The Language Codes of the Former Yugoslavia


If you want to develop a language code headache, head straight to the former Yugoslavia, once a country whose national language was "Serbo-Croatian" (ISO-639 language code: sh (Deprecated).

In the 1990s of course, Yugoslavia violently broke up into its constituent ethnic groups, all of whom agreed that Serbo-Croatian had been an artificially imposed literary language.

Today, most agree that "Serbo-Croatian" is really a macrolanguage of national forms for Croatian (ISO-639 language code hr), Serbian (ISO-639 language code sr), Bosnian (ISO-639 language code bs) and Montegrin (too new to have a code)

Indeed, if you look at the pages for Croatian Wikipedia (, Serbian Wikipedia ( and Bosnian Wikipedia (, you will see that although words are similar, there are distinct vocabulary differences. You will also see that Serbian Wikipedia is in Cyrillic, unlike Croatian and Bosnian.

Another Wikipedia

Yet there's another Wikipedia - the Serbo Croatian Wikipedia (, dually scripted in both Cyrillic and the Latin alphabet.. This Wikipedia is yet another related form, similar to Croatian, Serbian and Bosnian yet eerily different. A ghost of a language that has been officially declared dead, but still breathes through living speakers.

All linguists know the standard line "A language is a dialect with an army", but creation of Serbo-Croatian Wikipedia shows that governmental language planning is not so easy. Several generations of speakers grew up in "Yugoslavia" learning to become educated in "Serbo-Croatian". I even learned about Serbo-Croatian syntax from a linguistics professor from Yugoslavia...who said absolutely nothing about regional differences or Serbo-Croatian being an artificial language. As far as I knew in 1990, she was a native speaker of Serbo-Croatian.

I don't know what the fate of these linguistic forms will be. I would doubt that Yugoslavia would reunite anytime soon, and the longer the countries remain separate, the more that speakers will feel they are speaking separate languages. Yet, somewhere out there is a community who still speaks Serbo-Croatian and probably mourns the passing of a nation and its language. How long it can last is an interesting question.

About The Blog

I am a Penn State technology specialist with a degree in linguistics and have maintained the Penn State Computing with Accents page since 2000.

See Elizabeth Pyatt's Homepage ( for a profile.


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