Language, Discourse, and Borders in the Yugoslav Successor States

R. A. Stegemann moogoonghwa at
Tue Jan 25 15:08:47 UTC 2005

On 25 Jan 2005, at 22:58, Harold F. Schiffman wrote:

>  Language, Discourse and Borders in the Yugoslav Successor States
> Multilingual Matters 2004
>  Announced at
>  Donald F. Reindl, Department of Translation, Faculty of Arts,
> University
>  of Ljubljana, Slovenia
>  Language, Discourse and Borders in the Yugoslav Successor States is a
>  collection of four essays by scholars of language and identity,
> followed
>  by a "debate" among the authors plus additional scholars, and
> concluding
>  with three response papers. The volume is the result of a roundtable
>  discussion entitled "Language, Discourse and Borders" held at the
>  University of Vienna's Institute of Linguistics on 29 September 2002
> and
>  hosted by the Centre for Intercultural Studies, based at the
> University of
>  Klagenfurt, Austria.
>  Brigitta Busch (University of Vienna) and Helen Kelly-Holmes
> (University
>  of Limerick) introduce the collection by addressing broad theoretical
>  concepts such as the centrality of the nation state and the constructs
>  that underlie state borders, language boundaries, and speech
> communities.
>  Special attention is turned to the role of the media in affirming
> language
>  boundaries as a linguistic resource, in the implementation of language
>  policy, and as a metalinguistic forum. The authors then focus on the
> case
>  of Serbo-Croatian in the former Yugoslavia and its ongoing
> differentiation
>  since the 1990s into Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian, and Montenegrin.
>  Dubravko Skiljan (Institutum Studiorum Humanitas, Ljubljana) uses the
>  analogy of a train journey from Belgrade to Munich (and intermediate
>  points) to illustrate how perceptions of dialect continua,
> linguistically
>  mixed areas, and contact between non mutually-intelligible languages
> vary
>  depending on the perspective of the observer. He clarifies theoretical
>  issues such as the nation-state, linguistic communities, and the
>  territories claimed by those communities by illustrating them with
>  concrete linguistic examples from the former Yugoslavia and beyond.
>  The article by Ranko Bugarski (University of Belgrade) is a sober
> look at
>  the former Serbo-Croatian, proceeding from the notion that both
> ethnicity
>  and nationalism are artificial constructs (21). He debunks the idea
> that
>  Serbo-Croatian was ever truly unified, despite political agreements or
>  proclamations to the contrary --from the Vienna Agreement of 1850 to
> the
>  Novi Sad Agreement of 1954 -- and concludes that the breakup of the
>  language in the 1990s clearly had historical roots (28). In
> particular, he
>  examines how the rhetoric of politics can feed conflict, which in
> turn can
>  foster overt language differentiation when language is subverted as an
>  agent (and becomes a casualty) of war (30).
>  Dona Kolar-Panov (Ss. Cyril and Methodius University, Skopje)
> provides a
>  detailed picture of language policy in Macedonia as realized through
>  broadcasting. In addition to Macedonian, the country's official media
>  broadcast in Albanian, Turkish, Roma, Aromanian (Vlach), and Serbian.
> At
>  the same time, unlicensed broadcasting has contributed to media chaos
> in
>  Macedonia. Although the licensed broadcasts are officially intended to
>  promote a diverse and multicultural identity, in some cases a
> linguistic
>  ghetto effect has been created instead. Kolar-Panov contrasts the
>  integrative approach of Roma television, which broadcasts in both
> Roma and
>  Macedonian, and includes Macedonian subtitling, with the separatist
>  approach of Albanian-language broadcasting, which is linguistically
> and
>  culturally exclusive and has created a parallel independent media.
>  Ultimately, she argues, media exclusivity breeds animosity, whereas
>  inclusiveness fosters tolerance (47).
>  The debate in the middle of the volume amplifies some of the ideas
> raised
>  in the papers, including the implications of naming languages and the
>  dictionaries of those languages as reification of political programs.
>  Bugarski points out that one should take care not to confuse language
>  policies with linguistics, because linguists are rarely instrumental
> in
>  establishing such policies.
>  Tatiana Zhurzhenko's (Kharkiv National University) response profiles
> the
>  linguistic situation in Ukraine, which has a number of parallels with
> the
>  territory on which the former Serbo-Croatian is spoken, including
> marked
>  religious, cultural, historical, and dialect differences. Although
>  Zhurzhenko states that Ukraine presents an ethnically simpler picture
> than
>  the Balkans, she oversimplifies the situation herself -- for example,
> by
>  referring to Rusyn groups (e.g., Lemkos and Bojkos, 68) as ethnic
>  Ukrainians. Her observation that today's territorially "United
> Ukraine" is
>  a legacy of nation building and language cultivation during the
> Soviet era
>  (69) is paralleled by similar observations regarding Slovenia (e.g.,
> Gow &
>  Carmichael 2000: 60) and Macedonia in the Yugoslav context.
>  Marija Mitrovic's (University of Trieste) brief contribution is a
> response
>  to Bugarski's article. It is mostly a personal reflection on her own
>  multilingual experience in the former Yugoslavia. While rightly
> pointing
>  out that bilingualism was the norm for many in Yugoslavia, she paints
> an
>  overly ideal picture of the country with statements such as "When you
> came
>  to Slovenia, you were simply expected to speak in that language" or
> that
>  no translation was needed between "Slovak, or Slovenian, or Kajkavian
>  Croatian" (76). In practice, Serbian and Croatian speakers often
> lived in
>  Slovenia for decades without learning the language -- and the
> diversity of
