After the dissolution of Yugoslavia, the languages of Croats and Serbs went their own way, after being politically forcefully kept "together" since 1918 according to Croatian sources and views.
In socialist Yugoslavia, the official policy was oriented toward "equalizing" and "merging" the Croat and Serb language, which caused discontent among Croat common people, writers and poets. In other words, however, the language was regarded as one common language with different variants and dialects. The unity of the language was emphasized, making the differences not an indicator of linguistic divisions, but rather factors enriching the common language. In addition, Yugoslavia had two other official languages on federal level, Slovenian and Macedonian - reflecting Yugoslavia's acceptance of diversity with regards to language use. No attempts were made to assimilate those languages into the common Serbo-Croatian / Croato-Serbian language.
In socialist Yugoslavia, the official language definition was:
With the breakup of the Federation, in search of additional indicators of independent and separate national identities, language became a political instrument in virtually all the new republics. With a boom of neologisms in Croatia, an additional emphasis on turcisms in the Muslim parts of Bosnia and a privileged position of the Cyrilic script in Serb inhabited parts of the new states, every state and entity showed a 'nationalization' of the language.
In that context, the Bosnian language went into its independent development after the independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina was proclaimed in 1992. Independent development of Montenegrin language became a topic among some Montenegrin academics in 1990s.
It should be noted that Serbian and Bosnian language standards tend to be "inclusive", i.e. to accept a wider range of idioms and to use loan-words, while the Croatian standard is more purist and prefers neologisms instead of loan-words, as well as re-use of neglected older words. These approaches are, again, due to different cultural, historical and political development of the three languages and the societies they belong to.
Croatian linguist Miro Kačić has given the following general overview of differences between the Croatian and Serbian languages. This blueprint can be, by extension, slightly modified to include Bosnian.
"In this book I have tried to present some of the fundamental delusions and distortions which have brought about the misconception, which is still present in world linguistics today, that Croatian and Serbian are one language. I have shown that Croatian and Serbian differ to a greater or lesser degree on all levels. These differences exist on the following ones:
On the other hand, Ivo Pranjković, the author of Grammar of Croatian Language states that "On the level of standardology, Croatian, Serbian, Bosnian and even Montenegrin are different varieties, but of a same language. Thus, on purely linguistic level, or genetic level, on typological level, we're talking about one language and that must be clearly said. If anyone disagrees with that, let him present the arguments." Pranjković himself has stated in numerous cases (for instance in the language and culture paper Vijenac, whose regular contributor he is) that "Ćorić (an opponent in a debate) does not, of course, agree with the contention I've stated at the beginning of my text, that Croatian and Serbian standard language, as far as they exist, function as separate standard languages". "
Though all could theoretically use either, the scripts differ:
There was another, less standardized script. It had more versions and names: arvacko pismo or arvatica, meaning the script used by Croats; this name was used in Povaljska listina); bosanica or bosančica, meaning the script of the region of Bosnia); and begovica (used by beys); poljičica, meaning from the Poljica region of southern Croatia. In some regions of Croatia, this script was used until the late 1860s, while the Roman Catholic seminary in Omiš taught new priests in writing in that script ("arvacki šeminarij") .
Muslim populations in the areas of Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia and Montenegro; who converted to Islam after the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans in the 15th century, also once used a modified Arabic script known as Arebica (pronounced aˈrabitsa). It remained in use from the 15th century until the early 20th century, primarily used by the literate, upper-class. The last known text published in Arebica was produced in 1941, after which the unification of Yugoslavia dictated that Cyrillic and Latin were the two official alphabets of all the Yugoslav Republics. It has all but fallen out of use as the number of people literate in Arebica today are minuscule.
All official languages have the same set of regular phonemes, so the Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian Latin and Serbian Cyrillic alphabets map 1:1. However, these letters/phonemes are not unknown to other South Slavic peoples.
