Vuk Karadžić

For other people with the same surname, see Karadžić. For the TV series, see Vuk Karadžić (TV series).
Vuk Stefanović Karadžić

Vuk Karadžić, around 1850
Native name Вук Стефановић Караџић
Born (1787-11-07)7 November 1787
Tršić, Ottoman Empire
Died 7 February 1864(1864-02-07) (aged 76)
Vienna, Austrian Empire
Nationality Serbian
Known for Serbian language reform
Serbian Cyrillic alphabet
Religion Serbian Orthodoxy

Vuk Stefanović Karadžić (pronounced [ʋûːk stefǎːnoʋit͡ɕ kârad͡ʒit͡ɕ], Serbian Cyrillic: Вук Стефановић Караџић; 7 November 1787 – 7 February 1864) was a Serbian philologist and linguist who was the major reformer of the Serbian language. He deserves, perhaps, for his collections of songs, fairy tales, and riddles, to be called the father of the study of Serbian folklore. He was also the author of the first Serbian dictionary in his new reformed language. In addition, he translated the New Testament into the reformed form of the Serbian spelling and language.

He was well known abroad and familiar to Jacob Grimm, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and historian Leopold von Ranke. Vuk was the primary source for Ranke's Serbische Revoluzion ("Serbian Revolution"), written in 1829.


Early life

Vuk Karadžić’s house today in all-museum village Tršić.

Vuk Karadžić was born to parents Stefan and Jegda (née Zrnić) in the village of Tršić, near Loznica, which was in the Ottoman Empire (now in Serbia). His family settled from Drobnjaci, and his mother was born in Ozrinići, Nikšić (in present-day Montenegro.) His family had a low infant survival rate, thus he was named Vuk ('wolf') so that witches and evil spirits would not hurt him (the name was traditionally given to strengthen the bearer).


Oil painting by Pavel Đurković, dating to 1816 (age 29)

Karadžić was fortunate to be a relative of Jevta Savić Čotrić, the only literate person in the area at the time, who taught him how to read and write. Karadžić continued his education in the Tronoša Monastery in Loznica. As a boy he learned calligraphy there, using a reed instead of a pen and a solution of gunpowder for ink. In lieu of proper writing paper he was lucky if he could get cartridge wrappings. Throughout the whole region, regular schooling was not widespread at that time and his father at first did not allow him to go to Austria. Since most of the time while in the monastery Karadžić was forced to pasture the livestock instead of studying, his father brought him back home. Meanwhile, the First Serbian Uprising seeking to overthrow the Ottomans began in 1804. After unsuccessful attempts to enroll in the gymnasium at Sremski Karlovci, for which 19-year-old Karadžić was too old, Karadžić left for Petrinja where he spent a few months learning Latin and German. Later on, he left for Belgrade, now in the hands of the Revolutionary Serbia, in order to meet the highly respected scholar Dositej Obradović, and ask him to support his studies. Unfortunately, Obradović dismissed him. Disappointed, Karadžić left for Jadar and began working as a scribe for Jakov Nenadović. After the founding of the Belgrade Higher School, Karadžić became one of its first students.

Later life and death

Soon afterwards, he grew ill and left for medical treatment in Pest and Novi Sad, but was unable to receive treatment for his leg. It was rumored that Karadžić deliberately refused to undergo amputation, instead deciding to make do with a prosthetic wooden pegleg, of which there were several sarcastic references in some of his works. Karadžić returned to Serbia by 1810, and as unfit for military service, he served as the secretary for commanders Ćurčija and Hajduk-Veljko. His experiences would later give rise to two books. With the Ottoman defeat of the Serbian rebels in 1813, he left for Vienna and later met Jernej Kopitar, an experienced linguist with a strong interest in secular slavistics. Kopitar's influence helped Karadžić with his struggle in reforming the Serbian language and its orthography. Another important influence was Sava Mrkalj.

