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.)


  1. First of all let me declare my background: Croatian living in Australia since before the (1990-1995) wars.
    I am also bemused by some of the language policies that have been implemented in the ex-Yugoslav countries in recent times. Esp. the reputed need to resort to translators between Serb & Croat leaders at some of the peace talks in mid 1990s.
    It is true that people from all over the former Yugoslavia can understand each other without too much difficulty. Quite apart from the literary standards, there is a chain of dialects which are similar to each other, though very different from the ones at the opposite end of the chain.
    To give an example, my native dialect is the Shtokavian Ikavian, which is spoken in Dalmatia, and some areas of Bosnia and in Hercegovina. Having said that, I have an accent specific to my town, and anyone from the neighbouring towns would be able to tell where I come from.
    I have no great trouble understanding either the Croatian literary standard (based on Shtokavian Ijekavian) or the Serbian literary standard (based on Shtokavian Ekavian). But that is not to say that I would be able to readily understand natives of Zagreb or of Belgrade speaking their local dialects. Similarly, it would take me more time to get used to some chakavian dialects, kajkavian (which merge with Slovenian at some point), and south Serbian dialects (which merge with Macedonian and Bulgarian).
    See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Croatian_language for more information on what I’m talking about.
    However, I think it is important to respect the wishes of the people involved when we describe their language. Historically, Croatian and Serbian have had very different literary standards – enough to mark them as separate languages (plays written by talented Dubrovnik playwrights had to be translated when performed for Serbs in Vojvodina). Differences were not only in pronunciation, but also vocabulary, and grammar. Not to mention the different script (latin for Croat and cyrillic for Serb).
    Since cyrillic is not taught in Croatia anymore (Serbian cyrillic is as much a foreign script in Croatia as is Bulgarian or Ukrainian cyrillic), a Croatian child would not be able to carry on written correspondence with a Serbian.
    When I went to school in communist Yugoslavia, the subject I learnt was called Croatian. In Serbia they would have learnt Serbian.
    So, to lump the languages spoken in ex-Yugoslavia as something called Serbocroatian is incorrect and disrespectful to the native speakers. How is this different to the Serbo-Croato-Slovene that was allegedly spoken in the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats & Slovenes? It is a bit like saying that “Soviet” was spoken in the ex-USSR.
    Following the same logic, you would need a single name for the language spoken in India and Pakistan (Hindurdu?), in Czech and Slovak Republics (Czechoslovakian?) and in Denmark and Norway.
    There are many regions of the world where dialect continua exist, but boundaries must be chosen, and one way of doing so is following the practices and respecting the wishes of the people involved. Otherwise, there would be no separate Romance languages, you could just lump all the dialects spoken from Sicily to Lisbon and from Normandy to the Alps under the heading “Romance”, or better still – “Latin”.
    So, if Croats, Bosnians, Serbs, Montenegrins, Dalmatians, Istrians, Vojvodjani, Hercegovci, Bunjevci, Sokci, Sandzaklije… develop different standards, all distinct from one another, who is to deny them the identity of languages, and to express themselves as a people.

  2. Thank you for a well-expressed and on the whole reasonable comment. I must take issue with this, however:
    It is a bit like saying that “Soviet” was spoken in the ex-USSR.
    It’s not at all like that. The USSR had languages of many different families, clearly distinct, and it would have been madness to lump them together. It is much more like lumping Hindi and Urdu together as Hindustani, as was in fact done before the separation of the countries; even after decades of determined separation, the normal everyday spoken forms are mutually intelligible and can be considered a single language. There was of course no “Serbo-Croato-Slovene,” because Slovene is a quite distinct language, but the insistence on “Serbian,” “Croatian,” and “Bosnian” (and doubtless “Montenegrin” once Montenegro separates from Serbia) is a purely political one with minimal linguistic justification. Mind you, I’m not denying the right of the Serbs, Croats, and so on to call their language whatever they like, and even to make strenuous efforts to differentiate them so that eventually they may genuinely be different languages (though that seems perverse to me — why decrease mutual comprehension?); I am merely pointing out that from a linguistic point of view it has no scientific basis.

  3. Mr Hat
    Thank very much for your comment. Let me first say keep up the good work. I’m a regular reader of your web site and look forward to reading it every time I hop on to the internet.
    The point of my post was not to deny the fact that the “the normal everyday spoken forms are mutually intelligible and can be considered a single language”. To do so would be ridiculous and would go against the plain truth.
    What I was trying to get at is that the English speaking linguistic community should be recognising the new realities on the ground. By calling the language Serbo-Croat, one is already 15 years out of date.
    To give an example: No there is no Serbo-Croat-Slovene language. But that is exactly what the language was called during the Kingdom of SCS days. I will spare you the details of when and how the Serbo-Croat name was first used – these can be found on many websites dealing with the issue. Suffice it to say that the language has been around longer than the name. Some of the names used for my language in the past (before the term Serbo-Croat) were:
    Slovinski (Slav)
    Dalmatinski (Dalmatian)
    Iliriski (Illyrian)
    and of course – Hrvatski (Croatian)
    These were all correct names for the same language at a particular time. My point is that even though it might be hard to call something by a name other than that you learnt as a child, it is important to use the name that is most proper to the time. Serbo-Croat” will offend not only Croats, but also to Serbs and to Bosnians. I still own a Serbocroatian-English dictionary. But that was published before the (1990-1995) war, and you will be hard pressed to find anything by the same title published in the last ten years.
    It is not an issue of having an English name for something which is called differently in the native tongue. The best example of this is German – Deutsch.
    It is more like calling it by a name that is correct by reference to the pressent. So, the language that was called Siamese in the 18th century is now properly called Thai. Similarly, it would be improper to call it Eskimo (or even better ‘Esquimaux’) when in fact we now call it Inuit.
    So that brings us to the question: what do we call that language which we used to call Serbocroatian? I don’t have a ready answer, except to conform to the realities on the ground, and accept that no (or not many) native speakers would call it Serbocroatian. Instead they would call it Croatian, Bosnian, or Serbian. Or to use the handy abbreviation used in the Hague Tribunal – BCS.

