Comparison of standard Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian
|South Slavic languages and dialects|
- 1 History
- 2 Writing
- 3 Grammar
- 4 Notes on comprehension
- 5 Language samples
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
In socialist Yugoslavia, the official policy insisted on one language with two standard varieties—Eastern (used in Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina by all ethnicities, either with the Ekavian or the Ijekavian accent) and Western (used in Croatia by all ethnicities, the Ijekavian accent only). However, due to discontent in Croatian intellectual circles, beginning in the late 1960s Croatian cultural workers started to refer to the language exclusively as 'the Croatian literary language', or sometimes 'the Croatian or Serbian language', as was common before Yugoslavia. The language was regarded as one common language with different variants and dialects. The unity of the language was emphasized, making the differences not an indicator of linguistic divisions, but rather factors enriching the 'common language' diversity. In addition, Yugoslavia had two other official languages on the federal level, Slovenian and Macedonian, reflecting Yugoslavia's acceptance of diversity with regards to language use. No attempts were made to assimilate those languages into the Serbo-Croatian language.
With the breakup of the Federation, in search of additional indicators of independent and separate national identities, language became a political instrument in virtually all of the new republics. With a boom of neologisms in Croatia, an additional emphasis on Turkisms in the Muslim parts of Bosnia and a privileged position of the Cyrillic script in Serb inhabited parts of the new states, every state and entity showed a 'nationalization' of the language. The language in Bosnia started developing independently after Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence in 1992. The independent development of the language in Montenegro became a topic among some Montenegrin academics in the 1990s.
It should be noted that the Serbian and Bosnian language standards tend to be inclusive, i.e. to accept a wider range of idioms and to use loan-words, whereas the Croatian language policy is more purist and prefers neologisms to loan-words, as well as the re-use of neglected older words. Yet there is criticism of the puristic language policy even in Croatia. These approaches are, again, due to the different cultural, historical and political development of the three variants and the societies they are found in.
Though all of the language variants could theoretically use either, the scripts differ:
- Bosnian and Montenegrin uses both Latin and Cyrillic.
- Croatian uses strictly the Latin alphabet.
- Serbian uses both the Cyrillic (ћирилица) and Latin (latinica) scripts. Cyrillic is the official script of the administration in Serbia and Republika Srpska, but the Latin script is most widely used in media and especially on the Internet.
All standard languages have the same set of 30 regular phonemes, so the Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian Latin and Serbian Cyrillic alphabets map one to one with one another, and with the phoneme inventory.
Some linguists analyze the yat reflexes ⟨je⟩ and ⟨ije⟩, commonly realized as [ie] in Croatian and Bosnian dialects, as a separate phoneme – "jat diphthong" – or even two phonemes, one short and one long. There are even several proposals by Croatian linguists for an orthography reform concerning these two diphthongs, but they have not been seriously considered for implementation.
The ongoing standardization of Montenegrin has introduced two new letters, ⟨Ś⟩ and ⟨Ź⟩, for the sounds [ɕ] and [ʑ] respectively. These are optional spellings of the digraphs ⟨sj⟩ and ⟨zj⟩. Critics note that [ɕ] and [ʑ] are merely allophones of /sj/ and /zj/ in Herzegovinian dialects such as Montenegrin, so the new letters are not required for an adequate orthography
Most dialects of Serbia originally lack the phoneme /x/, instead having /j/, /v/, or nothing (silence). /x/ was introduced with language unification, and the Serbian standard allows for some doublets such as snaja–snaha and hajde–ajde. However, in other words, especially those of foreign origin, ⟨h⟩ is mandatory.
In some regions of Croatia and Bosnia, sounds for letters ⟨č⟩ (realized as [tʃ] in most other dialects) and ⟨ć⟩ [tɕ] merged or nearly merged, usually into [tʃ]. The same happened with their voiced counterparts, i.e. ⟨dž⟩ and ⟨đ⟩ merged into [dʒ]. As result, speakers of those dialects often have difficulties distinguishing the corresponding these sounds. However, this merger is nonstandard.
