Slovenian language

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Slovenian (slovenščina)
Spoken in: Slovenia and emigrants groups in various countries
Region: Central Europe
Total speakers: 2.2 million
Ranking: Not in top 100.
Genetic classification: Indo-European

   South Slavic
    Western South Slavic

Official status
Official language of: Slovenia, European Union
Regulated by: Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts
Language codes
ISO 639-1 sl
ISO 639-2 slv
SIL slv
See also: LanguageList of languages

Slovenian or Slovene (Slovenian: slovenski jezik or slovenščina) is one of the Slavic languages. It is spoken by approximately 2 million speakers worldwide, most of whom live in Slovenia. It is one of the few languages to have preserved the dual grammatical number from Proto-Indo-European. Its grammar is reputedly extremely complex and the large number of named dialects compared to the number of speakers indicates the large amount of variation in the language.



The earliest known examples of a written Slovenian dialect are from the Freising manuscripts, known as the Brižinski spomeniki in Slovenian, which have been dated to somewhere between 972 and 1093, though these manuscipts are more likely to be from before 1000 than after it. These religious writings are the earliest known occurrence of a Slavic language being written using the Latin script. Moreover, they are now said to be one of the oldest existing manuscripts in any Slavic language.

The literary Slovenian emerged in the 16th century thanks to the works of Reformation activists Primoz Trubar, Adam Bohoric and Jurij Dalmatin. During the period when present-day Slovenia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, German was the language of the élíte, and Slovenian was the language of the common people. During this time, German had a strong impact on Slovenian, and many Germanisms are preserved in contemporary colloquial Slovenian. For example, in addition to the native Slovenian word blazina ("pillow"), the German word "Polster" is also used in colloquial Slovenian, wherein it is pronounced poušter, IPA [poʊʃtər]). Similarly, Slovenian has both the native term izvijač ("screwdriver") and "šrauf'ncigr", IPA [ʃraʊfəntsɪgər]) in technical colloquial jargon, from the German word for screwdriver: "Schraubenzieher." Many well known Slovenian scientists before the 1920s also wrote in foreign languages, mostly German, because of the political situation in Europe.

During the period of Illyrism and Pan-Slavism, some words crept into the language from Serbo-Croatian, being used even by some good authors, for example by Josip Jurčič, who wrote Deseti brat (The Tenth Brother) the first novel in Slovenian, published in 1866; however, many Croatisms used by such authors are entirely unfamiliar to Slovenians, especially the younger generation.

Slovenian was also shunned for a period during World War II when Slovenia was divided between the Axis Powers of Fascist Italy, the Nazi Germany and Hungary.

Following World War II, Slovenia became part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Slovenian was one of the official languages of the federation, although in practice, Serbo-Croatian was forcefully put forward. Slovenia gained independence in 1991 and Slovenian was made the official language. It is also one of the official languages of the European Union.

Nature of the language

Although Slovenian is reportedly very difficult for a foreigner to learn, it is nowadays very much alive. Proper Slovenian orthography and grammar are sanctified by the Orthographic Commission and the Fran Ramovš Institute of Slovenian Language, which are both part of Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts (Slovenska akademija znanosti in umetnosti, SAZU). The newest reference book of proper Slovenian orthography and grammar is Slovenski pravopis. The latest printed edition was published in 2001 and contains more than 130,000 entries. In 2003, the electronic version was published. The official dictionary of modern Slovenian language, which is also prepared by SAZU, is called Slovar slovenskega knjižnega jezika (SSKJ; in English Dictionary of the Slovenian Standard Language). It was published in five books by Državna založba Slovenije between the years 1970 in 1991 and contains more than 100,000 entries and sub-entries in which the stress, grammar marks, common associations of words and different qualificators are included. In the 1990s, the dictionary was also published in electronic version and is available online.

The English linguist David Crystal said in an interview in the summer of 2003 for the newspaper Delo the following about the language: "No, Slovenian is not condemned to death. At least not in the foreseeable future. The number of speakers, two million, is big. Welsh has merely 500,000 speakers. Statistically, spoken Slovenian with two million speakers comes into the upper 10 per cent of the world's languages. Most languages of the world have very few speakers. Two million is a nice number: magnificent, brilliant. One probably would think this number is not much. But from the point of view of the whole world, this number has its weight. On the other hand, a language is never self-sufficient. It can disappear even in just one generation ..."

Slovenians are said to be 'a nation of poets' due to their language. Poet France Prešeren and writer Ivan Cankar are two of the most famous Slovenian authors.

