Serbian, Croatian or Serbo-croatian - Informations please!

Hello everyone,

I think everyone need some learning about these three category, “Serbian”, “Croatian” and “Serbo-croatian” languages. Can some person inform us about this? Is this the same language? Do we need one moderator for each one?

I’m just interested because I’m not an expert and I’m questionning myself about this community on viki. Public informations are the best, I think.
Thank you!

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I translate to Croatian (I’m from Croatia) and Serbo-Croatian.

Croatian and Serbian are two different languages. To make a long story short, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, Macedonia and Montenegro used to be in the same country called Yugoslavia, where the official language was Serbo-Croatian. All of these nations understand approximately each other’s languages, but as a viewer it’s sometimes hard to follow the subs. The languages are naturally evolving away from each other on a daily basis.

Reasons to use Serbo-Croatian language:

  1. Lack of volunteers in one or more languages. Meaning, if a Serbian, a Croatian, a Bosnian and a Montenegrin want to work together on one show, they can do it in Serbo-Croatian language. Saves us all a lot of time. Viewers are happy, they get their show faster.

  2. Serbian language technically ought to be written using cyrillic alphabet. However, since 1990 not many people in Croatia and Slovenia can read it. The alphabet is no longer taught in school. So, some Serbian moderators ask to be moderators for both Serbian (using cyrillics) and Serbo-Croatian where they pretty much write the same thing, only in latin alphabet.

  3. Project was abandoned midway in one or both languages. I did this once, I asked to be a mod for Serbo-Croatian because I couldn’t make myself correct the awful Croatian subs. I wanted to start afresh.

I have to warn you, though. Because of the similarity between Croatian, Serbian, Bosnian and Montenegrin languages, it is easy to copy with minor altercations from one language to another. The good thing about it is we know exactly who these abusers are. The bad thing is they go into stealth mode and years after you have completely finished translating a drama, they start copying.

Those that are concerned with quality of their language will never do that, because you would have to change spelling and word order for the whole sentence to be accurate.

Every CM I talked to about this has their specific situation why various people asked to fill each of the three moderator positions.

Note, you may give the mod positions to all three people, then see which one finishes translating first and note her down as a more reliable moderator.


After all those years I still find it confusing and think why not just pick one of the languages or join the other team?! But there are some differences. Some use cyrillic and some usually don’t but I noticed that can depend on the subber/mod too. So then you have those 3 which are already confusing and then someone comes by asking for Bosnian or other languages from countries which where once Yugoslavia. And then the project is done and some languages will never be finished and when you compare a few languages it sometimes looks like copy pasting so you have no clue if it’s an abuser or not and Google Translate detects an other language all the time.

I asked many people to explain the situation to me but one says A. the other says B. and yet an another one tells me C. So instead getting rid of the confusion I got even more confused. And sometimes people got offended because I told B. what A. explained to me which was wrong according to B. and such. Well I gave up trying…

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I posed the same question to a Viki moderator of these languages, who told me the following:

Croatian is not the same as Serbian-Croatian or Serbian. Croats have changed a lot of words in their dictionary since the separation from the former Yugoslavia. Do you know that we were all the whole? If you give one moderator Serbian and Serbian-Croatian language then let him choose whether he wants to write only Latin or he wants to write a Cyrillic. In the attempt to have different moderators for Serbian and Serbian-Croatian, emphasize that Serbian be written in Cyrillic , that there is no confusion and similarity in writing. It is true that the Serbian language is written in Cyrillic, but the latin is also used in normal life, because Serbia has two letters, like Korea, Hangul and Hanja, Serbia has Cyrillic and Latin. Serbian and Serbian-Croatian are the same language with little difference in speech, so if they are written in both Latin languages, it appears to have been rewritten, although it does not have to mean that it is true because we all translate from English.
If we write both Serbian and Serbo-Croatian in Latin, someone can think that it is copy-pasted, although it does not necessarily mean that someone has done it.
If you have two different moderators: 1 for Serbian and the other for Serbo-Croatian then you ask the Serbian moderator to write in Cyrillic so that there will not be a problem between two moderators.
In order to avoid problems between moderators, I always give Serbian and Serbian-Croatian to one person.
You also need to know that there is a population in Croatia who do not want to read either Serbian or Serbio-Croatian because of their prejudices, so Viki has introduced all these languages.
Montenegrin is like in Croatian, but I think it’s a little different.