Serbian language usually phonetically transcribes foreign names and words (although both transcription and transliteration are allowed), whereas the Croatian standard usually transliterates. Bosnian also usually follows the Serbian model.
Also, when the subject of the future tense is omitted, producing a reversal of the infinitive and auxiliary "ću", only the final "i" of the infinitive is orthographically elided in Croatian and Bosnian, whereas in Serbian the two have merged into a single word:
- "Uradit ću to." (Croatian/Bosnian)
- "Uradiću to." (Serbian)
Regardless of spelling, the pronunciation is the same.
In general, the Shtokavian dialects that represent the foundation of the standard languages have four pitch accents on stressed syllables: falling tone on a short vowel, written e.g. ⟨ı̏⟩ in dictionaries; rising tone on a short vowel, written e.g. ⟨ì⟩; falling tone on a long vowel, written e.g. ⟨î⟩; and rising tone on a long vowel, written e.g. ⟨í⟩. In addition, the following unstressed vowel may be either short, ⟨i⟩, or long, ⟨ī⟩. In declension and verb conjugation, accent shifts, both by type and position, are very frequent.
The distinction between four accents and preservation of post accent lengths is common in vernaculars of western Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, in parts of Serbia, as well as in parts of Croatia with strong Serb immigration. In addition, a distinct characteristics of some vernaculars is stress shift to proclitics, e.g. phrase u Bosni (in Bosnia) will be pronounced /ùbosni/ instead of /ubȍsni/ as in northern parts of Serbia.
The northern vernaculars in Serbia also preserve the four-accent system, but the unstressed lengths have been shortened or disappeared in some positions. However, the shortening of post-accent lengths is in progress in all Shtokavian vernaculars, even in those most conservative in Montenegro. Stress shift to enclitics is, however, in northern Serbia rare and mostly limited to negative verb constructs (ne znam = I don't know > /nȅznām/).
The situation in Croatia, is however, different. A large proportion of speakers of Croatian, especially those coming from Zagreb, do not distinguish between rising and falling accents. This is considered to be a feature of the Zagreb dialect, which has strong Kajkavian influence, rather than Standard Croatian.
Regardless of vernacular differences, all three standard languages exclusively promote the Neo-Shtokavian four-accentual system. Both dialects that are considered to be the basis of Standard Serbian (Eastern Herzegovinian and Šumadija-Vojvodina dialects) have four accents.
|Opposition -u/e||burza||berza||berza||stock exchange|
|Opposition -i/je after l/t||proljev||proljev/proliv||proliv||diarrhoea|
|Opposition -l/-o after o||sol||so||so||salt|
|Serbian often drops or does not add initial or medial 'h':||čahura||čahura||čaura||cartridge|
|Serbian does not add final 'r':||jučer||jučer||juče||yesterday|
There are three principal "pronunciations" (izgovori/изговори) of the Štokavian dialect that differ in their reflexes of the proto-Slavic vowel jat vowel. Illustrated by the Common Slavic word for "child", dětę, they are:
- dete in the Ekavian pronunciation
- dite in the Ikavian pronunciation
- dijete in the Ijekavian pronunciation
The Serbian language recognizes Ekavian and Ijekavian as equally valid pronunciations, whereas Standard Croatian and Bosnian accept only Ijekavian pronunciation. In Bosnia and Herzegovina (regardless of the official language) and in Montenegro, the Ijekavian pronunciation is used almost exclusively.
Ikavian pronunciation is nonstandard, and is limited to dialectal use in Dalmatia, Lika, Istria, central Bosnia (area between Vrbas and Bosna), Western Herzegovina, Bosanska Krajina, Slavonia and northern Bačka (Vojvodina). So, for example:
A few Croatian linguists have tried to explain the following differences in morphological structure for some words, with the introduction of a new vowel, "jat diphthong". This is not the opinion of most linguists.
