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Interslavic dialects

Interslavic is meant to be as much at the centre of the Slavic languages as possible, and we do our best to offer solutions that are best for all Slavs together, avoiding characteristics of particular subgroups from predominating. These solutions, however, are not always ideal for communication between a subset of the Slavic speakers: what is best in Bulgaria or Croatia is not necessarily best in Poland or Russia. Interslavic should be flexible enough to offer solutions for all these different types of communication. This can be realised on four different levels:

  • On a lexical level. Interslavic words have been selected for maximum intelligibility among the highest possible number of Slavs, but it is not always possible to find a word that is intelligible to all. Obviously, a word that is commonly understood by West and East Slavs but unknown to South Slavs will not be very helpful in the communication with Serbs or Bulgarians. For that reason, the dictionary sometimes offers synonyms, with one word covering one part of Slavic territory and a second word the other, enabling users to choose words that are intelligible to one subgroup in particular.
  • On a phonological level. Even if a word occurs in all Slavic languages, it does not necessarily sound the same everywhere. For example, Russians and Ukrainians use korova for a cow, Poles and Sorbs krowa, Czechs, Slovaks and South Slavs krava. For a Russian, krova is easier to understand than krava, but there is no reason why Czechs and/or Slovaks should use it in communication with South Slavs, for instance.
  • On an orthographical level. Written Interslavic can be made more familiar to speakers of particular languages by using an orthography similar to their own. For example, to accommodate Russian speakers, one might use я, ю and й instead of the forms with Cyrillic ј.
  • On a grammatical level. For example, by avoiding the use of infinitives and noun cases when addressing Bulgarians.

The process of adding local colour to make Interslavic look and sound more familiar to speakers of particular languages is called „flavourisation”. The possibilities are sheer endless: for every Slavic language or dialect, it is possible to create a „national” or „regional” version, which in all likeliness will give a native speaker the impression of a funny yet perfectly understandable variation of his own language. In addition, flavourisation is achieved not only by adapting Interslavic to listener/reader, it is almost inevitably determined by the language of the speaker/writer, too. If you compare Interslavic written by a Pole and Interslavic written by a Serb, differences can easily be recognised.

It would go way too far to describe every possible flavourised form of Interslavic. Let us therefore focus on forms intended for larger groups only, which can be realised by attributing more weight to understandability by some Slavs than by others. Because Interslavic uses a voting system as a tool for compilating words, grammatical endings and sounds, the outcome of a vote can change when certain languages are given less weight or eliminated altogether. Thus, instead of using the solutions that work best for all Slavs as a whole, we use characteristics that are typical for a subset of the Slavic languages only. The result can be described as „dialects”, some more influenced by East Slavic, some more influenced by South Slavic, etc.

Flavourisation in pronunciation

Flavorizacija v izgovoru

The base for manipulating Interslavic is the etymological alphabet, a set of optional letters that do not really have a pronunciation of their own, but represent phonemes whose pronunciation varies from one language to another instead. In Interslavic, they can be used to convey additional etymological information, but they can also be used for a different purpose: by writing and/or pronouncing them in a different (non-standard) way, a text can be adapted to be better understood by speakers of a particular group of languages.

The pronunciation of y differs from i only in Russian, Belarussian, Polish and Sorbian; in the South Slavic languages, in Ukrainian and in spoken Czech and Slovak, it merged with i. Thus, if you address an audience of South Slavs only, it is absolutely recommendable to replace all y with i.

The vowel ě merged with e into je (in Russian and Polish) or e (in Slovene, Serbian and Macedonian), but in the remaining languages it has variously developed into i, ije, je, ja or a (whereas e always remains hard e). As a result, the character ě has excellent compromise qualities: a Serb can read rěč as his own reč, a Croat as his own riječ, a Ukrainian as his own rič. For Russian and Poles, the distinction is irrelevant.

Normally, the (historically nasal) vowel ę is written and pronounced like e, but this is a feature typical for South Slavic. A more North Slavic flavour can be achieved by substituting it with ja (after a soft consonant a).

The vowel ų matches u in most Slavic languages, except Polish (ą/ę), Slovene (o), Macedonian (a) and Bulgarian (ъ).

The letter å does not exist in any Slavic language as a separate phoneme. Interslavic uses a in this position, as do Old Church Slavonic, South Slavic, Czech, Slovak and many words in Russian. To give the text a more North Slavic flavour, o can be used instead.

The letter ȯ represents a strong hard jer (ъ). East Slavic, Slovak, Upper Sorbian and Macedonian have o here, Slovene and the remaining West Slavic languages e, Serbo-Croatian a and Bulgarian ъ (ă). Interslavic has o in this position, but for a more West Slavic flavour you can use e.

The letter ė represents a strong soft jer (ь). In all Slavic languages, it has developed into e, except Serbo-Croatian, which has a.

When r or ŕ are preceded by a consonant and not followed by a vowel, they constitute a separate syllable, pronounced more less like ǝr and ʲǝr. In Czech, Slovak, Slovene, Serbo-Croatian and Macedonian, they merged into syllabic r. For a more North/East Slavic flavour, you can write or for syllabic r and er for syllabic ŕ.

The consonant g is pronounced more like an aspirated h in Ukrainian, Belarussian, Czech, Slovak and Upper Sorbian.

