Happy Easter – Srećan Uskrs


Egg Tapping, originally uploaded by bill kralovec.

We enjoyed the traditional Serbian Easter traditions last week during the long weekend. The Orthodox Easter is celebrated a week after the Catholic Easter. Above, is a video of the “egg-tapping” competition. This tradition started in Eastern Europe in the 1300’s and has now spread across the world. The egg is the pagan symbol of the renewal of spring and life. I never saw egg-tapping in Michigan. The champion in the video for this year was Ocean! Her egg didn’t crack. Late in the competition, Aca’s mother Mira gave Ocean a wooden egg, which is against the rules.

We had a second round of egg-tapping with our Romanian friends later in the day. Claudiu was explaining that while breaking the egg, they have the tradition phrase, “Christ Has Risen” which is answered by “Indeed, He has.”

We also liked coloring the eggs in the traditional Serbian method. We dyed the eggs in onion skins and it give it a deep red color. We bought some eggs with writing and Easter designs on them from the market, and when dyed, as you can see, they markings appear lighter. I don’t know what the acronym, XBBB means? It is in the Cyrillic script, and in Latin it would be HVVV. I know the “H” means Hristos (christ), but I don’t know what the three Vs mean. Any help from my Serbian readers? I also used some Easter Egg decorations from the company, http://www.jaje.rs. They have some great designs from based on ornaments from Serbian Medieval churches and monasteries. Very cool!

Learning Serbian (Part III) “The Verbs”

It is really nice to already have learned another language besides my native language. I am finding Serbian to be easier than Spanish. When I learned Spanish starting back in 1992, I had no idea what it meant to “conjugate” or “inflect” a verb. That is because in English, the verb basically stays the same. For example in English, the verb “to run” is – I run, you run, she runs, we run, they run, you (formal) run. Run is run no matter who is running.

Not so In Spanish and now once again in Serbian, the verb ending changes.

For example, the verb imati which means “to have”” is conjugated like this:

  • I (ja) imam
  • you (ti) imate
  • he (on) ima
  • we (mi) imamo
  • they (oni) imaju

That is not too bad. The most frequently used verbs like biti (to be), hteti (to want), moći (to be able, can) have irregular forms, but the rest are pretty straight forward. I can remember that the “I” is usually ends with “m”, the you with “š” which sounds like “sh”, we is “mo” and he/she/it and formal you with a vowel “a” or “e”.Now it is just a question of learning more infinitives. Of course it does not get into the future or past tense. Hopefully Serbian will not have two different past tenses like Spanish.

St. Sava’s Church


I took a photo Friday evening inside the giant St. Sava’s Church here in Belgrade. The church’s massive dome is 70 meters high and 10,000 people can attend mass. It can be seen from all over city. It is the third largest Orthodox church in the world and the largest neo-Byzantine building constructed in the 20th century. The Byzantine architecture style features a large, central, dome and thin windows to let in light. The inside is truly awe inspiring!

We walked down to the church from the main shopping area. I was surprised to see so many children and families near the church. It sits on a small hill surrounded by a park. There were roller bladers, kids playing tennis on the outside walls of the church, and teenagers riding mopeds up and down the side walks. No holy reverence here which is refreshing to experience. The church was open and a few people were taking photographs and looking around. Oliver and I went inside and were blown away.

As you can see in the photo, work is still being done on the church. Construction did not begin until 1935 and has been interrupted by the numerous wars Serbia has experienced. This is the first Orthodox Church I have been in and I was impressed by the mosaics on the walls, which are another feature of the Byzantine style. The Orthodox Church in Serbia is not under the direction of Greece and is independent and has its own pope (Patriarch) and hence the Serbian flag prominently displayed on the front entrance.

St. Savas Church At Night
St. Sava's Church At Night

The grave of Serbian Saint Lazar is in the basement of the church. He is the Serbian Jesus. He was a Serbian noble who died at the famous Battle of Kosovo in 1389. According to legend, he was visited the night before the battle by the Prophet Elijah in the form of a gray falcon. Elijah offered Lazar an Earthly Kingdom or a Heavenly Kingdom. Lazar takes the Heavenly Kingdom, but to earn it, he has to die on the battlefield. He was canonized by the Serbian Orthodox Church and his feast day is the most holiest of all days in the Serbian calendar, June 28.

