Most of the words in Serbian are of Slavic origin. That means that their roots continue some words reconstructed for Proto-Slavic language. For instance, srce ('heart'), plav ('blue').
here are many loanwords from different languages:
- There are plenty of loanwords from German. The great number of them are specific for vernaculars which were situated in Austrian monarchy (Vojvodina, Slavonija, Lika and partly Bosnia). Most cultural words attested before World War II, were borrowed from (or via) German, even when they are of French or English origin ( šorc , boks ). The accent is an excellent indicator for that, since German loanwords in Serbian have rising accents.
- Italian words in standard language were often borrowed via German ( makarone ). If they were taken directly from Italian, they show specific, not regular adaptations. For instance špagète for Italian spaghetti rather than the "expected" špàgete .
- On the other hand, as in Croatian, there are plenty of Italian loanwords in the coastal vernaculars (in Spič, Paštrovići, Boka Kotorska, Dubrovnik area and at Kvarner coast), as well as in the vernaculars near the coаst. In some Croatian vernaculars, Italian loanwords made up to 40-50% of the vernacular vocabulary in the 1930s. Most common are words borrowed from Venetian ( brancin , altroke , ardura , karonja ('lazy man'), pršut(a) ). Some toponyms such as Budva and Boka Kotorska ('bay of Kotor') are borrowed from Venetian.
- In the coastal area, many words were borrowed from the Dalmatian language ( murina , imbut ), a Romance language, that was extinct by 1900. Many toponyms were also borrowed from Dalmatian ( Kakrc , Luštica , Lovćen , Sutomore < Sancta Maria ).
- The number of Turkish loanwords is also significant There are according to Abdulah Skaljic, ("Turcizmi u srpskohrvatskom jeziku" - "Svjetlost" Sarajevo), 8.742 Turkish words, but much less of that number is today in use. Most of these words are not Turkish in original but Persian. They came through Turkish into Serbian language. However, these words are disappearing from the standard language at a faster rate than any other language's contributions. In Belgrade, for instance,čakšire (чакшире) was the only word for trousers before World War II, today pantalone (панталоне) is current; some 30-50 years ago avlija (авлија) was a common word for courtyard or backyard in Belgrade, today it is dvorište (двориште); only 15 years ago čaršav (чаршав) was usual for tablecloth, today it is stoljnjak (стољњак). The greatest number of Turkish loanwords had and have vernaculars of south Serbia (including Kosovo), followed by those of Bosnia and Herzegovina and central Serbia. Many Turkish loanwords are usual in the vernaculars of Vojvodina, Slavonija, Montenegro and Lika as well.
- Greek loanwords were very common in Old Serbian (Serbian-Slavonic). Some words are present and common in modern vernaculars in central Serbia (and also in other areas) and in the standard language: hiljada (хиљада), tiganj (тигањ), patos (патос). Almost every word of the Serbian Orthodox ceremonies are in Greek language ( parastos (парастос)).
- The number of Hungarian loanwords in the standard language is small: bitanga (битанга), alas (алас), ašov (ашов)). However, they are present in some vernaculars of Vojvodina and Slavonia and also in historical documents, local literature. Some place names in northern central Serbia as Barajevo, are probably of Hungarian origin.
- Classical international words (words mainly with Latin or Greek roots) are adapted in Serbian like in most European languages, not translated as in Croatian. For instance Serbian atmosfera , Croatian ozracje , S telefon , C brzojav , S avion , C zrakoplov .
- Two Serbian words that are used in many of the world's languages are vampire and paprika. Slivovitz and ćevapčići are Serbian words which have spread together with the Serbian food/drink they refer to. Paprika and slivovitz are borrowed via German; paprika itself entered German via Hungarian. Vampire entered most West European languages through German-language texts in the early 18th century and has since spread widely in the world.
While the basic sound system is fairly simple, Serbian phonology is very complicated: there are numerous interactions (sandhi rules) between voices at morpheme boundaries which cause sound changes, with numerous exceptions. The changes include:
- Two types of Iotation
- So called older , reflected in all Slavic languages
- So called newer : d , t , l , n + j > đ , ć , lj , nj .
- Three types of palatalization, reflected in all Slavic languages:
- First, involving shift of velar consonants k , g and h into postalveolar č , ž and š in front of front vowels e and i ,
- Second (also known as "sibilarization"), involving shift of k , g and h into alveolar c , z and s in front of e and i
- Little-known third, involving shift of k , g , h into c , z , s after e , i and a .
- Voicing and Devoicing assimilation
- Assimilation by place of articulation
- Elision in complex consonant clusters
- L→O shift, where final and pre-consonant *l was changed into an /o/
- "Labile A", referring to sound a occurring only in nominative and genitive plural of nouns with several suffixes (most commonly - ak and - ac ): točak ('wheel') (N) → točka (G) → točku (D) etc.
Voicing and Devoicing
In consonant clusters all consonants are either voiced or voiceless. All the consonants are voiced (if the last consonant is normally voiced) or voiceless (if the last consonant is normally voiceless). This rule does not apply to approximants — a consonant cluster may contain voiced approximants and voiceless consonants; as well as to foreign words ("Washington" would be transcribed as VašinGton /ВашинГтон), personal names and when consonants are not inside of one syllable.