Reviews, Errata, Comments

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Die Welt der Slaven: Internationale Halbjahresschrift für Slavistik, LIV (2009): 196-200 (Christian Voss)

Werfen wir einen kurzen Blick in die Grammatik, für die Alexander als alleinige Autorin firmiert: Sie ist das eigentliche Meisterwerk, als eigenständiges Buch und parallel als Lern- und Nachschlagegrammatik konzipiert. Sie besteht aus zwei Teilen, die jeweils einen eigenen Index im Anhang besitzen. An die eigentliche Grammatik schließt sich ein “sociolinguistic commentary” an (Grammar, 379-426), der didaktisch und fachlich das Beste ist, was zum Thema geschrieben worden ist.

[Translation: Let us take a brief look at the grammar, for which part Alexander is the sole author. It is a real masterpiece, a complete book on its own that can be used both as a learning tool and as a reference work. It consists of two parts, each of which having its own Index at the back. The grammar is followed by a sociolinguistic commentary (Grammar, pp. 379-426) which, from a didactic and professional point of view, is the best that has ever been written on the subject.]

The Slavonic and East European Review
, Volume 86, Number 3, 1 July 2008: 516-519 (Jelena Čalić)

The fact that Ronelle Alexander’s Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian: A Grammar with Sociolinguistic Commentary is the first grammar published since the break-up of former Yugoslavia to deal simultaneously with Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian makes this reference manual an exceptional and unique endeavour. Its wide-ranging erudition is coupled with an extraordinary effort to fill a number of gaps both in presenting the grammar of these languages to foreign learners and also in expanding our understanding of the historical as well as the contemporary status of the languages of Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro. (...)

The author’s detailed and lucid presentation of the facts, together with her finely-balanced judgements and persuasive insights makes Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian: A Grammar with Sociolinguistic Commentary a book that should be on the shelves of every linguist dealing with BCS. Ronelle Alexander has provided students and scholars with a reliable and comprehensive guide for further study in the linguistics of this language/these languages.

Full review available for download from Ingenta Connect.

Canadian Slavonic Papers
, 9/1/2007 (Danko Šipka)

This work is pioneering in that it is the first since the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia to make academic course materials for BCS generally available to English-speaking learners. In the fifteen years since the country disintegrated, we have seen various instances of scholarly inexpertness in the discourse surrounding BCS (confusion of regional linguistic features with ethnic ones, oversimplification in the use of the scripts, uncritical acceptance of extreme ethnic nationalist views from the region, and so forth). The authors have thus entered a sensitive field that is prone to various distortions. With that in mind, I should emphasise at the outset that the present work remains impeccably free of any non-scholarly distortions. In every segment of both books, linguistic and cultural facts are presented with full scholarly integrity, in a balanced manner, without ethnic or political bias of any kind. The authors are to be applauded for such a general attitude, as they have navigated this dangerous zone masterfully. (…)

The layout of the course materials is the next feature of the work for which the authors deserve praise. In the textbook, the students have all they need for in-class activities. Those who are interested in more elaborate coverage of the structures and the sociolinguistic situation can purchase the grammar separately; those who work on their own can purchase the recordings; and finally, all those who are looking for more general information can consult the Web site. The layout is student-friendly. The value of the course books for students is considerable, given the high degree of accuracy and clarity of the facts presented in both books. Providing the lesson texts in different ethnic variants goes a long way to accommodating the diverse needs of both professional and heritage learners.

Another strength of the course materials is the sequence in which BCS structural elements are introduced: they follow standard educational principles-from better-known to less-known, from simple to more complex. Thus, the authors first introduce the nominative case, then the accusative, followed by the genitive (these are familiar from English grammar); these cases are followed by the remaining case forms. As with the above-mentioned avoidance of any political distortions, here, too, the authors' educational expertise stands in positive contrast to some earlier Slavic-language textbooks which exhibit a dysfunctional sequencing of materials.

