Upper Sorbian language

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Upper Sorbian
hornjoserbšćina, hornjoserbsce
Native toGermany
Native speakers
13,000 (2007)[1]
Latin (Sorbian alphabet)
Official status
Official language in
Regional language in Saxony
Language codes
ISO 639-2hsb
ISO 639-3hsb
ELPUpper Sorbian
Linguasphere53-AAA-bb < 53-AAA-b < 53-AAA-b...-d (varieties: 53-AAA-bba to 53-AAA-bbf)
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Upper Sorbian (hornjoserbšćina), occasionally referred to as "Wendish",[2] is a minority language spoken by Sorbs in Germany in the historical province of Upper Lusatia, which is today part of Saxony. It is grouped in the West Slavic language branch, together with Lower Sorbian, Czech, Polish, Slovak and Kashubian.


The history of the Upper Sorbian language in Germany began with the Slavic migrations during the 6th century AD. Beginning in the 12th century, there was a massive influx of rural Germanic settlers from Flanders, Saxony, Thuringia and Franconia. This so-called "Ostsiedlung" (eastern settlement or expansion) led to a slow but steady decline in use of the Sorbian language. In addition, in the Saxony region, the Sorbian language was legally subordinated to the German language. Language prohibitions were later added: In 1293, the Sorbian language was forbidden in Berne castle before the courts; in 1327 it was forbidden in Zwickau and Leipzig, and from 1424 on it was forbidden in Meissen. Further, there was the condition in many guilds of the cities of the area to accept only members of German-language origin.

However, the central areas of the Milzener and Lusitzer, in the area of today's Lusatia, were relatively unaffected by the new German language settlements and legal restrictions. The language therefore flourished there. By the 17th century, the number of Sorbian speakers in that area grew to over 300,000. The oldest evidence of written Upper Sorbian is the Burger Eydt Wendisch monument, which was discovered in the city of Bautzen and dates to the year 1532.

Upper Sorbian in Germany[edit]

A bilingual sign in Germany; German in first place and Upper Sorbian in second

There are an estimated 20,000 to 25,000[citation needed] speakers of Upper Sorbian. Almost all of these live in the state of Saxony, chiefly in the district of Bautzen (Budyšin). The stronghold of the language is the village of Crostwitz (Chrósćicy) and the surrounding municipalities, especially to the west of it. In this core area, Upper Sorbian remains the predominant vernacular.



The vowel inventory of Upper Sorbian is exactly the same as that of Lower Sorbian.[3] It is also very similar to the vowel inventory of Slovene.

Vowel phonemes[3][4]
Front Central Back
Close i u
Close-mid e o
Open-mid ɛ ɔ
Open a
  • /i/ is mid-centralized to [ɪ] after hard consonants.[5]
  • /e, o/ are diphthongized to [i̯ɛ, u̯ɔ] in slow speech.[3][6]
  • The /e–ɛ/ and /o–ɔ/ distinctions are weakened or lost in unstressed syllables.[7]


Consonant phonemes[3][8]
Labial Dental/
Palatal Velar/
hard soft hard soft soft hard soft hard
Nasal m n ɲ
Plosive voiceless p t k
voiced b d ɡ
Affricate voiceless t͡s (t͡sʲ) t͡ʃ
voiced (d͡z) d͡ʒ
Fricative voiceless f s ʃ x
voiced (v) z () ʒ ɦ
Trill ʀ ʀʲ
Approximant β ɥ l j
  • /v, d͡z, t͡sʲ, zʲ/ are very rare.[9][10][11]
  • /β/ is a somewhat velarized bilabial approximant [β̞ˠ], whereas /ɥ/ (the soft counterpart of /β/) is a strongly palatalized bilabial approximant [ɥ].[12]
  • /ʀ, ʀʲ/ are uvular [ʀ, ʀʲ]. The alveolar realization [r, rʲ] is archaic.[13]
  • In most dialects, /t͡ʃ, d͡ʒ, ʃ, ʒ/ are palato-alveolar. This is unlike Lower Sorbian, where these consonants are laminal retroflex (flat postalveolar) [t͡ʂ, ʂ, ʐ] (Lower Sorbian /t͡ʂ/ does not have a voiced counterpart).[14][15] Laminal retroflex realizations of /ʃ, ʒ/[what about the affricates /t͡ʃ, d͡ʒ/?] also occur in Upper Sorbian dialects spoken in some villages north of Hoyerswerda.[16][17]
  • An aspirated [kʰ] is a morpheme-initial allophone of /x/ in some cases, as well as a possible word-initial allophone of /k/.[18]


