Do you want to know more about the Croatian alphabet? I’m so glad you’re here!
It is always good to start with something that’s familiar. So, in this article, we’ll start with the similarities and differences between the English and the Croatian alphabets.
Later on, you will learn how to pronounce Croatian letters and sounds.
In addition, if you enjoy history, there’ll be a little treat for you in the end.
But, first things first…
English Alphabet vs Croatian Alphabet
Let’s start with the basics. What are the similarities and differences between the Croatian and English alphabet?
For starters, the Croatian alphabet is also a form of the Latin script.
It consists of 30 letters, unlike the English alphabet, which consists of 26.
Let’s look at the table below:
|English alphabet consists of:||Croatian alphabet consists of:|
|26 letters (out of which are):||30 letters (out of which are):|
|5 vowels (a, e, i, o, u)||5 vowels (a, e, i, o, u)|
|21 consonants||25 consonants|
Ok, so we can conclude that the Croatian alphabet has four extra letters. This doesn’t mean, however, all the other letters are the same. So, what are the differences?
Both alphabets have the same 5 vowels (a, e, i, o, u). So, the main differences between the English and Croatian alphabet are found in the consonants.
In fact, there are almost as many consonants in the Croatian alphabet as there are letters in the English alphabet (vowels included).
Looking back at the table, we might think there are only four extra consonants in the Croatian alphabet, when in fact there are actually twice as many!
How so? Let’s take a look.
The Extra Consonants in the Croatian Alphabet
Ok, let’s look at the differences and the similarities between these two alphabets outlined in the table below (the differences are marked in red):
|A a||A a|
|B b||B b|
|C c||C c|
|D d||D d|
|E e||E e|
|F f||F f|
|G g||G g|
|H h||H h|
|I i||I i|
|J j||J j|
|K k||K k|
|L l||L l|
|M m||M m|
|N n||N n|
|O o||O o|
|P p||P p|
|R r||R r|
|S s||S s|
|T t||T t|
|U u||U u|
|V v||V v|
|Z z||Z z|
If you look at the table, you’ll notice that letters q, w, x, and y don’t appear in the Croatian alphabet.
Fun fact: Notice how I said that the letters q, w, x, and y ‘don’t appear’ in the Croatian alphabet? However, they are still used in words of English origin that have been integrated into the Croatian language where a suitable Croatian word hasn’t been constructed yet (such as bullying or widget, for example).
You will also notice, however, that there are many letters that might be totally unfamiliar to you if you’re a native English speaker. These are the eight extra consonants.
These are (in order of appearance in the alphabet):
For better understanding, we can divide them into two groups: diacritics and digraphs.
Diacritics (or diacritical marks) are extra marks that are added to letters to change their sound. You may have run into diacritics in languages like Spanish (niño – child) or French (Noël – Christmas).
In Croatian, most of the extra consonants are diacritics.
These are Č, Ć, Đ, Š, Ž, and, in part, DŽ. Each one of these is distinct letters and have distinct sounds (check out the table below).
The other three consonants are…
Croatian letters DŽ, LJ, and NJ consist of two letters.
These are known as digraphs, a fancy way of saying that two letters are pronounced as one sound.
Again, these are also distinct letters in the Croatian alphabet.
The pronunciation of these extra letters, however, can be somewhat difficult for native English speakers.
We’ll cover the pronunciation of the entire alphabet below, but let’s first talk about the pronunciation of these extra consonants.
Pronouncing the Extra Consonants
Even though you may not be familiar with these letters, you have heard some of their sounds before. Here’s what I mean by that…
In English words, some letters are grouped together to make a new sound. For instance, let’s take a word ship. Both the letter s and the letter h have distinct sounds. However, grouped together (into a digraph) they make a new sound ( ʃ ).
Now, English doesn’t use any new letters to represent this sound, so it simply groups the two existing letters together – s and h.
The Croatian alphabet, on the other hand, uses an entirely different letter for this sound. That letter is one of our extra consonants – the letter š.
Note: The pronunciation of the letter š sounds somewhat ‘harsher’ in Croatian that you would pronounce the digraph ‘sh’ in English. You can listen to the pronunciation of each of the letters of the Croatian alphabet in the table below.
