The Serbian Language Today

in Team Serbia2 years ago (edited)

This Text in Serbian / Текст на српском

Sveti_Simeon_Kraljeva_Crkva_detalj.jpgИзвор: Википедија

“Cherish, my child, your language as you would cherish your homeland. A word can be lost like a town, like a country, like a soul. And what is to remain of a nation should it lose its language, its land and its soul? […] It is better to lose all the battles and wars than to lose one’s language. A nation remains even after a lost battle and lost wars. A nation does not remain after a lost language.”

— The first in the Nemanjić dynasty: Stefan Nemanja

1.0. National philology

A national philology entails a system of knowledge of national spiritual and cultural values, the definition of general stands on the key issues of a national language and national literature, founded on national tradition. At this moment, the Serbs have no constituted national philology of their own. They do no have Serbian studies as almost all the work of Serbian philologists during the 20th century fell under the name of Serbo-Croatian studies. Generally speaking, the Serbian philological intelligence (if there is any today) has had no clear system of knowledge of the Serbian language, nor have they built any stands regarding the national literature. After the disintegration of the post-WWII Yugoslavia, Serbian politicians rushed to create a third Yugoslavia – as if the Serbs had never had a state of their own and as if they did not know of any statehood outside Yugoslavia – and then they created a Serbia which was everything but Serbian. And Serbian philologists, for that matter, have continued their work under the auspices of Serbo-Croatian studies.

From the history of the Serbian language. In order to fully grasp the present situation of the standard Serbian language and envisage its prospects, it is necessary to go two centuries back in time. It was towards the end of the 18th century and in the early 19th century that the Serbs, along with other Slavic peoples, began creating a national philology of their own. The national philology reached its peak in the work of Vuk Stefanović Karadžić. Karadžić laid the foundations of the Serbian philology – Serbian studies, which stemmed from the general Slavic philology – Slavic studies. Karadžić’s stance that peoples differ to one another in language and not in faith was in accordance with the stands of the most important philologists of the time: Dobrowsky, Kopitar and Šafárik. The situation, however, began to change later, when the Illyrian movement emerged and Yugoslav ideas were presented by some politicians and philologists close to Strossmayer and Jagić. As an idea, the Illyrian movement was born among high scholarly circles of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, on the threshold of the 19th century, with an intention of pulling the Slavs south of the river Sava into the dual monarchy. In the 1830s, the idea was somewhat revivified by Ljudevit Gaj and his supporters. Hence, no wonder that Imbro Ignjatijević Tkalac wrote the following: One may say what they want to – we, both from this and the other side (of the rivers Sava and Danube) are one nation, with one language, with the same customs, with one definition in the world and with one future, which we must realize together or otherwise we are to perish for good. The Illyrian movement, although it represented a response to the Hungarian and German pressure, represents, in essence, a type of the Croatian political programme. An obstacle to the creation of a so-called Illyria was the Serbian national awareness and, especially, the standard Serbian language prior to the reforms of Vuk Stefanović Karadžić, which language was inextricably linked to the Serbian Orthodox Church. Therefore no wonder that the catholic Vienna embraced Vuk Stefanović Karadžić, helped him in his reforms of the Serbian language and, after the Old Serbian (Serbian-Slavonic) language had been removed as a major obstacle to the so-called Illyrian idea, the Vienna Literary Agreement (1850), involving Croats, Serbs and a Slovene, was signed. The late 19th century saw a prevalence of a group of Croatian linguists that had introduced Karadžić’s language or, rather, chose the standard Serbian language, with the phonetic transcription and the Ijekavian accent, for the Croatian language. At first glance, it was a step towards firmer Serbo-Croatian ties, while, actually, it was the first step towards the Croats’ passing off the Serbian language as their own and uniting all the Shtokavian dialect-speaking Catholics under the name of the Croats. The 150-year-long period of Serbo-Croatian ties can be compared to a chess game that generations of Serbian and Croatian linguists have played with each other. It was mostly the Serbs who gave in, whereas the Croats scored point by point and, eventually, crowned the game by embracing a checkerboard coat of arms as their national symbol (which had been actually taken from the shield of a Serbian medieval ruler), whereas the Serbs ended up losing part of their language and sustaining the biggest defeat after the Battle of Kosovo.

Stefan Nemanja u BeograduEscMBiHU4AMcHbl.jpg

Source: Twitter

When the Yugoslav Academy of Sciences and Arts (JAZU, 1867) was founded and when the greatest Serbian linguist of the time, Djuro Daničić, was appointed secretary there, it was Zagreb that became the centre of Serbo-Croatian studies. By acquiescing to such a solution, the Serbian philology was deprived of a national centre and became dependent upon the Croatian philology. It thus turned out that, today, the Serbs have philologists of their own, but do not have a national philology.

What is even worse is the fact that it is only Serbian philologists that cherish Serbo-Croatian studies, whereas Croatian philologists, having taken the standard Serbian language as their own standard language, are exclusively engaged in the Croatian studies, thus creating their own national philology. The thus constituted Serbo-Croatian studies have left a negative impact both in the sphere of Serbian philological studies and in the spiritual life of the Serbian people. In the 19th century, the Serbian language was Serbian only, whereas in the 20th century it became Serbo-Croatian for the Serbs and Croatian for the Croats. As one can see, it was an absurdity unprecedented elsewhere in the world. The people (Serbs) who gave another people (the Croats) their own language (Serbian) named their own language Serbo-Croatian, while the people (the Croats) who embraced the language of another people (the Serbs), namely the Serbian language, gave the language their own name – Croatian. An almost identical situation took place in an area of the Serbian literature. At the time of Vuk Stefanović Karadžić, the literature of the Republic of Ragusa (Dubrovnik) was part of the Serbian literature as far as all the Slavists were concerned, later it became Serbo-Croatian literature according to Serbian scholars and Croatian literature according to Croatian scholars, whereas today both Serbian and Croatian scholars call it – Croatian. Do we need to comment on the fact that today, after a mass exodus of Serbs from the Krajina region, in today’s Croatia, a Serb writer from Ravni Kotari, Vladan Desnica, is studied both as a Serb and a Croat writer at the Faculty of Philology in Belgrade? Is he as well to become a Croatian writer only?

After this lengthy, but indispensable digression, we should return to our subject: the Serbian language today.

2.0. The situation today

After the disintegration of the post-WWII Yugoslavia and the disappearance of the so-called Serbo-Croatian linguistic community, at the end of the second millennium, the standard Serbian language and the Serbs found themselves at a crossroads with no sign showing them where to go. Whereas, under the auspices of world powers, new states have been created on the Serbian lands and new languages formed of the Serbian language (Croatian, Bosnian, Montenegrin, Vojvodinian), on the threshold of the new millennium the Serbian lagnauge has something no other language in the world has: two scripts, two accents, an orthographic confusion and several names used by the Serbs themselves: language, our language, Serbian language, Serbo-Croatian language, Croato-Serbian language, or even the Yugoslav language.

2.1. What is the thing that the Serbian language does not have, but should? At this moment, the standard Serbian language does not have what it ought to have had at least sixty years ago: dialectology, to be composed on the basis of data from the field (The Serbian Academy of Sciences treasures a rich collection of dialectological questionnaires collected in the past fifty years); a linguistic atlas; a history of the language; a comprehensive descriptive grammar; syntax; a comprehensive descriptive dictionary; dictionaries of writers, etc. Some will say that the Croats have neither dialectology nor a linguistic atlas. It is true they don’t. But that is just because such dialectology and linguistic atlas would speak in a language of facts and reveal that the Croats have taken the standard Serbian language and passed it off as their own and that many of those who most fiercely claim to be Croats are actually Serbs – catholicized Serbs, to be more precise.

2.2. Who are those that avoid using the Serbian language’s name today? The avoidance of using the Serbian language’s name where it should be treated like a sanctity – in the titles of literary or linguistic journals, magazines and periodicals – has become evident. It is very odd that the well-known magazine of the Institute for the Serbian Language of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts is called Our Language. Such a name suited the spirit of the time in which it was created – to avoid mentioning Serbian in the title. Why it has a neutral name even today is something one should ask the editor-in-chief and the editorial team. What is also odd is the fact that the Language and Literature magazine, which is published in Belgrade, has no definition of the language and the literature in its title. What is even more peculiar is the fact that the journals or periodicals established after the disintegration of the so-called Serbo-Croatian linguistic community have rather vague names. For instance, Matica srpska launched a magazine called Language Today – a useful and modern periodical dealing with orthographic and practical issues of the Serbian language, boasting an excellent design, but it is a pity that the founder and the editorial team of the magazine had no moral and scholarly courage to name it (Standard) Serbian Language Today. The way it is called can refer to any language whatsoever: Urdu, Swahili, English, or any other language. The World of Words magazine, published by the Faculty of Philology in Belgrade, does not mention the name of the language either. We may learn something more from the cases from the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts and the Serbian Academy of Sciences. The Institute for the Serbian Language of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts is running a project called Etymological Dictionary of the Serbian Language. When a test notebook of the dictionary was about to be published, a problem occurred how to mention the Serbian language without insulting the Croats as the corpus included examples from the territory of today’s Croatia. They opted for a Solomonic solution – the first volume of the Etymological Dictionary of the Serbian Language is called the Test Notebook of the Etymological Department. (It by all means reflects the spirit prevailing in Serbian national institutions!). There is another fact: the Department of Language and Literature of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts decided to publish the 16th volume of the Dictionary of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts under the title of Dictionary of the Standard and Vernacular Serbo-Croatian Language, which is the title under which all the previous volumes had been published. What it means is that the Institute for the Serbian Language of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts is still writing a dictionary of a language that has never existed. Perhaps we should not ignore the following fact either: during the mass exodus of Serbs from the Knin Krajina region, in today’s Croatia, a monograph on the Konavle dialect was published in the Serbian Dialectological Corpus. It is an established practice that texts in that publication are printed in Cyrillic script and that the summary is written in Russian. In this case, the text was printed in Latin script and the summary was written in Italian. Even if we accept the fact that someone from the editorial team of the Serbian Dialectological Corpus wished to send the following message: Konavle is a Croatian territory and we have no Greater Serbia aspirations, there is no reason why the summary should be written in Italian and not, say, in English, German or Russian. What is also inconceivable is the fact that some Serbian philologists keep using the term Serbo-Croatian language in their work. Could it be because it takes a very long time to raise the national awareness of the Serbs or could it be something else? One may wonder whether someone, after forty years, is renouncing the name of the Serbian language for some “sublime” reasons?

2.3. The issue of terminology and foreign words in the Serbian language. The terminology issue was put forward in the Federal Institute for Standardization as early as in 1947. The issue was put forward but little has been done in that respect since. The terms have been standardized only in the fields and disciplines where such a thing was required by international standards. Chaos or a total internationalization of terms are ruling in numerous fields or disciplines, most rampant chaos or alienation being prevalent in linguistic terminology. Terminology bears great significance for education and science. As early as in primary school, a child comes across a number of terms in textbooks and it matters whether the terms have been fixed, clearly defined, expressed in the words of a mother tongue or in foreign lexemes. The textbook situation becomes concerning as early as in primary schools, only to become frightening in secondary schools or at universities. Hence the question whether our secondary school and university students are being educated in the Serbian or a foreign language. As for science, the things have already become clear. In order to acquire an academic title, one needs to master a language of some one thousand foreign words. Such a thing would not be strange, either, if terminology were standardized. But it is not. Where is the state, where are the national institutions, where is the Federal Institute for Standardization in this matter? We may get an answer to this question from the news published in 2000 that the Federal Institute for Standardization established a commission to find a group of experts to create a standardized Serbian-language computer keyboard – more than thirty years after the mass production of computers began. On the other hand, the standard Serbian language has been flooded with foreign, mostly English words, through the names of foreign merchandise, products and new technologies. No one is controlling this situation – those that are supposed to do that and who ought to be in charge are doing absolutely nothing. It is possible to resolve the problem in a year or two, but no one will fund or take on the task! We must ask ourselves – who, in this non-Serbian country, cares about the Serbian language at all?

2.4. Battle for the preservation of the script and the language. Some twenty or thirty years ago, there was a vivid activity aimed at preserving Cyrillic script as the original Serbian script. It was emphasized that the graffiti on buildings and public places were usually written in Latin script, which meant that the young generations had opted for Latin script of their own free choice. This story is outdated today as a large number of graffiti has been written not only in Latin script, but in English as well, and a very correct one. This means that we are not losing our script only, but our language as well. The avalanche of English is spreading from television and graffiti onto the names of firms, companies and artistic groups. Do we need to turn on an alarm, reconcile to the situation or act radically: introduce the English language as the language of public communication and convert to Catholicism collectively? Thus we could resolve many issues and speed up what we aspire for, either consciously or unconsciously, and on which we eagerly work.

2.5. The position of the Serbian language in the world. It is a very thwarting, but accurate fact that, at the most departments worldwide where the so-called Serbo-Croatian language was taught, it is the so-called Croatian language that is taught today. At some of the departments where Serbian is taught, it is not taught by Serbs, whereas at some other departments, where Serbian is taught by Serbs, it is taught from Croatian textbooks. Even during the post-WWII Yugoslavia, the university departments teaching the so-called Serbo-Croatian language and their libraries were flooded with Croatian, Macedonian and Slovenian books. In Serbia of the time, no one was in charge of providing Serbian lecturers with Serbian books to present them as gifts to departments and libraries worldwide. To this I will only add the fact that lecturers from other Yugoslav republics were rewarded with much more money than lecturers from Serbia were – even lecturers from the northern and southern Serbian provinces, Vojvodina and Kosovo respectively, were better provided for than lecturers from Serbia proper were. This must speak of something. Today, the Croatian state is doing everything to open departments of the so-called Croatian language at the former Serbo-Croatian language departments. The Croatian state is also doing everything to motivate foreign students to study the so-called Croatian language – it provides them with scholarships and paid accommodation during summer and winter holidays. An what is this non-Serbian state doing for the Serbian language? It is Serbian institutions and ministries in charge that should answer this question.

