Karadžić, Vuk Stefanović
Vuk Stefanović Karadžić 1787-1864
(Also referred to as Vuk Stefanović, Vuk Karadžić, and Vuk) Serbian folklorist and language reformer.
Karadžić's contributions to Serbian culture stem from his interest in developing a national literature and language that would reflect and preserve the language, songs, and stories of Serbia's peasantry. His career is defined by two main areas of scholarship: the collection of Serbian folklore and the reform of Serbian language. Karadžić edited and published numerous collections of folksongs, folklore, and customs, as well as a Serbian grammar and dictionary. Because of his extensive documentation of the folk culture and the vernacular language of the Serbian people, Karadžić is affectionately known by his first name, Vuk, in his native country.
Karadžić was born on November 6, 1787, in Tršić, Serbia, then under Turkish rule, in a village not far from Belgrade. His parents, Stefan and Jegda Joksimovic, were peasant farmers whose five previous children had all died in infancy. They named their sixth child Vuk, or wolf, to protect him from death. Little is known about Karadžić's early childhood except that he taught himself to read and write and briefly attended school at the monastery of Tronosa. His most valuable education came from living at home where he learned the folk customs, rituals, and songs that would inform his early writings. In 1804, a Serb uprising against the Turks resulted in a period of Serbian liberation that lasted until 1813. During this time Karadžić went to Austria where he attended school, learned German and Latin, and was exposed to Western culture. In 1808, Karadžić began to suffer from pain in his legs, feet, and hands; an undiagnosed illness affecting his left leg forced him to walk with a crutch for the rest of his life.
In 1813, when the Turks again conquered Serbia, Karadžić fled to Vienna. It was shortly after his move to Austria that Karadžić attracted the attention of Jernej Kopitar, an Austrian censor, by submitting an article written in the Serbian popular language. Kopitar became Karadžić's friend, advisor, and supporter; not only did he praise and publicize Karadžić's work but he also suggested directions for future scholarship. In 1814, Karadžić published his first collection of folksongs and a grammar to help readers understand his materials. Based on the positive response to these two works, Karadžić published another volume of folksongs the following year. In 1818 Karadžić traveled to Russia to seek intellectual and financial support for his research and writings, and then returned to Serbia to gather additional material for the second and third volumes of an enlarged, four-volume collection of folksongs. In 1823, Karadžić visited Jacob Grimm, who had written a positive review of the third volume of the folksongs, and who introduced him to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Between 1828 and 1832, Karadžić worked for Prince Milos Obrenovic, who had led a successful overthrow of the Turks in 1815. Karadžić's duties included teaching French to Obrenovic's sons, translating Napoleonic Laws into Serbian, and writing Serbian history. Karadžić's work for Obrenovic, and by extension for Serbia, ended in 1832 when Karadžić's alphabet and folksongs were condemned by the Orthodox Church as subversive and vulgar. The opposition to his work failed to discourage Karadžić, however, and in 1833 when he was permitted to re-enter Austria, he published the fourth volume of his expanded folksong collection in violation of the Church's ban. By 1835, much of the opposition to his work had subsided, and Karadžić was awarded a pension for service to his country. The pension and the official recognition that accompanied it enabled Karadžić to travel, collect material, and revise his earlier collections of Serbian folklore, culture, and history. Karadžić died in Vienna in 1864.
Karadžić's interest in folk life and folklore developed from his own upbringing as the son of peasant-farmers, as did his development of a Serbian language based on the vernacular. His work can be categorized into two overlapping areas: language reform and collections of folk material. Karadžić wrote Pismenica serbskoga iezika (Grammar of the Serbian People) in 1814. He substantially revised the handbook by 1818, the same year he published his Srpski rječnik (Serbian Dictionary), the first dictionary of spoken Serbian. Karadžić's work focused on the language of the peasantry, the people with whom he identified, as opposed to the more formal language of Church Slavic tempered with Russian. His first two collections of Serbian folklore, Mala prostonarodnja slaveno-serbska pjesnarica (A Simple Little Slaveno-Serbian Songbook), and Narodna srbska pjesnarica (A Serbian Book of Folksongs), were published in 1814 and 1815 respectively. These oral narratives, recorded from immigrants living in Srem, rather than written from memory, were Karadžić's first foray into the collection and publication of folklore and established the focus of his scholarship; from that point on, he began to travel extensively and collect material in a more methodological fashion. Karadžić's primary research resulted in an expanded and considerably different collection of these two early works. This new collection was published in four volumes between 1823 and 1833: Zenske pjesme (1824; Women's Songs); Pjesme junačke najstarije (1823; Oldest Heroic Songs); Pjesme junačke srednjijeh vremena (1823; Heroic Songs of the Middle Period); and Pjesme junačke novijih vremena o vojevanju za slobodu (1833; Heroic Songs of Recent Times of the War for Freedom). Publication of the first volume, Women's Songs, was delayed because the Austrian government feared Karadžić's writing would encourage hatred of the Turks and sedition against the Turkish government. Thus volumes two and three preceded the first volume by one year. Another folk collection, Srpske narodne poslovice (Proverbs), followed in 1836. Karadžić's two areas of research yielded a vivid picture of Serbian life and customs and his work helped to define a Serbian national literature and literary culture.
