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Slovenian language

Slovenian or Slovene (language) (= slovenski jezik, 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 Indo-European. Its grammar is reputedly extremely complex and the large number of named dialects compared to the number of speakers indicates a large amount of variation in the language.

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


Official status
Official language of: Slovenia, European Union
Regulated by: Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SAZU)
Language codes
ISO 639-1 sl
ISO 639-2 slv


History (Zgodovina)

The earliest known examples of a written Slovenian dialect are from the Freising manuscripts (called Brižinski spomeniki in Slovenian), which have been dated to between 972 and 1093, but more likely before 1000 than after. 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 extant manuscripts in any Slavic language.

The literary Slovenian language 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 prestige language, and Slovenian was the language of the "ordinary" 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 (SAMPA [[email protected]], IPA [poʊʃtər]). Similarly, Slovenian has both the native term izvijač (="screwdriver") and šrauf'ncigr (SAMPA [[email protected]@r], IPA [ʃraʊfəntsɪgər]) in technical colloquial jargon, from the German word for screwdriver, der 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 the first novel in Slovenian; 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. 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 (Narava jezika)

Although Slovenian is reportedly very difficult for a foreigner to learn, it is nowadays very much alive. The language is regulated by the Slovenian Academy of Arts and Sciences, which sanctifies proper Slovenian orthography and grammar. The newest reference book of proper Slovenian is Slovenski pravopis.

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, 2 million, is big. Welsh has merely 500,000 speakers. Statistically, spoken Slovenian with 2 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.

The Language's English Name (Angleško ime jezika)

Both Slovene and Slovenian have been used for a long time in English to refer to the Slovenian language. However, in recent times, Slovenian seems to be emerging as the preferred form in all English-speaking countries except for the United Kingdom, where Slovene still enjoys a majority of usage. Both terms are widely recognized and acceptable.

Classification (Razvrstitev)

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

Geographic Distribution (Krajevna porazdelitev)

The language is spoken by round about 2.2 million people, mostly Slovenians living 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) (Friuli-Venezia Giulia (Furlanija-Julijska krajina)) in Italy (100,000), in Austrian Carinthia (avstrijska Koroška) in 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).

Dialects (Narečja)

If you don't have a dialect, you don't have a language [An old saying]

There are at least 32 main dialects (narečje) (dI) and speeches (govor) (sP) of spoken Slovenian, which is a reasonably large number for any language; when considering the amount of speakers, however, this makes Slovenian one of the most diverse languages in the world.

The main regional groups are:

  1. koroško (Carinthian),
  2. vzhodno (Eastern),
  3. severovzhodno (Northeastern),
  4. zahodno (Western),
  5. osrednje (Central),
  6. gorenjsko (of Upper Carniola),
  7. belokranjsko (of White Carniola),
  8. dolenjsko (of Lower Carniola),
  9. primorsko (Maritime).

There are also local groups and subgroups (sG), such as:
banjško (sP), baško (sP), borjansko, bovško, briško, brkinsko (in Brkini), bržansko (in Bržanija in Trieste vicinity), celjsko (in Celje), cerkljansko (in Cerkljansko), činžaško, čiško, črnovrško, goričansko, gradiščansko, haloško (in Haloze), horjulsko (in Horjul), idrijsko (in Idrija), istrsko (in Slovenian Istria), južno belokranjsko (sG) južno notranjsko (in south of Notranjsko), južno pohorsko (sG), kapleško, kobariško, kostelsko, kozjansko - bizeljsko, kozjaško (sP), kranjskogorsko (in Kranjska Gora) (sP), kraško (in Kras (the Karst)), laško (in Laško) (sP), logaško, lovrenško, ljubljansko (in Ljubljana), mariborsko (in Maribor), medijsko, mešano kočevsko (sP), mežiško (in Mežica), nadiško, notranjsko (in Notranjsko), obirsko, obsoško (along river Soča), podjunsko (in Podjuna), pohorsko (on Pohorje), poljansko, posavsko, prekmursko (sG), prleško (in Prlekija), puščavsko, remšniško, rezijansko (in Rezija (Resianica )), ribniško, rižansko (in Rižana) (sP), rožansko, savinjsko (in the valley of Savinja), sevniško - krško (sP), solčavsko (in Solčava) (sP), selško, severno belokranjsko (sG), severno pohorsko - remšniško, srednje beloknjanjsko (sG), srednje savinjsko (sG), srednje štajersko (sG), šavrinsko (sP), škofjeloško (in Škofja Loka), šokarsko, tersko, trbonsko, tolminsko (in Tolmin), trboveljsko (in Trbovlje), vrtojbensko (in Vrtojba), vzhodno dolenjsko (sG), vzhodno gorenjsko (sG), vzhodno prleško (sG), zagorsko - trboveljsko (sP), zasavsko, ziljsko, zgornje savinjsko (sG).

