LINGUIST List 2.822

Mon 25 Nov 1991

Disc: Serb, Croat, and Dialectal Differences

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. , vol. 2.809 - exaggeration of dialect differences
  2. Dan I. Slobin, South Slavic
  3. Edward Kovach, Re: 2.820 Queries
  4. "Wayles Browne, Cornell University", Re: 2.820 Queries: Slavic Muslims

Message 1: vol. 2.809 - exaggeration of dialect differences

Date: Mon, 25 Nov 91 09:29:41 CST
From: <>
Subject: vol. 2.809 - exaggeration of dialect differences
 For a non-European example of the exaggeration of differences between
 speech varieties for political purposes, or at leat correlated with
 political differences, the following may be of interest:
 In the early 18th century runaway slaves from Suriname's coastal
 plantations established a society, eventually known as the Ndjukas, in
 the east and southeast of the country. Fairly early in their history,
 rivalry between two candidates for paramount chief of the society, and
 their respective backers, led to animosity between Upriver and
 Downriver Ndjukas among those living on the Tapanahony. Upriver people
 came to look down on the Downriver people, an attitude to which is
 attributed, in part, the failure of the Afaka script, a syllabary
 developed by a Downriver man around 1910, to gain the approval of the
 paramount chief, an Upriver man.
 When we began fieldowrk in the Upriver area (Drietabbetje, the
 residence of the chief) in the late 60s, my wife and I were told that
 the Downriver people spoke differently, and were given, fairly
 consistently, a number of specific examples of differences. But
 subsequent fieldwork (in the early 80s) in a Downriver
 village--admittedly of only a few days, but including probing for
 precisely those differences--found the Downriver people speaking mor
 like the Upriver people than we had been led to believe, even with
 regard to the features that the Upriver people had always mentioned to
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Message 2: South Slavic

Date: Sat, 23 Nov 91 12:39:22 -0800
From: Dan I. Slobin <slobincogsci.Berkeley.EDU>
Subject: South Slavic
Some personal anecdotes on South Slavic may point up ways in
which the dialects were treated as both similar and distinct
long before the current carnage. When I did research in Yu-
goslavia in the early seventies I picked up the national
first-grade reading text, which came in the form of two
identical paperbacks, differing only in alphabet. All chil-
dren in both Serbia and Croatia were introduced to the
language in both alphabets, using these identical first
readers (Nash jezik `Our language'). The books are page-
for-page, word-for-word identical, one in Latin and the oth-
er in Cyrillic. The language, when written in Latin, was
referred to as Hrvatskosrpski (Croato-Serbian) and when in
written in Cyrillic as Srpskohrvatski (Serbo-Croatian). I
have school grammars of each, from the sixties, and each of
them says that the language has three basic dialects
(Shtokavian, Chakavian, and Kaykavian), agreeing that
Shtokavian is spoken in most of Croatia and all of Serbia
and Montenegro. At the same time, however, my Croatian gra-
duate student was pained to have to refer to the language of
her dissertation research as "Serbo-Croatian," out of fear
that this would discredit her in seeking employment in Za-
greb. English-speaking practice did not allow her to write
about the "Croato-Serbian" language, even though she gave me
a "Croato-Serbian English Dictionary" published in Zagreb in
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Message 3: Re: 2.820 Queries

Date: Sat, 23 Nov 91 13:22:58 CST
From: Edward Kovach <>
Subject: Re: 2.820 Queries
Concerning the Slavic Muslims. The Serbian husband of a colleague of mine
told me that most of the Slavs who converted to Islam were Serbians, hence
their descendants still speak Serbian. My colleague, a nonSlav, told me that
the Muslims' dialect have many more borrowings from Turkist and Arabic than
the "standard" Serbian dialect. The Muslims consider their dialect a separate
langauge which they have named "Muslim".
Ed Kovach
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Message 4: Re: 2.820 Queries: Slavic Muslims

