Bosnian language

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Standard Bosnian
Pronunciation [bɔ̌sanskiː]
Native to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Slovenia, Kosovo and the Bosnian diaspora
Native speakers
2.5–3.5 million  (2008)[1]
(number is ambiguous)
Latin (Gaj)
Cyrillic (Serbian Cyrillic)[Note 1]
Yugoslav Braille
Official status
Official language in
 Bosnia and Herzegovina
Recognised minority language in

Language codes
ISO 639-1 bs
ISO 639-2 bos
ISO 639-3 bos
Linguasphere part of 53-AAA-g
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Bosnian (bosanski/босански [bɔ̌sanskiː]) is the standardized variety of the Serbo-Croatian language used by Bosniaks.[3][4][5] Bosnian is one of the three official languages of Bosnia and Herzegovina,[6] along with Croatian and Serbian. It is also an officially recognized minority or regional language in Serbia,[7] Montenegro,[8] Kosovo,[9] and Macedonia.

Standard Bosnian uses a Latin alphabet.[Note 1] Bosnian is notable among the varieties of Serbo-Croatian for a number of Arabic, Ottoman Turkish and Persian loanwords, largely due to the language's interaction with those cultures through Islamic ties.[10][11][12]

Standard Bosnian is based on the most widespread dialect of Serbo-Croatian, Shtokavian, more specifically on Eastern Herzegovinian, which is also the basis of Standard Croatian, Serbian, and Montenegrin. Until the dissolution of SFR Yugoslavia, they were treated as a unitary Serbo-Croatian language, and that term is still used in English to subsume the common base (vocabulary, grammar and syntax) of what are today officially four national standards, although this term is controversial for native speakers,[13] and paraphrases such as "Bosnian-Croatian-Montenegrin-Serbian" are therefore sometimes used instead, especially in diplomatic circles.

Several linguists and socio-political advocates claim Bosnian to be not only a standard language of the Bosniaks, but of all of Bosnia and Herzegovina, drawing on historical evidence where the regional term Bosnian is attested.


Modern language and standardisation[edit]

Although Bosniaks are, on the level of colloquial idiom, linguistically more homogeneous than either Serbs or Croats they (unlike the other two) failed to codify a standard language in the crucial 19th century, with at least two factors being decisive:

  • The Bosniak elite, as closely intertwined with Ottoman life, wrote predominantly in foreign (Turkish, Arabic, Persian) languages.[citation needed] Vernacular literature written in Bosnian with the Arebica script was relatively thin and sparse.
  • The Bosniaks' national emancipation lagged behind that of the Serbs and Croats, and because denominational rather than cultural or linguistic issues played the pivotal role, a Bosnian language project did not arouse much interest or support amongst the Bosniak intelligentsia of the time.

Nevertheless, the literature of the so-called "Bosniak revival" at the start of the 20th century was written in an idiom that was closer to the Croatian standard than to the Serbian one: it was a western Shtokavian dialect with an Ijekavian accent and used a Latin script, but had recognizable Bosniak lexical traits. The main authors were the polymath, politician and poet Safvet-beg Bašagić and the storyteller Edhem Mulabdić.

Standard Bosnian language took shape in the 1990s and 2000s: lexically, Islamic-Oriental loan words are becoming more frequent; phonetically: the phoneme /x/ is reinstated in many words as a distinct feature of vernacular Bosniak speech and language tradition; also, there are some changes in grammar, morphology and orthography that reflect the Bosniak pre-World War I literary tradition, mainly that of the Bosniak renaissance at the beginning of the 20th century.


The name Bosnian language is a controversial issue for Croats and Serbs who also refer to as Bosniak language (bošnjački). Bosniak linguists however insist that the only legitimate name is Bosnian language (bosanski), and that that is the name that both Croats and Serbs should use. The controversy arises because the language name Bosnian implies that it is the language of all Bosnians, or of all Bosnia and Herzegovina, which also includes Bosnian Croats and Serbs. Croats and Serbs argue to use the Croatian and the Serbian, respectively.

Some Croatian linguists (Zvonko Kovač, Ivo Pranjković, Josip Silić) supports the name Bosnian language. However, most Croatian linguists (Radoslav Katičić, Dalibor Brozović, Tomislav Ladan and others) hold that the term Bosnian language is the only one appropriate and that accordingly terms Bosnian language and Bosniak language refer to two different things. The Croatian state institutions, such as the Central Bureau of Statistics, use both terms - Bosniak language in the 2001 census,[14] while the census in 2011 used the term Bosnian language.[15]

Majority of Serbian linguists hold that the term Bosnian language is the only one appropriate,[16] which was agreed on already in 1990.[17]

The original form of The Constitution of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina calls the language Bosniac language,[18] and that was the term used until 2002 when it was changed in the Amendment XXIX of the Constitution of the Federation by Wolfgang Petritsch.[19] The original text of the Constitution of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina was agreed on in Vienna, and was signed by Krešimir Zubak and Haris Silajdžić on March 18, 1994.[20]

The language is called Bosnian language in the 1995 Dayton Accords[21] and is concluded by observers to have received legitimacy and international recognition at the time.[22]

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO),[23] United States Board on Geographic Names (BGN), and the Permanent Committee on Geographical Names (PCGN) recognize the Bosnian language. Furthermore the status of the Bosnian language is also recognized by bodies such as the United Nations, UNESCO, and translation and interpreting accreditation agencies.[24]

The constitution of Republika Srpska, the Serbian entity within Bosnia and Herzegovina, did not recognize any language or ethnic group other than Serbian.[25] Bosniaks were mostly expelled from the territory controlled by the Serbs from 1992, but immediately after the war demanded to restore their civil rights on those territories. The Bosnian Serbs refused to make references to the Bosnian language in their constitution and as a result had constitutional amendments imposed by High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch. However, the constitution of Republika Srpska refers to it as the "Language spoken by Bosniaks"[26] because the Serbs had to officially recognize it but still avoid recognition of its name.[27]

Serbia includes the Bosnian language as an elective subject in primary schools.[28] Montenegro officially recognizes the Bosnian language; its 2007 Constitution specifically states that although Montenegrin is the "official language", also "in official use are Serbian, Bosnian, Albanian and Croatian languages".[8][29]

Differences between standard Bosnian and standard Croatian and Serbian[edit]

There are notable differences between Bosnian and other Serbo-Croatian standard languages. It has a lot of Turkish, Persian, and Arabic loanwords.