The Lord's Prayer in Upper Sorbian:

Wótče naš, kiž sy w njebjesach. Swjeć so Twoje mjeno. Přińdź Twoje kralestwo. Stań so Twoja wola, kaž na njebju, tak na zemi. Wšědny chlěb naš daj nam dźens. Wodaj nam naše winy, jako my tež wodawamy swojim winikam. A njewjedź nas do spytowanja, ale wumóž nas wot złeho. Amen.

Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Upper Sorbian:

Wšitcy čłowjekojo su wot naroda swobodni a su jenacy po dostojnosći a prawach. Woni su z rozumom a swědomjom wobdarjeni a maja mjezsobu w duchu bratrowstwa wobchadźeć.

(All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.)[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Upper Sorbian at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. ^ "9780781807807: Sorbian (Wendish)-English English-Sorbian (Wendish) Concise Dictionary (Concise Dictionaries) (English and Sorbian Languages Edition) – AbeBooks – Strauch, Mercin: 0781807808".
  3. ^ a b c d Stone (2002), p. 600.
  4. ^ Šewc-Schuster (1984), p. 20.
  5. ^ Šewc-Schuster (1984:34). The author states that [ɪ] is less front and somewhat lower than [i], but unlike Russian [ɨ], it is front, not central.
  6. ^ Šewc-Schuster (1984), pp. 32–33.
  7. ^ Stone (2002), pp. 601, 606–607.
  8. ^ Šewc-Schuster (1984), p. 46.
  9. ^ Šewc-Schuster (1984), pp. 36, 38.
  10. ^ Stone (2002), pp. 603–604.
  11. ^ Zygis (2003), p. 191.
  12. ^ Šewc-Schuster (1984:36–37, 41, 46). On page 36, the author states that Upper Sorbian /β/ is less velar than Polish /w/. The weakness of the velarization is confirmed by the corresponding image on page 37.
  13. ^ Stone (2002), p. 602.
  14. ^ Šewc-Schuster (1984), pp. 40–41.
  15. ^ Zygis (2003), pp. 180–181, 190–191.
  16. ^ Šewc-Schuster (1984), p. 41.
  17. ^ Zygis (2003), p. 180.
  18. ^ Šewc-Schuster (1984), pp. 26–27, 42–43.
  19. ^ Sorbian at Omniglot.com


  • Ross, Malcom. 2020. Syntax and contact-induced language change. In A. Grant (ed.) The Oxford Handbook of Language Contact. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 123–154. [Upper Sorbian and German contact, with resulting changes in Sorbian]
  • Šewc-Schuster, Hinc (1984), Gramatika hornjo-serbskeje rěče, Budyšin: Ludowe nakładnistwo Domowina
  • Stone, Gerald (2002), "Sorbian (Upper and Lower)", in Comrie, Bernard; Corbett, Greville G. (eds.), The Slavonic Languages, London and New York: Routledge, pp. 593–685, ISBN 9780415280785
  • Zygis, Marzena (2003), "Phonetic and Phonological Aspects of Slavic Sibilant Fricatives" (PDF), ZAS Papers in Linguistics, 3: 175–213, doi:10.21248/zaspil.32.2003.191

External links[edit]


Czech-Sorbian and Sorbian-Czech[edit]