Serbian Epic Poetry
Note on Spelling
Within the poems themselves, I follow the spellings used in Ms. Rootham’s translation. I also use those spellings for the keywords in the glossary. Everywhere else I use the standard spelling for Serbo-Croatian names, which is to say the Croatian spelling.
Serbo-Croatian is a single language. Serbs write using the Cyrillic alphabet and Croats write using the Latin alphabet. Other than that, there is no more difference between the Serbian language and the Croatian language than there is between the language of New York and the language of California. (See online resources for an article on the recent fragmentation of the Serbo-Croatian language.)
Four letters used on this site are not in the standard Latin character set:
- c with haček — č
- s with haček — š
- z with haček — ž
- c with acute — ć
Depending on your browser, your system, and your fonts, these may or may not appear properly for your screen. In most current browsers they will appear correctly, with the diacritical mark above the letter. In some older browsers, the mark will instead appear to the right of the letter.
If the characters appear garbled beyond that, it is because either your browser or your fonts do not support them. In the latter case, you can fix the problem by downloading Microsoft's Georgia and Verdana fonts. (These fonts are free and are available for download from Simply the Best Fonts.)
If you can't get these characters to work at all, you may prefer to read from the old unformatted pages.
Pronunciation of Serbo-Croatian names is much easier than it looks. It is very much like pronunciation of any Romance language, with the following exceptions:
- c with nothing on it is pronounced like “ts”;
- c with a haček over it is pronounced like “ch”;
- c with an accent mark over it is also pronounced like “ch”, but further forward;
- h is aggressively aspirated, almost like “kh”;
- j is pronounced like our consonant “y”;
- s with a haček over it is pronounced like “sh”; and
- z with a haček over it is pronounced like “zh”.
Further confusion arises from the fact that in Serbo-Croatian the letter r or (less often) the letter l can behave like a vowel — a phenomenon which leads to the jocular observation by Americans that Serbo-Croatian words tend to be deficient in vowels. In many English words, too, r and l sometimes act as vowels; we simply choose to spell them differently. For example, our word circle might logically be spelled “srkl”.
For some of the more confusing names in the glossary, I have offered a pseudo-phonetic guide to pronunciation. (In most browsers, this guide will also appear as a tool tip when the cursor points at the name.) The names in the English translations are all easy to figure out, provided one remembers to pronounce j like “y”.
© Mark D. Lew / May 2, 1999
revised August 8, 2004