Standard Croatian is dialectally based on the Western Štokavian dialect with Ijekavian reflex of Common Slavic yat vowel. Croatian linguistic area encompasses two other major dialects, Čakavian and Kajkavian, which contribute lexically to the standard language. It is written with the Croatian alphabet, based on Latin alphabet.
The modern Croatian standard language is a continuous outgrowth of more than nine hundred years of literature written in a mixture of Croatian Church Slavonic and the vernacular language. Croatian Church Slavonic was abandoned by the mid-15th century, and Croatian as embodied in a purely vernacular literature (Croatian literature) has existed for more than five centuries.
The beginning of the Croatian written language can be traced to the 9th century, when Old Church Slavonic was adopted as the language of the liturgy. This language was gradually adapted to non-liturgical purposes and became known as the Croatian version of Old Slavonic. The two variants of the language, liturgical and non-liturgical, continued to be a part of the Glagolitic service as late as the mid-9th century.
Until the end of the 11th century, Croatian medieval texts were written in three scripts: Latin, Glagolitic, and Croatian Cyrillic (arvatica, poljičica, bosančica), and also in three languages: Croatian, Latin and Old Slavic. The latter developed into what is referred to as the Croatian variant of Church Slavonic between the 12th and 16th centuries.
The most important early monument of Croatian literacy is the Baška tablet from the late 11th century. It is a large stone tablet found in the small church of St. Lucy on the Croatian island of Krk, containing text written mostly in čakavian, today a dialect of Croatian, and in Croatian Glagolitic script. It is also important in the history of the nation as it mentions Zvonimir, the king of Croatia at the time. However, the luxurious and ornate representative texts of Croatian Church Slavonic belong to the later era, when they coexisted with the Croatian vernacular literature. The most notable are the "Missal of Duke Novak" from the Lika region in northwestern Croatia (1368), "Evangel from Reims" (1395, named after the town of its final destination), "Missal of Duke Hrvoje" from Bosnia and Split in Dalmatia (1404) and the first printed book in Croatian language (1483).
Also, during the 13th century Croatian vernacular texts began to appear, the most important among them being "Istrian land survey", 1275 and "The Vinodol Codex", 1288., both in the Čakavian dialect.
The Štokavian dialect literature, based almost exclusively on Čakavian original texts of religious provenance (missals, breviaries, prayer books) appeared almost a century later. The most important purely Štokavian vernacular text is Vatican Croatian Prayer Book (ca. 1400).
Both the language used in legal texts and that used in Glagolitic literature gradually came under the influence of the vernacular, which considerably affected its phonological, morphological and lexical systems. From the 14th and the 15th centuries, both secular and religious songs at church festivals were composed in the vernacular.
Writers of early Croatian religious poetry (začinjavci), translators and editors gradually introduced the vernacular into their works. These začinjavci were the forerunners of the rich literary production of the 15th and 16th centuries. The language of religious poems, translations, miracle and morality plays contributed to the popular character of medieval Croatian literature.
The first purely vernacular texts in Hrvatski (Croatian) are distinctly different from Church Slavonic dated back to the 13th century. In the 14th and 15th centuries the modern Croatian language emerged. (It appears in texts as Vatican Croatian prayer book from 1400.) The morphology, phonology and syntax) only slightly differ from contemporary Croatian (standard language).
The standardization of Croatian language can be traced back to the first Croatian dictionary (Faust Vrančić: Dictionarium quinque nobilissimarum Europae linguarum—Latinae, Italicae, Germanicae, Dalmatiae et Ungaricae, Venice 1595) and first Croatian grammar (Bartul Kašić: Institutionum linguae illyricae libri duo, Rome 1604).
The language of Jesuit Kašić's translation of the Bible (Old and New Testament, 1622–1636; unpublished until 2000) 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.
This period, sometimes called "Baroque Slavism" was crucial in formation of literary idiom that was to become Croatian standard language—the 17th century witnessed flowering in three fields that shaped modern Croatian:
In late medieval times up to 17th century, the major part of semi-autonomous Croatia was ruled by two domestic dynasties of princes (bani), the Zrinski and the Frangipani, who were linked by inter-marriage. Toward 17th cent. both of them attempted to unify Croatia also on the cultural and lingual level, and with great foresight they selected as their official language the transitional Ikavish-Kaykavian dialect, this being an acceptable mean intermediate between all the principal Croatian dialects (Chakavian, Kaykavian and Ikavish-Shchakavian); it is used till now in northern Istra, and in the valleys of the Kupa, Mrežnica and Sutla rivers, and sporadically elsewhere in central Croatia also.
