All Slavic languages: Pitch accent


Senior Member
Catalan, Spanish, Croatian/Serbian
I know that pitch accent is only presented in Croatian/Serbian/Bosnian. Does it also exist in standard Slovenian or any other Slavic languages or any dialects? I've already mentioned this in another thread but I prefer to have a separate one for this question.

In Croatian/Serbian/Bosnian there are 4 accents

- long falling
- long rising
- short falling
- short rising

Words which have more than one syllable can be stressed with any of the four accents. Falling accents can be only on the first syllable of a word, and rising can be anywhere but the last syllable.

The Long Rising Accent

The long rising (dugoulazni naglasak/akcent ) can be on any syllable of a word but the last one. It is pronounced like the main English stress, and it's marked as: ΄.

Examples: gláva, rúka, báka...

The Short Rising Accent

The short rising (kratkoulazni naglasak/akcent) can be on every syllable of a word but the last one. It is pronounced like the English secondary stress, and it's marked as: `

Examples: žèna, vòda, màgla...

The Long Falling Accent

The long falling (kratkosilazni naglasak/akcent) can be only on the first syllable of a word. It is long, but the voice falls by the end of the stressed vowel. It's marked as: ^

Examples: mâjka, sêko, bâko...

The Short Falling Accent

The short falling (kratkosilazni naglasak/akcent ) can be only on the first syllable of a word. It is the shortest of all accents, and it's pronounced with a short "explosion" on the stressed syllable, which falls by the end of the stressed vowel. It's marked as: ¨

Examples: vëče, pëkar, vödu...

There is also...

After-Accent Longness

The after-accent longness (poslijeakcentska dužina) isn't an accent, but a vowel which has an after-accent longness is a little bit stressed. This sub-accent can be found only after the main accent, and it can be anywhere in the word, including the last syllable. Some words needn't have the after-accent longness. The after-accent longness is marked as: ˉ

Example: sïnōva...

And we don't use any accent marks to recognise them so these accents should be deduced from the context. We can find them only in dictionaries.
  • beclija

    Senior Member
    Boarisch, Österreich (Austria)
    As it happens, I have been reading quite a lot about this.

    Apparently, Slovenian (and Čakavian some Kajkavian dialects) have something similar (at first sight), although they only have three different accents: long rising, long falling, and short with no difference between rising and falling.

    Bulgarian and the East Slavic languages have lexical accent, but do not differentiate types of accent. Macedonian has accent always on syllable two but last ("antepenultimate", like Latin with short syllables), Polish one but last ("penultimate"), and Czech and Slovak on the first. The only languages besides Slovenian and Serbian/Croatian/Bosnian that make a difference between long and short vowels are Czech and Slovak.

    There seems to be an important difference between Slovenian and Štokavian accent system, though. In Slovenian, the accent is marked on the stressed syllable itself - if it is short and has high pitch, you get a short stressed syllable (marked like the short falling in b-h-s), if it is long and has high pitch in the second half, you get rising, if it is long and has high pitch in the first half, it is falling. In this language, you can have accent on the last syllable of polysyllabic words, both rising and falling at the end of the word, etc. (Maybe I got it mixed up and described Čakavian instead, but the picture is rather similar anyway.)

    In Štokavian, on the other hand, it is more complex: listening tests and phonetic analyses have shown that the difference between "rising" and "falling" accent can only be heard when including the following syllable. So, the difference between vòda and vödu is not really on the "o" only, but also in that in one case (voda) both syllables have high pitch, while in vodu only the first has high pitch. If you make a recording of both words and cut it off at the "d", nobody will be able to hear the difference. (In long vowels, there is some measurable phonetic difference, but listening tests have shown that even here the following syllable is important in recognizing accents.) This (and how the accents developed historically) is also the reason why you cannot have rising accents at the end of the word.

    As to the historical development: Words that now have rising accent used to have accent on the following syllable, and in most cases still have in Slovenian, Bulgarian or Russian. A stress shift "moved" the stress one to the left (where applicable, if it was already on the first syllable, nothing changed and you get so called "falling accent"), but left the high pitch were it was - as I said in the preceding paragraph, that is the essence of "rising accent. So I guess in Russian it would be [водá] vs. [вóду].

    It should be said that the accents are often indistinguishable in sentence-final position, and the very clear differences noted by earlier studies have recently been shown to arise only if the word is focussed. Some dialects (Zagreb, for example, and much of southern Serbia) don't seem to differenciate them at all (see, for example, Peco or Smiljanić).

