Similarities and differences between Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian

Similarities and differences between Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian

What is BCS?

The abbreviation BCS is often used as a collective name for Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian. This is because the languages are very close to each other, and information can be communicated in BCS and understood by speakers of all three languages. This is an effective and convenient way for authorities to reach out to speakers of these languages, but there are of course similarities and differences between the individual languages.

Published 11/3/2016


During the time of Yugoslavia, Serbo-Croatian was the country’s official language. There was an eastern variant (in Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia) and a western variant (in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina). Two alphabets were used: the Cyrillic alphabet and the Latin alphabet. There were regional and dialectal differences even at this time, but the official language was Serbo-Croatian.

Dividing up the languages

After the conflicts of the 1990s, Yugoslavia was divided up into several new nations which decided to establish their own official languages. Serbo-Croatian was divided up into three languages: Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian. Serbian still uses both the Cyrillic and Latin alphabets, while Bosnian and Croatian are written in Latin script.

In purely linguistic terms the differences are not significant – generally speaking, they are mutually intelligible in both spoken and written forms. What constitutes a language is determined by both linguistic and political criteria. The linguist Max Weinreich once said, a little facetiously, that “A language is a dialect with an army and a navy”. As the new nations wanted to establish themselves firmly they also chose to establish their own languages.

Similarities remain

Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian remain very similar, but as individual languages they are now evolving independently. They deal with buzz words, loan words and neologisms differently and may diverge increasingly in the future, but it is currently safe to say that there are fewer differences between the languages than between Swedish, Norwegian and Danish.

Authorisation in all languages

The Swedish Legal, Financial and Administrative Services Agency still issues a single authorisation that covers Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian. Those translators who were previously authorised in Serbo-Croatian had their authorisations converted when the agency began using the BCS designation.


Latest blogposts