Turkisms in Bosnian Literature after 1992

Masha Belyavski-Frank, DePauw University

While Turkisms (also known as “Orientalism” or words borrowed from Turkish, Arabic, and other languages through the medium of Turkish) have been an important part of both the standard and colloquial language in the literature of Bosnia-Hercegovina since the beginning of the Ottoman occupation, it is since the early nineties, in particular since the beginning of the war in 1992 that their already strong role has become even stronger in the nascent Bosnian language.

This paper examines the function of Turkisms in a range of Bosnian literature published since 1992. Using mainly colloquial contexts in short stories, novels, and drama written by the various nationalities in Bosnia, I discuss the role of Turkisms in both stylistically marked and relatively unmarked contexts, in particular where a choice exists between a Slavic word and its Turkish counterpart. It is my contention that for a number of words a shift has occurred or is in the process of transition in the relative markedness of many Turkisms vs. the Slavic synonyms.

For instancehefta (‘week’) is becoming much more frequent, and in colloquial speech reflected in literature is now almost as frequent as its Slavic synonym sedmica, which earlier was the norm. Likewise, jaran (‘friend’) is increasingly being used in preference to prijatelj or drug, the latter word now avoided because of its connotations with the era of socialist Yugoslavia and its politics.

Methodology will include analysis of the relative frequency of Turkisms and their Slavic synonyms, as well as semantic and stylistic analysis of Turkisms in context. A list of “core” words, which occur frequently in Bosnian, including Turkisms and Slavic words for ‘friend,’ ‘people,’ ‘week,’ ‘news,’ ‘morning,’ etc., will also be compared for frequency and usage in various contexts. The same words in a control group of texts from the 1970’s and early 1980’s will be be discussed.

For example, here is the ending of Midhat Ajanović’s science-fiction novella Gadjan (1999):

Prvo su bile dvije atomske pečurke, a nakon njih bukadar kamenica pade na to mjesto u okeanu tako da tu nastade jedno pusto ostrvo. Ribe niti ikakve durge hrane nije više bilo nigdje na svijetu pa ona raja na Novom Zelandu i Islandu pokrepa od gladi. Tako nestade dunjaluka.

Vala kakav je bio i nije neki jazuk. (Ajanović: 1999:93–94)

[correction: durge hrane should be druge hrane]

First there were two atomic mushroom clouds, and after them a lot of little rocks fell on that place in the ocean so that an empty island appeared there. There weren’t any fish or any other food anywhere in the world anymore, so those people in New Zealand and Iceland died from hunger. That’s how the world’s people disappeared.

That’s really how it was and it isn’t a shame/it’s no great loss.

The use of Turkisms contributes to the highly colloquial style. Ajanović’s choice of both raja and dunjaluk (‘people’ and ‘the world’s people’, respectively) instead of the more neutral ljudi) or narod, and especially vala (‘really’) and jazuk) (‘shame,’ ‘loss,’ ‘damage’) as the final summation of the events of the novella instead of the unmarked zaista (‘really’) and šteta (‘shame,’ ‘damage,’ ‘harm’) are highly ironic and contribute to the black humor which pervades the novella. Furthermore, they contribute an unmistakable Bosnian flavor to the narration, even, as is the case in this excerpt, when the destruction of the people in New Zealand and Iceland, and ultimately, the world, is the subject.