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Chung
Diglot
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 Message 369 of 541
01 September 2013 at 12:54am | IP Logged 
Cavesa wrote:
I understood the sentence :-) Actually this approach to BCMS and its failure further proves that Czech and Slovak are separate languages with high mutual intelligibility in my opinion. We and slovaks either have the same word (just with different grammar it follows or ortograph or pronunciation but still clearly the same meaning) or we have a different word. And Czech-Slovak are quite popular to be considered one language and compared to BCMS by a part of the enthusiasts.

Trying to make a machine translator when you don't need one, what an efficient use of time and money (I suppose public funds).

Are there more attempts to artificially divide the languages? I think it is a mistake because one larger book and tv market is much better than three small ones. (Had it been normal for czechs to buy and read Slovak books here and vice versa, I believe it would be only beneficial for both sides. And we actually have separate languages).


At the least I could make a case that a human translator for BCMS/SC is somewhat useful precisely since many of the differences within BCMS/SC elude neat mutually-exclusive relationships which are easily handled in a machine translator (i.e. questions of style which is subjective). The only differences that could be reliably accounted for in a machine translator are unambiguously different lexemes which are not present in all standards or are heavily ethnically-marked (e.g. Cr: liječnik Sr: l(j)ekar "medical doctor").

I also have come across a lot of Croats who liken the difference between Croatian and Serbian as that between Czech and Slovak. Even I as a foreigner can destroy that claim too easily with all sorts of examples in grammar (e.g. slovenský rytmický zákon, separate declensional classes in Czech because of přehláska, Slovak merger of accusative plural and genitive plural for masculine animate nouns and adjectives) and vocabulary. Moreover when I've used "Croatian" (or at least stuff learned from "Teach Yourself Croatian"), I've been praised by native speakers for using "Bosnian" or "Serbian" perfectly. Similar praise has never occurred when I've used textbook Slovak with Czechs (i.e. no Czech has ever asked me where I learned Czech when I've just expressed myself in Slovak).

The impulse to separate BCMS/SC into languages has faded a bit compared to about 15 years ago when nationalism was really high because of the Balkan wars, and it's tended to be strongest among Croats (but some Bosnian and Montenegrin linguists have been just as vocal about separation). Serbs (including linguists in Serbia) often treat BCMS/SC as something pluricentric but are aware of the sociolinguistic approach that lies beneath the urge to separate (a minority of them though is more provocative, to put it mildly, by considering Bosnian, Croatian and Montenegrin to be each nothing more than Serbian dialects hence insinuating an ethnolinguistic link/subordination to Serbdom or Serbia). Nowadays it's primarily the domain of Croatian academics in the language regulating bodies, departments of linguistics in Croatia, and nationalist non-specialists who are attracted to the political undertones of language-planning policy intent on erecting a figurative wall between Croatian and Serbian. At the same time, many Croats outside academia use "Serbianisms" often without giving a damn, and pay lip service to the prescriptivist line of distinct languages taken by the Croatian government and the academic bodies that are sponsored by it. In formal environments though, Croats are more likely to avoid things that aren't standard, including dialectal features used in other parts of Croatia (e.g. from the Dalmatian coast), and not just marked Serbianisms.

My sense is that Croatian and Serbian will eventually diverge to the point where they'll be like Czech and Slovak but there's no telling when this could happen. One way to accelerate this change is if the respective language planning bodies incorporated a lot of the slang, and non-standard usage that's always been used in their publications for language use every few years. However language planning bodies are notoriously slow to adapt to change and can be clouded by sociolinguistic judgements that the language as used by native speakers who are less educated than they are is to be proscribed as "sloppy grammar" or undesirable to be incorporated in future editions of their prescriptivist publications.

As to translation from Serbian to Croatian in other areas, it still can bring up strong emotions even up to last year.

See HRT introduces optional Croatian subtitles for films from Serbia and TV outlet reacts to order to provide subtitles for Serbian

Edited by Chung on 01 September 2013 at 1:06am

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Cavesa
Triglot
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Czech Republic
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 Message 370 of 541
01 September 2013 at 1:10am | IP Logged 
It looks like some academics are afraid for their jobs.