So, let’s look at a few other English words where we can hear the sound of these extra Croatian consonants.
child – the digraph ch sounds like the Croatian letter ć
journey – the letter j sounds like the Croatian latter đ
ship – as mentioned above, the digraph sh sounds like the Croatian letter š.
Tips on Pronunciation
Unfortunately, there are no examples of the sounds of other extra consonants in the English language. For this reason, English speakers sometimes struggle to master their pronunciation.
Even though you have the exact pronunciation of each of the letters of the alphabet below, I would like to give you a few tips on how to pronounce all of these difficult consonants.
The trouble with č and ć
First of all, let me start by saying that a lot of native speakers actually have a hard time telling these two letters and their sounds apart.
Č and Ć are very similar to one another. They are still different letters with different sounds, though.
A tip that moms in Croatia tell their school children as they struggle to tell these letters apart is that the letter č is hard, and the ć is soft.
Teachers and linguists may not like this explanation but it can help you distinguish between the two more easily.
Let’s look at the word child again. The digraph ch sounds exactly like the letter ć.
Now, if you want to pronounce the harder letter č, place the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth, right behind your teeth, and try to pronounce the same word.
It may be weird at first, but with a little practice, you will get a hang of pronouncing the letter č in no time.
The trouble with dž and đ
Similar to the trouble with č and ć, these two letters are sometimes hard to tell apart, as well.
In fact, the difference in pronunciation is almost the same as between č and ć.
Letter j in journey sounds exactly like the letter đ. Now, if you want to pronounce the sound that corresponds to the letter dž, you would again need to place the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth, just behind your front teeth, while attempting to pronounce the same j sound.
Since the letter is a digraph, it’s sound falls between the sounds D and Ž.
This will make the letter sound harsher than the original pronunciation.
The real trouble with lj and nj
Ok, now, these two letters really are hard to pronounce if you’re not familiar with their sounds.
The first thing you need to know is that the letter j in Croatian is pronounced differently than in English. In English, the letter j has the sound that is represented by the Croatian letter đ.
‘J’ in Croatian, on the other hand, is pronounced like the letter y in joy.
So, how will this help you with pronouncing letters LJ and NJ?
The easiest way to pronounce them is to remember that they are digraphs which means they consist of two letters – L + J, N + J.
Their sounds will fall between these two letters. In fact, you can pronounce the letter lj if you attempt to pronounce both the letter l and j at the same time.
The same with the letter nj. If you attempt to pronounce letters n and j at the same time, you’ll get the sound nj.
These two letters will take some practice to pronounce correctly, but it is wise to learn them.
A lot of times foreign speakers will substitute lj for l, for example. But then, there might be a lot of misunderstanding between you and the listener if you say:
Oni su ludi (They are crazy), instead of saying:
Oni su ljudi (They are people).
The Pronunciation of the Croatian Alphabet
I have spoken of the similarities and differences between the two alphabets at the beginning of this article. Even though pronouncing the Croatian alphabet will be different than the English “ABC” pronunciation, you will notice that you are already familiar with the sounds of all the letters (except for some of those extra consonants that you are familiar with now).
Something that makes learning Croatian easy is that Croatian letters have exactly one way that they are pronounced, and they have pronounced the same way always, regardless of their position in the word.
Apart from the digraphs such as dž, lj, and nj which, in spite of being digraphs, are distinct letters in the Croatian alphabet and have their own pronunciation, there are no letter groups that appear in Croatian words that cause some letters to be pronounced differently.
For instance, let’s look at the letter s in English. If it is pronounced on its own, it has the s sound. However, in the word ship, as I have mentioned before, letters s and h are combined together (a digraph) to make a new sound ( ʃ ).
In Croatian, things are much more simple. Each letter is pronounced exactly the same, all the time. This is the reason why it is much easier for children to learn to read Croatian than English.
Fun fact: There has been some debate about whether Croatian is easy to read or not. While words are much easier to read than in English, the difficulty in reading Croatian for a non-native speaker is the four accents that appear in Croatian. So, while it may be easy to read the word, you may still be pronouncing it by accenting the wrong part of the word.
