Bosnian language

Last updated
bosanski / босански
Pronunciation [bɔ̌sanskiː]
Native to Bosnia
Ethnicity Bosniaks
Bosnians [lower-alpha 1]
Native speakers
2.5–3 million (2008) [1]
Latin (Gaj's alphabet)
Cyrillic (Vuk's alphabet) [Note 1]
Yugoslav Braille
Arabic (Arebica)
Bosnian Cyrillic (Bosančica)
Official status
Official language in
Flag of Bosnia and Herzegovina.svg  Bosnia and Herzegovina
Flag of Montenegro.svg  Montenegro (co-official)
Recognised minority
language in
Language codes
ISO 639-1 bs
ISO 639-2 bos
ISO 639-3 bos
Glottolog bosn1245
Linguasphere part of 53-AAA-g
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.
A Bosnian speaker, recorded in Kosovo.

The Bosnian language ( /ˈbɒzniən/ ( Loudspeaker.svg listen ); bosanski / босански [bɔ̌sanskiː] ) is the standardized variety of Serbo-Croatian mainly used by Bosniaks. [3] [4] [5] Bosnian is one of three such varieties considered official languages of Bosnia and Herzegovina, [6] along with Croatian and Serbian. It is also an officially recognized minority language in Serbia, [7] Montenegro, [8] North Macedonia and Kosovo. [9] [a]


Bosnian uses both the Latin and Cyrillic alphabets, [Note 1] with Latin in everyday use. [10] It is notable among the varieties of Serbo-Croatian for a number of Arabic, Ottoman Turkish and Persian loanwords, largely due to the language's interaction with those cultures through Islamic ties. [11] [12] [13]

Bosnian is based on the most widespread dialect of Serbo-Croatian, Shtokavian, more specifically on Eastern Herzegovinian, which is also the basis of standard Croatian, Serbian, and Montenegrin varieties. Therefore, the Declaration on the Common Language of, Croats, Serbs, Bosniaks and Montenegrins was issued in 2017 in Sarajevo. [14] [15] Until the 1990s, the common language was called Serbo-Croatian [16] and that term is still used in English, along with "Bosnian-Croatian-Montenegrin-Serbian" (BCMS), especially in diplomatic circles.

Table over the modern Bosnian alphabet in both Latin and Cyrillic, as well as with the IPA value:

Cyrillic Latin IPA value
А а A a/a/
Б б B b/b/
В в V v/v/
Г г G g/ɡ/
Д д D d/d/
Ђ ђ Đ đ//
Е е E e/e/
Ж ж Ž ž/ʒ/
З з Z z/z/
И и I i/i/
Ј ј J j/j/
К к K k/k/
Л л L l/l/
Љ љ Lj lj/ʎ/
М м M m/m/
Cyrillic Latin IPA value
Н н N n/n/
Њ њ Nj nj/ɲ/
О о O o/ɔ/
П п P p/p/
Р р R r/ɾ/
С с S s/s/
Т т T t/t/
Ћ ћ Ć ć//
У у U u/u/
Ф ф F f/f/
Х х H h/x/
Ц ц C c/ts/
Ч ч Č č//
Џ џ Dž dž//
Ш ш Š š/ʃ/


School book of Latin and Bosnian, 1827 RacsunBosanskiJezik1827.jpg
School book of Latin and Bosnian, 1827
Bosnian Grammar, 1890 Gramatika bosanskog jezika.jpg
Bosnian Grammar, 1890


Old Bosnian alphabets: bosancica (top line) and arebica (bottom line), compared with contemporary latinica (middle line) Azbuka BH.svg
Old Bosnian alphabets: bosančica (top line) and arebica (bottom line), compared with contemporary latinica (middle line)

Although Bosnians are, at the level of vernacular idiom, linguistically more homogeneous than either Serbians or Croatians, unlike those nations they failed to codify a standard language in the 19th century, with at least two factors being decisive:

Arebica Isolatedآبڄچڃ
Hah with inverted v below.svg
Hah with inverted v below-init.svg
Hah with inverted v below-medi.svg
Hah with inverted v below-fina.svg

The modern Bosnian standard took shape in the 1990s and 2000s. Lexically, Islamic-Oriental loanwords are more frequent; phonetically: the phoneme /x/ (letter h) is reinstated in many words as a distinct feature of vernacular Bosniak speech and language tradition; also, there are some changes in grammar, morphology and orthography that reflect the Bosniak pre-World War I literary tradition, mainly that of the Bosniak renaissance at the beginning of the 20th century.

Controversy and recognition

A cigarette warning "Smoking seriously harms you and others around you", ostensibly in three languages. The "Bosnian" and "Croatian" versions are identical and the "Serbian" is a transliteration of the same. Political correctness in Bosnia (14151146675).jpg
A cigarette warning "Smoking seriously harms you and others around you", ostensibly in three languages. The "Bosnian" and "Croatian" versions are identical and the "Serbian" is a transliteration of the same.

The name "Bosnian language" is a controversial issue for some Croats and Serbs, who also refer to it as the "Bosniak" language (Serbo-Croatian : bošnjački / бошњачки; [bǒʃɲaːtʃkiː] ). Bosniak linguists however insist that the only legitimate name is "Bosnian" language (bosanski), and that that is the name that both Croats and Serbs should use. The controversy arises because the name "Bosnian" may seem to imply that it is the language of all Bosnians, while Bosnian Croats and Serbs reject that designation for their idioms.

