A NY Times story by Nicholas Wood describes efforts to “restore” the “Bosnian language” to the Serbian region of Novi Pazar (1911 Britannica article), known in Serbo-Croatian (to use the accurate name of the language everyone in the region speaks) as the Sandžak and traditionally in English as the Sanjak (which is how you pronounce the Serbo-Croatian word). Wood does a suprisingly good job of separating nationalistic claims from reality and puncturing the idea of a separate language:
Since their country fractured, their culture and language has, too. Croatia, Bosnia, and even Montenegro have all sought to reassert traditional differences and distance themselves from Serbo-Croatian, a language some felt was too heavily dominated by Serbian.
What were considered dialects until recently are now regarded as their own language. In fact, three “new” languages – possibly four, if one counts Montenegrin – have appeared, distinguished as much by national pride (and perhaps pronunciation) than any deep distinction in grammar.
Vocabulary differs here and there. The Serbs and Montenegrins also use the Cyrillic alphabet, while Bosnians and Croatians use the Latin alphabet. But many people read both.
Still, before the war, Yugoslavs most everywhere in the country could understand each other. The same holds true through the region today. There is in fact probably less difference in spoken language and accent between and a Sarajevan and a Belgrader than between a Londoner and Glaswegian.
I have highlighted the crucial phrase (though of course “as much” should be “more”). Wood goes on to explain the political background:
Introduction of the classes is seen as a victory for the mountainous region’s Muslim minority, which argues that the local language was eroded by the education system and bureaucracy in Belgrade, which were dominated by Orthodox Serbs who speak a different dialect with its own accent.
“Language defines the identity of a people,” said Zekerija Dugopoljac, the director of education for the Bosnian National Council, the official body that represents Muslim Slavs in Serbia and Montenegro. “Having the Bosnian language brings recognition to a people who have lived in Serbia and Montenegro for centuries.”
The lessons, which have the approval of the Serbian Education Ministry, are intended to comply with European law allowing minorities to be taught their own language. But Serbian nationalists oppose the classes, which they see as a first step toward a separatist movement. The ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party has called for the education minister to step down.
Such moves are closely watched in this region, one of Serbia’s most ethnically diverse. The Sandzak managed to escape the ethnic conflicts of the 1990′s that took place just across its boundaries in Bosnia and Kosovo. Muslims here say they are keen not to alarm their Serb neighbors. Others appear confused about the need for the classes.
“I speak Serbian,” said Nedzat Zenunovic, a 23-year-old Muslim who works in an Internet cafe. “Bosnians speak Bosnian. We don’t live in Sarajevo, we live here.”
A straw poll in the cafe revealed that several people had difficulty in giving any name to the language they spoke.
“It’s Serbo-Montenegrin!” quipped a young student, smiling. Serbo-Montenegrin is not a recognized language.
Sounds like the locals who are neither politicians nor bureaucrats have a pretty sensible attitude towards the whole thing. To me, it’s as if the mayor of New York mandated classes to teach people “Dutch English” in an attempt to restore the traditional dialect of the city before it was corrupted.
I can’t post about Novi Pazar without quoting one of my favorite bits from Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow:
This lymphatic monster had once blocked the distinguished pharynx of Lord Blatherard Osmo, who at the time occupied the Novi Pazar desk at the Foreign Office, an obscure penance for the previous century of British policy on the Eastern Question, for on this obscure sanjak had once hinged the entire fate of Europe:
Nobody knows-where, it is-on-the-map,
Who’d ever think-it, could start-such-a-flap?
Each Montenegran, and Serbian too,
Waitin’ for some-thing, right outa the blue—oh honey
Pack up my Glad-stone, ‘n’ brush off my suit,
And then light me up my bigfat, cigar—
If ya want my address, it’s
That O-ri-ent Express,
To the san-jak of No-vi Pa-zar!…
It is taking up so much of his time he’s begun to neglect Novi Pazar, and F.O. is worried. In the thirties balance-of-power thinking was still quite strong, the diplomats were all down with Balkanosis, spies with foreign hybrid names lurked in all the stations of the Ottoman rump, code messages in a dozen Slavic tongues were being tattooed on bare upper lips over which the operatives then grew mustaches, to be shaved off only by authorized crypto officers and skin then grafted over the messages by the Firm’s plastic surgeons … their lips were palimpsests of secret flesh, scarred and unnaturally white, by which they all knew each other.
Novi Pazar, anyhow, was still a croix mystique on the palm of Europe, and F.O. finally decided to go to the Firm for help. The Firm knew just the man…
But Lord Blatherard Osmo was able at last to devote all of his time to Novi Pazar. Early in 1939, he was discovered mysteriously suffocated in a bathtub full of tapioca pudding, at the home of a Certain Viscountess. Some have seen in this the hand of the Firm. Months passed, World War II started, years passed, nothing was heard from Novi Pazar. Pirate Prentice had saved Europe from the Balkan Armageddon the old men dreamed of, giddy in their beds with its grandeur—though not from World War II, of course. But by then, the Firm was allowing Pirate only tiny homeopathic doses of peace, just enough to keep his defenses up, but not enough for it to poison him.
If only Lord Osmo could have lived to see the quiet reappearance of his obscure area of responsibility into the limelight of the News from Europe!
(Thanks to Bonnie for the link.)