the literary Serbian language.

It’s important to emphasize that these dialects are not used equally in speech.

In Serbia, you can mostly hear the Šumadija-Vojvodina dialect. It’s one of the two dialects that form the basis of the Serbian standard language (also called the Serbian official language).

The Serbian official language is the language taught in schools and, as such, has its own rules.

To summarize, the Serbian official language is based on:

  • šumadijsko-vojvođanski dijalekat
  • istočnohercegovački dijalekat

Those who use these two dialects also use all seven Serbian cases and four accents.

Now, let’s find out more about Serbian cases and accents!

7 Serbian Cases

In English, only one form of nouns and adjectives is used, while in Serbia, it’s a more complex situation.

The Serbian language distinguishes seven different cases.

These are:

  1. Nominativ (= Nominative)

It answers the questions ko (= who) and šta (= what).

Ko peva? – Žena.

Who sings? – A woman.

  1. Genitiv (= Genitive)

It answers the questions od koga (= of whom) and od čega (= of what).

Od koga se to čuje pesma? – Od žene.

Who’s that song coming from? – From a woman.

  1. Dativ (= Dative)

It answers the questions kome (= to whom) and čemu (= to what).

Kome nosiš kolače? – Ženi.

Who are you carrying cakes to? – To a woman.

  1. Akuzativ (= Accusative)

It answers the questions koga (= whom) and šta (= what).

Koga si video? – Ženu.

Who did you see? – A woman.

  1. Vokativ (= Vocative)

The vocative case is used for addressing. It can go with the exclamation hej (= hey).

Hej, ženo!

Hey, woman!

  1. Instrumental (= Instrumental)

It answers the questions s kim (= with whom) and čime (= with what).

S kim pričaš? – Sa ženom.

With whom are you talking? – With the woman.

serbian dialects serbian cases serbian woman
Pozdrav! (= Hello!)
  1. Lokativ (= Locative)

It answers the questions o kome (= about whom) and o čemu (= on what).

O kome pričaš? – O ženi.

About whom are you talking? – About the woman.

We know that this may seem like too much information.

That’s why we’ve already prepared for you an ultimate guide to Serbian cases!

4 Serbian Accents

The accent system helps us emphasize and pronounce words correctly.

Here are all 4 Serbian accents and their symbols:

  • kratkosilazni akcenat  (= short falling accent)

Its symbol is ȁ.

For example:

brȁt (= brother)

The letter ‘a’ is stressed and pronounced short and fast.

  • dugosilazni akcenat (= long falling accent)

Its symbol is ȃ.

For example:

mrâv (= ant)

The letter ‘a’ is stressed. When it’s spoken, it’s pronounced in a long-falling manner.

  • kratkouzlazni akcenat (= short rising accent)

Its symbol is à.

For example:

matemàtika (= mathematics)

The second letter ‘a’ is stressed. It’s pronounced short, and intonation is rising.

  • dugouzlazni akcenat (= long rising accent)

Its symbol is á.

For example:

sigúrnost (= safety)

The letter ‘u’ is stressed. It’s pronounced longer than the other vowels, and the intonation is rising.

serbian dialects serbian accents man
You can get those accents! Hang in there!

The placement of the accent in the Serbian language really depends on the dialect, so for many words, there is no way to know where the accent falls.

However, there are a few rules regarding Serbian accents:

  1. Words of one syllable can only have falling accents.
  2. The last syllable can never bear an accent.
  3. The first syllable can have any type of accent.
  4. The middle syllables can only have rising accents.

As it is not fixed, the type and placement of the accent in the Serbian language can be confusing, and we recommend not burdening yourself with it if you are a beginner. That is something reserved for the advanced C1 level.

For this reason, when you learn new words in Serbian, we recommend underlining the place of the accent and just memorizing how the word is pronounced.

Where else can you hear different Serbian dialects?

The most basic way to hear Serbian dialects is to go to specific parts of Serbia and hear the dialects directly from the inhabitants.

But there are a few other ways to get acquainted with the diversity of the Serbian language.

  1. Read books and watch movies

There are some books and movies that can help you get to know Serbian dialects.

Some of the books are:

  • Zona Zamfirova
  • Ivkova slava
  • Pop Ćira i pop Spira

All of them were written by Serbian writer Stevan Sremac.

In the first two books, the conversations between the characters were written in prizrensko-timočki dijalekat, and in the third, they were written in šumadijsko-vojvođanski dijalekat.

Kosovsko-resavski dijalekat is present in parts of the novel Petrijin venac by Dragoslav Mihailović.

Movies of the same name were made based on all these books.

  1. Visit the capital city of Serbia

Many people move to Belgrade from different parts of Serbia and the region.

There are several reasons for moving, but the most common are those connected with faculties (Belgrade is a University town) or jobs.

The conversations usually start with who comes from which geographical area.

Even though most people speak the standard Serbian language (the one you learn when you want to learn Serbian), they do not forget their dialects.

Suppose the interlocutor tells you that they were born in Leskovac, Negotin, Vranje, Pirot, Prizren, Kosovo, or some other area outside of Šumadija and Vojvodina. In that case, you can ask them to tell you something in the dialect characteristic of the area where they lived.

Tip: Be careful when asking this question.

People sometimes find it difficult to accept differences. That’s why people with certain dialects are often ridiculed for an unjustified reason.

Sometimes the use of dialects is considered illiteracy. The reason lies in the fact that they differ from the standard Serbian language taught in schools.

Therefore, if you want to hear what the dialect sounds like, it would be best to ask someone you are close to or already know.

This way, they’ll know that you’re asking out of curiosity and not because you want to correct them in their speech.

Finally, let’s sum up!

If this all sounds too complicated, you’re not the only one who might feel that way.

Some parts of Serbian grammar are difficult even for native speakers.

If you want to learn Serbian grammar and, of course, the language, you can start with Serbian lessons for foreigners.

Everything is easier with reliable tutors and well-organized resources!