Language Evolution: The Windows Approach addresses the question: "How can we unravel the evolution of language, given that there is no direct evidence about it?"
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Date: Fri, 17 Dec 2004 14:50:16 -0500 From: Matthew Ciscel Subject: Language and Identity in the Balkans
AUTHOR: Greenberg, Robert D. TITLE: Language and Identity in the Balkans SUBTITLE: Serbo-Croatian and its Disintegration PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press YEAR: 2004
Matthew H. Ciscel, Department of English, Central Connecticut State University
Language often plays a central, symbolic role in ethno-national movements and conflicts. The movements and conflicts that have arisen from the collapse of state communism in Eastern Europe are no exception. Indeed, language has played a central role in many recent conflicts in the region, from Estonia to Moldova and Chechnya to Yugoslavia. Among these, the catastrophic disintegration of Yugoslavia stands out for the conflict's brutality and the region's proximity to Western Europe, for which World War II remains a strong warning against the dangers of ethno-nationalist extremism. The role of language in this and other such conflicts, however, remains understudied. Robert Greenberg's monograph begins to correct this deficiency by providing a detailed and insightful exploration of the struggles over language that have been intertwined with the military, political, and diplomatic conflicts in the successor states of the former Yugoslavia.
The brief introductory chapter begins with an anecdote of the author's visit to the grave of Ljudevit Gaj, a nineteenth century Croat language reformer recognized as one of the founders of the unified Serbo- Croatian language. A series of other short and engaging illustrations from the author's fieldwork are then followed by an outline of goals and a cursory discussion of relevant literature regarding the ex- Yugoslav sociolinguistic context. As the author points out, the study "fills an important gap in Balkan studies" in that it "addresses specific controversies surrounding the four successor languages to Serbo-Croatian: Serbian, Montenegrin, Croatian, and Bosnian" (3). Methodologically, the book draws on vast primary sources, primarily published grammars, newspaper articles, and conference proceedings, and approaches the processes of language standardization and national identity formation from a macro-social perspective, i.e. from the point of view of language specialists, politicians, and other elites. The introduction ends with a discussion of whether Serbo-Croatian is or ever was a language. With reference to Kloss's (1978) classic distinction between Abstand and Ausbau processes of establishing language status, Greenberg draws a connection between the uncertain status of standardized forms of Serbo-Croatian and the central political role of language differences in the region. Indeed, the language status issue is primarily political (Fasold 2004).
The second chapter explores the history and status of the unified Serbo-Croatian language in greater detail. After a discussion of models for unified languages, the chapter delves into an overview of the major stages of language unification in Yugoslavia from the Literary Agreement of 1850, which established a version of the Dubrovnik dialect as a common standard, to the Novi Sad Agreement of 1954 that established a pluricentric unity, foreshadowing the splintering of languages that has paralleled the socio-political splintering of Yugoslavia. Also covered in this chapter are the empirical dialect differences that exist across the region (but, notably, do not coincide with political boundaries), the struggle over alphabets and spelling norms, and the difficult issue of lexical borrowing and purification. As throughout the subsequent chapters, a table of key dates at the end of the chapter (p. 55) summarizes the main events in the development and demise of the unified language.
Each of the next four chapters, making up the bulk of the book, focus in on each of the four successor languages of Serbo-Croatian. The first, in chapter 3, is Serbian. As the political center of the former Yugoslavia, Serbia inherited many of the language planning problems from Serbo-Croatian. For instance, as Greenberg explains, the Serbian language is still split between the two main dialects of Serbo- Croation: the western, ijekavian dialect and the eastern, ekavian dialect. Serbian also must still come to terms with two alphabets, since many minorities in Serbia and Montenegro know only the Latin script. The struggle between varieties of Serbian nationalism and pluralism has been played out, in part, through the medium of language debates. The result has been a "unified Serbian language in its current fractured form [that] will be subjected to still more emotional debates and controversies, but little linguistic change in practice" (87). As such, Serbian remains, structurally and status-wise, the most direct descendant of Serbo-Croatian.
The fourth chapter, "Montenegrin: A mountain out of a mole hill?", explores the establishment of the most controversial of the successor languages. Greenberg lays out the political motivations for the split from Serbian, explaining in detail the structural and historical justifications for a separate language. Montenegrin is based on dialectal differences from the dominant ekavian dialect of central Serbia and the distinct literary tradition in Montenegro. Specific features of the ijekavian dialect base and divergent spelling norms are discussed and outlined with clear examples. Greenberg concludes that the status of Montenegrin as a distinct language will depend greatly on the scheduled 2006 referendum on political independence in Montenegro.
Chapter five, which focuses on Croatian, explains the deep historical roots and relative unity of the Croatian standard. Greenberg also illustrates the purist and nativist tendencies in defining the new standard, as Croatian distances itself from Serbo-Croatian. These tendencies have led to disputes regarding the use of foreign borrowed words and the establishment of new orthographic norms. The chapter concludes by pointing to the potential for more tolerant approaches to language purism as tensions between Croatia and Serbia deflate.