Turkish, Arabic, and Persian loanwords[edit]

See also[edit]


a. ^ Kosovo is the subject of a territorial dispute between the Republic of Serbia and the Republic of Kosovo. The latter declared independence on 17 February 2008, but Serbia continues to claim it as part of its own sovereign territory. Kosovo's independence has been recognised by 107 out of 193 United Nations member states.
  1. ^ a b Cyrillic is an officially used alphabet, but in practice it is mainly used in Republika Srpska, whereas in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina mainly Latin is used.[2]


  1. ^ "Accredited Language Services: An Outline of Bosnian Language History". Accredited Language Services. Retrieved 12 August 2012. 
  2. ^ Alexander 2006, pp. 1-2.
  3. ^ David Dalby, Linguasphere (1999/2000, Linguasphere Observatory), pg. 445, 53-AAA-g, "Srpski+Hrvatski, Serbo-Croatian".
  4. ^ Benjamin V. Fortson, IV, Indo-European Language and Culture: An Introduction, 2nd ed. (2010, Blackwell), pg. 431, "Because of their mutual intelligibility, Serbian, Croatian, and Bosnian are usually thought of as constituting one language called Serbo-Croatian."
  5. ^ Václav Blažek, "On the Internal Classification of Indo-European Languages: Survey" retrieved 20 Oct 2010, pp. 15-16.
  6. ^ See Art. 6 of the Constitution of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, available at the official website of Office of the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina
  7. ^ "European charter for regional or minority languages: Application of the charter in Serbia". Council of Europe. 2009. 
  8. ^ a b See Art. 13 of the Constitution of the Republic of Montenegro, adopted on 19 October 2007, available at the website of the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Montenegro
  9. ^ Driton Muharremi and Samedin Mehmeti (2013). Handbook on Policing in Central and Eastern Europe. Springer. p. 129. 
  10. ^ Algar, Hamid (2 July 1994). Persian Literature in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Oxford: Journal of Islamic Studies (Oxford). pp. 254–68. 
  11. ^ Balić, Smail (1978). Die Kultur der Bosniaken, Supplement I: Inventar des bosnischen literarischen Erbes in orientalischen Sprachen. Vienna: Adolf Holzhausens, Vienna. p. 111. 
  12. ^ Balić, Smail (1992). Das unbekannte Bosnien: Europas Brücke zur islamischen Welt. Cologne, Weimar and Vienna: Bohlau. p. 526. 
  13. ^ Radio Free Europe – Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian, Or Montenegrin? Or Just 'Our Language'? Živko Bjelanović: Similar, But Different, Feb 21, 2009, accessed Oct 8, 2010
  14. ^ Central Bureau of Statistics of the Republic of Croatia Census of 2001, Population by mother tongue
  15. ^ Central Bureau of Statistics of the Republic of Croatia, Census of 2011, Population by mother tongue, retrieved January 19, 2014 
  16. ^ Odluka Odbora za standardizaciju srpskog jezika iz 1998.
  17. ^ Svein Mønnesland, »Language Policy in Bosnia-Herzegovina«, (pp 135. – 155.). In: Language : Competence–Change–Contact = Sprache : Kompetenz – Kontakt – Wandel, edited by: Annikki Koskensalo, John Smeds, Rudolf de Cillia, Ángel Huguet; Berlin ; Münster : Lit Verlag, 2012., ISBN 978-3-643-10801-2, p. 143. "Already in 1990 the Committee for the Serbian language9 decided that only the term 'Bosniac language' should be used officially in Serbia, and this was confirmed in 1998."
  18. ^ "Constitution of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina". Office of the High Representative. Retrieved 3 June 2010. 
  19. ^ Decision on Constitutional Amendments in the Federation, retrieved January 19, 2014 
  20. ^ Washington Agreement, retrieved January 19, 2014 
  21. ^ Alexander, Ronelle (2006). Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian, a Grammar: With Sociolinguistic Commentary. Univ of Wisconsin Press. p. 409. 
  22. ^ Greenberg, Robert D. (2004). Language and Identity in the Balkans: Serbo-Croatian and Its Disintegration. Oxford University Press. p. 136. 
  23. ^ ISO 639-2 – Library of Congress
  24. ^ Sussex, Roland (2006). The Slavic Languages. Cambridge University Press. p. 76. ISBN 0-521-22315-6. 
  25. ^ "The Constitution of the Republika Srpska". U.S. English Foundation Research. Retrieved 3 June 2010. 
  26. ^ "Decision on Constitutional Amendments in Republika Srpska". Office of the High Representative. Retrieved 3 June 2010. 
  27. ^ Greenberg, Robert David (2004). Language and Identity in the Balkans: Serbo-Croatian and its Disintegration. Oxford University Press. p. 156. ISBN 0-19-925815-5. 
  28. ^ Rizvanovic, Alma (2 August 2005). "Language Battle Divides Schools". Institute for War & Peace Reporting. Retrieved 3 June 2010. 
  29. ^ CDM : CafedelMontenegro

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]