It reminds me of an older (and awesome) czech movie fairy tale Šíleně smutná princezna. Two generals, who had been plotting together to arrange a war all the time so that they could battle each other and gain glory, are uncovered, made fun of and fired. And there is a dialog like that:

1: What are we gonna do for living now?
2: Translators. Me in your country and you in mine.
1: But they both speak the same language!
2: Shhh! They haven't found out yet.

To find out which languages are separate and which are dialogs, I suggest the child test. Take a child who hadn't been previously exposed to the tested variant and expose it. If they understand, it's a dialect. If not, it's another language. :-) Small czechs don't understand Slovak. But they learn later at university when they get 5-30% of slovak classmates.

Edited by Cavesa on 01 September 2013 at 1:10am

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Chung
Diglot
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 Message 371 of 541
01 September 2013 at 1:45am | IP Logged 
Cavesa wrote:
It looks like some academics are afraid for their jobs.

It reminds me of an older (and awesome) czech movie fairy tale Šíleně smutná princezna. Two generals, who had been plotting together to arrange a war all the time so that they could battle each other and gain glory, are uncovered, made fun of and fired. And there is a dialog like that:

1: What are we gonna do for living now?
2: Translators. Me in your country and you in mine.
1: But they both speak the same language!
2: Shhh! They haven't found out yet.

To find out which languages are separate and which are dialogs, I suggest the child test. Take a child who hadn't been previously exposed to the tested variant and expose it. If they understand, it's a dialect. If not, it's another language. :-) Small czechs don't understand Slovak. But they learn later at university when they get 5-30% of slovak classmates.


A Croatian acquaintance at an university made a similar comment to me a while ago where some colleagues in the Croatian linguistic regulatory bodies would be out of work without the idea that Croatian is separate language rather than a variant of BCMS/SC.

To make such a test on a child fair, let's say that that Croatian child would need knowledge of standard Croatian, and then be exposed to the say the Serbian standard language. It would clearly skew the results if you got a young uneducated child who's used to only what he/she speaks at home and then expose him/her to some dialect that he/she has never encountered and spoken very far away (e.g. take a preschooler from the Croatian coast and then expose him/her to the informal speech of someone from southern Serbia, or the hinterland of Bosnia, or even someone from the backwoods of Zagorje on the Croatian-Slovenian border).

I was just thinking a little about what I remember about the dialects in Croatia, and if the Croatian regulators were truly serious on making Croatian a separate language from Serbian and able to go beyond superficial/amateurish tinkering by merely changing the spelling of some words or dreaming up new ones, here are a few proposals that they could entertain even though Croats are drilled in public education to think of these features as "wrong" or "ungrammatical" if not "quaint" or "interesting" because they're different from the standard language.

1) Let the verb ending for 1st person singular in present tense be -n instead of -m (Dalmatian coast feature)

e.g. Jesan instead of standard BCMS/SC Jesam "I am"

2) Construct the general future tense using the auxillary made up of biti "to be" preceding a second verb's infinitive or -l participle (typical of dialects in northwestern Croatia) instead of the construction with the auxiliary from htjeti "to want" preceding an infinitive or conjugated verb which is typical of the Balkans.

e.g. Bum delal instead of standard BCMS/SC Radit ću / Radiću "I'll be doing"

3) Replace the genitive plural ending of -a of standard BCMS/SC with the zero ending as in Czech, Polish, Russian, Slovak, Ukrainian etc. as found in some dialects near Istria (i.e. northwestern Croatia).

e.g. puno žen instead of standard BCMS/SC puno žena "many women"

Edited by Chung on 01 September 2013 at 1:49am

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Cavesa
Triglot
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Czech Republic
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 Message 372 of 541
01 September 2013 at 3:59am | IP Logged 
I think a child around 10 or 12 years of age should be ok for the test. Standard language taught at school, already reads, knows the language used at home and at friends' homes. Of course a kid from purely Croatian background, no mixed family, no Serbian grandpa or Bosnian classmate.