This standardised form then became the cultivated elite language of administration and intellectuals from the Istra peninsula along the Croatian coast, across central Croatia up into the northern valleys of the Drava and the Mura. The cultural apogee of this unified standard in 17th cent. is represented by the editions of "Adrianskog mora sirena" (Syren of Adriatic Sea) and "Putni tovaruš" (Travelling escort), these being on the highest cultural plane in contemporary Europe. However, this first linguistic renaissance in Croatia was halted by the political execution of both dynasties by the Holy Roman Emperor in Vienna in 1671. Then, the Croatian elite in 18th cent. gradually abandoned this combined Croatian standard, and after an Austrian initiative (Wien 1850), replaced them with the uniform Neo-Shtokavian.
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 ča, kaj, što in, respectively, čakavian, 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 1830–1850s.
Gaj and his Illyrian movement (centred in kajkavian-speaking Croatia's capital Zagreb) were, however, 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 15th/16th century) was the major Croatian literary tongue from 1700s on. 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 no single 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.
The 19th century language development overlapped with the upheavals that befell Serbian language. It was Vuk Stefanović Karadžić, 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 first half of the 19th century, Serbs had been using the 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 first Serbian dictionary and grammar thus far).
Following the incentive of Austrian bureaucracy which preferred some kind of unified Croatian and Serbian languages for practical administrative reasons, in 1850, Slovene philologist Franc Miklošič initiated a meeting of two Serbian philologists and writers, Vuk Karadžić and Đuro Daničić together with five Croatian "men of letters": Ivan Mažuranić, Dimitrija Demetar, Stjepan Pejaković, Ivan Kukuljević and Vinko Pacel. The Vienna Agreement on the basic features of a unified "Croatian or Serbian" or "Serbo-Croatian" language was signed by all eight participants (including Miklošič).
Karadžić's influence on Croatian standard idiom was only one of the reforms for Croats, mostly in some aspects of grammar and orthography; many other changes he made to Serbian were already present in Croatian. Both languages shared the common basis of South Slavic neoštokavian dialect, but the Vienna agreement didn't have any effect in reality until a more unified standard appeared at the end of 19th century when Croatian sympathisers of Vuk Karadžić, known as the Croatian Vukovites, wrote the first modern (from the vantage point of dominating neogrammarian linguistic school) grammars, orthographies and dictionaries of the language which they called "Croatian or Serbian" (Serbs preferred Serbo-Croatian). Monumental grammar authored by pre-eminent fin de siècle Croatian linguist Tomislav Maretić (Grammar and stylistics of Croatian or Serbian language) and dictionary by Broz and Iveković (Croatian dictionary) temporarily fixed the elastic (grammatically, syntactically, lexically) standard of this hybrid language.
The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (1918-1929) lasted till January 1929, after that the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (1929-1941) was pronounced, which tried to use a joint language in the spirit of supra-national Yugoslav ideology. This meant that Croatian and Serbian were no longer developed individually side by side, but that there was an attempt to forge the two into one language. As Serbs were by far the largest single ethnic group in the kingdom, this forging was resultant in a Serbian-based language, which meant a certain Serbianization of the language.
In the 1920s and 1930s, the lexical, syntactical, orthographical and morphological characteristics of Serbian were officially prescribed for Croatian textbooks and general communication.
This process of "unification" into one Serbo-Croatian language was preferred by neo-grammarian Croatian linguists, the most notable example being the influential philologist and translator Tomislav Maretić. However, this school was virtually extinct by the late 1920s and since then leading Croatian linguists (such as Petar Skok, Stjepan Ivšić and Petar Guberina) were unanimous in the re-affirmation of the Croatian purist tradition.
