Croatian language – the dialects

The official Croatian language, which is taught in schools and used for all official business is called Štokavski. But this is just one of three dialects which you will hear in the country and its neighbours, which also vary with regional sub-dialects.

Below is a breakdown of the dialects and their sub-dialects with an example of one sentence using that specific dialect, and the regions you will most likely hear them spoken.

Main dialects:


Čakavski – ikavski (“Ča je lipo vrime učinilo” – Dalmatia region)
Štokavski – ikavski (“Što je lipo vrime napravilo” – Slavonia region)

Čakavski – ekavski (“Ča je lepo vreme udelalo” – Kvarner region)
Štokavski – ekavski (“Što je lepo vreme napravilo” – Serbia, official Serbian) (as well as ex-Serbo-Croatian i.e. official Yugoslavian language)
Kajkavski – ekavski (“Kaj je lepe vreme učinile” – Zagorje region)
Kajkavski – ekavski (“Kaj je lepo vreme učinilo” – Slovenia, official Slovenščina)

Štokavski – ijekavski (“Što je lijepo vrijeme napravilo” – standard Croatian, Hercegovina, Bosnia and Montenegro)

Štokavski with the ijekavski sub-dialect is the official Croatian language.

The three main dialects can be easily defined by the use of the words “ča“, “što” and “kaj” which in English can be mostly interpreted as “what?” as well as “which“, “that” and “something“.

This is my own understanding of the language situation and is not a definitive list as many regions have their own intermixed vocabulary and accents. I welcome any comments and views 🙂

NB: the word “šta” which is not dialect or official but is commonly used can be equated with the British English word “wot”.

The London Calling Club Tour rolls into Rijeka for the first time

Fast-paced, racy, English speaking stand-up comedians from the club and corporate circuits to tour Croatian theatres!? You wouldn’t have thought this would be a success but surprisingly it has. The London Calling Comedy Club Tour has been packing out venues in four of Croatia’s major cities: Zagreb, Varaždin, Rijeka and Osijek. Organiser Nino Bantić (a Croat living and working in London) took a gamble when he arranged a multi-night tour of the country with some of the UK’s hardest working comedians on the club and corporate circuits. I was fortunate to catch the tour’s show in Rijeka at the Sušak Cultural Hall (Hrvatski kulturni dom).

Stand-up comedy in Croatia is not a big audience pull and so the prospect of presenting three hardened comics in front of an audience whose grasp of English comes mostly from watching US movies and crime series on TV seemed quite daunting, but Croats do have a fantastic sense of humour and surprisingly enough British comedies such as ‘Allo Allo’, ‘Only Fools and Horses’ are regularly screened on Croatian television to great admiration, even the cretinous ‘Mr. Bean’ raises a smile!

For me, a Brit who has lived in Croatia for the last 8 years, this was a real treat. Before the show I had a brief chat with the comedians. They’d all travelled the world and performed in front of audiences from Japan to Saudi Arabia to America, so they were prepared for anything. I was interested in how different crowds reacted to different jokes and how they had to curb their accents and language for the various countries they visited. They said that they have to tone-down their language and expressions for non-English speaking audiences from what they would use on their home turf, but at the end of the evening they had found common ground with the Croatian audience through situational comedy and everyday relationship jokes which cross all cultural and linguistic barriers.

The MC for the show was Sully O’Sullivan from New Zealand and he warmed-up everyone excellently with his audience interaction, although at times finding it tricky to get a reaction from them as they were obviously just expecting to be entertained rather than actually participating. Next up was the Mohican haired, goaty-bearded, Paul B. Edwards from Letchworth, with guitar slung around his neck which he used to comic effect superbly, even when just strumming out a song he had written which eventually had no lyrics and then the superb ‘Everybody Dies Matthew’ ditty which he sung at his little nephew’s birthday party, bringing down the house with its nihilistic lyrics – reminiscent of Bill Bailey. Following him was a young home grown stand-up comic from Rijeka named Elvis, who unfortunately was only given a few minutes to recant his comedic encounters with the beautiful girls of the city. Last up was Nick Wilty from Whitstable who came on stage with a bottle of the local lager and regaled us with his tales of his worldly travels some of which were a little close to the edge – knob gags and jokes about lesbians may have missed their targets with the conservative audience a little.

It was the first time that the city of Rijeka was a stopping-off point for the tour and Nino and fellow organiser Peter Hopwood, from Varaždin, were a bit unsure whether its people would be willing to venture out on a Tuesday evening for such a previously unthought-of event but as ever the open-minded and cosmopolitan folk of Rijeka proved once again that they were ready try something new and although some of the comedians language may have gone over their heads a splendid time was had by all.

