Croatian seems like a good gateway Slavic language

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Edit 25 July: it seems that Serbian gets the slight edge. As two variants of the same language, however, either one would serve just about as well.

Regular readers will know that Slavic languages are not my forte although I have written about Bulgarian from time to time, the Slavic language that, depending on what type of student you are, may be the easiest one to learn for an English speaker. The greatest advantage to Bulgarian is that it does not use cases (except in pronouns, as in English), and it is also pronounced more or less as written. There is also quite a bit of content online for a language of its size.

The other language that has appealed to me recently has been Croatian. One downside to Bulgarian is that precisely the aspects that make it easy to English speakers (lack of cases, having a definite article is also a nice touch) make it less of a gateway Slavic language, as all others except Macedonian have no definite article and decline all nouns, not just pronouns. Bulgarian has a verbal system that also resembles Turkish a bit in its complexity, with separate forms for actions that apparently happened vs. those that the speaker definitely knows happened, and again other Slavic languages do not share this.

Also, Bulgarian is only written in the Cyrillic alphabet. As is Russian. Polish is only written in the Latin alphabet, as is Czech...which language can be officially written in both? Croatian's nearly identical cousin Serbian just next door. So if you have learned a fair amount of Croatian and want to get better at Cyrillic, just find some Serbian in Cyrillic to read and you're ready.

Other advantages to Croatian are as follows:

- nearly regular stress, and (apparently) pronouncing words with the wrong stress is not a big problem. I also read quite a bit that Croatians themselves often will not distinguish between č and ć, and dž and đ.

- pronunciation is quite easy. Being used to Bulgarian, from time to time Croatian words look like Bulgarian with a consonant or two removed. Must (трябва, tryabva) in Croatian is treba, some (няколко, nyakolko) is nekoliko, etc. Not a huge difference, but noticeable. Croatian also does not have the hard and soft sign of Russian, or the infamous Czech ř.

I haven't gotten into the language enough to comment on how regular it is, but it seems to be fairly standard for a Slavic language. Identifying grammatical gender is of course a treat after languages like German and to a lesser extent French.


...and that's about it so far. As you can see, Bulgarian has a definite appeal to a certain type of student, and Russian's widespread usefulness is impossible to deny. For someone that wants to learn a no- or little-nonsense Slavic language that provides a large peripheral benefit across the whole language family though, I think I would have to recommend (Serbo-)Croatian.

Anyone else a fan?



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By the way, this page is great. Pick any two Slavic languages to see false friends (words that seem the same but have different meanings) between the two. The maps in particular are awesome.

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