Full review available for download from HighBeam Research

Slavic and East European Journal, Vol. 51, No. 3, Fall 2007: 656-659. (Keith Langston)

The coverage of grammatical topics is comprehensive, and this book could be profitably used by everyone from beginners to the most advanced learners. The explanations are detailed and linguistically accurate, but at the same time are written in a manner that is accessible to readers with no special linguistic training. The author is also careful to point out some of the ways that the language as actually used by speakers differs from prescriptive norms. There are many features of this grammar that deserve special praise, but only a few can be mentioned here. The placement of clitics, a notoriously difficult problem for non-native speakers, is explained using a simple ‘XYZ’ schema that is gradually expanded from chapter to chapter. Numerous examples are cited to show the position of different types of clitics given various possible word orders in the sentence; e.g., with or without overt subject pronouns, with the use of clitic versus full forms of object pronouns, in different types of questions, and when the clitics are associated with a dependent infinitive. In Chapter 19, the placement of clitics is then given a more formal explanation in terms of obligatory and optional rhythmic constituents. The grammar uses the same simplified system of accent marking as in the textbook, and it also includes an especially clear discussion of accentual alternations, which are usually ignored in materials for teaching BCS. Different types of subjectless sentences and the various meanings and uses of verbs with se are discussed at length, and there is a very useful section on conjunctions, including an excellent explanation of compound conjunctions, which often cause problems for English speakers learning these languages. The use of aspect and tense in narrative contexts is given special treatment in Chapters 15 and 16. Last but not least, the sociolinguistic commentary in Chapters 21-26 gives an excellent and accessible overview of the complex issues surrounding Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian linguistic identity. This part of the grammar is a valuable work of scholarship in its own right that can also be read separately by anyone who wishes to learn more about this topic. The book as a whole has been very carefully produced and edited. (…)

Whether they are used separately or together, these volumes represent a great advancement in the study and teaching of BCS. In both cultural and linguistic terms they are the most complete, accurate, and up-to-date instructional materials available. They successfully provide a thorough description of the common linguistic structure shared by all three languages while fully recognizing the separate identity of each, and will be an invaluable resource for teachers, students, and scholars for years to come.

Forum for Modern Language Studies, 43:3 (July)

The energy and devotion behind the production of such a volume is difficult to imagine. The twenty chapters of the grammar cover all possible topics - from phonology to morphophonology, morphology, morphosyntax, syntax and word formation - fully and with extensive exemplification. The first five sociolinguistic chapters cover writing systems, dialect differences, and explorations of the three countries concerned, concluded by a sixth chapter asking if there is one language or more than one - for the reader to discover their answer.

Full review available from Oxford Journals.

Scholarship on the Grammar

Robert D. Greenberg, Language and Identity in the Balkans: Serbo-Croatian and Its Disintegration, Oxford University Press, 2008.

    Recently, Ronelle Alexander and Ellen Elias-Bursac published a textbook [...],  Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian to fill the void left by the new language realities. Their work is an impressive effort to provide pedagogical materials, a grammar, and exercises for students interested in learning Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian. A companion volume by Ronelle Alexander provides a more thorough analysis of grammar and valuable sociolinguistic commentary. The two volumes contain much useful information, and are particularly effective for motivated students. Several departments in the United States  have adopted these materials for the first-year language courses. Students at the University of California Berkeley, Princeton University, and the University of Chicago are now able to pick and choose sections of the two books that might relate to their particular language of interest.
    For instance, a student planning to conduct dissertation research in Croatia can learn to read and write using the Latin alphabet, and has an option to study the Cyrillic alphabet in order to access source materials published during the times of Socialist Yugoslavia. The student whose parents emigrated from Montenegro can learn to read and write using the Cyrillic alphabet, and is likely to use only ijekavian forms and avoid distinctly Croatian vocabulary items. However it is still unclear how these volumes will be viewed by those insisting on separate language textbooks for each of the 'successor' languages.
    While Alexander acknowledges the new realities in the titles of the books and throughout the text, the work grows out of a tradition of viewing Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian as a single linguistic system where mutual intelligibility is still preserved. No scholar can predict the future state of affairs, and whether in 50 or 100 years separate courses and separate textbooks for Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian would be a necessity, as the languages potentially drift further and further apart.  p. 169


p. 2, In section 1b, under the heading The Latin Alphabet, there are examples of upper and lower case Latin letters on the left side of the lefthand box. The list furthest to the left provides examples of capital letters, while the one to its right should be examples of lower case letters. The first six letters of the list (A, B, C, Č, Ć, D) on the right are capitals when they should be lower case.
p. 409, the phrase lak / lak should be lak / laka


Please send your comments on  BOSNIAN, CROATIAN, SERBIAN, A GRAMMAR AND SOCIOLINGUISTIC COMMENTARY to comments@bcsgrammarandtextbook.org.