View Full Version : The "Serbo-Croatian" Language

Thursday, November 27th, 2003, 11:28 PM

There was not, ever, "Serbo-Croatian" standard language. International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has specified different Universal Decimal Classification (UDC) numbers for Croatian (UDC 862, acronym hr) and Serbian (UDC 861, acronym sr), while hybrid «Serbo-Croatian» language, a political construct not yet dumped into history's dustbin, is referenced in equally hybrid manner-UDC 861/862, acronym sh. The situation is comparable to other closely related languages in the terms of genetic linguistics: further examples include, for instance, Hindi and Urdu, Czech and Slovak or Bulgarian and Macedonian. These are similar, mutually intelligible standard languages which crystallized out of basically the same dialectal "prime matter"- as is the case with Norwegian and Danish or Malay and Bahasa Indonesian. But to describe them as "variants of a language" (British and American English analogy is frequently (mis)used) is sheer nonsense.

Croatian and Serbian differ in:

1.script (Latin and Cyrillic)
2.grammar and syntax (ca. 100 rules)
3.phonetics (ca. 100 accentuation rules)
4.orthography (although both languages use phonemic orthography, its structures differ for Serbian and Croatian. Croatian has retained numerous morphonological orthographical prescriptions, while Serbian tends to extend the area of applicability of phonetic principle )
5.morphology (more than 300 different morphology laws. Also: Croatian is a purist language- unlike Serbian. Moreover, even "internationalisms" like organize are different: organizirati in Croatian, organizovati in Serbian. )
6.semantics (here, the structural differences are too complex to be described in a rough outline)
7.vocabulary (ca. 30% of everyday vocabulary is different. In 100,000 words dictionary, 40,000 are either Croatian or Serbian. According to a pre-eminent Croatian linguist, Serbian and Croatian languages differ in 150,000 words in a corpus of 500,000 entries).
Entire books have been translated from one language to another. Probably the most bizarre case is Swiss psychologist Jung’s masterwork “ Psychology and Alchemy”, translated into Croatian in 1986, and retranslated, in late 1990s, into Serbian not from the original German, but from Croatian. A translation and “translation’s translation” differ on virtually every page.
Bosnian language is a relative newcomer. Colloquial language spoken in Bosnia and Herzegovina was a Croatian and Serbian hybrid which can be ironically termed Serbo-Croatian, since, as a standard language, it was a heavily Serbianized Croatian language (particularly in vocabulary and syntax). Since the break-up of communism and administratively imposed mixed “Serbo-Croatian” bastard norm, Bosnian Muslims appropriated the orphaned “Serbo-Croatian” and, slightly modifying it by infusion of Islamic oriental idioms, renamed it Bosnian language. Croats and Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina, liberated from shackles of communist bureaucratic artificial linguistic uniformity, returned to their national standard languages. Bosnian Muslims’ contemporary efforts to give a historical “legitimacy” to the name of their national language are exercise in futility since the term “Bosnian language” was almost exclusively used by Croatian writers and lexicographers in 17th and 18th centuries (both in Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovina) to designate a dialectal variant of Croatian language.

The following myth is frequently encountered: a unified Serbo-Croatian language appeared at the turn of the 19th/20th century, when efforts of Serbian language reformer Vuk Karadžic and Croatian Illyrian national movement (headed by Ljudevit Gaj) converged to give birth to the standard Serbo-Croatian language. But the reality is quite different: processes of languages standardization for Croats and Serbs (Bosnian Muslims did not take part in this matter) were almost independent-with the exception of a few decades in the second half of the 19th century which were not as crucial as some old-school philologists had supposed. The most celebrated single event, the Vienna agreement (signed by 7 Croatian litterateurs/philologists and 2 Serbian philologists) from 1850 was actually not "implemented" ( to use the politicos' buzzword), and even the value of its content is dubious.

Croatian language

Modern Croatian standard language is a continuous outgrowth of more than 9 hundred years old literature written in the mixture of Croatian Church Slavonic and vernacular language. If we narrow out the subject, the Croatian Church Slavonic had been abandoned by mid 1400s, and Croatian “purely” vernacular literature has been in existence for more than 5 centuries- a story of remarkable linguistic continuity with only a few shock points.

