Užican dialect

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угуваачча / uguvaačča
ужички говор / užički govor
Pronunciation[ˈuʃə̆tʃkiː ˈɡɔʋɔːr]
Native toSerbia
RegionStari Vlah (Užice)
ExtinctConsidered moribund, suppressed by the standard language
Language codes
ISO 639-3
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The Užice dialect or Zlatibor dialect (Serbo-Croatian: užički govor / ужички говор or zlatiborski govor / златиборски говор) is a subdialect of the Shtokavian dialect of the Serbo-Croatian language. It is part of the Eastern Herzegovinian subdialects.[1] It is traditionally spoken by c. 500,000 people – the Bosniaks and Serbs of the region – in the Zlatibor and Moravica Districts in the Užice region (Stari Vlah) in the southwestern part of Serbia.[2][3][4]


One of the earliest mentions of the local dialect of Užice region is found in Ottoman geographer Evliya Çelebi's record on his visit to the Užice nahiya in 1664.[5] In his travelogue, the language of Užicans is called the Bosnian language.[6]

Today Orthodox people in the Užice region usually claim to speak Serbian, whereas Muslims (who primarily dwell in the municipalities of Nova Varoš, Priboj, Prijepolje, and Sjenica in the Zlatibor District) claim to speak Bosnian. The name Serbo-Croatian was also used during the Yugoslav era.[7]


The Užice dialect is a Neo-Štokavian dialect with Ijekavian accent. It is characterized by an Eastern Herzegovinian accenting system consisting of four pitch accents with long vowels following accented syllables, and a case system using full declension.[8] Today many people in the Užice region, especially in urban areas, use the Ekavian accent (which is dominant in Serbia) in speech and writing, instead of the traditional Ijekavian.[9] Nevertheless, the original Ijekavian forms of local toponyms such as Bioska, Đetinja, Prijepolje, Bjeluša, Kosjerić, Drijetanj etc., are usually preserved, as these are the names used in official documents and other publications.[10] However, there is also a number of toponyms which were Ekavized in the written language, although their original Ijekavian forms have often survived in the spoken language. These include Donja Bela Reka / Gornja Bela Reka, Kriva Reka, Seništa and others, which can often be heard as Bijela Rijeka, Kriva Rijeka, Sjeništa etc. in conversation among the locals.[11]

In the Central South Slavic dialect continuum, the Užice dialect forms a transition between the neighbouring dialects of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the dialects of Serbia. Some of its characteristics are shared with either dialects, but many of them are common with the Bosnian vernacular rather than the dialects of the rest of Serbia; including the traditional Ijekavian reflex of yat, the reduction of short unaccented vowels in speech, and other characteristics of the local phonetics, morphology, and lexis, the latter manifested primarily in many loanwords from Turkish, Persian, and Arabic languages, which are, however, suppressed and less used in the modern language. The connections between the Užice region and Bosnia were even stronger in the past, as parts of this region once belonged to the mediaeval Bosnian state, and the mediaeval local population were followers of the Church of Bosnia.[12]


The local population descends from the Slavs who mixed with Illyrian and Celtic tribes in the early Middle Ages,[13] and therefore the dialect in its earliest mediaeval form has been rather influenced by the Celtic and Illyrian languages, the remaining of which are some local toponyms of Illyrian or Romanized Celtic etymology, such as Tara Mountain, Negbina, Murtenica, Čigota etc.,[14] or the mediaeval Užican personal name Brajan of Celtic origin.[15]

Mediaeval records of local toponyms show Ikavian characteristics of the local Slavonic vernacular, similarly to the mediaeval Bosnian language. These toponyms include Bila Rika, Siča Rika, Biluša, and others, which are today known as Bela Reka or Bijela Rijeka, Seča Reka, and Bjeluša (either Ijekavian accent or Ekavized during the 19th and 20th centuries).[15]

The dialect’s vocabulary was later influenced by the Ottoman Turkish language.[16] A mention of the respectable Turkish influence on Užican language and mentality is also found in the novel Došljaci by a notable Užice writer Milutin Uskoković:

The Turkish influence still remained in speech and mentality. The language ... is full with Turkish words. Older Užicans are at home still very much like the Turks

— Milutin Uskoković, Došljaci (1919)

During the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, the Užice region was mostly populated by the migrants from Herzegovina, Montenegro, and other Dinaric regions. Most of the present-day Užicans descend from these settlers.[17] The local dialect was then influenced by the Younger Ijekavian dialects of Herzegovina and Montenegro, and thus became one of the Eastern Herzegovinian dialects.[18]


