How many people understand the Bosnian language?


Bosnia, Language / Thursday, August 2nd, 2018

What is the Bosnian Language?

Bosnian is one of three official languages of Bosnia and Herzegovina, along with Croatian and Serbian, and also an officially recognized minority or regional language in Serbia, Montenegro,  and the Republic of Kosovo.  Like the other two official languages, Croatian and Serbian it is a standardized version of Serbo-Croatian.  Linguists find that the main Ptokavian dialects of Croatian, Serbian, Montenegrin and Bosnian are now recognized as separate languages on political and sociological grounds and not the basis of linguistic science, are generally mutually intelligible to a high degree.  

What is Serbo-Croatian?

Serbo-Croatian is a part of the Slavic Language Family that spans from the Balkans to Russia. These languages come from an original language originating from a Slavic people in modern day Ukraine who migrating all over Europe starting in 500 AD. In the 19th and 20th century Balkan dialects of South Slavic languages were united under various empires and a communist regime.  In order to homogenize the people under one language it was standardized using a Croatian dialect spelling.  In fact many Serbian dialect speakers have trouble spelling because the spelling and pronunciation of words is so different.  When Yugoslavia broke apart in the early 1990’s the same forces that drove Serbo-Croatian to homogenize drove it apart.  This is why Serbo-Croatian speakers will tell you they speak 4 languages (Croatian, Serbian, Montenegrin and Bosnian) just like an English speaker could tell you they speak 4 languages as well (American English, British English, Austrialian English, Bostonian English).

How many speakers of Bosnian are there?

Estimates of Bosnian speakers are around 2.5-3.5 million and 21 million Serbio-Croatian speakers

How many other Slavic Language speakers can understand Bosnian?

Mutual intelligibility is the term that linguists use to describe how much of a language someone who speaks another understands. Robert Lindsay published a paper

Mutual Intelligibility among the Slavic Languages by Robert Lindsay documenting this among Slavic language families.  He also talks about it in his wordpress blog

Mutual Intelligibility of Serbo-Croatian
Serbo-Croatian 97%
Macedonian 55%
Slovenian 44%
Czech 27%
Slovak 24%
Bulgarian 20%
Ukranian 5%
The author notes that these are averages and duel language speakers who speak multiple languages muddy up the results.  Macedonians listening to Serbo-Croatian speakers from Serbia have a understood 90% of their speech while coastal Croatian speakers were understand at 25%.  The author even found that Croatian speakers from Zagreb in the interior had very low understandings of Croatian Speakers from southern Croatia such as Dubrovnik.
Conclusion
If you learn standard Serbo-Croatian you will be understood by the vast majority of people from the countries of Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia, and Montenegro who also speak Serbo-Croatian in one form or another. Outside Serbo-Croatian speakers those who are in the surrounding countries once part of Yugoslavia (South Slavic) will understand half of what you say.  Beyond these countries you would expect a Slavic speaker to understand one in five words in Bosnian (Serbo-Croatian).
Language Family Pop Total Mutual Intelligibility
Serbo-Croatian Speakers 21 Million 97%
South Slavic Speakers 30 Million 44-50%
Slavic Speakers 315 Million 5-27%

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