The standardization of Croatian language can be traced back to the first Croatian dictionary (Faust Vrancic: Dictionarium quinque nobilissimarum Europae linguarum –Latinae, Italicae, Germanicae, Dalmatiae et Ungaricae, Venice 1595.) and first Croatian grammar (Bartul Kašic: Institutionum linguae illyricae libri duo, Rome 1604.). Interestingly enough, the language of Jesuit Kašic’s unpublished translation of the Bible (Old and New Testament, 1622-1636) in the Croatian štokavian-ijekavian dialect (the ornate style of the Dubrovnik Renaissance literature) is as close to the contemporary standard Croatian language (problems of orthography apart) as are French of Montaigne’s “Essays” or King James Bible English to their respective successors- modern standard languages. But, due to the unique Croat linguistic situation, formal shaping of Croatian standard language was a process that took almost four centuries to complete: Croatian is a «three dialects» tongue (a somewhat simplistic way to distinguish between dialects is to refer to the pronoun «what», which is ca, kaj, što in, respectively, cakavian, kajkavian and štokavian dialects) and «three scripts» language (Glagolitic, Croatian/Western/Bosnian Cyrillic and Latin script, with Latin script as the ultimate winner). The final obstacle to the unified Croatian literary language (based on celebrated vernacular Croatian Troubadour, Renaissance and Baroque (acronym TRB) literature (ca. 1490 to ca. 1670) from Dalmatia , Dubrovnik and Boka Kotorska was surmounted by Croatian national «awakener» Ljudevit Gaj's standardization of Latin scriptory norm in 1830-50s. But, Gaj and his Illyrian movement (centred in kajkavian speaking Croatia’s capital Zagreb) were important more politically than linguistically. They "chose" štokavian dialect because they didn't have any other realistic option- štokavian, or, more precisely, neoštokavian (a version of štokavian which emerged in the 17th /18th century) was the major Croatian literary tongue from 1700s on. The true transition to neoštokavian and establishment of a corpus of worthy (although aesthetically inferior to the TRB) literature can be located in the works of writers from southern Dalmatia, Herzegovina, central Bosnia and Slavonia in the 2nd half of the 18th century. The main authors are Grabovac, Kacic, Relkovic, Kanižlic and numerous Bosnian Franciscan chroniclers. This is a full-fledged literary language, accepted even in Croatian pockets where kajkavian dialect had been still spoken and written on, as the lingua franca of the Croatian nation. The 19th century linguists and lexicographers’ main concern was to achieve a more consistent and unified scriptory norm and orthography; an effort followed by peculiar Croatian linguistic characteristics which may be humorously described as “passion for neologisms” or vigorous word coinage, originating from the purist nature of Croatian literary language. One of the peculiarities of the "developmental trajectory" of the Croatian language is that there is not one towering figure among the Croatian linguists/philologists, because the vernacular osmotically percolated into the "high culture" via literary works so there was no need for revolutionary linguistic upheavals-only reforms sufficed.


Serbian language

As for Serbian standard language, there is a complete asymmetry between its position at the beginning of the 19th century and the Croatian linguistic situation. Unlike Croats, apart from a few writers like Obradovic and Venclovic ( in the 18th century ), Serbs did not have a literary tradition in the vernacular. It was Vuk Karadžic, an energetic and resourceful Serbian language and culture reformer, whose scriptory and orthographic stylisation of Serbian linguistic folk idiom made a radical break with the past; until his activity in the 1st half of the 19th century, Serbs had been using Serbian variant of Church Slavonic and a hybrid Russian-Slavonic language. His “Serbian Dictionary”, published in Vienna 1818 (along with the appended grammar), was the single most significant work of Serbian literary culture that shaped the profile of Serbian language (and, the 1st Serbian dictionary and grammar thus far). Considering Croatian language and linguistic history, Karadžic's upheaval was the revolution that decisively moulded the language for Serbs; yet, his influence on Croatian standard idiom was only one of the reforms for Croats (mostly in some aspects of grammar and orthography; also, the majority of his innovations were not, as far as Croatian language is concerned, “innovative” at all- they have been present in Croatian literary and linguistic corpora for centuries). Since both languages shared the common basis of South Slavic neoštokavian dialect, they interfered in many normative issues, particularly in orthography, phonetics and syntax. But, due to the fact that these two languages have had a radically different past of almost four hundred years, only a few decades of moderately peaceful convergence- it was inevitable that they should diverge, especially when political pressures were applied to forge them into one, Serbian-based, language.


Sunday, April 11th, 2004, 04:23 AM
as much people say serbian,bosnian..they are all one language with 3 dialects.

besides the point.the south slavic branch,slovenian,bulgarian,serbo-croatian,macedonian...

well..they are all VERY fimiliar in terms of vocabulary.for example,i have a friend at work..from sofia..i heard him talkin on the phone with someone else..i could pick up on ALOT of of stuff..and my friend mateo,from Skoplje..he can almost perfectly understand me!...its really cool ..i think.

i dont know about slovenian?..is it more influnced by germanic?...

