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Lower Sorbian language

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Lower Sorbian
dolnoserbšćina, dolnoserbski
Native toGermany
Native speakers
6,900 (2007)[1]
Latin (Sorbian alphabet)
Language codes
ISO 639-2dsb
ISO 639-3dsb
ELPLower Sorbian
Linguasphere53-AAA-ba < 53-AAA-b < 53-AAA-b...-d (varieties: 53-AAA-baa to 53-AAA-bah)
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

Lower Sorbian (endonym: dolnoserbšćina) is a West Slavic minority language spoken in eastern Germany in the historical province of Lower Lusatia, today part of Brandenburg.

Standard Lower Sorbian is one of the two literary Sorbian languages, the other being the more widely spoken standard[clarify] Upper Sorbian. The Lower Sorbian literary standard was developed in the 18th century, based on a southern form of the Cottbus dialect.[2] The standard variety of Lower Sorbian has received structural influence from Upper Sorbian.[2]

Lower Sorbian is spoken in and around the city of Cottbus in Brandenburg. Signs in this region are typically bilingual, and Cottbus has a Lower Sorbian Gymnasium where one language of instruction is Lower Sorbian. It is a heavily endangered language.[3] Most native speakers today belong to the older generations.


Bilingual road sign in Cottbus, Germany

The phonology of Lower Sorbian has been greatly influenced by contact with German, especially in Cottbus and larger towns. For example, German-influenced pronunciation tends to have a voiced uvular fricative [ʁ] instead of the alveolar trill [r]. In villages and rural areas, German influence is less marked, and the pronunciation is more "typically Slavic".


Consonant phonemes[4][5]
Labial Dental/
Postalveolar Dorsal Glottal
hard soft hard soft hard soft hard soft
Nasal m () n (ŋ) (ŋʲ)
Plosive voiceless p () t () k ()
voiced b () d () ɡ (ɡʲ)
Affricate t͡s t͡ʃ t͡ɕ
Fricative voiceless f () s ʃ ɕ x () h
voiced v () z ʒ ʑ
Trill r
Approximant w l () j
  • /m, mʲ, p, pʲ, b, bʲ/ are bilabial, whereas /f, v/ are labiodental,[4] /w, wʲ/ are labiovelar,[6] although the latter may be a labial–palatal approximant.
  • Consonants in parentheses are allophones of another consonant before another consonant or vowel, for example /m/ may palatalize to /mʲ/ before front vowels or /j/, and /n/ may assimilate to /ŋ/ before velar consonants.
  • The Proto-Slavic contrasts between /m, p, b, v/ and their palatalized counterparts has been lost phonetically in Lower Sorbian, with the marginal phonemes occurring only before certain vowels. The contrasts between /t, d/ and their palatalized counterparts has evolved into a contrast between /t, d/ and /ɕ, ʑ/. The contrast between /l/ and its palatalized counterpart has evolved into a contrast between /w, l/ while the contrasts between /n, r/ and their palatalized counterparts has remained intact and the contrasts between /s, z/ and their palatalized counterparts no longer exists.[7]
  • /n, nʲ, l, r, rʲ/ are alveolar [n, nʲ, l, r, rʲ], whereas /t, d, t͡s, s, z/ are dental [, , t̪͡s̪, , ].[4]
  • /t͡ʃ, ʃ, ʒ/ have been variously transcribed with ⟨t͡ʃ, ʃ, ʒ[8][9] and ⟨t͡ʂ, ʂ, ʐ⟩.[10] Their actual phonetic realization is flat postalveolar [t͡ʃ˖, ʃ˖, ʒ˖][11] in all of the Lower Sorbian-speaking area. This is unlike in standard Upper Sorbian, where these are palato-alveolar [t͡ʃ, ʃ, ʒ].[12][13]

Final devoicing and assimilation[edit]

Lower Sorbian has both final devoicing and regressive voicing assimilation:[14]

  • dub /dub/ "oak" is pronounced [dup]
  • susedka /ˈsusedka/ "(female) neighbor" is pronounced [ˈsusetka]
  • licba /ˈlit͡sba/ "number" is pronounced [ˈlʲid͡zba]

The hard postalveolar fricative /ʃ/ is assimilated to [ɕ] before /t͡ɕ/:[15]

  • šćit /ʃt͡ɕit/ "protection" is pronounced [ɕt͡ɕit]


The vowel inventory of Lower Sorbian is exactly the same as that of Upper Sorbian.[16] It is also very similar to the vowel inventory of Slovene.