Croatia – a Whistle Stop Tour

Croatia will enthral you when you meet the warm, friendly people, its cultural-historical heritage along with its beautiful coastline.

I first visited Croatia in 2000 when it captured my heart in more than one sense. On my first trip I stopped off on the Northern Adriatic island of Cres, at the tiny village of Beli, to visit a small ecological centre called Eko-centar Caput Insulae-Beli, where volunteers from all over the world can come and help protect the local wildlife and rebuild the local environment. So taken was I with their warmth and friendliness that I also came and volunteered later that year. It was during this time that I met many Croats, who were to become good friends (including one very special person!). If you would like to visit the island of Cres and you prefer a more active vacation of hiking, climbing, cycling, boat and fishing trips and exploring its wild, untouched landscape then the Secrets of Cres agency can offer you more than just

The following year I returned and travelled the country, stopping-in to visit my new friends. First stop was the northern town of Varaždin, probably not on many tourist maps, but a perfect example of baroqueness. I arrived the day before the ‘Špancirfest’ and was lucky to be involved in the preparations. The festival of arts, crafts and music last for a week and celebrates the culture and heritage of this quaint mid-European town, everyone gets into the festival spirit, dressing up in period costumes and promenading through the streets, eating, drinking and playing music.

 After he concluded the opening ceremony and a few glasses of wine, my host showed me the inner city’s Renaissance fortress, which had recently been beautifully restored. Sitting within the original Gothic moat it provides the perfect introduction to the town’s history as each room inside had been turned into a museum with each portraying a different period, fascinating. After a great couple of days I had to leave but my friend said I must come back the following year to experience the world renown Baroque Concert Evenings that the town hosts and feature musicians from all over the world. Ok, so, next time….


Next stop was down south to the Dalmatian coastal city of Split. Travelling by bus (Croatia has a very reliable bus service) another new friend met me and showed me around. She explained to me that Spilt had gained the status of an UNESCO site of World Cultural Heritage due to the Roman Emperor, Diocletian’s palace around which the city had been built. It was amazing to imagine yourself walking alongside Romans over cobblestones and through buildings within the palace’s walls over 1,700 years ago!

More was to come when we visited the ancient city of Salona on the outskirts of Split. Here you can wander over the remains of Roman baths, villas, churches and even an amphitheatre. These areas were amongst the first to be Christianised during Roman rule. Next time I’ll need a bit further down the coast to Dubrovnik, Croatia is simply drenched in history on a par with any other part of Europe. So much to see and experience! Next time, next time, next time…..

Unfortunately with little extra time to spare I travelled back to the northern coastline of the Adriatic to the peninsula of Istria. This area is the closest part of Croatia to Italy and has a touch of Tuscany to it. Inland you can find tiny villages atop hilly outcrops, such as Motovun and Buje, and on the coast small promontory towns such as Rovinj and Umag and even a fjord cut into the land around Lim, but probably the most impressive attraction of Istria is the Roman amphitheatre at Pula. Possibly built in the first century BC it is the best preserved building of its kind in the world. An impressive structure from outside and from inside it is easy to imagine the roars of the crowd during gladiator battles. Today it is well looked after and even hosts rock and opera music concerts as well as the annual Pula International Film Festival, again more history and culture to soak up. Next time, next time, next time…..

From Istria I needed to travel east along the coast to the city of Rijeka and onto the island of Krk to the airport there. As the plane left the tarmac, I was sad to leave and vowed to return as soon as possible to experience more of Croatia and to see a very special person whom I may have mentioned earlier! More of that though next time……..!

Rijeka Carnival – Riječki karneval

Did you know that the city of Rijeka on the northern coast of Croatia hosts one of the largest international carnivals in the world? 2020 sees Rijeka as a European Capital of Culture – the first Croatian city to hold this exclusive title – more info about this very special year of cultural events, exhibitions, shows, concerts, operas and much more here:

The extra special 2020 Rijeka Carnival Procession takes place on Sunday 23rd February in the centre of the city – come and join the fun!

Every February the world goes carnival crazy with the lead up to Lent: Rio, Venice and also in Croatia, where the spirit of Mardi Gras is alive and kicking. The Kvarner Riviera attracts over 150,000 revellers from all over Europe. The 2011 event was the largest in its history with again over 100 floats and troupes of ‘zvoncari’ bell ringers coming from all over south east Europe filling the city with music, noise and festivities: the Rijecki karneval! I had spent a couple of days on the beautiful island of Cres, off the Kvarner coast and was joining in with the preparations for the big carnival. People were busy building amazing floats, extravagant costumes and masks whilst others were rehearsing music and dance routines, which would fill the streets of Rijeka in the final procession on Sunday.