Date: Sat, 23 Nov 91 15:38:23 EST
From: "Wayles Browne, Cornell University" <>
Subject: Re: 2.820 Queries: Slavic Muslims
>Date: Thu, 21 Nov 91 23:35:38 -0800
>From: slobincogsci.Berkeley.EDU (Dan I. Slobin)
>Subject: Slavic Muslims in Yugoslavia
>Serbs and Croats:
>The press speaks of three ethnic groups in Bosnia/Herzegovina:
>Serbs, Croats, and "Slavic Muslims." But, surely, the third
>group must speak something like either "Serbian" or "Croatian"--
>or is there no real language difference, but only a religious
>split between Orthodox, Catholic, and Muslim? What variety of
>Serbo-Croatian do the Muslims speak, and in which alphabet do
>they prefer to write?
>-Dan Slobin (
The standardization of the different varieties of Serbo-Croatian took place
in the last century and early in this one. The standard form used in Serbia
was based on a corpus of linguistic raw material largely due to the writer,
folklorist and lexicographer Vuk Karadzic [hacek on the z, acute accent on
the c] but with some material from older Serbian writings and with replacement
of one of V.K.'s phonetic traits (the je or ije reflex of the Common Slavic
vowel "jat'", a sort of long e) with the e reflex of the same vowel. So
where V.K. wrote lijep "beautiful", the standard in Serbia writes lep.
The standard form used in Croatia was based largely on V.K.'s material with
a lot of material from earlier Croatian writings and some words from various
Croatian regions and newly-coined words. The standard form used in the Repub-
lic of Bosnia and Hercegovina (where most of the Slavic Muslims live, but
where a lot of Serbs and Croatians also live) is comparatively close to that
of V.K. It doesn't have the e reflex used in Serbia, but keeps the je or ije.
It also doesn't have some of the words from Croatian regions, nor the words
made up in recent times by Croatian literary people. It does have a number of
words of Turkish origin that are not so familiar in either the Republic of
Serbia nor the Republic of Croatia. The Muslims use the Latin alphabet more
than the Cyrillic, but both are used to some extent. (In the past, some of
them used an adaptation of the Arabic alphabet.) As an example, I have some
literature published by the Islamic Religious Community in Sarajevo, which
is the capital of the Republic of Bosnia and Hercegovina. It is mostly in
Latin script, but some readings from the Koran are presented also in Cyrillic
with the comment "To make it possible for our respected readers who know only
the Cyrillic writing to study [= read] the Jasin verses [of the Koran], we
have decided to transcribe it also in Cyrillic."
Some of the Serbs in B and H may prefer to use the standard of Serbia, but
others use the standard of B and H. Some of the Croatians in B and H prefer
to use the standard of Croatia, but others use the standard of B and H.
The colloquial language of educated people in most of Serbia doesn't differ
very much from the standard of Serbia. The colloquial language of educated
people in B and H doesn't differ very much from the standard of B and H. The
colloquial language of educated people in various regions of Croatia can
differ quite a bit from the standard of Croatia, since Croatia is the region
with the greatest dialectal differentiation in the whole Serbo-Croatian lan-
guage area, but the same educated people are also able to use the standard
in speech (apart from some of the suprasegmental features) and certainly
in writing. The difference between the three standards (and I could add a
fourth, that of the Republic of Montenegro, which is very similar to that
of Serbia but doesn't replace the je/ije reflex with e) is not great enough
to hinder communication in most instances, but 1) there are some vocabulary
items which have become symbols of the various nationalities, so that
if one askes for kruh (Croatian standard for 'bread') in Serbia one may
get criticized for not saying hleb, and similarly if one asks for hleb in
Croatia; 2) there are some vocabulary items which are unknown or misinterpret-
ed in one republic or another, so that a resident of Serbia, B and H, or
Montenegro may honestly not know which month a Croatian resident means by
travanj or svibanj. (Travanj is april in the other standards, and svibanj
is maj 'May'.)
A few sample words:
'book' S. knjiga, B&H knjiga, M knjiga, C knjiga
(People in Serbia would frequently, and those in Montenegro would almost
always, write this in Cyrillic.)
'bread' hleb, hljeb, hljeb, kruh
'beautiful' lep, lijep, lijep, lijep
'I am not' nisam, nisam, nijesam, nisam
'holiday' praznik, praznik, praznik, praznik/blagdan
Now, when a group has a standard form of its own, it may well wish to call
this standard 'its language', and so many people in Croatia prefer the term
'the Croatian language'. Many people in Serbia have always said 'the Serbian
language', at least when speaking informally, although both linguists and
politicians (at least until recently) have felt it was better to speak of
'the Serbo-Croatian language'.
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