>  Slovenian is so great that some dialects are not mutually
> intelligible,
>  let alone understood by Slovaks or Croats.
>  Melitta Richter Malabotta (University of Trieste) concludes the volume
>  with a response examining the semantics of war in former Yugoslavia.
> Like
>  Mitrovic, she paints an overly multicultural picture: "In former
>  Yugoslavia ... the majority of people were used to being
> bialphabetical,
>  that is, able to read and write both Latin and Cyrillic characters"
> (78).
>  While it is true that Serbian and Macedonian speakers generally read
> the
>  Latin alphabet without difficulty, the converse was not true -- after
>  relatively brief exposure in the classroom, Slovenians and Croatians
>  generally maintained little or no proficiency in reading Cyrillic. Her
>  assertion that "everything that represented the texture of union ...
> is
>  destroyed and considered definitely past" (82) is also an
>  overgeneralization. In recent years there has been a noticeable
> resurgence
>  of "Yugonostalgia" (cultural rather than political) in Slovenia and
>  Croatia, spawning publications such as a recent lexicon on the topic
>  (e.g., Matic et al. 2004) and increasing Slovenian attendance at
> Serbian
>  folk festivals (Staudohar 2004). Nonetheless, her commentary on the
>  artificiality with which Croatian is being differentiated from
> Serbian is
>  accurate and concise.
>  One shortcoming of the collection is that its contents do not entirely
>  correspond to the title of the volume. Among the languages of
> Yugoslavia,
>  the essays generally focus on the former Serbo-Croatian, aside from
> the
>  contribution by Kolar-Panov on Macedonian and Albanian. Slovenian is
> only
>  mentioned in passing on a few occasions. This omission of what was an
>  official language of Yugoslavia is a lost opportunity, because the
>  sociolinguistic situation in Slovenia today offers ample material
> matching
>  the issues raised concerning the other languages, including
> broadcasting
>  rights, purism, and protectionist legislation (e.g., Reindl 2002a,
> 2002b,
>  2003). In addition, much could have been said about small minority
>  languages in the former Yugoslavia, such as the Ruthenian of Serbia's
>  Vojvodina region or the Aromanian of Macedonia. At the same time, the
>  inclusion of Zhurzhenko's article on Ukrainian is incongruous in the
> face
>  of such omissions. The linguistic situation in Ukraine is certainly
>  interesting, and one may draw some parallels between language
> conflict in
>  Ukraine and the former Yugoslavia. However, from a geographical
>  perspective it would have been more appropriate to include a study of
>  language in neighboring Albania, Greece, or Bulgaria because of the
>  linguistic overlaps between the territories of these states and
> theformer
>  Yugoslavia.
>  Despite its diversity, the volume is tied together by a number of
> common
>  themes, such as the notion of "soft" and "hard" borders (e.g., dialect
>  continua or typological dissimilarities), elaborated in Skiljan
> (15-16).
>  Another common theme is the relative linguistic inertness of Serbian
> as a
>  successor to Serbo-Croatian, while proponents of Croatian, Bosnian,
> and
>  Montenegrin as independent languages (with decreasing success) have
> been
>  forced to differentiate these linguistic systems from the former
> shared
>  norm. At the same time, intriguing individual observations are raised,
>  such as fluid ethnicity crystallizing into hard nationalism through
> the
>  catalyst of conflict (34) and popular perceptions of bilingualism as
>  contamination or victimization (71).
>  Linguists that are unfamiliar with the history of the South Slavic
>  languages and peoples will welcome Bugarski's concise explanation of
> the
>  major linguistic divisions of the former Serbo-Croatian as well as the
>  different religions and scripts of its speakers (23-24). These basic
> fault
>  lines are so important for understanding the conflicts discussed
>  throughout the volume that the editors could have placed the
> information
>  in some sort of preface to the collection. Without it, the passing
>  references to cakavian and stokavian (16), or ekavian and jekavian
> (79),
>  would be meaningless to the majority of readers.
>  Because of the relation between legislation and language use -- be it
> in
>  public institutions or the media -- politics is an essential topic
> when
>  examining language policy. In general, the contributors to the volume
>  focus on politics and policy decisions that are relevant to the topic
> at
>  hand; for example, Kolar-Panov's cogent discussion of broadcasting
>  legislation in Macedonia and its effect on the ratios of Macedonian-,
>  Albanian-, and Roma-language material on television. Unfortunately,
>  Malabotta uses the conclusion of her essay to rage against Nazism,
> Tony
>  Blair, NATO, and US military action in Afghanistan. Not only is the
> misuse
>  of a linguistics publication as a soapbox for one's personal views
>  inappropriate, but it also provides a disagreeable conclusion to an
>  otherwise interesting collection.
>  Gow, James; & Cathy Carmichael (2000) Slovenia and the Slovenes. A
> Small
>  State and the New Europe. London: Hurst & Company.
>  Matic, Djordje, Iris Adric, & Vladimir Arsenijevic (2004) Leksikon YU
>  mitologije [Lexicon of Yugoslav Mythology]. Zagreb/Belgrade:
>  Postscriptum/Rendum.
>  Reindl, Donald F. (2002a) Academy Adopts Language Declaration. In
>  Balkan Report 6(16), available at
>  Reindl, Donald F. (2002b) Slovenian: Alive and Well. In RFE/RL Balkan
>  Report 6(36), available at
>  Reindl, Donald F. (2003) Struggle for Slovenian Radio in Austria. In
>  RFE/RL Newsline 7(30), available at
>  Staudohar, Irena (2004) Med nostalgijo in zabavo [Between Nostalgia
> and a
>  Party]. In Zurnal, 26 November 2004, pp. 1, 4.

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