A purely national and political affair

There is nothing wrong with referring to Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian as separate languages, in the same way as Hindi/Urdu, Swedish/Norwegian, Flemish/Dutch is. But it is a purely national and political affair, often (but not always) based on a desire to be distant from a neighbour. But linguistically the difference between Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian are too weak to constitute separate languages. It always comes back to the bottom line, however much esoteric, linguistic sophistry is employed: that language is about communication, and nothing more. If Serbs, Croats and Bosnians, despite a few lexical and grammatical differences, can understand each other at every level and complexity (and they can because I've heard them), then in all but political respects they are speaking the same language. The differences between German spoken in Austria and Germany, or that between US and UK English (and even within the UK itself) are the same or even greater than those between Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian.

Sent by: T Payne


Tom, Sweden 2010-06-01

Dear T Payne,

Linguistics as a scientific discipline posits not a measure of what separates one language from another. All linguists will tell you that declaring two languages within the same diasystem is a political affair.

Also please note that a major difference between Croatian and Serbian is that official Serbian does not use the Latin alphabet. Non-Serbs born after 1980 or so simply cannot read Serbian although they can understand it as well as a Swede understands Norwegian.

In summary the difference between Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian is not too weak to constitute separate languages, because a criteria for separating languages does not exist. A powerful criteria might be the use of a completely different scripts. Hindi and Urdu are very similar, but use alphabets that are so different that one needs months if not years of training to be comfortable with reading and writing in both Hindi and Urdu. Same goes for Croatian and Serbian.

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momoh, london 2010-03-23

All the languages you have already mentioned are related languages. Swedish and Norwegian are North Germanic languages. Flemish and Dutch are West Germanic languages which are also related to North Germanic languages. Serbian and Croatian are South Slavonic languages. These languages however are affected by the socio-geographical change over time, share similar patterns. They are basically one language that underwent different changes across societies and cultures. Obviously a dialect spoken in one region is different from the one spoken in the other because of many linguistic, social, colonial, cultural, economic etc. reasons.

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David, Venezuela 2009-06-08

From my point of view, they (Serbs, Croats and Bosnians) are doing it all wrong!
Languages should always be cared, and by trying to make (political) distinctions they might be putting THAT language into danger.

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