Saturday, 27 October 2007

Mind your Language!

Nice title for this blog post!

If you have been visiting my blog for a while, you will notice when I provide links to Serbian or Croatian sites I use the term Serbo-Croat to refer to the language used on them. (Surprise surprise, that's my native language!)

Recently someone raised this issue with me on someone else's blog (read about it here … in English!). There I was basically defending something that anyone who goes to my part of the world will notice. You see, the language of the Serbs and Croats, and by extention the Bosnian Muslims or Bosniaks and Montenegrins whether they consider themselves Serbs or not, is for all practical purposes one language, ie. they all understand each other when they speak to one another. And for many decades, other than calling their shared language either Serbian or Croatian depending on their national or ethnic identity, they also used to call their language Serbo-Croat (Srpskohrvatski), or on reverse Croato-Serb (Hrvatskosrpski) used in Croatia.

(In fact, I write this blog post in response to a blog post on the same blog (the Balkan Baby one!) that confronts this language issue.)

As you may remember watching your TV's during the 1990s, there were wars, conflicts and ethnic tensions between Serbs and Croats in Croatia, Serbs, Croats and Bosnian Muslims in Bosnia and Herzegovina. At the end of the 90s, there was a conflict between Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo and Metohija, though this last conflict is not pertinent to this post. So much tragedy, so much mess, so many tears and pain and so much blood spilt.

The conflicts in Croatia and Bosnia have also lead to a phenomenon that many people from outside and also from the region would consider on the face of it a little odd, but then again, considering everything that's happened there, also quite understandable. Do bear in mind though, that the Serbian side in both conflicts was seen at home and abroad as the protagonist of the wars, as this might help you understand the motives of certain groups with regards to language.

In Croatia, the Croats have done all they can to renounce Serbo-Croatianism (while at the same time denounce Serbdom as much as they can, in as many ways as they can!), and all they could to promote Croatdom in mainstream culture and language. And there are two ways they've utilised to promote this Croatdom in language, if I'm allowed to put it that way! One way is by claiming how the Croatian language (Hrvatski) is in no way the same as Serbian, ie. "Croatian is a separate language from Serbian". While the second and more particular way is by inventing new words or neologisms based on Slavonic roots in what has been seen by Serbs as an attempt by Croats to make their language look less similar to Serbian. Some of the vocabulary that has been introduced by Croatian linguists to replace more commonly used words that are also spoken by Serbs, apparently includes many revamped words (words that already existed in the language)! But nevertheless, there has been a lot of word-inventing from the Croatian camp.

In Bosnia, the Bosnian Muslims at some point during the war decided to give themselves a national name, Bosniak and they have named their language Bosnian (Bosanski). By doing so, they demonstrate complete identification with Bosnia. However, Serbs and Croats see this in another way, as the Muslims laying claim to all of Bosnia, claiming Bosnia only belongs to them, and that they are the only true people of Bosnia. Before the recent 92-95 war, particularly during Tito's Yugoslavia, Bosnian Muslims used to call their language Serbo-Croat. However, the use of the word Bosnian to refer to the language does not have as strong a history and tradition as is the case with the Serbian or Croatian names. Nevertheless, while the Croats in Croatia have been inventing new words in order to distance themselves from Serbs, the language of the Bosniaks embraces these differences, along with promoting the odd word of Turkish origin that has been in use since Ottoman times. Also bear in mind, that Muslims from Serbia (particularly the Sandžak region and also Kosovo) and even Montenegro have also established their Bosniak identity in solidarity with Bosnia's Muslims, and have affirmed it by naming their language Bosnian.

