All Slavic languages: Mutual intelligibility

Discussion in 'Other Slavic Languages' started by tvdxer, Jan 23, 2006.

  1. tvdxer Senior Member

    Minnesota, U.S.A.
    Minnesota, U.S.A. - English
    Perhaps it's just because I'm more accustomed to Germanic and Romance languages myself, but looking at the various Slavic languages, I see a lot of similarity (which is partly to be expected, since they're from the same family). Is it possible, say, for a Russian speaker to understand a Pole? Can a Pole understand a Bosnian, or a Slovakian understand a Slovenian? Who can understand whom? Just curious.

  2. natasha2000

    natasha2000 Senior Member

    I can speak only from my point of view, and that is Serbian.
    A Serbian can understand perfectly a Croatian or Bosnian, since they speak the same language, different dialects (and vice versa).

    A Serbian speaker can get the idea what a Macedonian or Bulgarian speakers talk, maybe even to understand each other in a restaurant, hotel, etc... Short conversation, yes. It's like Spanish and Catalan, or maybe Italian...

    The other Slavic languages cannot be understood by a Serbian speaker. Maybe some words, yes, some sentences (very short ones), yes, we might get the idea, but no way to have a normal conversation and a lot less than Bulgarian or Macedonian... It is like Italian and French, or Rumanian....

    This is my point of view, as I see it. Maybe other people have other opinions...
  3. cecoll Member

    Hi ! I`m glad there are people from other countries interested in Slavic Languages :) I`m interested in them myself, its understandable...Maybe i can help with this one...

    Yes there is possibility to understand people from another slavic language, but not completely...

    In my opinion the gropus of languages that understand best each other are:

    Bulgarian, Macedonian + Serbian, Croation, Slovenian, Bosnian
    Chech, Slovakian + Polish
    Russian, Ukranian, Belarussian

    p>S Languages separated by comas are most close to each other !
    So thats what i think...I`ll be glad someone to prove me wrong :p
  4. Jana337

    Jana337 Senior Member

    Looks plausible. But I think that Bulgarians understand the speakers of the last group pretty well.

    I can understand Slovak perfectly but the level of mutual intelligibility has been declining steadily for the last 10+ years.

    Polish becomes reasonably intelligible after some short exposure. I can read it but I often need to close my eyes and say the sentences aloud in order not to be misled by the weird (sorry :) ) spelling that Poles stick to.

    Surprisingly, I can understand the East Slavic branch much better than the South Slavic one, although I usually sort of know what speakers of the latter are talking about.

  5. DaleC Senior Member

    It depends on how loosely you apply the word "understand". If you allow for a mere sixty to eighty percent of understanding (to make up numbers), then all Slavs can converse with one another, at least when they are willing. Over the years I have been collecting anecdotes about this phenomenn from my reading and from Slavs I meet. I am sure every Slav has dozens of similar anecdotes.

    If a Slav wants to avoid being understood by another Slav whose language is from a nonadjacent territory, then it is easy to manage by talking fast.

    Slavic languages fall into three major groups: East, West, and South. All variations of Slavic within a group are just dialects of one another, even Czech and Polish, although there will be stumbles during such a conversation. Russian and Ukrainian and Belarussian, the East group, are not even very different from one another. Belarussian (East) and Polish (West) are adjacent to one another, and the two virtually the identical sound inventory -- Polish has the phonology of an East group language, although otherwise it has West features. (The Belarussian sound inventory varies trivially but noticeably from those of Ukrainian and Russian.) Broadly speaking, Slavic languages within one of the three groups differ little if at all in sound inventories; they differ mildly in grammar and in the pronunciations of cognate word pairs; and they differ most of all in vocabulary. There are a few cases where grammar is more divergent than vocabulary.

    Again, I am not talking about situations where total comprehension is crucial (entering into a contract, being put on trial).

    Let me share a few of my anecdotes. Most of them involve my Czech friend, a woman who didn't even finish secondary school. (By the way, Slavs almost never study each others' languages, except for the Soviet period when Russian was compulsory.) My friend fled the Communists in 1950 at age 17, after only a year of Russian in school. Fifty years later in America, she met another old woman immigrant, this one a Russian. When the Russian woman found out my friend was a Slav, the Russian said something like, "Let's try." Whereupon the two women conversed together in Slavic, each speaking only her own "language".

    My friend had a Polish immigrant auto mechanic. My friend does not have a mind for mechanical devices, and she certainly never studied Polish, but whenever she got on the phone with Andy to discuss her engine troubles, she would jabber a mile a minute, as Czechs do. Understand, while being spoken to in Polish, not in Czech! The most extreme version of Lowland Scots and regular English are apparently more divergent than Polish and Czech.

    My friend and I watched a Ukrainian movie from the 1960's by Sergei Paradzhanov (Paradjanov), whose English title is "Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors". It is set in westernmost Ukraine in the 1500's or 1600's (in Transcarpathia, an area with a large Hungarian minority that is adjacent to today's Slovakia). My friend understood the whole movie without reading the subtitles. There was even a scene with no subtitles provided, where two people are singing, and my friend remarked, "they're singing about baby Jesus". My friend even anticipated developments in the plot as the movie went along.