See Slovenian literature, List of Slovenian language poets.

The language's English name

The terms Slovenian and Slovene refer to anything related to Slovenia and its inhabitants. Both have been used for a long time in English. A Slovenian Canadian scholar Edward Gobetz claims that the shorter form was carried over into English through French, once the language of diplomacy and that the longer form is the one naturally formed by native speakers of English. As to the linguistics, his claims are disputed by professor Stanko Klinar from Slovenia.

The shorter form is prevalent in the United Kingdom and in Europe. The longer form is prevalent in the USA, Canada, Australia. Although somewhat confusing, both terms are widely recognized and acceptable.


Slovenian is the westernmost language of the Western subgroup of the South Slavic branch of Slavic languages.

Geographic distribution

The language is spoken by round about 2.2 million people - there is a table of distribution of Slovenians in the world in the article Slovenians.

Slovenians mostly live in their native independent land Slovenia in Central Europe (1,727,360). In addition to those, the language has speakers in Venetian Slovenia (Beneška Slovenija) and other parts of Friuli-Venezia Giulia (Furlanija-Julijska krajina)) in Italy (100,000), in Carinthia (avstrijska Koroška) and other parts of Austria (50,000), in Croatian Istria (hrvaška Istra) in Croatia (11,800-13,100), in some southern parts of Hungary (6,000) and dispersed throughout Europe and the rest of the world (particularly German, American (including Kansas Slovenians), Canadian, Argentinian, Australian and South African Slovenians) (300,000).


Main article: Slovenian dialects.

Slovenian is a highly varied language with many dialects that are mainly mutually intelligible.


Slovenian has an average-sized phoneme set, with 20 (or 22) consonants and 8 vowels.


There are 8 distinct vowel sounds:

  Front Centre Back
High i   u
Close-mid e   o
Open-mid ɛ ə ɒ
Low   a  
  • A
    • a (a)
  • E
    • wide ê/è (ɛ)
    • narrow é (e)
    • schwa (ə)
  • I
    • i (i)
  • O
    • wide ô/ò (ɔ)
    • narrow ó (o)
  • U
    • u (u)

Short and long versions of most vowels exist, but most native speakers have trouble defining the difference between them. Narrow e and o are always long; the schwa is always short and is only stressed in monosyllabic words. Long vowels are always stressed (á, í, ú, ê, ô, é, ó). Short vowels may be stressed (à, ì, ù, è, ò, ə) or not (a, i, u, e, o, ə).


Consonants are sounds with a lesser degree of openness in articulation than vowels. It is characteristic of them that they themselves are not usually sufficient to form syllables.

International Phonetic Alphabet symbols used.

Bilabial Labiodental Dental Alveolar Postalveolar Velar
Plosive p b 1 t d 2 k g
Nasal m (ɱ) 3 n (ŋ) 4
Trill (r) 5
tap ɾ
Fricative f v s z ʃ ʒ
Affricate ts (dz) 6
Lateral approximant l
labial-velar palatal velar
approximant (w) 7 j x


  1. P and B in front of M are replaced with faucal sounds; that is, the obtrusion is formed with the velum into the nasal cavity, such as in the word 'območje' (="area"). In front of F and V, they are replaced with labiodental sounds, such as in the word 'obvestilo' (="notice, message").
  2. T and D in front of N are replaced with faucal sounds, such as in 'dnevnik' (="journal, diary"). In front of L, the obstruction is formed at the edges of the tongue, such as in 'metla' (="broom").
  3. The phone [ɱ] is not a phoneme of Slovenian, but an allophone of /m/ that occurs before [f] and [v].
  4. The phone [ŋ] is an allophone of /n/ before velar consonants /k/, /g/, and /x/.
  5. The trilled [r] occurs as an allophone of the flapped [r] in sonorant environments.
  6. The voiced affricates are allophones of their voiceless counterparts in sonorant environments. Palatalized [lj] and [nj] occur as allophones of /lj/ and /nj/ sequences in some environments (such as in 'Ljubljana').
  7. The /v/ phoneme has several allophones:
  • If at the end of a word or preceding a consonant and at the same time following a vowel, it is a non-syllabic [u̯] (siv [siu̯] (="grey"), volivca [voliu̯tsa] (=genitive of "voter")). The same rule is valid for compound word prefixes and for the first sound of a word if the previous word ends in a vowel. The letter U when used as a prefix is in certain cases pronounced in the same way (bi uvideli (="would realise")).
  • When not preceded by a vowel, V is articulated as a voiced approximant /w/ when followed by a voiced consonant, and voiceless /ʍ/ when followed by a voiceless consonant. A regular (vowel) u is sometimes used instead in 'educated' speech (despite being incorrect). The same rules as above apply for the prefix U (ubiti (="to kill"), ujeti (="to catch")) and the letter L in certain cases, most notably when at the end of the word (poslal je (="he sent"), čoln (="boat")).

