The Ekavian Chakavian dialect: Spread and basic characteristics

Author: Andrej Hendelja

Published on 17 March 2016

The Ekavian Chakavian dialect belongs to the Chakavian group of dialects. In scientific literature, this dialect is also called the northwestern Ekavian, northern Chakavian, and Ekavian-Chakavian dialect. The names themselves reveal its spread in the northern area of the Chakavian dialect and its most important language characteristic – the /e/ phoneme which replaced the old /ě/ (yat) phoneme. Yat is a phoneme which existed in Proto-Slavic and during the oldest period of the Croatian language, but which is not found in present-day Croatian idioms. Based on how yat developed through history, dialects of Croatian are divided into the Ekavian, Ikavian, Ikavian-Ekavian, and (I)jekavian group.

The current Ekavian Chakavian dialect is spoken in central and northeastern Istria, the coastal region and Rijeka’s hinterland, the island of Cres, and the northern portion of the Lošinj island. More precise borders and variations within the dialect can be presented using its sub-dialects. In her book Chakavian Ekavian Dialects: System and subsystems (2005), Silvana Vranić describes four sub-dialects: the northeastern Istrian sub-dialect, the central Istrian sub-dialect, the coastal sub-dialect, and the island sub-dialect, each displaying separate characteristics within the dialect.

In Rijeka, the Ekavian Chakavian dialect is spoken on both sides of the river Rječina. It stretches eastwards from the river to Trsat, Gornja Vežica, Donja Vežica, and Pećine, comprising speech varieties which belong to the coastal sub-dialect. The speech varieties of Kantrida, Gornji Zamet, Donji Zamet, Pehlin, Škurinje, Škurinjska Draga, Drenova, and Brašćine-Pulac on Rječina’s west bank belong to the the northeastern Istrian sub-dialect.

The most important characteristic of the Ekavian Chakavian dialect is the systematic replacement of yat with the phoneme /e/ in any morpheme type, i.e. in the root and all endings. The phoneme /e/ occurs in place of yat in the middle of a word, e.g. in words breg, cvet, črešnja, drevo, menjat. In some varieties of this dialect we can exceptionally rarely find words in which yat has been replaced by the phoneme /i/: divojka, tirat, ist, mihur. In word formation, the phoneme /e/ systematically replaces yat in endings of new words, e.g. in words dimet, grmet, letet; ostarejen, umejen, obolejen; drugde, kade, svagde. The final yat is replaced by /e/ even in case suffixes, e.g. in the locative plural of singular masculine and neuter nouns: (na) kolene, obraze, zide; (va) grade, žepe. As seen in the examples such as divojka, the replacement of yat with the phoneme /e/ is not complete in any idiom of this dialect. However, the Ekavian Chakavian dialect has the most systematic replacement of yat in the Croatian langage. With respect to this, this dialect is even more ekavian than Kajkavian dialects, which are usually considered to be Ekavian.

The Ekavian Chakavian dialect can also be distinguished by its accentuation. Individual Ekavian Chakavian idioms use either three, two or one accents, while standard Croatian uses four accents. Word accents are usually placed in the so-called ‘old’ and ‘older’ places, near the end of the word, e.g. in ženȁ. This dialect also comprises border varieties with ‘newer’ accent positions, nearer the beginning of the word, e.g. in žȅna. Those include idioms of Škalnice, Rupa, and Brdce on the Slovenian border in the northernmost area of the dialect, and Tinjan’s and Kaldir’s varieties in central Istria, in the westernmost area of the dialect. A large number of Ekavian Chakavian local speech varieties are characterised by a change in the accent length, which is specific for the northwestern area of the Chakavian dialect and called the Northern Chakavian metatony. It is primarily a replacement of a short accent with a longer one in various verb forms, e.g. in lȅć/lȇgnēn.