The church is named after the son of the founder of the Serbian medieval empire. Sava was originally Prince Rastko Nemanjić and he lived in the late 1100’s – early 1200’s. He was the founder of the Serbian Church. The location of the church was put here because Sava’s remains were believed to be burned here in the 1500’s by the Ottoman Turk leader Sinan Pasha.

I really felt I was at the heart of Serbdom! With the church being in the center of Belgrade, the capital of Serbia and with the remains of two of the founders of the Serbian nation and church here, you can’t get more Serbian than this. With the breakup of Yugoslavia over and a new era for Serbia, hopefully they can complete the church. The church represents the long history of the Serbs and the bright future ahead for the country.

Learning Serbian

I am in lesson #4 of my Serbian language book and I have a few observations about the language.

  • I was surprised at many foreigners in Belgrade don’t bother to learn the language. I can see there point that many Serbs, especially younger people, speak English. Also, world wide, Serb-Croat speakers probably number 20 million, max (I just looked on wikipedia and they have the figure of 12 million.)  There are more people in California than that.
  • It is my goal to get through the book and have working vocabulary. I know I’ll never be totally fluent, but it would be nice to be able to follow a conversation. I believe it will be worth the effort to put into to study. As with any language, it offers insight into a different perspective into seeing the world. 
  • Being a slavic language, it feels like I am getting back in touch with my roots and speaking the language (or similar) of my ancestors. 
  • The dual alphabet of the Cyrillic / Latin is interesting. I don’t know of how many languages that have alternative alphabets. Of course the Latin is easier for a westerner and that is the one I am focusing on in picking up new vocabulary. But with so many signs in cyrillic, one can’t help but try to learn them. It is like a puzzle, and we are always trying to sound out the signs we see. 
  • The cyrillic differentiates Serbs from Croats and Serbs take pride in this. It is a remnant of the Byzantine Empire influence over Serbia. Serbia has always been a frontier between east and west, mostly being inside the eastern influence rather than the western side. 
  • I now understand why people who have learned one language can learn another easier than someone with only one language. 
  • Serb is similar to Spanish regarding verb conjugation. So far I have only learned the I ending -m, the you (informal “ti”) and the you (formal “vi”) -te The infinitive ending of the verbs is iti, for example govoriti means to speak. 
  • Nouns have three genders (Spanish only has two). Masculine nouns end in consonants, feminine is “a” and neutral in “o”. The is no articles in Serb so no confusion over the “el” or “la” of Spanish. The difficult part, and I am bitter about this, is that the ENDING OF NOUNS CHANGE DEPENDING UPON THEIR USAGE. For example, the word for coffee is kafa. In the nominative or basic form, one can easily see that it is a feminine noun. But when you are ordering a coffee, the ending changes to kafu because it is the direct object of the sentence. For example, Ja bih jednu kafu. (I would like a coffee.) Jednu is the number one, and this also changes depending on the noun it describes. 
  • Serbs get a big kick out of a foreigner speaking Serb. They have been very patient with me and my accent must sound funny to them. My Serb always illicit a smile and a laugh.
  • I am at the point in my learning that I am memorizing and using short phrases for common things. Below is a list of the phrases I have mastered:

Kako se zovete?  (What is your name?)

Zovem se Bill. (My name is Bill)

Molim bac (please and welcome)

Hvala (thank you)

Drago mi je. (nice to meet you)

Ya sam (I am) / ti si (you are) / vi ste (you are)

When you ask a question, throw a “Da li” in front of it. For example, Da li govorite Engleski? Do you speak English?

Ne razumen. (I don’t understand.)

New Phrases I want to learn this week

Izvolite – Can I help you?

Živolite!  – Cheers

Ja bih (kafu) molim bac?  – I would like a coffee please.

Dajte mi (kafu) molim bac? – Give me a coffee please. 

U redu – okay / all right

Learning Serbian Cyrillic

Nadia, Owen, and I are going through the “Teach Yourself Serbian” language course by Vladislava Ribnikar and David Norris. We are first concentrating on the alphabet – letter recognition and sounds. Nadia is putting into play her experience as a kindergarten teacher. That is what she does, teach children a new language, English in our school. She loves the Jolly Phonics program, which is a British phonics system of learning the 40 basic sounds of the English language. Nadia made a “Serbian Jolly Phonics” packet for Owen and I. We have flash cards, posters, and put the lessons on our iPods to try to absorb the language. The opportunity to learn new languages is one of the nicest things in living abroad. I learned Spanish in my long time in working in Latin America. Our family speaks “Spanglish” a mix of Spanish and English in the home. Spanish has given me a better understanding of the grammar of English and a different way of looking at the world.

