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Vuk Stefanović Karadžić (pronounced [ʋûːk stefǎːnoʋitɕ kâradʒitɕ], Serbian Cyrillic: Вук Стефановић Караџић; 7 November 1787 – 7 February 1864) was a Serbian philologist and linguist who was the major reformer of the Serbian language. He deserves, perhaps, for his collections of songs, fairy tales, and riddles to be called the father of the study of Serbian folklore. He was also the author of the first Serbian dictionary.
He was well known abroad and familiar to Jacob Grimm, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and historian Leopold von Ranke. Vuk was the primary source for Ranke's Serbische Revoluzion ("Serbian Revolution"), written in 1829.
Vuk Karadžić was fortunate to be a relative of Jevta Savić Čotrić, the only literate person in the region at the time, who taught him how to read and write. Karadžić continued his education in Loznica, in the Monastery of Tronoša. As a boy he learned calligraphy there, using a reed instead of a pen and a solution of gunpowder for ink. In lieu of proper writing paper he was lucky if he could get cartridge wrappings. Throughout the whole region, regular schooling was not widespread at that time and his father at first did not allow him to go to Austria. Since most of the time while in the monastery Karadžić was forced to pasture the livestock instead of studying, his father brought him back home. Meanwhile, the First Serbian Uprising for Serbian independence from the Ottomans had broken out in 1804. After unsuccessful attempts to enroll in the gymnasium at Sremski Karlovci, for which 19 year-old Karadžić was too old, Karadžić left for Petrinje where he spent a few months learning Latin and German. Later on, he left for Belgrade in order to meet the highly respected scholar Dositej Obradović, and ask him to support his studies. Unfortunately, Obradović dismissed him. Disappointed, Karadžić left for Jadar and began working as a scribe for Jakov Nenadović. After the founding of the Belgrade Higher School, Karadžić became one of its first students.
In 1814 and 1815, Vuk published two volumes of Srpske Narodne Pesme (Serbian National Songs), which afterwards increased to four, then to six, and finally to nine tomes. In enlarged editions, these admirable songs drew towards themselves the attention of all literary Europe and America. Goethe characterized some of them as "excellent and worthy of comparison with Solomon's Song of Songs."
In 1824, he sent a copy of his folksong collection to Jacob Grimm, who was enthralled particularly by "The Walled-Up Wife". Grimm translated it into German and the song was noted and admired for many generations to come. Grimm compared them with the noblest flowers of Homeric poetry, and of Zidanje Skadra na Bojani (Building of Scutari on the Boyana) he said: "one of the most touching poems of all nations and all times." The founders of the Romantic School in France, Charles Nodier, Prosper Mérimée, Lamartine, Gerard de Nerval, and Claude Fauriel translated a goodly number of them, and they also attracted the attention of Russian Alexander Pushkin, Finnish national poet Johan Ludwig Runeberg, Czech Samuel Roznay, Pole Kazimierz Brodzinski, English writers Walter Scott, Owen Meredith, and John Bowring, among others.
Karadžić continued collecting song well into the 1830s. He arrived in Montenegro in the fall of 1834. Infirm, he descended to the Bay of Kotor to winter there, and returned in the spring of 1835. It was there that Karadžić met Vuk Vrčević, an aspiring littérateur, born in Risan. From then on Vrčević became Karadžić's faithful and loyal collaborator who collected folk songs and tales and sent them to his address in Vienna for many years to come. Another equally diligent collaborator of Vuk Karadžić was another namesake from Boka Kotorska the Priest Vuk Popović. Both Vrčević and Popović were steadily and uselfishly involved in the gathering of the ethnographic, folklore and lexical material for Vuk. Later, other collaborators joined Vuk, including Milan Đ. Milićević.
The majority of Karadžić's works were banned from publishing in Serbia and Austria during the rule of Prince Miloš Obrenović. As observed from a political point of view, Obrenović saw the works of Karadžić as a potential hazard due to a number of apparent reasons, one of which was the possibility that the content of some of the works, although purely poetic in nature, was capable of creating a certain sense of patriotism and a desire for freedom and independence, which very likely might have driven the populace to take up arms against the Turks. This, in turn, would prove detrimental to Prince Miloš's politics toward the Ottoman Empire, with whom he had recently forged an uneasy peace. In Montenegro, however, Njegoš's printing press operated without the archaic letter known as the "hard sign"; in other words, it adhered to Vuk Karadžić's orthography. Prince Miloš was to resent Njegoš's abandonment of the unhappy hard sign, over which, at that time, furious intellectual battles were being waged, with ecclesiastical hierarchy involved as well. Karadžić's works, however, did receive high praise and recognition elsewhere, especially in Russia. In addition to this, Karadžić was granted a full pension from the Tsar in 1826.
He died at Vienna, and was survived by his daughter Mina Karadžić, who was a painter and writer, and by his son Dimitrije Karadžić, a military officer. His remains were relocated to Belgrade in 1897 and buried with great honours next to the grave of Dositej Obradović.
He was decorated by Russian and Austro-Hungarian monarchs, Prussian king, Nicholas I of Montenegro and Russian academy of science. UNESCO has proclaimed 1787 the year of Vuk Karadzić. Vuk was also elected honorary citizen of the city of Zagreb, and he was honorary doctor of philosophy of University of Jena.
On the 100th anniversary of Vuk's death (in 1964) student work brigades on youth action "Tršić 64" raised an amphitheater with a stage that was needed for organizing the "Vuk's Council", and "Vuk's Student Council". In 1987 Tršić received a comprehensive overhaul as a cultural-historical monument. Also, the road from Vuk's home to Tronoša monastery was built.
Vuk's birth house was declared Monument of Culture of Exceptional Importance in 1979, and it is protected by Republic of Serbia. Recently, rural tourism has become popular in Tršić, with many families converting their houses into buildings designed to accommodate guests. TV series based on his life were broadcast on Radio Television of Serbia. His portrait is often seen in Serbian schools.
A student of primary (age 6 or 7 to 14 or 15) or secondary (age 14 or 15 to 18 or 19) school in Serbia, that is awarded best grades for all subjects at the end of a school year, for each year in turn, is awarded at the end of his final year a "Vuk Karadžić" diploma and is known (in common speech) as "Vukovac" a synonym for a member of an elite group of highest performing students.
—The essence of modern Serbian spelling
In Serbian: Пиши као што говориш и читај како је написано. (Piši kao što govoriš i čitaj kako je napisano.)
Although the above quotation is usually attributed to Vuk Stefanović Karadžić, it is in fact an orthographic principle devised by the German grammarian and philologist Johann Christoph Adelung. Karadžić merely used that principle to push through his language reform. The attribution of the quote to Karadžić is a common misconception in Serbia, Montenegro and the rest of former Yugoslavia. Due to that fact, the entrance exam to the University of Belgrade Faculty of Philology occasionally contains a question on the authorship of the quote (as a sort of trick question).
If everyone do as much as he is capable, the nation will not fall.
In Serbian: Ако свако уради онолико колико је способан, неће народ пропасти. (Ako svako uradi onoliko koliko je sposoban, neće narod propasti.)