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One of the features of the Croatian language, common to many Central-European languages (Czech, German, Polish) is word coinage.

The Croatian tradition of neologisms and linguistic purism goes back to the earliest documents of literacy (11th to 12th century), but it was in the Renaissance Croatian literature that this characteristic has become dominant.

Historical overview

Croatian literature across the centuries shows tendency to cherish Slavic words and coinage, and to expel "foreign" borrowings. Renown Croatian philologist Zlatko Vince articulates this tendency as follows:

Croatian literature even in the old ages tends to stay away from barbarisms and foreign words, a certain conscious care in the the works of literature is felt when it comes to language selection. In the course of centuries hence the tendency is formed for literary language to be as much as pure and selective as possible. One thing is the colloquial language, often ridden with foreign words, and entirely different thing is the language of literary works in which tendency for language purity arises. The way and the extent to which that need could be satisfied is different in various periods, but the tendency for as pure and selective language can be noted even in Old Dubrovnik writers, and in Vitezović. All the way to pre-Illyrian and Illyrian efforts and by the end of the XIX. century, when the osmotic influence of traditional Croatian literary heritage does not cease to stop...That care of language purity which characterizes Croatian literary expression even in the XIX. century, remains immanent in later periods...Literary language of the Croats is in fact organic continuation of older state of affairs in Croatian literature.

In a session regarding the issue of the usage for foreign words in Croatian language, as well on the problems of ongoing projects of coining Slavic replacements for established technical terms by combined efforts of linguists and specialists, the central body for the standardisation of Croatian language—the Council for Standard Croatian Language Norm—presents the historical overview of the issue as follows:
The attitude towards foreign words in Croatian literary language is multi-dimensional in many respects.
The origin of Croatian language culture, when writing in Slavic, is determined by the tradition of Church Slavonic literature.
Originating from copies of Ancient Greek liturgical texts, it places a distinct emphasis to Slavic expressive devices, and only exceptionally non-Slavic words are being borrowed.
That tendency has been continued in Croatian language culture to this day.
The usage of Croatian words, if necessary even in a modified meaning, or Croatian coinages, if they're considered to be successful, represents higher merit then mere mechanical borrowing of foreign expressive devices.
That way the Croatian word is more solemn and formal (glazba, mirovina, redarstvenik), and the loanword is more relaxing and less demanding (muzika, penzija, policajac).
This dimension of purism is incorporated into the very foundations of Croatian language sensitivity.

The early period

In the Dubrovnikmarker Renaissance literature, 16th century poet Dinko Zlatarić freely "translated" Greek and Latin names into Croatian — sometimes wrongly, due to superficial knowledge of etymology. For instance, in his translation of Torquato Tasso's "Aminta", published in 1580, Zlatarić's purist tendencies led to mistakes: the hero's name Aminta becomes in Croatian Ljubmir (Lover) because Zlatarić wrongly assumed that the name "Aminta" stems from Latin amare ("to love"), while in fact it is from Ancient Greek (amýnō, "to defend").

This tradition of Croatian neologisms continued uninterruptedly in next centuries and is recorded in numerous Croatian dictionaries until the Illyrian movement in the 19th century when it reached the peak in works of one of the most prominent Croatian philologists, Bogoslav Šulek (born and raised in Slovakiamarker).

The Illyrian period and Šulek's activity

The Illyrian movement and its successor, the Zagrebmarker philological school, have been particularly successful in creating the corpus of Croatian terminology that covered virtually all areas of modern civilisation. In short — they extended and systematised the purist tendencies already present in the by then more than 300 years old Croatian vernacular literature and lexicography.

This was especially visible in two fundamental works: Ivan Mažuranić's and Josip Užarević's: "German-Croatian dictionary" from 1842 and Bogoslav Šulek's "German-Croatian-Italian dictionary of scientific terminology", 1875. These works, particularly Šulek's, systematised (i.e. collected from older dictionaries), invented and coined Croatian terminology for the 19th century jurisprudence, military schools, exact and social sciences, as well as numerous other fields (technology and commodities of urban civilisation).

These accomplishments didn't come out of blue, but are a product of multicentenary tradition in Croatian language — therefore it is no surprise that Croatian linguist Stjepan Babić's monumental monograph "Tvorba riječi u hrvatskome književnom jeziku" (Word-formation in Croatian literary language), 1986, is considered still the best work on the topic in the entire Slavic philology.

The Yugoslav period

During Yugoslav period, from 1918 to 1990, Croatian and Serbian were largely subject to unification as the Serbo-Croatian Language. Parts of this policy were systematic attempts to eliminate traits of the Croatian literary language by which it distinguished itself from the Serbian literary language

The only brief exception was in the puppet "Independent State of Croatiamarker", 1941 to 1945, when totalitarian dictatorship of Ante Pavelić pushed purist tendencies to extremes. No Croatian dictionaries or grammars were published during this period because of the opposition of the Croatian linguists. This era is best covered in Marko Samardžija's "Hrvatski jezik u Nezavisnoj Državi Hrvatskoj", (Croatian language in Independent State of Croatia), 1993.

