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Serbian culture

Serbian culture

Serbian culture refers to the culture of Serbia and of ethnic Serbs .

Serbian culture starts with that of the South Slavic peoples that lived in the Balkans. Early on, Serbs may have been influenced by the Paleo-Balkan peoples. The Byzantine Empire had a great influence on the culture; Serbs were initially governing the Byzantine frontiers in the name of the emperor and were later through their sworn alliance given independence, baptized by Greek missionaries and adopted the Cyrillic script. The Serbian Orthodox Church gained autocephaly from Constantinople in 1219. The Republic of Venice influenced the maritime regions in the Middle Ages. The Ottoman Empire conquered Serbia in 1459 and placed the country under a state of occupation which lasted for four centuries, the consequences of which suppressed Serbian culture but also greatly influenced Serbian Art. Serbian culture flourished from 1718 in regions that were under the control of the Habsburg Monarchy .

Following Serbia 's autonomy after the Serbian revolution and eventual independence, the culture of Serbia was restrengthened within its people.

Life Religion

Conversion of the South Slavs from Paganism to Christianity began in the early 7th century, long before the Great Schism. the split between the Greek Orthodox East and the Roman Catholic West, the Serbs were first Christinaized during the reign of Heraclius (610-641) but were fully Christianized by Byzantine Christian Missionaries (Saints) Cyril and Methodius in 869 during Basil I. who sent them after Knez Mutimir. had acknowledged the suzerainty of the Byzantine Empire. After the Schism, those who lived under the Byzantine sphere of influence became Orthodox and those who lived under the Roman sphere of influence became Catholic. Later, with the arrival of the Ottoman Empire. many Serbs converted to Islam. Their modern descendants are considered to be members of the Gorani and Bosniak ethnic groups.

The White Angel

During World War II, the Serbs, living in a wide area, were persecuted by various peoples and organizations. The Catholic Croats under the Fascist Ustaša regime, recognized the Serbs only as "Croats of the Eastern faith" and had the ideological vision that 1/3 of the Serbs were to be murdered, 1/3 were to be converted and the last third expelled. The outcome of these visions was the death of at least 700,000 people, the religious conversion of 250,000 and the expulsion of 250,000.

Names Given names

As with most Western cultures. [ citation needed ] a child is given a first name chosen by their parents but approved by the godparents of the child (the godparents usually approve the parent's choice). The given name comes first, the surname last, e.g. "Željko Popović", where "Željko" is a first name and "Popović" is a family name. Female names end with -a, e.g. Dragan -> Dragana.

Popular names are mostly of Serbian (Slavic), Christian (Biblical), Greek and Latin origin.


The -ić suffix is a Slavic diminutive, originally functioning to create patronymics. Thus the surname Petrić signifies little Petar. as does, for example, a common prefix Mac ("son of") in Scottish & Irish, and O' (grandson of) in Irish names. It is estimated that some two thirds of all Serbian surnames end in -ić but that some 80% of Serbs carry such a surname with many common names being spread out among tens and even hundreds of non-related extended families.

Other common surname suffixes are -ov or -in which is the Slavic possessive case suffix, thus Nikola's son becomes Nikolin, Petar's son Petrov, and Jovan's son Jovanov. Those are more typical for Serbs from Vojvodina. The two suffixes are often combined.

The most common surnames are Marković, Nikolić, Petrović, and Jovanović.


This section requires expansion. (October 2010)

Most people in Serbia will have three meals daily, breakfast. lunch and dinner. with lunch being the largest and most important meal. However, traditionally, only lunch and dinner existed, with breakfast being introduced in the second half of the 19th century. [ 1 ]


Traditional Serbian cuisine is varied and can be said to be a mix of central European, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine. [ citation needed ] Ćevapčići consisting of grilled heavily seasoned mixed ground meat patties is considered to be the national dish. Other notable dishes include Koljivo used in religious rituals, Serbian salad. Sarma (stuffed cabbage), podvarak (roast meat with sauerkraut ) and Moussaka. Česnica is a traditional bread for Christmas Day.

Homemade meals

A number of foods which are simply bought into Supermarkets from the West, are often made at home in Serbia. These include rakija (fruit brandy), slatko. jam. jelly. and pickled foods (notably sauerkraut. ajvar and sausage ). The reasons for this range from economical to cultural. Food preparation is a strong part of the Serbian family tradition.

Sljivovica. the national drink of Serbia


Serbian desserts are a mixture of other Balkan desserts and desserts native to central Serbia. Desserts served are usually Uštipci. Tulumbe. Krofne and Palačinke (crepes). Slatko is a traditional Serbian dessert popular throughout Serbia and it can be found in most Serbian restaurants in the Balkans and in the diaspora.


Beer is widely consumed in Serbia. The most popular brands are Jelen Pivo and Lav Pivo. Rakija. a plum brandy commonly known by popular brand name Slivovitz is a distilled fermented plum juice. This is the national drink of Serbia with 70% of domestic plum production being used to make it. Domestic wine is also popular. Turkish coffee is widely consumed as well.


