The Serbo-Croatian language or Croato-Serbian language (cрпскохрватски језик srpskohrvatski jezik) is a South Slavic diasystem. "Serbo-Croatian" was used as an umbrella term (dachsprache) for dialects spoken in Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina; it was one of the official languages of Yugoslavia from 1918 to 1991 (along with Slovene and Macedonian). In its standardized form, it was based on the Štokavian dialect and defined in Ekavian and Iyekavian variants, called "pronunciations." Unofficially, there were "Eastern" (based on the Serbian idiom) and "Western" (based on the Croatian idiom) variants. By extension, Kaykavian and Chakavian were often considered to be dialects (while the Torlakian dialect was never recognized in mainstream linguistics), but they were not in official use.
Linguists are divided on questions regarding whether the use of the name should be deprecated. It is still used, for lack of a more succinct alternative, to denote the "daughter" languages as a collectivity.
From the perspective of genetic linguistics, standard Serbo-Croatian was based on the Neo-Štokavian dialects.
The term "Serbo-Croatian" was mentioned for the first time by Slovene philologist Jernej Kopitar in a letter from 1836, although it cannot be ruled out that he had become acquainted with the term by reading the Slovak philologist Pavol Jozef Šafárik's manuscript "Slovanské starožitnosti" printed 1837.
In the mid 19th century, Serbian (led by Vuk Stefanović Karadžić) and most Croatian writers and linguists (represented in the Illyrian movement, led by Ljudevit Gaj and Đuro Daničić), proposed the use of the most widespread Štokavian dialect as the base for their standardized languages. Karadžić standardised the Serbian Cyrillic script, and Gaj and Daničić standardized the Croatian Latin script, on the basis of vernacular speech phonemes and the principle of phonological spelling.
In 1850 Serbian and Croatian writers and linguists signed the Vienna Literary Agreement, declaring their intention to create a common supra-national language. Thus a complex bi-variant language appeared, which the Serbs officially called "Serbo-Croatian" and the Croats "Croatian or Serbian". Yet, in practice, the variants of the supposed single language were different standard languages. The common phrase describing this situation was that Serbo-Croatian or "Croatian or Serbian" was a unified language.
With unification of the first Kingdom of Yugoslavia the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes the approach of Karadžić and the Illyrians became official. The official language was called Serbo-Croato-Slovenian until the very end of that kingdom. Because of the unitarian politics of King Aleksandar I Karađorđević, as of 1929, the "Yugoslavian language" was the official language of Yugoslavia, the country's name was changed, and all ethnic denominations were erased .
In the Communist-dominated second Yugoslavia, ethnic issues eased to an extent, but the matter of language remained blurred and unresolved. In 1954, a group of Serbian and Croatian linguists and writers, backed by Matica srpska and Matica hrvatska signed the Novi Sad agreement, which in its first article stated:
This act was less of an agreement than a political document signed under political pressure, as many writers later asserted (such as Miroslav Krleža). In fact, its Croatian signers later withdrew their signing. The Novi Sad agreement became the basis of language politics in the second Yugoslavia; however, many Croats were uneasy, viewing the merging of languages as the attempted "Serbianisation" of their Croatian idiom. Also, many Serbian idiomatic constructs replaced Croatian idiomatic constructs in Bosniak and Herzegovinian media and politics and, gradually, in the vernacular speech. Some viewed it as proof of Serbian hegemony in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and some as a "natural" process of language change.
After the ethnic tensions of the 1970s, and after the easing of political pressure in the 1990s and the democratisation of the Yugoslav political system, the policy of forced merging of these languages was finally allowed to end, and speakers could call their languages what they wanted.
The Croats returned to using name they had used for the language before the dissolution of Yugoslavia (officially, they had called it Croatian until the mid 1970s). The Serbs called it Serbo-Croatian until 1997, when the Matica srpska made the Serbian Language Dictionary. Since then Serbs have called it Serbian, but unofficialy. The Bosniaks called their language Serbo-Croatian or Croato-Serbian until 1993. Curiously, the Constitution of Serbia (1990-2006) called the official language Serbo-Croatian, while the Constitution of Montenegro (1993-2007) called it Serbian with ijekavian pronunciation.
Except during the period that extended roughly from the 1920s through the 1980s, people have not called the language Serbo-Croatian, but have tended to use their ethnic/national names.
For more information, see Differences between standard Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian.