So basically everyone who considers learning one of the languages should wait a decade or so until the academics find out how exactly will they make the learning more difficult? :-D

Has any such artificial division ever happened? The Dutch dialects are slowly getting closer to each other. Czech and Slovak were always separate but close and both nearly died out at some point. Perhaps Skandinavia? Or there might have been just several separate groups of dialects of Old Norse (and its eastern and western branch) that regrouped to the new languages? German dialects got closer as the time went, unification of Italian is an ongoing process and so on. I can't think of any such example but my history knowledge is quite incomplete.
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Chung
Diglot
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 Message 373 of 541
01 September 2013 at 5:54pm | IP Logged 
Cavesa wrote:
[...]Has any such artificial division ever happened? The Dutch dialects are slowly getting closer to each other. Czech and Slovak were always separate but close and both nearly died out at some point. Perhaps Skandinavia? Or there might have been just several separate groups of dialects of Old Norse (and its eastern and western branch) that regrouped to the new languages? German dialects got closer as the time went, unification of Italian is an ongoing process and so on. I can't think of any such example but my history knowledge is quite incomplete.


I can't think of anything comparable either where one regulatory body/government is so focused on trying to impose linguistic changes for the sake of differentiating the official/standard language from that used by another speech community. Perhaps the case of Romanian and Moldovan comes close, but the sociolinguistic situation is a little different in that officialdom is less clear on whether Moldovans use Moldovan or Romanian. Moldova's constitution states that "Moldovan" is the official language while Moldovan schools teach the language as "Romanian". It's primarily a naming dispute with political undertones, since the linguistic evidence presented to compare Romanian and Moldovan is reminiscent of what's presented as American English compared to British English.

See Moldova: “Our Romanian Language” Day Protest and The Moldavian language could be replaced by the Romanian language.

Now that I think of it, Québecois vs. Parisian French or Nynorsk vs. Bokmål might be worth thinking about for a bit. However in neither instance are the respective language planning bodies keen to behave in ways to maxmize or increase divergence between the varieties. In the former case, the regulatory body in Québec publishes dictionaries, spelling manuals and the like, but operates with the attitude that to ensure survival or reduce isolation of the French-Canadian element, it's better not to unduly increase divergence and lessen intelligibility relative to Parisian French (or other forms of French, for that matter).

As far as I understand with the latter, Nynorsk and Bokmål are officially mandated ways to write Norwegian. Both variants are regulated by the same governmental body, and the idea is that each Norwegian should speak as he/she sees fit, be it by the book or with whatever his/her local dialect is. There's no real effort detectable from either the regulatory bodies or non-specialists to demand that officialdom expand the differences between Nynorsk and Bokmål or extend those differences into some sort of "official" way of speaking as well.

Edited by Chung on 01 September 2013 at 6:23pm

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Chung
Diglot
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 Message 374 of 541
03 September 2013 at 12:17am | IP Logged 
POLISH

I finished Chapter 25 of "Polish in 4 Weeks - II". The dialogue consisted of Waldek and Tomek talking about work and the boss’ new demands. The main topic for grammar was the use of the conditional in sentences of subjunctive meaning (e.g. Chcę, żebyś zadzwoniła do mnie jutro. “I want you to call me tomorrow.”)



(From Tori Komix » Archive » Komix #640 – 08/07/2013)

1) “Wow, look at all that water! – Stop it.” (literally: “Wow, how much water is there!”)
2) “How wet! Did some pipe burst? – Quiet.”
3) “Something’s got to be done about it because we’re soaking the neighbours. – It’s hot and I’m sweating a a little, OK? You can stop making fun [of me]!”
4) “A little? You don’t realize your own hidden power! You’re giving off more water than you take in. Africa needs your help!”

- nabijać się (z kogoś) > nabić się (z kogoś) (nabijam się, nabijasz się > nabiję się, nabijesz się) “to make fun (of someone)” [colloquial]

Convention for vocabulary in the comic strip that's unfamiliar to me (i.e. needed to consult a dictionary)

NOUNS & ADJECTIVES: nominative singular (nominative plural, genitive singular)
VERBS (where applicable using convention of imperfective > perfective): infinitive (1st person singular present tense [imperfective verb] / future tense [perfective verb], 2nd person singular present tense [imperfective verb] / future tense [perfective verb])
ADVERBS & INTERJECTIONS: no extra information given

***

SLOVAK

I did the exercises on pgs. 39-41 in the workbook for “Hovorme spolu po slovensky! B – Slovenčina ako cudzí jazyk”. The exercises were fill-in-the-blank drills for verbal prefixes and prepositions that govern the accusative.



