CROATIAN LANGUAGE

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SOME FACTS ABOUT CROATIAN LANGUAGE

The Croatian language is a language of the western group of South Slavic languages which is used primarily by the Croats. It is one of the standard versions of the Central-South Slavic diasystem, formerly (and still frequently) called Serbo-Croatian.
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Croatian is based on the Stokavian dialect (with some influence from Cakavian and Kajkavian) and written with the Latin alphabet.

The modern Croatian standard language is a continuous outgrowth of more than nine hundred years of literature written in a mixture of Croatian Church Slavonic and the vernacular language. If we narrow out the subject, Croatian Church Slavonic had been abandoned by the mid-1400s, and Croatian “purely” vernacular literature has been in existence for more than five centuries – a story of remarkable linguistic continuity with only a few shock points.

Unification and separation with Serbian

The establishment of the Yugoslav state was an important event in the history of the Croatian language.

The Kingdom of Yugoslavia (23 year period 1918-1941) was dominated by the Serbian government which tried to use a joint language in the spirit of supra-national Yugoslav ideology. This meant that Croatian and Serbian were no longer developing individually side by side, but instead that they tried to be forged into one language under political pressure. Due to the nature of the state politics at the time, this forging was resulting in an Serbian-based language, which meant a certain Serbianization of the language of Croatia and Bosnia.

In the 1920s and the 1930s, the lexical, syntactical, orthographical and morphological characteristics of the Serbian language were officially prescribed for Croatian textbooks and general communication.

This artificial process of “unification” into one, Serbo-Croatian language, was preferred by neo-grammarian Croatian linguists, the most notable example being the influential philologist and translator Tomislav Maretic. However, this school was virtually extinct by the late 1920s and since then leading Croatian linguists such as Petar Skok, Stjepan Ivsic and Petar Guberina were unanimous in the re-affirmation of the Croatian purist tradition.

The situation somewhat eased in the eve of World War II (cf. the establishment of Banovina Hrvatska within Yugoslavia in 1939), but with the capitulation of Yugoslavia and creation of Nazi-Fascist puppet “Independent State of Croatia” (1941-1945) came another, this time hardly predictable and extremely grotesque attack on standard Croatian: totalitarian dictatorship of Ante Pavelic pushed natural Croatian purist tendencies to ludicrous extremes and tried to reimpose older morphonological orthography preceding Ivan Broz orthographical prescriptions from 1892.

However, Croatian linguists and writers were strongly opposed to this travesty of “language planning” – in the same way they rejected pro-Serbian forced unification in the monarchist Yugoslavia. Not surprisingly, no Croatian dictionaries or Croatian grammars had been published during this period.

While during monarchist Yugoslavia “Serbo-Croatian” unification was motivated mainly by the Greater Serbia policy, in the Communist period (45 years between 1945 and 1990) it was the by-product of Communist centralism and “internationalism”. Whatever the intentions, the result was the same: the suppression of basic features that differ Croatian language from Serbian language – from orthography to vocabulary. No Croatian dictionaries (apart from historical “Croatian or Serbian”, conceived in the 19th century) appeared until 1985, when Communist centralism was well in the process of decay.

In Communist Yugoslavia, Serbian language and terminology were “official” in a few areas: the military, diplomacy, Federal Yugoslav institutions (various institutes and research centres), state media and jurisprudence at the Yugoslav level; also, the language in Bosnia and Herzegovina was gradually Serbianized in all levels of educational system and the republic’s administration. Virtually the only institution of any importance where Croatian language was dominant had been Lexicographic Institute in Zagreb, headed by Croatian writer Miroslav Krleza. This unitary linguistic policy was encouraged by the Communist party-state.

Notwithstanding the declaration of intent of AVNOJ (The Antifascist Council for the National Liberation of Yugoslavia) in 1944, which proclaimed the equality of all languages of Yugoslavia (Slovenian, Croatian, Serbian and Macedonian) – everything had, in practice, been geared towards the supremacy of the Serbian language. This was done under the pretext of “mutual enrichment” and “togetherness”, hoping that the transient phase of relatively peaceful life among peoples in Yugoslavia would eventually give way to one of fusion into the supra-national, essentially paradoxical Yugoslav nation and, arguably, provide a firmer basis for Serbianization to be stepped up. However – this “supra-national engineering” was doomed from the outset: the nations that formed the Yugoslav state were formed long before its incipience and all unification pressures only poisoned and exacerbaced inter-ethnic/national relations, causing the state to become merely ephemeral.