Serbian Cyrillic and Serbian Latin. from Comparative orthography of European languages. Source: Vuk Stefanović Karadžić "Srpske narodne pjesme" (Serbian folk poems ), Vienna. 1841

Serbs speak the Serbian language. a member of the South Slavic group of languages, specifically in the Southwestern Slavic group with the Southeastern Slavic languages including Macedonian and Bulgarian. It is mutually intelligible with the standard Croatian and Bosnian language (see Differences in standard Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian ) and some linguists still consider it part of the pre-war Serbo-Croatian language .

The Serbian language comprises several dialects, the standard language is based on the Stokavian dialect .

There are several variants of the Serbian language. The older forms of Serbian are Old Serbian and Russo-Serbian, a version of the Church Slavonic language .

Vuk Karadžić. reformer of the Modern Serbian language

Serbian is the only European language with active digraphia. using both Cyrillic and Latin alphabets. Serbian Cyrillic alphabet was devised in 1814 by Vuk Karadžić. who created the alphabet on phonemic principles, the Cyrillic itself has its origins in Cyril and Methodius transformation from the Greek script .

Loanwords in the Serbian language are mostly from Turkish. German and Italian. words of Hungarian origin is present mostly in the north and Greek words mostly in the liturgy.

Two Serbian words that are used in many of the world's languages are vampire and paprika. Slivovitz and ćevapčići are Serbian words which have spread together with the Serbian food/drink they refer to. Paprika and Slivovitz are borrowed via German ; paprika itself entered German via Hungarian. Vampire entered most West European languages through German-language texts in the early 18th century and has since spread widely in the world.


Miroslav's Gospel is one of the earliest works of Serbian literature dating from between 1180 and 1191 and one of the most important works of the medieval period. This work was entered into UNESCO 's Memory of the World program in 2005. Serbian epic poetry was a central part of medieval Serbian literature based on historic events such as the Battle of Kosovo .

In the 20th century, Serbian literature flourished and a myriad of young and talented writers appeared.

Traditions and customs

Serbs have many traditions. The Slava is exclusive custom of the Serbs, each family has one patron saint that they venerate on their feast day. The Serbian Orthodox Church uses the traditional Julian Calendar. as per which Christmas Day (December 25) falls currently on January 7 of the Gregorian Calendar. thus the Serbs celebrate Christmas on January 7, shared with the Orthodox churches of Jerusalem. Russia. Georgia. Ukraine and the Greek Old Calendarists .

The Serbs are a highly family-oriented society. A glance into a Serbian dictionary and the richness of their terminology related to kinship speaks volumes.

Of all Slavs and Orthodox Christians. only Serbs have the custom of slava . The Slava is the celebration of a family's patron saint; unlike most customs that are common for the whole people, each family separately celebrates its own saint (of course, there is a lot of overlap) who is considered its protector. A slava is inherited, mostly, though not exclusively from father to son (if a family has no son and a daughter stays in parental house and her husband moves in, her Slava. not his, is celebrated). Each household has only one saint it celebrates, which means that the occasion brings all of the family together. However, since many saints (e.g. St. Nicholas, St. John the Baptist, St. George, St. Archangels of Gabriel and Michael, and the Apostles St. Peter and Paul) have two feast days, both are marked.

The traditional dance is a circle dance called kolo . which is common among Serbs, Montenegrins and Macedonians. It is a collective dance, where a group of people (usually several dozen, at the very least three) hold each other by the hands or around the waist dancing, forming a circle (hence the name), semicircle or spiral. It is called Oro in Montenegro. Similar circle dances also exist in other cultures of the region.

Serbs have their own customs regarding Christmas. The Serbian Orthodox Church uses the Julian calendar. so Christmas currently falls on January 7 of the Gregorian calendar. Early in the morning of Christmas Eve, the head of the family would go to a forest in order to cut badnjak . a young oak. the oak tree would then be brought into the church to be blessed by the priest. Then the oak tree would be stripped of its branches with combined with wheat and other grain products would be burned in the fireplace. The burning of the badnjak is a ritual which is most certainly of pagan origin and it is considered a sacrifice to God (or the old pagan gods) so that the coming year may bring plenty of food, happiness, love, luck and riches. Nowadays, with most Serbs living in towns, most simply go to their church service to be given a small parcel of oak, wheat and other branches tied together to be taken home and set afire. The house floor and church is covered with hay. reminding worshippers of the stable in which Jesus was born.

Christmas Day itself is celebrated with a feast, necessarily featuring roasted piglet as the main meal. The most important Christmas meal is česnica . a special kind of bread. The bread contains a coin; during the lunch. the family breaks up the bread and the one who finds the coin is said to be assured of an especially happy year.

Christmas is not associated with presents like in the West. although it is the day of Saint Nicholas. the protector saint of children, to whom presents are given. However, most Serbian families give presents on New Year's Day. Santa Claus (Deda Mraz (literally meaning Grandpa Frost )) and the Christmas tree (but rather associated with New Year's Day ) are also used in Serbia as a result of globalisation. Serbs also celebrate the Old New Year (currently on January 14 of the Gregorian Calendar ).

Another related feature, often lamented by Serbs themselves, is disunity and discord; as Slobodan Naumović puts it, "Disunity and discord have acquired in the Serbian popular imaginary a notorious, quasi-demiurgic status. They are often perceived as being the chief malefactors in Serbian history, causing political or military defeats, and threatening to tear Serbian society completely apart." That disunity is often quoted as the source of Serbian historic tragedies, from the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 to Yugoslav wars in the 1990s. [ 2 ] Even the contemporary notion of "two Serbia's"—one supposedly national, liberal and Eurocentric, and the other conservative, nationalist and Euroskeptic—seems to be the extension of the said discord. [ 3 ] Popular proverbs "two Serbs, three political parties" and "God save us from Serbs that may unite!", and even the unofficial Serbian motto "Only Unity Saves the Serbs " (Samo sloga Srbina spasava ) illustrate the national frustration with the inability to unite over important issues.


Serbian humour is centuries old. The most common type of humour is Black Humour and Serbian jokes are often imitated by other peoples from the Balkans, often with a twist. As with many other peoples, there are popular stereotypes on the local level: in popular jokes and stories, inhabitants of Vojvodina (Lale ) [ 4 ] are perceived as phlegmatic. undisturbed and slow; Montenegrins are lazy and pushy; southern Serbians are misers ; Bosnians are raw and stupid; people from Central Serbia are often portrayed as capricious and malicious, etc. But all that is pure conjecture, of course.

Serb folklore

Other articles

Serbian literature

Serbian literature

the literature of the Serbs, a Balkan people speaking the Serbian language (still referred to by linguists as Serbo-Croatian).

Serbian literature developed primarily from the 12th century, producing such religious works as the illuminated Miroslav Gospel, biblical stories, and hagiographies. During the Middle Ages, the strong Serbian state that encompassed most of the Balkans fostered literary and translation production by highly educated priests in numerous monasteries. Though mostly replicating Byzantine literary genres, Serbian literature also developed its own indigenous genre of the biographies of Serbian rulers. The founder of the independent Serbian church and a figure customarily taken as the originator of national literature, Saint Sava (Sava, Saint ) (1175–1235) started this literary tradition by writing a biography of his own father, the Serbian ruler Stefan Nemanja. After the Turkish occupation of Serbia in 1459, written literature declined, but oral literature of epic poems, songs, tales, proverbs, and other forms, which would for the most part be gathered and written down in the 19th century, continued to flourish in rural areas.

No significant revival of Serbian culture and literature occurred until the 18th century. The most important representative of the Enlightenment period was Dositej Obradović, whose writings greatly influenced Serbian literary development. A man of great learning and a polyglot who spent most of his life traveling through Europe and Asia Minor, Obradović wrote a captivating autobiography, Život i priključenija Dimitrija Obradovića (1783; The Life and Adventures of Dimitrije Obradović ). Many characteristics of European Romanticism could be observed in the literature of the period 1820 to 1870, especially the cult of folklore and national self-assertion. A central figure was Vuk Stefanović Karadžić (Karadžić, Vuk Stefanović ), a reformer of literary language who wrote a Serbian grammar and dictionary and collected Serbian folk poetry and stories.

The greatest writer of the 19th century was Montenegrin ruler Petar II Petrović Njegoš (Peter II ), whose epic poem Gorski vijenac (1847; “The Mountain Wreath,” Eng. trans. The Sabre and the Song ) presented in chiseled verse an event from Montenegrin history, giving a unique picture of Montenegrin society and reflecting Njegoš's philosophy of the eternal struggle between good and evil. The lyric verses of Branko Radičević contributed to the break with earlier didactic-objective poetry. Notable Romantic writers included Radičević, Jovan Jovanović (known as Zmaj), Ðura Jakšić, and Laza Kostić. From 1870 to 1900 there was a tendency toward realism, reflected in the fiction of Laza Lazarević, Simo Matavulj, and Stevan Sremac, a satirist and humorist. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Serbian literature was influenced by European currents, particularly French Symbolism (Symbolist movement ) and the psychological novel. The most important writers of the turn of the century were poets Jovan Dučić, Aleksa Šantić, and Milan Rakić; prose writer Borisav Stanković, whose outstanding novel Nečista krv (1910; “The Impure Blood”) depicted tragic clashes in provincial Serbia of tradition and modernity and of eastern and western cultures; and a playwright of popular comedies, Branislav Nušić.

Serbian writers between World Wars I and II continued to follow major European literary movements. The Belgrade Surrealist group introduced a note of radical, left-wing politics, and some of its members later turned to the style of Socialist Realism. The literature of the 1930s was shaped by the focus on political and social themes. Among the major writers of the period was Ivo Andrić (Andrić, Ivo), whose novel Na Drini ćuprija (1945; The Bridge on the Drina ) reflects the history of his homeland of Bosnia. Andrić was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1961. Another influential writer of the time was Miloš Crnjanski, best known for his two-volume novel Seobe (1929, 1962; Migrations ), which deals with the fate of Serbs in the northern province of Vojvodina.

The postwar period initially saw the continuation of realism, but by the 1950s more original forms of expression had been introduced into prose, as in the work of Miodrag Bulatović and especially that of Oskar Davičo, whose novel Pesma (1952; The Poem ) explored the dynamics among revolution, art, and human emancipation. Montenegrin Mihailo Lalić wrote several outstanding novels, the most acclaimed of which was Lelejska gora (1957; revised editions 1962 and 1990; The Wailing Mountain ), which revolved around the struggle of Yugoslav partisans in World War II, weaving in galvanizing reflections about human existence in general. In poetry Serbia was represented by Desanka Maksimović, Vasko Popa (Popa, Vasko ), Stevan Raičković, Miodrag Pavlović, and Ivan Lalić.

Later developments included novels with more experimental forms, philosophical concerns, and greater social and political comment, such as Danilo Kiš's Grobnica za Borisa Davidoviča (1976; A Tomb for Boris Davidovich ), in which pseudo-biographical stories of communist revolutionaries and victims of the Stalinist purges crossed the line between fiction and factuality. The Klokotrizam group experimented with literary form in an apparent attempt to defy the canons and aesthetic norms of art. The 1970s and '80s were also marked by the appearance of prominent women writers Milica Mičić-Dimovska, Hana Dalipi, and Biljana Jovanović, as well as by the trend toward a “new realism” characterized by a pseudo-documentary style and an emphasis on dark subjects.

Well-known writers at the turn of the 21st century included Milorad Pavić, whose postmodern novel Hazarski rečnik (1984; Dictionary of the Khazars ) deals with issues of history and identity, and Borislav Pekić, author of the novel Vreme čuda (1965; The Time of Miracles ).

Gordana P. Crnkovic

Studies of Serbian literature include Antun Barac, A History of Yugoslav Literature (1955, reissued 1976), trans. from Serbo-Croatian; Sveta Lukić, Contemporary Yugoslav Literature: A Sociopolitical Approach (1972; originally published in Serbo-Croatian, 1968); Thomas Eekman, Thirty Years of Yugoslav Literature, 1945–1975 (1978); and Vasa D. Mihailovich, A Comprehensive Bibliography of Yugoslav Literature in English (1984), with three supplements published in 1988, 1992, and 1999. Also useful are Jelena Milojković-Djurić, Tradition and Avant-Garde: Literature and Art in Serbian Culture, 1900–1918 (1988; published as Tradition and Avant-Garde: The Arts in Serbian Culture Between the Two World Wars. 1984); and E.D. Goy, Excursions: Essays on Russian and Serbian Literature (1996), edited by Patrick Miles. Anthologies in English include Miloslav Šutić (ed. and trans.), An Anthology of Modern Serbian Lyrical Poetry: 1920–1995 (1999; originally published in Serbo-Croatian); Radmila Jovanović Gorup and Nadežda Obradović (eds.), The Prince of Fire: An Anthology of Contemporary Serbian Short Stories (1998), with a foreword by Charles Simic; Joanna Labon (ed .), Balkan Blues: Writing Out of Yugoslavia (1995; originally published as Out of Yugoslavia. 1994); Charles Simic (ed. and trans.), The Horse Has Six Legs: An Anthology of Serbian Poetry (1992); Milne Holton and Vasa D. Mihailovich, Serbian Poetry from the Beginnings to the Present (1988); Mihailo Dordević (comp .), Anthology of Serbian Poetry: The Golden Age (1984), with English and Serbo-Croatian (Cyrillic ) in parallel columns; Thomas Butler (ed .), Monumenta Serbocroatica: A Bilingual Anthology of Serbian and Croatian Texts from the 12th to the 19th Century (1980); Mateja Matejić and Dragan Milivojević (eds. and trans.), An Anthology of Medieval Serbian Literature in English (1978); Vasa D. Mihailovich (ed .), Contemporary Yugoslav Poetry (1977); Branko Mikasinovich, Dragan Milivojević, and Vasa D. Mihailovich (eds.), Introduction to Yugoslav Literature: An Anthology of Fiction and Poetry (1973); Bernard Johnson (ed .), New Writing in Yugoslavia (1970); Ante Kadić, Contemporary Serbian Literature (1964).

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Project Rastko THE HISTORY OF SERBIAN CULTURE - Pavle Ivic: Standard language as an instrument of culture and the product of national history

Language is the basic tool of every nation's culture. The conceptual world which a society has mastered is maintained in it, and at the same time the further development of a society is determined by it, because it eases communication in certain ways and makes it more difficult in others. A closer examination of the history of the Serbian literary language indicates that all the pivotal changes in the orientation of Serbian culture are reflected not only in its vocabulary and syntax, but also in its morphology and phonology. Those changes denoted dimensions such as clerical or secular orientation, eastern or western orientation (including further subcategories, such as Byzantine versus Russian, German versus French versus Anglo-American), or aristocratic (elitist) versus populist.

A page from Miroslav's Gospel. one of the first extant manuscripts written in the Serbian variant of Church Slavonic

The language which Serbs speak is most often referred to in scholarship as Serbo-Croatian. This language is used by the Serbs and Croats, as well as by the Slavic Moslems of Bosnia and Herzegovina and of the Sanjak (a region which outlines the modern borders between Serbia and Montenegro). In the past, there were also groups who used the same language, but who were neither Serbs nor Croats. The Croats call the language Croatian, and the Serbs call it Serbian.


