Bosnian language

The Bosnian language is one of the standard written versions of the Central South Slavic diasystem, which is the commonly accepted name among Bosniak and Croat linguists, although, due to various reasons, the designation Serbo-Croatian language still predominates in majority of countries outsied of former Yugoslavia. The language is used primarily by Bosniaks in Bosnia and Herzegovina and elsewhere. The name for the language is a controversial issue. Croats and Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina call their language Croatian and Serbian.

The language is based on the Western variant of the Shtokavian dialect and uses the Latin alphabet.

The irony of Bosnian language is that its speakers, Bosnian Muslims or Bosniaks, are, on the level of colloquial idiom, more linguistically homogenous than either Serbs or Croats, but have failed, due to historical reasons, to standardize their language in the crucial 19th century. The first Bosnian dictionary, rhymed Bosnian-Turkish glossary authored by Muhamed Hevaji Uskufi , was composed in 1631.

Mehmed Uskufi:Potur Šahidi,Bosniak-Turkish glossary, 1631

But, unlike Croatian dictionaries, which were written and published regularly, Uskufi’s work remained an isolated foray. At least two factors were decisive:

  • Bosnian Muslim elite wrote almost exclusively in Oriental (Arabic, Turkish, Persian) languages. Vernacular literature, written in modified Arabic script, was thin and sparse.
  • Bosniaks’s national emancipation lagged behind Serbian and Croatian, and since denominational, rather than cultural or linguistic issues played the pivotal role, Bosnian language project didn’t arouse much interest or support.

So, prescriptions for the language of Bosnian Muslims in the 19th and 20th centuries were written outside of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Probably the most authentic Bosniak writers (the so-called "Bosnian-Muslim revival" at the turn of the century) wrote in an idiom that is closer to Croatian language than to Serbian (western Štokavian-Ijekavian idiom, Latin script), but possessed unmistakeably recognizable Bosniak traits, primarily lexical ones. The main authors of "Bosnian Muslim renaissance" were polymath, politician and poet Safvet-beg Bašagić,"poete maudit" Musa Ćazim Ćatić and storyteller Edhem Mulabdić.

Musa Ćazim Ćatić: Poems, 1914

During the Communist Yugoslavia period, the language in Bosnia and Herzegovina was linguistically shaped in the following manner: the lexis was Serbianized but the Latin script became dominant; the official name was Serbo-Croatian. After the collapse of Yugoslavia Bosniaks remained the sole inheritors of the Serbo-Croatian hybrid in Bosnian variant and are trying to reshape it, under the new name of Bosnian language, into a distinct national/ethnic standard language. The main Croat and Serb objections are that the language should be called "Bosniak" or "Bosniac" because Bosniaks, or former Bosnian Muslims, consider it their standard language- and the name "Bosnian" is deceptive since it creates the impression that it is the official language of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is not true (Bosnia and Herzegovina has three official languages: Bosnian language,Croatian language and Serbian language). On more formal level, Bosnian language is beginning to take a distinctive shape: lexically, Islamic-Oriental loan words are becoming more frequent; phonetically and phonologically, the phoneme "h" is reinstated in many words as a distinct feature of Bosniak speech and language tradition; also, there are some changes in morphology and orthography that reflect Bosniak pre-WW1 literary tradition, mainly that of the Bosniak rebirth at the beginning of the 20th century.

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