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Shtokavian or Štokavian (štokavski) is the main dialect of the Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian languages.

The Štokavian dialect is spoken in Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the southern part of Austria’s Burgenland, and in part of Croatia. The Serbian, Croatian, and Bosnian standard languages are all based on the Neo-Štokavian dialect. Its name comes from the form for the interrogatory pronoun "what," which is što or šta in the Štokavian dialect. This is in contrast to the Croatian dialects of Kajkavian and Čakavian (kaj and ča also meaning "what").

The primary subdivisions of Štokavian are based on 2 principles: one is whether the subdialect is Old-Štokavian or Neo-Štokavian, and the different ways the old Slavic phoneme jat has been changed. Generally, modern dialectology recognizes 7 Štokavian subdialects (there are opinions that one or two subdialects more exist, but this is not universally accepted).


Early history of Štokavian

The Proto-Štokavian idiom appeared in the 12th century. In the following century or two, Štokavian was divided into two zones: western, which covered the major part of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Slavonia in Croatia, and eastern, dominant in the easternmost Bosnia and Herzegovina and greater parts of Montenegro and Serbia. The western Štokavian was characterized by 3-accents speech, while eastern štokavian was marked by 2-accents. According to the research of historical linguistics, the old-štokavian was well established by the mid-1400s. In this period it had been still mixed with Church Slavonic in various degrees, as well as with Chakavian dialect in Croatia and many parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Štokavian subdialects

The Štokavian dialect is divided into Old-Shtokavian and Neo-Shtokavian subdialects.



Timok-Prizren (Torlakian)

The oldest dialects stretch southeast from Timok near the Bulgarian border to Prizren. There is disagreement among linguists whether these dialects belong to the Štokavian area, as there are many other morphological characteristics apart from rendering of što which would place them into a "transitional" group between Štokavian and Eastern South Slavic languages (Bulgarian and Macedonian). These dialects split from the rest of the group at the onset of the Turkish conquest in the fourteenth century. The Timok-Prizren group falls to the Balkan linguistic union: declension has all but disappeared, the infinitive has yielded to subjunctives da-constructions, and adjectives are compared exclusively with suffixes. The accent in the dialect group is a stress accent, and it falls on any syllable in the word. The old semi-vowel has been retained throughout. The vocalic l has been retained (vlk = vuk), and some dialects don't distinguish ć/č and đ/dž by preferring the latter, postalveolar variants. Some subdialects preserve l at the end of words (where otherwise it has developed into a short o) – došl, znal, etc. (cf. Kajkavian and Bulgarian); in others, this l has become the syllable ja.

These speeches are dominant in Metohija,around Prizren,Gnjilane and Štrpce especially,in Southern Serbia around Bujanovac,Vranje,Leskovac,Niš,Aleksinac,in the part of Toplica Valley around Prokuplje, in Eastern Serbia around Pirot, Svrljig, Soko Banja,Boljevac,Knjaževac ending up with the area around Zaječar, where Kosovo-Resava dialect becomes more dominant.


Also called the or Archaic Šćakavian dialect, it is spoken by Croats who live in some parts of Slavonia, Bačka, Baranja, Syrmia, in Croatia and Vojvodina, as well as in northern Bosnia. The Slavonian dialect has mixed ikavian and ekavian pronunciation. Ikavian is predominant in the Posavina, Baranja, Bačka, and in the Slavonian sub-dialect enclave of Derventa, while ekavian is predominant in Podravina. There are also enclaves of one of both variants in the main territory of other and vice-versa, as well as mixed ekavian-ikavian and jekavian-ikavian areas. In some villages in Hungary the original yat is preserved. Local variants can widely differ in the degree of neo-shtokavian accent influences. In two villages in Posavina, Siče and Magića Male the l, as in the verb nosil, has been retained in place of the modern nosio. In some villages in the Podravina čr instead of the usual cr is preserved, for example in črn instead of crn. Both forms are usual in Kajkavian but very rare in Shtokavian.


