The answer to the question: “What is the language spoken in Croatia?” may seem obvious. However, that answer is just the tip of a giant iceberg. Allow me to explain.
- The language spoken in Croatia is – Croatian!
- Not that long time ago, the official language spoken in Croatia was called Croatian-Serbian (or Serbo-Croatian). Almost 100 percent of Croatian and Serbian are mutually intelligible.
- You may need to be an expert to tell the difference between Bosnian, Montenegrin and Croatian language.
- Most speakers of Slovenian and Macedonian understand Croatian very well. If you speak Russian, Czech, Polish or Ukrainian, you would be able to understand many Croatian words.
The Language Spoken In Croatia Is Croatian
Croatians are very proud of their language. Most would say that having a language of your own means being a nation, hence equating the language with the national identity (some would add that you cannot be Croatian without being Catholic, but that’s another issue).
Croatian is spoken in Croatia and in parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Members of the Croatian ethnic minority in the neighbouring countries also appreciate the possibility to use Croatian language officially.
Croatian language, very much like German or Italian, is a STANDARDISED language, meaning that, although not spoken in the exactly same form in all parts of the Croatia and by all of its inhabitants (there are many different dialects spoken across Croatia), it’s been linguistically selected, prepared and maintained to be used OFFICIALLY in the whole country.
The Make-Up Of Croatian Language
Croatian language is a SLAVIC language. It belongs to the same family of languages as Russian, Polish, Bulgarian, Slovak, Czech, or Ukrainian.
However, many Croatian words are not of Slavic origin. For example, due to historic reasons, words of Turkish, German, Italian or Hungarian origin have made its way to Croatian, too. Also, Croatian includes words that were spoken by the native, pre-Slavic inhabitants of the region, like the Illyrians.
Nevertheless, Croatians strive to have, use, or create their own expressions, either by translating foreign words or coining new ones.
For example, Croatian for AIRPORT is ZRAČNA LUKA (“the harbour of the air”), FOOTBALL is NOGOMET (“to place with the foot”), AEROPLANE is ZRAKOPLOV (“sails through the air”) and so on.
Croatians also have their own name for the months of the year:
All these names are descriptive, illustrating activities that normally happen in those months. (Interestingly, in the Czech language you can find some identical names used for different months. Whereas Listopad (“the month of the falling leaves”) is used for October in Croatian, in Czech, Listopad denotes November!
Very much like it’s relatives, the Slavic languages, Croatian simply adores using hissing sounds.
Croatian QWERTZ keyboard
Even though most Croatians would be able to read words without the “weird” accents, especially if the context is clear (some people write text messages without čšćđž), they are nevertheless important for the correct understanding.
For example, words SPAVAĆICA and SPAVAČICA may appear to be identical. Pay closer attention, though! Ć and Č are different. (Ć is approximately like CH in Cheese, or T in Virtue; where as Č is like CH in Much) .
SPAVAĆICA means nightgown, whereas SPAVAČICA means “a woman who sleeps).
Đ is pronounced like J in Jesus.
Š is like SH in Shark.
Ž is like J in Jacques.
Croatian Tongue Twisters
RASKISELIŠE LI TI SE OPANCI!
“Oh, your hand-sown leather shoes are so worn out that they have became sour!”
NAVRH BRDA VRBA MRDA
“A willow is shaking on a hilltop”
“I CVRČI CVRČI CVRČAK NA ČVORU CRNE SMRČE…”
“A cicada sings and sings on the knot of a black spruce”.
What Is The Difference Between Croatian And Serbian?
Well, some 70 percent of the words used in Croatian and Serbian languages are exactly the same. The two languages are almost completely mutually intelligible, so no translation of movies, interviews or music is necessary.
Both Croatian and Serbian languages stem from the same linguistic source. Both were “directed” and “edited” following similar principles. It’s no wonder that they are so similar today.
Apart from Roman script, Serbian traditionally uses Cyrillic script. However, traditionally, Croatian also used a form of Cyrillic. While most Croatians can read and write the Cyrillic script, many Serbians actually prefer Roman script.
