The Serbian language is either official or predominant language in Serbia, Montenegro and the Republic of Srpska (Bosnia and Herzegovina).
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Serbian language uses two alphabets, Cyrillic and Latin.
Also, it has two main pronunciations, Ekavian and Iyekavian, reflecting the different development of the pronunciation of the Old-Slavic phoneme ѣ. Phoneme ѣ is usually replaced by vowel e in Ekavian dialect while in Iyekavian dialect it is usually replaced either by two-syllable group - ije or by one-syllable group - je.
Ekavian is mostly spoken in Serbia, whereas Iyekavian is mostly spoken in Montenegro, and the Republic of Srpska/Bosnia and Herzegovina. Obviously, these dialects have no strict borders among the Serbian speakers.
Both dialects are standard.
Both dialects can be written in both Cyrillic and Latin alphabets (for instance, the text on Quality Assurance on my proz.com profile was translated using Serbian Cyrillic alphabet and Iyekavian dialect/pronunciation)
Cyrillic alphabet is preferred or mandatory (e.g. in official use, public administration, etc). This is where the translator's advice will be helpful.
It is allowed to use only one dialect and one alphabet throughout one text. Mixing the two pronunciations or two alphabets is not allowed. For example, you can use Cyrillic or Latin alphabet to write in Iyekavian or Ekavian dialect. But you cannot mix Cyrillic and Latin alphabets in the same text, nor is it possible to mix Iyekavian and Ekavian dialects in the same text, other than for stylistic/literary purposes.
Most Serbian native speakers are perfectly fine with both dialect/alphabet variants. However, exceptions can be found with regard to the official use of language, or in specific areas, such as marketing, etc. This is again where the translator’s services are essential.
Every Serbian translator/linguist can use both alphabets, and almost all Serbian translators/linguists can write in both dialects.
Other than the difference in pronunciation, there are no major differences between the two Serbian dialects.
The language spoken in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro was called Serbo-Croatian until the 1990s. Some linguists argue that the language spoken in these former Yugoslav republics (now independent countries) is, linguistically, one language.
The slight differences between these idioms pose no obstacle to mutual understanding of their speakers, and it seems that the basic language function, that of communication, can be realized smoothly. Some authors, who write about the political and symbolic functions of language in the area, argue that these functions have had the upper hand in the last twenty years in the Balkans region. It appears that this has resulted in the tendency to give different names to virtually one language.
Thus, apart from Serbian and Croatian as separate languages, new languages emerged, such as Bosniak, or even Montenegrin.
This issue is under debate in the region.
One of the bodies competent to discuss current issues relative to the modern Serbian language is the Committee for the Standardization of the Serbian Language (Odbor za standardizaciju srpskog jezika), established by the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Academy of Sciences and Arts of Montenegro, Academy of Sciences and Arts of the Republic of Srpska, the Matica Srpska Society, Institute for the Serbian Language in Belgrade, faculties of philology in Belgrade and Pristina, faculties of philosophy in Novi Sad, Niksic, Nis, East Sarajevo, and Banja Luka, as well as the University of Kragujevac and the Serbian Literary Association in Belgrade. This body regularly publishes papers on current topics in the Serbian language, as well as its opinions, recommendations and guidance concerning linguistic dilemmas in its publication called Jezik danas.
In this context, when negotiating a translation the agency/outsourcer should, together with the translator, determine some general and Serbian-specific issues:
- the target group (also geographically);
- purpose of the translation;
- the dialect to be used;
- the alphabet to be used;
This is the first step to assure quality of the Serbian translation. To facilitate the process, a small translation log (or part of it) could be designed consisting of a few rows and columns with the basic above-mentioned information. This would give a clear picture to the translator as to his/her target group with regard to which to localize the translation.