In some regions of Croatia and Bosnia, the sounds "č" and "ć" and also "dž" and "đ" are either indistinct or pronounced as č and đ respectively. Then, in some regions of Croatia, sounds "č" and "ć" are spoken in "softer" version - "č" is pronounced between literary "č" and "ć", while "ć" is spoken much softer; somewhere it turns into "tj". Similar is with "dž" and "đ". In some regions in Croatia, "dž" is spoken as "đ" or "ž", while "đ" sounds the same way as in literary standard, or as a "dj". Again, that is not reflected in the official language.
The official language in Croatia alphabetically transliterates foreign names (and sometimes words) even in children's books [but not from Russian, and all other languages using Cyrillic alphabet] while the official language in Serbia performs a phonetic transcription of them whenever possible, regardless of the alphabet. Officially, the Bosnian language follows the Croatian example, but many books and newspapers phonetically transcribe foreign names.
Also, when the subject of the future tense is omitted, producing a reversal of the infinitive and auxiliary "ću", only the final "i" of the infinitive is elided in Croatian, while in Serbian the two are merged into a single word. Bosnian accepts both variants:
Regardless of spelling, the pronunciation is roughly the same.
In general, the Shtokavian dialects that represent the found of standard languages have four types of accent (a short falling, ı̏, short rising ì, long falling î, and a long rising, í). In addition, the unstressed vowels can be either be short or long (ī); the latter occurring only after the stressed syllable. In declension and verb conjugation, verb shifts, both by type and position, are very frequent.
The distinction between four accents and preserval of postaccent lengths is common in vernaculars of western Montenegro, Bosnia in Herzegovina (Including Bosniaks and Serbs, and to an extent Croats), in parts of Serbia, as well as in parts of Croatia with strong Serb immigration. In addition, a distinct characteristics of some vernaculars is stress shift to enclitics (e.g. phrase u Bosni (in Bosnia) will be pronounced /ȕbosni/ instead of /ubȍsni/ as in northern parts of Serbia.
The northern vernaculars in Serbia also preserve the four-accent system, but the unstressed lengths have been shortened or disappeared in some positions. However, the shortening of postaccent lengths is in progress in all Shtokawian vernaculars, even in those most conservative in Montenegro. Stress shift to enclitics is, however, in northern Serbia rare and mostly limited to negative verb constructs (ne znam = I don't know -> /nȅznām/).
The situation in Croatia, is however, different. A large proportion of speakers of Croatian, especially those coming from Zagreb, do not distinguish between rising and falling accents. This is considered to be a feature of the Zagreb dialect rather than standard Croatian.
In Croatian official linguistics, most of the literature in circulation promotes the four-accent system. Serbian standard language is based on four-accent-system that is common in most of Serbian vernaculars. Both dialects that are considered to be base of standard Serbian language (East-Herzegowinian and Šumadija-Wojwodina dialects) have four accents. Bosnian language is officially founded on East-Bosnian dialects, which are of Old-Shtokavian type, but in practice the norm is Neo-Shtokavian accentuation just like in Croatian and Serbian. The situation in that language is not clear.
|Opposition -l/-o after o||sol||so||salt|
|Serbian often drops letter H in the initial and medial position:||čahura||čaura||cartridge|
There are three variants of the Štokavian dialect that stem from the different uses of the reflexive proto-Slavic vowel Jat. The jat appears in modern dialects in the following way: the Church Slavonic word for child, děte, is:
The Serbian language recognizes ekavian and ijekavian as equal variants, while Croatian and Bosnian use only ijekavian. In Bosnia and Herzegovina (regardless of the official language) and in Montenegro, ijekavian is used almost exclusively.
Ikavian is limited to dialectal use in Dalmatia, Lika, Istria, Western Herzegovina, Turkish Croatia/Bosanska Krajina, Slavonia and northern Bačka (Vojvodina). So, for example:
|small arrow||strelica|| strelica|
A few Croatian linguists have tried to explain the following differences in morphological structure for some words, with the introduction of a new vowel, "jat diphthong". This is not the opinion of most linguists.