The single most important effort by ruling Yugoslav Communist elite to erase the “differences” between Croatian and Serbian – and in practice impose Serbian Ekavian language, written in Latin script, as the “official” language of Yugoslavia, was the so-called “Novi Sad Agreement”. Twenty five Serbian, Croatian and Montenegrin philologists came together in 1954 to sign the Agreement named after the site of the signing, Novi Sad. A common Serbo-Croatian or Croato-Serbian orthography was compiled in an atmosphere of state repression and fear. There were 18 Serbs and 7 Croats in Novi Sad. The “Agreement” was seen by the Croats as a defeat for the Croatian cultural heritage. According to the eminent Croatian linguist Ljudevit Jonke, it was imposed on the Croats. The conclusions were formulated according to goals which had been set in advance, and discussion had no role whatsoever. In more than a decade to follow the principles of Novi Sad Agreement were put into practice.

A collective Croatian reaction against such de facto Serbian imposition erupted on 15th March 1967. On that day, nineteen Croatian scholarly institutions and cultural organizations dealing with language and literature (Croatian Universities and Academy), including foremost Croatian writers and linguists (Miroslav Krleza, Radoslav Katicic, Dalibor Brozovic and Tomislav Ladan among them) issued the “Declaration Concerning the Name and the Status of the Croatian Literary Language”. In the Declaration, they asked for amendment to the Constitution expressing two claims:

  • the equality not of three but of four literary languages, Slovenian, Croatian, Serbian and Macedonian, and consequently, the publication of all federal laws and other federal acts in four instead of three languages
  • the use of the Croatian standard language in schools and all mass communication media pertaining to the Republic of Croatia. The Declaration accused the federal authorities in Belgrade of imposing Serbian as the official state language and downgrading Croatian to the level of a local dialect.
    Notwithstanding the fact that “Declaration” was vociferously condemned by Yugoslav Communist authorities as an outburst of “Croatian nationalism”-Serbo-Croatian forced unification was essentially halted and the uneasy status quo remained until the end of Communism.

In the decade between the death of Yugoslav dictator Tito (1980) and the final collapse of Communism and Yugoslavia (1990/1991), major works that manifested irrepressibility of Croatian linguistic culture had appeared. The studies of Brozovic, Katicic and Babic that had been circulating among specialists or printed in the obscure philological publications in the 60s and 70s (frequently condemned and suppressed by Communist authorities) have finally, in the climate of dissolving authoritarianism, been published in the broad daylight. This was formal «divorce» of Croatian language from Serbian (and, strictly linguistically speaking, death of Serbo-Croatian). The works, based on modern fields and theories (structuralist linguistics and phonology, comparative-historical linguistics and lexicology, transformational grammar and areal linguistics) revised or discarded older «language histories», restored the continuity of Croatian language by definitely reintegrating and asserting specific Croatian language characteristics (phonetic, morphological, syntactic and lexical) that had been constantly suppressed in both Yugoslav states and finally gave modern linguistic description and prescription of Croatian language. Among many monographs and serious studies, one could point out to works issued by Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts, particularly Katicic’s «Syntax» and Babic’s «Word-formation».

After the collapse of Communism and the birth of Croatian independence (1991), situation with regard to the Croatian language has become stabilized. Finally freed from political pressures and de-Croatization impositions, Croatian linguists expanded the work on various ambitious programs and intensified their studies on current dominant areas of linguistics: mathematical and corpus linguistics, textology, psycholinguistics, language acquisition and historical lexicography. From 1991 numerous representative Croatian linguistic works were published, among them four voluminous monolingual dictionaries of contemporary Croatian, various specialized dictionaries and normative manuals (the most representative being the issue of Institute for Croatian Language and Linguistics). For a curious bystander, probably the most noticeable language feature in Croatian society was re-Croatization of Croatian language in all areas, from phonetics to semantics- and most evidently in everyday vocabulary.

Political ambitions played the key role in the “invention” of the Serbo-Croatian language. Likewise, politics again was crucial agent in dissolving the “unified” language. With the collapse of Communism, Serbo-Croatian language officially followed suit.

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