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Slovene or Slovenian (slovenski jezik or slovenščina, not to be confused with slovenčina, which is the proper name for Slovak) is a South Slavic language spoken by approximately 2.4 million speakers worldwide, the majority of whom live in Sloveniamarker. Slovene is one of the 23 official and working languages of the European Union.

Standard Slovene

Standard Slovene is the national language that evolved from the Central Slovene dialects in the 18th century and consolidated itself through the 19th and 20th century. While distinct regional varieties descended from the older rural dialects still exist, the spoken and written language is uniform and standardized. Some dialects differ considerably from the standard language in grammar and vocabulary. Though not facing imminent extinction, such dialects have been in decline during the past century, despite the fact that they are well researched and their use is often encouraged by local authorities.

The distinctive characteristics of Slovene are dual grammatical number, two accentual norms, one characterized by pitch accent, and abundant inflection (a trait shared with many Slavic languages). Although Slovene is basically a SVO language, word order is very flexible, often adjusted for emphasis or stylistic reasons. Slovene has a T-V distinction: second-person plural forms are used for individuals as a sign of respect. Also, Slovene and Slovak are the two modern Slavic languages whose names for themselves literally mean "Slavic" (slověnьskъ in old Slavonic).


Alongside Croatian and Serbian, Slovene is an Indo-European language belonging to the Western subgroup of the South Slavic branch of the Slavic languages. It transitions to the Kajkavian and Čakavian dialect of Croatian, but is less close to the Štokavian dialect, the basis for the Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian standard language.


Early history

Like all Slavic languages, Slovene traces its roots to the same proto-Slavic group of languages that produced Old Church Slavonic. The earliest known examples of a distinct, written Slovene dialect are from the Freising Manuscripts, known in Slovene as Brižinski spomeniki. The consensus estimate of their date of origin is between 972 and 1093 (most likely before 1000). These religious writings are among the oldest surviving manuscripts in any Slavic language.

Literary Slovene emerged in the 16th century thanks to the works of Reformation activists Primož Trubar, Adam Bohorič and Jurij Dalmatin. During the period when present-day Sloveniamarker was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, German was the language of the elite, and Slovene was the language of the common people. During this time, German had a strong impact on Slovene, and many Germanisms are preserved in contemporary colloquial Slovene. Many Slovene scientists before the 1920s also wrote in foreign languages, mostly German, the lingua franca of science at the time.

The cultural movements of Illyrism and Pan-Slavism brought words from Serbo-Croatian and Czech into the language. For example, Josip Jurčič, who wrote the first novel in Slovene, published in 1866, used Serbo-Croatian words in his writing.

Recent history

During World War II, when Slovenia was divided between the Axis Powers of Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, and Hungarymarker, the occupying powers attempted to suppress the Slovene language.

Following World War II, Slovenia became part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslaviamarker. Slovene was one of the official languages of the federation. On the territory of Slovenia, it was commonly used in most areas of public life. One important exception was the Yugoslav army where Serbo-Croatian was used exclusively even in Slovenia. National independence has revitalized the language: since 1991, when Slovenia gained independence, Slovene has been used as an official language in all areas of public life. It also became one of the official languages of the European Union upon Slovenia's admission in 2004.

Slovenes often assert that their language is endangered, despite the fact that it now has more speakers than at any point in its history. British linguist David Crystal said, in an interview in the summer of 2003 for the newspaper Delo:

Geographic distribution

The language is spoken by about 2.4 million people, mainly in Slovenia, but also by Slovene national minorities in Venetian Slovenia and other parts of Friuli-Venezia Giulia in Italymarker (more than 100,000), in Carinthiamarker and other parts of Austriamarker (25,000). It is also spoken in Croatiamarker, especially in Istriamarker, Rijekamarker and Zagrebmarker (11,800-13,100), in southwestern Hungarymarker (6,000), in Serbiamarker (5,000), and by the Slovene diaspora throughout Europe and the rest of the world (around 300,000), particularly in the United Statesmarker, Canadamarker, Argentinamarker, Australia and South Africa.


Slovene has many dialects, with different grades of mutual intelligibility. Linguists generally agree that there are about 48 dialects. Pronunciation differs greatly from area to area, and literary language is mainly used in public presentations or on formal occasions. The Prekmurian and Resian dialect have been standardized.


Slovene has a phoneme set consisting of 21 consonants and 8 vowels, and practices reduction of unstressed vowels.


Older analyses of Slovene concluded that it features phonemic vowel length, but more recent studies have rejected this statement for the majority of speakers. The current analysis is that stressed vowels are long while unstressed vowels are short. All vowels can be either stressed or unstressed. However, unstressed and are restricted to a few grammatical words like bo ('will'), an auxiliary verb for the future tense.


Slovene has 21 distinctive consonant phonemes. Conditional allophones are shown in parentheses.

Slovenian consonants
  Bilabial Labio-
Dental Palato-
Palatal Velar
Nasal       ( )
Affricate     ( )    
Fricative       ( )

All voiced obstruents are devoiced at the end of words unless immediately followed by a word beginning with a vowel or a voiced consonant. In consonant clusters, voicing distinction is neutralized and all consonants assimilate the voicing of the rightmost segment. In this context, and may occur as voiced allophones of and , respectively (e.g. vŕh drevésa ). has several allophones depending on context:
  • Before a vowel:
  • At the end of a syllable or before a consonant:
  • At the beginning of a syllable before a voiced consonant:
  • At the beginning of a syllable before a voiceless consonant:

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


Like the closely-related Serbo-Croatian (to which it is mutually intelligible to an extent), Slovene uses diacritics or accent marks to denote what is called "dynamic accent" and tone. However, as in Serbo-Croatian, use of such accent marks is restricted to language textbooks and linguistic publications. Standard Slovene has two varieties, tonal and non-tonal. The diacritics are almost never used in the written language, except in the few minimal pairs that are already mentioned.