(From S H O O T Y - …som Grogy)

1) “You need to have identifying data for everything nowadays.”
2) “PIN, PID.”
3) “Logon name. Password.”
4) “Who is supposed to remember everything?”
5) “It’s enough to save everything to a well-encrypted file.”
6) “AND NOT TO FORGET THAT ROTTEN PASSWORD FOR IT!!!

- poondený (poonden|ého / -ej / - ého) “crappy, rotten, stinking” (colloquial)

Convention for vocabulary in the comic strip that's unfamiliar to me (i.e. needed to consult a dictionary)

NOUNS & ADJECTIVES: nominative singular (genitive singular)
VERBS (where applicable using convention of imperfective > perfective): infinitive (3rd person singular present tense [imperfective verb] / future tense [perfective verb], 3rd person plural present tense [imperfective verb] / future tense [perfective verb])
ADVERBS & INTERJECTIONS: no extra information given

***

UKRAINIAN

I’ve done the exercises on pgs. 151-3 in Chapter 9 of “Modern Ukrainian”. The drills focused on the partitive genitive and instrumental singular of nouns.



(From Собаки Павлова via комікси | Це прекрасно! | Український інформаційно-розважальний портал)

1) “I invited the academic Pavlov for dinner. – Cool! It’ll be great with him here!”
2) *Riiiing*

Convention for vocabulary in the comic strip that's unfamiliar to me (i.e. needed to consult a dictionary)

NOUNS & ADJECTIVES: nominative singular (genitive singular)
VERBS (where applicable using convention of imperfective > perfective): infinitive (1st person singular present tense [imperfective verb] / future tense [perfective verb], 3rd person plural present tense [imperfective verb] / future tense [perfective verb])
ADVERBS & INTERJECTIONS: no extra information given

***

OTHER LANGUAGES

Things just got a bit busier around here as I expected and I’ll see how often I can put in entries over the next few weeks.
______


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Chung
Diglot
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 Message 375 of 541
03 September 2013 at 12:36am | IP Logged 
The second part of this entry contains my comments and analysis of the conclusion in the study by Bekavac et al.

For reference:
- Part 1 (analysis of the abstract and what Bekavac et al. label as the “phonological level” of differences in BCMS/SC)
- Part 2 (analysis of what Bekavac et al. label as the “morphological level” of differences in BCMS/SC)
- Part 3 (analysis of what Bekavac et al. label as the “lexical level” of differences in BCMS/SC)
- Part 4 (analysis of what Bekavac et al. label as the “syntactic level” of differences in BCMS/SC)
- Part 5 (analysis of what Bekavac et al. label as the “semantic level” of differences in BCMS/SC)

***

BCMS/SC

I’ve finished working through Chapter 20 in “Teach Yourself Serbian”. The chapter mentioned the aorist and pluperfect, and introduced the occasional use of reflexive verbs as impersonal constructions. It was another very short chapter.



(From Cane – Strip Vesti – internet nedeljnik)

1) “Is the water warm?”
2) “It… it… it… is (indeed)”

Convention for vocabulary in the comic strip that's unfamiliar to me (i.e. needed to consult a dictionary) (this will be put in both scripts partially to accommodate those unused to Serbian Cyrillic and also so that I get at least a little bit of practice using the keyboard layout for Serbian Cyrillic).

NOUNS & ADJECTIVES: nominative singular (genitive singular)
VERBS (where applicable using convention of imperfective > perfective): infinitive (1st person singular present tense [imperfective verb] / future tense [perfective verb], 3rd person plural present tense [imperfective verb] / future tense [perfective verb])
ADVERBS & INTERJECTIONS: no extra information given

---

Bekavac, Božo, Seljan, Sanja, Simeon, Ivana. “Corpus-Based Comparison of Contemporary Croatian, Serbian and Bosnian”, 2008 (Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Zagreb) wrote:
4. Conclusion
Parallel corpora are valuable resources which provide insight into similarities and differences between the three languages, thereby facilitating the development of tools customized for each language, taking into the account their distinctive characteristics. To the best of our knowledge, there are no prior works or methodologies for measuring similarities between related languages which be numerically expressed or quantified. Although they are genetically and historically related, it is evident even from this limited case study that standards are different. As the presented examples are neutral in style and deal with international relations, the differences are considerably smaller regarding syntactic constructions and lexemes, reflecting cultural differences. Many Bosnian lexemes mostly overlap with Croatian and Serbian, but there is a small number of lexemes appearing in Bosnian only.

