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Slovene (Slovenščina or Slovenski jezik) is a (Western) South Slavic language spoken by the Slovene people. It is spoken by Slovenes and other residents of the Republic of Slovenia, as well as the Slovene minorities (zamejci - literally those "beyond the border") in the neighbouring countries and Slovenes living abroad (izseljenci).

Comparison between standard literary Slovene, the Prekmurje literary standard and the Resian literary standard

Slovene is written in a Latin script known as gajica, the Slovene form of the script created by the Croatian linguist of German heritage, Ljudevit Gaj, who based his script on Czech orthography. In addition to the standard script, two other writing systems exist as a result of historical and geographic circumstances: a separate Resian script used by an isolated community of Slovenes in the region of Rezija in Italy, as well as a Prekmurje literary language created as a result of the region’s isolation from the rest of the Slovene nation due to living under Hungarian as opposed to Austrian rule.

Slovene is (in)famous for being highly diverse in dialects and for said dialects being of varying degrees of mutually intelligible – and often unintelligible compared to standard literary Slovene. As a result, a Slovene learner, even one who studied conversational Slovene, might get completely stumped when engaging in actual conversation.

Geographic Spread[]

Among the minority populations in the neighbouring countries, the Slovene minority is most populous in Italy, where it inhabits a strip of land along the border, in the Italian province of Friuli Venezia Giulia. This includes the regions of Slavia Venezia (Beneška Slovenija), in the north further divided into the regions of Canal Valley (Kanalska dolina), Resia (Rezija), as well as the areas surrounding Gorizia (goriška) and Trieste (tržaška).

In Austria, the Slovene-speaking area has through centuries been reduced to the southern parts of Carinthia (Koroška) and Styria (Štajerska).

Slovenes in Croatia are primarily immigrants in cities such as Zagreb or Rijeka (Reka), but there are traditional populations in Istria (Istra), around Rijeka, in Gorski Kotar, Međimurje (Medmurje) and by the Kolpa (Obkolpje) and Sotla (Obsotelje) rivers.

The smallest minority population is in Hungary, where it primarily inhabits Vendvidék (Porabje), a region in the westernmost corner of the country.

Many Slovenes historically moved abroad in search of better economic prospects. The largest migration waves occurred in the 19th and 20th century. The highest population of Slovenes (and Slovene descendants) abroad is in the United States of America. Of the people self-declared as being of Slovene heritage, most live in six states; Ohio (Cleveland was at one point known as "the largest Slovene city), Pennsylvania, Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin and California. Another important destination was Michigan, where many followed after the state was "discovered" by Friderik Baraga, a missionary famous for his work with the Ojibwe Indians and for being the first of three Slovene bishops of the Diocese of Marquette.


Slovene is rather well known for being rich in dialects; some even say that it is the most diverse of Slavic languages. A Slovene saying states that “Every village has its own voice,” which holds a lot of truth. Varying modern classifications put the number of dialects and subdialects somewhere between 30 and 50, divided into 7 or 8 dialect groups, but every dialect is further divided into local forms. The seven dialect group are:

Slovene dialect map

1.     Upper Carniolan dialect group

2.     Lower Carniolan dialect group

3.     Carinthian dialect group

4.     Rovte dialect group

5.     Littoral dialect group

6.     Styrian dialect group

7.     Pannonian dialect group

Slovene dialects, their diversity and high number have been influenced by geography, contact with other languages and the Slovene people’s origin during the migration era (see History). Slovene is part of the South Slavic dialect continuum, with dialects on the borders of the Slovene-speaking area in the south and the east having varying degrees of contact with Chakavian and Kajkavian dialects of Croatia. The lines are often blurred, with the Slovene dialect of Čičarija sometimes considered a Chakavian dialect, and some Croatian dialects of Gorski Kotar and the area beyond the Sotla and Kolpa river sometimes being classified as Lower Carniolan dialects. In the west, the dialects of the Littoral dialect group have been greatly influenced by the Friulian and Italian languages due to prolonged contact, especially during Venetian rule. In Prekmurje and Porabje, the local Pannonian dialects, which were largely cut off from the wider Slovene population base as part of the Kingdom of Hungary, were influenced by the Hungarian language (and also German). Most Slovene dialects were spoken in territories controlled by the Habsburgs, leading to predominant German language influence.