2.6. Serbian language and information technologies. There is another application of language – the computer one. Our position here seems not to be bad at all. Those who are engaged in data processing have heard of the RAS programme package, which consists of a spellcheck programme, a hyphenator programme – for separating syllables – and a converter programme – for code page and font conversion and for the correction of some punctuation errors. The Serbian language package also contains the Orthographic Dictionary of the Serbian Language (with 123,000 orthographically processed and accented items), the Serbian Electronic Dictionary of 307,000 words, the database of which includes 18 volumes of the Dictionary of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts and the last three volumes of the Dictionary of Matica Srpska. It also contains the Serbian Dictionary by Vuk Stefanović Karadžić and the Dictionary of Old Serbian Literature by Djuro Daničić. However, we should say at once, in order that you not delude yourselves, that the success is not to be attributed either to the ministries, which, if one is guided by sound logic, ought to have financed this package, or to the national institutions, which ought to have reported this project to the ministries as an assignment of theirs. This grandiose and comprehensive work was conducted, on his own and in cooperation with his collaborators, by Milorad Simić, who also financed the project and was in charge of all the financing matters. How he worked, how he found money for the project, what problems he had, who helped him and who would not help him or even obstructed him in his work is a story for the believe it or not column. His example could serve as a guidance to those who intend to do something useful for the Serbian language – and it tells them that they should rely primarily on the support of those who care about the Serbian language and the survival of the Serbian nation.

3.0. The prospects of the Serbian language or what is to be done?

Firstly, expert and scientific criteria should be introduced into the Serbian philology, whereas everything reminiscent of mafia association or membership in clans more than one century old should be removed therefrom. Secondly, all those who are not experts in the Serbian language – such as experts in Italian, Russian, German, English, etc. – should be excluded from the Serbian studies. Thirdly, one should set the following tasks before Serbian philology and financiers – to process and standardize the Serbian language, to transfer it to an electronic media and to make it available to all the Serbs in Serbia and abroad, then to write fundamental manuals, as well as appropriate monolingual and bilingual dictionaries for our children in Serbia and abroad and for foreigners learning Serbian. More precisely, one should complete the RAS programme package and speed up the work (on a grammar checker). One ought to engage all the qualified Serbian philologists on that work and, subsequently and simultaneously, compose a Serbian linguistic atlas, Serbian dialectology and the history of the Serbian language, syntax, phonetics, morphology, word formation and stylistics. It is necessary to provide, at any price, money for lectureships abroad and funds for scholarships to be awarded to foreign students wishing to study the Serbian language in Serbia. If this is not done, I am certain that, in a decade or two, we will have to explain to foreigners that the language we speak is not Croatian – and also something else, even worse – that we are not Croats, but Serbs. If we do not wake up and do not realize our professional and moral responsibility in the preservation of the Serbian language, the Serbian language and the Serbian people will certainly vanish. In that case, all the “great scientific achievements” of ours, in Serbia and the world, all our “great and famous persons and idols” will prove to be false, like money with no coverage, like mere talk. Let me tell you something everyone already knows: for sixty years now, the Serbian nation has not had its own national institutions to take care of the Serbian language and the Serbian national being. Those institutions exist formally, draw money from the budget of the poor Serbian population and, instead of acting for the welfare and benefit of the Serbian people, represent the main obstacle for any true achievement and progress in the field of the Serbian studies. Actually, those institutions are bunkers from which one is shooting at independent scholars and undermining anything without a clan mark. There is a task ahead of us – to have those institutions exposed and cured of the dangerous illness, or to create new, parallel institutions. There is no more time for waiting. It is high time we woke up.

Finally, we should think about the following: Has there been any Serbian linguistic policy in the past one hundred years? Was it conducted by Serbs and if so, by whom? Was this policy good, wise, farsighted and successful? Ought it to be continued or changed? Is what we and our institutions are doing at this moment a good and proper thing? Let us think about that. This may be the last moment.

Prof. Milosav Ž. Čarkić, PhD

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