The Ekavian Chakavian dialect also exhibits a series of distinct grammatical characteristics. A number of varieties feature the ending –i in the genitive singular, as well as the nominative, accusative, and vocative plural of feminine nouns: ženi, duši, kući. The endings –u or –o are also possible in the instrumental case of the feminine gender: moju ženu; mojo ženo. When it comes to the genitive singular form of masculine and neuter nouns, depending on the sub-dialect and local speech, the endings -ih, -ah, -i or no ending (Ø) are possible: miših, filmah, miši, mišØ. An old grammatical feature of the Ekavian Chakavian dialect is that new endings –ov and –ev for the genitive plural of the masculine and neuter gender have not been adopted, as in the example pet stoli corresponding to standard Croatian pet stolova. The endings –ega and –emu are prevalent in adjectives. Some of the examples include dobrega, lipemu vs. standard Croatian dobroga, lijepomu.

The Ekavian Chakavian dialect is historically and territorially compact, which means that the joint development of its local varieties was not interrupted by large migrations happening in the 16th century, which greatly influenced the arrangement and development of all Croatian dialects. That influence is particularly noticeable in Istria, where only two Chakavian dialects were spoken before the 16th century (the Ekavian and Buzet dialects), but five came to be spoken after the migrations: the southwest Istrian, middle Chakavian, and southern Chakavian in addition to the previously existing dialects. In other words, the Ekavian Chakavian dialect can be characterized as ‘old’ not only in term of the mentioned language characteristics (accents, plural genitive form of masculine and neuter nouns), but also in terms of how long it has been spoken in the same area.


Vranić, S. (2005). Chakavian Ekavian dialects: System and subsystems. Rijeka: The Department of Croatian Language and Literature in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Rijeka.

Translation from the Croatian language: Antonela Marjanušić


Rijeka’s linguistic identity

Author: Dr Mirjana Crnić Novosel

Published on 15 March 2016

Rijeka’s linguistic identity is a complex and still a relatively little explored topic. Therefore, we need to present the linguistic situation in Rijeka in its entirety. In the past, two local Chakavian Croatian dialects were used in Rijeka. They belonged to two different groups of dialects of the same Ekavian Chakavian family of dialects. While the inhabitants on the Rječina river’s right bank spoke Chakavian from the Liburnian group of speech varieties (which belonged to a northeastern Istrian group of dialects), those along the Rječina river’s estuary and left bank, in the areas of Trsat and Sušak, used Chakavian which belonged to the coastal group of dialects of the Ekavian Chakavian family of dialects.

Chakavian and Fiuman dialects were used on the right bank of the Rječina. Chakavian in the old city centre (Gomila) and on the outskirts outside city walls (Žabica, Mlaka, Podmurvice, Škurinje) was characterised by ‘cakavism’, an important phenomenon in the Chakavian consonant system (c, z, s or c, ś, ź appear instead of č, ž, š: covek, muz, znas or covek, muź, źnaś). Unfortunately, today we can describe that traditional Chakavian dialect only on the basis of written documents since it died away before the end of 20th century and there are no living Rijeka inhabitants who speak it. The above mentioned Ekavian Chakavian dialect remained in use. In the western part of the city, just like in the past, the autochthonous inhabitants use a local Chakavian dialect that belongs to the northeastern group of dialects of Ekavian Chakavian family of dialects, in the following settlements: Ćikovići, Srdoči, Grpci, Zamet, Kantrida, Pehlin, Škurinje, Škurinjska Draga, and Brašćine-Pulac. Apart from Chakavian, several city districts on this side of the city use the Fiuman dialect, a Venetian collonial language which developed in the old urban settlement on the Rječina’s right bank and which survives to the present day. It is an active communication code used by Fiumans, the descendants of the population that settled on the Rječina’s right bank. They are mostly a bilingual (and multilingual) population for whom the

Fiuman idiom is an important aspect of their identity, and which clearly identifies them as a language group that kept its mother tongue alive by passing it on from generation to generation. A Chakavian dialect belonging to the coastal group of dialects of Ekavian Chakavian family of dialects has remained in use to the present day in indigeneous Chakavian families on Rječina’s left bank. It is used in everyday communication by inhabitants of urban settlements on the east side of the city: Trsat, Vežica, Podvežica, Pećine, Draga (Tijani and Brig). Chakavians on different sides of the city call their city Reka, while Fiumans call it Fiume.