    During the invasion to suppress the Prague Spring of 1968, as Soviet troops would emerge from their tanks, the Czechs would go out to engage them in debate, complaining, "Why are you invading us?" One observer wrote in her autobiography, "Czech and Russian are not so different; one can understand a simple conversation". The observer was a British woman who had married a Czech Communist during World War 2 and emigrated to Czechoslovakia at the end of the war, and lived there ever since, raising two sons. This is a person who only started to learn Czech as an adult, and she had not studied Russian.
  6. cyanista

    cyanista законодательница мод

    I have to disagree, Dale.

    You could as well say "German and Dutch are just dialects of one another", or "Italian, Spanish and Portuguese are all just dialects of one another".

    Even if you leave aside the questionable expression "dialects of one another", those statements still don't reflect the actual state of affairs.

    "Dialect" or "language"

    Standard Russian, Belarussian and Ukranian, in spite of fairly high mutual intelligibility, have substantial differences in all layers of language which allow to recognize them as independent languages. Apart from that, every one of them has an established written standard and a literature of its own - and possesses the status of an official language in respective countries.

    (The same applies, for example, to Czech and Polish).
  7. Jana337

    Jana337 Senior Member

    I concur. Being a part of the same language family does not constitute being dialects. Political circumstances may contribute to the convergence or divergence of languages (specifically, new vocabulary is likely to be uniform if speakers of both languages have access to books and media in the other languages) but for instance Czech and Slovak remained distinct languages after 70 years of coexistence in the same state.

  8. Tekeli-li! Tekeli-li! Member

    Czech | Czech Republic
    As a Czech with a fair bit of exposure to Slovak (above-average for my generation, or so I am told), a bit of Polish (especially insults :)) and Russian and marginally other Slavic languages such as Croatian, Bulgarian, Sorbian (mostly Upper), etc., I can confirm that there is a reasonably large basic vocabulary which is shared among most or all Slavic languages, as well as similarities in grammar, syntax and morphology, which enable very simple conversations about everyday topics to take place.

    An important point in my opinion is that knowledge of multiple Slavic langugages can enable one to comprehend another language better, e.g. Polish has some features distinctly similar to Czech, other features which correspond more with Slovak, and still others which are found in Russian, so e.g. a Czech who also knows some Slovak and Russian can understand Polish better than a strictly monolingual Czech speaker because he can extrapolate by comparing Polish with all the languages he knows.

    Of course, it's not all fun and games. Two Slavic speakers can't just walk up to each other and converse, unless their respective dialects are really close; it still takes time to get to know the other one's language, most notably the numerous vowel and consonant shifts that occured so and so in one language, differently in another, and not at all in another (the metathesis of liquids, etc. etc.) and learning how to phrase things (Czechs can reportedly comprehend Polish better than the other way around because Polish normally uses words and grammar which are archaic in Czech or borrowings from German which many Czechs use in everyday life but not in polite/official speech and writing, and which are therefore understood but not normally used by Czechs). Each language has its own specialized terminology in every field, and "false friends" lurk at every turn ("Pan szuka mieszkanie?" - "Ne, pán mešká..." ;)).
  9. DaleC Senior Member

    For Slavs, perhaps, the most important reality is the magnitudes of the divergences among the various Slavic languages. For some non-Slavs, the most -- well, not necessarily important reality -- but the most entertaining and interesting reality, is the magnitude of the similarities among them, considering how different they indeed are; that almost any two Slavs can understand at least half -- and usually well beyond half -- of what each other is saying; they can have long and meaningful conversations.

    What excuse can a Slav have to deny it? This fact has to be a thrill for any Slav (any Slav who enjoys foreign travel, who enjoys the challenges of the unfamiliar and the esthetics of the exotic). When a Slav travels anywhere in the Slavic world, they can start talking and achieve some measure of genuine communication. The very mix of failure and success makes it a thrill and an amusement!

    It is not noteworthy that (most varieties of) American English are virtually 100 percent intelligible to (most varieties of) British English. AE and BE are so similar, after all.

    Cyanista, thanks for getting me to tighten up my lazy manner of expression. :)
  10. skye Senior Member

    If we had short recorded everyday conversations in all Slavic languages we could see how much we really understand.

    I know I have to concentrate hard to recognize basic words and sentences in normal conversations in most other Slavic languages, but maybe that's just me. I can only understand Croatian and Serbian quite well. And even there I come across words I have no idea what they mean.

    So for me, other Slavic languages don't seem to be all that similar to Slovene. I seriously doubt I could have long and meaningful conversations. Perhaps short talks about everday things.
  11. DaleC Senior Member

    Here's another anecdote. There was an American retiree. Although he was born and raised in America, he grew up speaking Polish at home because his parents were immigrants from Poland. In his retirement, in the 1970s and 1980s, he made several trips through all the Soviet bloc countries plus Yugoslavia on his bicycle. He wrote a book. In all the Slavic countries, he conversed at length with people. He reported that people confided in him about politics and private affairs because he could speak to them in Polish. They confided in him even more if they thought he was a Polish citizen. He got in trouble with customs agents when trying to enter Bulgaria "because I was able to talk to them just well enough to get myself in trouble". (Bulgarian is certainly the most divergent Slavic language.)

    I will accept that some people's brains are better than other people's brains at understanding strange dialects. I myself cannot understand fellow Americans speaking English when they mumble or when there is a lot of noise. I also seem to have more trouble understanding African-Americans than other white people. African-American virtually all have strong accents. I understand most of them perfectly if they grew up in "the North", but I do not understand the ones from the states of Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. In a technical sense, they do not speak the same language as I do. So I accept that my Czech friend and the Polish-American tourist have a stronger talent that other Slavs.
  12. cecoll Member

    I would just like to add that I partially agree with that statement, cause our vacabulary`s been influenced by many different cultures, having in mind the cross-road situation of the country, especially the many Turkish words that we use.

    Here`s something that i qouted from the Wikipedia

    "Bulgarian demonstrates several linguistic innovations that set it apart from other Slavic languages, such as the elimination of noun declesion, the development of a suffixed definite article (possibly inherited from the Bulgar language), the lack of a verb infinitive, and the retention and further development of the proto-Slavic verb system. There are various verb forms to express nonwitnessed, retold, and doubtful action.

    The "nonwitnessed action" verb forms, pertaining to a mood known as renarrative mood, have been attributed to Turkish influences by most Bulgarian linguists. Morphohologically, they are obviously related to the perfect tenses, which are known in Bulgarian linguistic tradition as "preliminary" (предварителни) tenses."

    Hmm... I`ve never thought of all that peculiarities of our language...Now that I read it, it seems a reasonable explanation of the fact that we tend to understand the other Slavic nations, more they do understand us :confused:

  13. natasha2000

    natasha2000 Senior Member

    Well, maybe I am one of them, since I must admit, I really do not understand Russians, nor Czechs nor Polish people... As I have already said, I, as a native Serbian, I can only get the idea what a Bulgarian or Macedonian or maybe(!) Slovenian speaker say...

    Just another thing, DaleC. I also would like to add (even though this is not the subject of this post, but I have to reply to something what you said): Spanish and Portugese are NOT so similar as they seem to be, and surely they are NOT "practicaly the same dialect", as you have said. Yes, they are similar, but they are two different languages, for sure. As a person who speaks fluently Spanish I would say that for a Spanish speaking person certainly Portugese is not easier to understand than for example, Italian or Catalan. But i repeat, when a conversation goes further than "Hello, how're you doing? Nice weather. Would you like to drink or eat?" understanding each other becomes a far more difficult.
    So I think it is a pretty same in Slavic languages...
  14. Tchesko

    Tchesko Senior Member

    Paris 12
    Conversation is one thing, reading is another...
    If your mother tongue is a Slavic language, and especially if you know other Slavic languages, I think you can read texts in most Slavic languages with reasonable success (apart from the fact that you sometimes need to know the Cyrillic alphabet).
    I can't pretend I would understand a conversation in Serbian; however, when I read e.g. lyrics of some Kusturica's songs (those in Serbian), I understand a lot.
    Now, the thing Tekeli-li wrote about "false friends" is true, and sometimes amusing... With a Polish friend of mine, we used to keep a list of funny words that exist both in Czech and Polish (but with different meanings) and there was a whole bunch of them.
    I also have to say that I really like DaleC's anecdotes, even though many happen to disagree with his conclusions.

  15. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
  16. Primorec New Member

    Slovene - Italy
    I'll try to make a scale of understanding other Slavic languages in their WRITTEN form. I am a native Slovene speaker, I speak also Croatian, Serbian and Russian to a certain extent and I have a basic knowledge of Czech. So, from my point of view, starting from the most understandable, I'd say:


    Being also a native Italian speaker, I can make the following comparison: Portuguese may be compared to a certain extent to Polish. Both are highly palatized languages, that's why they are more difficult to understand when spoken.
  17. GoranBcn Senior Member

    Barcelona (Spain)
    Catalan, Spanish, Croatian/Serbian
    My native language is Croatian and this would be my scale of understanding:

    1. SERBIAN
    3. SLOVENE
    5. SLOVAK
    6. RUSSIAN
    7. CZECH
    8. POLISH
  18. skye Senior Member

    Now I thought of something else. My 12-year cousin who doesn't watch Croatian tv and doesn't get to hear or read a lot of Croatian in her daily life, says that she can't understand it. I watched quite a lot of Croatian tv as a kid since it was the only other channel we could see besides Slovenian tv, and I never had many problems understanding it, except for some words every now and then.

    You can also observe this in Slovenian forums as well. Someone posts a joke in Croatian or Serbian and then a teenager asks for translation, because he can't understand the joke. Another "older" member of this (Slovenian) forum once wrote that he should read the joke again slowly word by word and eventually he'll realize that he can understand almost everything.

    So I don't know how mutually intelligible South Slavic languages really are? Maybe it's just a matter of being exposed to the language long enough to pick up some rules and stuff?
  19. Montenegrina Member

    Serbian, Serbia&Montenegro
    I am native os Serbian, and my scale of Slavic languages is as follows:
    4. RUSSIAN
    6. SLOVAK
    7. CZECH
    8. POLISH
  20. vince Senior Member

    Los Angeles, CA
    Wow, amazing, I didn't know the Slavic languages were so closely related!

    They are definitely closer together than the dialects of Chinese. For there is zero intelligibility between, say, Shanghainese and Cantonese. Even basic verbs, pronouns, and aspect markers in Chinese dialects can have unrelated etymologies and usages.

    Here's a Flash soundboard that compares Shanghainese and Mandarin:
    www dot sinosplice dot com slash chinese slash dialects

    Click the "A" on the right to see the transliterated pronunciation (selected by default), and click the Chinese character beside the "A" to see the differences between written Shanghainese and written Mandarin (on which Standard Chinese is based)

    Are Russian and Ukrainian this far apart?
    How about Russian and Czech?
    Or Russian and Bulgarian-Macedonian?
  21. adviliax New Member

    See, as someone who grew up in Serbia and Croatia, I cannot understand a bloody word of Slovenian! Never could! However, I've spent some time in Macedonia and when I was younger I could speak the language just fine, and I still understand it to this day.

    Considering this is the case, Bulgarian is not quite a breeze to understand, but I can understand most of it. The only other two languages I can sort of understand are Russian and Ukrainian, otherwise I have major issues understanding Czech, Polish, Slovak and so forth, AND new Croatian! They've invented all these new words in the last 15 years and often I'll hear a word and think "now what the heck did they just say??"
  22. czas na zywiec New Member

    Boulder, Colorado
    Polish, Poland
    I don't like how they divided languages into western and eastern Slavic languages. I understand a lot of Belarusian (when written in Latin). Even Ukrainian to a point, whereas with Russian, I don't understand that nearly as much. From my Polish perspective, the easiest languages from me to understand would be Slovak > Czech > Belarusian > Ukrainian > Russian, with Slovak being the easiest and Russian the hardest. The biggest gap is between Ukrainian and Russian. Slovak and Czech are relativey close for me, as are Belarusian and Ukrainian, but Russian is much farther behind Ukrainian than all of the others are in realtion to each other, if that makes any sense.
  23. Budz New Member

    English Australia
    After reading all these posts I have one observation.

    All those reports of mutual intelligibility between Slavic languages are hearsay. Oh, my Slovak friend could understand the Ukrainian movie without subtitles. But how does the poster know how much the friend really understood? Some Polish American goes travelling and makes contacts in Eastern Europe. Yes of course, without any other mutual language you will get a long way in any Slavic country if you have to. But it will be quite a primitive understanding. Especially if the Pole grew up in America which will mean his facility with Polish won't be as good so he won't know all the obsolete words which might be closer to whichever language he's trying to understand. Mutual intelligibility to me means really understanding, not just picking out a word here and there and guessing the rest.

    All the posters that actually do speak Slovenian, Serbian etc. all state that they can not understand other Slavic languages that well. I've had a go at Czech, Slovak, Ukrainian, Russian, Serbian, Polish and Bulgarian and certainly there are many similarities - the word for water is basically identical in just about all of them, but if you learn these languages properly you realise there are just so many differences that in general, anyone trying to understand one of the others without any prior coaching on the commonest words which are often the ones that diverge the most, will only get the gist of any conversation. It's not really understanding in the sense that any English speaker can understand any other English speaker no matter how strange the accent.

  24. Stormwoken Member

    Novi Sad, Serbia & Montenegro
    Budz, if you define mutual intelligibility as being either 100% or 0%, that`s true (and I`m afraid linguistics does see it that way).
    I think people here are trying to compare different languages in order to find out the possible LEVELS of mutual intelligibility. It certainly is quite a thrill to discover some bonds between different languages so obviously divided by space and time, as DaleC said.

    Regarding such experiences: Some time ago, I got into this Russian band and have discovered that I understand about 90% of their lyrics. I had been learning Russian for a year in the elementary school, though
  25. natasha2000

    natasha2000 Senior Member

    I'm sorry Stormwoken, but I have to agree with Budz. Personally, I REALLY do not understand anything of any Slavic language but mu own and a little bit of Bulgarian/Macedonian. Only in Bulgarian/Macedonian I really can catch the meaning of the conversation or what the speaker wants to say. Not even Slovenian I can catch for head nor tail. All of you here, more or less have something to do with Slavistic, or maybe speak or hear regularly other Slavic language, so maybe that is why many of you get something (I reffer to people who are Serbian/Croatian/Bosnian native speakers. I wouldn't dare to judge for the others, since as I have already said, I have no idea on Slavic languages). The same thing happens to me, as i speak Spanish and live in Catalonia, so I am surrounded and "bombed" by Catalan every day, although I cannot speak it, I understand it 90%. But as i have never had contact (and I don't have) with any Slavic language, I really cannot catch not even a grasp of them.
  26. janecito

    janecito Senior Member

    Γρανάδα, Ισπανία
    Slovene, Slovenia
    I definitely agree that it all depends on the degree of exposure. I'm speaking from the point of view of a Slovene native speaker.. In the former Yugoslavia the official language of the “country matters” (politics, army etc.) was Serbo-Croatian, we could all watch Croatian TV in Slovenia etc. The fact is that this had a lot to do with practically every Slovene understanding and speaking Serbo-Croatian. This can also be observed today, as skye already said, when younger generations simply don't understand Croatian any more. They were not exposed to it. Also we're talking of a one way exposure – Serbians, for instance, didn't have nearly as much contact with Slovene as the other way around, so I perfectly understand that natasha2000, for example, who says she doesn't understand a word of Slovene.

