Balkan-Chinese rock, with a Turkish twist

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From Charles Belov:

This song turned up on my Apple Music new music playlist. Imagine my surprise when, in the middle of this Balkan-language (Croatian, I think, the page mentions "hrvatsko") pop/rock song, Mandarin hip-hop turned up.

"Mladen Burnać (feat. Rock) – Džaba Džaba"

Here's the original video in Croatian:

An earlier song is called just "Džaba":

Google Translate defines "Džaba" as "for free", and offers the following Croatian translations of "free":  besplatno, slobodno, zabadava, franko, badava, džaba.

In Serbian "Džaba" would be "Џаба" (see here for the Serbian Cyrillic alphabet).

Google Translate renders "free" into Serbian as "бесплатно, слободно, забадава, бадава".

As I was about to wrap up this post, I decided to take a deeper look at this intriguing Serbo-Croatian word "Džaba / Џаба", and it turns out to be of Ottoman Turkish derivation:  جبا‎ (caba).  The pronunciation of Serbo-Croatian џа̏ба / džȁba is /dʒâba/.  It is an adverb and has the regional meanings "for free", "very cheap", and "futile".  (Wiktionary)

There are hundreds of words in Serbo-Croatian that derive from Ottoman Turkish, my favorites being baklava (yum in all languages), efendija (cf. Āfántí 阿凡提, Effendi, Nasreddin), and karagöz ("shadow play"; see here and here):

“Black-eye” Karagöz is well known in nearly all Balkan languages as a comic figure, and karagözlük as foolish behaviour.

(Source, p. 167)

From Serbo-Croatian rock to the shadow play, one cannot overlook the impact of the Ottomans, and I'm not talking about an item of furniture.


  1. Nick Kaldis said,

    September 15, 2018 @ 8:55 am

    As I child, I knew of Karaghiozhis/Καραγκιόζης as a humorous Greek shadow puppet character, and recall the many Turkish characters as well.

  2. Keith said,

    September 15, 2018 @ 9:53 am

    Besplatno is cognate with the Russian бесплатно and means free in the sense "gratis", "free of charge". Slobodno is cognate with the Russian свободно and means free in the sense of "at liberty". There is a newspaper published in Sarajevo called "Oslobođenje", meaning "liberation"; before Yugoslavia broke apart, this paper's peculiarity was to have alternating pages in Latin and Cyrillic script. I have a copy from (IIRR) 1989, somewhere.

    Although many people still use the term "Serbo-Croatio" for the language, I was struck on a recent visit by the way the languages are differentiated on product packaging. A carton of rice milk that I recently bought has ingredient lists marked HR/BA (Croatia/Bosnia), SI (Slovenia) and RS/ME (Serbia/Montenegro). This last set of ingredients is written in Latin script, and uses the word "pirinač" for "rice", while Croatian and Bosnian uses "riža" and Slovenian uses "riž". Wikipedia gives the etymology of "pirinač" as "Ottoman Turkish برنج‎ (birinc), from Persian برنج‎ (berenj)".

    I think that the other items of packaging I brought back have a similar separation of languages. I wonder how much of this is down to genuinely marked differences in language, and how much is down to a conscious effort at nation-building.

    At the moment, my favourite Serbian word is "bostan", also a borrowing from Persian via Turkish. Originally, "bostan" meant a vegetable garden ("stan", as in "گلستان" meaning "rose garden"). From meaning "vegetable garden", its meaning shifted to "melon patch" and then simply to "melon".

  3. David Marjanović said,

    September 15, 2018 @ 11:14 am

    In Serbian "Džaba" would be "Џаба"

    It would be, and most likely is, both. Both alphabets are in use in Serbia; if you stand in the streets of Belgrade or Niš and can only read one, you're functionally illiterate, and people even report that sometimes they write without noticing which alphabet they're using.


    Just to be on the safe side: that's the Turkish original; the FYLOSC* form is, as expected, Karađoz/Карађоз, with the frontness of the vowel shifted to the preceding consonant.

    * The Former Yugoslav Language of Serbo-Croatian, as J. W. Brewer calls it.

  4. Victor Mair said,

    September 15, 2018 @ 11:22 am


    A thousand thanks for your erudite note, from which I learned so much, especially a number of words for "rice" of which I was hitherto unaware of. Above all, I now know the origin of the name for the largest lake in Xinjiang / Sinkiang / Uyghurstan / Eastern Central Asia, Bostan, which derives from the same Persian word as your favorite Serbian word, viz. "bostan", meaning "garden". Thus "Bostan Nor / Nur" means "garden lake" (the "nor / nur" is from Mongolian. It is called Baghrash Köli / Бағраш Көли / باغراش كۆلى in Uyghur and Bósīténg Hú 博斯騰湖 in Mandarin.

    The -stan suffix of "bostan" is the same as that of all the Central Asian and South Asian -stan country names: Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan.



