"By Wednesday I was attending sessions of a spirited Tito propaganda fiesta called the Zagreb Peace Conference and enjoying my first immersion in a language the mere mention of which impresses people even more than Chinese: Serbo-Croatian!
To my delight, I understood entire phrases from it from my university Russian. I became aware of “families” of foreign languages, something that doesn’t occur automatically to Americans because English doesn’t resemble its cousins very closely. It’s something of a black sheep in the Germanic language family. They say the closest language to English is Dutch. Dutch is about as close to English as Betelgeuse is to Baltimore!
I’d noticed the summer before that Norwegian is usefully close to Swedish and Danish. Serbo-Croatian sounded to me like a jazzier, more “fun” kind of Russian. They use the Roman alphabet in western Yugoslavia, Croatia, and Slovenia, and in Serbia to the east they use the Cyrillic alphabet, with even more interesting letters in it than Russian uses.
Some of the mystique I’d always imputed to multilingual people began to fade. If you meet somebody who speaks, say, ten languages, your instinct is to be impressed to the tune of ten languages worth. If, however, you later learn that six of those languages are Russian, Czech, Slovak, Serbo-Croatian, Polish and Ukrianian – I’m not suggesting that you dismiss him as illiterate, but you ought to be aware that he got six of those languages for the price of about two and three fourths! They’re all members of the Slavic family.
The Yugoslav university students, my hosts, sent me back home aboard a Yugoslav ship, leaving me sixteen days with nothing to do but practice Serbo-Croatian with the other passengers."
- Barry Farber; How to Learn Any Language
(I am a native Finnish speaker. English is as close to Dutch as French is to Spanish. I would say Estonian is "nothing like" Finnish, but I know I'm wrong about that :-D You can't estimate the likeness of your mothertongue to all the other languages. Nothing is alike to the language into which you grew.)
Until the dissolution of SFR Yugoslavia, Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian and Montenegrin were treated as a unitary Serbo-Croatian language. Nevertheless, ssing this name of this (these) languages today is controversial for the speakers of Bosnian, Serbian, Croatian and Montenegrin, so other paraphrases such as "Serbo-Croato-Bosnian" (SCB) or "Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian" (BCS) or even "Bosnian-Croatian-Montenegrin-Serbian" are therefore sometimes used instead, especially in diplomatic circles, and the national standards are treated as different languages inspite of the the common base (vocabulary, grammar and syntax).
Here's a great article about the Serbo-Croatian language issue talking about the differences which exist, even when to foreigners they might be ignorable... so far. Perhaps in a lifetime these languages will be different.
Bosnian is the standardized variety of Serbo-Croatian mainly used by Bosniaks. Bosnian is one of the three official languages of Bosnia and Herzegovina, along with Croatian and Serbian, and also an officially recognized minority or regional language in Serbia, Montenegro, and the Republic of Kosovo.
Bosnian uses both Latin and Cyrillic alphabet, with Latin in everyday use. It is notable among the varieties of Serbo-Croatian for a number of Arabic, Ottoman Turkish and Persian loanwords, largely due to the language's interaction with those cultures through Islamic ties.
Bosnian is based on the most widespread dialect of Serbo-Croatian, Shtokavian, more specifically on Eastern Herzegovinian.
Croatian is the standardized variety of the Serbo-Croatian language used by Croats, principally in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Serbian province of Vojvodina and other neighbouring countries. It is the official and literary standard of Croatia and one of the official languages of the European Union. Croatian is also one of the official languages of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a recognized minority language in Serbia, and neighbouring countries.
Standard Croatian is based on the most widespread dialect of Serbo-Croatian, Shtokavian, more specifically on Eastern Herzegovinian. In the mid-18th century, the first attempts to provide a Croatian literary standard began on the basis of the Neo-Shtokavian dialect that served as a supraregional lingua franca pushing back regional Chakavian, Kajkavian, and Shtokavian vernaculars. The decisive role was played by Croatian Vukovians, who cemented the usage of Ijekavian Neo-Shtokavian as the literary standard in the late 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, as well as designed a phonological orthography. Croatian is written in Gaj's Latin alphabet.
Besides the Shtokavian dialect on which Standard Croatian is based, Croats also speak Chakavian and Kajkavian.
Serbian is the standardized variety of the Serbo-Croatian language used chiefly by Serbs in Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. In addition, it is a recognized minority language in Croatia, Macedonia, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic.
Standard Serbian is based on the most widespread dialect of Serbo-Croatian, Shtokavian (more specifically on Šumadija-Vojvodina and Eastern Herzegovinian dialects). The other dialect spoken by Serbs is Torlakian in southeastern Serbia, which is transitional to Macedonian and Bulgarian.
Serbian is practically the only European standard language with complete synchronic digraphia, using both Cyrillic and Latin alphabets. The Serbian Cyrillic alphabet was devised in 1814 by Serbian linguist Vuk Karadžić, who created the alphabet on phonemic principles. The Latin alphabet was designed by Croatian linguist Ljudevit Gaj in 1830.
Montenegrin is the standardized variety of the Serbo-Croatian language used as the official language of Montenegro. Standard Montenegrin is based on the most widespread dialect of Serbo-Croatian, Shtokavian, more specifically on Eastern Herzegovinian.
Montenegro's language has historically and traditionally been called Serbian. The idea of a Montenegrin standard language separate from Serbian appeared in the 2000s after Serbia and Montenegro broke up, via proponents of Montenegrin independence. Montenegrin became the official language of Montenegro with the ratification of a new constitution on 22 October 2007.
The Montenegrin standard is still emerging. Its orthography was established on 10 July 2009 with the addition of two letters to the alphabet.