Speaking Croatian for complete morons!

While in Croatia, it was necessary to learn a bit of Croatian.  Here I attempt to pass my wealth of knowledge on to you.  Rosebud may correct me vehemently as I could be wrong about all this, but this is my current understanding.

Croatian, as a language, is rather fun when you get used to it. If you took a Russian couple, got them good and mellow on a patio in the sun and taught them conversational Italian over a couple beers you might come up with something close to Croatian; lots of harsh Russian consonants rounded off with Italian lilts and vowel-endings. Unlike a vodka-fueled tirade you can picture in Russian, Croatian just doesn’t get all worked up much. Sure, you can get a good head of steam going if you get angry about something, but eventually with all the “Ch”, “Sh”, “Ts” and rolling of “r”s, Croatian just gets exhausted and sits back down to an espresso or wine and forgets why it was so miffed in the first place.

Right, now that you have the right attitude, on to mechanics:

When first approaching Croatian, you’ll be happy to see that it is a phonetic language, so basically every letter has a purpose and sound, unlike tricky bastard languages like French or English where you must guess at whether to actually pronounce a letter or not. If there’s a letter there, you must make a sound.

This also means it streamlines words to remove combinations. No instances of things like “Ch” to make one sound, or “Ph” when an “f” will do just fine. Nope, one letter per sound. Also, Croatian doesn’t put in extra constants (“ll”, “mm”, “nn”) like English does just because they are taking up too much room in the warehouse.

Now having specific sounds for each letter necessitates a unique letter form for all sounds.  For some reason they do this by overloading the letter “c” with funny hats and eyebrows:

  • ć (pronounced “ch”)
  • č (also pronounced “ch”, but slightly different, only imperceptible to a foreign ear)

Now, with English when you see a normal “c”, you are unsure if you pronounce it as “K” or “S”.  Croatian keeps consistency: only “k” makes that sound.  If you see a “c” in Croatian it is always pronounced “ts”.  Huh?  Right, you get used to it.

So, there’s lots of good stuff.  That’s not to forgive its obvious transgressions as a language. For example, many words pile an unseemly number of consonants together, often at the beginning of a word necessitating you take a running start at it lest your tongue just smash against the rough wall of pronunciation. Luckily most words also trail off on a nice downhill slope of vowels so you can coast through, gathering momentum for the next wall of consonants.

  • Examples of consonant abuse:
  • Vrjeme (time)
  • Crne (black)
  • Mvpei (Minister)

Those are all pretty simple, right? How about a random sign I saw in Zagreb?

  • Knjigoveznica (Bindery)

Right? Once your bandage your tongue from that attempt, we’ll continue.

So while their flagrant abuse of consonants is bad, they attempt to rectify this by treating “j” and “r” as vowels.  I can kind of give them the “j” one; after all, this will always be pronounced “y”.  However, they seem to think that an ‘R’ is a fine substitute for a vowel. For instance, their name a town square?


Yep, that’s not an abbreviation. That’s the whole thing.  And you have to roll your ‘r’ slightly.  No sane person will consider this a vowel.

Okay, here’s some examples of some of the above rules:

  • English: Collective.
  • Croation: Kolectiv

See how easy that is?  No repeating letters!  No ambiguity on pronunciation!  Nifty faux-Russian look to the word!

  • English: Street
  • Croation: Ulica

Note, this is said as “ulitsa”, not “ulika”.  See how nice it is to not have ambiguity?

Right, that’s your language lesson for the day.  Or month.  Or maybe ever.  I’ve never done language lessons before, who knows where this goes?

Here’s some pictures so you can stop reading so many hard words:

The Patriarch left us, but Jbird joined us, so we three toured some cool places.  First off: Bakar:

Looking down on the city from a cliff. Oooo, pretty and exotic!
Down in the town, looking up at where I’d taken the previous picture.
Walkin’ through the old town (or “Stari-grad”)
Looking for peacefulness? Found it!
Does this not just scream “old school Europe”? Well, it’s very peaceful so it probably just whispers it.
Watch out people, he’s trying to be artistic.
Many old buildings in great shape. One that’s in a little worse shape.
That’s a freeway on-ramp. Inspired by roller coasters, I assume.
Old church. You will find many of these in Europe. I can’t seem to stop taking pictures of every single one, though.
Nice ‘stache, yo.
More of this town. Just beautiful and calm.

Next up, a day trip to Brseč (remember your pronunciation guide? That’s right: “Brsech”!)  This is a quaint little coast town that seems to be completely stopped in time.  It can’t hold more than, like, 30 families.  Yet they have four churches in this place.

Also, we got to see our first example of a Croatian werewolf.  This took the form of an old dude shambling along the streets aimlessly.  When he turned his giant noggin toward you it was clear from his profusion of facial hair, wild expression, and dark, pock-marked skin that he was a were-creature, despite his fine taupe jacket and his roaming around in the daylight.  Sadly, no pictures were possible without attracting his attention.  And we didn’t want that.

Croatian beach!
…with a WWII machine gun nest overlooking the sea. How, er, relaxing?
Brsec is OLD.
Quaint hand-pump well.
Looking down to Brsec from the cliffs.
400 year old church. Give or take 100 years.
More cliff viewing.


11 thoughts on “Speaking Croatian for complete morons!

  1. Beautiful pictures! Looks like you’re having good weather, too.

    My favorite story about the language is how it took me a couple of days to realize the cashiers were *not* handing me back my change with inexplicable, dramatic expressions of voilà; and that, relatedly, I was completely mispronouncing their word for “thank you.” (Hvala, for anyone curious.) I must have been really sleep deprived.

    1. Right! That’s a great visual; every person on Croatia basically breathing out “voilà” with a flourish as they produce your change, your drink, meal, room key, illicit drug purchase, etc.

    1. excellent point! However, turns out that “Croatian” is a bastardized word itself: the real word for Croatian is “Hravatski”. Don’t ask me how we get “Croatian” from that root word. Makes no sense.

  2. I find your take on the Croatian language pretty hilarious. I’ve been studying it for a little while now and I agree that it’s pretty fun. Gorgeous photos! That freeway ramp is terrifying looking. Thanks for the mini language lesson!

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