Dynamic accent marks lexical stress in a word as well as vowel duration. Stress placement in Slovene is predictable compared to the East Slavic languages and Bulgarian: any long vowel is automatically stressed, and in words with no long vowels, the stress falls to the final syllable. The only exception is schwa, which is always short, and can be stressed in non-final position. Some compounds, but not all, have multiple stress. In the Slovene writing system, dynamic accent marks may be placed on all vowels, as well as (which is never syllabic in Standard Slovene, but is used for schwa + r sequences, when in consonantal environment); for example, vrt ('garden') stressed as vŕt.In short, stress can theoretically fall on any syllable. In practice, the second or third syllable from the end are commonly stressed.

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 high), the inverted breve ( ) or the circumflex ( ^ ) (long and low), the grave ( ` ) (short and high) and the double grave ( `` ) (short and low), marking the narrow or with the dot below (  ̣ ).



T-V distinction

Slovene, much like several Slavic languages, Baltic languages, German, Dutch and most Romance languages, uses two forms of 'you' for formal and informal situations. Informal ti is comparable to the archaic English thou and is used in common situations; that is, when speaking to one's peers or inferiors; formal vi is comparable to the archaic English ye as it is used in formal situations such as when speaking to one's superiors, generally any adult acquaintances, all adults who are in a higher position at work, and so forth. As with many other languages that make a T-V distinction, the formal form is treated grammatically as the second-person plural form (e.g. boš delal(-a), 'thou wilt work' informal) vs (boste delali, 'you will work' formal).

Foreign words

Foreign words used in Slovene are of various types depending on the assimilation they have undergone. The types are:
  • sposojenka (loan word) fully assimilated; e.g. pica ('pizza').
  • tujka (foreign word) partly assimilated, either in writing and syntax and/or in pronunciation; e.g. jazz, wiki.
  • polcitatna beseda ali besedna zveza partly assimilated, either in writing and syntax and/or in pronunciation; e.g. Shakespeare.
  • citatna beseda ali besedna zveza kept as in original, although pronunciation may be altered to fit into speech flow; e.g. first lady.


There are no definite or indefinite articles as in English (a, an, 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), Noetova barka ('Noah's ark'). 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 a noun, one would say (prav/natanko/ravno) tista barka ('that (exact) barge') for "the barge" and neka/ena barka ('one barge') for "a barge". Another indicator is in the ending of the adjective accompanying the noun rdeči šotor ('exactly that red tent or for a special (red) type of tent') or rdeč šotor ('a red tent').


Writing system

This alphabet (abeceda) was derived in the mid 1840s from an arrangement using the same Latin characters made by Croatian national reviver Ljudevit Gaj. Intended for Serbo-Croatian (and all its variants), the alphabet is called gajica and is patterned on the Czech pattern of the 1830s. Before that was, for example, written as , or <ſ>, as , , or , sometimes as as a relic from now modern Russian 'yeri' (ы), as , as , as , as , or .</ſ>

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. When diacritics are not used, the orthography under-differentiates the phonemes: , and (all written e) and and (both written o). Note that these are usually not written and the reader is expected to gather the meaning of the word from the context. For example:

  • gòl ('naked') vs. gól ('goal'),
  • jêsen ('ash (tree)') vs. jesén ('autumn'),
  • kót ('angle') vs. kot ('as'),
  • med ('between') vs. méd ('honey'),
  • polovíca ('half (of)') vs. pôl ('expresses a half an hour before the given hour') vs. pól ('pole'),
  • prècej ('at once', archaic) vs. precéj ('a great deal (of)'),

letter phoneme first letter in a word word pronunciation
A (a) abecéda ('alphabet')
B (b) beséda ('word')
C (c) cvét ('bloom')
Č (č) časopís ('newspaper')
D (d) dánes ('today')
E (e) , , sédem ('seven'), reči ('to say'), sem ('I am') , ,
F (f) fànt ('boy')
G (g) grad ('castle')
H (h) híša ('house')
I (i) iméti ('to have')
J (j) jábolko ('apple')
K (k) kmèt ('peasant')
L (l) ljubézèn ('love')
M (m) mísliti ('to think')
N (n) novíce ('news')
O (o) , ôkno ('window'), ópica ('monkey) ,
P (p) pomóč ('help')
R (r) rokenrol ('rock'n'roll')
S (s) svét ('world')
Š (š) šóla ('school')
T (t) tip ('type')
U (u) ulica ('street')
V (v) vôda ('water')
Z (z) zrélo ('mature')
Ž (ž) življènje ('life')


Proper Slovene orthography and grammar are sanctioned by the Orthographic Commission and the Fran Ramovš Institute of Slovenian Language, which are both part of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts (Slovenska akademija znanosti in umetnosti, SAZU). The newest reference book of proper Slovene orthography (and to some extent also grammar) is Slovenski pravopis (Slovene Orthography). The latest printed edition was published in 2001 (reprinted in 2003 with some corrections) and contains more than 130,000 entries. In 2003, an electronic version was published. The official dictionary of modern Slovene language, which is also prepared by SAZU, is called Slovar slovenskega knjižnega jezika (SSKJ; in English Dictionary of the Standard Slovene 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, an electronic version of the dictionary was published and is available online.


Further reading

External links



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