Croatia & Bosnia

Varied Lanscape, One Unifier

As I looked out the window traveling through Croatia and Bosnia, I took note of the diverse landscape around me. Gnarled trees, mountains silhouetted against the sky, hills, and stores. Although the physical appearance of my surroundings brought great variety to one's eye, the sounds I heard were tuned to a more singular track. The Croatian language, which is spoken in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Serbian province of Vojvodina is an important binding element among the people who belonged to a once united Yugoslavia. 

Although language in general may seem to be a small element within the larger functions of society, it can provide an important insight into the complex lives people live in different parts of the world. The Croatian language allowed me to understand the people's past and their relationships between one another. 

It is interesting to note that the Serbian, Bosnian, and Croatian languages do no differ very much in their spoken form. All three share three primary dialects. These languages are more similar to one another than American, British, and Australian English are between one another. When it does come to differences among the languages, it is mostly seen in the written form. Croatian and Serbian were influenced by different cultures and religions, which returns us to the point of tension because of the differences they experienced in their past. The Croatians adopted the Latin alphabet because of the influence of the Roman Catholic church in the western region where Croatian is currently spoken. Beyond language, this region looked to Rome as a cultural and religious model. This currently manifests itself on the landscape in the form of Catholic churches since most Croats identify as Catholic. 

Although they had different cultural influences, there were distinct actions that unified the language for Serbs and Croats. This came in the form of the Vienna Literary Agreement of 1850. It attempted to establish a common literary form based on one dialect shared by all ethnic groups: the Stokavian dialect. This effort might have been pushed since the Austro-Hungarian Empire was vast, so they needed a component that helped unify the people. 

In 1929, when King Alexander renamed Yugoslavia as the the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, he attempted to get rid of any unifiers that could allow the relation between the languages and the people. This naturally created a rift between the people, making it more difficult to interact with one another. Despite this renaming, Yugoslavia was renamed several times and had the name of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia by 1963. Under this time, the Novi Sad Agreement was being maintained, having been established in 1954. Under this agreement, Yugoslavian President Josip Tito declared the Serbo-Croatian as a single language. This was a milestone for the people after not being able to officially relate to one another under a single umbrella language. This agreements stayed with the people until the collapse of Yugoslavia in 1991, illustrating the strength people felt under a single language. 

Although the Croatian language is still spoken across borders, there is still a reflection of the separation of Yugoslavia that could be seen through the actions of the people toward their languages. The act of the people from Croatia, Bosnia, and Serbia emphasizing their linguistic differences brings to light the political and religious strife the people underwent in the past. The people specifically turned toward their respective languages to reinforce the differences in their ethnic identities. 

As my time in the Balkans was waning, I was able to reflect on how the languages around me presented the opportunity to analyze the country's past in-depth. Spoken word, in a sense, brought to life the rich culture that some may only see in the stagnant architecture and historical landmarks. 


(Thank you to Mr. Eric Taylor and Accredited Language Services for providing in-depth insight about the topic) 

Maddy Mcgrath