Friday, June 15, 2012

Lingua Montenegrina

by Jasmina Savic |

What do you think is the youngest official state language in Europe? It is the language spoken by about 150,000 people of a small independent country in the Balkans whose total population counts 625,266. It is called Montenegrin. With the new Constitution New Constitution in 2007 this language became the official language of the independent nation of Montenegro.  This language is called Montenegrin language. The question that arises is: why does onlyone-fourth of the entire Montenegrin population speak the official language?

It is not because Montenegrin is a newly born, unique language that is still quite unknown to the citizens of Montenegro. On the contrary, this language is well known not only within the state of Montenegro but in neighboring countries as well. It is one of the four Ausbau languages (“languages by extension, or construction”), along with Serbian, Croatian, and Bosnian, which diverged from the Yugoslav lingua franca, the Serbo-Croatian language. Namely, they used to be considered one language but are now making a conscious effort to differentiate from each other. After the fall of Yugoslavia, in the 1990s, the unifying Serbo-Croatian language diminished. Serbian was proclaimed the official language of new Yugoslavia which consisted of the two republics: Serbia and Montenegro.

The main reason for the lack of unanimous acceptance of the new language lies in the fact that Montenegrin is understood as a mere political rather than linguistic creation. Montenegro was the last republic to become independent, in 2006. Since then all those citizens of Montenegro who felt that they still belonged to the former union with Serbia expressed disagreement with the idea of a newly formed language. For this reason Montenegrin is still not accepted by 42.88% of the population who don’t claim it their own language. According to them, Montenegrin appears to be just a dialect of Serbian.

Nevertheless, in the last couple of years, Montenegrin linguists, guided by the idea that any language system adjusts and
adapts in accordance with various political, social, and historical changes, have worked hard on the process of the language standardization, in areas of corpus and status planning.  They decided not to abandon the phonetic principle “Write as you speak, read as it is written” that Vuk Stefanović Karadžić proposed for the Serbo-Croatian language in the 19th century. This phonetic rule acquired new interpretations and allowed many dialectical forms to be accepted as standard in the modern Montenegrin language. This initiated further reforms of spelling and orthography.

Unlike the other three Ausbau languages from the former Yugoslavia, the Montenegrin alphabet, both Cyrillic and Latin, has 32 letters including two new letters: Ź (З́) and Ś (Ć). These two letters were added in order to render the pronunciation of sounds
“žj,” “šj” that can be found in words of once dialectical forms such as “šjever” (North )and “ižjelica” (the person who has enormous appetite).  Ź (З́) and Ś (Ć) appear as result of the alternation ijotization (jotovanje), by which “S” and “Z” before “J” become “Ž” and “Š” followed by an additional “J” in pronunciation. The image bellow illustrates the usage of the new letters in words “ax” and “eye pupil” in Cyrillic alphabet.

Yet, the books with new orthography are still to be published. Until then, the old orthographic material is being used in education.

In the meantime, the government of Montenegro decided that, besides Montenegrin, the school curriculum should include instruction in Serbian as well as Bosnian and Croatian for they are the official working languages of the state
official working languages of the state.

So, language learners around the world: get ready learning the newest language of Europe!

Jasmina Savic is PhD student in Slavic Studies at the University of Illinois. Her interests in language policy and language planning in the Balkans motivated this blog entry, written while enrolled in the European Union Center’s Language and Minorities in Europe (418) cross-listed course.


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