The Languages of the Former Yugoslavia
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the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia has ceased
to exist, the ramifications of the tumultuous changes that
occurred throughout the region in decades past continues
even today. One aspect that continues to be a controversial
and touchy subject in the region is the language. Today,
many people find it difficult to understand the differences
between Serbo-Croatian, Croatian, Serbian, Bosnian, Slovenian,
Macedonian, Montenegrin, etc. As outsource language specialists,
it’s not only Translatus’ job to understand the nuances
of the language systems of the region, but to ensure our
clients and even our vendors understand them as well. While
the differences between the languages are usually not significant
enough to prevent basic understanding between speakers,
they can create the potential for significant challenges
for a company targeting this region. Perhaps this article
will provide better understanding of the language complexities
in the former Yugoslavia.
For many years, “Serbo-Croatian” was the standard, official
language used in the former Yugoslavia. However, some would
say it was more of a “pseudo language” that was created
by communists to smooth over nationalistic feelings in the
region. The term “Serbo-Croatian” is not used today, as
many native speakers would find it to be politically incorrect
Serbia and Croatia
Serbian is understood in Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia. Croatian
is understood in Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia. Spoken Serbian
and Croatian are virtually interchangeable, meaning Serbs
and Croats understand each other. However, due to ethnic
tensions between the two groups, and because a translation
done in Serbian would be obvious to a Croat (and vice versa)
a document destined for both regions should be done in both
languages. The same can be said for Bosnian. Though it can
be understood in Serbia and Croatia, a Bosnian translation
should be used only for the Bosnian market.
Croats are wary of any foreign influence
on Croatian. They tend to be protective and purist regarding
their language. As a result, Croatian, unlike Serbian, tends
not to use loan words or foreign words, but will instead
create its own words. For example, the English word “computer”
in Serbian would be "kompjuter” – a phonetic spelling
of the English word. Instead of borrowing the foreign term,
the Croatians have coined the term “računalo”.
We experienced this issue first-hand when
a client in the telecommunications industry had a document
translated from English into Croatian. Our translator
came back to us with a question regarding treatment of
the English word "router". In his words, “Croatian
terminology in [the telecommunications field] is still
under development and far from being standardized.” The
translator presented the client with a choice of three
Croatian terms for the word "router”: router, ruter,
and usmjernik, representing the foreign term, the phonetically
adapted term, and the new Croatian word, respectively.
In some cases, as well as in this particular
case, a client might choose the term listed in their pre-approved
term base or glossary. If the client has no term base,
or if the term is not yet included in their term base,
Translatus would suggest the most appropriate term. In
this case, the most appropriate term would have been "usmjernik",
as it gives proper meaning while also representing the
spirit of the Croatian language.
As this case study illustrates, languages
in the Former Yugoslavia are constantly evolving, presenting
us with new challenges in selecting the most appropriate
Bosnia and Herzegovina
The population of Bosnia and Herzegovina is made up of three
ethnic groups- Muslim, Croatian, and Serbian. The Muslim
group of Bosnia (known as Bosniaks) calls their language
Bosnian. However, the Croatian and Serbian groups of Bosnia
speak Croatian and Serbian, respectively. All three languages
are Bosnia and Herzegovina’s official languages. So what
is the best language for a document for this market? It
depends exactly what is being translated, but unless a client
has a very specific target market within Bosnia and Herzegovina,
the best bet is Bosnian.
Montenegrins speak “Montenegrin”. In fact, this is not an
official language, but rather a heavy dialect of Serbian.
Whether or not "Montenegrin” will become an official
language of Montenegro is currently a hot issue. As such,
a document intended for the Montenegrin market would best
be completed in the official language of Montenegro, which
is Serbian. However, a company specifically targeting Montenegro
can certainly have a translation done in "Montenegrin"
if required. One cost-effective way to do this might be
to have an existing Serbian translation proofread or edited
by a Montenegrin translator.
The primary official language of the Republic of Macedonia
is Macedonian. Macedonian is the most widely spoken language
in the country, though many other languages are also spoken.
Macedonian is sufficient for translation destined for this
region. However, the rapidly increasing Albanian population
in Macedonia could lead to an increasing need for Albanian-language
documents in the future.
Translations for Slovenia should be done in the official
language of Slovenian. Macedonians and Slovenians who were
educated during the period of Socialist Federal Republic
of Yugoslavia will be able to understand both Serbian and
Croatian, but others educated after the mid-1980's will
not. Therefore, Croatian and Serbian translations will not
work for these countries.
Languages of the
Former Yugoslavia- Quick Reference Table
|Bosnia & Herzegovina
||Cyrillic or Latin
Article previously published on “A
World of Translation Work” Translatus Blog.
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