Bosnian : one language or three languages?

Decades after the collapse of Yugoslavia, Bosnia citizens still cannot agree on whether they speak one language or three. Between 1918 and 1991, the language used in Bosnia was known as Serbo-Croatian. When war broke out in 1991, former Yugoslav republics, Bosnia included, did away with the term Serbo-Croatian. In Bosnia, this resulted in the language being split into three, with Bosnian being used by Bosnian Muslims, Serbian being used by Serbian Muslims and Croatian being used by Bosnian Croats. The 1993 language law recognized Bosnian as the official language of Bosnia, while the 1994 constitution declared that the country had three languages: Croatian, Serbian and Bosnian. The name of the language is controversial, especially among the Croats and Serbs. This is because Bosnian implies that the language is spoken by all the citizens of Bosnia which, as they argue, is not true.

Some linguists are of the opinion that the difference between the languages are minor, as they are mutually intelligible. They argue that they are merely different dialects of the same language. Other linguists claim that there is no single Bosnian language therefore, the Bosniaks, should call their language Bosniak rather than Bosnian. Most people agree that the division of the languages has served the interests of the political elites who wish to divide the people based on their ethnic differences. Bosnian is recognized as one of the three official languages of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The language can be written using Cyrillic and Latin alphabets. Historically, it was written using Bosnian Cyrillic in Bosnia. During the Ottoman era, Arabic alphabets were used. Bosnian has loanwords from other languages such as Arabic, Persian and Turkic. This came about as a result of close interaction with the language groups due to the Islamic ties the languages share. It also has some German words.

Bosnian is spoken by 2.2 million people. A total of 21 million people can speak a variation of the shared Serbo-Croat language formerly used in Yugoslavia. Bosnian can be understood by people who speak Croatian, Serbian, Montenegrin and Slovene. The first Bosnian dictionary was compiled in 1631 by Muhammed Hevaji.

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