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has specified different Universal Decimal Classification (UDC) numbers for Croatian (UDC 862, abbreviation hr) and Serbian (UDC 861, abbreviation sr), while the cover term Serbo-Croatian is used to refer to the combination of original signs (UDC 861/862, abbreviation sh). Furthermore, the ISO 639 standard designates the Bosnian language with the abbreviations bos and bs.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia considers what it calls BCS (Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian) to be the main language of all Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian defendants. The indictments, documents, and verdicts of the ICTY are not written with any regard for consistently following the grammatical prescriptions of any of the three standards be they Serbian, Croatian, or Bosnian.
For utilitarian purposes, the Serbo-Croatian language is often called "Naš jezik" ("Our language") by native speakers. This politically correct term is frequently used to describe the Serbo-Croatian language by those who wish to avoid nationalistic and linguistic discussions.
One still finds many references to Serbo-Croatian, and proponents of Serbo-Croatian who deny the existence of Croatian (as well as Serbian and Bosnian) as a separate standard language. The usual argument generally goes along the following lines:
However, some argue that these arguments have flaws:
(One might add here, that following these particular theoretical definitions of a language "uniqueness", American and British English would have to be separated.)
All the arguments aside, it is fair to say that the politics and the linguistics of the region cannot be separated in a straightforward manner.
The topic of language with the writers from Dalmatia and Dubrovnik prior to the 19th century is somewhat blurred by the fact they by and large placed more emphasis on whether they were Slavic rather than Italic, given that Dalmatian city-states were then inhabited by those two main groups. There was less notable distinction being made between Croats and Serbs, and this, among other things, has been used as an argument to state that these people's literature is not solely Croatian heritage, thus undermining the argument that modern-day Croatian is based on Old Croatian.
However, the major part of intellectuals and writers from Dalmatia who used the štokavian dialect and were of Catholic faith had explicitly expressed Croatian national affiliation, as far as mid 1500s and 1600s, some three hundred years before the Serbo-Croatian ideology had appeared. Their loyalty was first and foremost to the Catholic Christendom, but when they professed ethnic identity, they called it "Slovin" and "Illyrian" (a sort of forerunner of Catholic baroque pan-Slavism) and Croat these 30-odd writers in the span of ca. 350 years themselves never mentioned Serb ethnic affiliation any time. A Croatian follower of Vuk Karadžić, Ivan Broz, noted that the Serbian affiliation was as foreign as Macedonian and Greek appellation at this time. Vatroslav Jagić pointed out in 1864:
(From The History of the Croatian language, Zagreb, 1864.)
On the other hand, the opinion of Jagić from 1864 is argued not to have firm grounds. When Jagić says "Croatian" he refers to few cases of referring to the Dubrovnik vernacular as ilirski (Illyrian). This was a common name for all Slavic vernaculars in Dalmatian cities among the Roman inhabitants. In the meantime, other written monuments are found that mention srpski, lingua serviana (= Serbian), and also some that mention Croatian. By far the most competent Serbian scientist on Dubrovnik language issue, Milan Rešetar, who was born in Dubrovnik himself, wrote behalf of language characteristics: "The one who thinks that Croatian and Serbian are two separate languages, must confess that Dubrovnik always (linguistically) used to be Serbian.
On the third hand, the former medieval texts from Dubrovnik and Montenegro dating before 16th century were not true Štokavian nor Serbian, but mostly specific Yekavian-Chakavian that was nearer to actual Adriatic islanders in Croatia.
Now, the term "Serbo-Croatian" (or synonyms) is not in official use in any of the successor countries of former Yugoslavia.
In Serbia, the Serbian language is the official one, while both Serbian and Croatian are official in the province of Vojvodina. A large Bosniak minority is present in the southwest region of Sandžak, but the "official recognition" of Bosnian language is moot— it is an optional course in 1st and 2nd grade of the elementary school, while it is also in official use in the municipality of Novi Pazar. However, its nomenclature is controversial, as there is incentive that it is referred to as "Bosniak" (bošnjački) rather than "Bosnian" (bosanski) (see Bosnian language for details).
Croatian is the official language of Croatia, while Serbian is also official in municipalities with significant Serb population. Bosnian is not official anywhere, and, as in Serbia, there is a tendency to refer to it as "Bosniak" instead.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, all three languages are recorded as official but in practice and media, mostly Bosnian or Serbian are applied. Therefore, confrontations have on occasion been absurd. The academic Muhamed Filipović in an interview to Slovenian television told of a local court in a Croatian district requesting a paid translator from Bosnian to Croatian before the trial could proceed.
The primary dialects are usually named after their word for what: Shtokavian (Štokavski) uses the pronoun što or šta (shto, shta), Chakavian (čakavski) uses ča or ca (cha, tsa); Kajkavian (kajkavski), kaj or kej. However, the Serbo-Croatian standard language as well as contemporary standard languages are based on Shtokavian, and the diverging Chakavian and Kajkavian were "adopted" into this classification more for political reasons (someones consider them as separate minor languages). Torlakian (torlački) was regarded as an old Shtokavian dialect and not included explicitly, although many scholars now classify it as a separate dialect transitional toward Bulgarian.
