Nouns as Premodifiers: Syntactic Changes in Modern-Day Croatian

Andel Starcevic, Renata Geld

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Croatia (Hrvatska)


The structure of the Croatian noun phrase traditionally allows two basic types of modification: adjectives as premodifiers, before the head of the noun phrase, (eg. stara olovka) and nouns in oblique cases as postmodifiers, in post-head position, (eg. putovanje autobusom) (Barić et al., 2003). However, due to the overwhelming exposure of native Croatian speakers to the anglophone media and especially to the language of advertising, employing nouns as premodifiers in the noun phrase (eg. internet stranica) has become a widespread phenomenon. This development is in line with the general theory of languages in contact and the introduction of new phonological, morphological, syntactic, semantic and other patterns (Filipović, 1986; Crystal, 1997).

This paper puts a special emphasis on the changing patterns governing the noun phrase. More specifically, it presents the results of native speakers’ judgements on the new pattern with nouns as premodifiers. We have previously discussed the above-mentioned changes and found that there are several strong reasons why the new pattern with premodifying nouns has been adopted and spread so rapidly even in standard usage, eg. due to the historical influence of Turkish and German on Croatian and the fact that the new patterns are often very practical and produce a more powerful advertising effect (Starčević, 2006). We have also dealt with the dangers of extreme purism occasionally found in some Croatian prescriptive authors (Babić, 2004; Opačić, 2006).

The aim of our research was to analyse the factors which influence the current acceptance of nouns as premodifiers among the general population of Croatia (N=284). Our results demonstrate that there is considerable variation in the way ordinary speakers of Croatian regard examples of the new pattern, which is a reliable indication that a syntactic change is in progress (Aitchison, 1981/2001).

Firstly, it has been found that factors such as age or sex seem to play no role in the acceptance of nouns in pre-head position. However, there is a strong correlation between the speakers’ level of education and the rejection of the new pattern. Futhermore, it has been proven as statistically relevant that speakers are consistent in preferring examples of one pattern, either the traditional or the new one. Finally, speakers with a knowledge of English or German seem to be better at recognizing the source language of the change and often nominally reject the new pattern while in reality they might use it themselves.


Aitchison, J. (1981/2001). Language change: Progress or decay?. Cambridge, New York, Melbourne: Cambridge University Press.

Babić, S. (2004). Hrvanja hrvatskoga: hrvatski u koštacu sa srpskim i u klinču s engleskim. Zagreb: Školska knjiga

Barić et al. (2003). Hrvatska gramatika. Zagreb: Školska knjiga.

Crystal, D. (1997). English as a Global Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Filipović, R. (1986). Teorija jezika u kontaktu. Zagreb: Školska knjiga.

Opačić, N. (2006). Hrvatski u zagradama: globalizacijske jezične stranputice. Zagreb: Croatian University Press

Starčević, A. (2006). Imenice kao atributi - nove strukture u hrvatskom jeziku. Zagreb/Split: Croatian Applied Linguistics Society

Session: Paper session
Variation 8 / Change
Friday, April 4, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 15