We consider this work as a first step in establishing criteria and methodology for measuring similarities between languages. From the perspective of comparison of Croatian, Serbian and Bosnian, it is still hard to draw statistical results; the main reason is clarity of criteria which would be used for benchmarking. Empirical analysis has shown that a huge portion of differences across the three languages are systematic and regular, and as such, could be formalized for automatic translation/generation. Differences among languages should be presented in systematic and clear manner, reflecting identity differences; otherwise their use in machine translation, in lexicography, terminology, natural language processing, text summarization or in computer-assisted language learning may give misleading results.


I will put my comments on relevant passages in bullet form.

“To the best of our knowledge, there are no prior works or methodologies for measuring similarities between related languages which be numerically expressed or quantified.”

- As it relates to BCMS/SC, there was a study led Dr. John Bailyn of the Department of Linguistics at Stony Brook University in 2008 (i.e. publication year of Bekavac et al.’s monograph) and published in 2010. It reports that “translations”/adaptations of Serbian texts made by native Croats with tertiary education showed 98% of deriviational and inflectional morphology tokens being identical, fewer than 10% of lexical open classes being different, and over 95% of closed grammatical cases being identical. The full study is available here from the Department of Linguistics at Stony Brook University while the abstract is available here on Project MUSE. Bailyn's study makes for very interesting reading and provides academic rigour in discussions on the degree of divergence within BCMS/SC which are vulnerable to being sidetracked by appeals to non-linguistic arguments or even manipulation or misrepresentation of data.

“Although they are genetically and historically related, it is evident even from this limited case study that standards are different.”

- This seeming vaciliation is interesting or perhaps an oversight. Bekavac et al. take for granted that Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian are distinct languages, and informed the discussion and analysis of differences with that assumption. However the conclusion here states that the standards are different which is itself uncontroversial but distinct from what has been stated earlier in the text. Clarity on their part would help resolve the ambiguity that they have introduced

“We consider this work as a first step in establishing criteria and methodology for measuring similarities between languages. From the perspective of comparison of Croatian, Serbian and Bosnian, it is still hard to draw statistical results; the main reason is clarity of criteria which would be used for benchmarking.”

- See my comment above about the translation study done in 2008 led by Dr. John Bailyn. Statistical results can be obtained in intracomparisons of BCMS/SC.

“Empirical analysis has shown that a huge portion of differences across the three languages are systematic and regular, and as such, could be formalized for automatic translation/generation.”

- What is meant by “huge portion”? How systematic or regular are these distinctions? I have presented examples which illustrate that the regularity of these distinctions depend on how strongly one recasts frequency in usage of a given word or structure among native speakers as emblematic of a neatly-defined distinction aligned to ethnicity. For example should one “translate” a Croatian text meant for Bosnian or Serbian readership by replacing all binary questions consisting of (conjugated verb) + li with a stereotyped sequence of Da li + (conjugated verb) given that the first sequence is equally grammatical anyway in the Bosnian and Serbian standards? (i.e. BCMS/SC: Jesi li kod kuće?, Bs, Sr: Da li si kod kuće? “Are you at home?”)

