Serbo-Croatian /ˌsɜːrboʊkroʊˈeɪʃən, –bə-/ ( listen), also called Serbo-Croat /ˌsɜːrboʊˈkroʊæt, –bə-/, Serbo-Croat-Bosnian(SCB), Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian (BCS), or Bosnian-Croatian-Montenegrin-Serbian (BCMS), is a South Slavic languageand the primary language of Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro. It is a pluricentric language with fourmutually intelligible standard varieties.
South Slavic dialects historically formed a continuum. The turbulent history of the area, particularly due to expansion of the Ottoman Empire, resulted in a patchwork of dialectal and religious differences. Due to population migrations, Shtokavian became the most widespread dialect in the western Balkans, intruding westwards into the area previously occupied by Chakavian and Kajkavian (which further blend into Slovenian in the northwest). Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs differ in religion and were historically often part of different cultural circles, although a large part of the nations have lived side by side under foreign overlords. During that period, the language was referred to under a variety of names, such as “Slavic”, “Illyrian”, or according to region, “Bosnian”, “Serbian” and “Croatian”, the latter often in combination with “Slavonian” or “Dalmatian”.
Serbo-Croatian was standardized in the mid-19th-century Vienna Literary Agreement by Croatian and Serbian writers and philologists, decades before a Yugoslav state was established. From the very beginning, there were slightly different literary Serbian and Croatian standards, although both were based on the same Shtokavian subdialect, Eastern Herzegovinian. In the 20th century, Serbo-Croatian served as the official language of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (when it was called “Serbo-Croato-Slovenian”), and later as one of the official languages of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The breakup of Yugoslavia affected language attitudes, so that social conceptions of the language separated on ethnic and political lines. Since the breakup of Yugoslavia, Bosnian has likewise been established as an official standard in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and there is an ongoing movement to codify a separate Montenegrin standard. Serbo-Croatian thus generally goes by the ethnic names Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian, and sometimes Montenegrin and Bunjevac.
Like other South Slavic languages, Serbo-Croatian has a simple phonology, with the common five-vowel system and twenty-five consonants. Its grammar evolved from Common Slavic, with complex inflection, preserving seven grammatical cases in nouns, pronouns, and adjectives. Verbs exhibit imperfective or perfective aspect, with a moderately complex tense system. Serbo-Croatian is a pro-drop language with flexible word order, subject–verb–object being the default. It can be written in Serbian Cyrillic or Gaj’s Latin alphabet, whose thirty letters mutually map one-to-one, and the orthography is highly phonemic in all standards.