Sometimes this leads to confusion: Serbian poticati (to stem from) is in Croatian and Bosnian "to encourage". Croatian and Bosnian "to stem from" is potjecati, whereas Serbian for "encourage" is podsticati.
|add by pouring*||dolijevati||dolijevati/dolivati||dolivati*|
Standard Bosnian allows both variants, and ambiguities are resolved by preferring the Croatian variant; this is a general practice for Serbian–Croatian ambiguities.
Phoneme /x/ (written as h) has been volatile in eastern South Slavic dialects. In Serbian dialects, it has been replaced with /j/, /v/, or elided, and subsequent standardization sanctioned those forms:
|English||Serbian||Bosnian and Croatian|
However, /x/ has been kept in many words as a distinct feature of Bosnian speech and language tradition, particularly under influence of Turkish and Arabic, and even introduced in some places where it etymologically did not exist. Those forms are now also accepted in standard Bosnian:
|coffee||kahva or kafa||kava||kafa|
As the Ijekavian pronunciation is common to all official standards, it will be used for examples on this page. Other than this, examples of different morphology are:
|English||Bosnian||Croatian||Serbian (Ijekavian)||Montenegrin[dubious ]|
Also many internationalisms and transliterations are different:
(cf. German organisieren, konstruieren, analysieren)
Historically, modern-age internationalisms entered Bosnian and Croatian mostly through German and Italian, whereas they entered Serbian through French and Russian, so different localization patterns were established based on those languages. Also, Greek borrowings came to Serbian directly, but through Latin into Croatian:
|Armenia||Armenija||Armenija||Jermenija||Through Latin and Venetian in Croatian, through Greek in Serbian|
|impedance||impedanca||impedanca||impedansa||All from French impédance, Italianized ending in Croatian (cf. impedenza)|
|license||licenca||licenca||licenca||Through Latin in both|
Most of terms for chemical elements are different: for international names, Bosnian and Croatian use -ij where Serbian has -ijum (uranij–uranijum). In some native names, Croatian have -ik where Serbian has -(o)nik (kisik–kiseonik 'oxygen', vodik–vodonik 'hydrogen') and Bosnian accepts all variants. Yet others are totally different (dušik–azot 'nitrogen', kositar–kalaj 'tin'). Some element names are the same: srebro (silver), zlato (gold), bakar (copper).
Some other imported words differ by grammatical gender, feminine words having an -a suffix and masculine words having a zero-suffix:
In Serbian and Bosnian, the pronoun what is što when used as a relative, but šta when used as an interrogative; the latter applies also to relative sentences with interrogative meaning. Croatian uses što in all contexts.
|English||Bosnian and Serbian||Croatian and Montenegrin|
|What did he say?||Šta je rekao?||Što je rekao?|
|Ask him what he said.||Pitaj ga šta je rekao.||Pitaj ga što je rekao.|
|What he said was a lie.||To što je rekao je laž.||To što je rekao je laž.|
In Croatian, the pronoun who has the form tko, whereas in Serbian, Bosnian and Montenegrin it has ko. The declension is the same: kome, koga, etc. In addition, Croatian uses komu as an alternative form in the dative case.
Usage of locative pronouns gd(j)e, kuda, and kamo differs between Serbian and Croatian (the latter not being used in Serbian):
|English||Bosnian and Serbian (Ijekavian)||Croatian||Montenegrin|
|Where will you be?||Gdje ćeš biti?||Gdje ćeš biti?||Đe ćeš biti?|
|Where will you go?||Gdje ćeš ići??
(Kuda ćeš ići?)
|Kamo ćeš ići?||Đe ćeš ići?|
|Which way will you go?||Kuda ćeš ići?||Kuda ćeš ići?||Kuda ćeš ići?|
Infinitive vs. subjunctive
With modal verbs such as ht(j)eti (want) or moći (can), the infinitive is prescribed in Croatian, whereas the construction da (that/to) + present tense is preferred in Serbian. This subjunctive of sorts is possibly an influence of the Balkan sprachbund. Again, both alternatives are present and allowed in Bosnian (the first one is preferred in orthography, the latter is more common in colloquial language).