Chapter six covers the last of the successor languages, "Bosnian: A three-humped camel?" Based on the urban dialects of the Bosniac (read Muslim) population, the emerging standard distinguishes itself structurally by its greater number of borrowed words from Turkish and Arabic and a few small phonological features like greater use of initial /h/. In addition, Greenberg provides details of the political effort to create Ausbau, i.e. to legitimize the existence of a distinct Bosnian standard that is more than a compromise between the Serbian and Croatian that are also widely spoken in Bosnia-Herzegovina. As the author points out, the recognition of standard Bosnian not only legitimizes the existence of the Bosnian state, it also ironically weakens that state by driving its three ethno-political factions (Bosniacs, Croats, and Serbs) further apart.
Finally, the short concluding chapter summarizes the major events in the splintering of Serbo-Croatian and the key issues that have arisen from the establishment of the four successor languages. Greenberg also looks to the future of ethno-linguistic conflict in the region, concluding that, within a generation or two, the descendants of Serbo- Croatian speakers perhaps "will not be able to understand one another any longer" (167). In essence, the experiment of south Slavic linguistic unification will likely have failed, along with the political unification. This final chapter is followed by two appendices (containing the texts of the 1850 Literary Agreement and the 1954 Novi Sad Agreement), a list of works cited, and a useful index.
Although the book is very well written and fills an important gap in Balkan studies, there are two weaknesses that warrant comment. The first concerns the presentation of phonological and orthographic data for the four successor languages. Despite the many examples and clear use of tables, the presentation of this data is often obscured by lack of clarity in orthographic differences across the languages and in phonological representations. Many readers would have greatly benefited from a key or appendix that provided a comprehensive guide to the spelling norms across the four varieties. In addition, the phonological information, although written in the slanting brackets commonly used to represent phonemes, did not clearly follow a particular standard, such as the International Phonetic Alphabet. These shortcomings could make the examples and some of the related ideas less accessible to readers who are not specialists in Slavic linguistics or who are not native speakers of English. Even so, this concern is relatively minor and likely would not impact the general understanding of the book's main points.
A somewhat greater shortcoming is the relatively narrow scope of the discussion in the book. For instance, although the title suggests otherwise, the book never discusses the relevance of language and identity issues in the former Yugoslavia to other conflict zones in the Balkans (Turkish in Greece, Hungarian in Transylvania, Russian in Moldova) or in other parts of the world (Western Europe, South America, West Africa, etc.). In addition, language and identity are construed from a strictly macro-social point of view, focusing on Fishman's (1999:161) notions of ethnic identity as reflected in language policies and elite constructs of ethnicity. There is no discussion of micro-social notions of identity, for instance among individual language users in specific interactional contexts, which has been the focus of much recent research on language and identity (Laitin 1998, Jaffe 1999, Kroskrity 1999, Joseph 2004, among others). Relatedly, greater inclusion of the author's ethnographic observations, like those in the introduction, would have fleshed out the practical implications of many of the elite movements and conflicts that were described in such thorough detail. Finally, a more detailed look at how language issues were or were not integrated into the analyses of traditional histories of Yugoslavia's demise (such as Bennett 1995:25-26) might have also provided the reader a broader understanding of the relevance of the book's contents. In sum, this reader would have liked to see greater exploration of relevant secondary literature from a broader range of theoretical and regional perspectives.
These minor criticisms aside, the book is a coherent, detailed, and original contribution to scholarship in South Slavic studies, Balkan studies, sociolinguistics in general, and the intersection of language and identity, in particular. It is highly recommended reading for anyone interested in the Balkans or in issues of language and identity. The many examples from primary sources and the clear writing style make the book accessible and relevant to a wide range of readers. Finally, the book meets its primary goal of explaining and illustrating the often misunderstood motivations and mechanics of Serbo-Croatian's disintegration.
Bennett, Christopher. 1995. Yugoslavia's Bloody Collapse: Causes, Course and Consequences. New York: New York University Press.
Fasold, Ralph W. 2004. subtle linguistic science: The social construction of `a language.' Ms.
Fishman, Joshua A., editor. 1999. Handbook of Language and Ethnic Identity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Jaffe, Alexandra. 1999. Ideologies in Action: Language politics in Corsica. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Joseph, John. 2004. Language and Identity. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan.
Kloss, Heinz. 1967. Abstand languages and Ausbau languages. Anthropological Linguistics 9, 29-41.
Kroskrity, Paul V., editor. 1999. Regimes of Language: Ideologies, polities, and identities. Sante Fe: School of American Research Press.
Laitin, David D. 1998. Identity in Formation: The Russian-speaking populations in the near abroad. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Matt Ciscel has an M.A. in German from the University of Iowa and a Ph.D. in Linguistics from the University of South Carolina, Columbia. His research focuses on language and identity in the ex-Soviet Republic of Moldova. As an assistant professor at Central Connecticut State University, he teaches courses in sociolinguistics, the history of the English language, ESL methodologies, and world Englishes.