How similar are Serbian and Slovenian?

antoine_vchv

New Member
Bulgarian
As a native Bulgarian speaker both sound almost identical to me. What is their level of mutual intelligibility?
 
  • Panceltic

    Senior Member
    Slovenščina
    The intelligibility is very asymmetrical. Slovenians can understand Serbian quite well, and certainly become fluent with little study (I am a living example of it).

    Serbians cannot understand Slovenian very well because of our tendency to speak in dialects/regional variants in all but most formal occasions (our standard language is basically an artificial speech you need to learn in school), with wild sound developments and heavy vowel reduction. Our grammar is also a bit more complicated, for example the dual grammatical number, and a more varied plural declension.

    The vocabulary is also an obstacle. We tend to use loads of German/Italian loanwords in our everyday speech which just aren’t known to Serbians. If you revert to using the ‘official’, Slavic-root words, then intelligibility improves.

    Re: the writing system, most Slovenes cannot read Cyrillic. It was last taught in schools before 1990 (and then only for a year, according to my parents).
     

    Irbis

    Senior Member
    Slovenian, Slovenia
    I think that younger generations of Slovenians have much more problems understanding Serbian, since they were not exposed to Serbian/Croatian as children. It is not uncommon now to use English to talk to Serbians.
    I as a child watched cartoons on Belgrade and Zagreb TV channel, I was reading Serbian computer magazines and books as teenager, I can understand both Croatian and Serbian quite well, I still occasionally watch Croatian TV channels.
    But I cannot really read Cyrillic, with some guessing I can read a sentence, but it is slow process.
    And Cyrillic was thought in Slovenian schools only 5 months, not whole year (there was one year of Serbo-Croatian in primary school (5th class), first half was learning Croatian, the second half was learning Serbian, which came to almost just learning Cyrillic. I think I forgot the cursive Cyrillic the next day, the only thing I remember is that some letters were really strange in cursive Cyrillic.
     

    cHr0mChIk

    Member
    Serbian (maternal); Slovak (paternal)
    I, as a person from Serbia, always had this idea that Macedonian is completely mutually intelligible with Serbian (because I could understand it) but that Slovenian isn't. I thought that it was more distant from Serbian than Macedonian is.

    Until my early twenties when I stumbled upon a Slovenian TV show (it was a talk show) by accident and was very surprised when I could understand everything as if it was my own language.

    I haven't had much contact with colloquial/dialectal Slovenian so I don't know about that but I can understand spoken literary Slovenian pretty much 100%. Maybe I wouldn't understand a word here and there but I'd get it from context.

    But maybe I'm not the best example because my father is Slovak and I grew up bilingual with Slovak and Serbian and also I studied Russian at university.
     

    Panceltic

    Senior Member
    Slovenščina
    But maybe I'm not the best example because my father is Slovak and I grew up bilingual with Slovak and Serbian and also I studied Russian at university.

    Yes, this 100% gives you a lot of advantage over a normal Serbian monolingual person.
     

    Deseret13

    Senior Member
    Slovenian
    In my experience, Slovenians can undestand Serbo-Croatian quite well, but this is not the case the other way around. What is the reason for this one-sided intelligibility, I don't know.
     

    cHr0mChIk

    Member
    Serbian (maternal); Slovak (paternal)
    In my experience, Slovenians can undestand Serbo-Croatian quite well, but this is not the case the other way around. What is the reason for this one-sided intelligibility, I don't know.
    I believe it's because Slovenians are more exposed to Serbo-Croatian than Serbians/Croats/Bosniaks are to Slovenian. I'm a living example, I've pretty much never been exposed to Slovenian language until I was an adult.
     

    Terio

    Senior Member
    Français (Québec)
    Were the three official languages really equal in ex-Yugoslavia ? Could a Slovene or a Macedonian live without knowing "serbo-croatian" (as the language was called at that time) ? Were official documents available in all three languages ?
     

    Panceltic

    Senior Member
    Slovenščina
    Were the three official languages really equal in ex-Yugoslavia ? Could a Slovene or a Macedonian live without knowing "serbo-croatian" (as the language was called at that time) ? Were official documents available in all three languages ?

    Totally. The only organisation which operated exclusively in S-C was the army.
     

    GrayRogue

    Member
    Slovenian
    I was born in 1991 and I had a hard time understanding Serbian when I was in Belgrade. Sure, I can understand words that are similar (though there are false friends, obviously), but with little Serbian exposure I had, it's hard for me to understand words that are different.

    I mean, how would a Slovene without much exposure to Serbian or Croatian language know what štakor or klokan mean. Serbian also has words like hiljada (which threw me off), unlike Croatian, which has tisuća (tisoč in Slovenian).

    I think people that say Slovenes tend to understand Serbian pretty well base that on their own experience (high exposure to Serbian/Croatian). My sister was born in 2000 and has an even harder time understanding Serbian than me. :)

    EDIT: Just remembered hearing uhvati ritam on radio and I had to google what uhvatiti means (I kind of assumed what it could mean from context, but still).
     
    Last edited:

    Panceltic

    Senior Member
    Slovenščina
    I was born in 1991 and I had a hard time understanding Serbian when I was in Belgrade. Sure, I can understand words that are similar (though there are false friends, obviously), but with little Serbian exposure I had, it's hard for me to understand words that are different.

    I mean, how would a Slovene without much exposure to Serbian or Croatian language know what štakor or klokan mean. Serbian also has words like hiljada (which threw me off), unlike Croatian, which has tisuća (tisoč in Slovenian).

    I think people that say Slovenes tend to understand Serbian pretty well base that on their own experience (high exposure to Serbian/Croatian). My sister was born in 2000 and has an even harder time understanding Serbian than me. :)

    EDIT: Just remembered hearing uhvati ritam on radio and I had to google what uhvatiti means (I kind of assumed what it could mean from context, but still).

    I agree totally. I am interested in languages so it all comes as a good intellectual exercise to me, but I can see how an average person with no exposure might struggle.

    Regarding hiljada/tisuća, there is also porodica/obitelj which is, bizarrely, slightly more understandable in Serbian than Croatian :)
     

    GrayRogue

    Member
    Slovenian
    I agree totally. I am interested in languages so it all comes as a good intellectual exercise to me, but I can see how an average person with no exposure might struggle.

    Regarding hiljada/tisuća, there is also porodica/obitelj which is, bizarrely, slightly more understandable in Serbian than Croatian :)
    I'm also interested in languages in general, but in a more casual sense (not in a scholarly sense) and I mostly focus on learning German and Spanish, so that might explain my not-so-great exposure to Croatian/Serbian, I guess. :p

    True, I guess you could say it's more intuitive. :)
     

    cHr0mChIk

    Member
    Serbian (maternal); Slovak (paternal)
    I think people that say Slovenes tend to understand Serbian pretty well base that on their own experience (high exposure to Serbian/Croatian). My sister was born in 2000 and has an even harder time understanding Serbian than me. :)
    Exactly, that's what was meant. The reason for the disproportionate intelligibility is the higher exposure from one side than the other. The exposure is the main reason for this.
     

    GrayRogue

    Member
    Slovenian
    Did you talk to Serbians in English?
    If the question is meant for me, then no, I talked to them in Slovenian (my attempt at Serbian would probably be unintelligible to them), but I mostly listened because I was there with a friend who can speak Croatian/Serbian (she has Croatian relatives).

    I also met a young Croatian couple at a train station in Vienna (we were both waiting for the same train to Maribor/Zagreb). Tried talking to them in what was probably a horrible attempt at Croatian and they quickly told me I can speak in Slovenian.
     

    jeanvanier

    Senior Member
    Mandarin Chinese
    The intelligibility is very asymmetrical. Slovenians can understand Serbian quite well, and certainly become fluent with little study (I am a living example of it).

    Serbians cannot understand Slovenian very well because of our tendency to speak in dialects/regional variants in all but most formal occasions (our standard language is basically an artificial speech you need to learn in school), with wild sound developments and heavy vowel reduction. Our grammar is also a bit more complicated, for example the dual grammatical number, and a more varied plural declension.

    The vocabulary is also an obstacle. We tend to use loads of German/Italian loanwords in our everyday speech which just aren’t known to Serbians. If you revert to using the ‘official’, Slavic-root words, then intelligibility improves.

    Re: the writing system, most Slovenes cannot read Cyrillic. It was last taught in schools before 1990 (and then only for a year, according to my parents).
    Which dialect would you suggest learning to an aspiring learner(me) who is still studying standard BCS? in hopes for a hopefully somewhat all-encompassing level of auditory intelligibility?