The language is called Bosnian language in the 1995 Dayton Accords [18] and is concluded by observers to have received legitimacy and international recognition at the time. [19]

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO), [20] United States Board on Geographic Names (BGN), and the Permanent Committee on Geographical Names (PCGN) recognize the Bosnian language. Furthermore, the status of the Bosnian language is also recognized by bodies such as the United Nations, UNESCO, and translation and interpreting accreditation agencies, [21] including internet translation services.

Most English-speaking language encyclopedias (Routledge, Glottolog, [22] Ethnologue, [23] etc.) [24] register the language solely as "Bosnian" language. The Library of Congress registered the language as "Bosnian" and gave it an ISO-number. The Slavic language institutes in English-speaking countries offer courses in "Bosnian" or "Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian" language, not in "Bosniak" language (e.g. Columbia, [25] Cornell, [26] Chicago, [27] Washington, [28] Kansas [29] ). The same thing in German-speaking countries, where the language is taught under the name Bosnisch, not Bosniakisch (e.g. Vienna, [30] Graz, [31] Trier) [32] with very few exceptions.

Some Croatian linguists (Zvonko Kovač, Ivo Pranjković, Josip Silić) support the name "Bosnian" language, whereas others (Radoslav Katičić, Dalibor Brozović, Tomislav Ladan) hold that the term Bosnian language is the only one appropriate[ clarification needed ] and that accordingly the terms Bosnian language and Bosniak language refer to two different things[ clarification needed ]. The Croatian state institutions, such as the Central Bureau of Statistics, use both terms: "Bosniak" language was used in the 2001 census, [33] while the census in 2011 used the term "Bosnian" language. [34]

The majority of Serbian linguists hold that the term Bosniak language is the only one appropriate, [35] which was agreed as early as 1990. [36]

The original form of The Constitution of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina called the language "Bosniac language", [37] until 2002 when it was changed in Amendment XXIX of the Constitution of the Federation by Wolfgang Petritsch. [38] The original text of the Constitution of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina was agreed in Vienna, and was signed by Krešimir Zubak and Haris Silajdžić on March 18, 1994. [39]

The constitution of Republika Srpska , the Serb-dominated entity within Bosnia and Herzegovina, did not recognize any language or ethnic group other than Serbian. [40] Bosniaks were mostly expelled from the territory controlled by the Serbs from 1992, but immediately after the war they demanded the restoration of their civil rights in those territories. The Bosnian Serbs refused to make reference to the Bosnian language in their constitution and as a result had constitutional amendments imposed by High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch. However, the constitution of Republika Srpska refers to it as the Language spoken by Bosniaks, [41] because the Serbs were required to recognise the language officially, but wished to avoid recognition of its name. [42]

Serbia includes the Bosnian language as an elective subject in primary schools. [43] Montenegro officially recognizes the Bosnian language: its 2007 Constitution specifically states that although Montenegrin is the official language, Serbian, Bosnian, Albanian and Croatian are also in official use. [8] [44]

Historical usage of the term

Differences between Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian

The differences between the Bosnian, Serbian, and Croatian literary standards are minimal. Although Bosnian employs more Turkish, Persian, and Arabic loanwords—commonly called orientalisms— mainly in its spoken variety, it is very similar, to both Serbian and Croatian in its written and spoken form. [60] "Lexical differences between the ethnic variants are extremely limited, even when compared with those between closely related Slavic languages (such as standard Czech and Slovak, Bulgarian and Macedonian), and grammatical differences are even less pronounced. More importantly, complete understanding between the ethnic variants of the standard language makes translation and second language teaching impossible." [61]

The Bosnian language, as a new normative register of the Shtokavian dialect, was officially introduced in 1996 with the publication of Pravopis bosanskog jezika in Sarajevo. According to that work, Bosnian differed from Serbian and Croatian on some main linguistic characteristics, such as: sound formats in some words, especially "h" (kahva versus Serbian kafa); substantial and deliberate usage of Oriental ("Turkish") words; spelling of future tense (kupit ću) as in Croatian but not Serbian (kupiću) (both forms have the same pronunciation). [62] [ better source needed ] 2018, in the new issue of Pravopis bosanskog jezika, words without "h" are accepted due to their prevalence in language practice. [63]

See also


a. ^ Kosovo is the subject of a territorial dispute between the Republic of Kosovo and the Republic of Serbia . The Republic of Kosovo unilaterally declared independence on 17 February 2008. Serbia continues to claim it as part of its own sovereign territory . The two governments began to normalise relations in 2013, as part of the 2013 Brussels Agreement . Kosovo is currently recognized as an independent state by 96 out of the 193 United Nations member states . In total, 113 UN member states are said to have recognized Kosovo at some point, of which 15 later withdrew their recognition.
  1. 1 2 Cyrillic is an officially recognized alphabet, but in practice it is mainly used in Republika Srpska, whereas in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina mainly Latin is used. [2]

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<i>Declaration on the Common Language</i>

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Sources and further reading