Sorbian languages

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Wendish, Lusatian
Linguistic classification: Indo-European
ISO 639-2 / 5: wen
Glottolog: sorb1249[1]
The Sorbian-speaking region in Germany

The Sorbian languages (Serbsce, Serbski) are two closely related languages spoken by the Sorbs, a Slavic minority in the Lusatia region of eastern Germany. They are classified under the West Slavic branch of the Indo-European languages. Historically the languages have also been known as Wendish or Lusatian. Their collective ISO 639-2 code is wen. They are closely related to Polish, Kashubian, Czech and Slovak.[2]

There are two literary languages: Upper Sorbian (hornjoserbsce), spoken by about 40,000 people in Saxony, and Lower Sorbian (dolnoserbski) spoken by about 10,000 people in Brandenburg. The area where the two languages are spoken is known as Lusatia (Łužica in Upper Sorbian, Łužyca in Lower Sorbian, or Lausitz in German).

Paul Wexler has proposed that some sort of "Judeo-Sorbian" language may have been the genealogical ancestor of Yiddish.[3]


After the settlement of the formerly Germanic territories (the part largely corresponding to the former East Germany) by the Sorbs' Slavic ancestors in the 5th and 6th centuries, the Sorbian language (or its predecessors) has been in use in much of what was the southern half of East Germany for several centuries, and has still its stronghold in (Upper and Lower) Lusatia, where it enjoys national protection and fostering until today. Outside Lusatia, it has been superseded by German, following official discrimination from the 13th century on.[2] The printed language developed around the main Bible translations into Sorbian.

Geographic distribution

In Germany, Upper and Lower Sorbian are officially recognized and protected as minority languages. In the home areas of the Sorbs, both languages are officially equal to German.

File:Bautzen Ortschild.jpg
A bilingual sign in Bautzen

The city of Bautzen in Upper Lusatia is the centre of Upper Sorbian culture. Bilingual signs can be seen around the city, including the name of the city, "Bautzen/Budyšin".

The city of Cottbus (Chóśebuz) is considered the cultural centre of Lower Sorbian; here too bilingual signs are found.

Sorbian has also been spoken in the small Sorbian ("Wendish") settlement of Serbin in Lee County, Texas, and it is possible that a few speakers still remain there. Until recently newspapers were published in Sorbian there. The local dialect has been heavily influenced by surrounding speakers of German and English.

While the old German-derived labels "Wend" and "Wendish", which once denoted "Slav(ic)" generally, have been retained in American and Australian communities, they are today mostly unusual in place of "Sorb" and "Sorbian" with reference to Sorbian communities in Germany, because many Sorbs consider such words to be offensive.

Linguistic features

Both Upper and Lower Sorbian have the dual for nouns, pronouns, adjectives and verbs; very few known living Indo-European languages retain this feature as a productive aspect of the grammar. For example, the word ruka is used for one hand, ruce for two hands, and ruki for more than two hands.


The Sorbian languages are declined in six to seven cases:

  1. Nominative
  2. Accusative
  3. Dative
  4. Genitive
  5. Instrumental
  6. Locative
  7. Vocative (Upper Sorbian only)
Case nan
  Upper Sorb. Lower Sorb. Upper Sorb. Lower Sorb. Upper Sorb. Lower Sorb.
Nom. nan nan štom bom wokno wokno
Gen. nana nana štoma boma wokna wokna
Dat. nanej nanoju štomej bomoju woknu woknoju, woknu
Acc. nana nana štom bom wokno wokno
Instr. z nanom z nanom ze štomom z bomom z woknom z woknom
Loc. wo nanje wó nanje na štomje na bomje na woknje na woknje
Voc. nano štomo
Case ramjo
shoulder, armpit
woman, wife
  Upper Sorb. Lower Sorb. Upper Sorb. Lower Sorb. Upper Sorb. Lower Sorb.
Nom. ramjo ramje žona žeńska ruka
Gen. ramjenja ramjenja žony žeńskeje ruki
Dat. ramjenju ramjenjeju, ramjenju žonje žeńskej ruce
Acc. ramjo ramje žonu žeńsku ruku
Instr. z ramjenjom z ramjenim ze žonu ze žeńskeju z ruku
Loc. wo ramjenju wó ramjenju wo žonje wó žeńskej w ruce

Vocabulary comparison

The following is a comparison of selected vocabulary from the two Sorbian languages with other West Slavic languages.

English Upper Sorbian Lower Sorbian Czech Polish Polabian Kashubian Slovak Silesian Serbian
person čłowjek cłowjek člověk człowiek clawak człowiek človek człowiyk čovek / човек
evening wječor wjacor večer wieczór vicer wieczór večer wiyczōr veče / вече
brother bratr bratš bratr brat brot brat brat bracik brat / брат
day dźeń źeń den dzień dôn dzéń deň dziyń dan / дан
hand ruka ruka ruka ręka ręka rãka ruka rynka ruka / рука
snow sněh sněg sníh śnieg sneg sniég sneh śniyg sneg / снег
summer lěćo lěśe léto lato ljutü lato leto lato leto / лето
sister sotra sotša sestra siostra sestra sostra sestra szwestra sestra / сестра
fish ryba ryba ryba ryba raibo rëba ryba ryba riba / риба
fire woheń wogeń oheň ogień widin òdżin oheň ôgiyń vatra / ватра
water woda wóda voda woda wôda wòda voda woda voda / вода
wind wětr wětš vítr wiatr wjôter wiater vietor wiŏter vetar / ветар
winter zyma zyma zima zima zaima zëma zima zima zima / зима

See also


  1. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  2. 2.0 2.1 About Sorbian Language, by Helmut Faska, University of Leipzig (English)
  3. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.

External links