Let’s look at the table below where you can listen to the pronunciation of each of the letters of the Croatian alphabet, along with the example words.
The History of the Croatian Alphabet
Croatia is the land with a rich and turbulent history. Croats are a very patriotic nation and they have always been.
Even though Croats had their first king crowned in 925 (king Tomislav), the land has been ruled by several different kingdoms since 1102 all throughout history.
Fight for the Croatian Culture and Language
All of these different kingdoms (Austro-Hungarian, Italian, etc.) tried to usurp the country and destroy the Croatian language and the Croatian culture by bringing in their own, but Croatians fought hard to preserve it and are proud of it.
Why am I talking about Croatian history while talking about the alphabet? I wanted to paint a quick picture of the fierce fight for the preservation of the Croatian culture and language.
Croatians had arrived in the Balkans in the 7th century and their language and culture have gone through a lot of changes in such a long time.
In the same way, the Croatian alphabet evolved and changed over the years into the alphabet we know today.
Fun fact: Croatian word for ‘alphabet’ is abeceda. The word itself consists of the first four letters of the alphabet.
The Glagolitic Script
The first monument containing the Croatian inscription, Baška tablet (or Baščanska ploča in Croatian), found in Croatia dates from the year 1100. The Croatian inscription is written in the Croatian Glagolitic script.
This script originates from the 9th century and was constructed by Saint Cyril and Methodius who translated liturgical books into languages that will be understood among the Slavic people.
It’s important to mention that there is a difference between the Croatian Glagolitic script and the Glagolitic script that was used by the West Slavic people.
The Croatian Glagolitic script was used through the centuries and there are many historical monuments and inscriptions that were written using this script. (If you’re interested to learn more, click here.)
The Croatian Cyrillic Script
The Croatian Cyrillic script was used from the 12th century to the 18th century. It is called Bosančica and it was used mostly in Dalmatia (Split and Dubrovnik region) as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina.
One of the most important monuments with the Croatian inscription written in Bosančica is the Tablet of Humac, dating back from the early 11th century. It is kept in the Franciscan Museum near the town Ljubuški in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The Latin Alphabet
The Latin script that is used today was devised by a Croatian linguist Ljudevit Gaj in 1835.
He modeled it after the Check and Polish alphabet from where he introduced letters č, ž, š and ć. He invented letters dž, lj, and nj modeling them after the similar solutions in the Hungarian alphabet.
Croats have used the Latin script previously but some sounds were not represented in the alphabet of that time. Ljudevit Gaj’s Latin script has been used to this day.
Note: There was a small adjustment made by the advice of Đuro Daničić who proposed to introduce the letter đ, instead of using the digraph dj. This change was accepted and is used to this day.
|A, a||/a/||G, g||/ɡ/||O, o||/o/|
|B, b||/b/||H, h||/x/||P, p||/p/|
|C, c||/ts/||I, i||/i/||R, r||/r/|
|Č, č||/tʃ/||J, j||/j/||S, s||/s/|
|Ć, ć||/tɕ/||K, k||/k/||Š, š||/ʃ/|
|D, d||/d/||L, l||/l/||T, t||/t/|
|Dž, dž||/dʒ/||Lj, lj||/ʎ/||U, u||/u/|
|Đ, đ||/dʑ/||M, m||/m/||V, v||/ʋ/|
|E, e||/e/||N, n||/n/||Z, z||/z/|
|F, f||/f/||Nj, nj||/ɲ/||Ž, ž||/ʒ/|
The Croatian alphabet consists of 30 letters: 5 vowels and 25 consonants.
These consonants are mostly the same as in the English alphabet, with a few exceptions:
- letters q, w, x, and y are not a part of the Croatian alphabet,
- letters č, ć, dž, đ, lj, nj, š, and ž are extra eight consonants which are not recognized in the English alphabet.
The extra consonants in Croatian can be divided into two groups: diacritics (č, ć, đ, š, ž, and, in part, dž), and digraphs (dž, lj, and nj).
The Croatian alphabet has changed all throughout history. Croats used Croatian Glagolitic script, then later Croatian Cyrillic script (Bosančica) was used until the modern, Latin script was established in the 19th century, by the author Ljudevit Gaj.