The programmers of a machine translator or dictionary of BCMS/SC would have a more complicated task if their code would account for the fact that many “translations” rest on trying to map different structures or words that occur with different frequencies among native speakers. This would not be a problem for terms that are practically mutually exclusive (e.g. “who” tko only for Croats, ko for everyone else) but the effort becomes more arduous or open-ended when dealing with false friends (e.g. igrati “to play” in standard Croatian, igrati “to play; dance” in Bosnian and Serbian standards) or terms which are coloured by a sociolinguistic judgment that eludes quantification (e.g. desiti se and dogoditi se “to happen” are synonyms and valid for all standards, but the former is perceived by some Croats as a Serbianism and indicated as such in Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian. A Textbook by Alexander and Elias-Bursac but not in the descriptive dictionary of standard Croatian by Anić et al.). This discussion about a machine translator for BCMS/SC seems strange even now in light of related attempts to provide subtitles in standard Croatian for broadcasts of Bosnian or Serbian television shows in 2012 that had not been met too enthusiastically by viewers despite political involvement and an apparent compromise (see here).


“Differences among languages should be presented in systematic and clear manner, reflecting identity differences; otherwise their use in machine translation, in lexicography, terminology, natural language processing, text summarization or in computer-assisted language learning may give misleading results.”

- I would add that studies comparing BCMS/SC or showing differences within it should be presented in more ways than being characterized by a clear and systematic presentation of the preceding. Usage notes in this kind of work would be helpful to say the least. Computational linguistic tools can give misleading results if the requisite background analysis is done with data examined out of context, built on inappropriate comparisons or informed by half-truths and/or misinterpretations. In other words, “garbage in, garbage out” can readily occur no matter how clearly or systematically (or slickly) the designers present their work. I'm also struck by the phrase “identity differences” which I suspect is meant by the researchers to place the focus on linguistic differences that act or are perceived to act as emblems of the ethnic/social background of the respective users.

A final note concerns the acknowledgements and references cited by Bekavac et al. I see it as troublesome that this work was supported by grants from the Croatian Ministry of Science, Education and Sports. The link between language, ethnicity and government/nation is still strong in the Balkans and it follows that it is in the Croatian government’s interest to highlight the sovereignty and distinctiveness of its jurisdiction and all that is related to it including the official language. This idea extends to cloaking that interest with academic research that reinforces politically motivated or politically amenable conclusions.

In the references, it is surprising that the authors cite the article on Bosnian as found on Croatian Wikipedia in August 2008. Given the problems with using Wikipedia as a source for any serious academic research, I find it even more difficult to take seriously the intentions of Bekavac et al. if part of that research rests on such an unreliable tool not to mention on works published in Croatia which take it as fact that Croatian is a distinct language rather than a distinct standard. In a sense, Bekavac et al. are in a vague sense begging the question by making certain conclusions which stem at least partially from an assumption that is not as sound as it seems.

In conclusion, this comparison presented few new insights for me since I had learned of many of these differences when reading related works or papers. However I was disappointed by the degree to which these well-educated academics quietly suspended understanding of their native language and preyed on the ignorance of a readership in the Anglosphere that is likely unfamiliar with BCMS/SC by manipulating or misanalyzing corpus data to support a long-standing hypothesis of linguistic differentiation that has been questioned (e.g. Greenberg, 2006*) if not effectively refuted (e.g. Bailyn, 2008, Kordić, 2010*).


*Greenberg, Robert D. Language and Identity in the Balkans: Serbo-Croatian and its Disintegration (2nd ed.). Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
Kordić, Snježana. Jezik i nacionalizam. Zagreb: Durieux, 2010. [“Language and Nationalism”]
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Chung
Diglot
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 Message 376 of 541
03 September 2013 at 1:25am | IP Logged 
I have now finished what I intended to do this year with BCMS/SC with a trip to Serbia that turned out to be quite rewarding on its own being the reason for my review of the language this year. I also really enjoyed comparing Croatian and Serbian to get a better handle on the degree of similarity that exists and put the differences in perspective. Up until I started comparing Croatian and Serbian data myself in the spring, I had developed my understanding of the intrarelationship second-hand from articles, research papers or summaries by specialists. Analyzing the data myself in a descriptivist spirit was very helpful in widening my own knowledge, and thanks especially to the descriptivist dictionary of standard Croatian (ironic, given that Croatian linguists are usually most keen to treat BCMS/SC as distinct languages), I learned several new wrinkles about the perception and/or meanings of words whose character I had gleaned imperfectly based on less extensive presentation. It’s one thing to deny that BCMS/SC is a pluricentric language after having done cherry-picking of divergent examples or manipulated the evidence. It’s another to question that denial by taking divergent examples as they are and then verifying them or doing some research on their usage or grammaticality. I also enjoyed digging into the paper on corpus research done by Bekavac et al. since analyzing its observations and in some cases overturning some of its conclusions complemented or reinforced what I had learned in my exercise comparing “Beginner’s Croatian” and “Beginner’s Serbian”. I’ll probably reorganize all of my notes on the comparison within BCMS/SC since I know of no such material of this length that could be informative to learners who are beginning or merely considering study of the language.