    The suffix -stan is analogous to the suffix -land, present in many country and location names. The suffix is also used more generally, as in Persian (borrowed into Urdu) rigestân (ریگستان‬) "place of sand, desert", golestân (Persian: گلستان‎) "place of flowers, garden", Pakistân "land of the pure", Hindustân "land of the Indus river", and in Bengali koborsthan (Bengali: কবরস্থান koborsthān) "graveyard/cemetery" known as Qabaristan as ( قبرستان ‬).

    Originally an independent noun, this morpheme evolved into a suffix by virtue of appearing frequently as the last part in nominal compounds. It is of Indo-Iranian and ultimately Indo-European origin: It is cognate with Sanskrit sthā́na (Devanagari: Sanskrit: स्थान [st̪ʰaːna]), meaning "the act of standing", from which many further meanings derive, including "place, location; abode, dwelling", and ultimately descends from Proto-Indo-Iranian *sthāna-.

    The Proto-Indo-European root from which this noun is derived is *steh₂- (older reconstruction *stā-) "to stand" (or "to stand up, to step (somewhere), to position (oneself)"), which is also the source of English to stand, German stehen "to stand", Latin stāre "to stand" and Ancient Greek hístēmi (ἵστημι) "to make to stand, to set".

    English state originates from the same root, through Old French estat, from Latin: status ("manner of standing, attitude, position, carriage, manner, dress, apparel; and other senses"), from Latin: stāre.

    The Indo-Iranian word has a Slavic counterpart in the form of Proto-Slavic *stanъ. In Russian, стан (stan) means "settlement" or "semi-permanent camp". In Polish, Belarusian and Ukrainian, stan means "state" or "condition", while in Serbo-Croatian it translates as "apartment" (a Slovene word "stanovanje", referring to an apartment or other closed space of living, is an obvious derivative of stan) in its modern usage, while its original meaning was "habitat". In Czech and Slovak, it means "tent" or, in military terms, "headquarters". In Romanian, stână (a Slavic loanword) refers to a temporary or semi-permanent settlement used for sheep and herds of other domestic animals.

    Also in Germanic languages, the root can be found in German: Stand ("place, location"), and Proto-Germanic *stadi- "place, location" in German Stadt, Dutch: stad, Danish: sted, West Frisian: stêd and English stead, all meaning either "place" or "city".


  5. cameron said,

    September 15, 2018 @ 12:14 pm

    In Persian the name "England" was quite sensibly rendered as Inglistan – that name was probably coined by an Englishman – but they didn't follow through to translate Scotland, Ireland, Deutschland, Russland, etc. according to the same pattern.

    Note also that Golestan and Bustan are the names of the two most famous books of poetry by the 13th century Persian poet Sa'di. Gol does mean rose, but also flower in general, so we can render these names as The Flower Garden and The Orchard.

  6. Victor Mair said,

    September 15, 2018 @ 3:26 pm

    From Mehmet Olmez:

    caba (with Turkish letters) or ǰaba attested in Chaghatai and Kumuk languages too. Please s. A. Tietze's Turkish Etymological Dictionary (from 2002). According to Tietze, G. Barbera compared it with an Italian verb (imperative form).

    I guess everyone knows that about "efendi" (= Nasreddin in Central Asia) is a Greek word. Interesting, one of my Buddhist monk friends from Bali is named Efendi too!

  7. Victor Mair said,

    September 15, 2018 @ 7:20 pm

    From Petya Andreeva:

    I love this post. I am actually able to understand almost all of the lyrics!

    In Bulgaria, we also have a version of this "fusion" genre which is called "pop-folk", also colloquelly known as "chalga", a word derived from the Turkish Çalgı which translates as "musical instrument". This genre has its antecedents in the Soviet era when the radio stations were not allowed to broadcast Western music like the Beatles songs and so 80 percent would be communist-inspired local music and the rest would consist of "ethnic" music from other Balkan and nearby countries, notably Turkey. I think the songs in the post which by the way sound very much like what we know as "chalga" contain elements which can be traced to both the Byzantine and Arabesque music traditions. When I visited Xinjiang, I distinctly remember how at home I felt due to the similarities between some of their local songs and "chalga". Now chalga is at the center of political controversy in Bulgaria and I believe some of the former Yugoslav states with some political parties even advocating for a ban! All of us who were born in 1990 and after have however mostly grown up listening to this music!!

  8. Chas Belov said,

    September 15, 2018 @ 8:37 pm

    Interesting about Chalga; thank you for passing that along. Going full circle, the Wikipedia entry for Chalga singer Azis says that Azis is popular in China.

  9. Ian said,

    September 16, 2018 @ 10:38 am

    As the saying goes, you ask a Serb "Ima li turcizama u srpskom jeziku?" (are there any Turkish words in Serbian?) and his response is "ama jok bre!" (something like "no way!", all themselves feasibly borrowings from Turkish).

  10. Victor Mair said,

    September 16, 2018 @ 11:27 am

    From Peter Golden:

    The old classic, L.Z. Budagov’s Sravnitel’nyj slovar’ turecko-tatarkisx narečij (SPb., 1869-71), I: 431: Turkish جَبَا، جَابَه “gift, present, as a gift, for free” [from arabic, pers.] جَبَا jabā “tribute."