Sometimes this leads to confusion: Serbian poticati (to stem from) is in Croatian "to encourage". Croatian "to stem from" is potjecati, while Serbian for "encourage" is podsticati.
|add by pouring||dolijevati||dolivati|
The Bosnian official language allows both variants, and ambiguities are resolved with preference to the Croatian variant; this is a general practice for Serbian-Croatian ambiguities.
Another example for phonetical differences is words which have h in Croatian and Bosnian, but v in Serbian:
|English||Serbian||Bosnian and Croatian|
Phonetically and phonologically, the phoneme "h" is reinstated in many words as a distinct feature of Bosnian speech and language tradition, some Bosniaks prefer not to use the Serbian terminology. However, there are many people who do not speak this way. It is a regional or colloquial way of speaking.
As ijekavian is the common dialect of all official languages, it will be used for examples on this page. Other than this, examples of different morphology are:
Also many internationalisms and transliterations are different:
|to organise|| organizirati|
|to construct|| konstruisati|
Historically, modern age internationalisms entered Bosnian and Croatian mostly through German and Italian, while Serbian received them through French and Russian, so different localization patterns were established based on those languages. Also, Greek borrowings came to Serbian directly, but through Latin into Croatian:
|Bethlehem||Betlehem||Vitlejem||Through Latin in Croatian, through Greek in Serbian|
|impedance||impedanca||impedansa||Through French in Serbian|
|licence||licenca||licenca||"dozvola" is more common in both languages|
Most of chemical element names are different: for international names, Bosnian and Croatian use -ij where Serbian has -ijum (uranij–uranijum). In some native names, Bosnian and Croatian have -ik where Serbian has -(o)nik (kisik–kiseonik(oxygen), vodik–vodonik(hydrogen)). Yet others are totally different (dušik–azot (nitrogen), kositar–kalaj (tin)). Some are the same: srebro (silver), zlato (gold), bakar (copper).
Still, it is important to note that there are words from Russian that are considered "to be in spirit of Croatian language", and are felt to be Croatian, not a foreign word. Other Russian loanwords are considered as "Serbisms".
|English||Bosnian and Serbian||Croatian|
|English||Bosnian and Serbian||Croatian|
|What did he say?||Šta je rekao?||Što je rekao?|
|Ask him what he said.||Pitaj ga šta je rekao.||Pitaj ga što je rekao.|
|What he said was a lie.||To što je rekao je laž.||To što je rekao je laž.|
This is applicable only to nominative case in all other cases, all languages have the same declension čega, čemu etc. for što.
In Croatian, pronoun who has form tko, while Serbian and Bosnian use ko. The declension is same, kome, koga, etc. In addition, Croatian uses komu as an alternative form in dative case.
Frequency of usage of locative pronouns gd(j)e, kuda i kamo differs somewhat between Serbian and Croatian:
|Where will you be?||Gde ćeš biti?||Gdje ćeš biti?|
|Where will you go?||Gde ćeš ići?||Kamo ćeš ići?|
|Which way will you go?||Kuda ćeš ići?||Kuda ćeš ići?|
With modal verbs such as ht(j)eti (want) or moći (can), the infinitive is prescribed in Croatian, while the construction da (that/to) + present tense is preferred in Serbian. This is a remnant of subjunctive, and possibly an influence of Balkan linguistic union. Again, both alternatives are present and allowed in Bosnian.
The sentence "I want to do that" could be translated with any of
This difference partly extends to the future tense, which in Serbo-Croatian is formed in a similar manner to English, using (elided) present of verb "ht(j)eti" -> "hoću"/"hoćeš"/... -> "ću"/"ćeš"/... as auxiliary verb. Here, the infinitive is formally required in both variants:
However, when da+present is used instead, in it can additionally express the subject's will or intention to perform the action:
This form is more frequently used in Serbia and Bosnia. The nuances in meaning between two constructs can be slight or even lost (especially in Serbian dialects), in similar manner as the shall/will distinction varies across English dialects. Overuse of da+present is regarded as Germanism in Serbian linguistic circles, and it can occasionally lead to awkward sentences.
