Language Attitudes and Lexical and Grammatical Choice in Croatian

Keith Langston, University of Georgia, and Anita Peti-Stantic, Filozofski fakultet, Pedagogijske znanosti, Zagreb

The study of language attitudes has been an important area of sociolinguistic research since the 1970s. The investigation of attitudes and beliefs held by speakers is necessary for the understanding of language behavior and language variation; language attitudes are also a valid object of study in their own right since they constitute a part of the linguistic competence of the members of a given speech community (Knops and van Hout 1988: 1). Much of the research in this area concentrates on the evaluation of social characteristics affecting reactions to different language varieties, including people╣s perceptions of speakers of varieties different from their own. The current paper, however, focuses on a different type of phenomenon, namely speaker attitudes towards the redefinition of linguistic norms that is in progress in Croatia today. After the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the demise of the idea of a unified Serbo-Croatian language, there has been a struggle to establish an identity for Croatian as a language in its own right. The years since the declaration of Croatia's independence have seen attempts to change standards of usage in Croatia, and information on speaker attitudes and behavior is clearly important in evaluating the potential for success of this type of language planning.

Language attitudes are admittedly somewhat difficult to measure and compare with each other and a variety of techniques have been employed in previous research. These may be organized into three basic methods: content analysis of societal treatment (for example, the analysis of media usage and prescriptive language books), direct measurement through questionnaires and interviews, and indirect measurement through the speaker evaluation paradigm. Most studies rely on a single approach, with the latter being the most popular, but all three methods have their limitations and there have been calls for a more rounded methodology that would combine these (Ryan, Giles and Hewstone 1988). The current paper compares previous research on Croatian that was based on content analysis with information obtained through direct methods. The authors utilized a questionnaire asking respondents to choose which of two or more variants they normally use and which of these variants they consider to be "better" or "more correct" (similar to the methodology used by Labov 1966 in one part of his research). The results were analyzed to determine whether there exist significant correlations with age, gender, level of education, or other factors. This information was supplemented by interviews to elicit speakers╣ opinions about changing standards of usage in Croatian. Finally, the question of the relationship between attitudes/reported behaviors and actual behaviors is briefly considered.


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Labov, William. 1966. The Social Stratification of English in New York City. Washington: Center for Applied Linguistics.

Ryan, Ellen B.; Giles, Howard; and Hewstone, Miles. 1988. "The Measurement of Language Attitudes." Ulrich Ammon et al., eds. Sociolinguistics: An International Handbook of the Science of Language and Society, vol. 2, 1068-1081.