So many people, slowly moulding a language into what we know today, most unaware of their role. Who knows how a simple innovation by someone in a village in the Balkans, for example, made its way through Old Slavonic and eventually inspired what we know today as the Croatian Language? For all we know, right now someone is planting the tiny seeds of a language that will be recognised a thousand years from now. After all, Croatian goes back to the 9th century!
Like many of the languages in the area, Croatian traces its roots back to Old Church Slavonic, an ancient language used, as its name implies, in official Church writings of the period. Croatian began diverging from Church Slavonic almost immediately, and about two hundred years later, in the 11th century, we see the first documents written in something undeniably separate and distinct from Slavonic.
Croatian enjoyed the influence of many other languages over the centuries. The area now known as Croatia has a history of invasion and domination from surrounding empires and countries, and Croatian took on a lot of influence from Serbian, Slovenian, and even Persian. When the area was unified for a time as first the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and later the Republic of Yugoslavia, Serbian was the dominant language and as a result had a great modern influence on the Croatian language.
In 1991, Croatia declared its independence, and one of the first orders of business was to re-establish the Croatian Language as a separate and independent language as well. The government sponsored initiatives to purge Croatian of the many influences it had taken on over the years, attempting to turn the clock back to a more “pure” form of the language.
Opinions will differ on these sorts of initiatives. While I understand the reasons behind the goal, I also dislike modern attempts to “cleanse” languages. Language is a natural phenomenon, and as such will squirm and twist out of your grasp – I think all such attempts are doomed. And if they succeed then your language has lost much of its history, and that always saddens me.
Today Croatian is spoken by over six million people in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Italy, and Romania. A healthy and well-established language in a region slowly settling into a peaceful stability after decades of war and strife, there’s no reason to think that Croatian is going anywhere any time soon – and that’s one more reason to leave Croatian to its own devices!