In Montenegro, a country that was not physically affected by the wars, it was affected politically and ideologically. When it comes to Serbian nationalism in Montengro, you will find many hardline supporters of such an ideology. While on the other hand, you'll find people who are not only opposed to Serbian nationalism, but fueled by their disdain for it, they promote a Montenegrin identity that denies the centuries-old Serbian identity (or Serbdom) of the Montenegrins, which goes as far as to claiming a separate Montenegrin language (Crnogorski), which itself runs counter to what Montenegrins have for centuries called their language (Serbian, of course (Srpski)). Some of these people want to promote the native dialect as the Montenegrin language. Nevertheless, there is also no habit of inventing new words in Montenegro's case.

And as for Serbia, well from what I've noticed in previous years, they have been borrowing a number of loanwords from English. In my opinion, this could be seen as an attempt - albeit an unconscious one - by the pro-Western, "modern"-thinking section of Serbia to integrate with the wider World after having lived in international isolation for a decade. Not that such a linguistic phenomenon is unique to Serbia. You will also find people in Croatia using the odd English-derived word in their day-to-day language.

In all this lingual turmoil, what do I think? And also, where do I fit in?

Well, let me use this blog post to share with you my views, and by doing so reiterate what I have already mentioned in the above-mentioned comments to blog posts on the Balkan Baby blog.

The language spoken by Serbs, Croats, Bosnian Muslims or Bosniaks and Montenegrins whether they … you know, see themselves as Serbs or not, is one language. And that is something I stand by wholeheartedly.

And as for the name … well, you can guess what I call it.

Warning: Look away if you're a Croatian nationalist:



Ok, spiting people aside () and being serious, I call our shared language Serbo-Croat with good intentions.

Many may not agree immediately with this, but I see the name as a neutral one. I see it functioning as a bridge between the peoples of Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro. In fact, I think the name should serve on the international field; it would be easy and fast for foreigners, and also simultaneously neutral and all-encompassing (it kind-of fulfills that purpose even now!).

The people who I think have the most against this name are - like I warned them above! - Croatian nationalists. And like I said above, it was the Croatian camp that has done the most to repudiate Serbo-Croatianism, one of the ways being claiming how the Serbo-Croatian language is a Communist invention, due to Tito's regime officialising and promoting the name. This of course is erroneous, since the name Serbo-Croat existed before even the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (initially called the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes) was founded in 1918 at the end of the First World War.

Also, if applied correctly, the Serbo-Croat name could actually bring people together, in particular with the people of Bosnia & Herzegovina. Some in the country might initially raise objections to it, true. But there would be so many more, from all three sides, who would be accepting to the name being reintroduced. Some will also object by saying how the name Bosnian should be promoted instead. However, I just can't help but see how divisive that would be, and actually, how divisive it is now. (Also read what I've written above for Bosnia) Bosnian Serbs will never call their language Bosnian. Neither would Bosnian Croats. And as for Željko Komšić (one of three representatives of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina), if you're thinking of using him as an example of how Bosnian Croats call their language Bosnian, he's an exception rather than a frequent example (NB: he is not popular amongst HDZ BiH (Croatian Democratic Union of B&H) supporters in the country).

You will see these nations using the phrase "naš jezik" meaning "our language", or the dimunitive "naški" meaning "ours", as a way to not offend the member of the other group. And I like hearing the phrase "naš jezik" in a wide variety of contexts. But you know, after all the wars that have caused such division along with heartache among the populations affected by conflict, I really do think what is needed is to do something to undermine the sections of society that not only want to maintain these very unhealthy divisions, but would also like to continue to fester these hostilities in order to justify further violence, and even a future war. And that is also something that Serbo-Croat could achieve.

Also, who's to say that Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks and Montenegrins who don't see themselves as Serbs can't call their language Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian or Montenegrin, if we were to reintroduce Serbo-Croat? No! They can call their language whatever they like! I call my language Serbian, Serbo-Croat and sometimes even Croatian! Hehe, really! You can go as far as to use other regional/local names like Istrian, Slavonian, Zlatibor or Leskovac, just as long as the Serbo-Croat name is applied on an inter-ethnic level (especially in Bosnia) and international level throughout the world.