Also called jekavian šćakavian, it has jekavian pronunciation in the vast majority of local forms and it is spoken by the majority of Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) living in area that include bigger Bosnian cities Sarajevo, Tuzla and Zenica, and by most of Croats and Serbs that live in that area. Together with basic jekavian pronunciation, mixed pronunciations exist in Tešanj and Maglaj dete-djeteta (ekavian-jekavian) and around Žepče and Jablanica djete-diteta (jekavian-ikavian). In the central area of the subdialect, the diphthong uo exists in some words instead of the archaic l and more common u like vuok or stuop, instead of the standard modern vuk and stup.

Zeta-South Sandžak

Also known as Old Ijekavian. It is spoken in eastern Montenegro, in Podgorica and Cetinje, around the city of Novi Pazar in eastern Sandžak in Serbia, and in the village of Peroj in Istria. Together with the dominant jekavian pronunciation, mixed pronunciations like djete-deteta (jekavian-ekavian) around Novi Pazar and Bijelo Polje, dite-đeteta (ikavian-jekavian) around Podgorica and dete-đeteta (ekavian-jekavian) in the village of Mrkojevići in southern Montenegro. Mrkovići are also characterised by remainings of čr instead of cr as in the previously mentioned villages in Podravina.

Some vernaculars have a special reflex of ь/ъ in some cases (between a and e) which is very rare in stokavian and chakavian vernaculars (sän and dän instead of san and dan). Other special phonetic features include sounds like ʝ in iʝesti instead of izjesti, ç as in śekira instead of sjekira. However these sounds are known also to many in East-Herzegovina like those in Konavle[1], and are not necessarily "Montenegrin" specificum. There is a loss of the /v/ sound apparent, seen in čo'ek or đa'ola. The loss of distinction between /lj/ and /l/ in some vernaculars is based on Albanian adstrate. Word pļesma is a hypercorrection (instead of pjesma) since many vernaculars know lj>j.

All verbs in infinitive finish with "t" (example: pjevat). These future have also most respective vernaculars of East-Herzegovinian, and actually almost all Serbian and Croatian vernaculars. The group a + o gave a ("ka" instead "kao", reka for rekao), like in other Serbian and Croatian seaside vernaculars. Otherwise, more common is ao>o.

Currently the Montenegrin language is undergoing a standardization process which will be somewhat based on the Zeta subdialect.


Also called Older Ekavian, spoken mostly in western and northeastern Kosovo ( Kosovo Valley with Kosovska Mitrovica and also around Peć ),in Ibar Valley with Kraljevo,around Kruševac,Trstenik and in Župa,in the part of Toplica Valley ( Kuršumlija ) in Morava Valley (Jagodina,Ćuprija,Paraćin,Lapovo),in Resava Valley (Svilajnac,Despotovac) and northeastern Serbia ( Smederevo,Požarevac,Bor,Majdanpek,Negotin,Velika Plana ) with one part of Banat (around Kovin, Bela Crkva and Vršac).

Substitution of jat is dominantly ekavian even on the end of datives (žene instead of ženi), in pronouns (teh instead of tih), in comparatives (dobrej instead of dobriji) and in the negative of biti (nesam instead of nisam) and in Smederevo-Vršac speeches ikavian forms can be found (di si instead of gde si?. ). However, Smederevo-Vršac speeches (spoken in northeastern Serbia and Banat) are considered to be part of a separate dialect,as they represent mixed speeches of Šumadija-Vojvodina and Kosovo-Resava speeches.



Also called Western Ikavian, Younger Ikavian majority is spoken mostly by Croats that live in Lika, Kvarner, Dalmatia, Herzegovina and (Croats-Bunjevac) of Bačka. Minority Bosniaks in western Bosnia mostly around the city of Bihać, and in central Bosnia Croats and Bosniaks (Travnik, Jajce, Bugojno,..), used to speak this dialect. Exclusively ikavian, Bosnian and Herzegovinian forms use o in verb participle, while those in Dalmatia and Lika use -ija or ia like in vidija/vidia. Local form of Bačka was proposed as base of Croats Bunjevac dialect in Vojvodina.


