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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.[1] Historically, the languages have also been known as Wendish (named after the Wends, the earliest Slavic people in modern Poland and Germany) or Lusatian. Their collective ISO 639-2 code is wen.

The two Sorbian languages and literary standards are Upper Sorbian (hornjoserbsce), spoken by about 20,000-25,000 people in Saxony, and Lower Sorbian (dolnoserbski) spoken by about 7,000 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 fifth and sixth 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 Outside Lusatia, it has been superseded by German. From the 13th century on, the language suffered official discrimination.[1] Bible translations into Sorbian provided the foundations for its writing system.

The exact origin of the language is uncertain. While some linguists consider it to be a transitory language between Lechitic and other non-Lechitic languages of West Slavic languages, others like Heinz Schuster-Šewc consider it a separate dialectical group of Proto-Slavic which is a mixture of Proto-Lechitic and South Slavic languages. Furthermore, while some consider it a single language which later diverged to two major dialects, others consider these dialects two separate languages. There exist significant differences in phonology, morphology, and lexicon between them. Several characteristics in Upper Sorbian language indicate a close proximity to Czech language which again are absent in Lower Sorbian language. Archaeological data cannot confirm the thesis about a single linguistic group, yet supports the claim about two separated ethno-cultural groups with different ancestry whose respective territories correspond to two languages, more indigenous Sukow-Dziedzice culture of Tornovo group (Lower Sorbian language) and more migrant Middle Danube valley culture (Upper Sorbian language).[2]

Geographic distribution[edit]

In Germany, Upper and Lower Sorbian are officially recognized and protected as minority languages.[3][year needed] In the home areas of the Sorbs, both languages are recognized as second official languages next to German.[citation needed][year needed]

A bilingual sign in Niesendorf/Niža Wjes near 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 a few speakers possibly still remain there. Until 1949, newspapers were published in Sorbian there. The local dialect has been heavily influenced by surrounding speakers of German and English.

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

Linguistic features[edit]

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 or seven cases:

  1. Nominative
  2. Accusative
  3. Dative
  4. Genitive
  5. Instrumental
  6. Locative
  7. Vocative (Upper Sorbian only)

Vocabulary comparison[edit]

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

See also[edit]

  • Sorbian alphabet
  • Wends
  • List of Sorbian-language writers
  • Low Lusatian German
  • White Serbia


  1. ^ a b About Sorbian Language, by Helmut Faska, University of Leipzig
  2. ^ Sedov, Valentin Vasilyevich (2013) [1995]. Славяне в раннем Средневековье [Sloveni u ranom srednjem veku (Slavs in Early Middle Ages)]. Novi Sad: Akademska knjiga. pp. 191–205. ISBN 978-86-6263-026-1.
  3. ^ "Full list". Treaty Office. Retrieved 2019-02-06.

External links[edit]

  • Online course for Upper and Lower Sorbian (English, Sorbian, German)
  • Euromosaic information page
  • Kurs serskeje rěce / Bluń, introductory texts of the lessons included in the Sorbian language textbook Curs practic de limba sorabă (in Romanian)