Karadžić is considered a major force both in the development of Serbian language and in the collection of Serbian folklore. These two areas—linguistic and folkloristic—are the focus of the majority of scholarship on Karadžić. Early folklorists, notably Jacob Grimm, praised Karadžić's collections and commitment to his country's folk culture. Their reaction has informed most of the contemporary scholarship on Karadžić. Many critics, including Yvonne R. Lockwood, Albert B. Lord, Nikola R. Pribić (see further reading), and Pavel Ivić, concentrate on Karadžić's importance in the development of Serbian, Yugoslavian, and Balkan folklore studies. Some folklorists focus on the role of Karadžić's informants and the oral tradition, as does Svetozar Koljević (see further reading). Other scholars are interested in Karadžić's work with linguistics and language reform. Included in this category are such critics as Thomas Butler and Benjamin Stolz who assert the importance of the relationship between Karadžić and Jernej Kopitar in the development of Karadžić's Grammar of the Serbian People and Serbian Dictionary. Duncan Wilson (see further reading) has produced a comprehensive English-language study that provides an examination of Karadžić in the context of the history and politics of Serbia and its neighbors. Together these works reassert the importance of Karadžić's contributions to Serbian culture.
*Mala prostonarodnja slaveno-serbska pjesnarica [A Simple Little Slaveno-Serbian Songbook] (songs) 1814
Pismenica serbskoga iezika [Grammar of the Serbian People] (handbook) 1814
Narodna srbska pjesnarica [A Serbian Book of Folksongs] (songs) 1815
Srpski rječnik [Serbian Dictionary] (dictionary) 1818
†Pjesme junačke najstarije [Oldest Heroic Songs] 2nd vol. (songs) 1823
Pjesme junačke srednjijeh vremena [Heroic Songs of the Middle Period] 3rd vol. (songs) 1823
Zenske pjesme [Women's Songs] 1st vol. (songs) 1824
Pjesme junačke novijih vremena o vojevanju za slobodu [Heroic Songs of Recent Times of the War for Freedom] 4th vol. (songs) 1833
Srpske narodne poslovice [Proverbs] (folklore) 1836
*Spelling for Karadžić's Serbian titles may vary in the critical works, depending upon the author's transliteration.
†Karadžić collected and published his expanded folksongs in four volumes. The first volume was published after volumes two and three.
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SOURCE: Lockwood, Yvonne R. “Vuk Stefanović Karadžić: Pioneer and Continuing Inspiration of Yugoslav Folkloristics.” Western Folklore 30, no. 1 (January 1971): 19-32.
[In the following essay, Lockwood considers Karadžić's impact on Serbian culture, and notes his continuing influence on the study of folklore.]
Vuk Stefanović Karadžić did more to revolutionize Serbian culture than any other individual before or since. His two greatest contributions—language reform and collections of folk literature—with their very foundation in peasant culture, had great impact on all Serbian culture. From an illiterate peasant background, Vuk taught himself to read and write and went on to reform the written language, changing it from Church Slavonic to one based on popular Serbian. Having been raised in a peasant environment, Vuk had close association with oral literature in his early years. This peasant upbringing determined Vuk's attitude toward his collections of folksongs, tales, and proverbs. His attitude toward peasant culture, in general, differed greatly from that of the urban intellectual's of his day, whether the latter regarded peasant life and its manifestations as backward and crude or with romantic idealization. Vuk hardly considered peasant life romantic; it was simply a way of life and the only one he knew for many years. With a realistic outlook that is part of peasant culture, Vuk...
