How many languages is that?

Serbo-Croat? Serbian? Croatian? Bosnian? Montenegrin? How many languages is that?  Saying that there are four languages, or that there is one, are both oversimplifications. Here's an approximation of the whole truth:

 In the linguist's sense, there is just a single language, a South Slavic dialect continuum with a dozen or more dialects and  four standardized forms. However, Standard Serbo-Croat, which prevailed until 1989, was never a single standard.  Rather, it was a fusion of two existing standards, an agreement that Standard Croatian and Standard Serbian (both of which already existed) would be treated as equally acceptable for all purposes. In this way it is like the position of Standard Bokmål and Standard Nynorsk in Norway, and like what would be the case if British society decided to accept Standard American English as a written standard with a status equal to Standard British English, or vice versa. It is that agreement which came apart when Yugoslavia did, and it has been followed by the creation of a third standard for Bosnian and a fourth one for Montenegrin.

All four standard languages are founded on the historic dialect of Eastern Hercegovina, an instance of the neo-Štokavian macro-dialect which is now the most widely spoken variety of naš jezik 'our language', as it is politely called, in the whole of the former Yugoslavia. (Macro-dialects are conventionally labeled by the word they use for 'what?' — in this case, što.) They differ roughly as follows:

  • Standard Croatian employs exclusively Ijekavian forms (that is, the descendant of historic jat vowels is ije), admits influences from the Chakavian and Kajkavian macro-dialects, is relatively hostile to Western loanwords and does not normally respell the ones it accepts, and is written exclusively in the Latin script.

  • Standard Serbian allows either Ijekavian or Ekavian forms, has no such influences from the other macro-dialects, is relatively friendly to Western loanwords and respells the ones it accepts to match Serbian pronunciation conventions, and is written with equal acceptability in the Latin and Cyrillic scripts.

  • Standard Bosnian is close to Standard Serbian, has some influences from the palaeo-Shtokavian macro-dialect, is exclusively Ijekavian, and uses the Latin script only.

  • Standard Montenegrin is even closer to Standard Serbian, but it uses the Latin script only and is exclusively Ijekavian.

There are also many differences in vocabulary, on about the same scale as the differences between British and American English.

My understanding is essentially dependent on the work of Miro Kačić, the Croatian linguist (in both senses of that term). While highly respected, Kačić's work is of course controversial, like everything else about the language he worked on.


U.S. Moby Latin Keyboard for Windows

I'm announcing my U.S. Moby Latin keyboard driver for Windows.  It allows you to type more than 900 different Unicode characters, without interfering substantially with the regular use of a U.S. keyboard.  The way in which the additional non-ASCII characters are reached is by using the AltGr key.  (Not too many keyboards actually have this key, but its equivalent is the right-hand Alt key, or on keyboards without a right-hand Alt key, using the Ctrl and Alt keys at the same time.)

The keyboard is designed for people who use the regular U.S. keyboard heavily, but occasionally need to type other Latin letters (especially accented ones), symbols, and punctuation.  In particular, the keyboard supports the Windows-1252 (U.S. and Western Europe) repertoire, as well as almost every Latin letter in Unicode.

This keyboard handles only the extended Latin alphabet.  If you want a regular Greek, Russian Cyrillic, or full IPA keyboard, I recommend the standard Microsoft Greek keyboard, the Russian Phonetic YaWert keyboard, and the Benct X-Sampa keyboard respectively.

If you want a Moby-style keyboard driver for the U.K. physical keyboard, use my Whacking Latin keyboard driver instead.

There are two basic ways to type characters other than the regular ASCII set. A few characters are directly typed by holding down AltGr and pressing another key.  For example, to type the character æ, simply type AltGr+a.  As you might expect, the capital version Æ is typed as AltGr+Shift+a.  However, the great majority of characters are typed using AltGr plus some key, followed by another key that doesn't use AltGr. For example, the letter a with diaeresis (ä) is typed with AltGr+; (that is, AltGr plus semicolon) followed by a, or by A if you want the capital a with diaeresis (Ä).

Combinations like AltGr+; are known as "dead keys", because they appear to be dead when you type them; you need to press a following key to actually input a character.  The current version, C, of the Moby Latin keyboard has a total of 33 dead keys.  23 specific accent marks and modifying strokes are provided, as well as curly quotation marks and other punctuation, math symbols, Roman numerals, fractions, arrows, pointing hands, math Greek letters and symbols (no accents), obscure Latin letters, and a subset of IPA letters needed for English.  (Some math symbols were taken from the space cadet keyboard.)  Some of these dead keys are typed using AltGr+Shift, which makes them a little awkward to type, but they are intended to be as easy to remember as possible.

You can look at the README file to see the full range of characters that can be typed.

This keyboard and the associated documentation are Open Source, and may be freely copied and modified.  The license terms for both is the MIT License.  Use, share, and enjoy!


A Tolkien Virgin

Back in 1999-2002, starting before the Peter Jackson films had appeared, a blogger named Mark-Edmond Howell undertook to read the whole of The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings in that order and to write chapter-by-chapter commentary in Tolkien Online as he went.  As he himself says, he had started The Hobbit some years before but not gotten very far into it, and was vaguely aware of some of the pre-Jackson films.  While theonering.net has undertaken to lovingly preserve A Tolkien Virgin, their index is in reverse order of posting (which sometimes differs slightly from book order), and is chopped up arbitrarily, making it hard to navigate.  As a public service, therefore, I am providing this organized and properly ordered table of contents to A Tolkien Virgin, using chapter titles rather than numbers in all cases (Book IV, Chapter 4, what's that?  "Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit", ahhhh!)  Share and enjoy.  And as Mark-Edmond says, keep thinking!

The Silmarillion
The Hobbit

Note that some commentaries cover two or even three chapters.
The Fellowship of the Ring
The Return of the King
    There is room for vast amounts of meta-commentary here.  Let me just point to Mark-Edmond's fascination with Círdan the Shipwright, and how satisfying he finds it that Círdan reappears at the end.