The preposition "v" is always bound to the following word; however its phonetic realization follows the normal phonological rules for /v/.

In Slovenian orthography, phonemes are ordinarily written using the same letter as the one used in IPA, with the exceptions of č, š, and ž, which are not IPA usage, but correspond to /tʃ/, /ʃ/ and /ʒ/ respectively.

The sonorant consonants of Slovenian are M, N, R, L, V and J. A mnemonic phrase to remember them is MLiNaRJeV (="of the miller").

The least open consonants are P & B, F, T & D, S & Z, C, Š & Ž, Č, K & G and H. A mnemonic phrase to remember the voiceless ones is "Ta SuHi ŠKaFeC PuŠČa" (="This dry bucket is leaking"). One will have noticed that the above letters are arranged in pairs, namely surds and sonants, or voiceless and voiced least open consonants (zveneči in nezveneči nezvočniki). The pair for Č is the letter combination DŽ; likewise, the letter combination DZ is the pair for C. The letters H and F do not have appropriate voiced pairs.

Surds are articulated in front of vowels and mid-open consonants both inside and between words, and at word ends followed by an intermission. Sonants are articulated in front of vowels and mid-open consonants in the same word. In pronunciation, it should be borne in mind that surds are preceded by surds, and sonants by sonants. Thus: od strahu (="of fear") /otstrahu/, od zemlje (of soil) /odzemlje/. All sounds are thus assimilated.

Stress, length and tone

Slovenian uses diacritics or accent marks to denote what is called "dynamic accent" and tone. Standard Slovenian does not have lexical tone, and does not use the tone accents, but some dialects do.

Dynamic accent marks lexical stress in a word as well as vowel duration. Stress placement in Slovenian is not predictable, so stress must be marked in the lexicon. Some compounds, but not all, have multiple stress. In the Slovenian writing system, dynamic accent marks may be placed on all vowels, as well as r (when the consonant is syllabic); for example, vrt (garden) stressed as vŕrt.

Dynamic accentuation uses three diacritic marks: the acute (´) (long and narrow), the circumflex (^) (long and wide) and the grave (`) (short and wide).

Tonal accentuation uses four: the acute (´) (long and low), the circumflex (^) (long and high), the grave (`) (short and low) and the double grave (``) (short and high).


See Slovenian grammar


Slovenian uses, much like German or French, separate forms of 'you' for formal and informal situations. The English thou can be translated as ti (used in common situations; that is, when speaking to one's peers or inferiors), and the English ye as vi (used in formal situations; that is, when speaking to one's superiors, generally any adult with whom one does not have a relationship more evolved than a simple acquaintanceship, as well as all adults who are in a higher position at work, and so forth), which is the second-person plural form. See the section on grammar for details.

Contrary to English's thou and ye, and as in French's tu and vous, ti and vi are widely used. And as in French, there is no difference between formal and informal second person of plural (vous (FR), vi (SL) but ye or you according to the context in English).

Foreign words used in Slovenian are of various types depending on the assimilation they have undergone. The types are:

  • sposojenka (loan word) – fully assimilated (eg, pica (="pizza"))
  • tujka (foreign word) – partly assimilated, either in writing and syntax and/or in pronunciation (eg, jazz)
  • polcitatna beseda ali besedna zveza – partly assimilated, either in writing and syntax and/or in pronunciation (eg, Shakespeare)
  • citatna beseda ali besedna zveza – kept as in original, although pronunciation may be altered to fit into speech flow (eg, first lady)

In essence there are no definite or indefinite articles as in English (a, the) or German (der, die, das, ein, eine, ein). A whole verb or a noun is described without articles and the grammatical gender is found from the word's termination. It is enough to say barka (a or the barge) (ein or der Kahn), Noetova barka (Noah's ark) (die Arche Noahs). The gender is known in this case to be feminine. In declensions, endings are normally changed; see below. If one should like to somehow distinguish between definiteness or indefiniteness of the article, one would say for the barge as (prav/natanko/ravno) tista barka (that (exact) barge) or for a barge as neka/ena barka (one barge).