Various dialects are so different that a speaker of one dialect may have a very difficult time understanding a speaker of another, particularly if they belong to different regional groups. In such communication, standard Slovenian with what might be termed as an equivalent to received pronunciation is used per convention.

It is also possible to speak about spoken American Slovenian, spoken by Slovenian emigrants to the USA (mostly in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Illinois). For example, they would usually say in broken Slovenian: Jez prihajam z-Amerik-e (I come from America).

For the dialects from the Carinthian region, it is known that they differ from each other less in their deep structure than in their vocal and lexical image; from literary language, however, they differ no more than the other marginal dialects. That is why the dialects in primary education can be much like a natural transition towards literary language and the written word. See Fran Ramovš's Dialect Map.

Sounds (Zvoki)

Slovenian has an average-sized phoneme set, with 21 consonants and 8 vowels.

Vowels (Samoglasniki)

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 (ɑ, ʌ)
  • E
    • wide / (ɛ)
    • narrow (e)
    • schwa (ə)
  • I
    • i (ɪ)
  • O
    • wide / (ɒ)
    • narrow (o, ɔ)
  • U
    • u (u, ʊ)

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 (Soglasniki)

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.

bilabial labiodental dental alveolar postalveolar velar
plosive p b 1 t d 2 k g
nasal m (ɱ/F) 3 n (ŋ/N) 4
trill (r) 5
tap ɾ/4
fricative f v s z ʃ/S ʒ/Z
affricate ts (dz ) 6 tʃ/tS (dʒ/dZ ) 6
lateral approximant l

Where the SAMPA and IPA symbols differ, a slash separates the IPA and SAMPA symbols. IPA is to the left and SAMPA is to the right.

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] (SAMPA F), 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 careful speech. The same rules 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 phoneme /j/ is sometimes written i in foreign words.

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). F, C and H do not have suitable pairs; the pair for Č is the letter combination DŽ.

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.

letter phoneme phones example
b /b/ [b, (p)] [bɛsed̪a] beséda (="word")
c /ts/ [ts, (dz)] [t̪sest̪a] césta (="road")
č /tʃ/ [tʃ, (dʒ)] [tʃasɔpis] časopís (="newspaper")
d /d/ [d̪, (t̪)] [d̪anəs] dánes (="today")
f /f/ [f, (v)] [fan̪t̪] fànt (="boy")
g /g/ [g, (k)] [bɔgat̪] bogàt (="rich")
h /h/ [x, (ɣ)] [xiʃa] híša (="house")
j /j/ [j] [d̪ijak] diják (="secondary school pupil")
k /k/ [k, (g) [kmɛt̪] kmèt (="peasant")
l /l/ [l, u, u̯] [bɔleti] boléti (="to hurt")
m /m/ [m, ɱ] [d̪vɔm] dvòm (="doubt")
n /n/ [n̪, ŋ] [d̪an̪] dán (="day")
p /p/ [p, (b)] [gɔspot] gospód (="sir, gentleman")
r /r/ [ɾ, ɾ̩, r̩] [barva] bárva (="colour")
s /s/ [s, (z)] [mislit̪i] mísliti (="to think")
š /ʃ/ [ʃ, (ʒ)] [ʃola] šóla (="school")
t /t/ [t̪, (d̪)] [t̪svet̪] cvét (="bloom")
v /v/ [v, u, ṷ, w, u̥] [d̪ɾɛvo] drevó (="tree")
z /z/ [z, (s)] [miza] míza (="table")
ž /ʒ/ [ʒ, (ʃ)] [ɾoʒa] róža (="flower")

Stress, Length and Tone (Naglas, dolžina in ton)

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 vowels or syllabic r, which in this case stands for two phonemes, ə and r, with the schwa stressed; for example, srce (heart) stressed as sŕce (common usage is srcé, however).

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).

Grammar (Slovnica)

See Slovenian grammar

Vocabulary (Izrazje)

Slovenian uses, much like German or French, separate forms of verbs 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.