Sunday, April 11th, 2004, 07:01 PM
I differ, but have it your own way.
Words are empty - steel is the only thing that matters.

Anton Asen
Tuesday, April 13th, 2004, 08:30 PM
Yeah... Serbian and Croetian are pretty close... I think they are different dialects of one and the same language... Bosnian too. As far as Bulgaria is concerned.. well we speak different language from the Serbians but we can undrstand each other perfectly... Macedonian?... this is just another Bulgarian dialect... there is no such thing like Macedonian language... You do not say Austrian, or American or Australian..or Swiss.... or Cypriot ... these are all different dialects of German, English and Greek... Slovenian is quite different and hareder to understand... but I can catch many of the words... The strangest thing is that the "FYRO Macedonains" say they cannot understand us Bulgarians... while we can understand them... :shrug ... Anyway we are all slavs and it is relly cool when you hear different slavonic language... :)

Thursday, April 15th, 2004, 03:51 PM
"Macedonian" and Bulgarian are almost exactly the same, In fact, the Macedonian language is a Bulgarian dialect. The Macedonian Bulgarians were brainwashed by Tito's regime that told them how great they are, that their nation is one of the oldest in Europe, that the Greeks and Bulgarians hate them and steal their history and of course the main part of the propaganda....the "Macedonian language" is TOTALY different from the Bulgarian...

Just like said Bozhidar Dimitrov (Director of the Bulgarian National Historical Museum): "The Macedonian language is Bulgarian written on a Serbian typing machine."
Македония: Bulgarian
Македониja: Macedonian

Thursday, April 15th, 2004, 04:07 PM
English - Croatian - Serbian, few words, ex abrupto:

scissors = škare - makaze
corner = kut - ugao
excuse = isprika - izvininjenje
factory = tvornica - fabrika
fly = muha - muva
fork = vilica - viljuška
gas = plin - gas
cook = skuhati - skuvati
gate = vratnica - kapija
glasses = naočale - naočari
purple = ljubičast - purpuran
rat = štakor - pacov
soccer = nogomet - fudbal
soup = juha - supa
cup = šalica - šolja
air = zrak - vazduh
airplane = zrakoplov - vazduhoplov
barber = brijač - berberin
bowl = posuda - činija
saw = pila - testera
bucket = kanta - kofa
butter = maslac - putar
camel = deva - kamila
glue = ljepilo - lepak
happy = sretan - srećan
insect = kukac - insekat
iron = željezo - gvožđe
island = otok - ostrvo
judge = sudac - sudija
kangaroo = klokan - kengur
match = šibica - žigica
dish = posuda - zdela
drawer = ladica - fioka
drum = bubanj - doboš
ear = uho -uvo
space = svemir - vaseona
music = glazba - muzika
orange = naranča - pomorandža
palace = dvori - palata
spoon = žlica - kašika
pants = hlače - pantalone
chimney = dimnjak - odžak
contents = sadržaj - sadržina
deaf = gluh - gluv
stairs = stube - stepenice
swallow (bird) = lastavica - lasta
table = stol - sto
vinegar = ocat - sirće
wave = val = talas
paper = papir - hartija
salt = sol - so
beans = grah - pasulj
belt = pojas - kaiš
table cloth = stolnjak - trpežnjak
moving = pomicanje - pomeranje

Thursday, April 15th, 2004, 04:11 PM
The War of the Words

Every small nation goes through particular birth pangs in an attempt to foster its peculiar linguistic character
Even before a war starts shaking up a new country, fights about national languages abound. The endless debate about the Croatian language may have been the prime motive that turned ex-Yugoslavia into a pulverized powder keg. For every nation, language and religion constitute two main pillars of national identity; without its language, the nation melts away into a wider structure of anonymous denizens using often bizarre idioms. The hybrid "Serbo-Croatian" language was not only an oxymoron - it was primarily a political ploy for bringing two different peoples into a unitary unnatural whole. With the establishment of the new state of Croatia in 1991, there was the public outcry to purify the Croatian language of all Serbian words, and to show the world Croatian distinctiveness - often at the expense of doctoring up new and bizarre words.

The effort regarding the purity of the language is not only symptomatic of Croatia, but is a hallmark of all smaller nations in search of identity. Every small nation goes through similar birth pangs in an attempt to foster its peculiar linguistic character. Approximately, five million people speak the Slovak, Norwegian, Georgian, Albanian, Danish languages respectively - and as long as their languages are shielded by strong state bureaucracy, there is no fear that they will die away. Very different is the story regarding the Chechen, Abkhaz, or Islandic languages, which are spoken by half a million citizens respectively. Many of these peoples do not have solid states in sight, and are still searching for world recognition. Chances are, though, that with no state, their language may well disappear.

