IMAGES Journal for Visual Studies

projects: Visual Culture and New Media

Type and Hush. The Croatian Language on the Internet

By Ognjen Strpić

After its independence, in Croatia the pressure of language standardization took on dramatic proportions. The pressure is dictated politically and supported by scientific (Institute of Croatian Language and Linguistics) and professional institutions (Speech and Language Office of the Croatian Radiotelevision). Everything published must be proofread, which mostly signifies a translation into a higher language register, primarily through lexical selection ("cleansing" of loanwords) and syntactic harmonization with the desirable type of constructions.

The key figure of Tuđmanism, the defense of a small nation against large ones, is reflected in the language policy: the language of a small nation needs to be defended against the languages of large nations. The language barriers (the bastion of language) are historically dynamic: while they were turned against Serbian and Turkish loanwords during the war, the front-line more recently livened against the threat of anglicisms. Citizens are expected to adopt "Croatianism" as a certain quasi-essential supreme value also in the language. Like the political, so the linguistic Croatianism may be described as scruples against the other: loanwords (on the lexical level) as well as syntactic influences of other languages (strongest in the discourses of advertising, science and technology) or the "substandard" (localisms, jargonisms, vulgarisms, etc.) within the Croatian language itself.

On the Internet, however, the media are mostly not institutionalized. Except on "official" websites of publishers in the wider sense, it is impossible to conduct language control modelled on traditional media. How des the living language behave when in the free? Did the communicational criterion prevail over the criterion of Croatianism of the language? Owing to the Internet, today anyone can freely use the Croatian language in public speech – how far is this power actually realized? In this study we will aim to answer these questions.

Since the birth of the Internet, one of the first reactions of language professionals was the complaint about the "poor" language on the Internet, describing the Internet media as a language jungle and the realm of the illiterate. It can hardly be denied that poor language may indeed also be found on the Internet. What is disputable, however, is that the (functional) illiteracy dominates: it might be expected that those writing more easily and better should also write more in quantitative terms. The massive need of the illiterate to write more than they have to would be a very interesting and exceptional phenomenon, for which, however, it is difficult to find proof.

Neither this aspect of linguistic freedom, namely the freedom to (publicly) write poorly, is negligible: from the communicational aspect, if the author has something to say, it is much better that he does so, be it in a linguistically inadequate manner, than that he does not to do so at all.

Contrary to the a priori defensive attitude of the profession, it seems that Croatian Internet users have a quite solid command of their language:, a website on which anyone is allowed to write, displays an acceptable use of the standard language. Indeed, the objective freedom from linguistic pressures results in a language that is not very different from that of the institutionalized media. Figurative expressions have been reduced to the least possible measure, and typical "differential" pairs have been accepted (pažnja/pozornost, privreda/gospodarstvo, Evropa/Europa, etc.). Is it a question of a lack of boldness or motivation, or did Croats simply accept the basic characteristics of public speech which have been presented to them as ideologically desirable?

We will not even attempt to give a conclusive answer to this last question. In the continuation of this work, we will present several examples of the linguistic use of Croatian on the Internet (through the cases of and local Usenet-groups) and compare their most visible characteristics to some of the more influential sources:

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