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Bos/Hrv/SrpМакедонски 20 Sep 10

Montenegro Says Farewell to ‘Mother Tongue’

With the official introduction of a new Montenegrin dictionary and grammar, the country has taken further steps to consolidate its own language – much to the annoyance of the Serbian community.

By Mirko Boskovic
Podgorica

Montenegro’s pro-Serbian opposition parties are threatening to appeal to the Constitutional Court over the government’s drive to establish the official language of the country as “Montenegrin”.

They claim the recent adoption of an official Montenegrin Grammar discriminates against the large Serbian minority and against the majority who until recently claimed Serbian as their native language.

“The authorities… have started a project to delete the Serbian people from the Montenegrin map,” Ranko Kadic, head of the Democratic Serbian Party, declared. “This is the beginning of our extinction.”

Following adopt of a new education law, the government approved The Grammar of the Montenegrin Language as the country’s official grammatical code last month.

The first edition of the book appeared in bookstores on September 4. A lexicon of the Montenegrin language was published days later.

Linguistic developments have always had the potential to raise hackles in the small multi-ethnic republic.

As recently as 2003, an outright majority claimed Serbian as their native language. According to the most recent census, in that year, only 21.53 per cent of the population declared “Montenegrin” as their native language, whilst 59.67 per cent named Serbian.

More recent polls have shown a slight shift in favour of Montenegrin. One conducted in 2010 showed 41.6 per cent of respondents claiming Serbian as their native language and 38.2 per cent, Montenegrin.

Before the collapse of Yugoslavia, four of the six constituent republics, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Montenegro, shared a common language, then known as Serbo-Croatian.

After independence, however, Croatia made strong efforts to highlight the distinct aspects of its language, which was now called “Croatian”. Bosnian Muslims have made similar efforts in Bosnia Herzegovina, promoting official use of a codified “Bosniak” language.

At the time, Montenegro, which remained in a state union with Serbia until 2006, appeared content not to have its own separate language.

But as the movement for independence gathered strength, the authorities started to promote linguistic changes. In 2004, the government changed the school curriculum, so that mandatory language classes were no longer labeled “Serbian” but as "Mother Tongue (Serbian, Montenegrin, Croatian, Bosnian).”

Later, following the independence referendum, a new constitution on October 22, 2007 named the official language as Montenegrin.

Its orthography was not established until July, 2009, with the addition of two letters, ‹ś› and ‹ź›, to replace the digraphs ‹sj› and ‹zj›. Using the old 30-letter alphabet, the word for tomorrow was spelled “sjutra”. The correct form is now “śutra”, for example. The new alphabet has 32 letters.

After the government’s Council for Education last month adopted the Grammar of the Montenegrin language, this year will be the last in which language students study “Mother Tongue”.

The involvement of a Croat in the newly published grammar meanwhile has further fuelled Serbian suspicions that there is a political agenda behind the language drive, which is to push Serbia and Montenegro further apart.

Work on the grammar, which lasted two years, was led by Montenegrin linguist Adnan Cirgic and a Croats  Ivo Pranjkovic and  Josip Silic.

Cirgic defended their involvement, saying Croats were established experts in the field of Slavic languages, as is Ljudmila Vasiljeva from Ukraine, who co-authored the lexicon along with Milenko Perovic and Jelena Susanj.

But some locals have continued to object, criticising what they call artificial revivals of archaic forms and an excessive reliance on Croatian grammatical forms.

The new grammar “takes us back several centuries,” the socio-linguist Slavica Perovic scoffed in the opposition newspaper DAN. “It’s hard to imagine a modern speaker, talking about business, clothing or car brands, using the same words as his great-grandfather.”

Perovic dismissed the new grammar – and the two new letters - as forced attempts to create differences to other languages in the region.

“To merit being called a language requires greater differences than those represented in the Grammar of Montenegrin,” said Perovic, a professor of philosophy at the University of Montenegro.

Those arguments are supported over the border in Serbia. The respected linguist Ivan Klein told Belgrade’s Blic newspaper that Montenegrin was “an artificial creation and a political decision”.

Cirgic denies the charge of reviving archaic forms, saying the new grammar includes only words that are still in use. “There are no archaisms,” he said. “The archaic forms that local ‘experts’ have quoted in the media haven’t been included.

“This is just propaganda conducted to prevent the use of the new spelling,” he continued. “Similarities with Croatian do exist, but it’s the same with Serbian and Bosnian.”

On the street, feelings about the whole project are mixed. Pero Kaludjerovic, a third-year student of Serbian and South Slavic literature at the University of Montenegro, said he used the new phonems privately but would not use them in formal speech or writing.

“In private speech I would say 'Đe si, što činiš?' ['Hi, what's up?'], but in formal speech, during exams and lectures, I would say 'Gdje si, šta radiš?',” he said, the latter being the standard Serbo-Croat form. “You can't call this informal speech an official language.”

Milos Marovic, an advanced student of English at the University of Montenegro, claims the language question is abused by politicians who are trying to avoid more important topics and problems in country.

Montenegrin, Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian were all virtually the same and there were more important issues in Montenegro than the language, he maintained.

The creation of a separate language was “a political decision” he said. “We should be focusing on our economy, industry, education and living standards.”

Others are more welcoming about the changes. Blazo Marinovic, a student of political science, conceded that there are no major differences in the “new” language, but said it was good that expressions which form part of Montenegro's national identity and culture now had official approval.

“From now on, we'll be able to write and speak officially as we always used to,” he said. “Our formal language is being enriched with many beautiful, picturesque and powerful words, phrases and expressions, which can be easily understood by everyone.”

Adnan Cirgic says Montenegro has seized the opportunity to reject its inferiority complex and linguistic subordination to other cultural centres that guided language policy in Montenegro in the past.

“The adoption of the first official spelling of the Montenegrin language is an historic event,” he said. “No matter what some ‘experts’ and politicians claim, it is designed to strengthen the multi-ethnic harmony [in Montenegro] that already exists here.”

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