Language Politics in Yugoslavia Today: The Crisis Over the Future of Serbian

Robert Greenberg, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Ostensibly the Serbian language is an elaboration on the former "Eastern" variant of Serbo-Croatian. Unlike Croatian and Bosnian linguists, Serbian linguists have refrained from the introduction of neologisms, puristic tendencies or the cleansing of "Croatianisms" or "Bosnianisms" from the language. Nevertheless, a perusal of the most recent publications on the standardization of Serbian reveal that linguists in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia have been locked in conflict over the future of the Serbian language. Two major crises have erupted, including (1) the debate on the status of the ijekavian dialect, spoken by Montenegrins and the Serbs of Western Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, and (2) the controversy surrounding orthographic principles. To further complicate matters, the upheaval of the Croatian and Bosnian wars has created new Serbian language centers in Banja Luka and Pale, which have at times come into conflict with the mainstream linguistic schools of Novi Sad and Belgrade. Moreover, Montenegro, Serbia's partner in the Federation has begun to speak openly of political and linguistic secession.

In this paper I focus on these and other controversies surrounding the establishment of a new Serbian standard language since the breakup of Serbo-Croatian. I will argue that nationalist ideology has been at the root of many of the controversies, and that language issues continue to be politically charged, just as in the former Yugoslav state.