Friday, 11 December 2020

Learning Croatian: How to Speak Dalmatian Using Only Vowels

December 11, 2020 - How hard is the Croatian language really? Perhaps it depends a little on your teacher - here is how to speak Dalmatian using only vowels. 

Anyone who has spent an extended amount of time in Dalmatia, particularly out of season, will be familiar with the Dalmatian Grunt. It is a gruff form of greeting, which can sound quite threatening, but is actually a very friendly and informal way of locals greeting each other.

In all my years in Dalmatia, never did I find a finer exponent of the Dalmatian Grunt than Frank John Dubokovich in Jelsa on Hvar. In fact, listening to Frankie speak Dalmatian was an exercise in anthropology - what the hell was he saying, and did anyone have a clue what he was saying (I certainly didn't).  

The grunt gave me an idea several years ago - to start a YouTube guide in how to speak Dalmatian, Hvar-style. It was a small project without any planning, but as longterm readers of TCN (and Total Hvar before that) may recall, the series got off to a flying start with Lesson One, above, the Dalmatian Grunt, amassing over 50,000 views on YouTube before my channel was removed for some reason.  Frankie became known as Professor Frank John Dubokovich, Guardian of the Hvar Dialects, and his unique teaching methods had him appear on both national and international television after a British TV  reality show commissioned him to teach its contestants in Croatia. 

With the loss of the YouTube channel, I feared that the videos were lost forever, but I have managed to salvage many of them and so am in the process of republishing them once more, several years later. 

Grunting of course is just a small part of the sophisticated Dalmatian language arsenal. What is even more impressive is how locals can use vowels to such incredible effect to convey meaning. So much so, in fact, that one wonders at times if one needs consonants to speak Dalmatian at all. 

In our latest episode, The Professor hopped on the catamaran to visit me in Split, where he gave a masterclass in how to speak Dalmatian using only vowels, over a coffee (or perhaps something stronger) at Brasserie on 7 on the Split waterfront. 

Nothing I have heard in any language comes close to the linguistic genius contained in the Dalmatian phrase, A e!

Not convinced by The Professor's methods? Here are 25 common mistakes foreigners make when speaking Croatian, as compiled from Cro2Go's Mihaela Sego.

Friday, 13 November 2020

Ćešho Vopi? A Linguistic and Historical Guide to Šatro

November 12, 2020 - Šatro: bačkizagre skisvinj tinskila! itsyay ikelay igpay atinlay!

Picture the scene. You are in Zagreb and you meet a group of locals. You befriend them and start to hang out with them for the next week or two during your stay.  You are as fluent as a dried-up lake in Croatian, but naturally, you start to grab a word or two by hanging out with these local purgers (nickname for people from Zagreb). 'Dajte nam molim pivo' (please give us beer), 'Kužim te' (I understand you) and other necessary phrases are captured in your mind as you realize they are essential. 'Hoćeš pivo?', asked you your Croatian friend that offered to buy your second round and you replied with 'Da!' (Yes) because as you learned by now, it's hard to decline such an offer. You finish the beer and another friend, seeing your mug/bottle empty comes to you and asks 'Ćešho vopi?' And you are confused. You only had two beers, is he already drunk? But he seems sober, are you maybe already drunk? He asked you again and you still heard the same massacred question and you probably start worrying you should be taken to a hospital. Fear not, as your friend is just messing with you and introducing you to Šatrovica.

eplacingray ethay ablesyllay orderyay

Šatrovica or Šatrovački, Šatra and Šatro is argon, a south-Slavic form of pig Latin represented in the Croatian, Serbian and Bosnian languages. It is mainly represented in Ex-Yu capitals (Zagreb, Belgrade and Sarajevo) and in Croatia, it's associated with Zagreb subcultures. It may seem odd at first, but it is fairly simple once you are fluent in Croatian, as the secret of this secret language is simply in replacing the syllable order. Dr. Ivo Žanić, professor of Croatian language and sociolinguistics for journalists at the Faculty of Political Science on Zagreb University pointed out, when I asked him about Šatrovica, that I perceive it in my question as slang. However, he says, there are two ways to look at Šatrovica. 

