Slovene language

Have you noticed that every single Slovene carries love inside him/herself? Well, the Slovenian language is a unique language for true lovebirds. It is one of very rare languages to use dual grammatical forms in addition to the singular and the plural.

The country's official language is Slovene, which makes use of the Latin alphabet.

The Slovenian language has played a special role throughout Slovenian history. It is still considered one of the foundations of national identity. In spite of various influences, it has preserved its special linguistic features - the most notable being the archaic dual form. This is the grammatical number used for two people or things in all inflected parts of speech.

Even a limited proficiency in Slovene will make your trip both easier and more rewarding. It will save you time finding what you want, be it a hotel room, a special dish on the menu or an item you want to buy.

Conversational phrases given here anticipate situations you are likely to encounter, with comments on customs and lifestyle providing the necessary background information.

Slovene is a fully developed and internally richly-structured modern language. The codification of literary Slovene in grammars, dictionaries and normative reference books has a rich tradition stemming from the 16th century (the first Slovene book  was printed in 1550).

Linguistic situation

Photo: Uroš Hočevar

Slovene is an Indo-European language with a highly developed inflectional system (e.g. preservation of the dual). Together with Croatian, Serbian, Macedonian and Bulgarian, it is classified within the South Slavic branch of the Slavic languages, although it also has many features in common with the West Slavic branch. The geographic territory of Slovene lies in one of the most complex linguistic contact areas in Europe, where Slavic converges with Romance, Germanic and Finno-Ugric.  

In comparison to the majority of other Slavic languages, Slovene has a number of characteristic features in the areas of phonology, lexicology and morphology. To orthographically represent its 29 phonemes, Slovene uses 25 Latin letters, including three with a wedge (č,š,ž).  

Slovene is the official and state language of the Republic of Slovenia and the native language of approximately 2.4 million people: about 1.85 million of them live in the Republic of Slovenia. 

Despite the fact that Slovene is limited to a relatively small territory and small number of speakers, dialectologists have established the presence of 46 clearly defined dialects, divided into six regional groups: Carinthian, Upper Carniolan, Lower Carniolan, Littoral, Rovte, Styrian and Pannonian.

Historical overview

Jurij Dalmatin translated to Slovene the entire Bible in 1584.

Sources indicate that two waves of Slavic settlement reached what is now Slovene territory in the 6th century. The Freising Fragments and some other copies show that in the 10th century Slovene was already beginning to take shape from Alpine Slavic as a distinct language. Long after the loss of Carantania 's political independence the language of this tradition continued to be used (for example in the enthronement ceremony of the Carinthian duke until 1414).

The era of the Slovene literary language begins with Primož Trubar . His Abecedarium and Catechismus were published in 1550.

The reforms under Maria Teresa and Joseph II, the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars: the use of Slovene in public life began to spread into public schools and offices, and the literacy rate of the population increased. The new state of affairs was codified in Jernej Kopitar's grammar of 1808. The status of the literary language was considerably elevated by the high-quality poetic creations of France Prešeren (Poezije, 1847).

During the second half of the 19th century, Slovene began to be used widely. The Slovene pronunciation norms (S.Škrabec) were thus the most important decision for the development and growth of the public prestige of Slovene at that time and later.

After the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire within Yugoslavia as well, Slovene was not on an equal footing for long.

After the Second World War, Slovene regained the status of an official language and was also one of the state languages of the Yugoslav federation. Nonetheless, the old political and cultural linguistic problems (the privileged position of Serbo-Croatian) arose once more. When a group of Slovene civilians was tried before a military court in Ljubljana in 1988, and the court conducted its business in Serbo-Croatian, this was one of the prime arguments in the call for the 1990 plebiscite.

The situation today

The translation of "The Glory of the Duchy Of Carniola", a 15-volume encyclopaedia by the 17th century scholar Janez Vajkard Valvasor, from German into Slovenian has been completed.

In the new state of Slovenia, Slovene fully asserted itself immediately in the military, in the customs service, and in state protocol, and in every case its use has expanded into all areas that have opened up with the newest innovations in social and technological development.

One of the greatest challenges to Slovene at the start of the 20th century was brought by membership of the European Union. On 1st May 2004 Slovenia became a full member of the EU and Slovene acquired the status of one of its official languages.

The growing interest in Slovene as a foreign language (Slovene is taught at numerous universities around the world, under the auspices of the University of Ljubljana’s Centre for Slovene as a Second/Foreign Language ) is worth stressing.

