The Sorbian languages (Upper Sorbian: Serbska rěč, Lower Sorbian: Serbska rěc) are two closely related, but only partially mutually intelligible, West Slavic languages spoken by the Sorbs, a West Slavic minority in the Lusatia region of eastern Germany. They are classified under the West Slavic branch of the Indo-European languages and are therefore closely related to the other two West Slavic subgroups: Lechitic and Czech–Slovak.[2] Historically the languages have also been known as Wendish (named after the Wends, earliest Slavic people in modern Poland and Germany) or Lusatian. Their collective ISO 639-2 code is wen.

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).


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) had been in use in much of what was the southern half of East Germany for several centuries, and still had its stronghold in (Upper and Lower) Lusatia, where it enjoys national protection and fostering to the present day. Outside Lusatia, it has been superseded by German, following official discrimination from the 13th century on.[2] The printed language developed around the main Bible translations into Sorbian.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.[citation needed][year needed] In the home areas of the Sorbs, both languages are recognized as second official language next to German.[citation needed][year needed]

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.

The German terms "Wend" (Wenden) and "Wendish" (Wendisch) once denoted "Slav(ic)" generally;[citation needed] they are today mostly replaced by "Sorb" (Sorben) and "Sorbian" (Sorbisch) with reference to Sorbian communities in Germany.[citation needed]

Linguistic features

Both Upper and Lower Sorbian have the dual for nouns, pronouns, adjectives and verbs; very few living Indo-European languages retain this as a productive feature of the grammar. For example, the word ruka is used for one hand, ruce for two hands, and ruki for more than two hands. As with most of the Slavic languages, Sorbian uses no articles.


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 selected vocabulary from the two Sorbian languages compared with other Slavic languages.

English Lower Sorbian Upper Sorbian Serbian Croatian Czech Polish Polabian Kashubian Silesian Slovak Russian Ukrainian
person, man clowek/luź čłowjek човек
čovjek člověk człowiek clawak człowiek człowiyk človek человек


людина (l'udyna),

чоловік (čolovik)

evening wjacor wječor вече
večer večer wieczór vicer wieczór wiyczōr večer вечер


brother bratš bratr брат
brat bratr brat brot brat bracik brat брат
day źeń dźeń дан
dan den dzień dôn dzéń dziyń deň день
hand ruka ruka рука
ruka ruka ręka ręka rãka rynka ruka рука
snow sněg sněh снег
snijeg sníh śnieg sneg sniég śniyg sneh снег


summer lěśe lěćo лето
ljeto léto lato ljutü lato lato leto лето


sister sotša sotra сестра
sestra sestra siostra sestra sostra szwestra sestra сестра
fish ryba ryba риба
riba ryba ryba raibo rëba ryba ryba рыба


fire wogeń woheń огањ oganj oheň ogień widin òdżin ôgiyń oheň огонь


water wóda woda вода
voda voda woda wôda wòda woda voda вода
wind wětš wětr ветар
vjetar vítr wiatr wjôter wiater wiŏter vietor ветер


winter zyma zyma зима
zima zima zima zaima zëma zima zima зима

See also


  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Sorbian". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  2. ^ a b About Sorbian Language, by Helmut Faska, University of Leipzig (English)

External links