I offer the following summary to anyone interested in starting to learn BCMS/SC.

1) Learn it if you have a practical need for it and/or are just interested in it or the associated culture. Don't learn it as "springboard" to get into a related language. It'll become a chore in no time with that approach.

2) Your choices to learn the language on your own outside the Balkans are pretty much restricted to "Croatian" or "Serbian" ("Serbo-Croatian" if you'll use older material that was published before the collapse of communist Yugoslavia).

3) There is what I think is a decent body of materials to get started in learning the language with a slightly better situation for standard Serbian rather than standard Croatian on account of the recent issuance in Serbia of solid dictionaries for English-speakers (see here for details). The situation for introductory textbooks is quite even. Good places to start for Croatian are "Spoken World: Croatian" and "Beginner's Croatian" while good places to start for Serbian are "Teach Yourself Serbian" and "Beginner's Serbian". The offerings in the "Colloquial" series for any form of BCMS/SC and to a certain degree "Teach Yourself Croatian" are disappointing and best avoided when possible. Of course, Alexander's "Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian. A Textbook with Grammar and Exercises" is excellent and lets you focus on one variant but still get an instant comparison of three variants in the same package.

4) For someone who's indifferent to learning any of the variants of BCMS/SC, pick Serbian. In addition to the slightly better set of learning material available, it has a few other small advantages over the other variants.

- i) Serbian is often taught to foreigners as ekavian and so the trickiness inherent in spelling caused by the alternations found in (i)jekavian as found in Bosnian, Croatian, Montenegrin and the lesser-used sub-variant of Serbian is absent. (Geek note: this trickiness is not a problem for beginners who are already familiar with comparative and historical Slavonic linguistics and so can reliably figure out which reflex in (i)jekavian to use)

E.g.

"final"; "river"
Ekavian: poslednji; reka
(I)jekavian: posljednji; rijeka

- ii) Loanwords and internationalisms are used in all registers of Serbian more frequently than in the other standards, thus simplifying slightly the task of acquiring new vocabulary. In comparison, the loanwords and internationalisms found in a Serbian text are more likely to be replaced in a Croatian text by neologisms or calques that are often Slavonic origin (i.e. likely opaque to those unfamiliar with other Slavonic languages).

- iii) Serbian is biscriptal and so you'll end up learning Latinic and Cyrillic. Learning Serbian Cyrillic is not as burdensome as it appears and I estimate that becoming comfortable to read and write in it, albeit haltingly, takes roughly 4 hours of dedicated study. Fluency in using it comes with time and will happen smoothly as you progress through a language course. Most courses for Serbian for foreigners that I've seen nowadays are designed so that at least 40% of the texts, transcripts and exercises are in each alphabet. Knowing Serbian Cyrillic can also make signs in those Slavonic languages that use Cyrillic more intelligible than otherwise.

5) Learners should not worry that much about the sociolinguistic dispute on the nature of BCMS/SC (i.e. one language or more?). The safest idea is to focus on using one variant at a time and use what you've learned whenever the opportunity arises. Deliberately mixing norms or conventions outside satire or cheap humour is often frowned upon regardless of the position held by the native speakers of BCMS/SC whom you're dealing with. When learners are in doubt if a form or structure would be unduly ethnically-marked, check with at least a couple of native speakers or a descriptive dictionary such as this Croatian one or this Serbian one (registration required for the latter). As my exercise in comparing using "Beginner's Croatian" and "Beginner's Serbian" revealed, items that I had been taught to consider proper "Croatianisms" or "Serbianisms" can actually be acceptable in all variants, and/or used as colloquialisms or regionalisms without an unambiguous stigma of belonging to the supposedly sworn enemy on the other side of the border.


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