Also called Younger Ekavian, is spoken across most of Vojvodina, north-west Serbia,around Kragujevac and Valjevo in Šumadija,in Mačva but only around Šabac and Bogatić excluding Loznica and Podrinje,in Belgrade and in eastern Croatia around the town of Vukovar. It is dominately ekavian (ikavian forms are of morphophonological origin). In some parts of Vojvodina old declination is preserved. Most Vojvodina dialects and some dialects in Sumadija have an opened e and o. However the vernaculars of western Serbia, and in past to them connected vernaculars of (old) Belgrade and southwestern Banat (Borča, Pančevo, Bavanište) are close to standard as a vernacular can be. The dialect presents a base for the Serbian Ekavian standard.

East Herzegovinian

Also called East Herzegovina dialects and Younger Ijekavian. It is the biggest Shtokavian and Croatian, Bosnian, Serbian dialect it is spoken in western Montenegro. Micro groups:

The yat reflexes

The Proto-Slavic vowel jat has changed over time and is now being rendered in three different ways or reflexes:

  • In Ekavian (ekavski), jat has morphed into the vowel e
  • in Ikavian (ikavski), the vowel i
  • in Ijekavian or Jekavian (ijekavski or jekavski), the diphthong ije or je depending on whether the vowel was long or short.

Historically, the yat reflexes had been inscribed in Church Slavic texts before the significant development of štokavian dialect, reflecting the beginnings of the formative period of the vernacular. In early documents it is still either almost exclusively or predominantly Church Slavic of Serbian or Croatian variant (technical term is recension). First undoubtedly ekavian "yat reflex" had been inscribed in a document in Serbia ("beše"/it was), dated 1289, ikavian in Bosnia in 1331 ("svidoci"/witnesses), and first ijekavian in Croatia in 1399 ("želijemo"/we wish, a "hyperijekavism"). Partial inscriptions can be found in earlier texts (for instance, ikavian form is written in a few Bosnian documents in the latter half of the 13th century), but philologists generally accept the aforementioned data for yat reflexes. In second half of 20th century, many vernaculars with unsubstituted yat are found.[2] The intrusion of the vernacular into Church Slavic grew in time, to be finally replaced by the vernacular idiom. This process has taken place for Croats, Serbs and Bosniaks independently and without mutual interference until the mid-19th century. Historical linguistics, textual analysis and dialectology have dispelled myths about allegedly "unspoilt" vernacular speech of rural areas: for instance, it is established that Bosniaks have retained phoneme "h" in numerous words (unlike Serbs and Croats), due to elementary religious education based on the Koran, where this phoneme is the carrier of specific semantic value.

Ekavian, sometimes called eastern, is spoken primarily in Serbia, and very limited area in eastern Croatia. Ikavian, sometimes called western, is spoken in western and central Bosnia, western Herzegovina, in Slavonia and the major part of Dalmatia in Croatia. Ijekavian, sometimes called southern, is spoken in many parts of Croatia including southern Dalmatia, most of Bosnia, Herzegovina, Montenegro. The following are some generic examples:

English Predecessor Ekavian Ikavian Ijekavian
time vrěme vreme vrime vrijeme
beautiful lěp lep lip lijep
girl děvojka devojka divojka djevojka
true věran veran viran vjeran
to sit sědĕti sedeti (sèdeti) siditi (sìdeti) sjediti
to grow gray hairs sědeti sedeti (sédeti) siditi (sídeti) sijediti
to heat grějati grejati grijati grijati

Long ije is diphthongal among the majority of Ijekavian speakers; some Croatian authors recognize it as 31st phoneme of Croatian. In Zeta dialect and most of East Herzegovina dialect, it represents two syllables though. Serbian phonologists do not recognize it as separate phoneme (possibly as a heritage that East Herzegoviniana was the native dialect of Vuk Karadžić, the reformer of Serbian language). The distinction can be clearly heard in first verses of national anthems of Croatia and Montenegro—they're sung as "Lije-pa na-ša do-mo-vi-no" and "Oj svi-je-tla maj-ska zo-ro" respectively.

