Chakavian dialect

Chakavian dialect
Spoken in Croatia
Native speakers ~660,000 (2001)
Language family
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Linguist List hrv-cha
Croatia Dialects Cakavian.svg
Distribution of Čakavian

Chakavian or Čakavian (play /ɑːˈkɑːviən/; Croatian: čakavski, proper name: čakavica or čakavština) is a dialect of the Croatian language. The name stems from the word for "what?", which is "ča" (or "ca") in Čakavian. Čakavian is nowadays spoken mainly in the northeastern Adriatic: in Istria, Kvarner Gulf, in most Adriatic islands, and in the interior valley Gacka, more sporadically in the Dalmatian littoral and central Croatia.

Chakavian was the basis for the first literary standard of the Croats. Today, it is spoken almost entirely within Croatia's borders, apart from the Burgenland Croats in Austria and in Hungary.



Čakavian is the oldest written Croatian dialect that had made a visible appearance in legal documents - as early as 1275 ("Istrian land survey")[1] and 1288 ("Vinodol codex"), the predominantly vernacular Čakavian is recorded, mixed with elements of Church Slavic. Archaic Čakavian can be traced back to 1105 in the Baška tablet. All these and other early Čakavian texts up to 17th century are mostly written in Glagolitic alphabet.

Initially, the Čakavian dialect covered a much wider area than today including about 2/3 of medieval Croatia: the major part of central and southern Croatia southwards of Kupa and westwards of Una river, as well as western and southwestern Bosnia and Herzegovina. During and after the Ottoman intrusion and subsequent warfare (15th-18th centuries), the Čakavian area has become greatly reduced and in the Croatian mainlands it has recently been almost entirely replaced by Štokavian, so it is now spoken in a much smaller coastal area than indicated above.

As expected, in over nine centuries Čakavian has undergone many phonetic, morphological and syntactical changes chiefly in turbulent mainlands, and less in isolated islands. Yet, contemporary dialectologists are particularly interested in it since it has retained the old accentuation system characterized by a Proto-Slavic new rising accent and the old position of stress, and also numerous Proto-Slavic and some Proto-Indo-European archaisms in its vocabulary.

Area of use

Čakavian in its actual use is the rarest Croatian dialect being spoken only by 12% Croats. It is now mostly reduced in southwestern Croatia along the eastern Adriatic: Adriatic islands, and sporadically in the mainland coast, with rare inland enclaves up to central Croatia, and minor enclaves in Austria and Montenegro.

  • The majority of Adriatic islands are Čakavian, except the easternmost ones (Mljet and Elafiti); and easternmost areas of Hvar and Brač, as well as the area around the city of Korčula on the island of Korčula.
  • Its largest mainland area is the subentire Istria peninsula, and Kvarner littoral and islands; minor coastal enclaves occur sporadically in the Dalmatian mainland around Zadar, Biograd, Split, and in Pelješac peninsula.
  • Within the Croatian inland, its major area is the Gacka valley, and minor enclaves occur in Pokupje valley and Žumberak hills, northwards around Karlovac.
  • Čakavians outside of Croatia: minor enclave of Bigova (Trašte) at Boka Kotorska in Montenegro, refugees before Turks in Burgenland (eastern Austria) and SW Slovakia, and recent emigrants in North America (chiefly in New Orleans, Los Angeles, and Vancouver).


The basic phonology of Chakavian, with representation in Gaj's Latin alphabet and IPA, is as follows:

Labial Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar
Nasal m
Plosive p   b
p   b
t   d
t   d
k   ɡ
k   g
Affricate ts    
Fricative f    
s   z
s   z
ʃ   ʒ
š   ž
Approximant ʋ
Trill r


The Čakavian dialect is divided along several criteria. According to the reflex of the Common Slavic phoneme yat */ě/, it is categorized as:

  1. Ekavian (northeastern Istria, Rijeka and Bakar, Cres island): */ě/ > /e/
  2. Ikavian-Ekavian (islands Lošinj, Krk, Rab, Pag, Dugi, mainland Vinodol and Pokupje): */ě/ > /i/ or /e/, according to Jakubinskij's law
  3. Ikavian (southwestern Istria, islands Brač, Hvar, Vis, Korčula, Pelješac, Dalmatian coast at Zadar and Split, inland Gacka): */ě/ > /i/
  4. Ijekavian (Lastovo island, Janjina in Pelješac): */ě/ > /je/ or /ije/

Obsolete literature commonly refers to Ikavian-Ekavian dialects as "mixed", which is a misleading term because yat reflex was governed in them by proven Meyer-Jakubinskij's law.

