Learning Croatian: 001 KOSA, KOZA, KOŽA
This post concerns vocabulary, but has a much broader significance to we who are learning Croatian: that is, how a change of just one letter in a word can change the meaning dramatically. To Croats, the two words are entirely unrelated, although we might might wonder why they can't realise what we really mean. And of course, the same applies for a Croat learning English. In language, precision matters!
This post could well be entitled Bloopers I have made, #1.
Just occasionally (ok, often) during lessons with my teacher Mateja (at SpeakCro Online Language School) I make a horrible blunder that causes her to break into laughter – with me, of course, and not at me..
One day she came up on my screen at the start of a lesson sporting a new hairdo. I was impressed, and exclaimed “Joj! Sviđa mi se tvoja koza”. After an initial look of puzzlement, she laughed her head off.
I came to realize that, while I had intended “I like your hair”, I had actually said “I like your goat”!
Well perhaps she does have a goat that appeals to me? OK, so I should have said “Sviđa mi se tvoja kosa”.
Kosa, koza – Is the difference so significant? [Well yes it is]
Sviđaju mi se Matejine koze. I kosa je lijepa također, zar ne?
I like Mateja’s goats. And her hair is nice too, isn’t it?
Mateja does not own goats: this picture was captured in Corvara in the Italian alps, when she was there with friends.
The trouble is that I will probably make the same mistake again. Or perhaps I’d even say “Sviđa mi se tvoja koža”! (I like your skin.)
Wow …na slici možemo vidjeti njezinu kosu, njezine koze i njezinu kožu! In the picture, we can see her hair, her goats, and her skin.
Of course this single example (of which there are many) can be generalized to learning any language.
Can you just imagine a Croat learning English who, struggling to find vocab in his mind as he talks, says "mouse" instead of "house", or "hill" instead of "pill", or "melon" instead of "lemon", or "shop" instead of "stop" of "chop"!
And can you just imagine why a Croat is frustrated that we are befuddled when he/she says "The mouse" has 5 rooms."
Croatian language 101, Test 1:
Here are three photos - one of kosa, one of koza and one of koža. Which word goes with which photo?
I console myself with the thought that I’m sure I am not the only one who gets confused. Am I?
And I’m certainly not the only one who avoids saying “I am writing…” in Croatian. Naravno, I would say “Pišem”, wouldn't I? Or have I just made that dreaded mistake!? You know what I mean...
Answer to Test 1:
Just in case you are not sure (and to remind myself)…
kosa is hair
koza is a goat
koža is skin, or leather
Click here to go to Aha! Croatian: A ROAD MAP