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As of 2009 the Montenegrin alphabet was adopted in Montenegro. It consists of the same alphabet as used in Serbia, with the addition of two graphemes.

The graphemes ⟨ś⟩/⟨с́⟩ and ⟨ź⟩/⟨з́⟩ are said to represent sounds unique amongst the Shtokavian languages, where they are palatalised variations of /s/ and /z/. I've seen this phoneme written as /ɕ/, /sʲ/ and /ç/ for ⟨ś⟩ and /ʝ/ for ⟨ź⟩.

So my question is this, which of these phonemes is correct.

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    hbs lacks a distinct palatal series, so I assume [ɕ ~ ç] and [ʑ ~ ʝ] are just allophones. – Mechanical snail Feb 9 '13 at 2:02
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    Wikipedia says "Montenegrin Latin is based on Serbo-Croatian Latin, with the addition of the two letters Ś and Ź, to replace the digraphs SJ and ZJ.", and "Alveolo-palatal fricatives [ɕ], [ʑ] are marginal phonemes, usually realized as [sj], [zj]. However, the emerging Montenegrin standard has proposed two additional letters, Latin ⟨Ś⟩, ⟨Ź⟩ and Cyrillic ⟨Ć⟩, ⟨З́⟩, for the phonemic sequences /sj/, /zj/, which may be realized phonetically as [ɕ], [ʑ]." – Mechanical snail Feb 9 '13 at 2:07
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    This final comment from @Mechanicalsnail has the answer. – Branimir Ćaćić Feb 9 '13 at 10:59
  • Some of the characters in this question, such as are rendered as boxes for some people, including in Google Chrome 24.0.1312.57 on Windows 7. – hippietrail Feb 12 '13 at 1:47
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Glib answer: nothing, since those letters were removed from the Montenegrin alphabet in 2017; they've been replaced with sj and zj, same as in Serbo-Croatian.

Actual answer: phonemically, they represent /sj zj/ or /ɕ ʑ/, depending on your analysis.

Most native speakers of Serbo-Croatian pronounce these phonemes (or clusters) as something like [ɕj ʑj]: that is, the [j] is clearly heard. And the sequences [sj zj] don't appear. So the standard orthography writes these sounds as sj zj, taking the palatalization as allophonic before the palatal [j].

In Montenegro, though, these phonemes/clusters are realized more like [ɕ ʑ], with the off-glide disappearing. So analyzing them as phonemic, and using the special letters ś ź, is way of distinguishing the Montenegrin identity from wider Serbo-Croatian.

The letters never really caught on, though, nor did their companion з (for [dz]). And their Cyrillic equivalents have no precombined codepoints in Unicode, which makes them difficult to use electronically. On top of that, it's been pointed out that many people in Montenegro still pronounce the off-glide, while people in e.g. Herzogovina don't.

So the government eventually made the decision to drop their custom letters entirely, and stick with the more traditional sj zj for all official purposes.

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