Linguistic ‘Apartheid’ or Linguistic ‘Melting Pot’: The Case of Brčko District

Authors: Jelena Božović (Charles University, Czech Republic)
Marija Runić (University of Banja Luka / Western Washington University, U.S.A.)
Speakers: Jelena Božović, Marija Runić
Topic:Language, Community, Ethnicity
COMELA 2020 General Session


The goal of the present paper is to investigate language policy (LP) processes occurring within the educational setting of Brčko District District (Bosnia and Herzegovina). Brčko District District is unique within the post-war Bosnia and Herzegovina in having consistently implemented in public administration and education the ‘three official languages’ policy (Stojkanović 2015). This policy prescribes the use of three languages (Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian) and two scripts (Latin and Cyrillic) on equal terms for all official purposes. The creation of such language policy stems from the necessity to guarantee to each ethnic group the right to its own variant of the previously shared language (known as Serbo-Croatian or Croato-Serbian prior to the conflict). Following Hornberger & Johnson (2011) and the ethnography of language policy as a method and theory, this research examines different forms of interpretation and appropriation of LP by various agents across the Brčko District District’s educational context. By means of observations, interviews, and document analysis, we find that these two processes mainly revolve around the key parameters of the official LP, namely the number of languages and scripts in use and their equal status. As a matter of fact, we observe that the interpretation that (1) the three languages and/or two scripts should always be used, and at the same time that (2) everyone is entitled to their own language and script often lends itself to ambiguity and contradiction, resulting in an array of conflicting appropriation practices on the part of the agents. In line with Johnson (2013), we classify these practices, starting from full and consistent implementation, through re-crafting and resisting, to ignoring and rejection. We provide and analyse a number of cases as an illustration. Finally, based on the collected interview data, we identify and analyse the recurring language ideologies underlying the investigated LP processes.

Hornberger, N. H. & Johnson, D. C. (2011). The ethnography of language policy. In T. L. McCarty (Ed.), Ethnography and Language Policy. (pp. 273-289). New York: Routledge.
Johnson, D. C. (2013). Language policy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Stojkanović, A. R. (2015). Sociolingvistička analiza jezičke politike u postdejtonskoj Bosni i Hercegovini. (Doctoral dissertation, University of Belgrade) Retrieved from:

Keywords: Language policy, education, ethnicity, Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian