Dialects, Migrations, and Ethnic Rivalries: The Case of Bosnia-Herzegovina
Greenberg, Robert D., Journal of Slavic Linguistics
Abstract. This article investigates the interface between dialect, ethnic identity, and political developments in the rural communities of Bosnia-Herzegovina, where the cultural and linguistic differences among Croats, Serbs, and Muslims have been most pronounced. On the basis of a fresh reanalysis of linguistic data which have previously been cited in the literature to aggrandize the differences, it is argued that the claims of Bosnia's Serb, Croat, and Bosniak communities for separate identities based on the criteria of language are dubious, and that the language differences are relatively minor. It is further suggested that only certain key ethnolinguistic markers have been used to construct the notion of separate linguistic identities there.
In the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia, what was often referred to in the West as "Serbo-Croatian" was the primary language used for communication among the various ethnic groups. It was the language of commerce, the military, diplomatic missions abroad, and federal institutions. (1) The language's speakers, i.e., Croats, Serbs, Muslim Slavs, and Montenegrins, spoke regional varieties of this common language. (2) In the early 1990s three successor states to the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia emerged in which variants of the former Serbo-Croatian language have been widely recognized as national languages. Thus, under Franjo Tudman, the Croatian language became the republic's official language in 1990, even before the Croats declared their independence; in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Bosnian language was formally recognized as an official language through the Dayton Accords in 1995; (3) and in The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, renamed Serbia and Montenegro in 2003, (4) the Serbian language was declared official in 1992. (5) In Bosnia-Herzegovina the emergence of the new standards has proven to complicate a true integration of the country's ethnic groups into a viable and cohesive nation that could function without the oversight of the international community. Through the 1995 Dayton Accords, Bosnia-Herzegovina was transformed into a loosely federated state with two entities, each of which has a high degree of autonomy. These entities are the mostly Serb-dominated Republika Srpska ("Serb Republic" or "RS"), and the Bosniak-Croat Federation ("Federacija Bosne i Hercegovine" or "FBiH"). The FBiH is further sub-divided into 10 cantons. In Bosnia's two entities, the three successor languages are now co-official. However, in Republika Srpska, Serbian predominates, while in the Bosniak-Croat Federation Bosnian dominates in cantons with majority Muslim populations, while Croatian dominates in the cantons with majority Croat populations.
Before hostilities broke out in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1992, over 90% of Bosnia-Herzegovina's population consisted of members of the six Yugoslav "nations", especially Serbs, Croats, and Muslim Slavs. (6) According to the 1981 Yugoslav Census, the largest group were Muslira Slavs (39%), followed by Serbs (32%) and Croats (18%). (7) The three groups differ primarily in religion, dialect, and cultural heritage. The focus of this paper is the rural communities of Bosnia-Herzegovina, where many of the cultural and linguistic differences among Bosnia-Herzegovina's Croats, Serbs, and Muslims have been most pronounced. I examine the interface between dialect, ethnic identity, and political developments from a sociolinguistic perspective. Such a perspective will take into consideration historical migrations of populations, which are reflected in dialect differences among the country's Serb, Croat, and Bosniak populations. I rely primarily on linguistic data, which have been used to distinguish the Bosnian Serbs from their Croat and Bosniak neighbors. I suggest that the claims of Bosnia's Serb, Croat, and Bosniak communities for separate identities based on the criteria of language are dubious, and that the minor linguistic differences have been magnified by all of Bosnia's Slavic-speaking groups. Ultimately, only some key features, which I have called ethnolinguistic markers, have been used to build the notion of separate linguistic identities throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina. This analysis will be followed by conclusions that incorporate my findings within the broader theoretical frameworks of the social psychology of language and linguistic anthropology. While the phenomenon of simultaneous standardizations of 3 or 4 new languages within the former Yugoslavia of the 1990s is arguably unprecedented in modern Europe, sociolinguists and anthropological linguists have identified certain theoretical parameters that can prove useful in understanding and interpreting the situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
2. Bosnia-Herzegovina and its "Ethnolects"
Since the late 1960s, Yugoslav linguists began focusing on what they considered to be characteristic linguistic features of the Serbs, Muslim Slavs, and Croats, especially in the ethnically mixed areas within Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. (8) The emphasis was increasingly placed not on geographic dialects of these mixed areas, but on the ethnolects within ethnically-mixed villages, local administrative units, or sub-regions. Frequently, the distinctive ethnolects were used in order to justify centuries-old claims to separate ethnically-based languages. For instance, some Croat linguists have been keen to support the notion of an original "Western Stokavian" (Croatian) dialect, which was opposed to an original "Eastern Stokavian" (Serbian) dialect. (9) In such an interpretation, the divergent phonological reflexes of a vowel inherited from a reconstructed Common Slavic language represent one of the primary features distinguishing the two original Stokavian dialects. For the Western Stokavian speakers, this vowel, known as jat', gave i, whereas for the Eastern Stokavian speakers, this same vowel gave e in all positions. The former group have become known as "Stokavian/ikavian" speakers, while the latter are known as "Stokavian/ ekavian" speakers. At some point a third main dialect type emerged. In this primarily Southern area jat' was rendered by ije, je, or i depending on the original vowel's position in a word or the vowel's length. This third dialect type has been called "Stokavian/ijekavian", or the Southern Stokavian dialect. While reconstructions of such original simplified scenarios of historical ethnic dialects have been used to justify competing historical claims for the ancient origins of the successor languages to Serbo-Croatian, they superimpose contemporary notions of firmly-established separate Serb and Croat identities to periods of history lacking in reliable written records. For instance, these purportedly ancient dialect differences have been manipulated by Serbs to prove that Stokavian speakers were historically all members of a single tribe with two or three sub-dialects differing in a single phonetic feature (jat'). To further prove such a thesis, Serb linguists have argued that all Stokavian speakers, no matter their sub-dialect, differ in multiple phonological, morphological, syntactic, and lexical features from both the Croatian Kajkavian and Croatian Cakavian speakers, and therefore are members of a single ethnic/national group (Serbs), while Kajkavian and Cakavian speakers are descendants of other (non-Serb) ethnic/national groups, (10) Ultimately, no convincing evidence can prove any of the hypotheses about the original dialect picture at the time of the Slavic migrations during the sixth century, C.E. Nevertheless, even if the original Serb and Croat tribes displayed distinct Stokavian dialect varieties in their prehistory, such a distinct system was clearly lost as a result of the Ottoman invasions, which caused mass migrations, particularly of Orthodox Slavs from the …
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Publication information: Article title: Dialects, Migrations, and Ethnic Rivalries: The Case of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Contributors: Greenberg, Robert D. - Author. Journal title: Journal of Slavic Linguistics. Volume: 17. Issue: 1-2 Publication date: Fall 2009. Page number: 193+. © 2006 Slavica Publishers, Inc. COPYRIGHT 2009 Gale Group.
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