Note: This paper was originally written for the "Intoduction to Sociolinguistics" class at the University of Calgary in 1993 and was later published in Calgary Working Papers in Linguistics. The entire text is available here in PDF format. Below is the introduction - some of the special non-ascii characters are missing.

Sociolinguistics Analysis of Serbo-Croatian

Sean McLennan

Calgary Working Papers in Linguistics

Volume 18, Winter 1996, ISSN 0823-0579

Nationalism is a phenomenon that has been responsible for a great deal of conflict and bloodshed throughout history, perhaps because national identity is by no means transparent nor easy to define. It is intimately tied to individual perceptions of unity and identity such as history, religion, culture, and language. The relationship between nationalism and these perceptions is also not one way. They both affect and define each other. In fact, sometimes national identity and factors such as language or religion, are treated as being almost synonymous. Such a situation currently exists in the former Yugoslavia.

Serbia and Croatia have had a long history of conflict on many levels. Daniel Solanovic quotes, "The war in the former Yugoslavia is being fought on several fronts, some of which are more salient than others. Even our dictionaries have become battle fields, where mortar shells have been replaced by the coinage of nouns in the effort of separating us from them." This "dictionary front", of course refers to the use of the language, "Serbo-Croatian". The common objective analysis is that there is one language, "Serbo-Croatian", of which there are three main dialects: Stokavian, Kajkavian, and Cakavian (the names are based on the word for "what" in each dialect). Stokavian also has three dialects: Ekavian, Ijekavian, and Ikavian (the names based on the phonological variation between e, ije, and i). Ijekavian is the dialect considered to be standard Croatian and Ekavian is the dialect considered to be standard Serbian.

The general attitude of Croats is that Croatian (Stokavian - Ijekavian) and Serbian (Stokavian - Ekavian) are completely autonomous languages and as such, Croats try to emphasize the differences. Serbs however, are trying to down play those differences, taking the position that there is only one language with several variants. Regardless, Croats appear to be the most vehement in questions of language, mainly because of the perception that Serbian had been imposed upon them. Currently, a movement to label all Serbian words and remove them from Croatian use is underway. Radicals may even completely alienate individuals (indeed, even cause bodily harm) for the use of any markedly Serbian terms or styles. More commonly, it is just emphatically discouraged. This is a particularly arbitrary movement, for many of these "Serbian" words have commonly been used by Croatians and it seems that the labelling of words as "Serbian" or not is more politically motivated than etymologically. In fact, the movement has required the coinage of new words (using "Croatian" roots and affixation and compounding) for many meanings that had no word other than the "Serbian". The movement has also required the translation of foreign words such as common brand names and technological terms that were borrowings from other languages (Personal Consultation). Ironically, it appears that Croatians with language variants similar to Serbs are looked down upon as much as Serbs themselves.