Bosnian Language Origins & Culture of Bosnia

  • Bosnian
    Language Origins
    & Culture of Bosnia
    Wondering how many people speak Bosnian in the world? Let's see what Bosnian culture is like, and what are the Bosnian speaking countries together!

Bosnian Language: History and Origins

This post was first published on Cevir.io Bosnian translation agency.

The Bosnian language is not widely spoken throughout the world, however, it has its unique history and grammar structure. Bosnian is mainly spoken in Bosnia and Herzegovina and it is mainly spoken by Bosniaks. Bosnian speaking population is around 3-8 million. It is hard to estimate the number since the language is spoken in many different locations and countries. Bosnian speaking countries are Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, Croatia, North Macedonia, Kosovo, and Slovenia. Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro recognize Bosnian as an official language while in Serbia, Croatia, North Macedonia, Kosovo, and Slovenia it is recognized as a minority language. Also, the official languages of Bosnia and Herzegovina are Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian. It is also worth mentioning that in some countries, Bosnian is not recognized as an official language nor as a minority language, however, it has a significant usage. These countries include the US, Turkey where there is a Bosniak minority. Especially in Turkey, Bosnian usage is very significant since some of the Bosniaks have a heritage with Turkish people and the culture is similar.

Mixed Culture and Ethnic Groups in Bosnia

A country that hosts many different cultures, ethnic groups, and languages… Bosnia and Herzegovina is surely a beautiful country with its diverse cultures and life in Bosnia is amazing, especially for those who love to observe many cultures at the same time in one geographic area. Even though the country suffered much from recent wars and destruction, there are still many historical and architectural structures all over the country. In the world media, Bosnia and Herzegovina has been known as a war-zone. That is why, people around the world knows Bosnia as a war-zone and “a bad country” in their subconscious. There is no argue about how tough the Bosnian war was. Even though the war lasted approximately three years, more than a thousand people lost their lives. Also, nearly two million people was forced to leave their homes. However, if we compare 92-95 Bosnia to present Bosnia, we see that the hatred from the war is replaced by peace and the destruction is replaced by goodness. The discrimination from the war is no more and everyone respects each other’s culture, tradition. When we look at the ethnic groups in Bosnia we see that 96% of the people are Bosniaks, Serbs or Croats. All these ethnic groups are originally Slavic, but their culture is pretty different. For example, majority of Bosniaks practice Islam; therefore it can be seen that they are adopted to Islamic culture and lifestyle. On the other hand, Serbs and Croats are mainly Christians. However, majority of Serbs are Orthodox Christian while the majority of Croats are Catholic Christians. These religion differences between most popular ethnics in the country also creates cultural diversity. When each respect one other, this diversity becomes amazing, and delightful to experience. But when people don’t respect each other’s culture or religion, big problems may occur -as it happened in Bosnian war-. To sum up, Bosnian war was a disaster for the people of Bosnia and all humans, but as the war is long gone and everyone respect each other’s culture, Bosnia and Herzegovina is a country where cultural diversity is at an incredible level. If you love to see different cultural activities in one geographic area, life in Bosnia is definitely for you! 

Bosnia’s Geography

Speaking of geographic areas, Bosnia’s geography is a unique one. Bosnia and Herzegovina is located in Balkans, Europe. Bosnia is bordered by Serbia, Montenegro and Croatia. The country also has some land along the Adriatic Sea. Best thing about geography of Bosnia is about its nature; about 40% of the country is covered in forest. There are also many natural springs which look amazing. Furthermore, Bosnia’s weather is not very extreme. Even though the weather or temperature may differ from city to city or from winter to summer; Bosnia’s weather is usually ordinary. It gets warm in summers and gets cold in winter times, however the temperature does not really go to extreme levels like -30 or 45-50 Celsius. This is mainly because Bosnia is located in the eastern Europe, it is not located in northern or desert parts of the world. So, in terms of weather, life in Bosnia usually offers an average weather through a year. 