Ethnic affiliation of native speakers of štokavian dialect

During the 1st half of the 19th century, protagonists of nascent Slavic philology were, as far as South Slavic dialects were concerned, embroiled in frequently bitter polemic about "ethnic affiliation" of native speakers of various dialects. This, from contemporary point of view, rather bizarre obsession was motivated primarily by political and national interests that prompted philologists-turned-ideologues to express their views on the subject. The most prominent contenders in the squabble, with conflicting agenda, were Czech philologist Josef Dobrovský, Slovak Pavel Šafárik, Slovene Jernej Kopitar and Franc Miklošič, Serb Vuk Karadžić and Croatian Bogoslav Šulek and Vatroslav Jagić.

Essentially, the dispute was about who can, philologically, be labelled as "Slovene", "Croat" and "Serb" with the very mundane aim of expanding one's national territory and influence. Born in the climate of romanticism and national awakening, these polemical "battles" only succeeded in poisoning relations between the aforementioned nations, especially because the štokavian dialect cannot be split along ethnic lines. Like many other dialects (for instance, Plattdeutsch), it is "multiethnic" by its very nature.

However, contemporary native speakers, after process of national crystallization and identification had been completed, can be roughly identified as predominant speakers of various štokavian subdialects. Since standard languages propagated through media have strongly influenced and altered the situation in the 19th century, the following attribution must be treated with necessary caution.

The distribution of old-štokavian speakers along ethnic lines in present times is as follows:

  • Kosovo-Resava (Ekavian) dialect: vastly Serbian
  • Zeta-South Sanjak dialect (Ijekavian): Montenegrin, Bosniak and Serbian.
  • Slavonian dialect (fluctuating "yat": mainly Ikavian, also Ijekavian and Ekavian): vastly Croatian
  • Eastern-Bosnian dialect (Ijekavian): vastly Bosniak and Croatian

Generally, the neo-štokavian dialect is divided as follows with regard to the ethnicity of its native speakers:

  • Šumadija-Vojvodina dialect (Ekavian): vastly Serbian
  • Dalmatian-Bosnian dialect (Ikavian): vastly Croatian and Bosniak
  • Eastern-Herzegovinian (Ijekavian): Serbian, Montenegrin, Croatian and Bosniak
Group Sub-Dialect Serbian Croatian Bosnian Montenegrin
old-štokavian Kosovo-Resava x
Zeta-South Sanjak x x x
Slavonian x
Eastern Bosnian x x
neo-štokavian Šumadija-Vojvodina x
Dalmatian-Bosnian x x
Eastern Herzgovinian x x x x

Earliest texts of štokavian dialect

Proto-štokavian, or Church Slavic with ingredients of nascent štokavian, were recorded in legal documents like the charter of ban Kulin, regulating the commerce between Bosnia and Dubrovnik in Croatia, dated 1189, and in liturgical texts like Gršković’s and Mihanović’s fragments, ca. 1150, in southern Bosnia or Herzegovina. Experts's opinions are divided with regard to the extent these texts, especially the Kulin ban parchment, contain contemporary štokavian vernacular. Mainly štokavian, with ingredients of Church Slavic, are numerous legal and commercial documents from pre-Ottoman Bosnia, Hum, Serbia, Zeta, and southern Dalmatia, especially Dubrovnik. First comprehensive vernacular štokavian text is the Vatican Croatian Prayer Book, written a decade or two before 1400 in Dubrovnik. In next two centuries štokavian vernacular texts had been written mainly in Dubrovnik, other Adria cities and islands influenced by Dubrovnik, as well as in Bosnia, by Bosnian Franciscans and Bosniak Muslim vernacular alhamiado literature – the first example being "Chirwat turkisi" or "Croatian song", dated 1589.

