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Best Contribution to Language Pedagogy, AATSEEL, 2009

Ronelle Alexander and Ellen Elias-Bursać, for: Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian. A Textbook With Exercises and Basic Grammar. (Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2006).

Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian is an ambitious undertaking that grapples with the enormous challenges Slavists face in organizing study of the languages of the former Yugoslavia. It is the first textbook in the wake of the disintegration of that country to give students the choice to study only one of the three languages, or compare two, or work on all three at once. Even students learning only one of the three languages cannot help but become aware of some of the languages’ similarities and differences, thus gaining access to ethnicities that speak closely related tongues. The text’s structure, which offers parallel linguistic material in all three languages at once (including both Cyrillic and non-Cyrillic Serbian) acknowledges the distinct identity and features of each language, but also permits easy comparison of their norms. The textbook input is available on CD, and the website that accompanies the book offers students links of cultural and linguistic materials in each language. The textbook can serve independent learners as well as those in a traditional classroom, and its welcome publication fills a void in the profession.


Use of the Textbook in US classrooms is mentioned several times in:
Marijeta Božović. "From YU to EU in the Language Classroom Teaching Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian in a Time of Accession." NewsNet October 2013, pages 16-20.

Amazon.com reviews here.

Reviews on Amazon.de

January 27, 2012:
Das mit Abstand beste moderne Bosnisch/Kroatisch/Serbisch-Lehrbuch, das ich bislang gesehen habe. Sehr erfreulich ist der Ansatz, die drei Sprachen/Dialekte parallel zu zeigen: so kann man die Gemeinsamkeiten nutzen und die kleinen Unterschiede kennenlernen. Wer unbedingt will, kann sich aber auch problemlos auf nur eine der Varianten konzentrieren.
Die Lektionen sind angenehm strukturiert in kleine Abschnitte mit Vokabular, Grammatik, Lesetexten und Übungen. Somit ist es für Selbststudium wie auch Klassenunterricht geeignet. Der Stil ist freundlich, aber nicht kindisch (wie sonst so oft bei Sprachlehrbüchern).
Aber Vorsicht: die Lernkurve ist steil, gerade Anfänger im Selbststudium "von Null" werden allein mit diesem Buch wohl ihre Schwierigkeiten haben. Sichere Englischkenntnisse sind natürlich Voraussetzung.
(Translation: By a wide margin the best Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian textbook that I have seen so far. Particularly satisfying is the technique of displaying the three languages/dialects in parallel: in this way one can make use of the common elements and get to know the small differences. But one can also, if one so desires, concentrate on one of the variants without any problem. The lessons are attractively structured in small sections with vocabulary, grammar, reading texts, and exercises. The textbook is thus well-suited for self-study as well as for classroom instruction. The style is friendly, but not childish (as is so often the case with language textbooks). But be careful: the learning curve is steep, and self-study users starting "from zero" may well experience some difficulties with this book. A good knowledge of English is of course a prerequisite.)

December 17, 2009:
Das Lehrwerk von Ronelle Alexander und Ellen Elias-Bursac ist - nachdem ich über die letzten zwei, drei Jahre ein gutes Dutzend Lehrbücher für Kroatisch für meine eigenen Zwecke geprüft habe - mit Abstand das vollständigste und systematischste Werk. Es ist eine konzeptionelle Meisterleistung, und zwar sowohl das "Textbook" als auch die "Grammar". Das Lehrwerk ist für all diejenigen, die es "wirklich ganz genau" wissen wollen, und die von den vielen oberflächlichen pseudo-ansprechenden und kommunikativ-animierenden Lehrbüchern eher genervt sind, die ideale Lösung.
(Translation: The teaching manual by Ronelle Alexander and Ellen Elias-Bursac is--after I have examined a good dozen Croatian textbooks for my own purposes over the last two, three years--by a wide margin the most complete and most systematic work. It is a conceptual masterwork, both as regards the "Textbook" and the "Grammar".  This teaching manual is the ideal solution for all those who want to know "exactly how it is" and who are put off by the many superficial pseudo-appealing and would-be communicatively animated textbooks that the market offers.)

Reviews in Academic Journals

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

Im Anhang findet sich ein Glossar BCS-English und English-BCS (Textbook, 379-481), das zwar nur den erarbeiteten Grund- und Aufbauwortschatz enthält, aber genau das bietet, was uns die heutige Lexikographie in Zagreb und Belgrad verweigert, indem sie jugoslawische Gemeinsamkeiten bewusst ausmerzt. Mit dem Teil English-BCS wird hier beiläufig eine der kompaktesten und übersichtlichsten Darstellungen zur lexikalischen Divergenz der serbokroatischen Nachfolgesprachen geliefert.