    It's really hard to say, that Slavs can simply communicate with each other. Of course, they understand each other to a certain degree, but this degree would not be much higher than it is within, let's say, Germanic language group (English, German, Swedish & Co..). I'm Slav and I've been living in Poland for 7 months now and sometimes I still have problems understanding very short, basic phrases. I don't really understand why everyone is talking about short sentences. In my opinion it is easier to grasp the meaning of a longer text (written or spoken) where you at least have the context that helps you understand. Just like it's easier to understand a word in a sentence than an isolated word.

    On the other hand, I agree with DaleC that the speakers of the languages that are related (that goes for other languages as well, not just Slavic) always tend to emphasize the differences, not the similarities, while, on the other hand, a Slav that speaks fluently, let's say, Spanish will always look for similarities between this and other Romance languages. I guess it's all about protecting one's national identity. :)
  27. Seana

    Seana Senior Member

    If I could add my opinion about intelligibility Slavic languages by me, 100% Pole, I would like to give you two examples to prove how much my ability for understanding Slavic languages is chanched by various requirements, urgent necessity etc. Normally I don't know any other Slavic language.
    1.Almost every year I go to Czech or Slovakia for skiing and have problems with understanding them, but I catch on the sense of the sentences of course - rough to be honest. I don't talk word in Czech.
    But I never forgot one moment of my life when I have been in London and met some people from Czech amongst terrible crowd near British Museum. Talking in our mother tounge languages we understood each other and moreover we felt such a liking and fondness as we never feel that when we are in our own Polish-Czech areas :D. I think it is tipical for the neighbourhood countries.
    We talked so fluently as we all would be from the same country. It was amazing.
    2. Latvia. I was lost in the strange city. It started getting dark and late and I couldn't return to place where I had been stayed. Riga it is harbour I was little scared. At last I have met very nice man who helped me in finding a way to my place. For a long time we talked about various topics. We both even didn't try to pretend that we could be able to speak Russian or Polish. We have talked only in our own language and we understood perfectly.
    In the conclusion I must say that our determination is the best linguistic teacher for mutual intelligibility especially into groups Slavic (western, eastern or southern), Romance, Germanic or others main language branches.
  28. aleksk Senior Member

    македонски, Macedonian
    Just a little contribution from my point of view (Macedonian):
    I understand good 95% and around 85% of Serbian and Croatian, respectively. This is the case with most adult Macedonians, since " Serbocroatian" was the official language in the former federation. I can read books, magazines, watch TV, and converse in Serbian with the ease I speak my mother tongue. I suppose it is the same case with Ukranians and the Russian language. However, I know that the opposite does not apply. Most Serbians, and espeically Croatians, find it difficult to fully understand colloqial or writtten Macedonian; but after a short exposure to the language they feel like home in Macedonia.

    I also find Bulgarian very easy to understand, and vice versa, Bulgarians have no trouble understanding us. Grammatically, our languages are extremely similar, and we share a vast amount of common vocabulary (experts say around 65% of our words are identical and even many others similar). My friends from Bulgaria often say that I (and other Macedonians) speak exactly like their grandfathers and grandmothers did and they often laugh at some of the expressions (especially idioms) we use (I wonder why this is the case ;)) Many Macedonians study in Bulgaria at University level with only a month or two language courses prior to their studies.

    From the other Slavic languages, I can only understand Slovenian a little, and always in context.
  29. beclija Senior Member

    Boarisch, Österreich (Austria)
    It really does depend on context.
    I'm no native speaker, but I speak Croatian/Bosnian/Serbian pretty well, close to my English (little formal training, mostly conversational picked up in Osijek and Sarajevo, and a fair lot of reading from all sides; I wouldn't dare to say which one I speak, vocabulary is probably quite mixed up but they say I've got a Bosnian accent), and I've attempted at several occasions to learn Russian, though giving up pretty soon every time for lack of motivation. With that basis, I sometimes try to listen to the news broadcast on Bratislava radio stations, and I understand something like 70% if I concentrate hard (lot of context provided, i.e. placenames etc.). Normal conversations are harder, though. Interestingly, I find Czech much harder than Slovak, although they are so similar.
    I hardly understand spoken Polish or Russian, though written is much better (especially Russian, which I sure mispronounce badly trying to make it as Serbian as possible in order to understand). Bulgarian and Slovenian kind of works if both sides are willing (using different paraphrases if you get stuck etc.), as for example at one occasion on the train from Zagreb to Austria with one Bulgarian and one Slovenian person, where we communicated. I definitely cannot follow a fluent Bulgarian or Slovenian conversation.
  30. invictaspirit Senior Member

    Kent, SE England
    English English
    Calling all Slavs! :)

    I studied basic Russian when I was at school in the 1980s. Shortly after leaving school I did a lot of travelling around Eastern Europe, but spent most time in Yugoslavia. I could never speak or understand Russian well...and now it has almost disappeared :( . But...