In 1814 and 1815, Karadžić published two volumes of Serbian Folk Songs, which afterwards increased to four, then to six, and finally to nine tomes. In enlarged editions, these admirable songs drew towards themselves the attention of all literary Europe and America. Goethe characterized some of them as "excellent and worthy of comparison with Solomon's Song of Songs."

In 1824, he sent a copy of his folksong collection to Jacob Grimm, who was enthralled particularly by The Building of Skadar which Karadžić recorded from singing of Old Rashko. Grimm translated it into German and the song was noted and admired for many generations to come.[1] Grimm compared them with the noblest flowers of Homeric poetry, and of The Building of Skadar he said: "one of the most touching poems of all nations and all times." The founders of the Romantic School in France, Charles Nodier, Prosper Mérimée, Lamartine, Gerard de Nerval, and Claude Fauriel translated a goodly number of them, and they also attracted the attention of Russian Alexander Pushkin, Finnish national poet Johan Ludwig Runeberg, Czech Samuel Roznay, Pole Kazimierz Brodzinski, English writers Walter Scott, Owen Meredith, and John Bowring, among others.

Karadžić continued collecting song well into the 1830s. He arrived in Montenegro in the fall of 1834. Infirm, he descended to the Bay of Kotor to winter there, and returned in the spring of 1835. It was there that Karadžić met Vuk Vrčević, an aspiring littérateur, born in Risan. From then on Vrčević became Karadžić's faithful and loyal collaborator who collected folk songs and tales and sent them to his address in Vienna for many years to come. Another equally diligent collaborator of Vuk Karadžić was another namesake from Boka Kotorska the Priest Vuk Popović. Both Vrčević and Popović were steadily and uselfishly involved in the gathering of the ethnographic, folklore and lexical material for Karadžić. Later, other collaborators joined Karadžić, including Milan Đ. Milićević.

Monument to Vuk Karadžić, Belgrade.

The majority of Karadžić's works were banned from publishing in Serbia and Austria during the rule of Prince Miloš Obrenović. As observed from a political point of view, Obrenović saw the works of Karadžić as a potential hazard due to a number of apparent reasons, one of which was the possibility that the content of some of the works, although purely poetic in nature, was capable of creating a certain sense of patriotism and a desire for freedom and independence, which very likely might have driven the populace to take up arms against the Turks. This, in turn, would prove detrimental to Prince Miloš's politics toward the Ottoman Empire, with whom he had recently forged an uneasy peace. In Montenegro, however, Njegoš's printing press operated without the archaic letter known as the "hard sign". Prince Miloš was to resent Njegoš's abandonment of the hard sign, over which, at that time, furious intellectual battles were being waged, with ecclesiastical hierarchy involved as well. Karadžić's works, however, did receive high praise and recognition elsewhere, especially in Russia. In addition to this, Karadžić was granted a full pension from the Tsar in 1826.

He died at Vienna, and was survived by his daughter Mina Karadžić, who was a painter and writer, and by his son Dimitrije Karadžić, a military officer. His remains were relocated to Belgrade in 1897 and buried with great honours next to the grave of Dositej Obradović, in front of St. Michael's Cathedral (Belgrade).


Linguistic reforms

Transcript of a hand-written debt note written in Sarajevo 1836, an example of pre-reform Serbian vernacular writing. Note that the three witnesses in the end of the letter each use their own spelling standards.

Karadžić reformed the Serbian literary language and standardised the Serbian Cyrillic alphabet by following strict phonemic principles on the Johann Christoph Adelung' model and Jan Hus' Czech alphabet. Karadžić's reforms of the Serbian literary language modernised it and distanced it from Serbian and Russian Church Slavonic, instead bringing it closer to common folk speech, specifically, to the dialect of Eastern Herzegovina which he spoke. Karadžić was, together with Đuro Daničić, the main Serbian signatory to the Vienna Literary Agreement of 1850 which, encouraged by Austrian authorities, laid the foundation for the Serbian language. Karadžić also translated the New Testament into Serbian, which was published in 1868. The Vukovian effort of language standardization lasted the remainder of the century. Before then the Serbs had achieved a fully independent state (1878), and a flourishing national culture based in Belgrade and Novi Sad. Despite the Vienna agreement, the Serbs had by this time developed an ekavian accent, which was the native speech of their two cultural capitals as well as the great majority of the Serbian population.