And here is the opinion of an internet user outside Viki.

One language, three egos

The languages referred to as “Bosnian” “Croatian” and “Serbian” are one common language, albeit with different dialects. Perhaps the best classification for these languages would be “Shtokavski (Stokavian)”, but this would leave out other dialects in Croatia, like kajkavski, ikavski. Still, it is more realistic than to make up languages as borders are drawn. No one is advocating that these nations have to merge into what we have seen in the past (Yugoslavia), but we simply ask them to respect linguistics - the science of language. The truth is, despite Dalmatian being so different even to Croats in Zagreb, a Sarajevan can perfectly understand them. I would like to reaffirm that Hochdeutsch (High German) and Plattdeutsch (Low German) differ even more so than the “different” languages of Croatia, Bosnia-Herz., Montenegro, Serbia. A German from North Rhine-Westphalia will have a very difficult time understanding a Bavarian, as opposed to a Serb from Belgrade who will sense only minute differences when traveling to Croatia. The moral of this story? Don’t invent languages because of political strifes. I understand that after the war, genocide and forced immigration abroad have created bitterness between the nations of former Yugoslavia, but this does not give them the right to twist linguistics for their own nationalistic ambitions. Croats want to re-affirm their differences, Bosniaks (the Muslim Slavs of Bosnia-Herz.) want to have their own sense of identity, while Serbs still cling to their own nationalism through the Cyrillic alphabet (which is mentioned as the key difference); many forget to mention that Serbs also use the Latin script. Remove politics (as should be done in a normal world) from linguistics, and we have one language in four neighbouring countries ready to embark on a peaceful entry into the European Union.

Sent by: Bernard

Here is a more detailed, “technical” review of the similarities and differences
from Quora:
User 1 wrote:

In my opinion, those are not distinct languages, but variants of one that used to be called Serbo-Croatian*. Their relationship is the same as that of American, British and Australian variants of English (order-invariant :slight_smile: ).

These are the main differences that I know of:

  1. Serbian standard allows both ekavian and ijekavian pronunciations, whereas Bosnian and Croatian allow only ijekavian pronunciation.
  2. Serbian standard has two alphabets: Cyrillic and Latin. Bosnian and Croatian have only Latin alphabet.
  3. There are some differences regarding vocabulary, For example, Croatian word for factory is “tvornica”, whereas Serbs say “fabrika”. When it comes to loanwords, Croatian is more puristic in the sense that it usually replaces them with alternatives that sound as original Croatian words (although many of them actually borrow the structure from the words they are meant to replace), whereas Serbian usually adopts foreign words as they are and adapts them to its inner rules of inflection, conjugation, accentuation etc.
  4. Verb “trebati” (can mean both need and should) conjugates differently in Serbian and Croatian. It is a transitive verb in Croatian variant, e.g., “trebam te” (I need you) is a perfectly correct sentence in Croatian. However, in Serbian, the verb is intransitive and “I need you” would be “trebaš mi” which can literally be translated as “you need to me”. :slight_smile: I’m not really sure what are the rules on “trebati” in Bosnian standard. Although this might seem as a huge difference (and is one of the biggest between Serbian and Croatian), it poses no problems in real life conversation.
  5. As is the case with different dialects of the same language, the three mentioned standards do sound somewhat different and pronunciation can reveal where are you from. However, people can communicate without a translator as the three standards are mutually intelligible. :slight_smile:
  6. Although Croatian, Bosnian and Serbian are all neoshtokavian (this means that the word for “what” is “šta” (“što”) in all of them), Croatian has adopted many words from kajkavian dialects (that are characterized by “kaj” as the word for “what”).
  7. This is not a huge difference, but is interesting to know. Turkish loanwords are more common in Serbian and Bosnian than in Croatian.
  8. I heard that the consonant “h” was more frequent in Bosnian standard than in other two. Compare “mahrama” with “marama” (scarf). However, I’m not sure if that really is the case.
  9. It is common to use “da”+present tense constructions in Serbian vernacular there where infinitive is used in Croatian. For example, “I’ll go for a walk” would be “idem šetati” in Croatian, whereas it could be both “idem šetati” and “idem da šetam” in Serbian, with latter being more common. I don’t know what is more common in Bosnian vernacular.
  10. There are orthographic differences. Compare “šetat ću” (I will walk) to “šetaću”. The former is standard in Croatian, the latter in Serbian. My general impression is that Serbian standard is more consistent with principles of phonetic orthography.