The sentence "I want to do that" could be translated with any of
- Hoću to da uradim.
- Hoću to uraditi.
This difference partly extends to the future tense, which in Serbo-Croatian is formed in a similar manner to English, using (elided) present of verb "ht(j)eti" → "hoću"/"hoćeš"/... > "ću"/"ćeš"/... as auxiliary verb. Here, the infinitive is formally required in both variants:
- Ja ću to uraditi. (I shall do that.)
However, when da+present is used instead, in it can additionally express the subject's will or intention to perform the action:
- Ja ću to da uradim. (I will do that.)
This form is more frequently used in Serbia and Bosnia. The nuances in meaning between two constructs can be slight or even lost (especially in Serbian dialects), in similar manner as the shall/will distinction varies across English dialects. Overuse of da+present is regarded as Germanism in Serbian linguistic circles, and it can occasionally lead to awkward sentences.
However, Croatians seldom naturally use da+present form. Instead, a different form can be used to express will:
- Ja hoću to uraditi. (I want to do that.)
(The sentence would sound more Croatian, but keep the same meaning, if it stated: "Želim to učiniti.", as "uraditi" is uncommon in Croatian).
In interrogative and relative constructs, Croatian uses the interrogative participle li after the verb, whereas Serbian also allows forms with da li. (A similar situation exists in French, where a question can be formed either by inversion or using est-ce que, and can be stretched in English with modal verbs):
- Možeš li? (Can you?) (spoken Croatian)
- Both Možeš li? and Da li možeš? (Can you, Do you can?) are common in Serbian.
In addition, non-standard je li ("Is it?"), usually elided to je l' , is vernacular for forming all kinds of questions, e.g. Je l' možeš?. In standard language, it is used only in questions involving auxiliary verb je (="is"):
- Je li moguće? (Is it possible?) (spoken Croatian)
- Both Je li moguće? and Da li je moguće? are common in Serbian.
In summary, the English sentence "I want to know whether I'll start working" would typically read:
- ''Želim da znam hoću li početi da radim. (spoken Serbian)
- Želim znati hoću li početi raditi. (spoken Croatian)
although many in-between combinations could be met in vernacular speech, depending on speaker's dialect, idiolect, or even mood.
In formal Croatian, verb trebati (need or should) is transitive, as in English. In Serbian and Bosnian, it is impersonal, (as French il faut, or English construct is necessary (to)); the grammatical subject is either omitted (it), or presents the object of needing; the person that needs something is an indirect grammatical object, in dative case. (Such usage is, however, also encountered in Croatian, especially spoken.):
|Serbian and Bosnian||English (literal trans.)||Croatian||English|
|Petru treba novac.||Money [is necessary] to Peter.||Petar treba novac.||Peter needs money.|
|Ne trebam ti.||I [am not necessary] to you||Ne trebaš me.||You don't need me.|
|Treba da radim.||(It) [is necessary] that I work.||Trebam raditi.||I should work.|
The greatest differences between the standards is in vocabulary. However, most words are well understood, and even occasionally used, in the other standards. In most cases, common usage favors one variant and the other(s) are regarded as "imported", archaic, dialectal, or simply more rarely used. The preference for certain words depends on the speaker's geographic origin rather than ethnicity; for example, Serbs from Bosnia use "mrkva" and "hlače" rather than "šargarepa" and "pantalone".
|one thousand||hiljada||tisuća||hiljada (preferred)
Note that there are only a few differences that can cause confusion, for example the verb "ličiti" means "to look like" in Serbian and Bosnian, but in Croatian it is "sličiti"; "ličiti" means "to paint (a house)".
The word "bilo" means "white" in the Ikavian accent, "pulse" in official Croatian, and "was" in all official languages, although it is not so confusing when pronounced because of different accentuation (bîlo or bílo = white, bı̏lo = pulse, bílo = was).
In Serbian and Bosnian, the word izvanredan (extraordinary) has only the positive meaning (excellent), vanredan being used for "unusual" or "out of order"; however, only izvanredan is used in Croatian in both contexts.
