Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Linguistic Idiocy

Not being a follower of the Daily Kos, I didn't notice a post that appeared on that site on July 8 until very recently. Apparently, someone named Robert Ullmann (an American who lives in Kenya; see here) flew into self-righteous rage over the "linguistic genocide" allegedly perpetrated by "a small number of Serbian nationalists."

You see, there's a debate on Wiktionary whether to consider Serbian, Croatian and "Bosnian" as separate languages, or to keep the old Serbo-Croatian listing. And to Ullmann, the fact that some people are advocating keeping the old listing is a surefire sign of intent to create a "Greater Serbia"!

To call this a steaming pile of excrement is probably too charitable. Ullmann himself notes that, under this proposal, Serbian would not be recognized as a proper language. I'm not sure which universe he lives in, but in this one, denying one's own language is hardly a sign of "nationalism" - let alone "genocide."

Ironically enough, Serbo-Croatian is the farthest thing possible from some "Greater Serbian language" Ullmann is hallucinating about. Rather, it was a social experiment aiming to further undermine the inconvenient Serb national identity (which, as I explained elsewhere, was considered dangerous to the survival of Communist Yugoslavia). That way no one would have to actually speak Serbian - not even the Serbs themselves.

In fact, this went so far that in today's Serbia, 20 years after Yugoslavia's demise, the adapted Latin alphabet used in Serbo-Croatian has almost entirely displaced the native Cyrillic in public life. Spoken Serbian, meanwhile, abounds in imported Croatian phrases, both new and those dating to the "happy days of brotherhood and unity." If anything, this can be classified as Croat linguistic colonialism (though to be fair, not by modern Croatia). It's certainly the polar opposite of "linguistic genocide" that Ullmann alleges.

One commenter to Ullmann's post called it a "load of rubbish", and said he'd contacted the instigator of the Wiktionary vote: "he told me that he isn't even a Serb let alone a Serb Nationalist and is in fact a Croat."

Oops!

As the old adage goes, better to keep one's mouth shut and be thought a fool, than to open it and remove all doubt. There are so many people, telling so many lies, inaccuracies and myths about the Serbs, Yugoslavia, and the Balkans wars of the 1990s that trying to refute, correct or condemn all of them would be a full-time job. Not being a "professional Serb," I try to catch the most egregious, when I can. So the reason I singled out this particular demonstration of idiocy is its inexcusable abuse of the term "genocide."

It is an insult to the victims of actual genocides (Armenians and Greeks in the Ottoman Empire, Serbs in the "Independent State of Croatia", Jews in the Nazi death camps) when this word is used so lightly. There is a whole industry dedicated to the claim that what happened in Srebrenica in 1995 was genocide on par with the Holocaust - a claim that defies logic as well as piety. And now there are idiots seeing "linguistic genocide" in online polls. What's next?

6 comments:

phildav76 said...

It was me who realised it was a "load of rubbish" and put that comment.

My question to the guy who started the vote is here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User_talk:Ivan_%C5%A0tambuk#Daily_Kos_article

and his reply to me is here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User_talk:Phildav76#Daily_Kos_article

Being a regular reader of yours, I wanted to let you know about it a few days ago, but couldn't see an email address to contact you on.

Gray Falcon said...

Thank you!

Johan said...

What an idiocy indeed.

And I loved this:

"One commenter to Ullmann's post called it a "load of rubbish", and said he'd contacted the instigator of the Wiktionary vote: "he told me that he isn't even a Serb let alone a Serb Nationalist and is in fact a Croat."

Oops!"

:-)

"There are so many people, telling so many lies, inaccuracies and myths about the Serbs, Yugoslavia, and the Balkans wars of the 1990s that trying to refute, correct or condemn all of them would be a full-time job."

You said it.

Some seventeen years ago, when quartering of Yugoslavia was in full swing, I was still being shocked by how many desperately ignorant people held full professorships at the most reputable "Ivy League" universities in the U.S., while listening to their "versions" of "facts" and "history" in many then fashionable public lectures on "what was going on in Yugoslavia". (I even recall publicly correcting one such illustrious historian, who confidently asserted that Tito was no less than "a Serb nationalist" (!) ... Oh, needless to add, he remained completely - and smilingly - unmoved in his "conviction".) Nothing surprises me since. Hope that a lot of the crap is drowning in internet noise these days...



P.S. The two scripts, Cyrillic and Latin, reflect profoundly different histories, cultures and religions of two decidedly distinct nations, and it only makes sense to have Cyrillic set as the official one in Serbia, most of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and of course Montenegro, while have Latin in Croatian regions.

Concerning the spoken Serbo-Croatian, an impartial linguist might say that, as far as he is concerned, the languages spoken on Radio Belgrade and Radio Zagreb are "basically" one and the same, and that if these two are taken as "standards" for Serbian and Croatian, the "Serbo-Croatian" designation is warranted.

Interestingly, the difference between the "Radio Zagreb" language and the one spoken just several miles away in Zagorje part of Croatia is so large, that hypothetical "exclusive" speakers of the two could not possibly understand each other. And there are variations in the actual spoken language across the entire "Serbo-Croat" domain. A situation quite common in other countries of Europe.

Kris said...

A question to Grayfalcon and any other (current or former) residents of the former Yugoslavia on this blog: Do you consider Croatian, Bosnian and Serbian separate but mutually intelligible languages or dialects of one South Slavic language? An example would be the Scandinavian languages of Danish, Swedish and Norwegian on one hand (mutually intelligible)or the numerous dialects of Italian on the other? Being interested in different languages I wondered if learning say Serbian would mean I could pick up Croatian easily.

I knew someone who was Croat by nationality (he called himself a Yugoslav since one parent was a Serb and the other a Croat) who would roll his eyes whenever I mentioned Bosnian as a language and tell me there is no such language. Yet I see dictionaries, textbooks and a wiki about the Bosnian language (and now I see there is a Montenegrin language?) so I'm confused and yet curious about your thoughts.

Also, for those of you who lived the former Yugoslavia, did you also have to learn Slovene and Macedonian in school (and they learn Serbo-Croatian)? Sorry for the length but I'm really interested in this topic. Coming from Canada French is mandatory learning for us in elementary school.

Boris Levalle said...

@Kris
I don't know much about the differences between the Scandinavian languages, but compared to the existing variety in English (from Australia to Texas) the differences in Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian, Montenegrin are quite small. Unless, of course, you insist that American is a separate language because "freeway" isn't used in British-English and you regard the centre/center spelling a very important linguistic issue.

Dejan said...

I am from Slovenia and I know Serbocroat. I consider it to be one language with several dialects.