‘It's useful to distinguish Šatrovica as a lingual practice of marginal groups (such as drug addicts, drug dealers, prisoners, pimps and prostitutes) and as slang for certain age and subculture (students, ravers, bikers, football fans, etc)’, said Žanić. He also stated that the two differences overlap at times.  When asked why Šatrovica didn't catch on in other cities, Žanić said that there are many forms of slangs in other cities and while Zagreb, being the biggest and most influential city, Šatrovica is more known than other slangs (as a practice of replacing the syllable order), but not the only one. ‘Do you truly think that Daruvar's adolescents or bikers in Rovinj don't have their own slang?’, Žanić asked me. Given that Šatrovica became a matter of local patriotic pride amongst many in Zagreb, it seems Žanić made a valid point that other cities have their own slang valued to the same extent. 

uncertainyay originyay

Argots such as Šatrovica, where speakers play with letters in a word are no strangers to many languages. While for modern pig Latin in English the origin can be traced as early as 1919 thanks to the singer Arthur Fields and his song ‘Pig Latin Love’ Žanić says for Šatrovica that it's impossible to trace its origin and development since it started as a vocal language. Even though you can find it in some of the Croatian novels today and much more in Croatian rap, it didn't have written track in its beginning. 'It is strictly a vocal idiom', he pointed out.

However, the scientific interest for the subject, seldom as it is, dates as early as 1979.  when  Željka Fink published an article in a scientific journal Wiener Slawistischer Almanach. In her scientific research, Fink tracked the words used among high schoolers in Zagreb, which were noticed and recorded in 1930's by a linguist Josef Hamm and then compared them to what was Šatrovica in 1970's. Looking at Hamm's text titled ‘Two or three words about Zagreb high-schoolers speech’ and the list of words he gave, it becomes obvious that the majority of those words are neither used nor understood by Zagreb's youth today. Other words from that period which young purgers use today, had a bit different context in 1930's slang and there wasn't any use of Šatrovica, as we know it today, given that back then (at least to Hamm's knowledge) high-schoolers didn't replace syllable order.

What's even more interesting, the title of Finks scientific research is translated to English (officially translated by Croatian scientific bibliography Crosbi) as ‘Slang in Croatia: Yesterday and Today’, while in the original Croatian title, slang is replaced with Šatrovački govor (Šatrovački speech). Such distinction in the title on the two languages underlines the uncertainty of classifying Šatrovica as a word game, a secret language (that is no longer so secretive) or as slang for youth? (or all at once, overlapping, as Žanić said). But, do people truly perceive Šatrovica as slang or do they differ the two?  

oicevay ofyay ocalslay

I asked several locals from Zagreb their opinion on the differences between Zagreb's slang and Šatrovica.

Matija Šalat Zagreb born, Stenjevec raised says he doesn't use Šatro that much but has several friends who actively use it. ‘I'm not sure what would be the difference between Šatro and slang, I actually think Šatrovica can be classified as a broader part of Zagreb slang. I think it is certainly very spread amongst young people who feel very connected to Zagreb and who are proud to live here’, he concludes.

A local musician from Sopot neighborhood, Dino Saurić remembers using Šatrovica the most in high-school and at university. He pointed out, however, that it was mostly used while joking with friends, while slang is something he uses regularly and mostly in a friendly atmosphere. ‘Šatrovica is twisting out words, while slang is not twisting words but using non-formal language’, said Saurić putting an example of the word buraz (bro) instead of brat (brother). ‘Its nice to hear someone use that street talk in a normal way’, concluded Dino.

Raised in Trnsko neighborhood, Marko Medaković is an upcoming rapper who soon plans to release his hip hop material. He rarely uses Šatro and it's usually in his writing to open more space for rhyming. ‘It seems to me we use Šatro to look cool, it is more reserved for younger generations while slang words are used for easier communication’, says Marko. He adds that Šatro is mostly connected to the old school hip hop and it was especially popularised by a cult-status rap duo from Zagreb Tram 11 and newer local rap names such as Tibor.