According to their prosodical (accentual) features, Čakavian dialects are divided into the following groups:

  1. dialects with "classical" Čakavian three-accent system
  2. dialects with two accents
  3. dialects with four accents similar to that of Štokavian speeches
  4. dialects with four-accent Štokavian system
  5. dialects mixing traits of the first and the second group

Using a combination of accentual and phonological criteria, Croatian dialectologist Dalibor Brozović divided the Čakavian dialect system into six (sub)dialects:

Name Reflex of Common Slavic yat Distribution
Buzet dialect Ekavian (closed e) Northern Istria
Southwest Istrian dialect Ikavian Western Istria
Northern Čakavian Ekavian Northeast Istria, Istra, Kastav, Rijeka, Cres
Middle Čakavian Ikavian-Ekavian Dugi otok, Kornati, Lošinj, Krk, Rab, Pag, Vinodol, Ogulin, Brinje, Otočac, Duga Resa
Southern Čakavian Ikavian Korčula, Pelješac, Brač, Hvar, Vis, Šolta, outskirts of Split and Zadar
Southeastern Čakavian jekavski Lastovo, Janjina on Pelješac, Bigova on the south of Montenegro

There is no unanimous opinion on the set of traits a dialect has to possess to be classified as Čakavian (rather than its admixture with Štokavian or Kajkavian); the following traits were mostly proposed:

  • interrogatory pronoun is "ča" or "zač" (in some islands also "ca" or "zace");
  • old accentuation and 3 accents (mostly in ultima or penultima);
  • phonological features that yield /a/ for Old Slavic phonemes in characteristic positions: "language" is jazik (or zajik) in Čakavian and jezik in Štokavian;
  • "j" replacing the Štokavian "đ" (dj): for "between", Čakavian meju, Štokavian među;
  • "m" shifts to "n" at the end of words: standard Croatian volim ("I love"), sam ("I am"), selom ("village" - Instrumental case) become Čakavian volin, san, selon.
  • in conditional occur specific prefixes: bin-, biš-, bimo-, bite-, bis
  • contracted or lacking aorist tense;
  • some subdialects on island of Pag have kept the archaic form of imperfect

Non-palatal tsakavism

Besides the usual Čakavian (with typical pronoun "ča"), in some Adriatic islands and in eastern Istra another special variant is also spoken which lacks most palatals, with other parallel deviations called "tsakavism" (cakavizam):

  • Instead of palatal "č" is the sibilant "ts" (c): pronouns ca and zac (or ce and zace).
  • Instead of palatals š (sh) and ž (zh) are sibilants s and z (or transitive sj and zj).
  • Instead of đ (dj), lj and nj are the simple d, l and n (without iotation).
  • Frequent diphthongs instead of simple vowels: o > uo, a > oa, e > i.e., etc.
  • Yat (jat): besides usual short i (or e) also is presented longer y (= ue).
  • Appurtenance is often noted by possessive dative (rarely adjective nor genitive)
  • Vocative is mostly lacking and replaced by a nominative in appellating construction.
  • Auxiliary particles are always before the main verb: se- (self), bi- (if), će- (be).

The largest area of tsakavism is in eastern Istra at Labin, Rabac and a dozen nearby villages; minor mainland enclaves are the towns Bakar and Trogir. Tsakavism is also frequent in Adriatic islands: part of Lošinj and nearby islets, Baška in Krk, Pag town, the western parts of Brač (Milna), Hvar town, and subentire Vis with adjacent islets.

The first two features are similar to Mazurzenie, occurring in a few dialects of Polish, and Tsokanye, occurring in the Old Novgorod dialect of Old East Slavic.

Čakavian literary language

Since Čakavian was the first Croatian dialect to emerge from the Church Slavic matrix, both literacy and literature in this dialect abound with numerous texts - from legal and liturgical to literary: lyric and epic poetry, drama, novel in verses, as well as philological works that contain Čakavian word-stock. Čakavian was the main public and official language in medieval Croatia from 13th to 16th century.

Monuments of literacy began to appear in the 11th and 12th centuries, and artistic literature in the 15th. While there were two zones of Čakavian, northern and southern (both mainly along the Adriatic coast and islands, with centres like Senj, Zadar, Split, Hvar, Korčula), there is enough unity in the idiom to allow us to speak of one Čakavian literary language with minor regional variants. This language by far surpassed the position of a simple vernacular dialect and strongly influenced other Croatian literary dialects, particularly Štokavian: the first Štokavian texts such as the Vatican Croatian Prayer Book, dated to 1400, are transcriptions from a Čakavian original. The early Štokavian literary and philological output, mainly from Dubrovnik (1500–1600) up to Džore Držić, was essentially a mixed idiom Štokavian-Čakavian, mostly similar as now Yekavian-Čakavian of Lastovo and Janjina.

The most famous early Čakavian author is Marko Marulić in 15th/16th century. Also, the first Croatian dictionary, authored by Faust Vrančić, is mostly Čakavian in its form. The tradition of the Čakavian literary language had declined in the 18th century, but it has helped shape the standard Croatian language in many ways (chiefly in morphology and phonetics), and Čakavian dialectal poetry is still a vital part of Croatian literature.

