Croatian 101

Early development

The beginning of the Croatian written language can be traced to the 9th century, when Old Church Slavonic was adopted as the language of the liturgy. This language was gradually adapted to non-liturgical purposes and became known as the Croatian version of Old Slavonic. The two variants of the language, liturgical and non-liturgical, continued to be a part of the Glagolitic service as late as the mid-9th century.

Until the end of the 11th century, Croatian medieval texts were written in three scripts: Latin, Glagolitic, and Bosnian Cyrillic (bosančica), and also in three languages: Croatian, Latin and Old Slavonic. The latter developed into what is referred to as the Croatian variant of Church Slavonic between the 12th and 16th centuries.

The most important early monument of Croatian literacy is the Baška tablet from the late 11th century. It is a large stone tablet found in the small church of St. Lucy on the Croatian island of Krk, containing text written mostly in čakavian, today a dialect of Croatian, and in Croatian Glagolitic script. It is also important in the history of the nation as it mentions Zvonimir, the king of Croatia at the time. However, the luxurious and ornate representative texts of Croatian Church Slavonic belong to the later era, when they coexisted with the Croatian vernacular literature. The most notable are the "Missal of Duke Novak" from the Lika region in northwestern Croatia (1368), "Evangel from Reims" (1395, named after the town of its final destination), "Missal of Duke Hrvoje" from Bosnia and Split in Dalmatia (1404) and the first printed book in Croatian language (1483).

Also, during the 13th century Croatian vernacular texts began to appear, the most important among them being "Istrian land survey", 1275 and "The Vinodol Codex", 1288., both in the Čakavian dialect.

The Štokavian dialect literature, based almost exclusively on Čakavian original texts of religious provenance (missals, breviaries, prayer books) appeared almost a century later. The most important purely Štokavian vernacular text is Vatican Croatian Prayer Book (ca. 1400).

Both the language used in legal texts and that used in Glagolitic literature gradually came under the influence of the vernacular, which considerably affected its phonological, morphological and lexical systems. From the 14th and the 15th centuries, both secular and religious songs at church festivals were composed in the vernacular.

Writers of early Croatian religious poetry (začinjavci), translators and editors gradually introduced the vernacular into their works. These začinjavci were the forerunners of the rich literary production of the 15th and 16th centuries. The language of religious poems, translations, miracle and morality plays contributed to the popular character of medieval Croatian literature.

Istrian land survey, 1275

The Vinodol Codex, 1288

Glagolitic Missal of Duke Novak, 1368

Vatican Croatian Prayer Book

Modern language and standardisation

Although the first purely vernacular texts in a Croatian distinctly different from Church Slavonic date back to the 13th century, it was in the 14th and 15th centuries that the modern Croatian language emerged (recorded in texts as Vatican Croatian prayer book from 1400.) in the form (morphology, phonology and syntax) that only slightly differs from contemporary Croatian standard language.
Bartul Kašić's manuscript Bible translation
Bartul Kašić's manuscript Bible translation

The standardization of Croatian language can be traced back to the first Croatian dictionary (Faust Vrančić: Dictionarium quinque nobilissimarum Europae linguarum—Latinae, Italicae, Germanicae, Dalmatiae et Ungaricae, Venice 1595) and first Croatian grammar (Bartul Kašić: Institutionum linguae illyricae libri duo, Rome 1604).

The language of Jesuit Kašić's translation of the Bible (Old and New Testament, 1622-1636; unpublished until 2000) in the Croatian štokavian-ijekavian dialect (the ornate style of the Dubrovnik Renaissance literature) is as close to the contemporary standard Croatian language (problems of orthography apart) as are French of Montaigne's "Essays" or King James Bible English to their respective successors—modern standard languages.

This period, sometimes called "Baroque Slavism" was crucial in formation of literary idiom that was to become Croatian standard language—the 17th century witnessed flowering in three fields that shaped modern Croatian:

    * One was the linguistic works of Jesuit philologists Kašić and Mikalja;
* the other energetic literary activity of Bosnian Franciscan Matija Divković, whose Counter-Reformation writings (popular tales from the Bible, sermons and polemics) were widespread among Croats both in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia;
* and, last but not least, in aesthetically refined poetry of Ivan Gundulić from Dubrovnik.