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)

Writing System (Način pisanja)

The preferred character encodings (writing codes) for Slovenian texts are UTF-8 (Unicode) and ISO 8859-2 (Latin-2).

The language uses a modified Latin alphabet (see Slovenian alphabet) and its modern alphabet consists of 25 unique lower- and uppercase letters:

a, b, c, č, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, r, s, š, t, u, v, z, ž,
A, B, C, Č, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, R, S, Š, T, U, V, Z, Ž.

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.

In the old alphabet used by most distinguished writers, "bohoričica", developed by Adam Bohorič , the characters č, š and ž would be spelt as zh, ∫h and sh respectively, whereas c, s and z would be spelt as z, and s. To remedy this, so that each vocal sound would have a written equivalent, Jernej Kopitar urged development of new alphabets.

In 1825, Franc Serafin Metelko proposed his version of the to-be alphabet called "metelčica". However, it was banned in 1833 in favour of the bohoričica after the so-called Suit of the Letters (Črkarska pravda) (18301833), which was won by France Prešeren and Matija Čop . Another alphabet, "dajnčica", was developed by Peter Dajnko in 1824, which did not catch on as much as metelčica; it was banned in 1838. The reason for their being banned is because they mixed Latin and Cyrillic characters, which was seen as a bad way to handle missing characters.
The gajica was adopted afterwards, however it still does not feature all characters the language has.

There are 5 letters for vowels (A, E, I, O, U) and 20 for consonants. The Western Q, W, X, Y are excluded from the pure language, as are some Southern Slavic characters, Ć, , Đ, LJ, NJ, however they are used in encyclopaedias and dictionary listings, for foreign Western proper nouns or toponyms are not transcribed as they are in some other Slavic languages, such as partly in Russian or entirely in Serbian. Such an encyclopaedic listing would make use of this modified Latin alphabet:

a, b, c, č, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, q, r, s, š, t, u, v, w, x, y, z, ž.

Therefore, Newton or Massachusetts remain the same and are not transformed to Njutn or Mesečusets, which seem very odd to a Slovenian. Other names from non-Latin languages are transcribed in a fashion similar to that used by other European languages, albeit with some adaptations and unwritten rules. Japanese, Indian and Arabic names such as Kajibumi, Djacarta (Djakarta) and Jabar are transcribed as Kadžibumi, Džakarta and Džabar, where j is replaced with ž. Diacritical marks from other foreign alphabets (eg, , &Aring, Æ, , , Ï, Ń, , , Ş, ) do not influence the alphabetical order either.

In the original ASCII frame of 1 to 126 characters one can find these examples of writing text in Slovenian:

a, b, c, *c, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, r, s, *s, t, u, v, z, *z
a, b, c, "c, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, r, s, "s, t, u, v, z, "z
a, b, c, c(, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, r, s, s(, t, u, v, z, z(
a, b, c, c^, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, r, s, s^, t, u, v, z, z^

In TeX notation, č, š and ž become \v c, \v s, \v z, \v{c}, \v{s}, \v{z} or in their macro versions, "c, "s and "z, or in other representations as \~, \{, \' for lowercase and \^, \[, \@ for uppercase.

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:

  • gl (naked) | gl (goal),
  • jsen (ash (tree)) | jesn (autumn),
  • kt (angle, corner) | kot (as, like),
  • kzjak (goat's dung) | kozjk (goat-shed),
  • med (between) | md (brass) | md (honey),
  • pl (pole) | pl (half (of)) | pl (expresses a half an hour before the given hour),
  • prcej (at once) | precj (a great deal (of))),
  • rem (draw) | rmi (rummy (- a card game)).

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 ena barka (one barge).

Names of Places (Imena krajev)

Many well known global places have their own special names.

Countries and Territories (države in teritoriji)

Cities (mesta)

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

Some names are, therefore, quite different for sorting from what they are in English.

Examples (Primeri)

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.

There is a Slovenian Wikipedia at .

External Links


  • Marc L Greenberg about Slovenian:
  • Some brief facts about Slovenian:
  • Slovenian for travellers:
  • Online Slovenian-English-Slovenian machine translator (demo):
  • Slovenian declension (sklanjatev):
  • Slovenian Alphabet:
  • "Metelčica" - a Slovenian Alphabet in the 19th century:
  • Slovenian language profile:

Language History

Standard Slovenian Language Links

Slovenian as a Second Language

Last updated: 10-24-2004 05:10:45