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Croatian linguistic purism

The neutrality and factual accuracy of this page is disputed.

One of the features of Croatian language, common to many Central-European languages (Czech, German, Polish) is word coinage. Croatian tradition of neologisms and linguistic purism goes back to the earliest documents of literacy (11th to 12th century), but it was in the Renaissance Croatian literature that this characteristic has become dominant.

Table of contents
1 The early period
2 The Illyrian period and Sulek's activity
3 The Yugoslav period
4 After Communism
5 Literature
6 External link

The early period

In the Dubrovnik Renaissance literature, 16th century poet Dinko Zlataric freely "translated" Greek and Latin names into Croatian - sometimes wrongly, due to superficial knowledge of etymology. For instance, in his translation of Torquato Tasso's "Aminta", published in 1580, Zlataric's purist tendencies lead to mistakes: the hero's names Aminta becomes in Croatian Ljubmir (Lover) because Zlataric wrongly assumed that the name "Aminta" stems from "amare" (to love), where in fact it is from Greek "amyno" (to defend). This tradition of Croatian neologisms continued uninterruptedly in next centuries and is recorded in numerous Croatian dictionaries until the Illyrian movement in the 19th century when it reached the peak in works of one of the most prominent Croatian philologists, Bogoslav Sulek (born and raised in Slovakia).

The Illyrian period and Sulek's activity

The Illyrian movement and its successor, the Zagreb philological school, have been particularly successful in creating the corpus of Croatian terminology that covered virtually all areas of modern civilisation. In short- they extended and systematised the purist tendencies already present in the by then more than 300 years old Croatian vernacular literature and lexicography. This was especially visible in two fundamental works: Ivan Mazuranic's and Josip Uzarevic's:"German-Croatian dictionary" from 1842 and Bogoslav Sulek's "German-Croatian-Italian dictionary of scientific terminology", 1875. These works, particularly Sulek's, systematised (ie., collected from older dictionaries), invented and coined Croatian terminology for the 19th century jurisprudence, military schools, exact and social sciences, as well as numerous other fields (technology and commodities of urban civilisation). These accomplishments didn't come out of blue, but are a product of multicentenary tradition in Croatian language- therefore it is no surprise that Croatian linguist Stjepan Babic's monumental monograph "Tvorba riječi u hrvatskome književnom jeziku" (Word-formation in Croatian literary language), 1986, is considered still the best work on the topic in the entire Slavic philology.

The Yugoslav period

During Yugoslav period, from 1918 to 1990 (with the brief exception of puppet "Independent State of Croatia", 1941 to 1945, when totalitarian dictatorship of Ante Pavelic pushed purist tendencies to extremes. No Croatian dictionaries or Croatian grammars was published during this period, because of Croatian linguists opposition. This era is best covered in Marko Samardžija's "Hrvatski jezik u Nezavisnoj Državi Hrvatskoj", (Croatian language in Independent State of Croatia), 1993)), Croatian language had been submitted to forced "unification" with Serbian language. To understand these processes, one must take into account at least three factors:

1. Serbian language is "unfriendly" toward neologisms. One of basic tendencies of this language is to prefer loan-words over neologisms and calques. Ironically, a non-negligible part of Slavic neologisms in this langauge was adopted from Croatian (for instance "računovodstvo" (bank accountancy) or "vodovod" (waterworks)).

2. Forced "unification" into one, Serbo-Croatian language was preferred by neogrammarian Croatian linguists (the most notable example was influential philologist and translator Tomislav Maretić). The recipe was simple: if a term is described by two words in Croatian (a neologism and Greek/Latin Europeanism) and one word in Serbian (Europeanism)- the "choice" was to suppress Croatian neologism and "promote" Europeanism. For instance, "geography" is "geografija" in Serbian, and "zemljopis" and "geografija" in Croatian. The policy was to try to establish "geografija" as the norm and to eliminate "zemljopis". However, this school was virtually extinct by 1930s and since then Croatian linguists have been unanimous in re-affirmation of purist tradition.

3. While during monarchist Yugoslavia "Serbo-Croatian" unification was motivated mainly by Greater Serbia policy, in the Communist period (1945 to 1990) it was the by-product of Communist centralism and "internationalism". This period is described in the "Novi Sad agreement" and "Declaration" section of Croatian language page. Whatever the intentions, the result was the same: the suppression of one of basic features of Croatian language. No Croatian dictionaries (apart from historical "Croatian or Serbian", conceived in the 19th century) appeared until 1985, when Communist centralism was well in the process of decay. From 1991 numerous representative Croatian linguistic works were published, among them three voluminous monolingual dictionaries of contemporary Croatian.

In Communist Yugoslavia, Serbian language and terminology were "official" in a few areas: the military, diplomacy, Federal Yugoslav institutions (various institutes and research centres), state media and jurisprudence at Yugoslav level. Also, language in Bosnia and Herzegovina was gradually Serbianised in all levels of educational system and the republic's administration. For Croatian tradition of neologisms, these were "no go" areas.

After Communism

After the collapse of Communism and subsequent wars (especially in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina), the situation changed. Many Croatian people reacted by "expelling" all words in the Croatian language that had, in their minds, even distant Serbian origin. Croatian linguists fought this wave of "populist purism", lead by various patriotic non-linguists. Ironically: the same people who were, for decades, stigmatised as ultra-Croatian "linguistic nationalists" (Stjepan Babić, Dalibor Brozović, Radoslav Katičić, Miro Kačić) have been accused as pro-Serbian "political linguists" simply because they opposed these "language purges" that wanted to kick out numerous words of Church Slavonic origin (which are common not only to Croatian and Serbian, but are also present in Polish, Russian, Czech and other Slavic languages). Apart from creating a flurry of sensationalist articles in the press, this phenomenon didn't leave any trace in Croatian linguistic culture and has, in late 90s, practically died out.


Miro Kacic: Croatian and Serbian: Delusions and Distortions, 1997
Milan Mogus: A History of Croatian Literary Language, 1996

External link