    Andreas Tietze, Tarihi ve Etimolojik Türkiye Türkçesi Lugatı v. 1 (Istanbul-Wien, 2002): 411 has the following: “bedava” [gratis, for free], parasız [free of charge, lit. ‘without money’], money given or taken above the fee/cost, a tip” which he compares with Čağatay and Qumuq čaba “Geschenk” – Actually, in Čağatay čaba means “gratis, free” see Suat Ünlü, Çağatay Türkçesi Sözlüğü (Konya: Eğitim Kitabevi, 2013) :219). I have not been able to find it in Qumuq which has tegin “without compensation, free” (cf. also ġaqsïz, ġavayïn meaning “free, without payment” – Tietze probably got it from Gyula Németh brief dictionary of Qumuq and Balqar words, available to me, at this moment, only in the Turkish translation of Kemal Aytaç, Kumuk ve Balkar Lehçeleri Sözlüǧü, Ankara: Kültür Bakanlığı, 1990: 14: çaba "hediye armağan") and savġat “gift”, cf. Qaračay-Balqar sauġa (interestingly, the latter word, saugat, is found in Hindi with the same meaning, “gift, gift given after the completion of a long journey" (В хинди има една думичка „саугат“ (सौगात), която означава не просто "подарък", а "подарък, който се дава при завръщане от дълго пътуване” – this from a Bulgarian blog site ( – don’t ask how I landed there). Tietze cites Martti Räsänen’s well-known Versuch eines etymologischen Wörterbuchs der Türksprachen, Helsinki, 1969: 93 (who gives no indication of his sources). Without going into the other citations in Tietze (e.g. Meninski, I: 1574: جبا ǧeba seu ǧiaba ‘donum, dono, gratis, gratuituo…') he notes its derivation from Pers. jibā (Steingass: 355: “tribute revenue” which is from Arabic jabā “to collect alms, taxes” [جبا to collect, raise, levy ( taxes, duties) [Wehr/Cowan: 134], Pers. jibā kardan “to offer one’s cup or drinking-glass to another by way of friendship and courtesy”). Tietze then notes an etymology proposed by G. Barbara, from Italian ciappa derived from acchiappare “To take without paying” (para vermeden almak). Yaşar Çağbayır, Orhun Yazıtlarından Günümüze Türkiye Türkçesinin Söz Varlığı. Ötüken Türkçe Sözlük (Istanbul: Ötüken Neşriyat, 2007), 5 vols., I: 738 notes Arabic jabā, Pers. jibā and Italian giappaa (sic) "alınan bir şeyin yanında karşılıksız olarak verilen nesne” best paraphrased as "something given gratis.”

  11. Keith said,

    September 16, 2018 @ 2:34 pm

    Going back to my recent visit to Croatia, my knowledge of the southern Slavic languages comes mostly from that trip many years ago, aided by my Berlitz "14 European Languages" phrasebook and what I picked up while there, followed by a few words and phrases picked up from a young woman born in the US to parents who came from Yugoslavia.

    Going back to Croatia this year, I noticed a few differences between the "Serbo-Croatian" in the book and usage "in the field". Berlitz has "hiljadu" for "thousand", but one day when out shopping, I needed a word for thousand and automatically the word "tisač" popped out of my mouth… and I was understood. Checking later that evening in Wiktionary, I found that "hiljada" (nominative, whereas the term in my phrasebook is for some peculiar reason in the accusative) borrowed from Greek, is a typically Serbian or Bosnian usage, while Croatian prefers tìsuća…

    Oh, and I found the packaging from some Serbian made biscuits… Ingredient lists are marked GB (in English), AL (in Albanian), HR (in Croatian), SLO (in Slovenian), SRB (in Serbian, but in Latin script).

  12. nemanja said,

    September 20, 2018 @ 2:34 pm

    Bostan doesn't mean "melon', it has a somewhat broader meaning along the lines of "gourd". So pumpkins and squashes are also "bostan" in addition to watermelons and cantaloupes. Featured in the popular phrase "obrao si bostan" – literally meaning "you've picked the pumpkins/melons" but metaphorically meaning "you're in trouble now".

  13. nemanja said,

    September 20, 2018 @ 2:37 pm

    Keith: "I think that the other items of packaging I brought back have a similar separation of languages. I wonder how much of this is down to genuinely marked differences in language, and how much is down to a conscious effort at nation-building."

    It's like 90% the latter.

  14. Daniel N. said,

    September 21, 2018 @ 5:07 pm

    For some reasons, culinary vocabulary varies a lot. Not only Croatia vs Serbia, but also within Croatia. Many names of vegetables in Split farmers' market are almost unknown in Zagreb (both cities are in Croatia). It's not just nation-building…

  15. David Marjanović said,

    September 22, 2018 @ 9:42 am

    the awful turkish writing, which show "vowel harmony", hardly phonemic

    Of course it's phonemic! Apart from hundreds of loanwords that don't obey vowel harmony, there are phenomena like the native suffix -iyor- which doesn't either.

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