However, Croatians seldom naturally use da+present form. Instead, a different form can be used to express will:
In interrogative and relative constructs, Croatian uses the interrogative participle li after the verb, while Serbian also allows forms with da li. (A similar situation exists in French, where a question can be formed either by inversion or using est-ce que, and can be stretched in English with modal verbs):
In addition, non-grammatical je li ("Is it?"), usually elided to jel', is vernacular for forming all kinds of questions, e.g. Jel' možeš?. In standard language, it is used only in questions involving auxiliary verb je (="is"):
In summary, the English sentence "I want to know whether I'll start working" would typically read:
although many in-between combinations could be met in vernacular speech, depending on speaker's dialect, idiolect, or even mood.
|Serbian and Bosnian||English (literal trans.)||Croatian||English|
|Petru treba novac.||Money [is necessary] to Peter.||Petar treba novac.||Peter needs money.|
|Ne trebam ti.||I [am not necessary] to you||Ne trebaš me.||You don't need me.|
|Treba da radim.||(It) [is necessary] that I work.||Trebam raditi.||I should work.|
The greatest differences between the languages is in vocabulary. However, most words are well understood, or even occasionally used, in other languages; in most cases, common usage favors one variant while the other(s) are regarded as "imported", archaic, dialectal or simply, more rarely used. The preference for certain words depends on the speaker's geographic origin rather than ethnicity; for example, Serbs from Bosnia use "mrkva" and "hlače" rather than "šargarepa" and "pantalone".
|English||In Serbia||In Croatia||In Bosnia|
|oil (food)|| ulje|
|one's own|| sopstveno|
|happy, lucky|| srećan|
Note that there are only a few differences that can cause confusion, for example the verb "ličiti" means "to look like" in Serbian and Bosnian, but in Croatian it is "sličiti"; "ličiti" means "to paint".
The word "bilo" means "white" in ikavian, "pulse" in official Croatian and "was" in all official languages, although it is not so confusing when pronounced because of different accentuation (bîlo or bílo = white, bı̏lo = pulse, bílo = was).
In Serbian, the word izvanredan (extraordinary) has only the positive meaning (excellent), vanredan being used for "unusual" or "out of order"; however, only izvanredan is used in Croatian in both contexts. Thus, Croatian phrase izvanredno stanje (martial law) sounds funny to Serbian ears (Croatians would more naturally use 'izvrsno' for excellent).
Also note that in most cases Bosnian officially allows all of the listed variants in the name of "language richness", and ambiguities are resolved by preferring the Croatian variant. Bosnian vocabulary writers based their decisions on usage of certain words in literary works by Bosnian authors.
In the Croatian language months have Slavic names, while Serbian and Bosnian use the same set of international Latin-derived names as English. But Slavic names may also be used in the Bosnian language as well (although, rarely understood); Latin-derived names are preferred.
It is important to notice a few issues:
The following samples, taken from article 1 to 6 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, are "synonymous texts, translated as literally as possible" in the sense of Ammon designed to demonstrate the differences between the standard varieties treated in this article in a continuous text.
|Opća deklaracija o pravima čovjeka||Opća deklaracija o pravima čovjeka||Opšta deklaracija o pravima čov(j)eka||Universal Declaration of Human Rights|
|Članak 1. Sva ljudska bića rađaju se slobodna i jednaka u dostojanstvu i pravima. Ona su obdarena razumom i sviješću i trebaju jedno prema drugome postupati u duhu bratstva.||Član 1. Sva ljudska bića rađaju se slobodna i jednaka u dostojanstvu i pravima. Ona su obdarena razumom i sviješću i treba da jedno prema drugome postupaju u duhu bratstva.||Član 1. Sva ljudska bića rađaju se slobodna i jednaka u dostojanstvu i pravima. Ona su obdarena razumom i sv(ij)ešću i treba da jedno prema drugome postupaju u duhu bratstva.||Article 1. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.|
| Članak 2. Svakome su dostupna sva prava i slobode navedene u ovoj Deklaraciji bez razlike bilo koje vrste, kao što su rasa, boja, spol, jezik, vjera, političko ili drugo mišljenje, narodnosno ili društveno podrijetlo, imovina, rođenje ili drugi pravni položaj. |
Nadalje, ne smije se činiti bilo kakva razlika temeljem političkog, pravnog ili međunarodnog položaja zemlje ili područja kojima neka osoba pripada, bilo da je ovo područje nezavisno, pod skrbništvom, nesamoupravno, ili da se nalazi ma pod kojim drugim ograničenjima suverenosti.
