Monday, September 9, 2013

Language Profile: Serbo-Croatian

This week we're taking a look at Serbo-Croatian, a macrolanguage whose four standard varieties are spoken in several countries across southern central Europe. This Slavic language was first named Serbo-Croatian in the mid-1800s, and was historically used as the official language of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia throughout the early 1900s.

Cathedral of Saint Sava in Belgrade, Serbia
The four standard varieties of Serbo-Croatian are often referred to as separate languages for political and cultural reasons despite mutual intelligibility. Serbian is the sole official language of Serbia, and is also an official language in Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as Kosovo. Likewise, Croatian is the sole official language of Croatia, and is also official in Bosnia and Herzegovina, whose third official language is the aptly named Bosnian.

Montenegrin is the fourth standardized variant of Serbo-Croatian. Some linguists argue that it is not a separate dialect from Serbian, but over the past two decades in Montenegro there has been increased support for the idea of it being a distinct language. It is named as the official language of Montenegro.

If you're looking for a language to learn, Serbo-Croatian might be a good choice if you like languages with small vowel inventories. The language has only five vowel sounds, and on top of that, it is almost entirely phonetic, so nearly every word is pronounced how it is written!

In terms of writing systems, the standard varieties of Serbo-Croatian can all be written using either a Cyrillic or a Latin script. Bosnian and Croatian are generally written using Latin script. Serbia, on the other hand, made Cyrillic script official for writing Serbian in 2006. Montenegrin is written using both, though the majority of the people who advocate for it being a separate language from Serbian prefer to use the Latin-based script.