Furthermore, there are also three different ways of rendering the changing Proto-Slavic vowel jat (yat). Čakavian mainly says i (rarer y), Kajkavian mainly uses e (rarer ie) while the Shtokavian dialect is broken down into a secondary subdivision based on whether ije (iye), je (ye) or e is used. Serbian standard uses e while Croatian and Bosnian have ije/je.
Each of these primary and secondary dialectal units break down into subdialects and accents by region. Chiefly in the past (in mountains and islands up today), it was not uncommon for individual villages to have some of their own words and phrases. However, throughout the twentieth century the various dialects have been more or less influenced by the Neo-Shtokavian standards through mass media and public education, and a part of this "local color" has been lost chiefly in towns.
There is a basis for recent considering the three dialects (Kajkavian, Chakavian and Shtokavian) as distinct tongues. However, since there are no clear-cut criteria for distinguishing a language from a dialect, and dialects are usually described in reference to standard languages, the notion of a complex diasystem is frequently used instead of Serbo-Croatian.
However, when short yat is preceded by r, in most Ijekavian dialects it morphed into re or, occasionally, ri. Also, prefix prě ("trans-, over-") when yat is long passed to pre- in eastern Ijekavian dialects and to prije- (priye) in western; in Ikavian, it also evolved into pre- or prije- because of potential ambiguity with pri- ("approach, come close to"). For verbs that had -ěti in their infinitive, the past participle ending -ěl evolved into -io in Ijekavian.
The following are some examples:
|beautiful||*lěp||lep||lip||lijep||long ě → ije|
|faith||*věra||vera||vira||vjera||short ě → je|
|time||*vrěme||vreme||vrime||vrijeme||long ě → ije|
|times||*vrěmena||vremena||vrimena||vremena||r + short ě → re|
|long prě → prije|
|village||*selo||selo||selo||selo||e in root, not ě|
|need||*trěbati||trebati||tribat(i)||trebati||r + short ě → re|
|heat||*grějati||grejati||grijati||grijati||r + short ě → ri|
|saw||*viděl||video||vidio||vidio||ěl → io|
Like most Slavic languages, there are mostly three genders for nouns: masculine, feminine, and neuter, a distinction which is still present even in the plural (unlike Russian and partly Chakavian dialect). They also have two numbers: singular and plural. However, some consider there to be three numbers (paucal or dual, too), since (still preserved in closely-related Slovene) after two (dva, dvije/dve), three (tri) and four (četiri), and all numbers ending in them (e.g., twenty-two, ninety-three, one hundred four) the genitive singular is used, and after all other numbers five (pet) and up, the genitive plural is used. (The number one [jedan] is treated as an adjective.) Adjectives are placed in front of the noun they modify and must agree in both case and number with it.
There are seven tenses for verbs: past, present, future, exact future, aorist, imperfect, and plusquamperfect; and three moods: indicative, imperative, and conditional. However, the latter three tenses are typically used only in Shtokavian writing, and the time sequence of the exact future is more commonly formed through an alternative construction.
In addition, like most Slavic languages, the Shtokavian verb also has one of two aspects: perfective or imperfective. Most verbs come in pairs, with the perfective verb being created out of the imperfective by adding a prefix or making a stem change. The imperfective aspect typically indicates that the action is unfinished, in progress, or repetitive; while the perfective aspect typically denotes that the action was completed, instantaneous, or of limited duration. Some Shtokavian tenses (namely, aorist and imperfect) favor a particular aspect (but they are rarer or absent in Chakavian and Kaykavian). Actually, aspects "compensate" for the relative lack of tenses, because aspect of the verb determines whether the act is completed or in progress in the referred time.
The oldest texts since 11th century are in Glagolitic, and the oldest preserved text written completely in the Latin alphabet is "Red i zakon sestara reda Svetog Dominika", from 1345. Arabic alphabet formerly was used by Bosnian Muslims; Greek writing recently is out of use there, and Arabic and Glagolitic persisted so far partly in religious lithurgies.
The Serbian Cyrillic alphabet was revised by Vuk Stefanović Karadžić in the 19th century.
The Croatian Latin alphabet (Gajica) followed suit shortly afterwards, when Ljudevit Gaj defined it as standard Latin with five extra letters that had diacritical marks, apparently borrowing much from Czech, but also from Polish, and inventing the unique digraphs "lj", "nj" and "dž". All in all, this makes Serbo-Croatian the only Slavic language to officially use both the Latin and Cyrillic scripts, albeit the Latin version is more commonly used.