To understand the processes during the Yugoslav period, one must take into account at least three factors:

  • Serbian language is "unfriendly" toward neologisms. One of basic tendencies of this language is to prefer loan-words over neologisms and calques. Ironically, a non-negligible part of Slavic neologisms in this language was adopted from Croatian, for instance računovodstvo ("bank accountancy") or vodovod ("waterworks").

  • Unification into one, Serbo-Croatian language was preferred by neogrammarian Croatian Vukovians (the most notable example was influential philologist and translator Tomislav Maretić). The recipe was simple: if a term is described by two words in Croatian (a neologism and Greek/Latin Europeanism) and one word in Serbian (Europeanism) — the "choice" was to suppress Croatian neologism and "promote" Europeanism. For instance, "geography" is geografija in Serbian, and zemljopis and geografija in Croatian. The policy was to try to establish geografija as the norm and to eliminate zemljopis. However, this school was virtually extinct by 1930s and since then Croatian linguists have been unanimous in re-affirmation of purist tradition.

  • While during monarchist Yugoslaviamarker "Serbo-Croatian" unification was motivated mainly by the Greater Serbia policy, in the Communist period (1945 to 1990) it was the by-product of Communist centralism and "internationalism". This period is described in the "Novi Sad agreement" and "Declaration" section of Croatian language page. Whatever the intentions, the result was the same: the suppression of one of basic features of Croatian language.

In Communist Yugoslaviamarker, Serbian language and terminology were prevailing in a few areas: the military, diplomacy, Federal Yugoslav institutions (various institutes and research centres), state media and jurisprudence at Yugoslav level. Also, the language in Bosnia and Herzegovinamarker was gradually Serbified, chifly in the official terminology educational system and the republic's administration. For Croatian tradition of neologisms, these were "no go" areas.

The methods used for this "unification" were manifold and chronologically multifarious; even still in the eighties, a common "argument" was to claim that the opponents of the official Yugoslav language policy were sympathising with the Ustaša regime of Warld War 2, and that the incriminated words were thus "ustašoid" as well. Another method was to punish authors who fought against censorship. Linguists and philologists, the authors of dictionaries, grammars etc., were not allowed to write their works freely and according to the best of thir professional knowledge and competence. Hence, for example, the whole edition of the Croatian Orthography ('Hrvatski pravopis') edited by Babić-Finka-Moguš (1971) was destroyed in a paper factory just because it had been titled "Croatian" Orthography instead of "Serbocroatian" or "Croatoserbian" Orthography No Croatian dictionaries (apart from the historical "Croatian or Serbian" dictionaries, conceived in the 19th century) appeared until 1985, when Communist centralism was well in the process of decay.

After the Communism

After the collapse of Communism and subsequent wars, the situation changed. Prior to 1991, the passive Croatian vocabulary contained many banished words equivalent to the actively used words of the politically approved vocabulary. For example, the officers of the JNA could be publicly called only oficir, and not časnik. For the usage of word časnik ('officer'), coined by a father of Croatian scientific terminology Bogoslav Šulek, the physician Ivan Šreter was sentenced to 50 days in jail in 1987. Concordantly, the possibility of using the previously frequent word časnik was already reduced to the extent that before 1991 it could occur only in special contexts, e.g. in relation to historical events. Such suppressive relations changed significantly after the dissolution of the SFRJ and the founding of the sovereign Republic of Croatiamarker. The regained freedom enabled public usage of previously forbidden words in the semantic sphere of administration, army etc. As a consequence, formerly suppressed words switched from the more or less passive vocabulary of the Croatian literary language to the active one without any special stylistic marking.

Many Croats reacted by "expelling" all words in the Croatian language that had, in their minds, even distant Serbian origin.

Croatian linguists fought this wave of "populist purism", led by various patriotic non-linguists. Ironically: the same people who were, for decades, stigmatised as ultra-Croatian "linguistic nationalists" (Stjepan Babić, Dalibor Brozović, Radoslav Katičić, Miro Kačić) have been accused as pro-Serbian "political linguists" simply because they opposed these "language purges" that wanted to kick out numerous words of Church Slavonic origin (which are common not only to Croatian and Serbian, but are also present in Polish, Russian, Czech and other Slavic languages).

After creating a flurry of sensationalist articles in the press, this phenomenon subsided. Since the late 90s, instead of forced purism, Croatian has been evolving naturally, developing its own words and forms, thereby increasing the distance separating it from other South Slav languages.

Numerous representative Croatian linguistic works were published since the end of Communism in 1990, among them three voluminous monolingual dictionaries of contemporary Croatian.


  1. Grčević 2002:150
  2. Grčević 2002:150
  3. Grčević 2002:150
  4. Grčević 2002:151
  5. Grčević 2002:151
  6. Grčević 2002:152
  7. Grčević 2002:152


  • Miro Kačić: Croatian and Serbian: Delusions and Distortions, 1997
  • Milan Moguš: A History of Croatian Literary Language, 1996

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