Is Serbo-Croatian a language?

By: | Post date: 2016-09-12 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Other Languages

A2A, because apparently I have a great big “kick me” sign on me. (Only joking, Snežana Đorić (Снежана Ђорић)

or am I?)

Look, my personal opinion, as a taxonomist of the world (a Lumper and not a splitter) , is to look at what used to be one language, turned into four over a decade, of which at least two are identical, and exclaim Oh FFS.

But my personal opinion doesn’t matter.

Nor indeed does my professional opinion. Because I’m not professionally a linguist. But also because this isn’t really a linguistic matter.

Every time someone says “a language is a dialect with a military”, like Daniel Nikolić did here, a little piece of Zeibura S. Kathau dies (Zeibura S. Kathau’s answer to Do you agree that the difference between a dialect and a language is an army?). But, well, it’s not like Daniel’s wrong here.

Linguists want the distinction between languages to be about mutual intelligibility. But if the weird dialect is spoken by your fellow nationals, you’ll expend that much more effort to understand it and call it your own; and if the not-as-weird dialect is spoken across the border, you’ll expend that much less effort.

Sociolinguists want the distinction between languages to be about Abstand and ausbau: separateness and development. The development comes with status; the separateness… well, the separateness can end up manufactured. When Serbo-Croat was one language, the separateness was quashed; when Serbo-Croat became four languages, the separateness was cranked up.

A language is deemed a language when people call it a language. I can think it’s silly; I can exult that the Montenegrin-language Wikipedia did not go ahead. But it’s not up to Nick Nicholas to tell the Croats, Serbs, Montenegrins and Bosnians that they’re speaking the same language, FFS, or to roll his eyes when the same polling booth in Bosnia uses Jekavian in Latin alphabet and Ekavian in Cyrillic alphabet (Mjesto, Место).

(… That’s a Russian Italic т, isn’t it. Sucks to be Serbian/Macedonian, I know.)

There are linguistic and sociolinguistic criteria for whether it’s one language or four; but if the language speakers are convinced one way or the other, well, that’s how it is.

FFS.

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