Das Serbokroatische zwischen Linguistik und Politik

Das Serbokroatische zwischen Linguistik und Politik: Mit einer Bibliographie zum postjugoslavischen Sprachenstreit. By Bernhard Gröschel. (LINCOM studies in slavic linguistics 34.) Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2009. Pp. vi, 440. ISBN 9783929075793. $115.78 (Hb).

Reviewed by Marc Pierce, University of Texas at Austin

This book offers an extremely thorough discussion of the language controversy after the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. Bernhard Gröschel evaluates the question of whether Bosnian, Croatian, Montenegrin, and Serbian are to be treated as separate languages or as dialects of the same language, and aims to give proper attention to linguistics, sociology, politics, and communications while doing so.  It covers largely the same ground as Robert D. Greenberg’s Language and identity in the Balkans: Serbo-Croation and its disintergration (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), but is considerably longer than Greenberg’s work (and often engages critically with it). According to the back cover, it is intended for Slavic and general linguists as well as for political scientists and historians interested in questions of language, nationalism, and politics.

The book contains twelve chapters: ‘Geschichte des Serbokroatischen und seiner Benennungen bis zum postjugoslavischen Sprachenschisma’ (5–50), ‘Sprach-varianten: Relation zum Systembegriff und Variantentypen’ (51–84), ‘Ausbausprachen und Kultur-dialekte’ (85–91), ‘Die Standardsprachenproblematik’ (92–131), ‘Wechselseitige Verständlichkeit von Idiomen’ (132–51), ‘Sezession des Kroatischen’ (152–74), ‘Sprachliche Emanzipationsbestrebungen der bosnischen Muslime’ (175–259), ‘Isolierung des Serbischen’ (260–79), ‘Montenegrinisch: Komponente des Serbischen oder autonome Sprache?’ (280–311), ‘Sprache und Sprecher: Folk linguistics’ (312–29), ‘Sprache und Recht: Amtssprachen und amtliche Glottonyme’ (330–50), and ‘Bestandsaufnahme und Ausblick’ (351–79). There is also an enormous bibliography.

These chapters address a number of important and relevant issues, including the history of the language(s) once called Serbo-Croatian, structural differences between Serbian and Croatian, the linguistic status (e.g. standard language, language, or dialect) of these languages, folk linguistics, and the legal status of various languages. The author concludes that it is legitimate to speak of Bosnian, Croatian, Montenegrin, and Serbian as separate languages, as long as one keeps in mind that strictly linguistic criteria alone do not suffice to capture what is meant by language.

In many respects, this is an admirable book. It is clearly written and the discussions are invariably thorough. I do suspect that the book will be of more use for Slavic linguists than general linguists. However, this book deserves to have much wider circulation.