Differences between former Yugoslavian languages?
Thread poster: Aardvark Sweden

Aardvark Sweden
Local time: 16:16
Swedish to English
May 17, 2004

What are the main differences between Serbian, Croatian, and Bosnian? How closely related are they, and would a Serb understand Bosnian for instance? I would appreciate som enlightment.


Uwe Kirmse  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:16
Polish to German
+ ...
like Scandinavian languages May 17, 2004

for spoken language:

Danish : Nynorsk = Serbian : Croatian
Swedish : Danish = Bosnian : Serbian

not exactly, of course

written: Serbian uses cyrillic letters


Marcus Malabad  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:16
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
differences May 18, 2004

You may find your answers in Differences in official languages in Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia or in Serbo-Croatian Language or in Language Profiles or in Languages of Former Yugoslavia

[Edited at 2004-05-18 05:56]


Csaba Ban  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:16
Member (2002)
English to Hungarian
+ ...
differences May 18, 2004

To understand the differences, you have to look at the history of the Southern Slav region. Both Croats and Serbs moved to their current area around 700 AD. As Croats settled to the West of the line that formally divided the Western and Eastern parts of the Roman Emprire, when it came to adopting Christianity, Croats opted for the Latin rite (Rome), while Serbs came under the influence of Byzantium and adopted Orhtodox Christianty.

In the middle ages, Croatia was a Western-style kingdom under the influence of the Kingdom of Hungary (which was not exactly the same as "Hungary", but this is a long story), Serbia was a principality of varying territory. Before the Tukish conquest in early 15th century, Bosnia was more closely related to Croatia than to Serbia.

(As a sideline: in 14th century Bosnia (as well as in Bulgaria), there was a strong heretic movement called the "Bogumils" (literally: "God lovers"). Neither affiliated with Rome, nor Byzantium, the followers of this heretic movement were easy targets for conversion into Islam from the 15th century on. The threefold religious division of modern Bosnia dates back to this period.)

Through their history, Croatia and Serbia followed a very different path. They started off as two different peoples, then they were (and they are still) affiliated with two different branches of Christianity. Serbia was under Turkish rule for over 5 centuries, while the core areas of Croatia have never been occupied. All these differences lead to two very divergent languages.

When, in the early 19th century, language and nationality became more important factor of identity than religion, the so-called pan-illyric movement came about (named after the ancient Roman province of Illyria that covered large parts of Yugoslavia as we knew it before 1991).
This cultural movement turned into a political one by the end of the 19th century. On the cultural and linguistic side, one of the main objective was to bring closer the languages of Croats and Serbs. A notable figure was Vuk Karadzic (no relation to the current war criminal).

After the demise of the Austro-Hungarian empire in late 1918, the Southern Slav nations united under the name of "Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes". The pan-illyric ideology was only strong enough to hold the country together (renamed Yugoslavia in 1929) until 1941, when Croatia became a puppet of Germany, while Serbia was overrun by Germany. Croat and Serbian militias started to wreck havoc.

The Croat-born partizan leader, Tito, re-united the country after 1945. He forcibly oppressed any nationalistic movements and united the country under communist ideology (which was independent from Moscow - in fact, Tito was a prominent figure of the non-alignment movement).
This "brotherhood and unity" brough along further convergence of the constituent languages that made up the so-called "Serbo-Croatian". This meant that about 18 million people of the 24 million that made up the Titoan Yugoslavia spoke virtually the same language.
There were three main dialects, two of which prevailed within Croatia, the third one being predominant in Serbia.

After the country fell apart, one expression of Croatian and Serbian nationalism was now forcibly diverting the languages from the more-or-less established version of "Serbo-Croatian". Old words were re-introduced, new ones invented, etc.

"Bosnian" was a term that until 1991 referred to anyone living in, or anything related to Bosnia, i.e. irrespective if the person or institution was Roman Catholic, Orthodox or Moslim. After 1995, "Bosnian" came to mean a Moslim living in Bosnia. Along with this new identity, a new language was also needed, hence "Bosnian", which is really a dialect of Croatian.

As for other Slavic languages in the former Yugoslavia, they are a different story altogether. Slovenian is a completely different language, albeit belonging to the Souther Slav group of langauges, it also has some of the characteristics of certain Western Slavic languages, notably Czech.

Macedonian is closely related to Bulgarian, although it is not too far from Serbian either.

I am sure I made some mistakes in this posting, and certainly speakers of individual languages mentioned above will correct my mistakes.

For additional reading, I recommend this URL:
(forget the political references and concentrate on the linguistic differences explained)


Aardvark Sweden
Local time: 16:16
Swedish to English
Thanks! May 18, 2004

It's been very helpful, thankyou all!


Bosnian to English
+ ...
They are mutually understandable May 18, 2004

Even though many of the words differ, all are aware of what the words that differ mean, except maybe in exaggerated slang, or deliberate use of words of Turkish or other origin when others will do, but even then it would probably not present too much of a problem. So, a Serb, Croat and Bosnian have little chance of not understanding something in conversation.

If you are looking for more info on exactly how the languages differ, for one, in Serbia the Cyrillic script is often used (but not always). In Bosnia both Latinic and Cyrillic are used, since it is made up of two entities - one Serb dominated and another a federation of Croats and Bosniacs (Bosnian Muslims). The other difference is that in Bosnia and Croatia ijekavian is used (in many words 'ij' appear instead of an 'e' in the Serbian equivalent word, which is otherwise the same), so that the word is pronounced a bit differently by Bosnians and Croats than by Serbs in Serbia (what could perhaps be described as a twang, or lack of a twang, depending on your perspective). The word for river, for example is pronounced as RE-KA (two syllables) by Serbs in Serbia, and RI-YE-KA by Croats and Bosnians (including Bosnian Serbs).

If you are asking in order to know if one translation will suffice for Bosnia, Serbia, and Croatia, then it is good to note that a Croat reading writing for Serbia can instantly recognize it as such, and vice versa. So, bearing in mind the not so ancient problems in this region, for anything related to marketing, the best would be to have three versions, and if this is not possible, then at least one version for Serbia and another for Croatia/Bosnia, telling the translator that the version will be used in both countries. For anything of a highly technical nature, a translator specializing in that subject should be consulted as the jargon may or may not differ.

If interpreting is in question, my personal feeling is that the quality of the interpreter should be placed above his/her national origin, since that will make a bigger difference, and that it would be ridiculous to have a Bosnian, Serbian, and Croatian interpreter for the same event, or pass out three versions of materials/presentations or anything of that sort.

I hope that that answers your question somewhat.


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