Slight adjustment: Serbian gets the edge as best Slavic gateway language

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A few days ago I wrote a post about Croatian being the best gateway Slavic language. A good gateway language to a certain language family should have two strengths in particular: 1) relatively easy to learn, 2) as similar to as many others in the language family as possible. Kind of like a language that through chance is kind of like an Interlingua or an Occidental. Croatian fits that description as I wrote in the previous post, but after a bit more looking into the subject it seems that Serbian should get a slight edge. Of course, given how the two are variants of the same language these are really just fine points.

Reasons for the slight edge to Serbian are:

- I wrote before that a Croatian speaker can easily read Serbian as well, and since Serbian is written in both Latin and Cyrillic then it's easy to expose oneself to both. On the other hand, Serbian itself gives one a great deal more passive exposure to Cyrillic, whereas with Croatian alone one could learn the language to fluency without ever seeing it. More passive exposure = a more immersive environment.

Edit: case in point.

- Resources for learning Serbian are more plentiful. When Yugoslavia was a country most Serbian or Croatian textbooks were Serbo-Croatian, which usually meant 90% Serbian with a touch of Croatian. This FSI book, Assimil's Serbo-Croatian textbook, etc.

- Serbian vocabulary seems to be slightly more pan-Slavic while Croatian has more Slovenian. Words like hleb for bread (kruh in Croatian and Slovenian) for example.

- Serbian phonology is slightly simpler. Svako (every) vs. svatko, niko (no one) vs. nitko, pol (gender) vs. spol, dete (child) vs. djeca, etc.

...and that's about it. Maybe learning about Orthodox Christianity and its culture too for those who only know about Protestantism and Catholicism. Slavic does not = Orthodox of course, but if you only know one part then it's helpful to learn about the other.

Where Croatian does have an edge are some of its native Slavic terms, such as the months of the year. Olivier said in the last post that this gives Serbian an edge (Serbian uses the familiar months of the year) but I would disagree as there really is nothing new to learn with the same familiar months we already know. Listopad (October, or was it November? Depends on the language) comes from falling leaves, for example.


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