[Translation: In the appendix there is a BCS-English and English-BCS glossary (Textbook, p. 379-481) that, although giving only the basic vocabulary, offers exactly what contemporary lexicography in Zagreb and Belgrade denies us by consciously rooting out all common Yugoslav elements. And, in addition, the English-BCS part provides one of the most compact and well-arranged presentations of the lexical divergence of the successor languages of Serbo-Croatian.]

Nationalities Papers: The Journal of Nationalism and Ethnicity, 36:4, 776-778. (Cynthia Simmons)

Ronelle Alexander and Ellen Elias-Bursać's textbook and Ronelle Alexander's accompanying grammar of Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian fill a void that has existed since the demise of Yugoslav linguistic "unification" and centralization. It supplants its precursor, Introduction to the Croatian and Serbian Language (1966; revised 1991) by Thomas F. Magner, which attempted, similarly, to provide students with choices between variants during an earlier period of the waning of "Serbo-Croatian." The task has become even more daunting, and Alexander and Elias-Bursać have brought their considerable linguistic, cultural, and pedagogical expertise to this thorough, and subtle, publication (...) Specialists, whether or not engaged in teaching the languages, can only applaud Alexander's and Elias-Bursać's work to incorporate and distinguish (according to language) myriad variations across this linguistic terrain. It is the textbook to choose.

Book Reviews

<big>Book Reviews</big>

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

Aware of the difficulties involved in teaching three languages that are rather similar but nevertheless by no means identical, the authors of Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian: A Textbook have opted for an approach that gives equal space and weight to all three languages and cultures. Each dialogue in this textbook is rendered in each of Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian, the last given in both Latin and Cyrillic script. All the metalinguistic commentaries meticulously point out similarities and differences.

The textbook is a valuable tool for teachers as well, since it makes it possible to teach all three languages using the one and the same material rather than having to constantly adapt and rework other teaching materials. The existing resources for teaching Croatian and Serbian via English are scarce at the moment. The useful non-academic books currently available are generally aimed at foreign learners with family ties or those who intend to travel to former Yugoslavia. Therefore Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian: A Textbook must be welcomed as the first comprehensive academic coursebook for teaching all three languages.

Full review available for download from Ingenta Connect.

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

Ronelle Alexander and Ellen Elias-Bursać have come to the rescue. Drawing on their considerable experience teaching BCS at Berkeley and Harvard, respectively, they have jointly produced the first textbook to give equal treatment to all three languages. All dialogues and most exercises are given in separate Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian versions; other exercises and the vocabulary lists clearly distinguish ekavian vs. ijekavian forms and lexical items that are not common to all three languages. The grammar explanations and notes also carefully point out other important differences in usage. The first three lessons give the Serbian texts in both Latin and Cyrillic, and in the rest of the book they alternate between the two alphabets.  (…)

This textbook has many features to recommend it. The authors have made judicious choices in the selection of vocabulary and sequencing of grammatical topics. The admirably clear and concise grammar explanations are cross-referenced to fuller treatments in the companion volume; the information in the textbook itself is complete enough that students would not necessarily have to consult the separate grammar, but in this case some elaboration by the instructor would be helpful at times. Pitch accent and quantity are indicated by a simplified system of notation that is easy to understand and use. In contrast to the practice in other BCS textbooks with which I am familiar, accent and quantity are marked consistently throughout the text, and this alone would make this volume a vast improvement over its competitors. The dialogues, exercises, and other assignments provide good material for individual, pair, and group practice of new vocabulary and structures as well as review and consolidation of material already learned. The book is rich in cultural information and contains numerous black and white images and maps. The layout is attractive and easy to read, and there are very few typographical errors.   (…)

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.

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 Englishspeaking 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

, Summer, 2007, Vol. 16, no. 3, Slavic Languages Division American Translators Association (Stephen Dickey)

To conclude, BCST [the Textbook] contains an impressive course of materials for those wishing to learn and teach BCS, and is strikingly innovative in its consistent presentation of Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian in a side-by-side manner. The linguistic accuracy of Alexander and Bursać’s presentation is good, and more than adequate for a first-year textbook. It includes a great deal of cultural information in the lessons, probably more than any textbook I am aware of, as well as numerous black-and-white photographs from Belgrade, Sarajevo and Zagreb. The editing is excellent [...]. The grammar explanations, while generally good, are not always sufficiently complete to stand alone, and additional explanations must be taken either from BCSG [the Grammar] or some other source. The main drawback is the lack of structured problem-solving tasks (ordering in a restaurant, purchases, etc.), which instructors will have to add using their own materials.