In both cases, spelling is phonetic and spellings in the two alphabets map to each other one-to-one:
Latin to Cyrillic
Cyrillic to Latin
Đ used to be commonly written as Dj on typewriters, but that practice led to too many ambiguities. It is also used on car license plates. Today Dj is often used again in place of Đ on the Internet as a replacement due to the lack of Serbo-Croat keyboards.
|Latin script||Cyrillic script||IPA||Description||English approximation|
|a||а||/a/||open front unrounded||father|
|i||и||/i/||close front unrounded||seek|
|e||е||/ɛ/||open-mid front unrounded||den|
|o||о||/ɔ/||open-mid back rounded||lord|
|u||у||/u/||closed back rounded||pool|
The vowels can be short or long, but the phonetic quality doesn't change depending on the length. In a word, vowels can be long in the stressed syllable and the syllables following it, never in the ones preceding it.
|Latin script||Cyrillic script||IPA||Description||English approximation|
|r||р||/r/||alveolar trill||rolled (vibrating) r as in carramba|
|v||в||/ʋ/||labiodental approximant||roughly between vortex and war|
|l||л||/l/||lateral alveolar approximant||light|
|lj||љ||/ʎ/||palatal lateral approximant||roughly battalion|
|f||ф||/f/||voiceless labiodental fricative||five|
|s||с||/s/||voiceless alveolar fricative||some|
|z||з||/z/||voiced alveolar fricative||zero|
|š||ш||/ʃ/||voiceless postalveolar fricative||sharp|
|ž||ж||/ʒ/||voiced postalveolar fricative||television|
|h||х||/x/||voiceless velar fricative||hard, loch|
|c||ц||/ʦ/||voiceless alveolar affricate||pots|
|dž||џ||/ʤ/||voiced postalveolar affricate||roughly eject|
|č||ч||/ʧ/||voiceless postalveolar affricate||roughly check|
|đ||ђ||/ʥ/||voiced alveolo-palatal affricate||roughly Jews|
|ć||ћ||/ʨ/||voiceless alveolo-palatal affricate||roughly choose|
|b||б||/b/||voiced bilabial plosive||book|
|p||п||/p/||voiceless bilabial plosive||top|
|d||д||/d/||voiced alveolar plosive||dog|
|t||т||/t/||voiceless alveolar plosive||it|
|g||г||/g/||voiced velar plosive||good|
|k||к||/k/||voiceless velar plosive||duck|
In consonant clusters all consonants are either voiced or voiceless. All the consonants are voiced (if the last consonant is normally voiced) or voiceless (if the last consonant is normally voiceless). This rule does not apply to approximants a consonant cluster may contain voiced approximants and voiceless consonants; as well as to foreign words (Washington would be transcribed as VašinGton/ВашинГтон), personal names and when consonants are not inside of one syllable.
R can be syllabic, playing the role of a vowel in certain Shtokavian words (occasionally, it can even have a long accent). For example, the tongue-twister na vrh brda vrba mrda involves four words with syllabic r. A similar feature exists in Czech, Slovak and Macedonian.
|Serbo-Croatian stress system|
|Stress type||Symbol||Diacritic||English approximation|
|Short falling||ȉ||Double grave||sit|
|Long falling||ȋ||Inverted breve||leave|
General stress rules in the standard language:
There are no other rules for stress placement, thus the stress of every word must be learned individually; furthermore, in declension and conjugation, stress shifts are common, both in type and position. The second rule is not strictly obeyed, especially in borrowed words.
Comparative and historical linguistics nevertheless offers some clues for the stress. If one compares many Standard Serbo-Croatian words to similar Russian words, the stress in the Serbo-Croatian word will be one syllable before the one in the Russian word, with the rising stress. Historically, the rising stress appeared when the place of the stress shifted to the preceding syllable, but the quality of this new stress was different - its melody still "gravitated" towards the original syllable. Most Shtokavian dialects (neo-Shtokavian) underwent this shift, but Chakavian, Kajkavian and old Shtokavian did not.
Stress diacritics are never indicated outside the linguistic or language-learning literature. Unlike Russian, other East Slavic languages and Bulgarian, there are very few minimal pairs where an error in accent can lead to misunderstanding. Statistically speaking, the second or the third syllable from the end are usually stressed.
Also, there are some exceptions, mostly applied to foreign words and compounds, that favor morphological/etymological over phonetical spelling:
One systemic exception is that the consonant clusters ds and dš do not change into ts and tš (although d tends to be unvoiced in normal speech in such clusters):
Only a few words are intentionally "misspelled", mostly in order to resolve ambiguity: