1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Karajich, Vuk Stefanovich

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21919211911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 15 — Karajich, Vuk Stefanovich

KARAJICH, VUK STEFANOVICH (1787–1864), the father of modern Servian literature, was born on the 6th of November 1787 in the Servian village of Trshich, on the border between Bosnia and Servia. Having learnt to read and write in the old monastery Tronosha (near his native village), he was engaged as writer and reader of letters to the commander of the insurgents of his district at the beginning of the first Servian rising against the Turks in 1804. Mostly in the position of a scribe to different voyvodes, sometimes as school-teacher, he served his country during the first revolution (1804–1813), at the collapse of which he left Servia, but instead of following Karageorge and other voyvodes to Russia he went to Vienna. There he was introduced to the great Slavonic scholar Yerney Kopitar, who, having heard him recite some Servian national ballads, encouraged him to collect the poems and popular songs, write a grammar of the Servian language, and, if possible, a dictionary. This programme of literary work was adhered to by Karajich, who all his life acknowledged gratefully what he owed to his learned teacher.

In the second half of the 18th and in the beginning of the 19th century all Servian literary efforts were written in a language which was not the Servian vernacular, but an artificial language, of which the foundation was the Old Slavonic in use in the churches, but somewhat Russianized, and mixed with Servian words forced into Russian forms. That language, called by its writers “the Slavonic-Servian,” was neither Slavonic nor Servian. It was written in Old Cyrillic letters, many of which had no meaning in the Servian language, while there were several sounds in that language which had no corresponding signs or letters in the Old Slavonic alphabet. The Servian philosopher Dositey Obradovich (who at the end of the 18th century spent some time in London teaching Greek) was the first Servian author to proclaim the principle that the books for the Servian people ought to be written in the language of the people. But the great majority of his contemporaries were of opinion that the language of Servian literature ought to be evolved out of the dead Old Slavonic of the church books. The church naturally decidedly supported this view. Karajich was the great reformer who changed all this. Encouraged by Kopitar, he published in 1814 (2nd ed., 1815) in Vienna his first book, Mala Prostonarodna Slaveno-Serbska Pyesmaritsa (“A small collection of Slavonic-Servian songs of the common people”), containing a hundred lyric songs, sung by the peasant women of Servia, and six poems about heroes, or as the Servians call them Yunachke pesme, which are generally recited by the blind bards or by peasants. From that time Karajich’s literary activity moved on two parallel lines: to give scientific justification and foundation to the adoption of the vernacular Servian as the literary language; and, by collecting and publishing national songs, folk-lore, proverbs, &c., to show the richness of the Servian people’s poetical and intellectual gifts, and the wealth and beauty of the Servian language. By his reform of the Servian alphabet and orthography, his Servian grammar and his Servian dictionary, he established the fact that the Servian language contains thirty distinct sounds, for six of which the Old Slavonic alphabet had no special letters. He introduced new letters for those special sounds, at the same time throwing out of the Old Slavonic alphabet eighteen letters for which the Servian language had no use. This reform was strenuously opposed by the church and many conservative authors, who went so far as to induce the Servian government to prohibit the printing of books in new letters, a prohibition removed in 1859. Karajich’s alphabet facilitated his reform of orthography, his principle being: write as you speak, and read as it is written! Hardly any other language in the civilized world has such a simple, logical, scientific spelling system and orthography as the Servian has in Karajich’s system. His first grammatical essay was published in Vienna in 1814, Pismenitsa Serbskoga yezika po govoru prostoga naroda (“The grammar of the Servian language as spoken by the common people”). An improved edition appeared in Vienna in 1818, together with his great work Srpski Ryechnik (Lexicon Serbico-Germanico-Latinum). This dictionary—containing 26,270 words—was full of important contributions to folk-lore, as Karajich never missed an opportunity to add to the meaning of the word the description of the national customs or popular beliefs connected with it. A new edition of his dictionary, containing 46,270 words, was published at Vienna in 1852. Meanwhile he gave himself earnestly to the work of collecting the “creations of the mind of the Servian common people.” He travelled through Servian countries (Servia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Montenegro, Dalmatia, Syrmia, Croatia), and the result was shown in a largely augmented edition of his Srpske Narodne Pyesme, of which the first three volumes appeared at Leipzig in 1823 and 1824, the fourth volume appearing at Vienna in 1833. Popular Stories and Enigmas was published in 1821, and Servian National Proverbs in 1836. From 1826 to 1834 he was the editor of an annual, called Danitsa (The Morning Star), which he filled with important contributions concerning the ethnography and modern history of the Servian people. In 1828 he published a historical monograph, Milosh Obrenovich, Prince of Servia; in 1837, in German, Montenegro and Montenegrins; in 1867, The Servian Governing Council of State. He supplied Leopold Ranke with the materials for his History of the Servian Revolution. He also translated the New Testament into Servian, for the British and Foreign Bible Society (Vienna, 1847). Karajich died in Vienna on the 6th of February 1864; and his remains were transferred to Belgrade in 1897 with great solemnity and at the expense of the government of Servia.  (C. Mi.)