Because of the obvious similarities of the two languages, the term “Serbo-Croatian” was used for years to describe the language spoken by Croats and Serbs (And, BTW, the Bosnians and the Montenegrins). This term, Serbo-Croatian, is still widely used in some international scientific and cultural circles.
However, it’s politically incorrect to use the expression “Serbo-Croatian” or point out the similarities between the languages. Many individuals – scientists, historians and politicians – have vehemently fought to introduce words and expressions that would further widen the differences between Serbian and Croatian.
On the other hand (at least in Croatia), a witch-hunt was launched against “wrong” words, words that either sound Serbian or, God forbid, are Serbian.
Everything grew out of proportions and many became anxious about making mistakes or not being linguistically correct.
Interestingly, similar problems arose in Norway:
In the Kingdom of Denmark–Norway (1536–1814), the official language was Danish. The urban Norwegian upper class spoke Dano-Norwegian, a form of Danish with Norwegian pronunciation and other minor local differences. After the two countries separated, Danish remained the official language of Norway, and remained largely unchanged until language reforms in the early 20th century led to the standardization of forms more similar to the Norwegian urban and rural vernaculars. Since 1929, this written standard has been known as Bokmål. Later attempts to bring it closer to and eventually merge it with the other Norwegian written standard, Nynorsk, constructed on the basis of Norwegian dialects, have failed due to widespread resistance. Instead, the most recent reforms of Bokmål (2005) have included certain Danish-like constructions that had previously been banned.Wikipedia
And very much like in Norway, people are slowly coming to their senses in Croatia, too. Even though Croatians remain proud of their unique cultural and linguistic variations, they are also becoming more reasonable and accepting the reality.
For example, for years, an expression “glasovati” (to vote) was promoted as “right” in the media, although it didn’t sound right. But since it differed from Serbian, “glasati”, it was viewed as politically correct. Finally, in 2019 the verdict was made that the version “glasati” is right after all and should be used instead.
Croatian children, teenagers and young adults watch Serbian YouTube videos, follow Serbian influencers and listen to Serbian music.
Like in “Emperor’s New Clothes”, more and more people are willing to relax, listen to “the child” and admit the obvious.
What About Bosnian And Montenegrin?
Not that long time ago Serbo-Croatian was spoken in both Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Montenegro.
However, being encouraged by certain political views, linguists decided to formalise some cultural and regional differences, and “recognise” the existence of new languages. Of course, they were there even before, but now they got shrouded in new “clothes”.
The village of Počitelj in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Islamic culture introduced by the Ottoman Turks has powerfully influenced the languages spoken in that country.
The village of Sveti Stefan in Montenegro
I like to compare the relationship between Serbia and Montenegro as the one of Germany and Austria.
Let me put it this way: the difference between Serbian and Croatian is approximately like the difference between the American English and the British English.
The difference between Croatian language and Bosnian language is like the difference between the British English and the Australian English.
The difference between Croatian language and the Montenegrin language is approximately like the difference between the British English and the New Zealand English.
And What About Slovenian and Macedonian? Or Russian, Czech Or Slovak?
Even though both Slovenia and Macedonia were parts of former Yugoslavia, their languages differ considerably from the Croatian (or Serbian) language.
However, Slovenian, Macedonian, Croatian and Serbian are highly mutually intelligible. All of them belonging to the language family of the Southern Slavs (or Yugoslavs), they share many similar words. Many Slovenians and Macedonians actively speak Croatian or Serbian.
The difference between Croatian and Slovenian is approximately like the difference between Spanish and Portuguese. Croatian and Macedonian are like Spanish and Italian.
Czech And Russian
Although all Slavic languages are closely related and share a mutual basic vocabulary, there are unusually many Czech and Russian words in Croatian and in Serbian. Why?
Interestingly, in the late 19th century, as the standardisation of both Croatian and Serbian took place, the linguists deliberately “enriched” the new standard language with the words borrowed from other Slavic languages, predominately Czech and Russian.
Why? Well, after centuries of foreign (Austrian, Italian, Hungarian and Turkish) domination of these areas, the idea of “Slavic brotherhood” of “Pan-slavism” was especially attractive (and, of course, taken advantage of by some). This idea was reflected in the creation of languages that would minimise the influence of these “foreign elements”.