Prepared by Dr Janez Dular

More about in the  paper on Slovenian language (76 KB), prepared by Dr Janez Dular for a German collection of scientific papers "Sprachkulturen in Europa, Ein internationales Handbuch ".
(The paper was shortened for the Internet.)

Did you know that…

  • The Slovene evolved from the Proto-Slavic, and the characteristic features of the Slovene language are already seen in the Freising Manuscripts, the oldest surviving writings in Slovene. They were written in the Latin script in Carinthia more than a thousand years ago. The texts they contain, however, were created earlier, most probably in the 8th century.
  • The first book in Slovene, the Catechism, was published in 1550? It was written during the Reformation period by the Protestant parson Primož Trubar, who is considered as the father of the Slovene literary language. He chose to write in the language then spoken in the city of Ljubljana, with elements of Dolenjska and Gorenjska provinces' dialects, creating thus the standard Slovene.
  • The Slovene language is one of the most archaic languages in Europe and in general?
  • The first printed books in Slovene were brought home in barrels? Their journey to the Slovene reader was long and tortuous, often by boat. This method of delivery was the best to conceal the true contents of the shipment. In 1551, Primož Trubar had to smuggle his Catechism from the Tübingen (Germany) printing house, to avoid their confiscation. German printers continued to ship books for Slovene readers in barrels until the beginning of the 19th century.
  • The Slovene was the 12th language in the world to get a translation of the Bible, in 1584? The Bible was translated into Slovene by Jurij Dalmatin.
  • Slovenes who come from opposite parts of our country may have enormous difficulties to understand each other? Slovene is a language with around fifty dialects in seven dialect groups: Dolenjska, Gorenjska, Koroška, Primorska, Štajerska, Panonska and Rovtarska. Such great language variety is the result of geographical, political, historical, social and other reasons.
  • The Slovene is the language of lovers? I and you … we two are in love ….is a song to one's ears. Slovene is one of the rare Indo-European languages to have retained a special form – dual – for referring to two people, objects, and concepts.
  • The Slovene has funny and quite innocent swear words? They often reflect our love for animals… Do not be surprised hearing someone say ''Tristo kosmatih medvedov!(Three hundred hairy ones!)'' , or ''Krščen matiček! (Baptised Matthew!)'' and ''Naj te koklja brcne!(A hen should kick you)'' . ''Pismo rosno (Dewey letter).'', ''Jebelacesta'' (A white road), ''Križana gora'' (Crucified hill), ''Prmejduš (Upon my soul)'', ''Pejt se solit'' (Go salt yourself – meaning Get lost!), are some Slovene pearls. There are also two nice expressions children use: ''Marička potička (Little Mary Pie)'' and ''Pišuka (Whistle)''. Learn them quickly!

Source: Knjižice Pocket Slovene  Žepna slovenščina, by Centre for Slovene as a Second Foreign Language, Center za slovenščino kot drugi tuji jezik (Tjaša Alič...[et al]; foreword Marko Stabej; translation David Limon; illustrations Alenka Čuk, photographs Marjan Paternoster] - 1st ed. Ljubljana : University Press, Faculty of Arts, 2012

  • Have you noticed that every single Slovene carries love inside him/herself? Well, the Slovenian language is a unique language for true lovebirds. It is one of very rare languages to use dual grammatical forms in addition to the singular and the plural. Although its complex grammatical structure could discourage foreigners from learning Slovene, it does not stop increasing numbers of them from enrolling in Slovenian language classes. Even if at first it could sound a hard and cold language, when foreigners start to understand Slovene, they discover it is a language rich in words which express positive feelings of love, friendship and good will. So, let us say that is difficult not to like it!
  • We are also very proud that our language, along with our culture, has been preserved through the centuries even without national sovereignty. The history of our language, indeed, is characterised by the struggle for the independence of the Slovenian people, which was the core of the writings of two main figures in Slovenian literature, the poet France Prešeren (1800-1849), and the writer Ivan Cankar (1876-1918).
  • The ability to speak foreign languages is another virtue we have: everyone speaks at least one foreign language, and the younger generation even speaks two or more!  In some way, an aptitude for dealing with foreign people is one of the main characteristics of Slovenes. The possibility of expanding our businesses outside Slovenia has always motivated Slovenes to travel to Austria, Germany, Italy or Croatia, so many can fluently speak the languages spoken in these countries.
  • Moreover, Hungarian and Italian languages have obtained official recognition from the Slovenian Government in order to safeguard and protect the respective minorities settled in the boundary areas of Prekmurje and Primorska. No wonder that most foreign visitors to Slovenia find Slovenes very open, kind and hospitable to them. Their experience is usually positive.