Also note that in most cases Bosnian officially allows almost all of the listed variants in the name of "language richness", and ambiguities are resolved by preferring the Croatian variant. Bosnian vocabulary writers based their decisions on usage of certain words in literary works by Bosnian authors.
Names of the months
The months have Slavic-derived names in Croatian, wheres Serbian and Bosnian have almost the same set of international Latin-derived names as English. The Slavic-derived names may also be used in Bosnian, but the international names are preferred.
The international names of the months are well understood in Croatia and are used in several fixed expressions such as Prvi Maj (May 1st), Prvi April (April Fools' Day) or Oktobarska revolucija (October Revolution).
In spoken Croatian and in western Bosnia it is common to refer to a month by its number. Therefore, many speakers refer to the month of May as peti mjesec ("the fifth month"). Saying peti peti (fifth of fifth) would be the equivalent of May 5th. Outside of a context where the month is already implied, such usage may lead to confusion.
Notes on comprehension
It is important to notice a few issues:
- Pronunciation and vocabulary differs among dialects spoken within Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia themselves. Each larger region has its own pronunciation and it is reasonably easy to guess where a speaker is from by their accent and/or vocabulary. Colloquial vocabulary can be particularly different from the official standards.
This is one of the arguments for claiming it is all one and the same language: there are more differences within the territories of the official languages themselves than there are between the standards (all three of which are based on the same Neo-Štokavian dialect). This is not surprising, of course, for if the lines between the varieties were drawn not politically but linguistically, then there would be no borders at all. As Pavle Ivić explains, the continuous migration of Slavic populations during the five hundred years of Turkish rule has scattered the local dialects all around.
- When Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs talk amongst each other, the other speakers usually understand them completely, save for the odd word, and quite often, they will know what that means (much as with British and American English speakers). Nevertheless, when communicating with each other, there is a habit to use terms that are familiar to everyone, with the intent to avoid not being understood and/or confusion. For example, to avoid confusion with the names of the months, they can be referred to as the "first month", "second month" and so on, or the Latin-derived names can be used if "first month" itself is ambiguous, which makes it perfectly understandable for everyone. In Serbia, the names of the months are the international ones so again they are understandable for anyone who knows English or another Western European language.
- Even during the time of Yugoslavia it was common for publishers to do some adaptations to "Eastern" or "Western" standard. Especially translations were and are changed by the lectors. It is to be considered that Croatian and Serbian standards have completely different scientific terminology. Jung's masterpiece "Psychology and Alchemy" was translated into Croatian in 1986, and adapted in late 1990s into Serbian. Ivo Andrić had some problems in Croatia with publishers who changed his infinitive constructions and other expressions. Eventually, he managed to forbid that kind of intervention. In Montenegro, the publisher CID switched from the Ekavian to the Jekavian accent after Montenegro's independence.
The following samples, taken from article 1 to 6 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, are "synonymous texts, translated as literally as possible" in the sense of Ammon designed to demonstrate the differences between the standard varieties treated in this article in a continuous text.
|Opća deklaracija o pravima čovjeka||Opća deklaracija o pravima čovjeka||Opšta deklaracija o pravima čov(j)eka||Universal Declaration of Human Rights|
|Članak 1. Sva ljudska bića rađaju se slobodna i jednaka u dostojanstvu i pravima. Ona su obdarena razumom i sviješću i trebaju jedno prema drugome postupati u duhu bratstva.||Član 1. Sva ljudska bića rađaju se slobodna i jednaka u dostojanstvu i pravima. Ona su obdarena razumom i sviješću i trebaju jedno prema drugome postupati u duhu bratstva.||Član 1. Sva ljudska bića rađaju se slobodna i jednaka u dostojanstvu i pravima. Ona su obdarena razumom i sv(ij)ešću i treba da jedno prema drugome postupaju u duhu bratstva.||Article 1. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.|
|Članak 2. Svakome su dostupna sva prava i slobode navedene u ovoj Deklaraciji bez razlike bilo koje vrste, kao što su rasa, boja, spol, jezik, vjera, političko ili drugo mišljenje, narodnosno ili društveno podrijetlo, imovina, rođenje ili drugi pravni položaj.