The battle of the languages always precedes the battle of the guns. All new governments, once entrenched in power, must first tackle the language issue. It is worth recalling that immediately after the French revolution, in 1792 (probably one of the most fateful political event in Europe), early Jacobin revolutionaries, including its rabble-rouser mouthpiece Barrere, adopted a law stipulating that "the German language is the language of counterrevolution, Spanish that of inquisition and the papists, and Italian that of run-away aristocracy." Side by side with massive genocides carried out by French revolutionary self-proclaimed world-improvers, all dialects and regional languages in France were wiped away. Yet, despite, all of that, until mid-19th century over 50 percent of French citizens spoke different dialects that had nothing in common with the modern Parisian French. Similarly, after the Passion Play of Bleiburg in 1945, the Yugo-communist commissars, enacted decrees that would thoroughly emasculate the linguistic treasure trove of the Croatian language. The rooted Croatian language was considered "counterrevolutionary." Moreover, the usage of some popular regional idioms and expressions from the cakavski or the kaikavski dialects, was viewed as provincial, "hickish," or at best, primitive. Meanwhile the titophile intelligentsia, in search of careers, started to popularize the new hybrid of "Serbo-Croatian language."

In 1886 one unitary language was also designed for citizens of Bosnia and Hercegovina. Following the annexation of Bosnia-Hercegovina by the Austrian authorities, an attempt was made to create a common language for the three different peoples and cultures. This attempt soon came to a pitiful end. Likewise, there is a tendency today, encouraged also by the international community, to introduce the "Bosnian language." Most likely, this centralistic attempt will also fail.

The Balkan peninsula, and particularly its center known as former Yugoslavia, is not the only case of an attempt at crafting an artificial language. After the peaceful departure of Norwegians, Danes and Swedes into their own separate states, in 1904, the new elites in Norway began to cultivate their own idiom, cleansed of Danish and Swedish verbal residues. The new political class turned to the Norwegian countryside in order to replenish the Norwegian vocabulary. The "Landmal" thus became a code word for the Norwegian language, as opposed to the Swedophile "Bokmal," the language of the books.

The opposite side can best be observed in the former Soviet Union. As early as 1922 the early Bolsheviks adopted the language policy which aimed at forceful russification of all other languages in the newly created multiethnic communist empire. The cyrillic script was imposed on muslim peoples, who had previously used the Arabic script, such as the Kirghis, the Turkmens, etc. This was also the case in the former constituent Soviet republic of Moldova, which despite its Latin roots and Romanian origins, had to use the Cyrillic script. Naturally, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the subsequent rebirth of new nation states, the first move on the part of the new elites was to establish their own national languages.

Cases like this abound: Czechoslovakia, in 1920, imposed upon its citizens the Czech language as the only official language, although half of its citizens spoke German, Hungarian, and Slovak as their mother tongues. Nor is the situation different in Western Europe. The Irish language is on the verge of extinction. So is the old Gaelic in Scotland and the Breton language in France. In Croatia, not long ago, the peculiar Veliot language was spoken by a few old islanders ("boduli") on the island of Krk. Today the Veliot language is gone with the wind.

The Croatian language is the hallmark of Croatian national identity; it has to be nurtured at all cost, notably by introducing into its vocabulary idioms and expressions from the local cakavski and kajkavski dialects. This "return to the roots" is certainly much more expedient than resorting to some new words, i.e. neologisms which often leave a bad political aftertaste among domestic and foreign listeners and interlocutors. Of course, all Croats, particularly professionals, must work on their fluency of the American language, which has become, so to speak, the obligatory "lingua franca" all over the world. It is beside the point whether the American language is "bad" or "good", "nice," or "ugly" - or a symbol of cultural imperialism. The American language has become a universal language, and must be learned by anybody who is considering a career or who wishes to understand the modern world. Thus, for example Swedish professionals, working at large enterprises, when discussing business deals, serious economic or financial issues with their German or Portuguese counterparts, often resort to the American-English language. What the German or the French language was fifty or one hundred years ago, is now the role of the American language. This American language is increasingly losing its ties with the classical English language and its normative grammar. New cliches and new idioms are constantly made up, which makes American very graphic and a rapidly evolving language.

The American language has many other advantages, notably phrasal verbs and abundant colloquial trove, as well as the increasing trend towards phonetic transcriptions. Thus, for instance, even in official correspondence, some cumbersome sufixes and prefixes, are dropped and double consonants are shrunk into one. "Thanks" has become "thanx," cool is "kool," etc. Of course, from working out hard to making out, hardly-

Tomislav Sunic


Friday, April 16th, 2004, 12:02 AM
Croatian language was not that different from Serbian until they introduced their "novi rijecnik" with all the new words, to make it sound different from Serbian. I can read old Croatian books written 15+ years ago and understand them perfectly. But when I try reading a Croatian book that was written in the last few years it is much more difficult to understand.

