5 July 06

I’m a big fan of Wikipedia. For those of you who have been living under a rock for the last five years, Wikipedia is a free encyclopedia, written collaboratively by its users. One of the famous features of this website is that it has editions in many different languages, including Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian and Serbo-Croatian.

It comes down to this: Bosniak from Sarajevo uses the Bosnian one, his Croatian neighbour uses Croatian, Serbian across the street visits Serbian edition of Wikipedia, while a Sarajevan gastarbeiting in Frankfurt reads Serbo-Croatian Wikipedia.

As any serious linguist will tell you, there is no clear line where dialect ends and new language begins. But, as any sociologist will tell you, people often identify themselves with a certain language, and as any Frenchman will tell you, language was one of the important points in the development of nationalism.

Still, Wikipedia is about bringing free (as in speech) information to the masses, so there is, e.g. only one edition for all English dialects. Serbs, Bosniaks and Croats, on the other hand, live in firm belief that the roof will fall on their heads if they are ever forced to make a compromise in their languages, which are older than amoebas.

After all, take a sentence from an article about comic book which was rather famous in Yugoslavia:

  • Alan Ford was created by writer Luciano Secchi, pseudonym Max Bunker, and drawer Roberto Raviola, pseudonym Magnus. Alan Ford’s character is drawn after a British actor, Peter O’Toole.

Now, compare the differences of its translations:
  • Bosnian: Alan Ford su stvorili scenarist Luciano Secchi, pseudonim Max Bunker, i crtač Roberto Raviola, pseudonim Magnus. Lik Alana Forda nacrtan je po uzoru na britanskog glumca Petera O’Toolea.
  • Croatian: Alan Ford su stvorili scenarist Luciano Secchi, pseudonim Max Bunker, i crtač Roberto Raviola, pseudonim Magnus. Lik Alana Forda nacrtan je po uzoru na britanskog glumca Petera O’Toolea.
  • Serbian: Alana Forda su stvorili scenarista Lučano Seki, pseudonim Maks Bunker, i crtač Roberto Raviola, pseudonim Magnus. Lik Alana Forda nacrtan je po uzoru na britanskog glumca Petera O’Tula.

Have fun marking all the differences!


  1. Viktor
    Jul 5, 06:14 PM #

    One time i wrote in my CV that i speak fluently five languages. Three of them were Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian. I'm hoping to get another one in there soon, Montenegrian, or whatever the spelling will be.
    This starts to look awful lot like that episode of Top Lista Nadrealista where they have the tourist dictionary for the people of ex-yu countries when they come to visit each other, or if they live in a multi-language city, like Sarajevo. The joke can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jZ_5EPbF3lQ
  2. Sanika
    Jul 6, 12:36 AM #

    Isn't it just priceless how Serbs, Montenegrans, Croatians, Bosnians, Macedonians all MUST have their own language whereas English, Americans, Australians, Canadians etc. can relatively simply live with the fact that they all use English as a mother tongue (which is called English by everyone). Once again, the Balkan people have to be different! On the other hand, the Québecois will tell you they speak Québecois and not French - which really is pretty true when you hear it! ;-)
    So much for globalization....
  3. sauseschritt
    Jul 6, 08:37 AM #

    in a postwar region (and also in others) language is a very sensitive issue. sauseschritt sees no reason not to respect that we face different (though very similar) languages. why not be easygoing in this respect:
    (1) people will read those wikipedias they understand and contribute to those where they assume to be understood, its simple like that.
    (2) let linguists make their distinctions but language issues are political and always will be: not only in the case of the so called Balkans
    (3) language lives and changes and there is nothing wrong about it: lets use it to communicate
    (4) lets not exaggerate a technical wikipedia issue to become one to be politically discussed: lets concentrate on reliable contents
  4. serbianmess
    Jul 7, 10:20 PM #

    Sauseschritt, what bothers me is that since most people who could collaborate refuse to do it, but separating into different languages. So, each one of the editions has a little bias. For example, a bunch of stuff on Serbian Wikipedia is pretty much copy/paste from works of Nikolaj Velimirović (who was a contraversial Serbian bishop, very nationalist, prone to hating Jews, etc). I suspect if there was more non-Serbian editors involved, his works wouldn't pass as encyclopedic content. But all the editors who speak the language, but are not Serbs, are on other editions.
  5. Francis Tyers
    Jul 10, 12:21 AM #

    Some might call it a /balkanisation/ of Wikipedia.
  6. Steve
    Jul 11, 05:00 AM #

    I can read Croatian easily but when it come to Serbian, it's all Chinese to me! What's that funny alphabet they use?
  7. pihbar
    Jul 15, 01:25 AM #

    I know of a commercial pilot who got his job instead of the other guy because he had more languages under his belt: Serbian, Bosnian, Croatian...
    Steve: the alphabet is from the cyrillic family.
  8. bganon
    Jul 20, 10:25 AM #

    " know of a commercial pilot who got his job instead of the other guy"

    heh heh you cant keep a good Yugovic down.
  9. Daniel
    Aug 15, 04:18 PM #

    I first noticed this phenomenon on packaged foods, where the contents are listed three times, labeled HR, BIH, and SCG respectively. There were minor differences, like in your Alan Ford example: pasturizirano vs. pasturizovano, etc.
  10. rudy blereau
    Sep 2, 01:37 PM #

    I'm leaving for Montenegro in October. Could anyone advice me on a dictionnary or a practical language guide for tourist. For the second language I can cooop with English, French, German or Spanish.
    My mothertogue is Dutch, but I presume that there does not exist a Montenegrian(Servian, Croatian)/Dutch edition?

    Thanks for any help and/or suggestions.

  11. serbianmess
    Sep 3, 02:15 PM #

    Rudy, I think that by far the best dictionary that I have seen is Morton Benson (check it out on amazon), Serbo-Croatian - English. It's a bit pricy, though. And as far as Dutch goes, I have no idea really.

    There is also a couple of dictionaries online (free), including Krstarica one. It has both German and English.

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