Interesting Facts about the Serbian Language

Jun 10, 2013 · 3 min

Serbian is a fascinating language with many interesting quirks and turns of phrase.

In my professional business translation life I always say that you can learn a vocabulary and a grammar, but you don’t really know a language until you learn something about the people who speak it and how they speak it. A language is a tool, and knowing how it can be wielded is essential. I can think of no better example of this than Serbian, which has more examples of interesting uses than I can list here – but I can give you a taste.

Turns of Phrase

Serbian has a lot of really interesting quirky phrases that people use all the time. One of my favourites is ti si kornjaca! (korn-ya-cha), which means “You are a turtle!” Turtles are extremely rare in Serbia and it’s become a standard teasing joke to call your friends a turtle when they have some something vaguely foolish. Most Serbians won’t take this badly – it’s a very mild insult and always carries an implication of affection with it.

If you’re staying at a hotel while visiting Serbia, memorise the phrase koliki je vas porcenat? (kohl-eekee ay vush praw-sen-uht). It means “What is your rate?” and it’s essential because many hotels in Serbia can spot a tourist miles away and will inflate their rates if they can. Asking this immediately can give the impression that you’re familiar with the ways of Serbia and you might get a better rate.

If you’re walking down the street and you pass a family or couple having dinner at a sidewalk café, it’s polite to say prijatno (pree-at-no). This means bon appetite with the extra implication of “good health” or a similar sentiment. Almost everyone in Serbia will smile and nod in response to this cheerful wish.

Serbian Words

One of my favourite details from Serbian is the word for the country Germany, because it speaks volumes about language development. The word for Germany in Serbian is Nemacka, which is interesting because the root word, nem, means “can’t speak” or “can’t understand.” This makes me think of a scene where the first German tribes met the first Slovens and simply couldn’t understand each other – and a thousand years later, the name still sticks!

I’m not sure if crveno vino can be found anywhere else; I’ve only seen it in Serbian restaurants. It translates to Black Wine, which is a phrase I love for the mystery it evokes. However, I’m not 100% sure if it’s simply very, very dark red wine or something else, and so far no one has explained it to me! If you know, please comment below!

Hopefully this has whet your appetite for Serbian! Any language has these fascinating bits that can amuse and inform for hours, just do a little research and let your Inner Word Nerd fly!

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