This "triple achievement" of Baroque Slavism in first half of the 17th century laid the firm foundation upon which later Illyrian movement completed the work of language standardisation.

Illyrian period

But, due to the unique Croat linguistic situation, formal shaping of Croatian standard language was a process that took almost four centuries to complete: Croatian is a three dialects tongue (a somewhat simplistic way to distinguish between dialects is to refer to the pronoun what, which is ča, kaj, što in, respectively, čakavian, kajkavian and štokavian dialects) and three scripts language (Glagolitic, Croatian/Western/Bosnian Cyrillic and Latin script, with Latin script as the ultimate winner). The final obstacle to the unified Croatian literary language (based on celebrated vernacular Croatian Troubadour, Renaissance and Baroque -- acronym TRB) literature (ca. 1490 to ca. 1670) from Dalmatia, Dubrovnik and Boka Kotorska was surmounted by Croatian national awakener Ljudevit Gaj's standardization of Latin scriptory norm in 1830–1850s.

Gaj and his Illyrian movement (centred in kajkavian-speaking Croatia's capital Zagreb) were, however, important more politically than linguistically. They "chose" štokavian dialect because they didn't have any other realistic option—štokavian, or, more precisely, neoštokavian (a version of štokavian which emerged in the 15th/16th century) was the major Croatian literary tongue from 1700s on. The 19th century linguists and lexicographers' main concern was to achieve a more consistent and unified scriptory norm and orthography; an effort followed by peculiar Croatian linguistic characteristics which may be humorously described as "passion for neologisms" or vigorous word coinage, originating from the purist nature of Croatian literary language. One of the peculiarities of the "developmental trajectory" of the Croatian language is that there is no single towering figure among the Croatian linguists/philologists, because the vernacular osmotically percolated into the "high culture" via literary works so there was no need for revolutionary linguistic upheavals—only reforms sufficed.

The Serbian connection

The 19th century language development overlapped with the upheavals that befell Serbian language. It was Vuk Stefanović Karadžić, an energetic and resourceful Serbian language and culture reformer, whose scriptory and orthographic stylisation of Serbian linguistic folk idiom made a radical break with the past; until his activity in the first half of the 19th century, Serbs had been using the Serbian variant of Church Slavonic and a hybrid Russian-Slavonic language. His "Serbian Dictionary", published in Vienna 1818 (along with the appended grammar), was the single most significant work of Serbian literary culture that shaped the profile of Serbian language (and, the first Serbian dictionary and grammar thus far).

Following the incentive of Austrian bureaucracy which preferred some kind of unified Croatian and Serbian languages for practical administrative reasons, in 1850, Slovenian philologist Franc Miklošič initiated a meeting of two Serbian philologists and writers, Vuk Karadžić and Đuro Daničić together with five Croatian "men of letters": Ivan Mažuranić, Dimitrija Demetar, Stjepan Pejaković, Ivan Kukuljević and Vinko Pacel. The Vienna Agreement on the basic features of a unified "Croatian or Serbian" or "Serbo-Croatian" language was signed by all eight participants (including Miklošič).

Karadžić's influence on Croatian standard idiom was only one of the reforms for Croats, mostly in some aspects of grammar and orthography; many other changes he made to Serbian were already present in Croatian. Both languages shared the common basis of South Slavic neoštokavian dialect, but the Vienna agreement didn't have any effect in reality until a more unified standard appeared at the end of 19th century when Croatian sympathisers of Vuk Karadžić, known as the Croatian Vukovites, wrote the first modern (from the vantage point of dominating neogrammarian linguistic school) grammars, orthographies and dictionaries of the language which they called "Croatian or Serbian" (Serbs preferred Serbo-Croatian). Monumental grammar authored by pre-eminent fin de siècle Croatian linguist Tomislav Maretić (Grammar and stylistics of Croatian or Serbian language) and dictionary by Broz and Iveković (Croatian dictionary) temporarily fixed the elastic (grammatically, syntactically, lexically) standard of this hybrid language.

