Monday, November 16, 2015

Country Profile: The Languages of Serbia

In last week's country profile we learned about the languages of the most linguistically diverse country in the world, Papua New Guinea. This week we're shifting our focus to Serbia, a small landlocked country in Southeast Europe. While Papua New Guinea boasts over 800 languages, Serbia is home to just 15 living languages, though they are still quite interesting.

The Official Language

Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, as seen from the ISS.
Serbia's sole official language is Serbian, which is one of the four standardized varieties of Serbo-Croatian. This member of the Slavic language family is the native language of approximately 6.6 million Serbians.

One unique feature of Serbian is the fact that it is the only digraphic European language, which means that it is written using more than one writing system. Serbian is written using both Latin and Cyrillic scripts, though Cyrillic is the official script of the government. Most Serbians know how to write the language using both systems, and neither is heavily favored over the other. In fact, some major media outlets in the country use Cyrillic script, while others use Latin script!

Recognized Minority Languages

Serbia's government also officially recognizes several other minority languages: Albanian, Hungarian, Romanian, Bosnian, Croatian, Slovak, Bulgarian, and Rusyn. The most prominent of these languages is Albanian, which constitutes its very own branch of the Indo-European language family. It is the native language of approximately 1.6 million Serbians.

Albanian is followed by Hungarian and Romanian, two other non-Slavic languages, in terms of native speakers. Hungarian, a member of the Uralic language family that includes Estonian and Finnish, is used by nearly 300,000 Serbians. Romanian, on the other hand, is a Romance language, and has about 200,000 native speakers.

The next two spots go to Croatian and Bosnian, two other standardized varieties of Serbo-Croatian, which are spoken by over 100,000 people in Serbia. Slovak is the native language of about 80,000 Serbians, while Bulgarian is used by about 60,000 Serbians. There's also Rusyn, which is sometimes considered to be a dialect of Ukrainian instead of a distinct language, which is spoken by about 30,000 Serbians.

The Iron Gates of the Danube, a gorge that forms
part of the border between Serbia and Romania.
Other Languages

Finally, we have five more languages used in Serbia that don't have any official recognition: Romano-Serbian, Balkan Romani, Czech, Sinte Romani, and Aromanian. Romano-Serbian, which is spoken by over 170,000 Serbians, is a mixed language that combines elements of Serbian and Romani. It exists due to the fact that Serbia is home to numerous speakers of two varieties of the Romani language: about 120,000 Balkan Romani speakers and over 30,000 Sinte Romani speakers.

The last two languages are Czech, a Slavic language used by about 40,000 people in Serbia, and Aromanian, which is spoken by about 15,000 Serbians. Spoken by the Aromanian or Vlach ethnic group, it is a Romance language that is closely related to Romanian.