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Slovenian Language


Slovenian is a Slavic language and is spoken in Slovenia and adjacent enclaves in Austria (Austrian Carinthia), Italy (Friuli-Venezia Giulia) and Hungary (the Raba river basin). It is the native language of nearly two million Slovenians and it is also spoken by approximately 400,000 speakers in emigrant communities in the United States, Canada, Argentina, Australia, Germany and France. Considering the size of the Slovenian speaking area (approx. 20,000 square kilometers), Slovenian is remarkable for the heterogeneity of the dialects. These are conventionally divided into eight major geographical groups, within which there are numerous subdialects, giving a total of fifty dialects in all. Many of these dialects are distinctly different from one another, so much so that there can be some lack of mutual comprehension.


Regions in Slovenia

Contemporary Standard Slovenian

The official literary language of Slovenia is known as Contemporary Standard Slovenian (zborni jezik). It is a composite of several dialects, but is based mainly on the geographically central dialects of Upper and Lower Carniola (Gorenjska and Dolenjska). Ljubljana, the capital city, which is geographically just inside Gorenjska, straddles the border between these two dialect areas.

The difference between the written Contemporary Standard Slovenian (zborni jezik) and the colloquial standard (splošni pogovorni jezik) is the result of the long and complex history of the development of the written literary language. As a result of its historical development, Contemporary Standard Slovenian is to a certain degree an artificial language. Not only is it not the same as anyone Slovenian dialect, but it also differs in many respects from the colloquial standard language used by educated people. Contemporary Standard Slovenian is the language found in grammar books, taught in schools and universities and used in literature and the media on formal occasions. It is the written language of educated Slovenians and has to be learnt.

The colloquial standard language is on the other hand the language used in everyday life by educated speakers of urban areas. This colloquial standard language, affected by local speech habits, differs from the written standard in phonology, morphology, syntax and vocabulary. At the same time one must bear in mind that the colloquial standard of the capital, Ljubljana, differs from the colloquial standard of other towns in other dialect regions, e.g. Maribor in Štajerska (Styria).

History of Slovenian Language

The Slav tribes who were the ancestors of the Slovenians settled in the eastern Alpine region in the sixth century AD. Although initially independent within a short-lived state called Carantania, the Slovenian lands from the eighth century onwards were controlled by Germanic speakers and in time they found themselves within the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1918, the Slovenians gained a measure of independence within the newly created Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians, which in 1929 became known as Yugoslavia. Only in 1991, however, did the Slovenians finally achieve full independence for themselves. The ninth and tenth centuries saw the dissolution of Common Slavic, the proto-language of all the Slavs, and the individualization of a Slovenian language. The earliest written records with Slovenian features are the Freising Fragments, which were written between 972 and 1039. These are followed much later in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries by a few religious manuscripts. The Reformation witnessed the publication of the first printed books by the Protestant reformers Primož Trubar, Sebastijan Krelj, Jurij Dalmatin and Adam Bohorič. These writers basically used the dialect of Dolenjska with an admixture of Gorenjska and Notranjska (Inner Carniola) features. The dialect of Ljubljana was especially influential in this central dialect norm, which continued to be used even in the period of the Counter-Reformation, since when most Slovenians have remained Catholic. However, by the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the dialects of Koroška (Carinthia), Štajerska and Prekmurje were also being used in writing as a result of the production of texts for individual diocesan needs. Writers from the central areas continued to follow the old Protestant norm, but it underwent certain changes in favor of Gorenjska phonology, due to the increase in the number of writers from this area in the eighteenth century. This broadened the dialectal base of the language and made it more accessible to speakers of other dialects. This adherence to a sixteenth-century written norm was very important in terms of continuity, because between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries significant changes had occurred in the phonology and morphology of the central dialects and there was a gap between the spoken and written language.

Merging of Dialects

In 1808, J. Kopitar published his Grammatik der slawischen Sprache in Krain, Kärnten und Steiermark, which attempted to unite the speech of all Slovenian regions based on a synthesis of Upper and Dolenjska features. Kopitar accepted the Protestant heritage as the basis for the literary language, but stressed the primacy of the vernacular purged of Germanisms. At the beginning of the nineteenth century debates on purism continued and new grammars appeared based on both Štajerska and Dolenjska dialects. It was only at this time that Slovenian became firmly established as the name of the language as opposed to the variety of terms previously used: Kranjski (Carniolan), Štajerski (Styrian), Koroški (Carinthian), and Vindišarski (Windisch). In the second quarter of the nineteenth century there was a move by some writers from Štajerska and Koroška to merge Slovenian with Croatian and Serbian to create a new south Slavic 'Illyrian' language, but the counter efforts of the poet F. Prešeren and the great Slovenian linguist F. Miklošič defeated these attempts and ensured the future of Slovenian as an independent language.

Slovenian grammarians and writers now accepted the idea of the integration of the Slovenian dialects and concessions were made to Koroška and Štajerska dialects in terms of morphological features. Newspapers and journals also adopted the new compromise norm which was still strongly linked to the Kranjski (Carniolan) dialects. In the second half of the nineteenth century two further important linguistic processes took place - slavization and archaization. Slavization introduced numerous words from the Slavic languages, especially Serbo-Croat, in an attempt to eradicate Germanisms. Archaization, with Church Slavonic (also Church Slavic) as a model, affected the grammatical structure of the language, introducing categories which had long been lost or weakened long ago in the dialects, and indeed distinguish the literary standard from the colloquial variants in use today.

This reconstructive, diachronic approach to the language was superseded only at the turn of the century, when linguists embraced a more consistent synchronic approach, putting a check on borrowings from other Slavic languages and limiting archaic forms to those actually attested in older Slovenian. When Slovenia became part of Yugoslavia in 1918 a new influx of Serbo-Croat words entered the language, but this was followed later by a purist tendency directed against Serbo-Croat words, not only current borrowings but also against previously admitted borrowings. After the Second World War the differences between the Slovenian dialects diminished as a result of internal migration, urbanization and industrialization and the standard language has spread due to education and mass communication.


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