Speaking the Languages of Former Yugoslavia

By Stacey
Aug 27, 2014 · 3 min

When dealing with the remnants of former countries or empires, the languages used by the populations can vary considerably.

Speaking the Languages of Former Yugoslavia | One Hour Translation

As the ongoing events in Ukraine reveal, the repercussions of the fall of the USSR continue to be felt decades after the fact. This shouldn’t surprise any student of history: Any empire’s dissolution results in decades and sometimes centuries of chaos and dust-settling. Some might even argue that all of history is just the increasingly faint ripples of ancient empires collapsing under their own weight – but that’s a bit off-topic for a translation-oriented essay like this. What we’re looking at is the language confusion that an imperial collapse can cause. Case in point: The former Yugoslavia.

Yugoslavia was an artificial creation that came into being in the chaos following World War I and came under the thumb of the USSR even though it remained ostensibly an independent nation. It has since dissolved into smaller countries which, as we know, have not always gotten along so well. This also means there are many, many languages in this area of the country (there was never anything such as Yugoslavian). As translation services experts we have to be aware of all of them, and how they interact with each other. Here’s an overview.


The language spoken by the Muslim population of Bosnia & Herzegovina, and one of the three official languages of that country. It uses the Latin alphabet, and unless you have specific reason to do otherwise Bosnian is usually the correct default language to use in Bosnia & Herzegovina.


Croatian in speech is almost the same language as Serbian. However, there are written differences, and if you’re going to do translation work in these countries be sure to work in the correct language – Serbs and Croats will note the difference and be very upset if you mix the languages.


Obviously the official language of Macedonia and the most-spoken language in that country – although Albanians have been a fast-growing minority there, making Albanian an increasingly important language for any project aimed at Macedonia.


The people of Montenegro speak Serbian – but it is a dialect so distinct it’s practically its own language. It can be a huge mistake to try and employ textbook Serbian in Montenegro. While it’s acceptable to use Serbian in Montenegro, if you really want to capture hearts and minds, work in Montenegrin.


One of the main differences between Serbian and Croatian is the former is more open to importing vocabulary and thus can be a much more flexible language to work with. As with Croatian, be certain you’re working with the appropriate language for the target audience.


While the older generation in Slovenia will understand Serbian and Croatian, the younger generation will not. This means translations in this country can be a bit tricky, but the official Slovenian language is always a safe bet.

The chaos of languages in this region will likely continue to be an adventure for translators for years to come. As they say, forewarned is forearmed!

Image courtesy catalog.flatworldknowledge.com

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