Serbo-Croatian belongs to the Slavonic group of languages, one of the three largest groups of the Indo-European family along with Romance and Germanic. In the early medieval period, differences among the Slavonic languages were relatively insignificant, probably being smaller than the differences among modern German dialects in Switzerland. During the sixties of the ninth century, two educated Byzantines from Salonica, the brothers Constantine (later known as Cyril from his monastic life) and Methodius, with their knowledge of the Slavonic language spoken around their native town, translated the most important religious books into Slavonic by order of the Byzantine emperor Michael. By the end of the tenth century, the language of those translations had become the liturgical and literary language of most Slavs in the area encompassing the Adriatic and Aegean seas and all the way to northern Russia. The fundamental corpus of abstract terms (religious, philosophical and psychological), into which the trends in the development of Greek thought in antiquity and in the early Middle Ages had been poured, thus obtained an adequate translation into Slavonic in a single move. The Slavs, therefore, also mastered the conceptual arsenal the Latins had acquired much earlier from the Greeks, and the later western European languages from Latin.

Old Church Slavonic, the creation of those two brothers from Salonika, thus entered the family of great liturgical and literary languages of Christian Europe, parallel to Greek and Latin. Beyond the borders of the Christian world, similar roles were played by Hebrew, classical Arabic and Sanskrit.

Constantine and Methodius also created a special alphabet which they used to write down their translations. This alphabet, known today as glagolitic, contained almost forty letters. The phonological pattern of Slavonic at that time was much richer than that of Greek, and glagolitic had a letter for each of the sounds. Among Orthodox Slavs, the glagolitic alphabet was soon replaced by one which would later be called Cyrillic. Cyrillic was, in fact, the Greek uncial alphabet of that period, complemented by fourteen special letters for Slavonic phonemes which did not exist in Greek. Thus, an instrument of culture was created which was far more suitable than the Latin alphabet, which had been created for the Latin language in antiquity through an adaptation of the Greek alphabet, and which lacked letters for the special phonemes of later European languages. This would burden the literature of those languages with many problems, vacillations and inconsistencies. The solution was most often sought in assigning a group of two or three characters for a single phoneme. Thus, the well known case of the consonant marked in English by sh, in French by ch, in Italian by sc or sci, in German by sch, in Swedish by sj, in Polish by sz, and so on. In Cyrillic there is only one letter for that sound, and it is the same wherever that alphabet is used.


The common literary language and common alphabet of the Bulgars, Serbs and Russians facilitated sharing of literary and scholarly works among those milieus, and thus to a great extent one may say that they had a common literature. In time, the languages of those peoples developed divergently, but the language of the liturgy and literature remained basically the same. In fact, differences in pronunciation arose even in that common language, like in the Latin of western European countries in the Middle Ages, but among the Slavs those differences were also expressed in writing. The replacement of certain vowels by others in spoken language was accompanied by a corresponding change in writing. Since the phonemic changes themselves were not the same everywhere, several different variants of Church Slavonic (no longer Old Church Slavonic) were produced - Russian, Bulgarian and Serbian. Those slight changes had no effect on whether a text could be understood or not, nor did they undermine the enormous advantage the extensive exchange in culture.

The mutual literary language of the Serbs, Bulgarians and Russians consolidated their participation in the cultural milieu of Orthodoxy, which was always open to influence from Greek. Many texts were translated from Greek, and once translated the texts circulated throughout the Orthodox Slavic world, as did original works by Slavic authors. The Slavic monasteries on Athos were among the main translation centres. The Serbian monastery there is Hilandar, founded by Stefan Nemanja, the founding father of the most significant medieval Serbian dynasty. These translations constantly enriched literary Serbian Church Slavonic, which took in neologisms coined according to the models of Greek words. Most of these words had abstract meanings. Slavic authors themselves developed and widely practised the art of creating such words. The potential for expression in Church Slavonic was constantly expanding, and it reached a very high level in the field of religious and abstract themes. It was remarkably well developed for formal expression, for rhetorical figures of speech and stylistic arabesque, which was in accord with the Byzantine poetics of the time. There were very few loan-words in the language. Translators and authors usually did not borrow Greek words but rather replaced them with calques, obviously out of respect for the ideal of purity in language.

Unlike Latin, Church Slavonic was not completely incomprehensible to those who had not studied it specially. Differences between Serbian, Russian and Bulgarian from Church Slavonic became greater with the passing of time, but in the Middle Ages comprehensibility was reduced only to a limited extent. This was not entirely advantageous, because it meant that domestic literature appeared quite late. In the countries where Latin was the language of the liturgy, such literature appeared much earlier.

Yet, there was a domain in which the vernacular was widely used in medieval literacy in the Serbian lands: the charters of rulers and magnates, and other secular legal documents such as codes of law, were written in the vernacular. The goal of such documents was to be clear to all so that there would be no misunderstandings or arguments about their interpretation. Along with that, the texts were filled with things about every day life which could not be expressed well with the language of the church since it lacked vocabulary in those particular semantic fields. These legal texts reveal a surprisingly rich terminology of legal, social and economic life. The areas in which words of domestic origins dominated and those in which loan words prevailed were clearly defined. Legal expressions, including the terminology of the feudal societal hierarchy, were usually Slavonic, having been inherited from ancient times or created on Serbian soil. Loan words from Greek were central in the terminology of church life, contrasted with the terminology of religion itself which was consistently Slavonic. In the domain of economy, apart from Greek words, there were many Romance words especially among the names for measures and monetary units. There was also a remarkable contrast between trade, whose international character was evident also in the terminology, and agriculture in which there were practically no words of foreign origins. In mining, which was done at that time by Germanic settlers (the Saxons), the majority of expressions were German.

In many documents, especially in the endowments made to the monasteries, there were introductions written in ecclesiastical language, in which the donator's intentions in doing an act pleasing to God were presented. One could speak of God, or to God, only with the holy language of the church. The vernacular was used only when the theme was appropriate. In truth, the use of both languages in one text indicates that the two languages were not considered to be different, rather that they were functional variants of the same language. It often occurred that a word or form from ecclesiastical language was put into the context of the vernacular.

Around the year 1400, the orthographic norm in Serbian books was notably changed in the desire to make it more archaic and to bring it closer to the Greek model. After this hint of humanism, the movement never became widespread among the Serbs because it was stopped short by the Turkish invasion.

Up to the fifteenth century, the only social group with an education to speak of was the priesthood. In its hands were the literatures of both religion and erudition. Members of the clergy used church language in every day liturgical practice, and they were practically the only ones who completely and willingly mastered that language. This consolidated their superiority in the field of culture and the powerful influence they had on culture in general. The basic orientation for the Serbs of the Middle Ages in terms of the literary language was given by the church.

Nevertheless, there was also literature in the vernacular at that time. Medieval romances were translated for the entertainment of the feudal lords. Such popular literature was more attractive for the reader if it was presented in a language which he could understand without much effort. From the fifteenth century onward, annals were included in the repertoire, historical documents with laymen's contents. Finally, the vernacular was undoubtedly the media of expression in oral literature, for which there is evidence that it flourished in the medieval period, even though no written texts are extent.

The Ottoman invasion did not change the existing relationships in literary language. The parallel existence of ecclesiastical language and the vernacular was retained, especially the predominance of the ecclesiastical. Characteristically, the only form of expression found in printed books of the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was that of Church Slavonic. In fact, Turkish rule conserved the state of things as they had been in the Middle Ages. The changes that did occur were in favour of ecclesiastical language, which corresponds to the situation in Serbian society. Since the political rulers of the Serb nation were wiped out, the heads of the church were its only leaders.

Changes came about in the second quarter of the eighteenth century, first among the Serbs living in the lands of the Habsburg Empire. The Empire had snatched most of the territory of medieval Hungary from Turkey, and found a large population of Serbs living there, including refugees who had just arrived from the lands which remained under the Turks.


The Austrian government made liberal use of the Serbs as soldiers, and at the same time they put pressure on the Serbs to accept unification with the church of Rome. The church hierarchy put up resistance to that pressure. The church was the only form of leadership that the Austrian government tolerated. The Orthodox church was tortuously restricted by the lack of church books necessary for the liturgy and for the training of the priesthood. The Austrian government intentionally did not allow the publication of Serbian books, which turned out to be a grave error. Russia took over the role of the protector of Orthodoxy. For the needs of the Serbian church, church books from Russia were imported, often through secret channels. Thus, the Russian variant of Church Slavonic was introduced. At the initiative of the Serbian Metropolitans, Russian teachers began to arrive in 1726, and they taught the young Serbian clergy the type of Church Slavonic which they knew themselves. Soon afterwards, the Russian variant became the official language of the Serbian church, pressing traditional Serbian Church Slavonic into the background. Changes in the language corresponded to changes in cultural policy: the main trends in Serbian culture continued to be defined by the church, but now it took on a marked orientation toward Russia. A new language resulted from that orientation, and it was the greatest tool in the development of that orientation.

Independently of the intentions of the Serbian church authorities, in the second half of the eighteenth century, other matters were introduced from Russia along with the religious ones. Russia, which had been open to western European culture from the time of Peter the Great forward, became the mediator through which that culture penetrated into the milieu of the Serbian middle class, created during the eighteenth century in the Habsburg lands. This made it possible to deviate from the norm of Church Slavonic. On one hand, many Russian words which had not existed in Church Slavonic remained unchanged when Russian texts were adapted for the needs of the Serbs. Certain Serbian authors even began writing in the Russian literary language of the day, intending their texts to be read by both Serb and Russian readers. The concept of a common "Slavonic" literary language also began to spread, which would insure an expansive cultural exchange.


However, all of that proved to be an illusion. Both Church Slavonic and Russian were too far removed from the living language of the Serbs; large segments of the population did not understand texts written in those languages. The development swung unstoppably in the direction of drawing the literary language closer to the language of the people. In 1768, Zaharija Orfelin introduced a mixture of Church Slavonic and the vernacular into the Serbian literary language by proclamation; in this language there was always room for specific Russian words. This language was later called Slavo-Serbian, and it united the possibilities of expression of two or even three languages in itself. However, it was burdened by two significant weaknesses which proved fatal to it. It was different from normal literary languages in that it was chaotic. Instead of grammatical rules, arbitrariness reigned; according to the subjective premonition of the author, he could choose the Serbian, Church Slavonic or Russian form. With such an instrument of expression, there was also a lack of intellectual precision and aesthetic refinement. Altogether, the language suffered from the fact that large portions of the population could not understand it. Many of the words were unfamiliar to the Serbs, and there are a lot of words which have a different meaning in Serbian than in Russian or in Church Slavonic. Along with these difficulties stood the fact that church language did not have the lexical stock to deal with the realities of every day life in the central European civilization of the day. Also, Russian could not be heard anywhere in Serbian society and it was not taught in schools. As the pressure for church unification eased, the reasons for despising the cultures of non-Orthodox Europeans disappeared, and as the middle class began to grow, Serbian society in the Austrian territories began to become secularized, as did its culture. In place of Russia, which was far away and unfamiliar, Europe was taken ever more to be the model, especially those countries where German was spoken since German was the dominant language of the Habsburg Empire; one could not advance in one's military or clerical career without German, or in trade or artisanship. The role of components of folk language grew ever greater in the Serbo-Slavic literary language.