The most prominent representatives of Čakavian poetry in the 20th century are Vladimir Nazor and Drago Gervais. At the end of the 1980s in Istria there began a special sub-genre of pop-rock music "Ča-val" (Cha wave); artists that were part of this scene used the Čakavian dialect in their lyrics, and often fused rock music with traditional Istra-Kvarner music.

Recent studies

Due to its archaic nature, early medieval development, and impressive corpus of vernacular literacy, the typical Čakavian dialect has attracted numerous dialectologists who have meticulously documented its nuances, so that Čakavian was among the best described Slavic dialects, but its atypical tsakavism was partly neglected and less studied. The representative modern work in the field is Čakavisch-deutsches Lexikon, vol. 1.-3, Koeln-Vienna, 1979–1983, by Croatian linguists Hraste and Šimunović and German Olesch.

The Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts is currently engaged in editing a multivolume dictionary of the Čakavian literary language, based on the wealth of literature written in Čakavian. So far one published more than forty dictionaries of local Čakavian tongues, the largest among them including more than 20,000 words are from locations such as Split town, Gacka valley, Brač and Vis islands, Baška in Krk, and Beli in Cres.

Other recent titles include Janne Kalsbeek's work on The Cakavian Dialect of Orbanici near Zminj in Istria, as well as Keith Langston's Cakavian Prosody: The Accentual Patterns of the Cakavian Dialects of Croatian.

Location map of Croatian dialects in Croatia and areas in BiH with Croat majority. Chakavian in blue.
Distribution of Chakavian, Kajkavian and Western Shtokavian before migrations. Chakavian in blue.

Čakavian media

In Yugoslavia during the twentieth century, the archaic Čakavian was mostly restricted in private communication, poetry and folklore. Through the recent regional democratizing and cultural revival starting in the 1990s, Čakavians partly regained their former half-public positions chiefly in the Istra peninsula and coastal towns, being now presented there in some modern public media, for example:

  • A special project Čakavian Wiki-encyclopaedia or WikiCha on the Internet, started in autumn 2007: As of autumn 2009, it included 506 articles.
  • Another similar site from autumn 2009 is Chakavian Zohowiki, a minor Čakavian Wiki-lexicon about Čakavian culture and ecumena in Adriatic.
  • Biannual periodical "Čakavska rič" (Čakavian word), with 34 annual volumes, published from 1967 by the Literal Association ('Književni krug') in Split city.
  • Annual periodical Pannonische Jahrbuch with dozen volumes partly in Čakavian of Burgenland Croats, published since 1994 by Pannonisches Institut in Gutterbach (Burgenland, Austria).
  • Annual periodical 'Vinodolski zbornik' with a dozen volumes published in Crikvenica, including different texts in the local Čakavian of Vinodol valley.
  • Annual singing festival 'Melodije Istre i Kvarnera' takes place every year in different town of Istria and Kvarner regions. Performers perform in local chakavian dialect exclusivly.
  • A major perpetual program in the Čakavian of Dalmatia is given by the local television stations in Split, Rijeka and Pula. Other minor half-Čakavian media with temporary Čakavian contents also include the local radio programs in the towns of Split and Rijeka and Krk island radio.


  • Ča je, je, tako je vavik bilo, ča će bit, će bit, ma nekako će već bit! (mainland half-Čakavian)



  • J. Božanić: Čakavska rič, vol. 1.- 32., Književni krug Split.
  • J. Hamm, M. Hraste, P. Guberina: Govor otoka Suska. Hrvatski dijalektološki zbornik 1, Zagreb 1956.
  • M. Hraste, P. Šimunović, R. Olesch: Čakavisch-deutsches Lexikon, Band I-III, Köln-Wien, 1979 - 1983.
  • J. Kalsbeek: The Cakavian Dialect of Orbanici near Zminj in Istria. Studies in Slavic and General Linguistics. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1998. 608 pp
  • M. Kranjčević: Ričnik gacke čakavšćine. Čakavski sabor, Otočac 2003.
  • K. Langston: Cakavian Prosody: The Accentual Patterns of the Cakavian Dialects of Croatian. Bloomington: Slavica 2006. 314pp
  • I. Lukežić: Trsatsko-bakarska i crikvenička čakavština. Izdavački centar Rijeka, Rijeka 1996.
  • B. Matoković-Dobrila: Ričnik velovaroškega Splita, Denona, Zagreb 2004.
  • A. Roki-Fortunato: Libar Viškiga jazika. Libar Publishing, Toronto 1997.
  • P. Šimunović: Rječnik bračkih čakavskih govora, Brevijar, Supetar 2006.
  • Z. Turina, A. Šepić-Tomin: Rječnik čakavskih izraza - područje Bakarca i Škrljeva, Riječko književno i naučno društvo, Rijeka 1977.
  • N. Velčić: Besedar Bejske Tramuntane. Čakavski sabor i Adamić d.o.o, Cres-Lošinj 2003.

External links

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