Serbian Language

History

The Serbian language is part of the Slavic language family, stemming from the Indo-European set of languages. Since the 16th century many people had been migrating to the area now known as Serbia, as well as migrating out of the area. Primarily, the people of Serbia moved to the North, and to the coast. The central area for the Serbian language development was originally in eastern Herzegovina, but due to the amount of movement of the people in the last few hundred years, the Serbian language developed alongside many other languages in this area.

The Serbian language uses both the Cyrillic and Latin alphabets at the same time, respectively named Azbuka and Abeceda. This grammatical event is termed digraphia, and Serbian is the only European language to currently use this method of alphabet melding. The Serbian language is actually an example of synchronic digraphia, which means that the alphabets are literally used at the same time, and interchangeably.

The Serbian Cyrillic alphabet was created slightly before the Serbian Latin alphabet, sixteen years earlier in 1814. The Serbian government recognizes both of them officially, though the Cyrillic alphabet was used for the majority of administration within official circles. However, this was not regulated in any measure, and both forms of the written language can be understood by Serbian speaking people.

Popularity

Along with Bosnian and Croatian, Serbian is one of the registers of the Serbo-Croatian language. There are around 9.5 million speakers of specifically the Serbian language worldwide. It is an official language of Serbia as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo, as well as being a recognized minority language in the countries of Croatia, Hungary, Slovakia as well as the independent Mouth Athos region of Greece. It is spoken not only in Serbia, but in many surrounding countries as well, though primarily in the geographical regions of Central and Southeastern Europe. The Serbian language itself is regulated by the Board for Standardization of the Serbian Language.

The Serbian language used to be the official language of Montenegro, though in 2007 the Montenegrin language was officially made the sole language of the country. Serbian was relocated to having secondary language status, despite around 60% of Montenegrin people declaring their mother language to be Serbian.

Language

Within the Serbian language, there are two main dialects, which are Shtoktavian and Torlakian. Shtoktavian is the prestige language of Serbia, and it is this language that the literary and standard language is based on. Shtoktavian is also the root language for Croatian, Bosnian, and Montenegrin. The Serbian language is found in a standardized form around the area of Sumadija-Vojvodina and Eastern Herzegovina, though it is not considered to be as prestigious of a language as Shtoktavian.

Due to the close-knit nature of Serbia and the surrounding countries, the Serbian language has taken on and given many loanwords. Specifically, the Turkish, German, Italian, Greek and Hungarian languages have contributed the most to the Serbian language. Turkish has influenced the vocabulary of the Serbian language the most, with around 8000 of the words that are used in the Serbian dictionary today being either directly Turkish or of Turkish origin. Interestingly enough, the Serbian language has made two direct contributions to the English language, in the words “vampire” and “paprika”.

Why Learn The Serbian Language?

Perhaps surprising to many English speakers, the Serbian language has produced a wide variety of literature. As far back as around a thousand years ago, there were secular medieval texts being produced, though not many of them have survived thus far. Still, it is a clear indication of the literate community of Serbia and Serbian-speaking people’s passion for writing and literature itself. While in the 18th century when poetry was the more common literary endeavor in the Serbian language, these days there are several Serbian authors that have made their name on the international book market such as Danilo Kis, Borislav Pekic, Jelena Dimitrijevic and Svetlana Velmar-Jankovic.

Of course, if you wish to travel to Serbia itself, then this is also an excellent reason to learn the language. Serbian tourism focuses for the most part on the draw to the mountains of the country, as well as the many ethnic villages that exist there also. Belgrade, the capital city, also attracts many visitors, as well as Christian pilgrimages across the country. Appealing to many young people are also the many festivals that Serbia promotes, making the Serbian language one that could be very useful if you decide to travel there.


1 Comment

  • #1 by Lorenzo on October 20 - 1:32 pm

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    Does anybody know of a good book (either in English or Serbian) about the history of the language? I would like to know more about how it evolved and the major changes it underwent (not from Proto-Slavic! I’m intrested in the historical phases of the language, attested by some documents).

    Thank you for your help!

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