A frustrating fact about Bosnia’s geography is that going around the country is not very cheap. When people think about Bosnia’s transportation prices they would say “Well, it is not really a developed country, so the prices must be low!”. Unfortunately, this is not the case in Bosnia. Going around with bus may be pretty expensive. Bus tickets are usually expensive, plus you have to charge extras for an additional luggage, etc. These may be annoying for the tourists. Also, it can make life in Bosnia for foreigners and new-comer immigrants who want to visit the country’s different locations sometimes a bit annoying.

People in Bosnia

As stated before, there are many ethnic groups who live in Bosnia and Herzegovina. When we say Bosnia, it is usually assumed that only Bosnian people live in this country. However, when we talk about ethnic groups in Bosnia, we should know that 96% of the ethnic groups in Bosnia are Croats, Serbs and Bosniaks. All these ethnic groups’ population is significant in the country. In big cities and capital Sarajevo it can be seen that these groups live together. However, there are certain rural areas where ethnic groups do not live together. For instance, in the northwest of the country, Bosniak people are dominant, whereas in the southeast of the country Serbs are the dominant ethnic group. These geographical differences make the country a little bit complicated. However, it does not really affect one’s life in Bosnia since complications are due to cultural and linguistic differences. The country consists of four different districts: Brcko, Bosnia, Herzegovina and Republika Srpska. Some ethnic groups’ population dominates other ethnic groups in some of these districts. For instance, in the Republika Srpska district, Serbians has a dominance towards other ethnic groups. 

Since there are many ethnic groups in Bosnia, it is not really a good idea to generalize the people living in Bosnia and Herzegovina and make observations/comment on this generalized view. As you visit different parts of the country, you will see that the people, culture and people’s views are different and hence; life in these parts are very different than each other. This also means that life in Bosnia may differ depending on which district or part that you will prefer to live. 

Let’s face it, Bosnia and Herzegovina is not a 1st world country. The level of welfare in the country is not really high. Economy is not great either. When a country’s welfare is low, the people would be unhappy. Bosnia’s level of welfare is not that low, however, education level of people is not really great. For example, many people do not speak English as their second language. Because of this, communication may get difficult and frustrating with Bosnian people if you do not speak Bosnian, Croatian or Serbian languages. Despite this, if we ignore the cultural differences, it can be seen that people in Bosnia are usually hospital and helpful. For example, with the contribution of Islam, in Bosniak culture helping the ones who seek for help and welcome them in their homes are important. It is not very ethic to compare this cultural side of Bosniaks with other ethnic groups, however, it can be said that Croats and Serbs are generally helpful as well. If you are a foreign who is lost in Bosnia, it will be very hard to communicate with the people since many people do not speak English, but regardless of their ethnics, locals that you will encounter will most probably try to help you. Even these small helpful acts make life in Bosnia for foreigners easier. 

What is Bosnian Culture Like?

As stated before, Bosnia does not have just a unique and single culture. The lifestyle and culture in Bosnia is pretty diverse. And these cultures are not originated from Bosnia and Herzegovina, they are usually originated from other countries. For example, Bosniaks culture is heavily influenced by Turkish culture since they were ruled by Ottoman Empire for a long time. The architectural structures such as mosques are very similar to Turkish architecture. Apart from this, there are many similar foods as well. In fact, baklava is a common dessert in both Bosniak and Turkish cuisine. Other foods are similar too, Bosniaks have kebab Cevapi which is a different version of the traditional Turkish kebab. Apart from structures and cuisine, their lifestyle is similar to Turkish as well, since majority of Bosniaks are Muslim. Croats and Serbians on the other hand, have totally different cultural activities. Their cuisine, and lifestyle is similar to Croatians living in Croatia and Serbians living in Serbia. Because of this cultural proximity, they may even identify themselves as a Croatian or a Serbian.

