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Pitchless Serbian?

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Bilingual Triglot
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 Message 3 of 10
13 July 2006 at 2:24am | IP Logged 
Sorry I missed this thread. I replied to your PM with more than I'll write here.

Serbian is not a tonal language like Mandarin. A different tone does not change the meaning of a word. If you listened to someone from the USA and then someone from England say the same speech, you would understand both even though they sound different. Tones in Serbian mean about as much as in English, which is to say very little.

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Trilingual Heptaglot
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 Message 4 of 10
14 July 2006 at 8:52am | IP Logged 
Magnum is correct.
Serbian/Croatian, despite the fact they have some signs of it, are NOT tonal languages to that extent that different tones would change the meaning or lead to confusion.
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 Message 6 of 10
14 July 2006 at 11:33am | IP Logged 
Tadeo wrote:
So, it doesn't matter how long or short you pronounce vowels and with what accent, you'll be perfectly understood.

Now the other question: does anybody speak like that? do certain regions/cities have a variety of Serbian/Croatian that doesn't distinguish vowel length nor pitch?

And another one: is pitch and length so unimportant that it's not even worth bothering trying to learn it? is it as irrelevant as using a trilled r in English? (where it never impairs comprehension, it just sounds very foreign)

According to a grammar description of Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian:

"How important are the accents and long vowels? A large proportion of users of standard Croatian - especially those with Zagreb backgrounds - can tell a long accented vowel from a short vowel, but don't reliably distinguish rising from falling, and say their post-accentual vowels all short... Speakers of standard Serbian tend to distinguish long rising from long falling, keep short rising and short falling apart but not in all words, and lost most of the older post-accentual lengths. In Bosnian usage all the old distinctions survive well. Post-accentual long vowels are heard clearly, while post-accentual short vowels (especially i and u) may drop out... But Bosnians are accustomed to dealing with speakers who make fewer accent and length distinctions." (source: Brown, Wayles and Theresa Alt: "A Handbook of Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian.", p. 17, SEELRC 2004: link)

Magnum and Winters are right. In most cases, you'll be understood and natives won't bat an eye if you mangle your vowel length or pitch accent (especially if you're a foreigner). However, you should be aware that accent and tone are often used to distinguish different declensions or conjugations. It's rarely used to distinguish the definition of words (as in Chinese).

govorimo = "we speak" (present) and govorimo = "let's speak!" (imperative) are pronounced with different stress placement and the final "o" have different lengths. However, I suspect that most native speakers can tell from the context which form you're using even if you get the tones or lengths wrong.


When I was travelling through Croatia recently, I know for sure that I pronounced some words with the wrong stress or tones. However, I got what I wanted when shopping, confirming reservations and getting around. The people whom I dealt with were happy enough to overlook my mistakes.
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 Message 7 of 10
17 July 2006 at 6:14pm | IP Logged 
It's always nice to see someone interested in such small language as Croatian :)

Yes, there are short and long vowels and rising and faling intonation. You REALLY REALLY shouldn't preoccupy yourself with rising/falling intonation because for the majority of native Croatians the difference cannot be heard. It is so small that we learn it in high-school, and nobody gives much attention to it anyway. It's something you pick up very soon when talking to a native, but you would be perfectly understandable wuthout it.

On the other hand, the length of the vowels is quite important, because sometimes the word changes meaning, depending on the length of the vowel. Eg. luk is 'onion' and lu(u)k is a 'bow' (weapon). There are more examples, you should learn the difference, but everybody will understand you without it.

Edited by Marin on 18 July 2006 at 3:10am

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 Message 8 of 10
23 August 2007 at 12:10am | IP Logged 
As a "Nashki" language learner here, I suggest you not to worry too much about the vowel length and accent too much. You'll slowly pick it up after interacting with native speakers on regular basis.

They will be very forgiving as they will be more than delighted to see a foreigner learning their languages.

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