Relation to Bosnian, Montenegrin, and Serbian

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

The Kingdom of Serbs,Croats and Slovenes (1918-1929) lasted till January 1929,after that the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was pronounced Kingdom of Yugoslavia (1929-1941)and was dominated by the Serbian government(King), which tried to use a joint language in the spirit of supra-national Yugoslav ideology. This meant that Croatian and Serbian were no longer developed individually side by side, but were attempted to be forged into one language under political pressure. Owing to the nature of the state politics at the time, this forging was resultant in a Serbian-based language, which meant a certain Serbianization of the language of Croatia and Bosnia.

In the 1920s and 1930s, the lexical, syntactical, orthographical and morphological characteristics of Serbian 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 Maretić. However, this school was virtually extinct by the late 1920s and since then leading Croatian linguists (such as Petar Skok, Stjepan Ivšić and Petar Guberina) were unanimous in the re-affirmation of the Croatian purist tradition.

The situation somewhat eased in the run-up to World War II (cf. the establishment of Banovina of Croatia within Yugoslavia in 1939), but with the capitulation of Yugoslavia and the creation of the Nazi puppet regime (the "Independent State of Croatia", 1941-1945) came another, this time hardly predictable and grotesque attack on standard Croatian: the totalitarian dictatorship of Ante Pavelić pushed natural Croatian purist tendencies to ludicrous extremes and tried to reimpose older morphonological orthography preceding Ivan Broz's orthographical prescriptions from 1892. An official order signed by Pavelić and co-signed by Mile Budak and Milovan Žanić in August 1941 deprecated all imported words and forbade the use of any foreign words that could be replaced with Croatian neologisms.

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

Under monarchist Yugoslavia, "Serbo-Croatian" unification was motivated mainly by the Greater Serbia policy. In the Communist period (1945 to 1990) it was the by-product of Communist centralism and "internationalism". Whatever the intentions, the result was the same: the suppression of the basic features that differentiate Croatian from Serbian, both in terms of orthography and vocabulary. No Croatian dictionaries (apart from historical "Croatian or Serbian", conceived in the 19th century) appeared until 1985, when 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 federal level. As well, language in Bosnia and Herzegovina was gradually Serbianized in all levels of the educational system and the republic's administration. Virtually the only institution of any importance where the Croatian language was dominant had been the Lexicographic Institute in Zagreb, headed by Croatian writer Miroslav Krleža. This unitary linguistic policy was encouraged by the 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 Yugoslav nation and, arguably, provide a firmer basis for Serbianization. However, this "supra-national engineering" was arguably 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 elites 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 the more than a decade that followed, the principles of the Novi Sad Agreement were put into practice.

A collective Croatian reaction against such de facto Serbian imposition erupted on March 15, 1967. On that day, nineteen Croatian scholarly institutions and cultural organizations dealing with language and literature (Croatian Universities and Academies), including foremost Croatian writers and linguists (Miroslav Krleža, Radoslav Katičić, Dalibor Brozović 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 an uneasy status quo remained until the end of communism.

In the decade between the death of Marshall Tito (1980) and the final collapse of communism and the Yugoslavian state (1990/1991), major works that manifested the irrepressibility of Croatian linguistic culture had appeared. The studies of Brozović, Katičić and Babić that had been circulating among specialists or printed in the obscure philological publications in the 60s and 70s (frequently condemned and suppressed by the authorities) have finally, in the climate of dissolving authoritarianism, been published. This was a formal "divorce" of Croatian from Serbian (and, strictly linguistically speaking, the death of Serbo-Croatian). These 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", and restored the continuity of the Croatian language by definitely reintegrating and asserting specific Croatian characteristics (phonetic, morphological, syntactic, lexical, etc.) that had been constantly suppressed in both Yugoslavian states and finally gave modern linguistic description and prescription to the Croatian language. Among many monographs and serious studies, one could point to works issued by the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts, particularly Katičić's Syntax and Babić's Word-formation.

After the collapse of communism and the birth of Croatian independence (1991), the situation with regard to the Croatian language has become stabilized. No longer under negative 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 on, 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 the Institute for Croatian Language and Linguistics). For a curious bystander, probably the most noticeable language feature in Croatian society was the re-Croatization of Croatian in all areas, from phonetics to semantics and (most evidently) in everyday vocabulary.

Political ambitions played a key role in the creation of the Serbo-Croatian language. Likewise, politics again were a crucial agent in dissolving the unified language. With the collapse of Yugoslavia, the Serbo-Croatian language officially followed suit.