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(sûr`bō-krōā`shən), language belonging to the South Slavic group of the Slavic subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages (see Slavic languagesSlavic languages,
also called Slavonic languages, a subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages. Because the Slavic group of languages seems to be closer to the Baltic group than to any other, some scholars combine the two in a Balto-Slavic subfamily of the Indo-European
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). Serbo-Croatian comprises several dialects, one of which (Stokavian) has given rise to modern standard Serbian, which is spoken mainly in Serbia and written mainly in a form of the Cyrillic alphabet, and modern standard Croatian, which is spoken mainly in Croatia written in a modified version of the Roman alphabet. The other dialects are mainly found in parts of Croatia and Bosnia, and the predominant pre-1990s dialect in Bosnia and in Montenegro was the same as that of modern standard Croatian. Traditionally, the dialects of Serbo-Croatian had a regional and historical basis instead of an ethnic one, but no true national Yugoslav language ever existed despite efforts by some to develop one. The political domination of Yugoslavia by Serbs, the reaction against that, and the breakup of Yugoslavia into more ethnically based nations has led to a greater emphasis on the differences (some of them introduced) between dialects as a mark of national and ethnic identity, particularly among Croatians and Bosniaks, and led Serbs and Croats living in Bosnia and Herzegovina to use modern standard Serbian or Croatian respectively. The tendency now is to speak of Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian languages, though those tongues remain largely mutually intelligible, a hallmark of dialects. The various forms of Serbo-Croatian are the native tongues of more than 18 million people in present-day Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Serbo-Croatian is not spoken to any significant extent outside these countries.

A feature that sets Serbo-Croatian apart from other Slavic languages is its use of musical pitch or intonation. It possesses four kinds of musical accentaccent,
in speech, emphasis given a particular sound, called prosodic systems in linguistics. There are three basic accentual methods: stress, tone, and length. In English each word has at least one primary stressed syllable, as in weath`er;
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: two rising inflections, one long and one short, and two falling inflections, one long and one short. This musical intonation apparently reflects the earlier Indo-European pitch accent. Grammatically, Serbo-Croatian resembles Polish.

The oldest extant texts in Serbo-Croatian date from the 12th cent. For a number of centuries the literary language of the Serbs was a variant of Church SlavonicChurch Slavonic,
language belonging to the South Slavic group of the Slavic subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages (see Slavic languages). Although it is still the liturgical language of most branches of the Orthodox Eastern Church, Church Slavonic is extinct today
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, and in Catholic Croatia it was usually Latin, although in the 13th cent. the Croats began to write down their spoken language. In the 19th cent. the Serbian philologist Vuk Stefanovíc KaradžićKaradžić, Vuk Stefanović
, 1787–1864, Serbian philologist and folklorist, of Moldavian descent. During his lifetime Karadžić published 10 volumes of Serbian folk poetry. He inaugurated language reforms and adopted the Serbian vernacular.
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, through his writings and efforts, accomplished several major linguistic reforms. The most important one instituted the spoken tongue as the basis of the literary language. Karadžić also worked for a more phonetic spelling and consequently for a revision of the alphabet to that end. See also Yugoslav (South Slav) LiteratureYugoslav or South Slav literature,
literature written in Serbo-Croatian, Slovenian, and, especially after World War II, Macedonian languages.
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See grammars by M. Partridge (1964) and O. Grozdić (1969).



the language of the Serbs, Croats, Montenegrins, and Muslim Bosnians, spoken mainly in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia by approximately 15 million persons (1971, estimate).

Serbo-Croatian belongs to the southern group of the Slavic languages. It has three principal dialects: Ŝtokavian, Čakavian, and Kajkavian. Each vowel (i, e, a, o, u) can be long or short; of the 25 consonants, j, lj, nj, ć, and dj are soft and the others are hard. The consonant r can be syllabic, as in prst (“finger”). There are Ekavian (in Serbia) and Jekavian orthoepic norms: the old ě is pronounced e according to the former norm and je (in a short syllable) or ije (in a long syllable) according to the latter. Stress is expiratory and musical and may be long rising, as in rúka (“hand,” “arm”); short rising, as in nòga (“foot,” “leg”); long falling, as in vrât (“neck”); or short falling, as in öko (“eye”). Substantives, adjectives, pronouns, and some numerals are declined; there are six cases and a vocative form. The verb has four past tense forms. The perfect and pluperfect are compound tenses and the aorist and imperfect are simple tenses; the perfect predominates in the spoken language. The two future tense forms include auxiliary verbs equivalent to the Russian khotet’ (“to want”) or byt’ (“to be”).

Serbo-Croatian is written in two alphabets: a Cyrillic alphabet, similar to that of Russian, and a modified version of the Latin alphabet. The Cyrillic Ц corresponds to the Latin c, Ч to č, ħ to ć, 3 to z, ж to ž, џ to dž, Ҕ to dj or ж, ž to Ij, and Џ to nj.

The oldest texts in Serbo-Croatian date to the 12th century. The modern literary language was created in the first half of the 19th century on the basis of the folk subdialects of the Ŝtokavian dialect, with V. Karadzic and L. Gaj playing decisive roles in its formation. The literary language has regional differences, mainly lexical, caused by the dissimilar conditions under which the language developed in Croatia and Serbia.


Kul’bakin, S. M. Serbskii iazyk, 2nd ed. Poltava, 1917.
Gudkov, V. P. Serbokhorvatskii iazyk. Moscow, 1969.
Tolstoi, I. I. Serbsko-khorvatsko-russkii slovar’. Moscow, 1970.
Ivić, P. Dijalektologija srpskohrvatskogjezika. Novi Sad, 1956.
Brabec, I., M. Hraste, and S. Živković. Gramatika hrvatskosrpskoga jezika, 9th ed. Zagreb, 1970.
Stevanović, M. Savremeni srpskohrvatski jezik, 2nd ed., vols. 1-2. Belgrade. 1969–70.



, Serbo-Croatian
the language of the Serbs and the Croats, belonging to the South Slavonic branch of the Indo-European family. The Serbian dialect is usually written in the Cyrillic alphabet, the Croatian in Roman
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