This Guardian review by Alberto Manguel makes Perlmann’s Silence by Pascal Mercier sound like something I’d enjoy:

Throughout the days preceding the conference, Perlmann has with him a paper by a Russian linguistic, Vassily Leskov, on how memory is informed by language. Suddenly, when he can’t avoid stating the subject of his own (unwritten) presentation, Perlmann gives Leskov’s subject as his own. With the help of a dictionary, he translates the Russian paper and copies it for the other participants. Then Leskov announces his arrival. The story acquires here a Hitchcock-like suspense. Suicide and murder are contemplated. Complications multiply. Perlmann’s anguish grows.

(I don’t know whether “linguistic” for “linguist” is a typo or a mistake on Manguel’s part, but either way it’s comforting to see the Grauniad live down to its standards of copyediting.)

I’m not going to make a separate post for this, but if you’re interested in Serbian/Serbocroatian/whatever you call it, you’ll be interested in Monumenta Serbica. Thanks, Paul!


  1. Our language is the polite phrase nowadays.

  2. marie-lucie says

    “Linguistic” for “linguist” seems to be a common error among non-linguists.

  3. Serbian/Serbocroatian/whatever you call it
    At this point it is simply Serbian.

  4. mollymooly says

    Bosnian/Dalmatian/Serbian/Montenegrin aka Your comment could not be submitted due to questionable content.

  5. @mollymooly: Are you saying that “Croatian” is a forbidden word here?

  6. mollymooly says

    No, but BCSM would not have been questionable content.

  7. J.W. Brewer says

    “The Former Yugoslav Language of Serbo-Croatian” (spelled “FYLOSC” and pronounced fie-losk).

  8. This has inspired me to make the modest proposal that the language(s) variously known as e.g. BSCM be standardly called FYLOSC, for the “Former Yugoslav Language of Serbo-Croatian.”
    Posted by: J.W. Brewer at February 14, 2010 11:14 PM

  9. At this point it is simply Serbian.
    To some people, but stating it flatly does not make it true.

  10. “There is no Croatian language. There is only Serbian. There are people called Croats, who pronounce Serbian badly. But soon that will not matter.” —chilling remark on Usenet from 1985 or so, emphasis added
    But here’s my best effort at the whole truth, transcluded from John Wells’s blog with some corrections and additions:
    In the linguist’s sense, there is a single language, a South Slavic dialect continuum with multiple standardized forms. However, Standard Serbo-Croat was never a single standard; rather, it was a fusion of two existing standards, an agreement that Standard Croatian and Standard Serbian (both of which already existed) would be treated as equally acceptable for all purposes. In this way it is like the position of Standard Bokmål and Standard Nynorsk in Norway, and like what would be the case if British society decided to accept Standard American English as a written standard with a status equal to Standard British English, or vice versa. It is that agreement which came apart when Yugoslavia did, and it has been followed by the creation of a third standard for Bosnian and a nascent fourth one for Montenegrin.
    All four standard languages are founded on the historic dialect of Eastern Hercegovina, an instance of the neo-Shtokavian macro-dialect which is now the most widely spoken dialect variety of naš jezik ‘our language’, as it is politely called, in the whole of the former Yugoslavia. (Macro-dialects are conventionally labeled by the word they use for ‘what?’.) They differ roughly as follows: Standard Croatian employs exclusively Ijekavian forms (that is, ije is the descendant of historic jat vowels), admits influences from the Chakavian and Kajkavian macro-dialects, is relatively hostile to Western loanwords and does not normally respell the ones it accepts, and is written exclusively in the Latin script. Standard Serbian allows either Ijekavian or Ekavian forms, has no such influences from the other macro-dialects, is relatively friendly to Western loanwords and respells the ones it accepts to match Serbian pronunciation conventions, and is written with equal acceptability in the Latin and Cyrillic scripts. Standard Bosnian is close to Standard Serbian, has some influences from palaeo-Shtokavian macro-dialect, is exclusively Ijekavian, and uses the Latin script only. Standard Montenegrin will probably wind up using the Latin script only and being exclusively Ekavian. There are of course many differences in vocabulary, on about the same scale as BrE-AmE differences.
    My understanding is completely dependent on the work of Miro Kačić, the Croatian linguist (in both senses of that term). While highly respected, Kačić’s work is of course controversial, like everything else about the language he worked on.

  11. Regarding the post where Brewer invented FYLOSC, I wish to comment that “以身相许 yǐ shēn xiāngxǔ” (Bathrobe, February 20, 2010 08:36 PM) really means to consent to have sex, be it with the implication of marriage or not. Connotations of this expression would of course include a female protagonist rather than a male, marriage and repaying kindness, but they are despensible. But maybe it’s me or my generation and it did mean marriage a few scores of years ago.

  12. Oops, dispensable. Two misspellings on one word and I still claim myself able of writing in English.

  13. @John Cowan: I think Standard Montenegrin is ijekavian only. Also, as far as I know, the literati centered in Belgrade and Novi Sad, who pretty much define what is Standard Serbian on social terms, are strongly pro-ekavian. They tend to regard ije as something boorish, or so have I heard.

  14. J.W. Brewer says

    Hmm. FYLOSC was in my mind because it came up quite recently in another online group in which I participate. If I was the one who had first injected it into that group’s lexicon I had forgotten doing so and my current interlocutor did not credit me (nor did he deny me credit – he simply referenced the term as having been adoped by consensus in some earlier and long-forgotten thread). I have not yet been able to get anyone else to follow my lead on referring to the political entity south of the former Yugoslavia as FMROG (Formerly Macedonian Republic of Greece).

  15. To some people, but stating it flatly does not make it true.
    I don’t know if “true” matters. Whether we foreigners like it or not, most Serbians call their language Serbian, most Croatians call their language Croatian. Insisting on “Serbo-Croatian” in 2012 strikes me as kind of fussy, unless you have some political point you are trying to make. Moreover, when referring specifically to Serbian literary traditions, which is the point of Monumenta Serbica, it probably really does make more sense to talk about “Serbian” for the reasons John Cowan laid out above. Not calling it Serbian could seem almost deliberately provocative.

  16. @minus273
    I experienced a frisson of horror at seeing myself quoted on 以身相许. To be honest, I had not the slightest memory of ever having discussed that term and went to look through the thread with no small amount of trepidation. When I found it, it all came back to me. Yes, it was one of those pesky chengyu that have plagued me for so long. This only serves to back up the point that I was making then — you really have to work at it to keep Chinese idioms in memory, or they fade quicker than frost on the morning grass.

  17. Ah, the frisson of horror at the self-quote.
    If I am understanding 以身相许 correctly it seems plausible that the implications of 相许 might have lost some formality and high-mindedness over the years… I wonder what sense Bathrobe’s co-worker had in mind when using it.

  18. Insisting on “Serbo-Croatian” in 2012 strikes me as kind of fussy, unless you have some political point you are trying to make.
    I don’t insist on it, but I use it myself, not for political reasons (I abhor political reasons as well as nationalism) but because it is the only linguistically accurate term.

  19. Victor Sonkin says

    To John Cowan re Montenegrin: surely you meant Ijekavian?

  20. Minus, Victor: Yes, thanks: a brain fart on my part.

  21. I wonder what sense Bathrobe’s co-worker had in mind when using it.
    I wish I could remember.

  22. might have lost some formality and high-mindedness over the years
    As well as the odor of joss-sticks, to be sure.

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