Serbian offers many challenges, the first being two alphabets. Serbia has always been at the crossroads of East and West and this is reflected with the two alphabets. Belgrade and the south of the country belonged to the Istanbul-looking Ottoman Empire for centuries, while Novi Sad and the north was controlled by the Vienna-looking Austrian Hungarian Empire. Serbian’s original alphabet is Cyrillic. This letter system is over 1000 years old and was adapted by Bulgarian priests from the Greek alphabet. Some of the Greek symbols remain or remnants of them. Cyrillic is named after St. Cyril, a Greek Byzantine Missionary who brought Christianity to the Slavic people in the 800’s. Below is a picture of Cyril and his brother Methodius, holding up the Cyrillic script. The script is strongly associated with the Orthodox or Byzantine Christian Church, as the Bulgarian priests who developed it, did so in order to put the Bible and church documents into a language for the Slavs. It is telling that the Croats, who went with the Roman Catholic Church instead of an Eastern Orthodox Church, now only use a Latin alphabet.

Today, variations of Cyrillic is used by over 50 languages, including the Slavic countries of Russia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Macedonia. I finally now understand what the CCCP meant on the uniforms of the Soviet athletes in the Olympics of the 1970’s and 80’s. In Cyrillic, the “C” represents the “s” sound and the “P” represents the “r” sound.

Saints Cyril & Methodius

Below are some notes to try to help me learn all 30 of the Cyrillic letters. I discovered on my Mac, I can switch among English, Serbian Latin, and Serbian Cyrillic on my key board. Now I now what the US flag in the upper right hand corner is for. Here is my breakdown of the 30 Cyrillic letters and sounds:

Easy Ones – Six have the same shape and sound as in English. To spell the word for strong it would be MET.

А Е К М 0 Т

False Friends- Six look like our English letters, but have a different sound than in English.

Х «throat clearing h»
Н «N»
Р «Rrrr»
С «s»
У «oo»
Ј «y»

В “v”

The remainder are odd with no resemblance to English letters.

The pi symbols – Four look like the Greek letter pi (I am also a former mathematics teacher.)

П This one is «p» sound which makes it easy to remember because p for pi.
Л The pi symbol with a little twist, represents the «L» sound.
Љ Add a loop that looks like a b to make the «ll» sound of «million»
Њ An «H» and a «b» together make the «n» sound in Spanish like Nandu

The three “C’s” – Some of the letters in the Latin Serbian have accent marks. There are three Latinized “C” letters. The Cyrillic equivalent is first and the Latin is second. Frankly, at this point, I don’t hear any difference among the three.

Ц C pronounced like the «ts» in cats
Ћ Ć prounounced like the «t» of tube, but with tongue slightly back.
Ч Č easiest of the three, the «ch» of child

My surname of Kralovec is from the Bohemian region of the Czech Republic. The final c is probably one of the three above. I see that many Serbian surnames have the second Ć. I will be using this one to spell my name.

The Three “D’s” – Two of the letters in the Serbian Latin are a take of the letter D.

Ђ Đ The Cyrillic looks too similar to the Ć but the part of the h is curved in at the bottom of the figure. It is pronounced like the «d» in dew but with tongue right behind front teeth
Џ Dz Pronounced like the «j» in judge. The sign looks like football goal posts, like the NY Jets

The actual “D” sound is represented by this Д symbol that looks like a door making it easy to remember for me.

The Rest –

Б This is «B» and it is pretty close to our B.

Г It looks like a small «r» but it is the «g» sound as in goat.

Ф This is phi from the Greek alphabet and its sound is «f»
Ж This is the strangest sign, the double K matches the «s» is pleasure
И The backwards N has the sound «ee» or the Spanish i
Ш The Roman numeral three has the sound of «sh» in shoe

Z My Serbian Cyrillic Mac keyboard will not give me the 3 that represents the sound “z

My favorite Cyrillic letter is Ж. It sounds Slavic and looks exotic.

I will be chronicling my growth in the language. It will probably be boring to read but it helps me reflect on my learning.