I NEED A TRANSLATION INTO ONE OF THE BALKAN LANGUAGES. IS IT SERBO-CROATIAN, YUGOSLAVIAN, OR SOMETHING ELSE?

So, your company has decided to enter the markets of four of the several countries that were once part of Yugoslavia: Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Slovenia. You ask yourself: “How many languages do I have to localize my documents into? Don’t folk there speak one language? Or is it perhaps two or even more languages?” Maybe you’ve heard someone mentioning Serbo-Croatian as the language spoken in the region. You might think it would be great budget-wise if you could translate your documents into one language that would cover all four markets. Well, it’s not that simple…

BOSNIAN, CROATIAN AND SERBIAN ARE MUTUALLY INTELLIGIBLE, BUT THERE’S NO SERBO-CROATIAN LANGUAGE AS SUCH

Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian and also Montenegrin are mutually intelligible (like British, American and Australian English). They are variations of one language, covered by the umbrella term “Serbo-Croatian” (we call this pluricentric language). But since the dissolution of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, the governments of its successor states have made big efforts to establish their versions as officially independent languages in their own right. Now only Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian are used as official language names. “Serbo-Croatian” is used only in linguistic circles to describe the language continuum made up of Bosnian, Croatian, Montenegrin and Serbian. In Yugoslavia it was used to symbolically unite peoples with diverse dialects and histories”. However, people in Croatia and Serbia have always referred to the language they speak as Croatian and Serbian respectively regardless of the official name of the language.

SLOVENIAN IS QUITE DIFFERENT FROM SERBIAN AND CROATIAN

Slovenian belongs to the same South Slavic language family as “Serbo-Croatian”. However it is a distinct language, different from Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian by its unique grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation. In fact, most people in Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia have difficulty understanding Slovenian. The opposite, however, is not true. Slovenes born before 1980 are likely to understand and are even able to speak Serbo-Croatian. Their exposure to it was considerably higher as the vast majority of TV programmes that were aired throughout the country were in Serbo-Croatian. Serbo-Croatian was a compulsory subject at school. It’s a bit different with those born after 1980. After the disintegration of Yugoslavia Serbo-Croatian ceased to be a compulsory school subject in Slovenia. The pro-Western republic was increasingly replacing Croatian and Serbian TV channels with English-language ones. Slovenians were less and less exposed to Serbo-Croatian.

SO, WHAT LANGUAGE SHOULD I TRANSLATE MY DOCUMENTS TO?

Next time you order a translation intended for this geographic region, do not ask for a translation into Serbo-Croatian. If you are not sure which language(s) to order (Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian, Montenegrin, or Slovenian for that matter), just tell us which countries you want covered. We will advise you which languages you need.

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