Vowel phonemes[16]
Front Central Back
Close i u
Close-mid e o
Open-mid ɛ ɔ
Open a
  • /i/ is retracted to [ɨ] after hard consonants.
  • /e, o/ are diphthongized to [i̯ɛ, u̯ɔ] in slow speech.[16]
  • The /e–ɛ/ and /o–ɔ/ distinctions are weakened or lost in unstressed syllables.[17]
  • /a/ is phonetically central [ä].[16]


Stress in Lower Sorbian normally falls on the first syllable of the word:[18]

  • Łužyca [ˈwuʒɨt͡sa] "Lusatia"
  • pśijaśel [ˈpɕijaɕɛl] "friend"
  • Chóśebuz [ˈxɨɕɛbus] "Cottbus"

In loanwords, stress may fall on any of the last three syllables:[18]

  • internat [intɛrˈnat] "boarding school"
  • kontrola [kɔnˈtrɔla] "control"
  • september [sɛpˈtɛmbɛr] "September"
  • policija [pɔˈlʲit͡sija] "police"
  • organizacija [ɔrɡanʲiˈzat͡sija] "organization"

Most one-syllable prepositions attract the stress to themselves when they precede a noun or pronoun of one or two syllables:[18]

  • na dwórje [ˈna dwɨrʲɛ] "on the courtyard"
  • pśi mnjo [ˈpɕi mnʲɔ] "near me"
  • do města [ˈdɔ mʲɛsta] "into the city" (the [iɪ̯] of město [ˈmʲiɪ̯stɔ] becomes [ɛ] when unstressed)

However, nouns of three or more syllables retain their stress:

  • pśed wucabnikom [pɕɛd ˈut͡sabnʲikɔm] "in front of the teacher"
  • na drogowanju [na ˈdrɔɡowanʲu] "on a journey"


The Sorbian alphabet is based on the Latin script but uses diacritics such as the acute accent and caron.


Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Lower Sorbian:

Wšykne luźe su lichotne roźone a jadnake po dostojnosći a pšawach. Woni maju rozym a wědobnosć a maju ze sobu w duchu bratšojstwa wobchadaś. (All people are born free and equal in their dignity and rights. They are given reason and conscience and they shall create their relationships to one another according to the spirit of brotherhood.)[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lower Sorbian at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. ^ a b Björn Rothstein, Rolf Thieroff (2010). Mood in the Languages of Europe. John Benjamins Publishing. pp. 376–377. ISBN 9789027205872.
  3. ^ Moseley, Christopher, ed. (2010). Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger (3rd ed.). Paris: UNESCO Publishing. ISBN 978-92-3-104096-2.
  4. ^ a b c Stone (2002), p. 605.
  5. ^ Zygis (2003), pp. 180–181.
  6. ^ Niedersorbische Aussprache, Serbski Institut
  7. ^ Iskarous, Khalil, and Kavitskaya, Darya, Sound Change and the Structure of Synchronic Variability: Phonetic and Phonological Factors in Slavic Palatalization (PDF), Linguistic Society of America{{citation}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  8. ^ Hannusch (1998).
  9. ^ Stone (2002).
  10. ^ Zygis (2003).
  11. ^ This transcription follows Laver (1994:251–252). Other scholars may transcribe these sounds differently.
  12. ^ Zygis (2003), pp. 180–181, 190–191.
  13. ^ Šewc-Schuster (1984), pp. 40–41.
  14. ^ Hannusch (1998), p. 12.
  15. ^ Hannusch (1998), p. 13.
  16. ^ a b c d Stone (2002), p. 600.
  17. ^ Stone (2002), pp. 606–607.
  18. ^ a b c Hannusch (1998), p. 14.
  19. ^ Omniglot


External links[edit]


Czech-Lower Sorbian and Lower Sorbian-Czech[edit]

German–Lower Sorbian[edit]

Lower Sorbian–German[edit]