  • Interrogatory pronouns are šta (what) and ko (who), according to which the pronoun nešta (something) is used instead of the standard nešto; and što (why) is used with the meaning of the standard zašto.
  • The dialect has younger Štokavian accentuation consisting of four accents and long vowels following the accented syllables, and the full declension using the ending -a in genitive plural and a same form for dative, instrumental, and locative plural. The post-accent long vowels are more frequent in the Užican dialect than in the standard language, appearing on all vocative endings and the praeterite suffixes.
  • The old vowel yat is replaced with ije in long syllables and je in the short ones. Before another vowel or a palatal consonant, it is replaced with i, and after a consonant cluster or the consonant r, it is pronounced as e. The reflex of long yat (ije) is always bisyllabic, while it is diphthongal in some other Ijekavian dialects.
  • The older Ijekavian yat reflex has been kept in several pronouns and declension endings: ovijem instead of the standard ovim, moijem instead of mojim, starijem for starim etc.
  • The dialectal Ijekavian iotation (dj > đ [dʑ], tj > ć [tɕ]) has been preserved: đe for gdje, đevojka for djevojka, đeca for djeca, međed for medvjed, lećeti for letjeti, ćerati for tjerati etc. The iotation also affects sound /s/, and to a lesser degree sounds /z/ and /ts/, yielding [ɕ] or [ʃʲ] for sj, [ʑ] or [ʒʲ] for zj, and [tɕ] for cj: sjutra > śutra, posjek > pośek, cjepanica > ćepanica etc. More archaic Ijekavian iotation affecting labial sounds (pj > plj [pʎ], vj > vlj [vʎ]) is found in the text of the Prophecy of Kremna but is, however, usually omitted.
  • Several dialectal words and expressions are differently built, such as: sjutra or sjutre (that is, śutra or śutre when the iotation occurs) instead of the standard sutra; puštiti instead of pustiti; jošte instead of još; računjati instead of računati; morem, more instead of mogu, može; bidem or bidnem instead of budem; četri instead of četiri; potlje and pošlje instead of poslije or posle; as well as dialectal expressions najvolim and najposle.
  • The ending -t is used instead of -n for the passive voice of the verbs of the II, IV, V, and VII grammatical conjugation: napisat, napisata for napisan, napisana; izabrat for izabran and so on.
  • Sounds /f/ and /x/ have been either lost or replaced with sounds /p/, /ʋ/, /j/, /k/, /ɡ/ or /s/: ljeb for hljeb, njig for njih, kava for kafa, oras for orah, stio for htio, kujna for kuhinja etc. The sound /j/ is also less used when occurs near the vowel /i/ giving starii for stariji, moi for moji, Alin for Alijin (as in toponym Alin Potok) etc.
  • Several sound changes such as sibilarization, assimilation, metathesis or elision occur more frequently in the Užican dialect, whilst i-mutation usually occurs less frequently. Vowel groups ao and ae have merged into o and e: rekao > reko, posao > poso, dvanaest > dvanes.
  • Short unaccented vowels /i/, /ɛ/, and /u/ are being reduced in common speech, a manner of articulation that is widespread in the related dialects of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
  • The dialect's lexis includes some regional and archaic expressions as well as many loans from Turkish.


front central back
close i u
mid ɛ (ə, ə̆) [1] ɔ
open ä [2]
  1. ^ Schwa is an allophone of /i/, /u/ or /ɛ/, which are reduced in mid-word position when not stressed.
  2. ^ The open back unrounded vowel may also occur as an allophone of /a/.
labial dental &
palatal velar
plosive p  b t  d [1] k  ɡ
Nasal m n ɲ (ŋ) [2]
fricative s  z [1] ʃ  ʒ ɕ  (ʑ) [3]
affricate ts [1]      
trill r [4]
approximant ʋ j
lateral approximant l  (ɫ) [5] ʎ
  1. ^ a b c Sounds /t/, /d/, /s/, /z/, and /ts/ are pronounced with the tip of the tongue against the teeth rather than against the alveolar ridge, thus being more dental than truly alveolar.
  2. ^ The velar nasal is not a phoneme, it only occurs as an allophone of /n/ before velar consonants, e.g. [ˈbraːŋko].
  3. ^ The alveolo-palatal fricatives occur when /s/ or /ʃ/ and /z/ or /ʒ/ undergone iotation. The voiced alveolo-palatal fricative is much rarer because the iotation with /z/ is usually omitted.
  4. ^ The alveolar trill can be syllabic in some words.
  5. ^ The alveolar lateral approximant is usually velarized in this dialect.