Friday, April 16th, 2004, 12:51 AM
One of the most ridiculous, funny and very alternative
indeed book ever published since the phonetic alphabet exist
is the 'Macedonian-Bulgarian Dictionary' or
'Bulgarian-Macedonian Dictionary'.
I highly recommend it as a pleasant and relaxing
reading or as anti-stress therapy.
Do you know how is "кръв"(*blood) in "Macedonian(haha)"
"крв" !!!

BTW is there published 'Serbian-Croatian Dictionary' ?

Friday, April 16th, 2004, 03:50 AM
Croatian language was not that different from Serbian until they introduced their "novi rijecnik" with all the new words, to make it sound different from Serbian. I can read old Croatian books written 15+ years ago and understand them perfectly. But when I try reading a Croatian book that was written in the last few years it is much more difficult to understand.

All the words I mentioned above are traditional. The books you reed are infested with Serbian.

Friday, April 16th, 2004, 03:51 AM
One of the most ridiculous, funny and very alternative
indeed book ever published since the phonetic alphabet exist
is the 'Macedonian-Bulgarian Dictionary' or
'Bulgarian-Macedonian Dictionary'.
I highly recommend it as a pleasant and relaxing
reading or as anti-stress therapy.
Do you know how is "кръв"(*blood) in "Macedonian(haha)"
"крв" !!!

Macedonian is Bulgarian, Macedonians are Bulgarians.

BTW is there published 'Serbian-Croatian Dictionary' ?

There is a differential dictionary.

Friday, April 16th, 2004, 11:52 PM
Actually most Croats today speak Serbian.

History lesson in linguistics for the Croats:

Our language is divided into 3 dialects, Stokavian, Cakavian, and Kajkavian (Slovenian). 1000 years ago Stokavian was spoken only by Serbs, there was not a single Croat who spoke it. Similarly, Chakavian was spoken exclusively by Croats. Today, most Croats have abandoned Cakavian (Croatian) and speak Stokavian (Serbian). Chakavian is still used in things such as poetry, but it is unfit for modern prose, because the Croats were all big seljaks so they didn't evolve Cakavian the way Serbs did Stokavian, and then they simply stole Stokavian from us. If you are truely a Croatian nationalist you should be ashamed that you speak Stokavski (ie Serbian) and you should learn Cakavian and use it exclusively. You might have words in your language that Serbs don't use, but that doesn't mean anything because words don't define a language, rather a language is defined by its syntax and grammar.

Friday, April 16th, 2004, 11:53 PM
i lived in Bosnia,and all the words that are serbian-croatian..they are ALL used in typical conversation among people in Sarajevo and Tuzla...the more u go east,towards the Drina..more "serbianized" it is,and same for the west, "croationized"...in a sense..

like another one is

Saturday, April 17th, 2004, 12:13 AM
Thsoe are not differnet dialects, they're only different accents of the same dilect. Ekavski and Ijekavski are accents of the Shtokavian dialect.

Stokavski is divided into following:
-Ekavski: spoken only in Serbia proper.
-Ijekavski: spoken by Serbs in western Serbia, Montenegrins, Bosnian Muslims, Bosnian Croats, Bosnian Serbs, and almost all Croats.
-Ikavski: spoken in southern Dalmacija.
-Polu-Ikavski: I'm not sure about this one. I think it's spoken in some places in Vojvodina (brought there by the Bunjevci).

Then there is Chakavski - spoken by a dwindling number of Croats (probably less than 100,000 remaining speakers). At one time, all Croats spoke this.

Saturday, April 17th, 2004, 01:19 AM
Actually most Croats today speak Serbian.
Today, most Croats have abandoned Cakavian (Croatian) and speak Stokavian (Serbian).

Štokavian is a Croatian dialect, since the first Croatian standardization (1595.) predates the first Serbian 19. century imitation.

Hence the Serbs speak Croatian - or a rotten Croatian to be more precise.

Saturday, April 17th, 2004, 02:50 AM
If Serbs stole Stokavian from Croats, then what did we speak before we spoke Stokavian? The fact is we never spoke anything but Stokavian. It is exclusively ours. Croats on the other hand today have 3 dialects, Stokavian, Cakavian, and Kajkavian. A tribe can't speak 3 such different dialects. The only explanation is that Croats stole the dialect from someone else.