In addition to his linguistic reforms, Karadžić also contributed to folk literature, using peasant culture as the foundation. Because of his peasant upbringing, he closely associated with the oral literature of the peasants, compiling it to use in his collection of folk songs, tales, and proverbs. While Karadžić hardly considered peasant life romantic, he regarded it as an integral part of Serbian culture. He collected several volumes of folk prose and poetry, including a book of over 100 lyrical and epic songs learned as a child and written down from memory. He also published the first dictionary of vernacular Serbian. For his work he received little financial aid, at times living in poverty, though in the very last 9 years he did receive a pension from prince Miloš Obrenović. In some cases Karadžić hid the fact that he had not only collected folk poetry by recording the oral literature but transcribed it from manuscript songbooks of other collectors from Srem.[2]

Non-philological work

Besides his greatest achievement on literary field, Karadžić gave his contribution to Serbian anthropology in combination with the ethnography of that time. He left notes on physical aspects of the human body alongside his ethnographic notes. He introduced a rich terminology on body parts (from head to toes) into the literary language. It should be mentioned that these terms are still used, both in science and everyday speech. He gave, among other things, his own interpretation of the connection between environment and inhabitants, with parts on nourishment, living conditions, hygiene, diseases and funeral customs. All in all this considerable contribution of Vuk Karadžić is not that famous or studied.

Recognition and legacy

Vuk Karadžić, lithography by Josef Kriehuber, 1865

Literary historian Jovan Deretić summarized his work as "During his fifty years of tireless activity, he accomplished as much as an entire academy of sciences.".[3]

Karadžić was honored across Europe. He was chosen as a member of various European learned societies, including:

He received several honorary doctorates.[4] and was decorated by Russian and Austro-Hungarian monarchs, Prussian king, Nicholas I of Montenegro and Russian academy of science. UNESCO has proclaimed 1987 the year of Vuk Karadzić. Karadžić was also elected honorary citizen of the city of Zagreb,.[5]

On the 100th anniversary of Karadžić's death (in 1964) student work brigades on youth action "Tršić 64" raised an amphitheater with a stage that was needed for organizing the "Vuk's Council", and "Vuk's Student Council". In 1987 Tršić received a comprehensive overhaul as a cultural-historical monument. Also, the road from Karadžić's home to Tronoša monastery was built.

Karadžić's birth house was declared Monument of Culture of Exceptional Importance in 1979, and it is protected by Republic of Serbia. Recently, rural tourism has become popular in Tršić, with many families converting their houses into buildings designed to accommodate guests. TV series based on his life were broadcast on Radio Television of Serbia. His portrait is often seen in Serbian schools.

A student of primary (age six or seven to fourteen or fifteen) or secondary (age fourteen or fifteen to eighteen or nineteen) school in Serbia, that is awarded best grades for all subjects at the end of a school year, for each year in turn, is awarded at the end of his final year a "Vuk Karadžić diploma" and is known (in common speech) as "Vukovac" a synonyme for a member of an elite group of highest performing students.