The significant portion of the Užican vernacular literature consists of local anecdotes and proverbs, as well as the epic and lyric poems, both of which are usually sung according to a common metric system consisting of ten units (ten syllables in a verse), and often performed with gusle.[2] The hero of all Užican anecdotes is called Ero (another name for Užicans, also spelled Era), who is portrayed as a most clever, witty, and hospitable person, although he is just a simple Zlatiborian peasant. In these short anecdotes, he always succeeds to trick the others at the end, even though they hold a higher position in the society or are often considered smarter than him (priests, Ottoman and Serbian nobility, the police, etc.).[19] Characters similar to smart and clever Ero are found in anecdotes across the Balkans: in the stories about Nasredin Hodža, of oriental origin, or Karagiozis in the Greek and Turkish literatures.[20]

The written literature, on the other hand, usually stuck to the standard language; that is Old Church Slavonic and Church Slavonic in the Middle Ages, and later the standard Serbian language. The first Užican printed book, Rujansko četvorojevanđelje (the Gospels of Rujno), was printed in Church Slavonic in 1537.[21] Other Church Slavonic books printed in the Užice region include Psalter printed in Mileševa monastery in 1544, and Evangelion and Pentecostarion printed in Mrkša’s Church in 1562 and 1566, respectively.[22] After the printing centres in Užican monasteries were demolished by the Ottoman Turks, a manuscript culture arose in the Rača monastery. The manuscripts produced in Rača were written in Church Slavonic, but they contained many elements of the Užican vernacular.[23] The first works compiled in the local dialect by literate Užicans appeared in the 19th century. They include Miladin Radović's chronicle Samouki rukopis, and the Prophecy of Kremna which was told by Zechariah Zaharić, the protopope of Kremna.


  1. ^ Павле Ивић, „Дијалектологија српскохрватског језика – увод и штокавско наречје“, Сремски Карловци – Нови Сад 2001, p. 175
  2. ^ a b Милисав Р. Ђенић, „Златибор“, Титово Ужице 1970, p. 74
  3. ^ The Užice region consists of Zlatibor, užička Crna gora, Stari Vlah, Soko, Požega Valley, Moravica, Polimlje and Podblaće, which comprise a region with some specific geographic, and somewhat also ethnographic characteristics within Serbia – Р. Познановић, „Традиционално усмено народно стваралаштво Ужичког краја“, Посебна издања Етнографског института САНУ 30/1, Београд 1988, pp. 24–25
  4. ^ According to 2002 population census in Serbia there were 313,396 people living in the Zlatibor District (the capital of which is Užice) and 224,772 people settled in the Moravica District (the capital of which is Čačak).
  5. ^ Evlija Čelebi, „Putopis“, Sarajevo 1973.
  6. ^ Љубомир Симовић, „Ужице са вранама“, Београд 2002, p. 39 and 43
  7. ^ cf. the population censa in Serbia and former Yugoslavia
  8. ^ Живојин Станојчић, Љубомир Поповић, „Граматика српскога језика“, Београд 2004, p. 10
  9. ^ Љубомир Симовић, „Ужице са вранама“, Београд 2002, p. 274
  10. ^ as recognized by the Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia Archived 2009-02-19 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ cf. Милисав Р. Ђенић, „Златибор“; Љубиша Р. Ђенић, „Златиборски летопис“; Љубомир Симовић, „Ужице са вранама“ and other works that nonetheless mention them in their original Ijekavian forms.
  12. ^ Милисав Р. Ђенић, „Златибор у прошлости“, Титово Ужице 1983, p. 11
  13. ^ Милисав Р. Ђенић, „Златибор“, Титово Ужице 1970, p. 73
  14. ^ Милисав Р. Ђенић, „Златибор у прошлости“, Титово Ужице 1983, p. 6
  15. ^ a b Ахмед С. Аличић, „Турски катастарски пописи неких подручја западне Србије – XV и XVI век“, Чачак 1984
  16. ^ Љубомир Симовић, „Ужице са вранама“, Београд 2002, p. 140
  17. ^ Милисав Р. Ђенић, „Златибор у прошлости“, Титово Ужице 1983, p. 50
  18. ^ Similarly to other Serbo-Croatian dialects that were influenced by the settlers from Herzegovina, and today are classified under Eastern Herzegovinian dialects. The Dubrovnik dialect was originally Čakavian Ikavian but today is Herzegovinian Ijekavian, and the dialects of Lika were originally Ikavian but today are mostly Eastern Herzegovinian Ijekavian. Both Dubrovnik and Lika, like Užice, were settled by migrants from Herzegovina during the Ottoman rule over the Balkans.
  19. ^ Bulletin of the Ethnographic Institute SASA, vol XLVI, Belgrade 1997: Десанка Николић, „Анегдота – израз ерског менталитета“
  20. ^ Р. Ангелова, „Любими геори на хумористичните приказки и анегдотите у някои славянски и неславянски народи“, Език и литература XXVIII/3, София 1973, pp. 16–17
  21. ^ Милисав Р. Ђенић, „Златибор у прошлости“, Титово Ужице 1983, p. 10
  22. ^ Љубомир Симовић, „Ужице са вранама“, Београд 2002, pp. 44–47
  23. ^ Љубомир Симовић, „Ужице са вранама“, Београд 2002, pp. 53–57

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