| Član 2. Svakome su dostupna sva prava i slobode navedene u ovoj Deklaraciji bez razlike bilo koje vrste, kao što su rasa, boja, spol, jezik, vjera, političko ili drugo mišljenje, narodnosno ili društveno porijeklo, imovina, rođenje ili drugi pravni položaj. |
Nadalje, ne smije da se čini bilo kakva razlika na osnovu političkog, pravnog ili međunarodnog položaja zemlje ili područja kojima neka osoba pripada, bilo da je ovo područje nezavisno, pod starateljstvom, nesamoupravno, ili da se nalazi ma pod kojim drugim ograničenjima suverenosti.
| Član 2. Svakome su dostupna sva prava i slobode navedene u ovoj Deklaraciji bez razlike bilo koje vrste, kao što su rasa, boja, pol, jezik, v(j)era, političko ili drugo mišljenje, narodnosno ili društveno por(ij)eklo, imovina, rođenje ili drugi pravni položaj.|
Nadalje, ne sm(ij)e da se čini bilo kakva razlika na osnovu političkog, pravnog ili međunarodnog položaja zemlje ili područja kojima neko lice pripada, bilo da je ovo područje nezavisno, pod starateljstvom, nesamoupravno, ili da se nalazi ma pod kojim drugim ograničenjima suverenosti.
| Article 2. Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. |
Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.
|Članak 3. Svatko ima pravo na život, slobodu i osobnu sigurnost.||Član 3. Svako ima pravo na život, slobodu i ličnu sigurnost.||Član 3. Svako ima pravo na život, slobodu i ličnu bezb(j)ednost.||Article 3. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.|
|Članak 4. Nitko ne smije biti držan u ropstvu ili ropskom odnosu; ropstvo i trgovina robljem zabranjuje se u svim njihovim oblicima.||Član 4. Niko ne smije biti držan u ropstvu ili ropskom odnosu; ropstvo i trgovina robljem zabranjuje se u svim njihovim oblicima.||Član 4. Niko ne sm(ij)e da bude držan u ropstvu ili ropskom odnosu; ropstvo i trgovina robljem zabranjuje se u svim njihovim formama.||Article 4. No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.|
|Članak 5. Nitko ne smije biti podvrgnut mučenju ili okrutnom, nečovječnom ili ponižavajućem postupku ili kažnjavanju.||Član 5. Niko ne smije biti podvrgnut mučenju ili okrutnom, nečovječnom ili ponižavajućem postupku ili kažnjavanju.||Član 5. Niko ne sm(ij)e da bude podvrgnut mučenju ili okrutnom, nečovečnom ili ponižavajućem postupku ili kažnjavanju.||Article 5. No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.|
|Članak 6. Svatko ima pravo svugdje se pred zakonom priznavati kao osoba.||Član 6. Svako ima pravo da se svagdje pred zakonom priznaje kao osoba.||Član 6. Svako ima pravo da se svuda pred zakonom priznaje kao lice.||Article 6. Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.|
|Sources: The Bosnian text is taken from the official translation of the UNHCHR (just as the English original). This Bosnian translation was translated into Croatian and Serbian in the course of a seminar at Bonn University The official Serbian and Croatian translations have been made independently and thus include mainly individual, rather than linguistic, differences.|