Languages spoken in Bosnia and Herzegovina

When it comes to Bosnian language, many people wonder “What language is spoken in Bosnia?” Well, due to the mixed population; Bosnian, Serbian, Croatian and -even though it is not one of the official languages of Bosnia- Montenegrin are spoken throughout the country. Bosnians language is actually similar to Serbian and Croatian. However; Serbian (Srpski), Croatian (Hrvatski) and Bosnian (Bosanski) are totally different languages. The country’s official languages are these three languages. This also shows that the state recognizes all these three ethnic groups’ dominance and respect to their language & culture. 

The Bosnian language is standardized from Serbo-Croatian. The language is an Indo-European, Slavic language. It is mainly spoken by Bosniaks and it has around 2.5-3 million speakers. An interesting fact about the Bosnian language is that its writing system is both Latin and Cyrillic. Also, formerly people used Arabic and Bosnian Cyrillic as well. Apart from Bosnia and Herzegovina, it is co-official language of Montenegro and is recognized as a minority language in Serbia, Croatia, Kosovo, North Macedonia, and Slovenia.

Even though Bosnian is one of the official languages of Bosnia and Herzegovina, it is not spoken in all parts of the country. Therefore, if you are a foreigner in Bosnia who is planning to learn Bosnian, you should know that not all the people in this county speaks this language. However, if you learn Bosnian, at the end you may communicate with other people whose native language is not Bosnian but Croatian or Serbian since the languages you speak are similar.

Slavic Heritage of Bosnian Language

Now, let’s zoom in to the Bosnian language and look for its roots. As stated before, the Bosnian language is classified as an Indo – European language. It has also a Slavic heritage. Scientifically, the Bosnian language is under the family of Serbo - Croatian languages. The chart below shows the language families and where the Bosnian language is located.

Indo – European

Balto – Slavic

Slavic

South Slavic

Western

Serbo – Croatian

Bosnian

Croatian

Serbian

Montenegrin

As can be seen above, Bosnian is in the same subgroup as Croatian, Serbian, and Montenegrin. This scientific fact proves that linguistically, all these languages are similar. Fortunately, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, all these languages are spoken and different native speakers from different languages are able to communicate with each other. Furthermore, native Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian and Montenegrin speakers cannot easily communicate with speakers of other languages which are in a different branch of Slavic languages. It is a known fact that many languages usually differ geographically and Slavic languages differ from each other geographically as well. So, what are the branches of Slavic languages? There are three types of Slavic languages: Western Slavic, Eastern Slavic and Southern Slavic. While the Bosnian language is in the western Slavic branch, languages such as Bulgarian, Macedonian are in the Eastern Slavic branch. Also, Russian which has the most native speakers among the Slavic languages is in the Eastern Slavic branch along with Ukrainian, Belarusian, and Rusyn -an unpopular language that is spoken in some Balkan countries such as Serbia, Slovakia-. Many people wonder if the Russian language is similar to Bosnian. If you’re wondering "is Bosnian similar to Russian?" we can say that knowing and speaking Russian would let you understand Bosnian to an extent. So, is Bosnian language similar to Russian? The answer to this question is not a simple yes or no. Bosnian and Russian are both Slavic languages, hence, there is a similarity between them. However, this similarity is not very strong. If we compare this similarity to the similarity between Bosnian and Serbian (or any other Western Slavic language), the winner would be the similarity between Bosnian and Serbian, for sure. Since they are not in the same subgroup linguistically, the similarity between Russian and Bosnian is weak. So, if you are planning to learn Russian and hoping that you can communicate with native Bosnian speakers, you need to know that you won’t be able to understand Bosnian much, but maybe catch a few words. On the other hand, learning a Slavic language may be beneficial if you are planning to learn another one even it is in a different subgroup because all the Slavic languages, in a way are structurally similar to each other. Finally, we can say that if you speak one of the Slavic languages, you won’t be able to speak or fully understand the other Slavic languages, however, it will greatly contribute to your knowledge and learning Slavic languages.