(*) although the name of the common language is (was?) composed only of words for Serbian and Croatian, it does not mean that Serbo-Croatian includes only those two variants. The true meaning is that it is the language spoken from Serbia in the East to Croatia in the West, inclusive. Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro, although not mentioned in the name, are still covered as those countries are located in between Serbia and Croatia. I do not know for sure why the form Serbo-Croatian was given precedence over Croato-Serbian. I can think of two possible explanations, but those are only my own speculations:

  1. Serbs were more numerous than Croats when the language was named (this is still the case).
  2. It is faster and easier to the native speakers to pronounce “srpsko-hrvatski” (Serbo-Croatian) than “hrvatsko-srpski” (Croato-Serbian) . At least, this is the case with me. :slight_smile:

This is the reply of another Quora user:

This answer comes from a person who wasn’t born in the region but tried to learn all the standards and the differences between them. And it is an answer based on the standards, not the dialects spoken in various areas.

My opinion is that there are the real differences and the insubstantial differences, at least from a foreigner’s point of view (some of these “insubstantial” differences, might have a lot of importance to a local).

First a small historical perspective:

What we see today, is a direct result of what happened during Yugoslavia’s times. The state tried to unify the language and eliminate the small differences. This was dumb in my opinion, because of how small the differences where, but also because, since the various ethnicities where living together and were exposed to the same media, songs, movies and pop culture, the differences were going to be eliminated, anyway, BY THEMSELVES. The result was that in the minds of all the inhabitants language and state became one and so when the state dissolved so had to do the language. This is more apparrent in what happened in Croatia, when in order to distance themselves from the old country (which many Croats despised) the state tried to differentiate the language and impose how people should talk creating the funny words others have already mentioned.

But what’s the real situation today:

  1. Everyone perfectly understands each other
  2. Everyone can easily distinguish were the other one comes from, based on his accent and some particular ways of talking.
  3. Everyone knows the differences and can recognize something as “Serbism” or “Croatism“, even if he or she does not know what it means or how it is used.
  4. People can “switch” from one standard to another, with much more ease than a foreigner may ever do it. It is not uncommon in various movies to have Serbian actors playing Croatian or Bosnian roles or vice versa.

What differences are insubstantial from a foreigner’s point of view:

  1. The scripts. The Latin and the Cyrillic alphabets have an one-to-one correspondence to each other. So you can consider that the Cyrillic alphabet is some kind of calligraphy of the Latin alphabet or vice versa. I never learned the Cyrillic alphabet and I had no problem to follow serbian conversations. I know though that in Serbia public inscriptions are in Cyrillic, but I have never visited Serbia anyway.
  2. Grammar. Grammatically all the three standards are identical. There are no differences at all. There are only PREFERENCES, things that one is accustomed to. For example Croats only use the word “da” when it is absolutely necessary, while Serbs use it everytime they feel like it. If Croats wanted to use “da” like the Serbs do, IT IS NOT FORBIDDEN by the grammar, they just choose not to. If a Croat could not say Želim da radim (I want to do), he also could not say Želim da radiš (I want you to do), for which there is not another way of saying.
  3. Ekavian and ijekavian. I know that many locals will not agree with that, but to me this difference is not as big as people make it. Because in the end the words reka and rijeka (river in the Serbian and the Croatia/Bosnian standard) are used in EXACTLY the same way in all over the region. It’s just that, it was decided that this purely pronunciation difference SHOULD BE ALSO WRITTEN. It’s a if all Latin American nations decided to write the basic pronunciation difference they have with Metropolitan Spanish and wrote for example sorro instead of zorro . Does that mean, that it’s not the same word?

