In this post, you can learn:
- #1: č, ć and c; š and s; ž and z are all different letters, not different accents;
- #2: lj, nj and dž are all single letters, not sets of two letters;
- #3: one letter is always pronounced as one sound;
- #4: there are no silent letters in Croatian;
- #5: the words that look the same in English and in Croatian might not be pronounced the same.
One of the easiest things in the Croatian language is pronunciation. However, despite the fact that reading Croatian is quite straightforward, it is still easy to fall into certain “traps” – like pronouncing Croatian words the English way and mixing up the letters like č, ć, and c. So, here’s the list of the five most common misconceptions about the Croatian alphabet and pronunciation – and how to avoid them!
Myth: Those little things above letters č, ć, š & ž are accents.
Fact: Č, ć, š, ž, c, s, z… are all different letters.
There are a few quite frequent misconceptions about the Croatian alphabet. The first one of them is to think that those little things above letters č, ć, š… are accents. Well, they are not, they are all different letters and those little things that look like an accent (technically called ‘diacritic marks’) are a part of the letters. Omitting these diacritic marks can lead to all kinds of funny situations. For example, suppose you say: “Stavit ću malo kreme za sunčanje na svoju kozu.” instead of: “Stavit ću malo kreme za sunčanje na svoju kožu.” What you have actually said is that you will put some sun lotion on your goat rather than putting it on your skin. True story. We have heard such sentences from our students many times!
koža = skin
koza = goat
But, those are actually great moments in learning a language – laughing your head off when you realize what you have just said. That is a very important ingredient to the recipe of successful language learning: being open to laughing at yourself. Sooner or later you’ll say something hilarious. It’s inevitable.
Myth: Lj, nj & dž are sets of two letters.
Fact: Lj, nj & dž are all single letters, not sets of two letters.
The second most frequent misconception about the Croatian alphabet is thinking that the letter lj is two letters – l and j. Actually, it’s a letter on its own; only it comprises two symbols. If you want to search for the word ljubav in a dictionary, you will find it under the letter lj, not under l.
The same applies to the letters nj and dž – these are also letters on their own so, for example, the word njegov (his) will be under the letter nj in a dictionary, not under n.
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Myth: 2 vowels = 1 speech sound
Fact: 2 vowels = 2 speech sounds
If you follow the simple rule that each letter in Croatian is pronounced separately and clearly, regardless of its position within a word, then you shouldn’t have any trouble pronouncing words like auto, Europa, flauta or euforija. Just remember: there are no special combinations of letters in Croatian; 1 letter = 1 sound, so 2 letters = 2 sounds. Don’t fall under the influence of how similar words are pronounced in English!
Myth: Letters like r can be silent in Croatian.
Fact: There are no silent letters in Croatian.
The letter r in words like čuvar, kuhar, slikar, ormar, gospodar or veterinar is never silent – again, just remember that each letter in the Croatian language is always clearly pronounced. What is more, if you don’t pronounce the final r in these words, you can get completely different meanings of words, for example:
čuvar = a keeper
čuva = (s)he keeps
gospodar = lord, master
gospoda = gentlemen
kuhar = a cook
kuha = (s)he cooks
veterinar = a veterinarian
veterina = veterinary science
Myth: Words that look the same as in English, I can pronounce like I do in English.
Fact: Even though some words look the same as in English, they are usually not pronounced exactly the same.
This primarily concerns the pronunciation of the letters g and j.
The Croatian g is always pronounced like the English g in the word guitar, never like the one in the word gender. So, be careful with pronouncing the words such as geografija (geography) or genetika (genetics).
J is pronounced like y in the word yes, so don’t be tricked by the words like Japan (Japan) or Jordan (Jordan).
Have you busted any other myths about the Croatian alphabet and pronunciation? 🙂
Learning Croatian continues… Next Tuesday we are learning about the imperative form. If you want us to send you an email with the next Croatian lesson, put your email address here.
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