Whereas Standard Interslavic has two softened consonants (lj and nj), the etymological alphabet has seven: ĺ ń ŕ ś ź (note that lj and nj are identical to ĺ and ń). The remaining five are largely absent in South Slavic, ś ź also in Czech and Slovak and ŕ in Slovak and Belarussian. If you want to give a text a more North-Slavic look-and-feel, it deserves recommendation to include them all. In that case it would of course be logical if all softened consonants were marked the same way: with the soft sign ь in Cyrillic, with an acute or a caron (háček) in Latin orthography. Instead of using ľ or ĺ (both encountered in Slovak only), it is also possible to use l for the soft ʎ and ł for the hard l. This method is used in Polish, Sorbian and some forms of Belarusian Łacinka and Ukrainian Latynka.

The letters ć and đ are usually rendered as č and , but in a more South Slavic flavourisation they can be kept (written ћ and ђ in Cyrillic). Never use ћ and ђ for ть and дь though, as these are separate etymological entities!

At last, the sequence šč (Cyrillic: шч) can be flavourised št in a South Slavic. In Cyrillic, it can also be written щ.

North and South

Again, the number of possible combinations between languages is almost endless, and it would go way too far to describe every possible flavourised form of Interslavic. The most obvious differences between the Slavic languages can be covered with two different flavourisation models (in addition to „standard” Interslavic): a more Northern-oriented one (focusing on Russian, Belarusian, Polish and Sorbian, with secondary focus on Czech, Slovak and Ukrainian), and a more Southern-oriented one (centered around South Slavic, also with secondary focus on Czech, Slovak and Ukrainian). Based on the previous paragraph, they could look as follows (the yellow fields are those where the flavourised form differs from the standard form):

y ě ę ų å ė ȯ syll. r ŕ lj/ĺ nj/ń ŕ t́ d́ ś ź ć đ šč
Northern y e ja u o e o or er ľ ń/ň ŕ/ř ť ď ś ź č dž šč
Southern i ě e u a e ă r lj nj r t d s z ć đ št

In addition, in the Northern flavourisation infinitives end in instead of -ti, the nominative/accusative singular of adjectives should be -e instead of -o (dobre detja instead of Southern dobro děte). The Northern flavourisation favours the relative pronoun ktory whereas the Southern flavourisation favours koj. Likewise, in the case of the prefix vy-/iz-, the former is North-oriented, the latter South-oriented. In the Southern flavourisation the preposition dlja „for” should be substituted with za.

Flavourisation in spelling

Flavorizacija v pravopisanju

Interslavic can be also made more accessible to certain groups by manipulating the way it is written. The standard Latin alphabet is mostly based on the Slovene alphabet, with the addition of y (from West Slavic) and ě (from Czech and Sorbian). This alphabet, however, differs substantially from the Polish alphabet, and Polish speakers may not immediately understand letters like ě or š. To make it easier for them, one can for example replace v, č, š, ž and ě with w, cz, sz, ż and ie. Poles would also be helped by adopting ę and ų from the etymological alphabet, represented as and ą respectively. Similar modifications can be made for speakers of other languages as well:

e ě ę ų č š ž g h v l lj nj
Polish-based ie ię ą cz sz ż g ch w ł l ń/ni
Czech/Slovak-based e ě ia u č š ž h ch v l ľ ň
Croatian-based e je e u č š ž g h v l lj nj

The standard Cyrillic alphabet is based on Serbian/Macedonian Cyrillic, with the addition of ы (from Russian and Belarussian) and є (from Ukrainian). It is problematic in so far that East Slavs do not always correctly understand Cyrillic ј, which they tend to pronounce as as in English, while many South Slavs are unfamiliar with the letter ы. In situations where a text is presented both in Latin and Cyrillic, it can be a good idea to use a flavourised spelling that is specifically directed at East Slavs, since Serbs and Macedonians are more familiar with the Latin alphabet.

ы є ј ја ју јо је ји љ њ
Serbian/Macedonian-based и е ј ја ју јо је ји љ њ
Bulgarian-based и е й я ю йо/ьо йе/ье и ль нь
East Slavic ы е й я ю йо/ьо (й)е/ье и/ьи ль нь



Etymological alphabet

Međuslovjańsky jest orųďje dlja komunikacije s Slovjanami. Učeńje ne jest tęžko i ne trȯvaje dȯlgo. Znajųći taky język, člověk imaje možnosť, da by izražal sę vȯ vśakoj slovjańskoj dŕžavě i råzuměl skoro vśe, čto ljudi k njemu govoręt i pišųt. S pomoćjų flavorizacije možno jest približati svoje teksty ješče bolje k regionaľnym ili městnym variantam, da by one iměli vęće vȯzhodnyh, sěvernyh, zapadnyh ili južnyh čŕt.

Northern variant, East Slavic orthography

Меджусловяньски ест орудье для комуникацие с Словянами. Ученье не ест тяжко и не тровае долго. Знаючи такы язык, чловек имае можность, да бы изражал ся во всякой словяньской державе и розумел скоро все, что люди к ньему говорят и пишут. С помочю флаворизацие можно ест приближать свое тексты еще болье к региональным или местным вариантам, да бы оне имели вяче возходных, северных, западных или южных черт.

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This article has been republished with the permission of its original author, Jan van Steenbergen.