In villages all over the region the local young men were preparing themselves to ‘drive-out winter.’ Early one morning I travelled up to the idyllic hillside village of Matulji just outside Rijeka. Here I was met by the colourfully dressed mayor and his small ‘oompah’ band. I guess they were very pleased to see me as they pressed a glass of the local brew, a heady mix of grappa and mountain herbs, locally known as ‘rakija,’ into my hand. While this warmed my cockles he told me about the tradition of the ‘zvoncari’ which means ‘bell ringers.’

The zvončari bell ringers certainly scare the devil out of most people!

In ancient times, the evil spirits of winter were banished by these fearsome characters dressed in sheepskins, brandishing wooden clubs and bones whilst yelling and gyrating the cow bells hanging from their waists, but this hadn’t really prepared me for the spectacle I was to experience later on that day.After a hearty, wholesome lunch of bread, cheese, ham and local wine I wandered into the crowds of people starting to line the streets. What was going on? Little did I realise, that Matulji was the village where the zvoncari were meeting before the big Sunday procession in Rijeka and already the square was filling with bright costumes and brass bands. Men from all over the area and indeed some coming from as far away as Poland and Slovakia as well as neighbouring Slovenia were arriving and getting into character. What a sight!

Each ‘tribe’ had a different outfit, some full sheepskin garbs with long red tongues and huge horns, some with outrageous head dresses and some even with real animal skulls over their faces. Real demonic versions of England’s own Morris Men! Once gathered together, each tribe began their exorcism of the ‘devil’ – winter. What a tremendous cacophony!

Bells clanging, shouting and yelling, whips cracking and drumming all followed through the village by brass bands and a costumed children’s parade. Leading up to the final Sunday grand parade in Rijeka, these troupes carry out their traditional ritual through all the towns and settlements of the Kvarner region, sometimes without rest, whilst the local people provide them with food and copious amounts of beer and wine.

Many zvoncari begin their path as toddlers and these littl’uns sometimes tag along in their tiny versions of their fathers’ full costumes, very cute. In 2010, to prove how significant they are, these pagan bell ringers gained international UNESCO status so as to be protected as a part of the region’s cultural-heritage.

This was a perfect introduction to the full carnival spirit of Rijeka. The city is steeped in history. A place where mid-European culture and the Mediterranean climate meet. All around you can spy the various influences of the Venetians, Italians, Austrians and Hungarians from the architecture to the customs, a real crossroads of culture.

Throughout the carnival period other festivities take place. From classical music concerts to masked balls and everyone is involved. Tens of thousands of people converge on the city every year. Over 120 floats and groups portraying everything from the Romans to political parodies to modern-day environmental issues all vibrantly decorated, partying and parading through the city.

Party goers of all ages take part

One of my fellow spectators told me that it takes nearly six hours for all the floats to pass by, but I was enjoying the atmosphere so much that time didn’t matter! I even spotted the mayor – he was having a whale of a time dressed as a huge beer barrel leading his merry brass band! He gave me the biggest grin, probably because he had drunk the contents before climbing into it!

Everyone joins in the fun

Although the roots of carnival go back centuries this event is always evolving for the last few years it has featured the Pariz-Bakar masked car rally. No this isn’t a spelling mistake! In Rijeka there is a region known as Pariz and nearby is the town of Bakar (once a leading Croatian town) and one of the country’s best known racers Tihomir Filipovic, recognising the connection after completing the famous Paris-Dakar Rally, started the trend and now up to 200 brightly painted vehicles make the tour between the two points into Rijeka for the end of party banquet.

It is hard to believe that the Rijeka International Carnival is probably one of the largest in Europe and yet few people in the UK have heard of it. You could easily travel to the Venice Carnevale di Venezia and then come to Rijeka and do it all over again!

Come and join in the fun of Carnival, the year-long Rijeka 2020 – European Capital of Culture programme and “be what you want to be!”

More info: carnival rijecki karneval article

My original article published in the Civil Service Motoring Association’s ‘Motoring & Leisure’ magazine in January 2001.

eco-holidays on the island of Cres – website design and translations

Secrets of Cres – website design.
Specially tailored eco-tourist holidays. Walking, cycling, climbing, day trips and more to experience the beautiful nature and heritage of the Cres and Lošinj islands. Apartment accommodation and airport transfers also available.

Doživite prirodnu ljepotu i baštinu otoka Cresa i Lošinja. Organiziramo cjelodnevne i poludnevne izlete i posjete napuštenim selima i crkvicama na Tramuntani (Beli), na Pernatu (Lubenice), Punta Križi, penjanje na Osoršćicu, i istraživanje otoka biciklima.