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SOURCE: Lord, Albert B. “The Nineteenth-Century Revival of National Literatures: Karadžić, Njegoš, Radičević, the Illyrians, and Prešeren.” Review of National Literatures: The Multinational Literature of Yugoslavia 5, no. 1 (spring 1974): 101-11.
[In the following essay, Lord traces the chronological development of national literatures in Serbia, Slovenia, and Croatia during the nineteenth century, examining Karadžić's contributions as a leader in orthography and the collection of narratives.]
Although the roots of modern literature in Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, and Slovenia go much further back, the early and mid-nineteenth century saw the emergence of a number of heroic figures who shine as beacon lights at the beginning of a renewed and intensified literary activity which continues to the present day. In Serbia, Vuk Stefanović Karadžić (1787-1864) is the first of the group not only in age but also in date of published work. Karadžić's Mala prostonarodna slaveno-serbska pesnarica (Little Slaveno-Serbian Songbook for the Common Folk) appeared in Vienna in 1814, a year after the second great writer in this pantheon, Petar II Petrović Njegoš (1813-1851) was born in Montenegro. Njegoš's first poems came out in 1834, a year before the manifesto of the Illyrians was published in Zagreb under the title Danicza Horvatzka, Slavonzka y Dalmatinzka (The Croatian,...
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SOURCE: Koljević, Svetozar. “The Singer and the Song.” In The Epic in the Making, pp. 299-321. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980.
[In the following essay, Koljević focuses on the singers of Karadžić's collected oral epics and popular songs.]
The general picture of chronology, geography and achievement of Serbo-Croat oral epics seems to be fairly clear in its main outlines. The first Slav singers in the Balkans used their cithers as disguise in espionage near Constantinople in the seventh century and they gave their name to the professional practitioners of this art in the Hungarian language. But their pagan world survived only sporadically in some of the village customs in much later times. Medieval Christian Serbia, however, gave a much stronger imprint to the whole tradition of the epic art: its history provided some of the major later themes and motifs, its monastic literature left the heritage of several major legal and moral concepts as well as a few skeletons of much older Eastern legends, its frescoes kept in vivid memory the outward appearance of the medieval feudal lords, their gowns, rings, and pitchers. During the Turkish conquests and the dissolution of this medieval world in the fifteenth century, the feudal professional singers cultivated their distinctive ‘Serbian manner’ in their retreat in Hungary at least until the middle of the sixteenth century. The same ‘manner’...
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SOURCE: Ivić, Pavle. “Kopitar and the Evolution of Vuk Karadžić's Views on the Serbian Literary Language.” In Papers in Slavic Philology 2: To Honor Jernej Kopitar 1780-1980, edited by Rado L. Lencek and Henry R. Cooper, Jr., pp. 99-107. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1982.
[In the following essay, Ivić explores Jernej Kopitar's considerable influence on Karadžić's work.]
The extent of Jernej Kopitar's contributions to the work of Vuk Karadžić is reflected in three facts: he persuaded Vuk to begin writing systematically; he defined the main points of Vuk's program of work (publishing folk poetry, a grammar, a dictionary, and a translation of the Holy Bible); and he suggested to him fundamental views on the literary language, the alphabet and orthography.
Vuk accepted Kopitar's views (Kopitar 1857: passim) that every nation ought to use its own language in literature, that the field of use of the Church Slavonic language among the Serbs should be restricted to the Church, that the mixture of language types such as that practiced by the slaveno-srpski writers of the time was impermissible, and that the task of the grammarian is not to prescribe language, but merely to describe it. In the same way, Vuk accepted and implemented the phonemic principle in the alphabet and orthography, which Kopitar had summarized in the formula, “No sound may have more than one sign,...
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SOURCE: Butler, Thomas. “Jernej Kopitar and South Slavic Folklore.” In Papers in Slavic Philology 2: To Honor Jernej Kopitar 1780-1980, edited by Rado L. Lencek and Henry R. Cooper, Jr., pp. 109-21. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1982.
[In the following essay, Butler examines Jernej Kopitar's support of Karadžić and the importance of both to South Slavic folklore studies.]