  4. Michael Farris says

    If Serbia and Montenegro go their separate ways (as seems inevitable along with the rise of a fourth literary standard) I’d say Yugoslav (I prefer the spelling Jugoslav but I realize that’s a minority opinion).
    Croatian Jugoslav
    Serbian Jugoslav
    Bosnian Jugoslav
    Montenegrin Jugoslav
    It works for me, but the reaons it works for me mean that speakers of the languages involved will probably reject it.
    Failing that go back to Shtovakian, Kajvakian, Chakavian (or just Shtovak, Kajvak and Chakav?)assume that the Shtovak, Kajkav and Chakav differences are greater than the Ijekav, Ekav etc. differences.
    So that the official language of Croatia is
    Croatian Shtovak
    and the official language of Serbia is
    Serbian Shtovak
    (I have no idea if Bosnian or Montenegrin standards are/wouold be also Shtovak or something else)
    Again the speakers involved would probably reject any proposal that suggests the underlying unity of the languages involved.
    “who is to deny them the identity of languages, and to express themselves as a people”
    Who indeed? But they should remember that choices have consequences and recognize the dangers of microsizing their languages out of meaningful existence, especially in an area with proven colonial appeal (as opposed to remote and chilly Scandinavia which few non-natives have every paid much attention to).
    FWIW, I recently toyed with the idea of seeing if I could acquire a working reading knowledge of Serbo-Croatian (the name used by the textbook I have, the the emphasis is on Serbian Shtovak (Ekavian) though other varieties are touched on. Then I decided not to, since my interest level isn’t high enough to justify the effort to learn such a small language (I have nothing against small languages as long as there’s some new aspect for me, but I already know a Slavic language and Serbian (or Croatian or Bosnian) just don’t have enough bang for the buck on their own.

  5. Michael Farris says

    A quick search seems to turn up the information (which could of course well be wrong) that the the Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian and Montenegrin standards are all Shtovakian, so I renew my proposal to use Shtovak as a cover term for all four with the appropriate national designation preceding it.

  6. So that brings us to the question: what do we call that language which we used to call Serbocroatian? I don’t have a ready answer
    Well, that is the question, isn’t it? I don’t call it Serbo-Croatian out of some perverse attachment to the past or desire to offend former Yugoslavs, but because that’s the only name I know for it. If I’m talking about Croatia, I’m happy to refer to “Croatian,” and likewise for the other countries involved, but I’m much more likely to be talking about the language as a language, a particular South Slavic language distinct from Slovenian and Bulgarian, and I can’t call it “Croatian” without offending Serbs and Bosnians (and likewise for the other possibilities). So I call it Serbo-Croatian and offend everybody. BCS is a possible solution, and if it ever becomes generally accepted I’ll be glad to use it, but at the moment nobody outside the Hague Tribunal knows what it means. Again, thank you for making your point so fairly and politely; frankly, I was expecting someone to come in and flame me with nationalist fervor (which may of course still happen).
    Michael: Um, that’s Shtokavian (and likewise for the other forms). You’re getting them mixed up with Slovakian.

  7. I suggest “the language formerly known as Serbo-Croatian,” represented by an unpronounceable symbol.

  8. Michael Farris says

    “Um, that’s Shtokavian”
    ARRRGGHHHH!!! I knew I would screw it up. I still think it’s as good a designation as any (esp. since it’s the basis of all the literary languages).
    Serbian Shtokavian
    Croatian Shtokavian etc.
    Or perhaps combine that with ikavian, ekavian (etc) as follows:
    Ekavo-Shtokavian etc.
    But again, I think it’s not the name that’s offensive, it’s the idea that is, namely that the languages in question are essentially the same language (and could easily enough be united in a common literary standard that still allowed for and respected regionalisms). I suspect that that any name that contains that idea will be rejected out of hand. Not the wisest choice in my opinion, but not mine to make.

  9. Sercrobosnian.

  10. Boscroserbian.

  11. Serboscroat.
    (Hmm, sounds familiar…)

  12. I think we just shouldn’t call them anything at all until they all learn to get along with each other.</prig> 😉

  13. I came along late, but it was a very interesting discussion.
    Zixt mentioned Scandinavia. Just for the record, weird linguistic nationalism does not necessarily lead to bad things. Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian could easily have a common standard language, but they don’t. They have four, and Norway alone has two (Bokmal and Nynorsk.) But nothing very bad came of it.

  14. True enough. But they’re too busy keeping warm to get into trouble.

  15. During my last tour in Bosnia-Hercegovina (03-04), we took to calling the language “BCS” for “Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian.”
    Thus we quietly and diplomatically did an end-run around the polite fiction that the three groups had distinct languages.

  16. There is an interesting article explaining this issue at http://www.matica.hr/Vijenac/Vij192.nsf/AllWebDocs/+DaliborBrozovicPRVOLICEJEDNINE (if you can read Croatian).
    The article explains current Croatian linguistic terminology. Croatian linguists use the term srednjojuznoslavenski (Central South Slav) for the diasystem (as opposed to the standard literary languages). The standard literary languages are validly called by their national appellation – Croatian, Serbian, and Bosniac respectively. The relevant passage is:
    The term Serbocroatian (and other similar terms: Croatoserbian, Serbo-Croatian, Croato-Serbian, ‘Serbian or Croatian’, ‘Croatian or Serbian’) is unacceptable.
    Firstly, the term refers to Croatians and Serbs only – and not to the other peoples that speak it.
    Secondly, the term is polyvalent – ‘Serbocroatian’ connotes a Serb Croatian (Croatian as spoken by Serbs?) and not a Croat Croatian, ‘Serbo-Croatian’ connotes a part-Serbian and part-Croatian hybrid, while ‘Serbian or Croatian’ is an either-or term.
    Thirdly, the term pays homage to the forced unitarist (ie. Great Serb) language policy practised in both Yugoslavias (ie. the pre-WW2 kingdom, and the post-WW2 communist republic).

  17. Thanks for translating that. I think “Central South Slav” would be a fine term, although I doubt it will catch on in English.

  18. When I read this article I throw away the papers (I find New York Times a paper with 98% of lies in it!!!)
    I must say this artical is rediculus! (It also omits a lot of ‘details’ which makes it idiotic but which were in the newspaper in the first place.) Are we soon going to say that people in Belgrade speak Belgradian, and people from Sarajevo Sarajevian!? Or those from Zagreb Zagrebian!? I think, if certein people continue to think this way, not only is all this going to happen but soon they will say that every village in ex Yugoslavia speak their own language!!!!!!!!
    Get to your sences people!!!!

  19. I just started Gravity’s Rainbow and, given how overloaded each page is with foreign and/or fantastical references, it’s hard to decide which is worth looking up and which can just be nodded. But, not a lazy reader, googling “Balkanisis” brought me to this page, which definitely illuminated what I otherwise would have missed. Thanks for this.

  20. A simplistic and misleading article. The story of Shtokavian and politics can’t be told properly without at least briefly touching on its relatively complex history and the issue of tradition. But I’ve already ranted about that enough on this blog.

    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. But many people read both.

    I’m not sure what also refers to here and what the sentence was meant to convey (also, in addition to the vocabulary differences, they use one alphabet and they the other or Serbs and Montenegrins also use the Cyrillic alphabet in addition to the Latinic one), so I’m not sure whether it’s incorrect or just not very well written. Whichever the author intended, I think most readers would understand it in the former, incorrect meaning, reinforcing the common misconception that Serbs and Montenegrins don’t use the Latinic alphabet.

    Another very common misconception is this one from the comments:

    I have no great trouble understanding either the Croatian literary standard (based on Shtokavian Ijekavian) or the Serbian literary standard (based on Shtokavian Ekavian).

    The Serbian standard actually allows two types of yat realization. The Croatian standard sadly allows only one, one that was present only in a minority of the population at standardization. I always envy Serbians over that.

    As for what name to use, I’ve come to prefer Shtokavian to Serbocroatian, or the newer BCSor BCMS, and wish it was an option. It already exists, and it’s short and simple while definitely not leaving anyone out.

    As an update on Bosnian, there still doesn’t seem to exist a well-defined and consistent Bosnian standard well known to and widely accepted by the population. I don’t know what’s taught to kids, though, so this might change in the future.

  21. prefer Shtokavian to Serbocroatian

    They mean different things, at least as I understand it: Shtokavian is a dialect continuum wider than any of the standard languages, whereas Serbo-Croatian (or the inverse) refers to a fusion of standards, as if (as I have said before), the UK adopted American spellings as equally legitimate to its own. It was that fusion of standards that came apart post-Tito, so even if linguistically nothing happened, sociolinguistically something emphatically did.

  22. Serbocroatian is used for both meanings, and I think it’s a good enough name for the latter, which is now mostly a historical phenomenon. There’s a Serbocroatian Wikipedia, of course, and probably other online content. Looking at Bosnian media, much of it could be said to use Serbocroatian (though that name has mostly been replaced by Bosnian). The vocabulary and forms used seem to alternate more or less freely depending on TV station/newspaper or reporter. Anything from either standard seems to be allowed, except using ekavian. This mostly applies to Bosniak media or media without a specific ethnic orientation. Bosnian Croat and Bosnian Serb media use mostly only the Croatian and Serbian standard respectively.

    I’ve never lived there, but my impression was always that the language used, by all the ethnicities, in Bosnia in official contexts during Yugoslavia was the (ijekavian) Serbian standard. Some mostly Croat and Muslim (to use the terminology of the time) regions used vocabulary and forms in their local varieties also found in Standard Croatian, but you wouldn’t encounter it in formal language in Bosnia. The appearance and increasing frequency of Standard Croatian features in the Bosnian media is a recent phenomenon. It’s slightly controversial, with some Bosnians strongly disliking this change. I’ve seen some complaints that, trying to get away from Serbian, the Bosnian media has ended up forcing Croatian on the population. But I suspect a lot of it isn’t really a conscious choice and can simply be chalked up to things like widespread viewership of Croatian TV channels, use of Croatian translations and subtitles, etc.

  23. Lars (the original one) says

    Zixt mentioned Scandinavia. Just for the record, weird linguistic nationalism does not necessarily lead to bad things.

    The Scandinavian situation is not strictly speaking the product of nationalism understood as a 20th century disease, the Danish and Swedish standards were products of the central administrations of two absolute monarchies and differences have been formalized for at least 500 years (and some of the isoglosses they enshrine are traceable back 1000 years).

    Nynorsk I’ll give you, but in the latter half of the 19th there were actually changes made (mainly in orthography) to bring all the standards closer together.

    And of course nobody seriously entertained the idea of introducing a common Dachsprache, which would probably have been easier a hundred years ago before Danish disappeared further down its rabbit hole of lenition. (But reportedly SAS staff have invented a near equivalent for workplace communication).

  24. It is more like calling it by a name that is correct by reference to the pressent. So, the language that was called Siamese in the 18th century is now properly called Thai. Similarly, it would be improper to call it Eskimo (or even better ‘Esquimaux’) when in fact we now call it Inuit.
    So that brings us to the question: what do we call that language which we used to call Serbocroatian? I don’t have a ready answer, except to conform to the realities on the ground, and accept that no (or not many) native speakers would call it Serbocroatian. Instead they would call it Croatian, Bosnian, or Serbian.

    I do not like “Serbocroatian”. But I need to refer to [the referent] somehow, and this very practical need is important. I was not even able to compose the previous line without an ugly or humorous or potentially offencive description. After trying two I deleted it and wrote [the referent], for illustration and not only.

    Compared to this, the need to “correctly refer to present” is less important as long as I do not feel it myself.

    As for Eskimo… how many Croatians know Eskimi and how many are familiar with Inuiti?

    Croatian linguists use the term srednjojuznoslavenski (Central South Slav) for the diasystem (as opposed to the standard literary languages).

    I can say, why I did not write “Central South Slavic”.

    Normally we use words familiar to our readers. I could write “Yugoslav” and everyone would “know that I know that they know” who and how uses the word and what I mean by it. “He could not find an appropriate term and used an old political designation, somewhat humorously” – I hope everyone would have thought this, but I am not sure Yugoslavs themselves would.

    CSS is not familiar to anyone. The logic that made me choose it is not transparent. Which means, I am making one of two claims: (1) “I like it” (2) “there is a community of users of this term, that I find important ” (and I am teaching it to everyone). Both are not true: Croatian linguists are not better than any other linguists.

  25. Of course, as long as Yugoslavs criticize this or that term, everyone blames Yugoslavs for the problem. But I do not think it is their fault. Maybe that they did not come up with a solution is.

    The problem as such is natural. We have a cluster or related varieties (including standards) without a good name. We also do not have a name for what I call “literary European”: a set of features shared by literary European langauges. For North Germanic continuum. For SAE. And in this case the situation is much worse, because many people act and think as if these entities did not exist.

  26. January First-of-May says

    But I need to refer to [the referent] somehow, and this very practical need is important.

    The usual Language Hat term, as it happens, is FYLOSC, viz. Former Yugoslav Language of Serbo-Croatian.

    I’ve been (somewhat) a proponent of Kavian, as the natural term for the group containing Shtokavian, Chakavian, and Kajkavian, but I’ve also used assorted variants of “Western South Slavic”. OTOH it appears that Slovene’s closest living relative is in fact Kajkavian, which muddles things further.

  27. FYLOSC is perfect for LH if its speakers do not object. But what about others?

  28. I would sum up my position this way:

    1. “it is better not to refer to the unity at all than to call it Serbocroatian”.
    Keeping various language learners and schoolkids informed is a priority. National sentiments are less so.

    2. “‘Serbocroatian’ is not a good name”
    Agree. But see above. Someone must offer something better.

  29. “More importantly, complete understanding between the ethnic variants of the standard language makes translation and second language teaching impossible.”

    — Степан! Степан, у гостя карета сломалась.
    — Вижу, барин. Ось полетела. И спицы менять надо….
    — За скоко сделаешь?
    — За день сделаю.
    — А за два?
    — Ну, за… за… сделаем и за два.
    — А за пять дней?
    — Ну… ежели постараться, можно и за пять.
    — А за десять?
    — Ну. барин, ты задачи ставишь. … За десять дён одному не справиться, тут помощник нужен. Гомо сапиенс.
    — Бери помощников, но чтобы не раньше.

  30. “‘Serbocroatian’ is not a good name”

    I continue not to understand this. I understand that Serbs and Croats do not like it for what I consider silly nationalistic reasons, but that does not mean it’s not a good name. It seems to me a perfectly good name that a lot of people now dislike, creating difficulties in nomenclature. Why do you dislike it?

  31. Well, we don’t use Galla for the Oromo language, because we try to be respectful of the feelings of the native speakers.

    Similarly, we don’t use Hindustani any more for the Hindi and Urdu languages.

    Nor do we call the Indonesian language Malay.

    Nor do we talk about a Scandinavian language or a Czechoslovakian language even though dialects straddle national boundaries.

    I’m not sure why there are difficulties in nomenclature with Serbian & Croatian, but no difficulties in nomenclature with Bahasa Indonesia & Malay?!?

  32. With Bosnian in Sandžak, the Serbian govt propaganda wasn’t succesful in creating a new nation here, like they did with some Bunjevci in Vojvodina and like they tried with the Egyptians in Kosovo.

    It wouldn’t be a problem for the Serbian authorities if they had been successful in creating a Sanjakli nation with a Sanjakli language. But no propaganda worked on the Sandžak Muslims and the Serbian authorities have a “problem” – a Bosnian national minority right on the border with Bosnia & Hercegovina.

  33. Well, we don’t use Galla for the Oromo language, because we try to be respectful of the feelings of the native speakers.

    Yes, because “Galla” has always been considered an insulting name.

    Similarly, we don’t use Hindustani any more for the Hindi and Urdu languages.

    This is a much better parallel; “Hindustani” is a perfectly good name that used to be accepted by everyone, but after the Partition the newly minted Indians and Pakistanis didn’t want anything to do with each other, so they invented their own languages and rejected the former joint name. I’m not saying the clock can be turned back — people can choose whatever name they like for their language — just that I think the change is dumb. A useful term has been rejected for nationalist reasons, and I despise nationalism. (I don’t even like the fact that our local garbage company calls itself “U.S.A. Hauling.” Leave the flag out of it, you’re garbagemen, not Marines!)

  34. Maybe the case can be made that a change has been made for nationalistic reasons if new particular language name is invented to replace the old common one.

    But in the case of the South Slav languages it’s the other way round. Croatian, Serbian and Slovene were recorded as separate languages centuries before the word “Serbo-Croatian” was created in the middle of the 19th century to serve as a supra-name, as part of the political project of unification. Granted, Macedonian in the sense of the Slavonic language, has only been used since about the mid-late 19th century.

    This can be contrasted with Indonesian on the other hand. So is there an issue there?

  35. J.W. Brewer says

    I am perhaps inordinately proud of “FYLOSC,” as my one attempted contribution to the technical lexicon of Sprachwissenschaft that has actually caught on to some modest extent. But I of course coined it a dozen or so years back by analogy to FYROM, and now that FYROM has been rebranded as North Macedonia I have a bit of that nought-may-endure-save-mutability sense of unease.

  36. So is there an issue there?

    The issue is that in linguistic terms they’re the same language, so it’s useful to have a cover term. It’s fine to reject “Serbo-Croatian” as long as you have a useful replacement, but there isn’t one.

  37. >Egyptians in Kosovo.

    Wiki explains that the community has continuity from the Iron Age, when Egypt sent miners to extract Balkan ore.

    This seems unlikely. Anyone know more?

  38. Similarly, we don’t use Hindustani any more for the Hindi and Urdu languages.

    When I need to refer to what they study in school OR to Sanscrit/Persian layers I use Hindi or Urdu.

    When I need to refer to the shared dialect base I can use Urdu (if I am discussing people who study Urdu in school specifically), but I prefer Hindustani…
    Well, I can use “Hindi/Urdu”.

  39. This seems unlikely.

    It sure does, and I suspect that article needs serious revision.

  40. I suppose my question was: is there a ‘nationalistic’ issue with Indonesian?

    How do we handle the fact that Indonesian, Malay, and whatever they speak & write in Brunei are the same “language”? What’s the cover term that should be used there?

    What cover terms should be used for “Hindustani”, “Scandinavian”, “Czechoslovakian”, for Russian-Belarussian-Ukrainian?

  41. What cover terms should be used for “Hindustani”, “Scandinavian”, “Czechoslovakian”, for Russian-Belarussian-Ukrainian?

    Only Hindustani among those groups is actually a single language, and I’m fine calling it Hindustani. For the others, there are already linguistic cover terms like East Slavic.

    If California or Texas seceded from the US, they would probably start claiming to speak their own languages, and I would consider that just as stupid.

  42. J.W. Brewer says

    For Rus-Bel-Uk I should think “East Slavic” would be perfectly adequate?

    You can apparently call Bahasa Indonesia “a standardized variety of Malay” on wikipedia without triggering violent nationalistic edit wars, perhaps because the relationship between nationalism and language does not play out the same way over there as in the Balkans. I suppose one way to defer to Indonesian sensibilities could be to refer to the slightly different (mostly in orthography?) variety that is standard in Malaysia/Singapore as “Bahasa Melayu” or maybe “Malaysian” rather than just “Malay,” in order to save “Malay” to describe only the higher-level pluralicentric thing that the varying national standards are instances of.

    Re California/Texas, I would note that it’s been close to 250 years since the U.S. violently ceased to be ruled by the English, but attempts to call our language “American” rather than “English” (or even to call it “American English” outside of highly technical contexts) have always been marginal eccentricities that never caught on. I guess Scots is the only Anglic language variety whose name signals that its speakers do not self-identity as “English” for non-linguistic purposes.

  43. Serbo-Croatian is an old 19th century politically correct term.

    Very awkward, I agree.

    It’s like calling English Anglo-Scottish.

    The obvious way to resolve the difficulty is unfortunately very politically incorrect.

    Croats are very unlikely to call their language Croatian Serbian even though it historically did originate in western Serbia/eastern Herzegovina.

  44. Russian-Belarussian-Ukrainian

    East Slavic, but I do not understand Ukrainian.

  45. Surely some consistency is warranted. If there should be a cover term for South Slavic (Serbo-Croat was at one time or another used for more or less all South Slavic languages), then there should be a cover term for Indonesian-Malay-Singaporean-Bruneian-South Thailandese and for “Czechoslovakian” as well.

    But for some reason, people who are perfectly happy talking about the Indonesian language have a problem with Croatian.

    On the other hand i think there is something not right about telling a person “you don’t know what your own language is called and you ought to call it something else”.

  46. East Slavic, but I do not understand Ukrainian.

    Not sure what you mean.

    But for some reason, people who are perfectly happy talking about the Indonesian language have a problem with Croatian.

    Nobody has a problem with Croatian as far as I know; certainly I don’t. If I’m talking about the official language of Croatia, I’m happy to call it Croatian. The problem comes when one wants to talk about the common language of Croatia, Serbia, and Bosnia; if you don’t want me to call it Serbo-Croatian, give me a better term. Nobody is saying “you don’t know what your own language is called and you ought to call it something else”; that’s a straw man.

  47. SFR (does that stand for ‘socialist federal republic’ by any chance?):

    I assume that you havent read the first comment in this thread. I wrote it back in 2005. It’s got some info on the history of south slavic languages.

    Otherwise you are just trying to get a rise out of Croats by trolling out the ‘Srbi svi i svuda’ line (translated: “everyone and everywhere are Serbs” – the title of a work by the most revered Serb linguist in Serbia).

  48. He’s Russian and likes to get a rise out of people. And yes, I’d encourage everyone to read the original comment by zyxt (formerly zixt) — it’s a good summary of the situation.

  49. there should be a cover term for Indonesian-Malay-Singaporean-Bruneian-South Thailandese

    Cover term for Indonesian Malay, Malaysian Malay, Singaporean Malay, Bruneian Malay and Southern Thailand Malay is, well, Malay.

  50. J.W. Brewer says

    I suppose it is perfectly logically consistent to e.g. a) call your own L1 “Croatian”; b) accept rather than dispute that it is the same “language” as that spoken by Serbs and other non-Croats; c) accept that for good or for ill those other people for historical/political reasons don’t themselves use “Croatian” as the name of the language; and d) try to figure out ad hoc strategies for minimizing either confusion or offense-taking on occasions when you are having conversations with such people in that common language and need to refer to that language by name. To zyxt’s concern, my default response is “you can call your own language whatever you want, but if you think it’s a *different* language than the one spoken next door by those neighbors you dislike I have no particular obligation to humor you if I think that’s a false claim.” It is important to distinguish disputes about labels from disputes about the reality the labels purport to apply to.

    Regional variations in words with the same referent are commonplace, and we generally don’t worry overmuch in AmEng about a single “neutral” macro-term for soda v. pop or sub v. hoagie v. grinder v. etc etc. Or at least I don’t. To take a more politicized instance, the 2010 U.S. census form gave one of the box-checking potential answers to the race question as “Black, African Am., or Negro,” as a way of showing they knew different potential respondents had different preferred labels for the same referent and they were more interested in gathering accurate data than in taking sides as to what the “correct” label was. (For 2020, the third option was eliminated – I don’t know how empirical versus politicized the decision-making process was.)

  51. everyone and everywhere are Serbs

    No, no, that’s very far from my position.

    I am a very historically minded person and I am perfectly aware that the Serbs and Croats were different and distinct peoples since the early Middle Ages.

    If they speak the same language now this is because at some point one of these peoples switched to the language of another.

    I mean the Irish now speak Irish English due to some unpleasant historical reasons, but they don’t call it Irish, because they know that Gaelic was the real Irish language, unfortunately they don’t speak it much nowadays, but are very fond of it nevertheless.

    Similarly, wouldn’t it better to reserve the term Croatian for the real Croatian language (which is Chakavian surely)?

  52. LH:

    I’m not sure what you mean by a common language of Croatia, Serbia, etc.


    If you want to say that you want to buy yourself trousers in Croatian, you say: “Hoću si kupiti hlače” hlače also being the Slovenian word for trousers.
    In the Serbian language you say something different “Hoću da kupim pantalone” – pantalone also being the Macedonian word for trousers.

    What we have are closely related but separate languages with a very high level of mutual comprehensibility.

    If you move into the field of dialectology, a case can be made that there are dialects that straddle national boundaries. But that doesn’t stop at the borders of Croatia and Serbia – the dialect continuum goes all the way from Italy and Austria right up to the Black Sea. And the “cover term” for those dialects is South Slavic.

  53. What we have are closely related but separate languages with a very high level of mutual comprehensibility.

    You can say the same of English and American, and give similar examples. Anyone can draw the dialect/language line wherever it pleases them, but personally I think calling English and American, or Serbian and Croatian, or Indonesian and Malay separate languages is being too fine-grained. And I’m especially suspicious of such distinctions when nationalist sentiments are involved.

  54. J.W. Brewer says

    Although the etymology for Serbian “pantalone” almost certainly goes back (with some intervening semantic shifts) to Свети Пантелејмон, who lived in what is now Turkey, I suspect the word did not travel to Serbia on the shortest geographical path via North Macedonia but took a more roundabout route.

  55. J.W. Brewer says

    Separately, “South Slavic” may be too high-level a cover term since as I understand it mutual intelligibility tends to fall off pretty sharply the further south and east you go. Maybe “Zapadnojužnoslavenski” is the right level of generality? Except that I think the standardized/official language varieties sponsored by the current political regimes in Bosnia/Croatia/Montenegro/Serbia are all fairly tightly clustered within the range of Zapadnojužnoslavenski dialects, so you might need a further term to pick out that subset.

  56. “mutual intelligibility tends to fall off pretty sharply the further south and east you go.”

    It would be interesting to make a map, but I imagine, measuring it must be difficult. Compare Maghrebi Arabic speakers and Egyptians. The former normally understand Egyptians. A Egyptian in Morocco understands nothing. What does it tell us? That Egyptian TV is extremely popular.

    (There was a messy paper : Mutual_Intelligibility_of_Languages_in_the_Slavic_Family ).

  57. As an aside, in the mid-80’s, I played for a year with a self-described “Yugoslavian” ethnic soccer club in Chicago, called Seagull, complete with sponsors and a clubhouse where dinner was provided after the games. Cevapcici! In 1986, they certainly told me they spoke Serbo-Croatian.

    Speaking to someone in the mid-90s who was from the area, he told me I played for a Serbian team. That no one else ever believed in Yugoslavia.

    That may well be correct. But there were also long-established clubs in town called “United Serbs” and “Chicago Croatian” (plural vs. singular coming from the actual club names.) Looking back, it’s interesting to me that the club called itself Yugoslavian, and I wish I’d thought to ask them more about their backgrounds. I do wonder whether they may have drawn from a broader group of immigrants.

  58. Yes, that is interesting. I wonder if any local historians have written about it. (It’s certainly not true that “no one else ever believed in Yugoslavia.”)

  59. East Slavic, but I do not understand Ukrainian.

    Not sure what you mean.

    I can understand most of what is said on Ukrainian TV – but people who speak on Ukrainian TV are more comfortable with Russian. They learned Ukrainian in school and speak it on TV. I won’t understand native speakers from Western Ukraine much better than, say, Slovaks. Even people from Kiev do not always understand them.

    This situation can be compared to [what we are discussing here]: they also have dialects, while their literary langauges are similar. But if we call this TV Ukrainian “the literary register” (while in reality it is just partly learned Ukrainian), it still poses a language barrier for a Russian speaker: its vocabulary is quite different.

    My point was: it is convenient to have a cover term for Russian and Ukrainian

  60. My point was: it is convenient to have a cover term for Russian and Ukrainian.

    That’s why I was confused. If they’re different languages (which of course they are, which is why you don’t always understand it), why do you need a cover term? Why not just say “Russian and Ukrainian” if you need to talk about them? Do you need a cover term for German and Dutch?

  61. Re Yugoslav clubs:

    In Australia at least, the Yugoslav clubs tended to be founded by purely Croatian emigrants from Dalmatia, who emigrated before WW2. They also tended to be left leaning and working class.
    That’s speaking from my own family background.

    The Croats who came after WW2 tended to form Croatian clubs, and more than a few subscribed to the far right (though they didnt always align to the right in Australian politics).

    Serbs had their own clubs with their own Serbian orthodox church.

    Slovenes had their own clubs, as did Macedonians.

    I know of only one Muslim who emigrated decades before the 1992 war, and then married into a Croat family.

    In the USA the Croatian Fraternal Union was founded some time in the 19th century i think.

  62. I used to think about writing the history of it for the Chicago Reader, a local weekly that I freelanced for. Not of the Seagull club, but of the ecosystem that was the Chicago ethnic soccer club, already dying by the time I played.
    It must have been a key part of the identity of many post-war immigrants. I also played for an Italian club that feted the team each week, gave me cleats, a pretty minor “gift” that might have endangered my college eligibility, and paid some players. In at least one instance, they got the star striker’s DUI charge dropped (!) That player was Assyrian, and fewer than half the players were Italian by the time I was with them. An Italian American who was a pretty good college player left them for a German team, and it was considered a huge scandal. 150 people would be at the post-game dinners, though nobody attended the games any more. I’d heard that you could get a crowd of a thousand Italians at games at some point in the hazy past.

    I settled with an Irish team playing for a Swedish club – there were no longer any Swedes around to fill out the team. Perhaps for that reason, the club only assembled once a year, the Irish guys cheerfully attending the Lutefisk dinner.

    A few years before I played, the local ethnic league had fractured, with the upscale ethnics, the Germans, Italians and Swedes, leaving to form a new league that was mostly suburban, leaving Croats, Yugoslavs, Assyrians and newly, Mexicans to their rougher city-based league.

    In New England, a similar league was dominated by Portuguese – the Lusitano American Soccer Association, with a significant amount of money placed with local bookies riding on outcomes. So there, you played for one of a variety of Portuguese clubs regardless of which prep school you had learned your soccer at.

    Did paganism die the same way – only the old timers still supporting Chemosh by singing anti-Ba’al songs at the Forum before going back to their communal dinners, while their kids attended one of the mega-congregations devoted to Yahweh in his Christian or Jewish incarnation.

  63. JBW:

    It may be easy to fall into a trap when comparing the situation with English (and other colonial languages).

    What we have here is very closely related languages, but while there is interaction between eg. Croatian and its neighbours, there is no cultural continuity that exists in English.

    In Australia for example, you learn about Shakespeare and Chaucer as part of your language and literature. As an Australian you accept that English is part of your heritage. American authors are on the school curriculum here.

    As a Croatian, there is no sense that eg. Prešeren (Slovene) or Venclović (Serb) are part of your heritage, any more than would D’Annunzio or Petöffy be. But there is a continuity from eg. Marulić (16th century Croatian writer) through other writers and thinkers to the present day. That’s not because they are studied at school. It’s because each of the intervening writers shared the notion that they are writing in the same literature as the ones before. They refer to each other in their works. They physically communicate with each other. There are dictionaries and grammars that document this continued evolution of the Croatian language throughout this period.

    Sidenote: In the interwar Yugoslav kingdom there were attempts to impose a SerbocroatoSlovenian language and there were schoolbooks where you had to study texts in all 3 so-called dialects.

    But that sort of thing was nixed by the commies who went to the status quo ante (well, in some respects, but then there was 1954 and all its consequences) – and the subject was called Croatian when i went through school.

    The notion of what is a language is a social and cultural construct as much as linguistic.

  64. J.W. Brewer says

    My sense of Chicago (where I lived from the end of the ’80’s into the early ’90’s) is that Croatian-Americans and Serbian-Americans remained distinct communities if only because they attended different churches, which would themselves not necessarily be in the same neighborhoods as each other,* but that there was minimal conflict between them until there suddenly started being extreme conflict in the Old Country, at which point things sometimes became tense and awkward. So I don’t find Ryan’s story of various soccer teams that were one, the other, or both all co-existing particularly difficult to understand.

    *By contrast the principal Ukrainian Catholic and Ukrainian Orthodox places of worship were all within a short walk of each other in the neighborhood called Ukrainian Village. There were two different major Catholic ones representing some subfactional fine distinction I was unclear on the details of. I don’t know if there were or weren’t sectarian soccer teams.

    Most of what I know about the Pan-Yugoslav diaspora(e) in Australia is limited to the fact that The https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dubrovniks, were a pretty good band in the classic Australian loud/aggressive guitar style.

  65. That’s interesting about the Austrian South Slavic clubs, Zyxt. United Serbs and Chicago Croatian still exist.

    But my sense is that they are much less a focal point of a community than they were 30 years ago. They’re just soccer teams now.

  66. JWB:

    If you’re ever interested in Australians, Jupp’s “The Australian People” is an encyclopedic work with entries for each immigrant community, as well as the Aborigines and the English.

    Here too, the Europeans set up social/soccer clubs, and in the 20th century, soccer leagues were almost totally ethnic clubs. The Australian Soccer Federation banned the ethnic labelling of clubs in the 1990s due to several violent incidents, so eg. Sydney Marconi and South Melbourne Hellas became Sydney United and Melbourne United (speaking from memory, don’t hold me to it).

    Nowadays, at least in Perth the recent English immigrants have taken up the sport too, so soccer is not regarded so much a wog sport as it was last century.

  67. Zyxt wrote:
    >then there was 1954

    What happened in 1954 in Yugoslavia? Wiki doesn’t even mention the year in their Yugoslav article. Did national pride collapse throughout southeastern Europe, people falling back into sub-national identities, when Adenauer bribed the refs to ensure West Germany’s World Cup triumph over the Mighty Magyars and consolidate his country? (Well, that’s the story told by the Hungarian father of a guy I played with and against.)

  68. In 1954, there was a kind of rapprochement between Tito and the post-Stalinist leaders of the Soviet Union. There was also the Balkan Pact, but I don’t know what impact, if any, either of these occurrences would have had on internal Yugoslav ethnic policies.

  69. J.W. Brewer says

    If you think wikipedia doesn’t know what happened in Yugoslavia in 1954, that just means you’re not looking at sufficiently specific articles. See, e.g., https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1954_Zagreb_tram_accident.

  70. The Novi Sad agreement occurred in 1954. This was a declaration that Serbo-Croatian was one language and that it should have a unified orthography and grammar.

    Question: if it’s so obvious that it’s the one language, why bother issuing a declaration?

    Background to the Novi Sad agreement: After WW2, there was dire need of new editions of school books like dictionaries, grammars and spelling books. The Croatian Philological Society was given the job of compiling the new orthography.

    As a response to this, the Serb cultural association published a survey asking something along the lines “should all artificial barriers to the development of our joint language be removed?”

    Leading philologists were “invited” to Novi Sad to deal with these questions land issued the declaration and the Novi Sad project began.

    This was a project of language unification but in reality Serbification. In principle, the so called Western (ie. Croatian) and the Eastern (ie. Serbian) were equally valid. But in reality, the Serbian word or spelling was preferred due to the political importance of Belgrade.

    Many perfectly normal Croatian words were labelled as provincial, dialectal or obsolete. This just continued the pre-war policies, as Aleksandar Belić and his followers continued their work. His journal “Naš jezik” published by the Serbian Academy is full of articles about incorrect usage in the Western parts, sometimes imbued with invective and polemics against perfectly normal Croatian usage.

    This sort of thing went on until 1967 when Croatians published the declaration on the Croatian language. This was a brave political act (we’re still talking about a communist country where books are banned for being Croatian – like the 1971 orthography – and careers destroyed) and marked the end of the Novi Sad project.

    This wasn’t just academic polemics. People used to get imprisoned for stupid things to do with the lsnguage. As a kid I experienced some of this myself whenever i visited Belgrade. I was told that I wasn’t speaking properly and should be using the proper (ie. Serbian) words.

    And then there is the question of the Macedonians !!

  71. All of which is presumably related to why the guy I spoke with said no one but Serbs ever believed in Yugoslavia, even if it is an overstatement.

  72. That’s why I was confused. If they’re different languages (which of course they are, which is why you don’t always understand it), why do you need a cover term? Why not just say “Russian and Ukrainian” if you need to talk about them? Do you need a cover term for German and Dutch?

    @LH, I mean East Slavic (with Belorussian). I need to refer to East Slavic sometimes, when discussing languages and when discussing shared history.

  73. @LH, I dislike it for personal reasons but it does not irritate me.

    I will put it differently: my only reason to support people who use the word is that we need some word (just as in your case). But I tend to avoid it myself.

    1. a long compound. I would prefer somethign simple. I think compounds are not a good thing in general, but when I am used to one (“Indo-European”) I do not feel discomfort.
    I am not used to Serbocroatian to the same extent (but it is personal).

    2. still imprecise. Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks (and for some, Montenegrins) are familiar to Russian and English speakers likewise. The name makes my listeners think about Serbs and Croats (two parties in the recent war).

  74. 2. matters because of 1.

    Words are rarely precise. But as using this particular word requires an effort, I am less willing to do it if it is also imprecise and disliked by zyxt.

  75. For me it is not a book entity that only professional linguists need to name.

    They are conveniently described as one language in some sense, and they are N langauges in some other sense.

    Practical consequences of sense-1 are immence. It would be good if anyone interested in East Europe (schoolkids in particular) realized that Bosnians do not face a language barrier in Belgrade and that some people she will meet in large cities are going to be “foreign language speakers”.

    It would be nice if a Croatian learner knew where and how senses-1 and -2 are applicable. It can affect her decisions: Should she learn it in the first place? Maybe a language of 4 countries is somewhat more (or less) attractive. Should she watch Kusturica? Should she aim at learning Croatian standard or several standards? It is good to have some idea of this all even before she considers learning any of these langauges (because knowing this can make her want to learn it).

    Local people are absolutely free to emphasize or downplay differences and similarities, but in reasonable limits. There is still a place for sense-1, for a concept and for a word. Whether it is called a “language” or what I do not care, but if you erase the concept you will have people who think that Bosnians need a translator in Zagreb.

  76. THe point about South Slavic dialect continuum is valid.

    But what are standards? This thing that Croats learn in school: is not it closer to what Serbs learn in school than some Croatian dialects are to each other?

  77. Bosniaks probably don’t need a translator in Zagreb. But then they don’t need a translator in Skopje, Sofia or Belgrade.

    Unless of course they’re not familiar with the cyrillic alphabet.

    I found I could get by using Croatian in Cracow and in Zakopane. Does that mean Poles and Croats speak the same language?

  78. John Cowan says

    Did paganism die the same way – only the old timers still supporting Chemosh by singing anti-Ba’al songs at the Forum

    Not at the Forum perhaps, but at little village fora, more likely. Or at least that’s what the etymologies of pagan ‘field-dweller’ and its Germanic translation heathen suggest.

  79. For those who (like me) never heard of Chemosh and don’t know how to pronounce it:

    Chemosh (/ˈkiːmɒʃ/ Moabite: 𐤊𐤌𐤔 Kamāš; Hebrew: כְּמוֹשׁ‎ Kəmōš [kǝˈmoːʃ]; Eblaite: 𒅗𒈪𒅖 Kamiš, Akkadian: 𒅗𒄠𒈲 Kâmuš) was the god of the Moabites. He is most notably attested in the Mesha Stele and the Hebrew Bible. While he is most readily associated with the Moabites, according to the Book of Judges (Judges 11:23–24) he seems to have been the national deity of the Ammonites as well, despite the people’s erstwhile patronage of Milcom.

    The etymology of “Chemosh” is unknown, although it is believed to be related to the Semitic god Shamash. However, given that he is also known from Ebla as Kamish, it is also speculated he might be a form of the Mesopotamian deity Nergal.

    Why on earth is there an -e- in “Chemosh”?

  80. David Marjanović says

    I found I could get by using Croatian in Cracow and in Zakopane. Does that mean Poles and Croats speak the same language?

    The last common ancestor of all Slavic varieties and the last common ancestor of all German varieties were spoken around the same time (something like the year 500).

    Just saying.

  81. David Marjanović says

    Why on earth is there an -e- in “Chemosh”?

    If you’re limited to ASCII, that’s perhaps the least bad representation of the Hebrew /ǝ/, and definitely a common one.

  82. Oh, of course, Hebrew. Bah. Well, we should use Kamash or Kamush these days, now that we’re no longer people of One Book.

  83. John Cowan says

    Does that mean Poles and Croats speak the same language?

    ―Nie rozumiemy się.
    ―Razumjemo se!

  84. Well, Pagania (as it was described by Constantine Porphyrogenitus)
    Next to Zahumlje.

    Of these I only have been to Travunija and Duklja. And Raška (Novi Pazar).

  85. Lars Mathiesen says

    [Scandinavian] dialects straddle national boundaries — in the sense of dialects “straddling” the standard languages, that’s only between Norway and Sweden, I think. Trond knows better, but I think it’s a bona fide dialect continuum there. I sometimes mistook Swedish speakers from the West for Norwegians, that’s all I know.

    There is also a Finnish minority language in Northern Sweden (Meänkieli) which is in continuity with the Finnish dialects across the border, but that’s not Scandiavian née North Germanic.

    (If you were to insist on Faroese being a dialect of Icelandic, you would 1) be likely to get a posse with flensing knives after you, 2) have another example. I’ve never heard of anybody claiming that, even when both were part of the Danish Realm).

    In actual fact there was a sentiment after 1864 that Denmark might as well join Sweden in personal union, but the King up there didn’t really feel it. Things might have gone differently, linguistically, and with Norway back in union with Denmark, 1905 might not have come off like it did here and all of Scandinavian would be called Swedish now. (And then there would be no keeping Sweden neutral in 1940 if Germany wanted the Norwegian Atlantic ports, possibly no German supplies for the Second Finno-Russian war using Swedish railways, lots of things could change).

  86. don’t need a translator in Skopje, Sofia

    What about the other way? How does a speaker of a Slavic language without noun cases get around one which relies on them?

  87. How do we handle the fact that Indonesian, Malay, and whatever they speak & write in Brunei are the same “language”?
    In Brunei, the official local language is called Malay (Bahasa Melayu), and as far as I can tell it’s identical to the Malaysian standard wherever that differs from Bahasa Indonesia. Malays are by far the biggest ethnic group.

  88. Scania was part of the Danish state until the 17th century when it was occupied and incorporated into Sweden. From what i recall it involved quite a bitter war – or rather, wars.

    What language did the Scanians speak before the Swedish takeover? What language did they speak afterwards? What do they speak now?

  89. Faroese being a dialect of Icelandic

    If only written forms counted, maybe.

    Spoken Faroese is very divergent.

    Listen how they pronounce ‘maður’.

  90. maður: Faroese /ˈmɛaːvʊɹ/ (Icelandic /ˈmaðʏr/), homophonous with magur (Icelandic /ˈmaːɣʏr/).

  91. Tough Norse speech of their ferocious Viking ancestors degenerated into cat meowing.

  92. Lars Mathiesen says

    There is a huge bunch of isoglosses with Icelandic+Faroese on one side and Mainland Scandinavian on the other. Phonetics, bah. Next you’ll be saying Danish is hard for Swedes to understand or something.

    Scania: From what I remember (not looking it up right now), Scanian belonged to a continuum with the other side of Øresund, Bornholm and maybe the north coast of Zealand, fishing towns. The natural border between mainland Danish and Swedish was the huge fault line and dense forests in Småland, water was less of a barrier.

    Standard Danish is a product of the Latin schools inland on Zealand, an amalgam of the farmer dialects; there were remnants of Old Copenhagen dialect and on Amager until not too long ago, but Bornholm is now an isolate in dialect terms since both North/East Zealandish and Old Scanian have lost out to the respective standard languages.

    There are substrate effects in Scanian still, I suspect that the very characteristic “breaking” of long vowels to vowel+schwa can be one of those and be related to stød. Some assimilation effects with uvular R that don’t occur further north may be later, though. (I think Bornholm still has flapped /r/, so Scania probably did too in the 1600s. The replacement has reached Jönköping by now, or just short of there maybe).

    There are also certain differences between for instance Ringsted and Copenhagen that might be due to the East Zealand substrate, the stereotypical one is that in /V:R/ with stød Copenhagen moved the glottal whatnot to the resonant but farming country keeps(?) it on the last part of the vowel and adds some tonal thing.

  93. John Emerson says

    Scandinavian immigrants to Minnesota were called Norwegians or Swedes indifferently, and it annoyed the hell out of them. Especially Knut Hamsun during his visit.

  94. He was frequently heard to mutter “Jævla svenske!”

  95. Lars Mathiesen says

    Cf the Swedish head doctor in Riget who would regularly scream DANSKJÄVLAR from the rooftop.

  96. I love that show! I should really rewatch it.

  97. Trond Engen says

    Hat: [Hamsun] was frequently heard to mutter “Jævla svenske!”

    Probably not. As a Northerner (or, more precisely, having spent his formative years up north) he would have had other preferences in swearing.

  98. Well, don’t leave us hanging — give us an example of what he might have said!

  99. According to the census (I wonder if censoos would work as an educated plural) of 2011 Sanjak speaks Bosnian. Both in Serbia and Montenegro.

    Well, I do not see why they would not study Bosnian in school. I do not see why they would, but I also do not see what was the point of рус.яз. lessons in my school apart of that my teacher was really, really cool.
    Can you imagine, with a really, really cool teacher and my general interest to my own langauge and linguistics in general (the former interest was already there, the latter not sure), these were THE most boring lessons?
    You can.

  100. (рус.яз and лит-ра is how “Russian language” and “literature” are referred to in schedules on school walls. Read as “русский” and “литра” (stressed: litrá) by all schoolkids.

  101. Lars Mathiesen says

    Of yore, educated men would see in census a 4th declension deverbal noun and make the plural census, pronounced according to its context. In these latter days I suppose we could spell the plural censoos but that would sort of scupper the ingroup-idity innit. Better to pretend ignorance and go with censuses.

  102. Trond Engen says

    Hat: Well, don’t leave us hanging — give us an example of what he might have said!

    Several possibilities. First, for choice of modifier, I’d guess Satans svenske or Helvetes svenske. But he would possibly rather use a different formula: Satan te svenske, Farken te svenske or Tykje te svenske “devil of a Swede”. Also northern, but more rustic and maybe less probable with Hamsun’s aspirations to rise above the masses, he could turn svenske into a compound svenskpeis “Swedish dick”. Satan te svenskpeis.

    All of these were, I think, current in the late 19th century. I could do better with a corpus search in his writings, but that would be work.

  103. Thanks! That’s plenty to go on; for guds skyld don’t do any actual work.

  104. J.W. Brewer says

    One could also promote a mock-learned plural “censi,” after the example of “octopi.” (One can find sources on the internet saying this is wrong, but I don’t know that you can infer from that that any significant number of people ever thought it might be right.)

  105. GloWbE has just four hits for censi, only one of which is an actual example of usage:

    The short answer is that no one knows for sure. It? s easy to quantify the acreage in the more developed countries like the US, France, Germany, Italy, etc. as they do regular censi of agriculture

    Some of that text seems to have been reused elsewhere, but rephrased to use the singular form.

    (They also captured someone wondering about the correct form in the comments to a Grauniad article, but I’ll stick to Rule One and not go there.)

  106. Lars Mathiesen says

    Satans/Fandens til svenskerrøv/nar/pik are perfectly cromulent in Danish. Though FORPULEDE SVENSKERE is maybe the closest to the sentiment of JÄVLA DANSKAR!

  107. I wonder if censoos would work as an educated plural

    Hardly. That would be the plural of censoo. Whatever that means.

  108. I happens often that an unused plural form is (can’t say “serves as”) a plural form of two words, one common and one unused.

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