    Whenever I listened to other Slavonic language speakers I found I could pick out really a LOT of words that I recognised from Russian. Especially in Slovenia and more than anywhere, Serbia-Croatia.

    How mutually intelligible are you guys to each other? Are there any language combinations where you can each speak your own language and more or less understand the other? Or is it more a case of having a vague idea of what the other is saying but not much more? Or do you sound totally foreign to each other?

    I have always wanted to know this.

    I know the Norwegians and Danes, and to a lesser degree, those people and Swedes, can understand each other's languages. I know the Germans and Dutch (without study) can often get a vague, or sometimes better, idea of what the others are saying. English is too far removed from our 'brother' languages for a Brit to understand a Dutch or German speaker without studying their language. (Apart from a few simple sentences that are more or less the same in all 3 languages.)

    I get the impression...probably false?...that Serbo-Croat, Bulgarian and Russian are more like one another, and that Czech, Slovak and Polish are more unlike the other three.

    If you are a Slavic native speaker, is there a Slavic language you can more or less understand without study?

    Just to add, I am already aware that Czechs and Slovaks can do this. :)
  31. venenum

    venenum Senior Member

    Middle of Nowhere
    I must say that I, actually, do understand a bit of Slovenian, although I live on the opposite side of Croatia - so the dialectal simmilarity (like in Zagorje or Međimurje, for example) is excluded. With the written Slovenian it's easy, I can really get the idea (I even used to have two pen-friends from Slovenia when I was a kid, we wrote in our own languages, and managed to understand each other just fine), and conversational... I think I can understand them - if they talk slow.
    Recently I started dabbling into Polish, and then Slovak. Polish seems totally messed up when I compare it to Croatian, but written Slovak is quite easy for me to understand. I think that I would have a bigger problem understanding spoken Slovak, due to the different accents in Slovak and Croatian. And, comparing Czech and Slovak with Croatian (the little Czech I've heard spending a week in Prague), I'd say Slovak is more simmilar to Croatian than Czech, and a Czech-Croatian conversation would include equal amounts of mime, hand-waving and talking.:)
    But on the other hand, Jana does seem to understand when we go off-topic in Croatian/Serbian/Bosnian discussions, doesn't she? ;)

  32. beclija Senior Member

    Boarisch, Österreich (Austria)
    But then, Jana seems to know Slovak nearly as well as Czech. At least, she's usually the first person that answers if any request reguarding Slovak comes up. I do agree (as stated before) that Slovak is closer to any and all South Slavic languages than Czech. One of the reasons why I want to learn Slovak sometime: because it's the only real "Cеntral Slavic" language.
  33. Anatoli Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia
    Native: русский (Russian), home country: English
    I agree with that too. Despite some other comments, IMO, Slavic people learn to understand first then speak other Slavic languages faster then speakers of Roman languages. I know a case when a Polish woman worked in Russia, she learned to understand Russian but her colleagues learned to understand Polish, so she continued speaking to them and they spoke Russian back to her.
  34. Jana337

    Jana337 Senior Member

    Yes, this I do, so do not mess with me! ;) However, plodding through South Slavic texts is not my idea of fun because it requires a lot of concentration and guessing.
    "Nearly as well" is grossly exaggerated. I feel compelled to guess because Slovak natives are scarce but I wouldn't dare to post anything without double-checking with Google although I am pretty sure most of the time.

  35. Tantrum New Member

    Polish Poland
    I am a native Polish speaker. Since I was born in 1967, I had to learn Russian in school. It wasn't easy. Although the grammar rules and some vocabulary are similar to some degree, there are also plenty of differences. It wasn't easy for me to learn Russian. I learnt Russian for almost ten years but I never used Russian outside the class room and since I ceased to learn Russian in 1987, I cannot follow conversations or newscats on TV in Russian. I can get some words but am not able to get the meaning.

    In 1986, I was in the former Czechoslovakia. I was able to talk to the Czechs and be understood but only when we kept low level without fancy words and even that needed some explanation. I also had to avoid language pitfalls - Czech and Polish have a lot of very similar or identical words but with a wholly diferent meaning, the best example of that it the word "szukać" (Polish - to look for, Czech - to f*ck)
    It was easier to talk to Slovaks - I was even able to converse quite easily.

    In 2001, I spent a week in Croatia. I was not able to understand the Croatians and vice versa, even after a couple of glasses of wine in konoba :).

    In Poland in the northern part of the country near the Gdansk-Sopot-Gdynia conurbation, people speak the Kashubian language. It's very similar to Polish. I can understand Kashubian texts but not the language spoken on the streets. However, I was able to follow a program in Kashubian on TV - perhaps the lector had a clean accent.

  36. Slovak also seems to be much closer to Russian. But I must confess that I understand Belarussian easily when I hear it but not always so with Ukrainian.
  37. chung Member

    English, ?
    Czechs and Slovaks over age 20 today understand each other 95% (because of similarities in standard Czech and standard Slovak, and constant exposure to each other's language during days of Czechoslovakia.)

