Many of us will be familiar with that feeling of arriving in a new and exciting place and then realising we have absolutely no idea how to communicate with the local people. So here I aim to give you a brief insight into the language of these parts and a selection of words and phrases which will hopefully come in handy throughout your stay in Montenegro.
Despite the fact you’ll find most people do speak at least a very basic level of English, you’ll soon see that an attempt at the local lingo is always very well received with looks of surprise and admiration. I remember on one occasion being particularly well praised on my ability to order a malo toceno pivo i casa vode – A small draught beer and a glass of (tap) water.
But what language do they speak? I hear you asking. And I have been asked this numerous times by friends, family and prospective guests. Well the simple (and official) answer would be Montenegrin, as specified in the Constitution of 2007 following independence from Serbia and Montenegro in June 2006. Previous to this and following the breakup of Yugoslavia the answer would have been Serbian. And previous to this it would have been Serbo-Croatian under which Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian all fall.
Conscious not to offend anybody when I first arrived I was unsure whether to refer to the language as Serbian or Montenegrin when explaining govorim malo – I speak little. After asking around and listening to what the locals use I’ve realised there is no straightforward answer as it really depends on where you are and with whom you are speaking.
These days language classes in schools are labeled Maternji Jezik (mother tongue) so as not to offend anybody and the language spoken (Montenegrin, Serbian, Croatian or Bosnian) really depends on the individual. In fact, Maternji Jezik was the official language of Montenegro for a short time following independence.
Aside from differences in vocabulary and grammatical structure to a certain extent, speakers of all four languages can communicate without a problem. Here in Montenegro both Cyrillic and Latin have equal status under the constitution but you will see that most writing is in Latin.
So now to get to grips with a few words and phrases you can use on your holiday. You’ll be pleased to know that it’s read as it’s written so you’ll just need to familiarise yourself with the pronunciation of certain letters and you’ll be an expert in no time. Pronunciation notes in brackets.
Good morning (until 10am) - Dobro jutro (pronounced dobro yutro)
Good day/afternoon (until dusk) - Dobar dan
Good evening - Dobro vece (pronounced Dobro veche)
Goodbye – Do videnja (pronounced Do vijenya)
Thank you – Hvala
You can also use zdravo or cao (pronounced like the Italian ciao) as a much more informal way of saying both hello and goodbye.
Leaving shops and restaurants it is very usual to hear and to say prijatno (priyatno) meaning something along the lines of enjoy or have a good day.
How much does it cost? – Koliko costa (koliko coshta)
If you want to be left to look around a shop you can say samo gledam – I’m just looking
If you know what you’re asking for in a shop or restaurant you can say imate li…? Meaning do you have…?
If you know what you are looking for out and about you can say gde je...? Meaning where is....?
No – Ne Yes – Da
A glass of tap water – Casa vode (chasha vode)
Mineral water – Mineralna voda still – negazirana sparkling - gazirana
A draught beer – Toceno pivo (tocheno pivo) Big – Veliko Small - Malo
A glass/bottle of wine – Casa/flasa vino (chasha/flasha vino)