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  To conclude, Šatrovački today is a distinctive part of Zagreb's pop-culture in Croatia and it's an argot where you replace the syllable order. It is usually done by using a consonant in the middle of a word as a breaking point and then putting it at the start followed by all other letters behind it and leave the first part of the word as it was. You can, in theory, talk full sentences in Šatrovica, but locals will usually only use one word, the one they want to underline in a sentence. Also, some words are more converted to Šatrovica than others. Sometimes a vowel is replaced with a different one, so it doesn't resemble another word of a formal language (or for other unexplained reasons). Even though it was used by criminals, today its not that big of a secret and everyone (including the police) easily catches what the secret meaning is. If you are lucky enough, you could perhaps find an entire dictionary of Šatrovica, written by Tomislav Sabljak in 1981 as a nice souvenir for any of you bookworm tourists out there. In the meantime, here are some of the words, along with their meaning and sentence use examples to impress the locals you befriend while in Zagreb.

Ćešho = hoćeš (want) – Ćešho ići na koncert? (Do you want to go to the concert?)

Čašpri = pričaš (you talk) – Čašpri dobru Šatru (you talk good Šatro)

Lahva= hvala (thank you) – Lahva kaj si me pričekao (thanks for waiting for me)

Vopi = pivo (beer) – Daj mi vopi (give me beer)

Vugla= glava (head) – Ne idem van, boli me vugla (I'm not going out, my head hurts)

Mado = doma (home) – Umoran sam, idem mado (I'm tired, I'm going home)

Vutra = trava (weed) – Je li u Hrvatskoj legalna vutra? (Is weed legal in Croatia?)

Đido = dođi (come) – Đido na kavu (Come for coffee)

Trasu = sutra (tommorow) – Vidimo se trasu (see you tommorow)

Brodo = dobro (well) – Nije mi brodo (I'm not well)

Žišku = kužiš (understand) – ti žišku kaj ovaj priča? (Do you understand what this guy is saying?)



Saturday, 6 April 2019

Picture Book Launched in Bid to Preserve Istro-Romanian Language

ZAGREB, April 6, 2019 - A group of researchers and enthusiasts have recently joined forces in their efforts to preserve two varieties of the Istro-Romanian language that is on the brink of extinction in Istria, and published a picture book under the title "Scorica de lisica si de lupu” ("A Story about the Fox and the Wolf)" in those dialects called Vlaški and Žejanski.

The picture book was launched within the week-long campaign promoting children's books in Rijeka, and the project about the preservation of Istro-Romanian is being led by linguist Zvjezdana Vrzić who collects material about this endangered language and is the director of the project called "Preservation of the Vlaški and Žejanski Language". She is also president of Traces, a non-profit organisation which promotes the documentation, description and maintenance of the languages and dialects of her native Istria and Kvarner.

Also, in recent years an enthusiast Adijana Gabris has been conducting language courses for children in the Istrian villages where these dialects Vlaški and Žejanski are still spoken.

"The Vlaški and Žejanski language (Vlashki and Zheyanski, also, Istro-Romanian) is spoken in two separate areas in the northeast of the Istrian peninsula in Croatia: The first is the northern village of Žejan/Žejane, which is located in the mountains off the road leading from Rijeka to Trieste. The second comprises several villages with their adjoining hamlets south of Žejan/Žejane, around the northern edge of Čepićko Polje, just off the road leading from the Učka Tunnel to the town of Labin. The villages are Bardo/Brdo with several hamlets, such as Kostarčan/Kostrčan(i) and Zankovci, Letaj/Letaj, Nosolo/Nova Vas Sušnjevice/Šušnjevice/Šušnjevica, and Sukodru/Jesenovik," according to the information provided on the website dedicated to the preservation of that language.

In Europe, there are 24 languages right on the brink of extinction, and three of them are from Croatia, the British Telegraph daily reported in late 2014.

Among those 24 tongues that at risk of falling out of use, the three that are from Croatia are Istro-Romanian, with an estimated 300 speakers left, Istriot (400) and Arbanasi (500). They ranked 13th, 16th and 18th respectively on a list of critically or severely endangered languages, and this ranking was topped by the Livonian language used by some 50 people in Latvia as their second language, while the last person who had Livonian as her mother tongue died in 2013, according to the report the British newspaper published in November 2014.