Place names

Many well known global places have their own special names. Some names are, therefore, quite different for sorting from what they are in English. Examples:

Countries and Territories (države in teritoriji)

Cities (mesta)

Oceans (oceani), Seas (morja), Lakes (jezera), Rivers (reke)

For a longer list, see Slovenian alphabet.

Writing system

Main article: Slovenian alphabet

This alphabet (abeceda) was derived in the mid 1840s from an arrangement of the Croatian national reviver and leader Ljudevit Gaj (18091872) for Croatians (alphabet called gajica or Croatian gajica, patterned on the Czech pattern of the 1830s). Before that Š was, for example, written as , ∫∫ or ſ, Č as T∫CH, CZ, T∫CZ or TCZ, I sometimes as Y as a relict from now modern Russian 'yeri' Ы, J as Y, L as LL, V as W, Ž as , ∫∫ or ∫z.

The writing itself in its pure form does not use any other signs, except, for instance, additional accentual marks, when it is necessary to distinguish between similar words with a different meaning. For example:

  • gòl (naked) | gól (goal),
  • jêsen (ash (tree)) | jesén (autumn),
  • kót (angle, corner) | kot (as, like),
  • med (between) | méd (honey),
  • pólovica (half (of)) | pôl (expresses a half an hour before the given hour),
  • prècej (at once, archaic) | precéj (a great deal (of))),
letter phoneme phones first letter in a word word pronunciation
A (a) /a/ [ɑ, (ʌ)] abecéda (="alphabet") [abɛced̪a]
B (b) /b/ [b, (p)] beséda (="word") [bɛsed̪a]
C (c) /ts/ [ts, (dz)] cvét (="bloom") [t̪svet̪]
Č (č) /tʃ/ [tʃ, (dʒ)] časopís (="newspaper") [tʃasɔpis]
D (d) /d/ [d̪, (t̪)] dánes (="today") [d̪anəs]
E (e) /e/ [e] sédem (="seven" or "I sit down") [sedəm]
F (f) /f/ [f, (v)] fànt (="boy") [fan̪t̪]
G (g) /g/ [g, (k)] grad (="castle") [grad]
H (h) /h/ [x, (ɣ)] híša (="house") [xiʃa]
I (i) /i/ [i] imèti (="to have") [imɛti]
J (j) /j/ [j] jábolko (="apple") [jabɔlkɔ]
K (k) /k/ [k, (g)] kmèt (="peasant") [kmɛt̪]
L (l) /l/ [l, u, u̯] ljubézèn (="love") [ljubezɛn]
M (m) /m/ [m, ɱ] mísliti (="to think") [mislit̪i]
O (o) /o/ [ɔ] oblák (="cloud") [ɔblak]
N (n) /n/ [n̪, ŋ] novíce (="news") [nɔvicɛ]
P (p) /p/ [p, (b)] pop glásba (="pop music") [pɔp glazba]
R (r) /r/ [ɾ, ɾ̩, r̩] rokenrol (="rock'n'roll") [rɔkenrɔl]
S (s) /s/ [s, (z)] svet (="world") [svɛt]
Š (š) /ʃ/ [ʃ, (ʒ)] šóla (="school") [ʃola]
T (t) /t/ [t̪, (d̪)] tip (="type") [t̪ip]
V (v) /v/ [v, u, ṷ, w, u̥] vôda (="water") [vɔda]
Z (z) /z/ [z, (s)] zrèlo (="mature") [zrelo]
Ž (ž) /ʒ/ [ʒ, (ʃ)] življenje (="life") [ʒivljenje]


Examples of the language in use are given at every topic in the Slovenian grammar article. It should be noted, however, that pronunciation differs greatly from area to area, and to use literary language in any context except a public presentation or on a very formal occasion is looked strangely upon.


Wikibooks has more about this subject:

English name of the language

  • Gobetz. Edward. (December 1995) "Slovenian Americans Their Adjustment, Integration, and Contributions." Slovenian Research Center of America, Inc. [1] - accessed 27 July 2005
  • Klinar, Stanko. Slovene ali Slovenian - ali kako po Steibeckovem navdihu ("In dubious battle")bojujemo N/negotovo bitko. Vestnik. - ISSN 0351-3513. - #30, #No. #1/2 (1996), pp. 245-253. (in Slovenian)


Language history

Standard Slovenian language links

Slovenian as a second language

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