The situation somewhat eased in the run-up to World War II (cf. the establishment of Banovina of Croatia within Yugoslavia in 1939), but with the capitulation of Yugoslavia and the creation of the Nazi puppet regime (the "Independent State of Croatia", 1941-1945) came another, this time hardly predictable and grotesque attack on standard Croatian: the totalitarian dictatorship of Ante Pavelić pushed natural Croatian purist tendencies to ludicrous extremes and tried to reimpose older morphonological orthography preceding Ivan Broz's orthographical prescriptions from 1892. An official order signed by Pavelić and co-signed by Mile Budak and Milovan Žanić in August 1941 deprecated all imported words and forbade the use of any foreign words that could be replaced with Croatian neologisms.
However, Croatian linguists and writers were strongly opposed to this travesty of "language planning" in the same way that they rejected pro-Serbian forced unification in monarchist Yugoslavia. Not surprisingly, no Croatian dictionaries or Croatian grammars were published in this period.
In the Communist period (1945 to 1990), it was the by-product of Communist centralism and "internationalism". Whatever the intentions, the result was the same: the suppression of the basic features that differentiate Croatian from Serbian, both in terms of orthography and vocabulary. No Croatian dictionaries (apart from historical "Croatian or Serbian", conceived in the 19th century) appeared until 1985, when centralism was well in the process of decay.
In Communist Yugoslavia, Serbian language and terminology were "official" in a few areas: the military, diplomacy, Federal Yugoslav institutions (various institutes and research centres), state media, and jurisprudence at the federal level. As well, language in Bosnia and Herzegovina was gradually Serbianized in all levels of the educational system and the republic's administration. Virtually the only institution of any importance where the Croatian language was dominant had been the Lexicographic Institute in Zagreb, headed by Croatian writer Miroslav Krleža. This unitary linguistic policy was encouraged by the state.
Notwithstanding the declaration of intent of AVNOJ (The Antifascist Council for the National Liberation of Yugoslavia) in 1944, which proclaimed the equality of all languages of Yugoslavia (Slovene, Croatian, Serbian and Macedonian) everything had, in practice, been geared towards the supremacy of the Serbian language. This was done under the pretext of "mutual enrichment" and "togetherness", hoping that the transient phase of relatively peaceful life among peoples in Yugoslavia would eventually give way to one of fusion into the supra-national Yugoslav nation and, arguably, provide a firmer basis for Serbianization. However, this "supra-national engineering" was arguably doomed from the outset. The nations that formed the Yugoslav state were formed long before its incipience and all unification pressures only poisoned and exacerbated inter-ethnic/national relations, causing the state to become merely ephemeral.
The single most important effort by ruling Yugoslav Communist elites to erase the "differences" between Croatian and Serbian and in practice impose Serbian Ekavian language, written in Latin script, as the "official" language of Yugoslavia was the so-called "Novi Sad Agreement". Twenty five Serbian, Croatian, and Montenegrin philologists came together in 1954 to sign the Agreement (named after the site of the signing, Novi Sad). A common Serbo-Croatian or "Croato-Serbian" orthography was compiled in an atmosphere of state repression and fear. There were 18 Serbs and 7 Croats in Novi Sad. The "Agreement" was seen by the Croats as a defeat for the Croatian cultural heritage. According to the eminent Croatian linguist Ljudevit Jonke, it was imposed on the Croats. The conclusions were formulated according to goals which had been set in advance, and discussion had no role whatsoever. In the more than a decade that followed, the principles of the Novi Sad Agreement were put into practice.
A collective Croatian reaction against such de facto Serbian imposition erupted on March 15, 1967. On that day, nineteen Croatian scholarly institutions and cultural organizations dealing with language and literature (Croatian Universities and Academies), including foremost Croatian writers and linguists (Miroslav Krleža, Radoslav Katičić, Dalibor Brozović and Tomislav Ladan among them) issued the "Declaration on the Status and Name of the Croatian Standard Language". In the Declaration, they asked for amendment to the Constitution expressing two claims:
Notwithstanding the fact that "Declaration" was vociferously condemned by Yugoslav Communist authorities as an outburst of "Croatian nationalism", Serbo-Croatian forced unification was essentially halted and an uneasy status quo remained until the end of Communism.