Istro-Romanian, an Eastern Romance language, is spoken in a few villages in the north of the Croatian peninsula of Istria, while Istriot, a Romance language, is spoken in the west of Istria. Arbanasi, a dialect of Gheg Albanian, is spoken by some 500 inhabitants in the Croatian coastal city of Zadar.

Croatian philologist August Kovačec explained in an interview to Hina a few years ago that Istro-Romanian is a variety of the Romanian language, but this dialect has not had any contact with Romanians for nearly a century.

Apart from Istro-Romanian speakers in several villages in Istria, there are also people living in New York and some other parts of America and Australia who can speak this language. Their ancestors left Istria in the 1970s due to an economic crisis.

Istriot is used in the south-western corner of the Istrian peninsula, particularly in the towns of Rovinj and Vodnjan, and its roots date back to a period before Venetian rule. Istriot has been rather italianised, according to the Croatian linguist's explanation. The term Istriot was coined by the 19th century Italian linguist Graziadio Isaia Ascoli.

The Italian community in Istria has published dictionaries of Istriot dialect variants, Kovačec told Hina.

"Atlas of the Istro-Romanian Speeches" and "Atlas of Istriot" by philologist Goran Filipi have been published.

More news about Istria can be found in the Lifestyle section.

Monday, 31 December 2018

Croatian Profanity Heard in German TV Commercial?

Marco Reus, the captain of the Borussia Dortmund football club, which is currently the best in the German Bundesliga, is one of the top German footballers, a member of the national team and a German born in Dortmund. Still, in difficult moments, his likes to express his anger and frustration in the language and in the way that everyone from "our region" can understand in more ways than one. He has proved this in the latest TV commercial for Opel, which is a sponsor of his club, in which he used a Croatian profanity, reports on December 31, 2018.

Reus had to prove his skills and hit a small area of a screen stretched over the open car door, a few metres from him. But he did not manage to hit the ball through the hole, which was followed by a swearword (about what he would do to someone’s mother – you can guess what it is), in a language easily understood by anyone living in the territory of former Yugoslavia.

The video can be seen on Twitter.

There is little doubt that Reus has learned the profanity from his teammates and coaches that came from the region to play in Germany. He shared the dressing room in Dortmund with Croat Ivan Perišić, and Serbs Neven Subotić and Željko Buvač.

It is well-known that the first thing that players from this region do when they move overseas is to introduce their hosts to the incredibly rich and lavish vocabulary of some of the most creative and brutal profanities and swearwords used by the people on the territory of the former Yugoslavia.

Foreigners, whose corpus of profanities is minuscule when compared to the Balkans, are generally fascinated by the swear words and start using them. There are numerous examples, from Kwadwo Asamoah from Ghana, who has enriched his vocabulary thanks to Croat Marcelo Brozović, to US basketball player Kobe Bryant, whose teacher was Serbian Vlade Divac.

The only issue here is why did the profanity end up in the material posted on Twitter: is it possible that no-one understood what Reus said or was this perhaps a prank by someone who knew very well what was said?

More news on the Croatian language can be found in our Lifestyle section.

Translated from

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Free Croatian Language Course for Returnee Children in Split!

Classes for kids aged 4-10 are starting in February

Monday, 27 November 2017

Adventures of a British Expat in Rijeka: What Are You Doing Here?

Moving to a foreign country can be a lonely experience, especially when one doesn't speak the language and doesn't have a tight-knit circle of friends as a support group. How to cope with the challenges of living in Croatia as a foreigner? A couple of thoughts on getting accustomed to Croatia from Dora the British expat

Friday, 24 November 2017

Swearing in Croatia, Part II: Flesh and Blood

Following our latest feature on Croatian swear words, a look at some of the most colourful ways to express yourself by using genitals and relatives in a conversation

Friday, 17 November 2017

Swearing in Croatia: 10 Things to Know About the J-Word

Trying to learn how to speak Croatian? Let us help you with a category that probably won't get covered in a language class

Thursday, 26 October 2017

More from the Language Idiot Abroad: Fruit and Vegetables

Lesson 3 of learning Croatian for Zagreb's most linguistically challenged Brit, this time served with a side dish of cauliflower, as Stuart Jameson sends us his latest Croatian language learning progress report on October 25, 2017.