    Czechs and Slovaks younger than age 20 today understand each other no more than 80%. It's getting harder for the kids to understand each other. I heard that there was a small scandal in Czech Republic last year, when a Slovak show being shown in Czech Republic needed Czech subtitles. :eek:

    Bosnians, Croats and Serbs can understand each other 99% of the time. By virtue of Yugoslavia and education in Serbo-Croatian, most Slovenes and Macedonians older than 25 can easily communicate with Bosnians, Croats and Serbs.

    Depending on where they live, Poles can understand some Czech, Slovak, Belorussian or Ukrainian without special training. (e.g. Eastern Slovak dialects share more features with Polish dialects than standard Slovak does.).

    However, the best way to look at it is that, apart from the combinations of Czech-Slovak, Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian and Bulgarian-Macedonian, it takes education and some effort for any Slav to use another Slavonic language properly.
  38. Hutschi

    Hutschi Senior Member

    Hi, unfortunately, I missed a language (more exaclty, there are two versions): serbšcina, serbska rec, spoken in the Lausitz (Delnja Lužica, and Hornja Lužica)

    I do not know the name in English.

    But both languages are minority languages in Germany.

    Are they similar to Polish? Or is this a special group of comprehensibility?

    Best regards
  39. chung Member

    English, ?
    Sorbian, Wendish or Lusatian in English.

    In general, Upper and Lower Sorbian are similar to Polish (as well as Czech and to a certain degree, Slovak) and are classified as Western Slavonic languages.

    Upper Sorbian seems a little closer to Czech, while Lower Sorbian seems a little closer to Polish.

    Sorbian is a little unusual for Poles because it still uses the dual, and its stress is on the first syllable. Polish has stress on the second-last syllable, and only has traces of the dual with some numbers and certain words for anatomy.
  40. DANCHO DANILOV New Member

    USA English
    COULD A BULGARIAN SPEAKER UNDERSTAND MORE SERBIAN OR RUSSIAN? Im talking about by hearing/ speach , not reading. I myself believe that Serbo-croatian/Bosnian is more understandable by speach to a Bulgarian person than to Russian language. Now if a Bulgarian was to read both languages, I believe that it's is slmost equal in this manner.

    But I'm looking for more opinions, would a Bulgarian find Serbian more undestrandable than Russian by speech? How about in writing?
  41. Anatoli Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia
    Native: русский (Russian), home country: English
    I can't comment on your question but I find that for a Russian speaker Bulgarian is easier to understand than Serbian or Croatian (Bulgarian vocab has more in common with Russian) but grammatically, Serbian and Croatian are closer than Bulgarian, especially presence of cases and absense of the definite article.
  42. Athaulf

    Athaulf Senior Member

    Toronto, Canada
    Croatian/Bosnia, Croatia
    I'm a native of Croatian, and this would be my list of other Slavic languages in the decreasing order of reading comprehensibility:

    1. Bosnian, Serbian (who would've thought? :D)
    2. Slovenian
    3. Macedonian
    4. Bulgarian
    5. Russian
    6. Slovak
    7. Czech
    8. Polish

    I've never tried reading Belorussian, and the very small sample of Ukrainian I've seen would probably be somewhere around Slovak. My ability to read the first five of these languages is generally pretty high -- I can get the gist (and often much more) of a Russian newspaper article, for example, and I generally understand what's going on when I read the Russian threads on this forum.

    However, I've noticed that my ability to read any Slavic language drastically improves when I learn the specifics of its orthography. When I knew only the phonetic Serbian Cyrillic, I was barely able to read any Russian, but once I figured out the basics of Russian pronunciation, especially of letters nonexistent in the Serbian alphabet, I started understanding much more. My ability to read Polish would probably jump drastically from its present near-zero level if I studied its orthography a bit.

    When it comes to listening comprehension, I find already Slovenian and Macedonian very difficult to understand, and I understand almost nothing of the natural speech of native speakers of any languages below those. However, in an emergency situation, I'd probably be able to establish some rudimentary communication with someone speaking anything more similar than Czech or Polish (and perhaps even those).
  43. Tolovaj_Mataj Senior Member

    Ljubljana, SI
    Slovene, Slovenia
    There are only talkings about differences. But I have one about similarities. :)

    Yesterday I watched on TV one Slovak talking about this and that. He's studying some post-graduate studies here in Slovenia. He said that Slovene shares some 40% words with Slovak but they are differently stressed. (Yes, he does speak Slovene very good. Ok, sometimes he tries to stress a word wrongly, but not so frequently.)
    I liked his joke when he said that we, Slovenes left Slovaks alone behind us when we took a road to the sea. :)

    Btw, a difference between the south and the west Slavic languages is not that big as it is understood from reading the Slavic languages studies. If Bavarians and Hungarians weren't occupied the lands in nowadays eastern Austria and Hungary, there would be Slavic peoples living continuously from the Baltic sea to the end of the Adriatic sea at Otranto and it would be impossible to define where the western Slavic languages end and the southern Slavic languages begin.
  44. Anatoli Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia
    Native: русский (Russian), home country: English
    I don't think there is a huge difference between ANY 2 given Slavic languages. IMHO, of course :) You definitely don't need to go a Uni to learn another Slavic language, if you are fluent in at least one.
  45. Tolovaj_Mataj Senior Member

    Ljubljana, SI
    Slovene, Slovenia
    :) But I don't have this in mind.