  • Mala prostonarodna slaveno-serbska pesnarica, Beč, 1814
  • Pismenica serbskoga jezika, Beč, 1814
  • Narodna srbska pjesnarica, II deo, Beč, 1815
  • O Vidakovićevom romanu, 1817
  • Srpski rječnik istolkovan njemačkim i latinskim riječma, Beč, 1818
  • O Ljubibratovićevim prevodima, 1820
  • Narodne srpske pripovjetke, Beč, 1821, dopunjeno izdanje, 1853
  • Narodne srpske pjesme III, Lajpcig, 1823
  • Narodne srpske pjesme II, Beč, 1823
  • Luke Milovanova Opit nastavlenja k Srbskoj sličnorečnosti i slogomjerju ili prosodii, Beč, 1823
  • Narodne srpske pjesme I, Beč, 1824
  • Mala srpska gramatika, Lajpcig, 1824
  • Žizni i podvigi Knjaza Miloša Obrenovića, Petrograd, 1825
  • Danica I, Beč, 1826
  • Danica II, Beč, 1827
  • O staroj istoriji, turskoj vladavini, hajudima, 1827
  • Žitije Djordja Arsenijevića, Emanuela, Budim, 1827
  • Danica III, Beč, 1828
  • Prva godina srpskog vojevanja na daije, 1828
  • Miloš Obrenović, knjaz Srbije ili gradja za srpsku istoriju našega vremena, Budim, 1828
  • Danica IV, Beč, 1829
  • Kao srpski Plutarh, ili žitije znatni Srbalja, 1829
  • Narodne srpske pjesme IV, Beč, 1833
  • Druga godina srpskog vojevanja na daije, 1834
  • Danica V, Beč, 1834
  • Žitije hajduk-Veljka Petrovića
  • Narodne srpske poslovice i druge različne, kao i one u običaj uzete riječi, Cetinje, 1836
  • Crna Gora i Crnogorci (na nemačkom), Štutgart, 1837
  • Odgovori Jovanu Hadžiću – Milošu Svetiću na njegovne Sitnice jezikoslovne, 1839
  • Odgovor na laži i opadanja u „Srpskom ulaku”, 1843
  • Pisma Platonu Atanackoviću, Beč, 1845
  • Kovčežić za istoriju, jezik i običaje Srba sva tri zakona, Beč, 1849
  • Primeri Srpsko-slovenskog jezika, Beč, 1857
  • Praviteljstvujušči sovjet serbski za vremena Kara-Djordjijeva, Beč, 1860
  • Srpske narodne pesme V, Beč, 1865
  • Srpske narodne pjesme iz Hercegovine, Beč, 1866
  • Život i običaji naroda srpskog, Beč, 1867
  • Nemačko srpski rečnik, Beč, 1872



Write as you speak and read as it is written.
The essence of modern Serbian spelling

Although the above quotation is often attributed to Vuk Stefanović Karadžić in Serbia, it is in fact an orthographic principle devised by the German grammarian and philologist Johann Christoph Adelung. Karadžić merely used that principle to push through his language reform.[6] The attribution of the quote to Karadžić is a common misconception in Serbia, Montenegro and the rest of former Yugoslavia. Due to that fact, the entrance exam to the University of Belgrade Faculty of Philology occasionally contains a question on the authorship of the quote (as a sort of trick question).

See also

People closely related to Vuk's work:


  1. Alan Dundes (1996). The Walled-Up Wife: A Casebook. Univ of Wisconsin Press. pp. 3–. ISBN 978-0-299-15073-0.
  2. Prilozi za književnost, jezik, istoriju i folklor (in Serbian). Државна штампарија Краљевине Срба, Хрвата и Словенаца. 1965. p. 264. Retrieved 19 January 2012.
  3. Stephen K. Batalden; Kathleen Cann; John Dean (2004). Sowing the Word: The Cultural Impact of the British and Foreign Bible Society, 1804-2004. Sheffield Phoenix Press. pp. 253–. ISBN 978-1-905048-08-3.
  4. Riznica srpska — Vuk i jezik
  5. Milutinović, Zoran (2011). "Review of the Book Jezik i nacionalizam". The Slavonic and East European Review. 89 (3): 520–524. Archived from the original (PDF) on 7 July 2012. Retrieved 2 August 2012.
  6. as stated in the book The Grammar of the Serbian Language by Ljubomir Popović

Further reading

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