So why these differences should matter? Well, they matter only if you want to acquire a formal, recognized certification in one of the standards or if you just want to sound like a Croat, a Serb or a Bosnian.

What are the real differences?

Accent, orthography and most of all vocabulary.

  1. Accent cannot be easily emulated by a foreigner. At most someone might wish to be able at a particular moment to distinguish between the various accents of the standards.
  2. Orthography differences have some ground rules that can be applied and need to be learned in order to better understand the nuances of the language. For example krumpir/krompir, sretan/srećan etc
  3. And finally vocabulary. This is the area where the languages differ the most and where the foreign learner must study harder in order to learn the different words.

I hope that all this helped and I repeat that this answer was written from a practical point of view, trying to sort out the essential and the non-essential.

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And here are some opinions on Montenegrin, also from Quora:

Sava Jevtić

This answer will probably be controversial, but Montenegrin, Bosnian and Serbo-Croatian are de facto all one language.

The Montenegrin dialect is based on the Eastern Herzegovinian dialect, which is also used in western Serbia, as well as a large portion of of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia. A large portion of Montenegrin people claim to speak the Serbian language, but for political reasons, like every other Serbo-Croatian-speaking country, Montenegro artificially invented its own language. The most significant difference from the typical Eastern Herzegovinian dialect is the letters Ś, З and Ź (Cyrillic: С́, З́, Ѕ). While the letter Ѕ (Cyrillic, not to be confused with Latin S, which is written like С in Cyrillic) — pronounced like “dz” — exists in the Macedonian language (which is distinct from Serbo-Croatian language(s)), the letters Ś (soft Š) and Ź (soft Ž) are barely distinguishable from their counterparts.

Ergo, the difference is mostly there for political reasons. Otherwise, Montenegrin is nearly the same as the dialects spoken in western Serbia, most of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and some of Croatia.

Again about Montenegrin:

Nikola Bogunovic

No difference, Montenegrian language doesn’t exist like Bosnian also. Only Serbia and Croatian are two language witch exist in ex Yugoslavia.

I will only say one thing about those who think that Croatian and Serbian are not separate languages, but dialects.

I have lived in Norway for ten years now and I can tell you that by that same definition there would be no Norwegian, Swedish, Danish and Islandic. They would all be dialects of the “Scandinavian language”. The similarity between Norwegian and Swedish is the same as between two dialects within one little Croatia, let alone Croatian and Serbian.

Such claims need to be taken seriously.

Slovenian is very different from all the other languages mentioned. Why does everybody always forget poor Slovenia?

:joy: I was trying to watch a Montenegrin movie the other day. Turned it off after 10 minutes because I couldn’t understand much.

This is just an anecdote, not really contributing to the discussion on the initial question. About the dialects within Croatia: Shtokavian, Kaikavian and Chakavian (Iekavian is something different…). When I was a child I watched a tv show in Chakavian dialect and asked my dad which language that was. He said Croatian and I said he was lying because I couldn’t understand one single sentence. Lol! We lived in the central part of Croatia where people spoke Shtokavian, the official dialect in Croatia.

For those into linguistics: Kaikavian dialect in Croatia is most similar to Slovenian language. While Chakavian, due to historical isolation from the rest of the country and conquering of the Italians has mixed in Italian words and the “feel” of their pronunciation is more Italian (at least to me).

This person seems to either not know or conveniently forget that before the formation of a common country, all of those languages were forcibly changed to sound and be written more like each other and more European. And they were merged one day into Serbo-Croatian. If force was necessary in the past to unite the languages more, why is he opposed to changes when they occur more or less naturally after the independence of the countries?

Complicated and troubled past on the side, the only thing that’s important is how well we understand each other now.