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

The formatting and presentation are extremely clear, with total acknowledgement given to each of the three languages (and an awareness borne in mind of an emergence of Montenegrin). There are masses of examples, all fully glossed and explained, the whole both rigorously serious and pedagogically admirable. All prosodic information is consistently given - quite a novelty - such that we have here a new benchmark for descriptions of this language, or these languages.

Full review available from Oxford Journals.

Scholarship on the Textbook 

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

Prvoslav Radić, "O eksternoj standardizaciji srpskog jezika," Južnoslovenski filolog, LXIV (2008): 365-383.

S u m m a r y


    The weakening of the SFRY (Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia) which was followed by its dissolution, had an impact on a wide range of issues, one of them being the degradation of the so called Serbo-Croatian language. Not only did the external political influences contribute to the dissolution of the SFRY, but they also play a part in the linguistic profiling of new standard varieties today. However, as the dissolution of Yugoslavia couldn’t have been imagined without consequences for Serbs primarily, the transformation of the “Serbo-Croatian” language into a series of new language norms-successors of the old ones, cannot take place without challenging the rights of the great number of Serbs who live outside of Serbia. These are the rights that primarily refer to the linguistic and social identity — therefore the national identity. The best illustration of this are the external influences in the domain of linguistic engineering today, and these influences can basically be divided into extensive (e. g. commercials, radio and TV programmes) and intensive (textbooks, handbooks etc).
    The aim of this study is the analysis of those different kinds of pressures put on the standard variety of the language of Serbs. From the domain of the extensive influences (commercials) there is an example of the instruction given on a tube of toothpaste (Vademecum laboratories, Perfection 5 — Schwarzkopf & Henkel, Dusseldorf — Germany), and as an example of the intensive influences of this type, there is an American textbook (R. Alexander, E. Elias-Bursać, Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian, a Textbook, With Exercises and Basic Grammar, The University of Wisconsin Press, 2006). Both of these language materials proved to be highly compatible when it comes to the characteristics that should become an integral part of the standard language variety of Serbs, and apparently only the Serbs who live in Serbia. Among the language characteristics which are “typically Serbian” the most prominent are: ekavian dialect (“lepa deca”, not: “lijepa djeca”), the “da + prezent” construction („moram da čitam“, not: „moram čitati“), the prepositional form “sa” („sa limunom“, not: „s limunom“), as well as many other characteristics like interrogative sentences beginning with da li („Da li si student?“, not: „Jesi li student?“) etc.
    As it follows the newly formed political borders in the area of the former SFRY, the contemporary linguistic engineering has engaged itself in creation of the new standard language varieties, including the one (or should we say, primarily the one) that belongs to the Serbs. However, the Serbs don’t have the need for the re-standardization of their language (which became widely familiar to the European community since the 17th century, and it underwent the process of standardization at the beginning of the 19th century owing to the work of Vuk Karadžić) after the dissolution of SFRY, especially if it would be carried out from the outside and not take into account all the entities of this nation, e. g. the Serbs in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, etc. Because it is those Serbs who have always contributed significantly to the culture, science, and the overall identity of the Serbs generally, doing an immense favour to the European and even the world culture, and science in general. That is why the European culture — if it seeks to remain multiethnic and democratic — and other cultures similar to her, must allow the Serbs to preserve their cultural and national identity, wherever they may live — and the best proof of this will be its attitude towards the standard language variety which was established by Serbs almost two centuries ago.
* The contemporary English term “Serbian” most frequently gives false reference to the language of the Serbs who live only in Serbia. In Serbian tradition the terms “Srbi” (s.) and “srpski” (a.) refer to the entire nation, regardless of whether the people live in a country called Serbia or some other countries, or whether their country (Serbia) politically exists or not (as was the case during certain periods in the Middle Ages).  p. 383


Please send your comments on BOSNIAN, CROATIAN, SERBIAN, A TEXTBOOK WITH EXERCISES AND BASIC GRAMMAR  to comments@bcsgrammarandtextbook.org.