Standard languages

Shtokavian Subdialect en.png

Standard languages Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian are all based on neo-štokavian dialect.

However, it must be stressed that standard languages, irrespectively of their mutual differences, have been stylised in such manners that parts of the neo-štokavian dialect have been retained—for instance, declension —but other features were purposely omitted or altered—for instance, the phoneme "h" was re-instated in standard languages.

The Croatian language has had a long tradition of štokavian vernacular literacy and literature. It took almost four and half centuries for štokavian to prevail as the dialectal basis for Croatian standard. In other periods, čakavian and kajkavian dialects, as well as hybrid čakavian–kajkavian–štokavian interdialect "contended" for the Croatian national koine – but eventually lost, mainly due to historical and political reasons. By 1650s it was fairly obvious that štokavian would become the dialectal basis for the Croatian standard, but this process was finally completed in 1850s, when neo-štokavian Ijekavian, based mainly on Ragusan (Dubrovnik), Dalmatian, Bosnian and Slavonian literary heritage became national standard language.

Serbian language was much faster in standardisation. Although vernacular literature was present in the 18th century, it was Vuk Karadžić who, between 1818 and 1851, made a radical break with the past and established Serbian neo-štokavian folklore idiom as the basis of standard Serbian (until then, educated Serbs had been using Serbian Slavic, Russian Slavic and hybrid Russian-Serbian language). Although he wrote in Serbian Ijekavian, the majority of Serbs have adopted Ekavian, which is dominant in Serbia. Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia, as well as Montenegrins, use Ijekavian variant of standard Serbian language.

Bosnian language is only currently beginning to take shape. Bosniaks idiom can be seen as a transition between Serbian Ijekavian and Croatian languages, with some specific traits. After the collapse of Yugoslavia, Bosniaks affirmed their wish to stylise their own standard language, based on neo-štokavian dialect, but reflecting their characteristics—from phonetics to semantics.

Also, contemporary situation is unstable with regard to the accentuation, since phoneticians have observed that 4-accents speech has, in all likelihood, shown to be increasingly unstable, which resulted in proposals that 3-accents norm be prescribed. This is particularly true for Croatian, where, contrary to all expectations, the influence of čakavian and kajkavian dialects on the standard language has been waxing, not waning, in the past 50–70 years.

Croatian, Serbian and Bosnian standard languages, although all based on neo-štokavian dialect (or, more precisely, various subdialects) and mutually intelligible, are recognizably different in their prescribed forms as standard or literary languages. Their structures are almost identical in basic grammar, but have differences in other fields—from phonetics, phonology and morphology to syntax, semantics and pragmatics. For other traits, see Differences in official languages in Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia.

Example: Što jest, jest; tako je uv(ij)ek bilo, što će biti, ( biće / bit će ), a nekako već će biti!

(The first option in the middle of the sentence is a difference between Ekavian and Ijekavian. The second option in the middle is difference between Serbian and Croatian norms, respectively.)

Another "classic" example is:

English: Cooking salt is a compound of sodium and chlorine.
Croatian: Kuhinjska sol je spoj natrija i klora.
Serbian: Kuhinjska so je jedinjenje natrijuma i hlora.
Bosnian: Kuhinjska so je spoj natrija i hlora.


  1. ^ Kašić, Govor Konavla, SDZb XLI (1995), 241-396
  2. ^ P. Ivić, Putevi razvoja srpskohrvatskog vokalizma, Voprosy jazykoznanija VII/1 (1958), revised in Iz istorije srpskohrvatske dijalektologije, Niš 1991

Further reading

  • Peco, A. (1967). "Uticaj turskog jezika na fonetiku štokavskih govora". Naš jezik, 16, 3. (Serbian)

See also

External links


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