    An other interesting matter is when the accent shifts or doesn't shift on a preposition (ü_graad, ù_Bosni, etc...) - it only happens when the first syllable has a falling accent (of course, the rising one is "shifted already"), and is very much dialect-dependent. Also, it seems to relate to factors like focus on the following word and how close a unity they form. So while [ü_grad] is very likely, [ü_veliki grâd] not quite so ([u_vëliki grâd] is also common), and [ù_baš vëliki grâd] even less - my impression at least. Something very similar seems to be going on in Czech and Slovak, although of course not dependent on any accents types. I've been trying rather successlessly to understand this whole affair for a while now.

    Outside of Slavic, Norwegian, Swedish and some southern Dutch dialects have something that is on the surface very similar to Štokavian (without the length contrasts, but in that they have two accent types that are distinguishable only over a frame of two syllables), though it's developed quite differently. Lithuanian and some Basque dialects have something that is, I guess, more like the Slovenian system (various articles in van der Hulst). I'm not so sure about Basque, might be a rather different system.

    Some of the literature I've come across:
    Bethin, Christana Y. 1994: On the Phonology of the Neoštokavian Accent Retraction in Serbian and Croatian; Die Welt der Slaven 39, 277-296
    van der Hulst, Harry 1999 (ed.): Word Prosodic Systems in the Languages of Europe. Berlin:Mouton de Gruyter
    Gvozdanović, Jadranka 1980: Tone and Accent in Standard Serbo-Croatian, with a Synopsis of Serbo-Croatian Phonology. Wien:ÖAW
    Gvozdanović, Jadranka 1999: South Slavic. In: van der Hulst 1999. pp 839-852
    Lehiste, Ilse and Pavle Ivić 1986: Word and Sentence Prosody in Serbo-Croatian. Cambridge (Mass.):MIT Press (our famous library in Vienna only has the Serbian translation: Прозодија речи и реченице у српскохрватском језику", Novi Sad 1996) (summarizes the work these two had done on the topic in more than twenty years.)
    Николаева, Татяна 1996: Просодия Балкан. Москва:Индрик (Actually more about sentence intonation, and comparing - even establishing parallels - between b-h-s and other Balkan languages without pitch accent in this field.)
    Peco, Asim 1977(3rd ed. 1985): Pregled srpskohrvatskih dijalekata. Beograd:Naučna knjiga. (This one isn't primarily about accents, but of course they also pop up in the descriptions of various dialects when they deviate from the standard systems.)
    Smiljanić, Rajka 2004: Lexical, Pragmatic, and Positional Effects on Prosody in Two Dialects in Croatian and Serbian: An Acoustic Study, New York: Routledge. (Concerned with the interaction of sentence position and focus with lexical accents, comparing Belgrade and Zagreb (standard, not the old Kajkavian dialect))

    (For people who don't know the language(s): Štokavian, Čakavian and Kajkavian are three main dialect groups within what used to be called Serbo-Croatian. Čakavian and Kajkavian are limited to certain areas in Croatia, while the rest of Croatia, all of Bosnia-Herzegovina and most of Serbia is Štokavian, as are all three standard languages. "b-h-s" is short for "bosanski/hrvatski/srpski" and the politically correct term if you want to adress a phenomenon that is the same in all three languages now that Serbo-Croatian is seen as incorrect.)


    Croatian, Croatia
    I live in an area where čakavian (Čakavian is a Croatian dialect) influences the spoken language. Accent is especially different from the standard.

    For example Proper accentuation My accentuation

    pištolj pištolj
    biljar biljar
    problem problem
    nastaviti nastaviti

    (This also happens in some other parts of Croatia, I think because of Kajkavian (another dialect) influence. I don't know if something like this exists in Serbia or Bosnia?

    Also, we don't use the long-falling accent in words like sunce, sat, dug ( as in debt, not long) because we pronounce them much more swiftly than most Croatians, or Serbians or Bosnians. I'm not sure what I'd call the accent that we use instead.

    I'm not Čakavian myself and most people I know aren't. But all people born in my area accentuate in this manner even though we speak the standard language with just some dialect words. That's why I used to hate the ''mark the correct accent'' part of Croatian tests in school. It's really difficult for me to do that.

    I'm not sure about the pitch accent. I know that I hadn't been aware of its existence until sixth grade or something when I learnt it at school, and I still don't quite get it. I guess it could be that people from my area, including myself, don't use it properly...