Comparison Between Bosnian and Other Slavic Languages

Now that we mentioned that Bosnian is a Slavic language, let’s compare Bosnian with other Slavic languages and observe the differences. We have stated that Bosnian, Serbian and Croatian languages (also known as Western Slavic languages) are very similar to each other and the native speakers of these three languages may easily communicate with and understand each other. Now in the grammar sense, let’s compare them and see how they are similar. Firstly, we need to know that all these languages have many dialects and accents within each other. Therefore, if we try to compare and take these accents and dialects in all these three languages into account, the grammar comparison will get very complex. Hence, we shall use no local dialects when comparing. 

The vocabulary is similar as well, with a little difference. To start comparing let’s look at the word “sretan” in Bosnian which means “happy” in English.

Croatian – Sretan

Bosnian - Sretan

Serbian - Srećan 

As can be seen, in all three languages the word is very similar, in fact, in Bosnian and Croatian the word sretan is exactly the same. To prove that many words are similar, not only the basic words such as happy but also many words that we don’t usually use in our everyday life, let’s give the example of stock exchange:

Croatian – Burza

Bosnian - Berza

Serbian - Berza

As you can see above, the words are very similar between Bosnian and other Western Slavic languages. The main difference would be the oppositions, as you may have noticed already. In the first example there is the opposition -t/ć and in the second example the opposition -u/-e. Another minor difference is that Serbian drops final r. For instance, the word “također” in Bosnian and Croatian is “takođe” in Serbian which means “also”.

Apart from the minor vocabulary differences, the sentence structures between these languages are similar as well:

English – Peter needs money.

Croatian - Petar treba novac.

Bosnian - Petru treba novac.

Serbian - Petru treba novac.

The placement of the object and predicate is all the same in all three languages, only some words (Petar, Petru in this case) and pronunciation is different. The similarity continues when a sentence is negative:

English – I do not need you.

Croatian – Ne trebam te.

Bosnian - Ne trebaš mi.

Serbian - Ne trebaš mi.

And also, in question form, the similarity is still significant. This time, let’s add Montenegrin to this comparison:

English – Where will you be?

Croatian - Gdje ćeš biti?

Bosnian - Gdje ćeš biti?

Serbian - Gdje ćeš biti?

Montenegrin - Đe ćeš biti?

The placement of sentence structures in all four languages is the same. In fact; in Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian the sentences are exactly the same. However, this may not be the case every time since the words in question forms may differ in every language. For instance, if the sentence would be “Where will you go?” in Croatian, the “Gdje” would change to “ Kamo” while Bosnian would use “Gdje”. In addition, some people may wonder if Montenegro language is similar to Bosnian since it is also in the Western Slavic subgroup. Even though Montenegrin (Montenegro language) is not an official language of Bosnia; as can be seen from the last example, Montenegrin is similar to these languages as well, even though it uses different pronouns. But we need to know that all the pronouns, adjective, etc. may change since all these three languages are classified as different than each other. 

Bosnian to English Translations

Learning an unpopular language such as Bosnian is definitely not easy. There are not that many resources one can use compared to popular languages when learning Bosnian. And Bosnian is not an easy language to learn if you have no knowledge about the Bosnian or similar languages. If you are planning to learn one of the Western Slavic languages and then hope that you would instantly promote to a translator level in Bosnian just because you learned another Western Slavic language, you are thinking wrong. Yes, the similarities between Western Slavic languages are heavily strong, however, there are many special rules, syntax differences that require a specialty.

Well, that is where we come in and give you a helping hand.

We work with native Bosnian translators who join our Bosnian translation agency after rigorous translation tests and have them translate Bosnian document into English or any other language for our clients. You don’t need to worry about all the Bosnian grammar rules and dictionary when you need to translate official Bosnian documents to English or another language like German or French.

We are here to do that for you!