As I’m watching a show translated to Serbian written in Latin alphabet, my mind is not at ease. And one of the most important rules is that subtitles should put the viewer to an ease while watching. The Serbian sentence structure just doesn’t flow right for my brain and there is approximately one word in every second-third sentence which I really don’t understand. If a show has more slang, forget it - that’s torture to watch. I also don’t know some of the words my multinational team uses in daily communication, so I have to use the wiki dictionary. Luckily, less and less, as I’m learning more of their words.

And as a translator to Croatian, I wouldn’t even dream translating to Serbian. That would be preposterous!

@irmar, in your second post, the Quora user 1 pretty much nailed the biggest differences between the languages.

Now reading all this it sounds like it’s more like Dutch and Flemish. Viki also offers subbing in Flemish but most, if not all, volunteers from Belgium sub in Dutch. There used to be a TV program here where people from Belgium and The Netherlands used to compete to see who knew Dutch the best and often times people from Belgium won. The border with Belgium is a 10 minute drive from here so I hear Flemish quite often and I have no problems understanding it, and they have no problems understanding me either. There are some differences in words and grammar like for example a Dress is called “Jurk” in Dutch and “Kleedje” in Flemish. At first you think what because “Kleedje” is like a small blanket in Dutch. But the difference is not huge enough to have a drama subbed in both languages as there are already limited people who sub.

I’ve wanted to know too because we see these different languages on Viki and I am not a native.

In short, if I had to sum up for my own personal knowledge:
(tell me if I haven’t understood it correctly, I may understand something that is not true).

  1. Croatian, Serbian and Montenegrin are 3 separate languages that are really different (including dialects for Croatian but these dialects are not shown on Viki?).
    They use different words so the subtitles are supposed to be really different.

  2. What about Serbo-Croatian? Is it a language that differs from other languages mentioned above in general?
    Like most written words used are the same than Croatian or Serbian or Montenegrin?

For ex:

  • American English / British English / Australian English:
    Are there many differences in words that people don’t know?
    Do British English or Australian English communities understand subtitles written in American English? (I don’t know the Australian language, I would say “yes” for British people)

  • I can only relate to French-speaking countries:
    Most of the words are the same for the everyday language that is used in dramas. There are some words/grammar that could differ.
    So even if Viki doesn’t have French Canadian / Belgian French / other French-speaking countries and areas, these communities would understand the global “French” subtitles on Viki.

I’m not a native but I sometimes struggle a bit understanding Australian due the dialect and the way they speak. I used to watch Bondi Rescue years ago and they always threw in words I didn’t know or they pronounced it in a way that was a bit odd to me. But I think that’s more because I’m not a native. I think The British and Americans can understand it just fine except for a few words here and there.

They are officially three different languages, yes.

Croatia had to choose one dialect which would become official Croatian language, and that is shtokavian. Only that dialect is supposed to be written into Croatian language. However, I do occasionally use chakavian to imitate a difference in Korean dialects. So, if a character has, for example, a heavy Busan accent, in Croatian I could use chakavian dialect to illustrate that.

Serbo-Croatian was an artificial amalgamation of these two languages, with a premise that most people within Yugoslavia are going to understand it. Poor Slovenians and Macedonians! Their languages are pretty different from SC.

SC is no longer an official language anywhere, but it’s extremely practical to have on Viki for reasons I named above in my first post. Mainly, it allows a very few volunteers from our region to organize themselves better and translate faster than they would if each of us translated into our own language. We each write our own language into it (although I change some words to make it more understandable to the broader audience). If we are talking about a proper SC team with at least 4 subtitlers, two of those will translate to for example Serbian, and two in Croatian. Hence, there will be de facto two moderators, although one of us is the official one.

I would say that people who write the most authentic SC, the way that it was written before, a true merger of various Yugoslavian languages, are people from Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, they can sometimes write into Croatian language, and what they write is not 100% the official “literary” Croatian. But I’m happy anybody is writing into Croatian. I’m willing to turn a blind eye, since there are so few volunteers.