In the decade between the death of Marshall Tito (1980) and the final collapse of communism and the Yugoslavian state (1990/1991), major works that manifested the irrepressibility of Croatian linguistic culture had appeared. The studies of Brozović, Katičić and Babić that had been circulating among specialists or printed in the obscure philological publications in the 60s and 70s (frequently condemned and suppressed by the authorities) have finally, in the climate of dissolving authoritarianism, been published. This was a formal "divorce" of Croatian from Serbian (and, strictly linguistically speaking, the death of Serbo-Croatian). These works, based on modern fields and theories (structuralist linguistics and phonology, comparative-historical linguistics and lexicology, transformational grammar and areal linguistics) revised or discarded older "language histories", and restored the continuity of the Croatian language by definitely reintegrating and asserting specific Croatian characteristics (phonetic, morphological, syntactic, lexical, etc.) that had been constantly suppressed in both Yugoslavian states and finally gave modern linguistic description and prescription to the Croatian language. Among many monographs and serious studies, one could point to works issued by the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts, particularly Katičić's Syntax and Babić's Word-formation.
After the collapse of Communism and the birth of Croatian independence (1991), the situation with regard to the Croatian language has become stabilized. No longer under negative political pressures and de-Croatization impositions, Croatian linguists expanded the work on various ambitious programs and intensified their studies on current dominant areas of linguistics: mathematical and corpus linguistics, textology, psycholinguistics, language acquisition and historical lexicography. From 1991 on, numerous representative Croatian linguistic works were published, among them four voluminous monolingual dictionaries of contemporary Croatian, various specialized dictionaries and normative manuals (the most representative being the issue of the Institute for Croatian Language and Linguistics). For a curious bystander, probably the most noticeable language feature in Croatian society was the re-Croatization of Croatian in all areas, from phonetics to semantics and (most evidently) in everyday vocabulary.
Political ambitions played a key role in the creation of the Serbo-Croatian language. Likewise, politics again were a crucial agent in dissolving the unified language. With the collapse of Yugoslavia, the Serbo-Croatian language officially followed suit.
The Standard Croatian vowel system is simple, with five vowels (all monophthongs). Although meaningful, the difference between long and short vowels is not represented in Croatian orthography, as are not any other prosodical features. The five vowel qualities are as follows in the chart below. (A schwa /ə/ also occurs marginally, but has no phonemic weight.)
There is some debate among linguists on the exact phonetic value and spelling of long yat reflex which is in modern writing represented as trigraph ije. Current orthographical practice of using trigraph is a remnant of late 19th century codification efforts in which common orthography was planned to be developed for a common literary language of Serbs and Croats. In Eastern Herzegovian Ijekavian Štokavina dialects of Vuk Karadžić this was indeed disyllabic (triphonemic) sequence, but Croats have always pronounced this sequence monosyllabically. i.e. as opposed to Vuk's briȉjeg and zvijèzda standard Croatian has nowadays brijȇg and zvijézda. So even though a new orthoepical norm has been prescribed that reflects organic speech of most Croats, the reflex of long yat is still written in the old way.
Issue of this problematic ije spelling was attempted to be resolved in two ways. Dalibor Brozović claims that this is a special vowel, diphthong /ie̯/, and under his guidance, supported by Stjepan Babić, the Council for Standard Croatian Language Norm has suggested a spelling substitution of long yat reflex from ije to ie, e.g. mlieko pro mlijeko. Other solution, largely neglected in public, was that by Ivo Škarić, who suggested writing of je in place of long yat reflex, i.e. mljeko pro mlijeko. Current orthographical practice is still to write ije, and the orthoepical norm in most grammars prescribes it to be diphthongal, e.g. in the Hrvatska gramatika published by Institute of Croatian Language and Linguistics.
|Close||i /i/||u /u/|
|Mid||e /e/||o /o/|
When greater precision is desired, /e/ and /o/ can be transcribed as [ɛ̝] and [ɔ̝] respectively.
The syllabic trill can also be either long or short, and can carry the rising or falling pitch accent (see next paragraph).
Syllables before the pitch accent always have short vowels. Those after the pitch accent may have either long or short vowels.