In 1783, Dositej Obradovic, the central figure of Serbian literature in the eighteenth century, came out with his language programme. Inspired by the ideas of the European enlightenment, he took a utilitarian approach to literary language. Language must be comprehensible to the reader, even to women for whom schooling was not available at the time. Advocating, in theory and practice, the use of the vernacular in literature, he left those Russian and Church Slavonic words intact (mainly words for abstractions) which did not have equivalents in the Serbian vernacular. His followers continued in the same direction. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, there where practically only two forms of language still existing: the Slavo-Serbian mixture and the vernacular introduced by Obradovic. The Russian literary language was no longer used by Serb writers, and Church Slavonic had become truly rare outside of theological or liturgical books. In accord with changes in Serbian society and culture, the literary language of the Serbs was transformed once again. It was no longer determined by the church, and its basic orientation was toward other parts of Europe and not toward Russia.


In 1814, an extremely talented, brave and aggressive autodidact entered the arena of literary language. The son of a peasant, Vuk Karadzic moved to Austria as a refugee from Serbia after the First Serbian Uprising. He carried the unquenchable spirit of that uprising in himself, along with the rich folklore tradition of the Serbian peasantry. Karadzic's meeting with Jernej Kopitar, the great Viennese Slavist, was decisive for his further lifework; Kopitar was carried away with a romantic delight in the authentic folk spirit, incarnated in the pure vernacular and in folklore. At Kopitar's insistence, Karadzic began to publish folklore and to work on language materials. His book, A Serbian Dictionary, with a section on grammar was published in 1818, and it laid the foundations for a new type of literary language whose roots were in the speech of country folk and not urban dwellers. In his later works, Karadzic defined a new attitude toward the heritage of Church Slavonic. It was to be retained to the extent that it actually had to be, and strictly adapted to the phonological and morphological structure of Serbian. Karadzic fundamentally reformed the Serbian Cyrillic alphabet as well, omitting all those letters which did not correspond to a particular sound in the Serbian vernacular. He introduced an orthography in which the written word precisely reflected the spoken word, according to the principle of "a letter for every sound".


The resistance to Karadzic's reform was great. Conservative leaders in the church defended the Orthodox heritage characterised in Church Slavonic words and the traditional set of Cyrillic letters, whereas most of the writers and most of the bourgeoisie were not ready to sacrifice their "noble" language, which they elevated above the speech patterns of the peasantry. Even the dialect in which Karadzic wrote caused a sharp reaction. In the literary language up till then, the ekavian neo-stokavian dialect of the northeastern regions had dominated, because the most significant cultural, political and economic centres of the Serbs had been located in those regions. This included all of Vojvodina and most of Serbia which had been liberated by then. Yet, Karadzic wrote in his ijekavian mother tongue, which covered areas in western Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, in Montenegro and among Serbs in Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia.

It seemed from the very beginning that Karadzic's reforms were doomed to failure. However, he had a great reputation abroad, and even among the Serbs, mostly because of the collections of folk poems he gathered and published. In the 1840s in his homeland, he became the idol of the romanticist young people, who found inspiration for their fiery patriotism in folk poetry. The opposition of the conservatives was just another reason for the young to be delighted with the spiteful innovations of Karadzic. The influence of the priesthood in Serbian society was on the decline, and on Austrian soil the advances in education broadened the group of those interested in the democratization of culture. The spirit of Karadzic's struggle echoed the populist mentality, lending the tone to the new Serbian state, created by the uprisings of the peasant masses against the Turks in 1804 and 1815. Last but not least, Karadzic's Cyrillic alphabet and orthography were obviously superior to the existing heritage (even today Karadzic's system of writing is one of the most adequate in the world). At the beginning of the 1860s, his reform came in to common use, and the government in Serbia removed the last surviving limitations on the use of his form of Cyrillic in 1868.

The victory of Karadzic's reform meant the consistent secularization of literary language and its total democratization by opening up to the language of country dwellers. The language stood on a purely Serbian foundation, which emancipated it from its historical connections to other Orthodox Slavs. All of that fit in perfectly with the general orientation in the culture of the Serbs at the time.

Quite naturally, much less of the Church Slavonic heritage remained in the literary language of the Serbs than in that of the Russians or Bulgarians. The Serbian lands are not only farther west, but also a large part of those lands belonged to predominantly Catholic Austria.

The title page of the Concise Serbian Grammar by Vuk Stefanovic Karadzic as translated by Jacob Grimm, published in Vienna in 1824

In one sense, Karadzic's victory was not complete. Serbia and Vojvodina, with their solidly rooted literary tradition, were not prepared to exchange their characteristic ekavian for ijekavian, while in the areas where ijekavian was spoken, his reforms were accepted unaltered. Additionally, in his consistency towards his phonetic principle, Karadzic took out of use the Cyrillic letter for the old Slavonic vowel whose differing development had created the contrast between ekavian and ijekavian. In doing so he made it impossible for a unified graphic form of the Serbian language to be preserved, regardless of the existence of two different pronunciations. That explains creation and coexistence even today of two versions of the Serbian literary language, a fact which has been a source of problems, both cultural and political. A part of those problems are rooted in the fact that the Croats accepted Karadzic's ijekavian as their own literary language during the nineteenth century, however gradually and in stages, even though only a small segment of the Croat population actually spoke in that idiom. The literary-language unity of the Croats was realized in that process, because before that they had used regional literary languages. At the same time, it became possible for Croat national determination to penetrate into regions whose population had only been conscious of its regional affiliation before that. Likewise, the language they spoke was much closer to that of Karadzic's reform than to Croatian kajkavian, which had held the status of the literary language in Zagreb until the 1830s.

This language policy on the part of the Croats, often accompanied by statements about linguistic and even ethnic unity of Croats and Serbs, created a new constellation in the territories where Serbo-Croatian was spoken: the ijekavian variant of Karadzic's literary language became consolidated among the Croats at the end of the nineteenth century, catching on among the Moslems of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Serbs living in the western lands before that, including Montenegro in the southwest. The ekavian variant remained in Serbia, including Vojvodina which was a part of Hungary until 1918.


In doing away with its Church Slavonic heritage in an unnecessarily rigorous way, along with some of the changes introduced later which had made the writer's sentence more flexible in the preceding period, the literary language of the Serbs took some steps backward in terms of certain features. However, the gains made in the victory of Vuk Karadzic's ideas were greater still. The way was paved for the spontaneous, unforced development of the literary language. That development has moved in a straight line since then, through the simple expansion of fields of possible expression, without modifying or abandoning that which already exists in the language. The vocabulary is increasing through word formation, mostly using domestic (Slavonic) roots, and existing lexemes are gaining nuances of meaning, but there is also broad acceptance of loan-words. The orientation of the Serbian literary language is mostly cosmopolitan, as are, for example, Russian, Polish and English; they stand opposed to other languages, Slavonic and otherwise, which have purist tendencies. The main difference between the Serbian and Croatian variants of the literary language is the greater willingness of Serbian to take in a foreign word, while the tendency in Croatian is to translate it with a neologism. The main body of foreign words adopted during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have consisted of internationally used words from Greek or Latin roots, especially in recent times. The structural similarities of Serbian with the two great classical languages allow it to incorporate such words with relative ease. Apart from that, many French words were assimilated in the early decades of the twentieth century, while many English words have been adopted since World War II.

The development of possibilities for expression in literary language has taken place in parallel with the appearance of various kinds of new professions and with the advances made in economy, science and technology. The introduction of each new concept also introduced words for those concepts. That process has gone on naturally, basically without interference from political quarters or from the purism of philologists. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, the so-called "Belgrade style" appeared, first in essay prose; its protagonists were highly sophisticated writers, connoisseurs of many languages and of world literature. They introduced the urban spirit into the literary language in a definitive way, this time accompanied by spontaneity and the elegance of effortless expression. The sentence in Serbian attained a new kind of flexibility from the pens of those writers, significantly influenced by models taken from French. The trend they started continued to develop. Later development brought even greater stylistic diversification. The active imagination of certain writers led them to experiment with both literature and language, while others developed concise, precise expression in which everything was functional and nothing was excessive.

In the state of Yugoslavia which was formed in 1918, the relationship of Serbs and Croats toward their mutual literary language has changed. In the nineteenth century it was the Croats who insisted on the idea of unity, in language and otherwise, and when unification actually occurred it turned out that they needed it only to solve some of the problems they were going through at the time. They did not intend to construct and develop a mutual state, their goal was to separate themselves from Yugoslavia. Toward that end, Croatian linguists began to attend to differences and not to similarities. The Serbs, who took the idea of unity seriously, were surprised by this attitude. Those struggling for secession found a stronghold among Croat language experts, who had gained in strength especially after the Declaration on the Name and Position of Croatian Literary Language (1967); they presented the desire for unity to the Croatian public as Serbian unitarian pressure. The Croatian literary language was proclaimed to be a separate entity, and discussions about that served as psychological preparation for secession. Massive numbers of new words were coined so that the Croatian literary language would differ as much as possible from Serbian. On the Serbian side there was no such behaviour. Serb linguists did their own work, aware that linguistic unity means a broader market for culture and a richer culture, and that the change of language norms and the introduction of a multitude of new words inevitably cause confusion in the public whose linguistic habits get uprooted and replaced by others. Thus, the development of the literary language among the Serbs was protected from extremism and damaging changes.

Political events and the war in 1991 and 1992 caused the break up of state unity in the area where Serbo-Croatian is spoken. Croatia is being flooded with a new wave of artificially created differences in language in relation to the Serbs, the greatest wave since the so-called Independent State of Croatia which existed under the protection of the Nazis from 1941 to 1945. However, on the Serbian side there were no similar changes, and the existing conditions among the Serbian public indicate that no such changes will occur. On the other hand, among the Serbs in the west lands, especially those in the Serb Republic (Republika Srpska - in the territory of former Bosnia and Herzegovina), there is a strong tendency to consolidate the cultural unity of Serbs, which means a reduction of the already small differences in the language spoken there with that which is spoken in Serbia.