Although today the use of the mentioned vernacular varieties, Chakavian and Fiuman, is strictly limited to private communication in local families in various city districts, they are, as the deepest language layers of the city, still the main component of Rijeka’s linguistic identity. But no single Chakavian dialect, including those which came into the city from its immediate or more distant surroundings, has not asserted itself as the language of the city. Thus, a new language system is used for social communication in Rijeka – Rijeka’s urban vernacular, which cannot be regarded as Chakavian. This language variety is based on a conversational functional style of standard Croatian, and is characterised by local linguistic features of Chakavian origin. It is a language of an urban community which is not homogenous, but determined by social diversity. Thus this language is, as urban speech varieties in general, used mainly for everyday communication, which changes depending on the situation and the speaker’s social group.

Every citizen of Rijeka uses at least three different language varieties depending on the communicative situation. Most strongly represented in official use are standard Croatian and Rijeka’s urban speech, a nonstandard language of a certain social group in unofficial use, while in the private sphere speakers reach out for the language they are most attached to – a family language or a language native to the region (Chakavian, Fiuman or other). Moreover, since Rijeka is a regional centre, Rijeka’s hinterland, Gorski kotar, Istria, Kvarner islands, and seaside towns all the way to Novi Vinodolski gravitate toward it. Consequently, it is not surprising that Rijeka’s language mosaic is further enriched by numerous out-of-town dialects, as well as hybrid family speech varieties created by combining different native dialects of the spouses. We also need to add to add to the city’s language mosaic the languages of 22 ethnic/national minorities living in Rijeka (according to the last census in 2011). Since their native languages are the basis of identity for each of these minorities, they strive to preserve them.

We can conclude that Rijeka’s linguistic situation, including all the mentioned dialects and languages, is very complex and layered. However, if we wish to sustain that diversity, we need to nurture all the different native dialects and languages. Preserving one’s own language should come first for every individual. It is the only way in which the distinctive characteristics of Rijeka’s linguistic identity, based on traditional vernacular languages, Chakavian and Fiuman, can be sustained.

Translation from the Croatian language: Antonela Marjanušić


Vertical multilingualism

Author: Dr Sanja Zubčić

Published 22 July 2015


In a way multilingualism has become an imperative of the modern globalised world. As the well-known saying about the knowledge of foreign languages goes, “The more languages you know, the more you are worth. ” However, the term language itself has multiple meanings that need to be explained in order for us to fully understand the notion of multilingualism. Language is usually defined as a system of signs used for communication within a linguistic community. This definition presupposes that the speakers within a linguistic community speak only one language, which is often not the case. For example, we know for a fact that Croatian speakers usually learn at least two languages: the first language they acquire is typically an idiom of one of the three dialects (Štokavian, Čakavian or Kajkavian), while the standard Croatian language is acquired second, after entering formal education. Despite the fact that a dialect is not considered to be a separate language from the standard, a dialect and a (standard) language are still two separate systems which are acquired as differently as any two separate languages. Therefore, specialists in language learning distinguish between two types of multilingualism: horizontal and vertical. While horizontal multilingualism refers to the knowledge of at least two different languages, vertical multilingualism is realized within one language, in the form of a dialect and a standard language. This brief article looks at vertical multilingualism in Croatian.

Today Croatian includes both the entirety of all local Croatian idioms and the standard Croatian language. Čakavian, Štokavian and Kajkavian are the three distinct dialects of Croatian, though there are idioms combining features of two or even all three dialects. Due to numerous historical and current migrations, Croatian speakers have spread around the globe, the majority of whom use one of the local idioms. Croatian, as every standard language, has different varieties: the low variety used in everyday conversations with family and friends, and the high variety found in literature and used in formal education. Every language speaker possesses at least two such systems: one primary and acquired, the other secondary and learned. Those two systems are not kept completely separate in our brain, with speakers often transferring certain language features from one system into another. For instance, a Čakavian speaker using the standard language but retaining the specific Čakavian pronunciation of the phoneme ć or a Čakavian speaker using the phoneme đ that is typical for the standard language but not found in Čakavian. Such manifestations of language transfer are not infrequent and should not be regarded negatively. Similar phenomena appear between two completely different languages.