Some will say how Danes, Swedes and Norwegians, who also speak for all practical purposes one language don't officially call their shared language Scandinavian (Skandinavisk[a]). Well, all I can say is they don't have to. From what I've heard, they haven't fought any recent war against each other, following which you'd see such stoking of animosity between them. And sure neither do Czechs and Slovaks, who also understand each other when they speak to one another, have to call their language Czechoslovak, and they used to live in common state from which they have separated. But they didn't break up so violently, as a result of which, hatred is such a rampant factor between them. My belief that the name Serbo-Croat should be used again does have linguistic reasons, as I will mention in the next paragraph, but also - and understandably given that I'm from a region of Europe so victimised by politics, particularly nationalism - there are political reasons as I have stated.

Now linguistically speaking, the language that the people of Srb., Cro., B&H and Mont. speak belong to what is called a Dialect Continuum (you can read about it on Wikipedia). Another word that can characterize their shared language is Sprachraum (meaning "language area") - not Sprachbund (meaning "language union"), which is different. The majority of the dialects fall under what has been classified as Štokavski, which is characterised by the use of the words "što" or "šta" when saying "what". As with regards to intelligibility, they understand each other without having to turn to an interpreter or relying on subtitles when watching films for instance. There is so much linguistic unity, consisting of identical vocabulary and grammar, among the dialects in question, that one could say it would almost be akin to murder to impose politically-motivated divisions on the speakers of such a common language based on what national/ethnic name they give themselves.

The only difficulties with regards to mutual intelligibility among the dialects - which is the over-riding factor, by the way! - is when it comes to speakers of peripheral dialects, namely Kajkavski, Čakavski (both likewise characterised by the words "kaj" and "ča" for "what") and Torlakian speaking to one another or speaking to Štokavski speakers who have not been significantly exposed to such dialects beforehand. Not that there aren't instances of speakers of Štokavski dialects not understanding the odd word among themselves or find the other's pronunciation a bit peculiar! There is such great linguistic variety in all four of the above-mentioned dialect families, as one would expect to find in all languages the world over. Also, and this should be mentioned, there are also misunderstandings between the generations, namely the elderly generations speaking older unadulterated dialects and younger people speaking more modern standardised ones, a phenomenon that can be found in other languages, of course.

And as for inventing new words, it seems from the seemingly critical way I mention it that I have something against the practise; that I'm opposed to it. But how can I be opposed to something so inventive and imaginative? I love innovation. Instead, let's have this attitude: why don't we Serbs, Croats, Bosnians of all faiths and Montenegrins of whatever self-identification invent neologisms together? That would not just be so much fun, but it would also encourage cooperation among the nations.

So there you have it readers, my linguistic and political reasons for using the Serbo-Croat name. And you know what? I'll be calling our language Serbo-Croat till the day I die. And then when I die, it won't be important, because then I'll be speaking the language of Heaven!

Paradisian or Heavenlish! Which name do you like most?

Though if the people of Wales are right about their language Welsh (Cymraeg) being the language of Heaven, then I wish to end this post about my language by wishing all my readers,

P O B_______H W Y L!


Tiamsuu said...

I doubt Scandinavians are a good example. They haven't really spoken same languague since the days of Proto-Norse which would be roughly two thousand years ago.

The usual way for them to understand the other languagues is like when I, a native speaker of Estonian, want to understand Finnish - by listening very, very carefully;)

Balkan Ⓐnarchist said...

Aha, ok!

From what I've read, Norwegians understand Danes and Swedes better than Danes and Swedes understand Norwegians!

Thanks anyway mait for the insight.

Anonymous said...