Jernej Kopitar's role in promoting the collection and popularization of South Slavic folklore, as well as the establishment of a scientific basis for its investigation, has never been adequately examined nor sufficiently appreciated. When the Slovene's name is mentioned within the context of folklore it is usually in connection with his encouragement and support of the activities of Vuk Karadžić (1787-1864), the foremost collector and publisher of Serbo-Croatian folksongs, as well as the reformer of the Serbo-Croatian literary language.
Scholars have tended to regard Kopitar's strong support for Vuk's folklore activities within the framework of a larger interest, namely, the establishment of a new Serbian literary language based on the spoken language of the peasantry. The responsibility for this distorted focus on the Slovene's contributions to the folklore field must, at least in part, be laid at the door of Kopitar himself, for on many an occasion, in reviews and articles, he pointed to the high...
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SOURCE: Stolz, Benjamin. “Kopitar and Vuk: An Assessment of Their Roles in the Rise of the New Serbian Literary Language.” In Papers in Slavic Philology 2: To Honor Jernej Kopitar 1780-1980, edited by Rado L. Lencek and Henry R. Cooper, Jr., pp. 151-67. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1982.
[In the following essay, Stolz considers Jernej Kopitar's support of Karadžić and asserts that their collaborative effort developed a Serbian literary language.]
The scholarly literature on Jernej (Bartholomäus) Kopitar and Vuk Karadžić is so voluminous—and so much has been added already on this subject by competent investigators right here at this conference—that anyone who approaches the topic runs the risk of mere repetition, with slight reinterpretation, or of loose speculation and reckless theorizing. Still, the contribution of Jernej Kopitar and Vuk Karadžić to the rise of the modern Serbian literary language retains its fascination, for it is surely one of the most dramatic stories of individual intervention in the history of any literary language, Slavic or non-Slavic. The roles of Kopitar and Vuk deserve reexamination, for the impact of their collaboration can now be more accurately and dispassionately measured. Recent research, the increasing availability of published source materials connected with Vuk's career, and the evolution of the Serbian (and Serbo-Croatian) literary language in the...
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SOURCE: Holton, Milne, and Vasa D. Mihailovich. “Introduction: Vuk Stafanovic Karadžić and Songs of the Serbian People.” In Songs of the Serbian People: From the Collections of Vuk Karadžić, pp. 1-12. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1997.
[In the following essay, Holton and Mihailovich provide an overview of Karadžić's work, with an emphasis on his collection of oral folksongs.]
The oral poems translated herein are taken from a single work of collection undertaken by one man, Vuk Stefanović Karadžić (1787-1864), a scholar and linguist living in the city of Vienna in the early years of the nineteenth century. He began his work in 1813, around the time of the collapse of the first Serbian insurrection against the Turks.
Vuk Stefanović Karadžić was born in 1787 in the village of Tršić in Western Serbia, the son of a Serbian peasant. A sickly child, he was given the name Vuk (Wolf), supposedly to ward off evil spirits. As a youth he became involved in the service of the hajduk1 rebels against the Turks and later in the first insurrection. Later he attended briefly the famous high school at Sremski Karlovci and then studied for a time at the new velika škola (later university) in Karadjordje's Belgrade. But he soon left Belgrade and, after an illness that left him crippled for life, went to Vienna in 1810. It was here that he met...
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Wilson, Duncan. The Life and Times of Vuk Stefanović Karadžić 1787-1864: Literacy, Literature, and National Independence in Serbia. London: Oxford University Press, 1970, 415 p.
The only book-length biography of Karadžić in English. This cultural biography offers an examination of Karadžić's work in social and historical context, and provides English translations of Karadžić's correspondence.
Cooper, Jr., Henry R. “Kopitar and the Beginning of Bulgarian Studies.” In Papers in Slavic Philology 2, edited by Rado L. Leneck and Henry R. Cooper, Jr. pp. 55-64. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1982.
Examines the contributions of Jernej Kopitar to Karadžić's work as it relates to Bulgarian folklore studies.
Fisher, Laura Gordon. Introduction to Marko Songs from Hercegovina a Century After Karadžić, pp. iii-x. New York: Garland Publishing, 1990.
Provides an overview of nineteenth-century Serbio-Croation folksong collections and their characteristics. Fisher acknowledges Karadžić's importance in the development of such studies.
Koljević, Svetozar. “Repetition as Invention in the Songs of Vuk Karadžić.” Oral Tradition 7, no. 2 (1992): 349-64.
Studies repetition and variation in the oral...
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