In most world languages the standard variety is considered to be prestigious, for several reasons: it is the language of formal education and educated people, of the majority of literary works and official media, and its use is regulated by norms. Unlike the standard variety, local idioms do not allow the imposition of norms; instead, they are regulated by usage, by inherent or immanent rules. While the standard variety is often labeled as urban and progressive, local idioms are still seen as rural and backwards. Contrary to those labels, numerous studies and various social movements are achieving recognition for local idioms, redefining them as desirable and possessing great creative potential. For that reason local idioms should under no circumstances be replaced with the standard language. We should constantly strive to promote the importance and use of local idioms, preserving them through their continued use. In that way we encourage multilingualism and all the benefits it brings to the individual and the community.


Croatian dialects in the wider Rijeka area: an overview and our goals

Authors: Prof. Silvana Vranić and Dr Sanja Zubčić

Published on 6 June 2014


In the wider Rijeka area, i.e. in the territory surrounding the Gulf of Rijeka, with Rijeka as the urban centre towards which all Kvarner region towns and villages gravitate, and in the hinterland of Rijeka, several dialects of the Northern Čakavian complex co-exist. These include the most widespread Ekavian Čakavian dialect in the northeast of Istria (e.g. the idioms of the wider Kastav region, the eastern idioms of the City of Rijeka), the areas of Trsat and Bakar, and the island of Cres with the northern part of the island of Lošinj (examplified by belo mleko and lepo telo for 'white milk' and 'beautiful body', respectively); the Ikavian-Ekavian dialect, such as the idioms of Grobnik, those spoken from Bakarac to Novi Vinodolski and the relevant coastal areas, as well as the rest of the island idioms of the Gulf of Rijeka (examplified by belo mliko and lipo telo); and the Ikavian idioms of Klana and Studena (examplified by bilo mliko and lipo tilo).

The region's inhabitants of average education use their local idioms when speaking with family or friends; when communicating with other speakers of Čakavian, some speakers use a "neutral" variety of Čakavian lacking the specific features of particular village or town idioms; and formal communication is dominated by Standard Croatian (or one of its styles). However, a number of sociological factors (level of education, the influence of Standard Croatian and migration processes, globalisation, etc.) play a large role not only in linguistic change affecting the local idioms, but also in the disappearance of local idioms in this region.

Countering this negative trend, and promoting Čakavian, is the mission of numerous cultural associations and institutions. Chief among them is the Čakavski sabor (Čakavian Assembly), the local sections of which organise events such as Čakavčići pul Ronjgih (Little Čakavians at Ronjgi) or Verši na šterni (Verses at the Cistern) in order to protect and promote Čakavian, with a host of other cultural associations and folkloric societies doing the same in their microcommunities. At an academic level, the Čakavian dialect is studied in undergraduate and master's courses at Rijeka's Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, which also offers a doctoral degree programme in Croatian dialectology. Several local Čakavian idioms are protected as intangible cultural heritage of Croatia (the idioms of Grobnik, Žminj, and the island of Susak). Evidently, a great deal of work is being done on the protection, promotion, and description of Čakavian. Unfortunately, this does not appear to be having a significant effect on the number of Čakavian speakers, and an initiative to increase it is needed.

Our key goals are thus to cultivate, protect, and promote Čakavian idioms in the Rijeka area, in particular among schoolchildren, and support the founding of new associations and institutions to foster these idioms and strive for their cause, as well as support the work of existing ones. We aim to contribute to preserving the speakers' linguistic competence through encouraging their use of local idiom in everyday situations and its appropriate transmission to their offspring, to bolstering the prestige of individual idioms in their speaker communities, and to developing the awareness of the value and uniqueness of each local idiom of every Croatian dialect. We wish to give the message to the public at large that Čakavian idioms are a key element of this region's identity, and that the diversity of Croatian dialects is a sort of genetic code of worldview and culture.



Bilingualism Matters was founded by Professor Antonella Sorace at the University of Edinburgh.


Bilingualism Matters@Rijeka has been established within the „Advancing the European Multilingual Experience (AThEME)” project.


This project has received funding from the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement no. 613465.