I hear French Canadian is quite different from French-French. My French Canadian friend and my French-speaking Belgian friend chose to speak to each other in English because they got annoyed with how the other’s French sounded to them :smile:

In German “Kleedje” would be “Kleidchen” and would mean “small dress” usually for children :slight_smile:

By reading all those problems about different dialects I’m very thankful, that in Germany everyone has to learn in school the so called “Hochdeutsch” which is a national-wide used form of German. If foreigners would listen to a native from Bavaria and someone from Ostfriesland (the coast region), you would never think, this is the same language. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

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I didn’t know that… that’s pretty interesting.

I used to sew the dresses for my girls and often bought sewing patterns from the Netherlands like Bizzkids, Roos or Knippie. And I could understand the Dutch instructions quite well, because the written Dutch is similar to German. The spoken Dutch is another topic ^^

As a kid I went to Germany a few times during summer holiday and was able to speak and understand it quite well. During that time I also used to watch children programs and Wetten Dass? But as time went by I lost all my knowledge. So now I can’t really speak it anymore and as for understanding I do understand it still here and there. Reading wise I can usually figure out what is been said if there are not to difficult words in them.

Although I am sorry to say that I have no knowledge of any of the languages mentioned but I think if there is a language that all of these nations can understand then that should be the one used.
for two reasons:
1- To reduce the number of subbers needed for finishing a project and providing subtitles for viewers
2- It kind of makes me sad to see nations encouraging their separation. I feel like if you had a language to connect you, then you shouldn’t make an effort to grow apart. Of course I am sorry to say that I don’t know why the countries separated and of course if that happened I must expect to be some hard feelings against each other but still, this is my belief.
I do have a little idea of a somewhat similar case in the Arabic language, every nation speaks in a different dialect but we do have a basic traditional one that we all understand and agree on. That’s what connects us and helps us communicate even though no nation speaks it (in everyday life) It is still used in writings and official documents and of course, in subs. And I would be very sad to see subs in one of the dialects even though it would be easier to write an understand. But I think it’s worth the effort.
I don’t know much but I just spoke my mind.

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Indeed, it is similar in Croatia :smile: All pupils must learn the official Croatian, which also happens to be Shtokavian dialect. It’s a bit of a struggle for the kids from Chakavian and Kaikavian regions when they first start school.

I mentioned I’ve lived in Norway for 10 years now. Here dialects are also aplenty. And there are two official ways of writing Norwegian (Bokmål and Nynorsk). However, Norwegians LOVE their dialects. They think it’s really, really cool. Especially the young folks. In music, particularly rap, dialects are more relatable to them. And no matter which part of Norway you are from or which dialect you speak, in school you will learn both ways of writing Norwegian.

In contrast, Croats are almost ashamed of their dialects, same as in Korea. It’s not okay to speak Chakavian or Kaikavian on television and radio, write it in the newspapers or even write literature in a dialect. Luckily, some of Chakavian is seeping into our daily life through music. But it’s not enough, I think.

Thanks for your explanation!

What I have understood:

  • Serbo-Croatian is another separate language because it is a merging of Serbian and Croatian that are 2 separare languages.

  • Serbian, Croatian, Serbo-Croatian and Montenegrin are languages with different subtitles.
    (If I’ve understood something that is not true, could you tell me?)

Haha xd the sound is quite different for French Canadian and French in France. For a part of North and South of France too, even French isles! :slight_smile: They also got different uses of some words.

For the written language, it is better to be understood for Canadians or French from France. For ex here:

I read an article on this Canadian website just to compare and it is 98% similar to a French Fr article I’d have read (maybe for the writing style and 2-3 words, for the same article in French France press, journalists would have used different words, but the 2-3 words are understandable in the context and exist in our dictionnary (French from Fr just use them differently).

Since we subtitle (not dubbing yet xd), Canadian, Belgian or Swiss can even use our subtitles to watch dramas on Viki :slight_smile:

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LOL! I know exactly what you mean! :laughing: :laughing: :laughing:

I think the same applies to Norwegian and Danish. Written almost the same, pronounced so differently, like they are separated by ten different countries, rather than one canal.

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