Croatian has a two-way pitch accent. When a syllable is stressed, it may have either a rising or a falling tone. Although the distinction is meaningful, it is not represented in Croatian orthography. In the descriptive literature, five diacritics are used that are specific to Croatian. They are:
|e||[e]||non-tonic short vowel|
|ē||[eː]||non-tonic long vowel|
|è||[ě]||short vowel with rising tone|
|é||[ěː]||long vowel with rising tone|
|ȅ||[ê]||short vowel with falling tone|
|ȇ||[êː]||long vowel with falling tone|
Lexical words (such as nouns) of one syllable always have falling tone. Words with two or more syllables may also have a falling tone, but (with the exception of foreign borrowings and interjections) only on the first syllable. Words of more than one syllable may instead have a rising tone, on any syllable but the last.
Enclitics (little grammatical words which latch on to a preceding lexical word) never have tone. Proclitics (clitics which latch on to a following word), on the other hand, may "steal" a falling tone (but not a rising tone or the vowel length) from the following word. The stolen accent may end up being either falling or rising on the proclitic:
Proclitic system rules are rather omitted in western and northern parts of Croatia, particularly around Zagreb and other centres, and practically no one who claims to speak "Standard Croatian" pronounces the proclitics as they should be (and mostly are) pronounced in Shtokavian areas. They simply act as enclitics. Thus, u oko , u šumi [u , etc. will always be heard.
Pay attention to the following:
|Approximant|| /ʋ/ |
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 pronounced as Vašington), personal names and when consonants are not inside of one syllable.
/r/ can be syllabic, playing the role of the syllable nucleus in certain words (occasionally, it can even have a long accent). For example, the tongue-twister navrh brda vrba mrda involves four words with syllabic r. A similar feature exists in Czech, Slovak, Macedonian and Serbian. Very rarely, /l/ can be syllabic as well as /ʎ/, /m/, /n/ and /ɲ/ in jargon.
It may be added, as a point of historical interest, that notable Croatian philologist Tomislav Maretić had proposed, at the end of the 19th century in the Croatian (then, Yugoslav) Academy of Sciences and Arts editions a digrammic and unambiguous notation for "historically troublesome" phonemes. Had it been accepted, numerous classification- and computer-related problems could have been avoided. Maretić's proposal goes as follows:
dž would be written as dx
đ would be written as dy
lj would be written as ly
nj would be written as ny
Since this proposal had not aroused much interest, Maretić did not proceed with logical extension for other phonemes such as č, ć, š and ž.
Nouns have three grammatical genders (masculine, feminine and neuter) that correspond to a certain extent with the word ending, so that most nouns ending in -a are feminine, -o and -e neutral and the rest mostly masculine with a small but important class of feminines. Grammatical gender of a noun affects the morphology of other parts of speech (adjectives, pronouns and verbs) attached to it. Nouns are declined into 7 cases: Nominative, Genitive, Dative, Accusative, Vocative, Locative and Instrumental.
Verbs are divided into two broad classes according to their aspect, which can be either perfective (signifying a completed action) or imperfective (action is incomplete or repetitive). There are seven tenses, four of which (present, perfect, future I and II) are used in contemporary standard Croatian, with the other three (aorist, imperfect and plusquamperfect) considered stylistically marked and archaic.
Croatian language is today the official language of the Republic of Croatia and, along with Bosnian and Serbian, one of three official languages of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is also official in the regions of Burgenland (Austria), Molise (Italy) and Vojvodina (Serbia). Additionally, it has co-official status alongside Romanian in the communes of Caraşova and Lupac, Romania. In these localities, Croats or Krashovani make up the majority of the population, and education, signage and access to public administration and the justice system are provided in Croatian, alongside Romanian. There are seven Croatian language universities in the world: the universities of Zagreb, Split, Rijeka, Osijek, Zadar, Dubrovnik, Pula, and Mostar.
There is at present no sole regulatory body which determines correct usage of the Croatian language. There is however an Institute for the Croatian language and linguistics with a prescription department. Judging by the patterns of the neighbouring South Slavic languages, it is most likely that Croatian will remain a language of academy and not a demotic language (eg. English, Greek).
The current language standard is generally laid out in the grammar books and dictionaries used in education facilities, such as the school curriculum prescribed by the Ministry of Education and the university programmes of the Faculty of Philosophy at the four main universities. The most prominent recent editions describing the Croatian standard language are:
Also notable are the recommendations of Matica hrvatska, the national publisher and promoter of Croatian heritage, the Lexicographical institute "Miroslav Krleža", as well as the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts.