LINGUIST List 2.815

Sat 23 Nov 1991

Disc: Croatian, Serbian and Dialects

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Stavros Macrakis, Serbocroatian
  2. Joe Stemberger, Re: 2.809 Queries: Brown Corpus, Circassian, Croat, Socio
  3. Ellen Prince, Re: 2.809 Queries: Brown Corpus, Circassian, Croat, Socio
  4. Jacques Guy, Serb vs Croatian
  5. Sergio Balari, RE: Serb and Croat, and others
  6. Mike Migalski, Reply to M. Wynne

Message 1: Serbocroatian

Date: Thu, 21 Nov 91 10:55:03 EST
From: Stavros Macrakis <>
Subject: Serbocroatian
Martin Wynne <> says:
 ...the current [Yugoslav] conflict has encouraged
 'invent' ethnic and cultural differences...[including] the sudden
 discovery of the separarate 'languages' Serbian and Croatian. ...
 regional dialect differences have been exaggerated, and in many
 cases invented, in order to assert the differences between the
 language of Serbs and Croats....
So what's new? Playing games with standard languages, dialects, and
ethnonyms (ethnica?) for political reasons seems to be a constant in
ethnic struggle, sometimes splitting, sometimes joining, depending on
the political goal. In fact, there has been a steady stream of
information on such situations on this very newsgroup, most recently
re Indonesian/Malaysian/Malay and the Turkic languages. cf. also
Moldavian/Rumanian, Slovenian/Croatian/Croatoserbian/Serbocroatian
(ije/je/i/e)/Serbian/Macedonian/Bulgarian (clearly not one language,
but how many lines do you draw and where?), Catalan/Gascon/.../
Occitan/Provencal, Chinese `dialects', etc.
Certainly when I was in Yugoslavia some years ago, there were already
people who insisted that I not call their language `Serbocroatian'
(Srpskohrvatski) but rather `Croatoserbian' (Hrvatosrpski) or
`Croatian' or `Serbian'.
The dictum that `a language is a dialect with an army' takes on its
full tragic force these days in Yugoslavia.
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Message 2: Re: 2.809 Queries: Brown Corpus, Circassian, Croat, Socio

Date: Thu, 21 Nov 91 11:36 CST
From: Joe Stemberger <>
Subject: Re: 2.809 Queries: Brown Corpus, Circassian, Croat, Socio
Martin Wynne reports that Serbs and Croats are trying to treat
their dialects as separate languages. I don't think that this is
related to the recent military conflicts. When I was visiting relatives
in Slovenia back in 1973, I was warned to call Serbo-Croatian "Croatian"
when talking to a Croat and "Serbian" when talking to a Serb. I also
heard from several Americans that I met there that Croatians would
often claim that they didn't understand if you tried to talk to them in
a more Serbian-type version of the language. I don't really know if either
claim was true, though; I didn't want to test whether the Croatians that
I met would get mad if I said "Srpsko-Hrvatsko", and I don't speak
Serbo-Croatian myself.
Although the dialects are perfectly mutually intelligible, the claimed
status of different languages is reinforced by the orthography: Croats use
a modified Latin alphabet, Serbs use Cyrillic.
---joe stemberger
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Message 3: Re: 2.809 Queries: Brown Corpus, Circassian, Croat, Socio

Date: Thu, 21 Nov 91 09:08:24 EST
From: Ellen Prince <>
Subject: Re: 2.809 Queries: Brown Corpus, Circassian, Croat, Socio
>From: Martin Wynne <>
>Subject: Serb and Croat
>So, for example the Serbs are Eastern, Orthodox (in religious terms), Slavic,
>dark-haired and -skinned etc, while the Croats are Western, Christian,
>European, blonde-haired and blue-eyed.
a linguistically-irrelevant question: aren't the eastern orthodox classified
as christian?
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Message 4: Serb vs Croatian

Date: Fri, 22 Nov 91 09:58:25 EST
From: Jacques Guy <>
Subject: Serb vs Croatian
When I came to Australia as a 10-bob migrant (20 bob, really, not
being British), I often had to act as an interpreter in the 10 days
I spent at the migrants' hostel. One of the Croat newcomers spoke
Italian, one of the Serbs French. Or perhaps it was the other way
around. None spoke any English. I had to translate the same sentence
twice. Once into French, to be translated again into Serbian, once
into Italian, to be translated into Croatian. On the other hand, the
Spaniards, who knew no Italian, were perfectly happy with just the
Italian translation. Said one Italian to me:"I never knew I could
understand Spanish!". Only very rarely did I have to elucidate, in
Spanish, an Italian word or two.
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Message 5: RE: Serb and Croat, and others

Date: Fri, 22 Nov 1991 12:22:28 +0000
From: Sergio Balari <>
Subject: RE: Serb and Croat, and others
In response to Martin Wynne query about exaggeration of dialectal
differences (Linguist: Vol-2-809). Unfortunately, this seems to be a much
more common situation than we think (although it is not always the case
that a civil war in going on). A good place to look for such things is
polylinguistic Spain. I can give (at least) three examples of the same
phenomenon Wynne describes about Serbo-Croatian.
The first concerns Catalan. The geographic area where Catalan is spoken
extends well beyond the administrative boundaries of Catalonia. It is
spoken in the Balearic Islands (Majorca, Minorca and Ibiza), in the South
of France (Roussillon), in the independent state of Andorra (where it is
co-official with French) and in a wide stripe along the Mediterranean coast
in Spain comprising the provinces of Castello', Val`encia and Alacant. When
the new administrative divisions of Spain were designed these three
provinces became the so-called "Autonomous Community of Valencia" and soon
it came the time to decide which was the official language of the
Community. Most of the political parties agreed that it should be Catalan
(along with Spanish), since most scholars agree that in Valencia is
spoken one of the so-called Eastern Dialects of Catalan. Many right-wing
parties, however, objected to this decision on the basis that "Valencian",
as they claim it should be named, is not a dialect of Catalan but an
independent Romance language developed from "Mozarabic" (Mozarabs were
those muslims who during the muslim occupation of the Peninsula became
catholic and who spoke a language of which very little is known); even some
linguists, for political reasons, supported this theory, which just hides
old interregional conflicts (political, economical, etc.) which have
notihing to do with language. The debate still continues.
The second case concerns Galician, spoken in the North-West of the
Peninsula. It is very close to Portuguese. In this case, the debate
concerns the independence of Galician from Portuguese and it is still going
on, in particular with respect to the orthography of Galician which now
uses a system based on Spanish (or Castillian) orthography; for example the
"nh" group used in Portuguese to denote the nasal palatal has
been eliminated in favor of the Castillian n-with-tilde, tildes in nasal
vowels have been suppressed, etc. Many scholars defend, however, that the
linguistic unity of Galician and Portuguese is unquestionable (they use the
term "Galaico-Portuguese") and that the Portuguese orthography should be
used instead.
The third example concerns "Bable", spoken in Asturias, a region covering
the stripe along the Atlantic coast between the Basque Country and Galicia.
Bable is most likely a dialect of Castillian Spanish with some
Galician-like features (especially intonation and phonology), but some
scholars in Asturias claim it is a language independent from both Spanish
and Galician and want it to become the official language of the region
(which is not).
As in the case of Serbo-Croatian, language is only the means to generate
conflicts whose origins and goals have very little or nothing to do with
language itself. But language is the most clear sign of identity for people
(perhaps along with religion) and it seems to be very easy to awaken
xenophobic feelings on the basis of linguistic differences, especially in
an economic crisis. In these days, there are many cases like these, in
Spain and in Europe, but the ultimate reason, I think, reduces always to
the same: the rich who think that their wealth is being misused to help
poorer areas appeal to cultural and linguistic differences to claim
independence (so the money stays at home); or the poor who have nothing but
just "identity" to fight for their rights.
Sergio Balari
Sergio Balari, U of Saarbruecken, Dept. of Computational Linguistics -- +49 (681) 3024502 -- fax +49 (681) 3024351
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Message 6: Reply to M. Wynne

Date: Fri, 22 Nov 91 14:54:33 -0800
From: Mike Migalski <>
Subject: Reply to M. Wynne
I am posting this for someone who doesn't have access to e-mail.
Since I am not on the LINGUIST list, please direct any responses to
This comment is in response to the discussion started by Martin Wynne, Monday,
November 18. The insinuation that Croats "invented" ethnic and cultural
differences between themselves and the Serbians is a prime example of ignorance
in this very serious matter. The cultural, historical and religious
differences between Croats and Serbs are facts. Croats are Catholics and were
part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Serbs are Orthodox and were part of the
Ottoman Empire. (The blonde hair, blue eyed vs. dark skinned bearded is
pushing it!) As to the use of the word "barbarian", any persons and/or
government responsible for the deaths of nearly 5,000 people, direct cause for
over 500,000 refugees to flee, hundreds of thousand wounded people, destruction
of the economy of Croatia and the intentional destruction of the land including
historial sites and cities ("jewel of the Adriatic") are, and should be
labeled, barbarians. In case you have not watched the news lately, this is
exactly what the communist Serbian government and army is doing to the
Croatian people on their own soil! If this is not barbarism, what is it then??
This "label" is not a racist, demonic stereotype, but rather an appropriate
description of only those Serbians responsible for this reign of terror
against Croatia, not every Serbian. As to the difference in language between
Croats & Serbs, put it this way, there is not such language as Serbo-Croatian!
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