The Bosnian people speak the Bosnian language. If Croats speak Croatian and Serbs speak Serbian then the Bosnians speak Bosnian - simple as that. There is no Serbo-Croat or Croat-Serb language! There is the Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian languages which are for all practical purposes the same language but if we are going to give different dialects names based on nationality (i.e. Serbian or Croatian) then we should extend that model to include all the national groups in the region so that we have a Bosnian, Croatian, Montenegrin, and Serbian language. No Bosnian will accept that he or she is speaking the "Serbian" language and no Serb would accept that he or she is speaking the "Croatian" language so the only way for everyone to be satisfied and have their needs and desires met is to accept that different national groups speak langues that are named after their homelands.

Anonymous said...

"Also, if applied correctly, the Serbo-Croat name could actually bring people together, in particular with the people of Bosnia & Herzegovina"

Is this for real? So the Bosnian people fight and die for their homeland and for the right to be accepted as a nation (after centuries of being denied that right by the Ottomans and then later on the Croats and Serbs) and you think that they will give up their national language and thereby relinquish their claim to nationhood. You can not have a people without them having their language. If the Serbs and Croats are going to have their own languages you better believe that the Bosnian people will have their own national language - Bosnian. There is no going back. The Bosnian language has always existed (though it was suppressed and unrecognized) and now that the whole world accepts it the Bosnian people will protect it with their lives. Few things can be dearer to a people then their homeland and their language. Your idea is dead on arrival. The Bosnian language will remain for all eternity!

Balkan Ⓐnarchist said...

Anonymous, let me reassure you that I'm not against anyone calling their language anything they want. If a Bosnian person wants to call his/her language 'Bosnian', then I support his/her right to do so. If a Croatian person wants to call his/her language 'Croatian', then I also support his/her right to do so. And if a Serbian person wants to call his/her language 'Serbian', then just like the other two persons, I support his/her right to do so.

But answer this question: what if a Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian person wants to call his/her language 'Serbo-Croat' or 'Croato-Serb', if that's what he/she wants? Would you deny them that right, tell them that their language is "dead"? What about their needs and desires; shouldn't they be satisfied too, or are their needs and desires less worthy than those of others?

And as I can see, you are mentioning "homeland", "nationhood", "national language" and how people would give their lives to for something they hold dear. I understand and appreciate such sentiments from any community around the world, and I don't wish to undermine such deeply held feelings, especially in the case of the former Yugoslavia, where they arose in such traumatic circumstances.

But what you need to understand, Anonymous, is that I'm an Anarchist, and as such, I don't believe in nationalism or statism, in fact I completely reject them. For me, states and borders are illusions and imaginary, whereas people are real and deserve to be free to decide how they wish to live their lives. And as for nationalism, that is the religion of the state which upholds it, and is prone to causing problems between people and maintaining divisions.

Linguistics is such a varied subject, yet it's sad that politics and nationalism have to be brought into it. Nevertheless, I don't deny a Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian person's right to call his/her language 'Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian', and neither do I deny their right to call their language 'Serbo-Croat', if they so choose to, if so "for all eternity" and "no going back"!

El' me sad razumiješ, druže?

Anonymous said...

kosovo, according to noel malcom, a brit historain, had been, if i remember correctly the century, conquered by serbs in the 12th c.

thus, if that is true, it means it had to have been populated by nonserbs;i.e., descendants of illyrians.

it was not serb for about 5 c after turkish conquest of serbia.

serbs reconquered it in 1912.
according to noel, serb sources acknowledge that even during the first period up to turkish conquest of serbia, serb pop never exceeded more that 25% of the kosovo pop. but do we have to honor a conquest for ever? i say no!

kosovo and voivodina, the latter never serb, had been given to serbia by her allies: u.s., u.k., france, and italy.
it had been taken away from serbia by her friends.
they supported serbia until ca '94 for u.s. and early '95 for other allies.

recall, please, that the ww1 wld have most likely ended stalemated had not u.s. aggressed april '17 against exhausted germany.
so, thanks to u.s. serbs were victorious in ww2.

u.s. had decided to take kosovo away from serbia. why u.s. volte face? tnxbozh