Nadalje, ne smije se činiti bilo kakva razlika temeljem političkog, pravnog ili međunarodnog položaja zemlje ili područja kojima neka osoba pripada, bilo da je ovo područje nezavisno, pod skrbništvom, nesamoupravno, ili da se nalazi ma pod kojim drugim ograničenjima suverenosti.
|Član 2. Svakome su dostupna sva prava i slobode navedene u ovoj Deklaraciji bez razlike bilo koje vrste, kao što su rasa, boja, spol, jezik, vjera, političko ili drugo mišljenje, narodnosno ili društveno porijeklo, imovina, rođenje ili drugi pravni položaj.
Nadalje, ne smije se činiti bilo kakva razlika na osnovu političkog, pravnog ili međunarodnog položaja zemlje ili područja kojima neka osoba pripada, bilo da je ovo područje nezavisno, pod starateljstvom, nesamoupravno, ili da se nalazi ma pod kojim drugim ograničenjima suverenosti.
|Član 2. Svakome su dostupna sva prava i slobode navedene u ovoj Deklaraciji bez razlike bilo koje vrste, kao što su rasa, boja, pol, jezik, v(j)era, političko ili drugo mišljenje, narodnosno ili društveno por(ij)eklo, imovina, rođenje ili drugi pravni položaj.
Nadalje, ne sm(ij)e da se čini bilo kakva razlika na osnovu političkog, pravnog ili međunarodnog položaja zemlje ili područja kojima neko lice pripada, bilo da je ovo područje nezavisno, pod starateljstvom, nesamoupravno, ili da se nalazi ma pod kojim drugim ograničenjima suverenosti.
|Article 2. Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.
|Članak 3. Svatko ima pravo na život, slobodu i osobnu sigurnost.||Član 3. Svako ima pravo na život, slobodu i ličnu sigurnost.||Član 3. Svako ima pravo na život, slobodu i ličnu bezb(j)ednost.||Article 3. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.|
|Članak 4. Nitko ne smije biti držan u ropstvu ili ropskom odnosu; ropstvo i trgovina robljem zabranjuje se u svim njihovim oblicima.||Član 4. Niko ne smije biti držan u ropstvu ili ropskom odnosu; ropstvo i trgovina robljem zabranjuje se u svim njihovim oblicima/formama.||Član 4. Niko ne sm(ij)e da bude držan u ropstvu ili ropskom odnosu; ropstvo i trgovina robljem zabranjuje se u svim njihovim formama.||Article 4. No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.|
|Članak 5. Nitko ne smije biti podvrgnut mučenju ili okrutnom, nečovječnom ili ponižavajućem postupku ili kažnjavanju.||Član 5. Niko ne smije biti podvrgnut mučenju ili okrutnom, nečovječnom ili ponižavajućem postupku ili kažnjavanju.||Član 5. Niko ne sm(ij)e da bude podvrgnut mučenju ili okrutnom, nečovečnom ili ponižavajućem postupku ili kažnjavanju.||Article 5. No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.|
|Članak 6. Svatko ima pravo svugdje se pred zakonom priznavati kao osoba.||Član 6. Svako se ima pravo svuda/svugdje pred zakonom priznavati kao osoba.||Član 6. Svako ima pravo da se svuda pred zakonom priznaje kao lice.||Article 6. Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.|
- Ausbausprache, Abstandsprache and Dachsprache
- Declaration on the Status and Name of the Croatian Standard Language
- Language secessionism in Serbo-Croatian
- Mutual intelligibility
- Pluricentric Serbo-Croatian language
- Shtokavian dialect
- South Slavic dialect continuum
- Standard language
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- A Handbook of Bosnian, Serbian and Croatian, Wayles Brown and Theresa Alt, SEELRC 2004
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- All month names are different. See below for full table.
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