    If that doesn't exist what would be the relatively commonly accepted variant among a group of slovenes that come from everywhere
     
    Last edited:

    Panceltic

    Senior Member
    Slovenščina
    Which dialect would you suggest learning to an aspiring learner(me) who is still studying standard BCS? in hopes for a hopefully somewhat all-encompassing level of auditory intelligibility?

    If that doesn't exist what would be the relatively commonly accepted variant among a group of slovenes that come from everywhere
    You mean which dialect of Slovenian? You can’t really learn them, they aren’t codified - you have to live in a place and pick it up organically so to speak. Go for the standard language.
     

    pastet89

    Senior Member
    bulgarian
    I'm a Bulgarian fluent both in Serbian and Slovene. My feeling is that the average objective mutual intelligibility (MI) between these two languages is either similar or slightly higher than the mutual intelligibility between Serbian and Bulgarian (50-60%).

    I am using the term "average objective MI" as MI can be very deceiving from different angles and needs to be studied carefully. I would like to bring up two points related to this:

    1) Complex syntax constructions are relatively rarely used in the common speech conversations on a daily level. Most sentences have one verb, one subject and one object and no connections between simple sentences in the structure of the complex sentence. When exposed to such sentences, one may have the false assumption they understand a lot in general, but when confronted with complex sentence, they may not be able at all to understand the relations between subject, objects, simple sentences, etc... This is a huge problem between Bulgarian and Serbian as Bulgarian is analytic while Serbian is a synthetic language. Serbian and Slovene are both synthetic languages so this helps tremendously in understanding more complex constructions but one must keep in mind that the Slovene case system is not that similar to the Serbian one and is significantly more complex.

    2) Every time we discuss (MI) between two languages we must observe objectively a wide range of lexical corpora in order to make final conclusion for the real average MI. I can not emphasize enough on how deceiving it may be to judge solely on fiction book texts, simple daily conversations, scientific texts, or movies scripts. Each language has an extremely tiny number of simple "key" words, usually up to 50, which in terms of frequency occurrences take more than ~90% if not more. These are the simplest but most important words. Each language has also tens or hundreds of thousands of words, which are encountered much more rarely as opposed to these simple words. But we need the simple "key" words in order to "unlock" the rest of the words as they are so important and so frequently used, that if we don't understand them we can't understand the rest of the information. I have observed an interesting phenomena where a pair of languages may have similar set of these few key words or exactly the opposite.

    I feel like the Bulgarian/Serbian and Serbian/Slovene pairs have these type of corpora shared in an opposite way.

    My observation is that the most frequent and important words are shared between Bulgarian and Serbian while the rest of the entire language is quite different. E.g., if a Bulgarian asks a Serbian for road directions, orders a meal in a restaurant, or even have a very simple daily conversation, chances are it may look like these languages are similar on 90%. On the other side, if a Bulgarian tries to listen to politic debates or to read a fiction book in Serbian, they may feel they understand at most 50% while in reality it might be even 30-40% due to the mistakes related to false friends (words which look or sound the same but mean something different). I think the relation between Slovene and Serbian related to these types of corpora is the opposite. E.g., a significant amount of the most common and important words seem to be different and completely strange especially to Serbians. But when reading fiction books, for example, my impression is that Slovene and Serbian share a significant part of their more rare and sophisticated vocabulary.

    As already pointed out, Serbians should understand significantly less Slovene than vice versa. This is not only due to the historical and even current passive exposure to Serbo-Croatian in Slovenia coming from the diaspora, songs, TV etc... But also due the fact that many essential words in Slovene are unique to the language and do not share their roots with other Slavic languages, e.g. fant/punca (boy/girl). It also feels like in general Serbian is spoken clearly, "wide" and "open", while Slovene sounds more unclear due to the vowel reductions. Something like Czech and Slovak which share ~95% of their vocabulary but Slovak feels so much easier to understand, at least to me.

    These are my impressions but please keep in mind that I am not a native speaker of any of these two languages so it is still hard to judge precisely.

    I would like also to point out a huge disclaimer: all of the above observations refer to Serbian and official Slovene, which you will find in the books and you may hear for 30 minutes per day on the news. Otherwise it is not spoken anywhere and what is spoken on the streets is so different that without exaggeration it may not be more understandable than Chinese. When I first visited Slovenia I was already fluent in Serbian but didn't know any Slovene. I was understanding most of what was written on signs, etc... But when exposed to a 40 minute conversation in Vrhnika dialect I literally couldn't understand a single word of it.
     
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