    I speak Slovene, of course. But believe me I would need quite some years to become fluent in for example Russian or Czech. And if you want to learn a foreign language here, you don't need to inscript to the university, you just inscript to the classes at any language school. But if you think that by knowing Slovene, I can easily speak and write Croatian without learning it, then you are wrong, I'm afraid. I also know from my own experiences how much an univerity educatted Croat with no Slovene lang learning understands Slovene. I saw them noding and smiling when I actually expected an answer from them, but then they admited they didn't understand what I said.

    I wanted to say that when I surf the Web I can read articles about Slavic language group which imply that there are quite big differences between these three Slavic sub-groups.
  46. Athaulf

    Athaulf Senior Member

    Toronto, Canada
    Croatian/Bosnia, Croatia
    There is however a huge difference between the difficulty of merely learning to understand a different Slavic language and learning to use it actively. The former is indeed pretty easy; in many cases it's enough to figure out the orthography and learn several dozen differences in the basic vocabulary to achieve substantial reading comprehension. With some practice, I think one would easily achieve a decent level of listening comprehension too. Unfortunately, learning to actually properly speak and write a different Slavic language is another issue altogether.

    One large problem is that differences in phonology and accent can almost completely obliterate the advantages of common vocabulary. For example, from my Croatian perspective, most of the Russian vocabulary consists of very similar words or easily memorizable false friends. However, when I try to learn any Russian words, the effort necessary to memorize which consonants are soft and which syllable is stressed is nearly equal to the effort necessary to memorize entirely strange words. Because of this, in my experience, knowing Croatian is not that much of an advantage for learning the Russian vocabulary when I compare it to how much, for example, the English vocabulary helps when learning Spanish. Despite the fact that the general similarity between Croatian and Russian is immensely greater than between English and Spanish, it's usually trivial to convert words with the same roots between the latter two languages, whereas between Croatian and Russian, one has to painstakingly memorize the stress and the softness/hardness of consonants in each particular case.

    This sometimes leads to situations where speakers of different Slavic languages learn to understand each other nearly perfectly, but still cannot speak each other's languages at all. My grandparents had a neighbor who got married while living in Russia and then came back to Croatia with his Russian wife. She learn to understand her new family members pretty soon, and they learned to understand her, but for a very long period (and I don't know what happened later), they all remained unable to actually speak each other's languages.
  47. Kolan Banned

    Montréal (Québec)
    Russian (CCCP)
    I just joined the thread, and must say from my personal experience that all of the above posting is genuinely true.

    I had a Croatian friend 10 years ago in Montreal, and we were the only two Slavs at the university department, even our family names are similar. But I remember that the only way we could talk to each other was my poor English. At the same time, we could easily understand what was written in our respective e-mail correspondence (at that time I had to write in transliterated Russian only), but it was almost impossible to learn anything on the fly from each other. However, I managed to conclude that Russian vocabulary is closer to Croatian than to that of Serbian. (Just an example, сорок - четырдесят) which surprised me a lot, because before that I learned that there is only one Serbo-Croatian language. This simple fact sparkled an immense interest to learn more about other Slavic languages in diaspora.

    Well, since that time I advanced much more in English, French and Spanish, and even in Icelandic, than in any other Slavic, except, maybe, of Ukrainian and some Bulgarian (there are more and more of these nations nowadays in Montreal).

    This forum offers even greater opportunity to learn a vast world of Slavic languages.
  48. beclija Senior Member

    Boarisch, Österreich (Austria)
    A trick that often helps (and that has to do with the historical development of Štokavian accent) goes rouqhly like this: If the Croatian word has "falling" (silazni) accent, the Russian accent will be on the same (first) syllable. If the Croatian has "rising" (uzlazni), accent, the Russian word is accented one syllable to the right. It doesn't always work, but more often than chance. At least that's what i read, I can't really prove or disprove it myself as my Russian is reading-only, and my abilitiy to distinguish the Štokavian accents, well, imperfect.

    Czechs, Slovaks and Poles are far worse off: Their languages have predictable accent (first syllable for cz and sk, penultimate for pl) so all traces of the original lexical accent have vanished.
  49. Anatoli Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia
    Native: русский (Russian), home country: English
    Athaulf, there could be some difficulties, of course. But if the wife of your friend started mixing more with Croatians, work with them, I am sure her speaking abilities would improve. As for learning the Russian, memorising differences is not that important, Slavic people often speak mixture of their own language with the other one and still get understood, gradually reducing the difference. They will quickly learn to use words, which are better understood. That's my personal experience of dealing with Slavic people in Russia, anyway.
  50. Athaulf

    Athaulf Senior Member

    Toronto, Canada
    Croatian/Bosnia, Croatia
    Thanks a lot for this information! I've just checked some random examples, and it seems to hold for many cases (including тысяча/tisuća), though there seem to be many exceptions too. Do you maybe know of some source (on the web, preferably) where this topic is treated in greater detail?

    Also, do you know of any similar rules that might help determine when the corresponding consonants in Russian cognates of Croatian words are soft? Did Russian develop this curious feature, or did Croatian lose it compared to their common ancestor?

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