The immense influence of German on the Slovene language as a whole cannot be stressed enough. Linguistic contact began as soon as the ancestors of Slovenes entered the Alps, continuing through the rule of the Bavarians, the Franks and the Habsburg monarchy. Elements of this influence are even seen in standard Slovene, not only in some vocabulary that escaped purist attempts due to being so basic and old that its German origin is not obvious, but also in grammar. In dialects, however, there was no such purist effort. To this day, a vast amount of German loanwords exists in the colloquial Slovene of even urban dwellers. The intensity of the loanword usage increases in the rural environments and in areas around former centres of crafts. One topic that has seen a particularly important part of its vocabulary borrowed from German is craftsmen jargon, from the vocabulary related to shoemaking, construction, automobiles etc. To many, words like šraufenciger (screwdriver, compare to standard Slovene izvijač) or bormašina (electric drill, compare to standard Slovene vrtalnik) are preferable, either because they sound natural and not stilted in some way like their Slovene equivalents, or because they are seen as the original terms that were born naturally through borrowing and not concocted by any Slovenist. But German loanwords remain an integral part of colloquial and dialectal vocabulary on an even more basic level, from the words for stairs, slippers, chimney, and many more.

On a level above dialects, Slovene is also divided among tonemic and non-tonemic (+ hybrid) forms

Not all German-influenced Slovene dialects were influenced to the same degree. One significant factor was the intensity of German settlement. Although the history of the Slovene language is, to a large degree, the history of one language losing footing vis-à-vis the dominant language – the once majority Slavic-speaking territory of modern Austria reduced to a narrow strip along the Karavanke range –, assimilation occurred in the opposite direction as well. This happened primarily when German speakers were introduced into majority Slovene areas, where their imprint was largely based on their numbers. When their numbers were low, the German speakers disappeared completely. When their numbers were greater, they would leave behind geographic names; a number of villages in Slovenia bear the name Nemška vas, literally “German village”. Their impact also lingered through their influence on the local dialect; the nobleman and scholar Janez Vajkard Valvasor, author of the 1689 Glory of the Duchy of Carniola, noted that the inhabitants of some villages on the plains between Kranj and Ljubljana spoke what he considered neither Carniolan (as Slovene was once known) nor German. With time, however, even these signs of the German heritage of some of these communities’ members would disappear.

An important exception exists in the Rovte dialect group. Originally a rather unpopulated region (rovt is a German loanword meaning a cleared land in hilly territory, but rovte also means a backwater), the area of the aforementioned dialect group was settled by many German speaking colonists, and although they would eventually melt into the majority population of what was at that time the Duchy of Carniola, theirs would be a lasting legacy, as it led to the formation of a completely new dialect group.

Some include the Kočevje mixed dialects as a separate category along the seven dialect group. Historically, Kočevje was inhabited by a German majority which was resettled into German-occupied Styria during the Second World War and most of them then moved again after the war, this time to Germany. Kočevje was left depopulated and resettled from various parts of Slovenia (one notable region being the Pannonian-speaking Prekmurje) as well as other Yugoslav republics, leading to new forms emerging that in many ways parallel the new mixed dialects of Czech in the Sudetes.

Slovene dialects are part of the South Slavic dialect continuum and form a continuum of their own. Dialect speakers

To make things even more complicated, speaking the same dialect does not necessarily mean using the same vocabulary, as is shown in this map of the use of the words for "cellar"

will generally have an easier time understanding speakers from the same general area, be it the wider Littoral region, the area of former Carniola or eastern Slovenia. Meanwhile, speakers from two far-away areas may have difficulty understanding each other. In general, urban speakers who do not speak proper dialects but rather urban speeches have a harder time understanding dialects of distant regions. A common stereotype, especially among the urban population of central Slovenia, is that of the incomprehensibility of the Prekmurje dialect, although it is the Resian dialect which takes the cake. Along with dialects and urban speech varieties, we may also speak of regional colloquial Slovene. These are colloquial forms based on dialects but used on a larger area, largely revolving around a major city (for example, the central Slovene colloquial language based around Ljubljana or the northern Styrian colloquial language based around Maribor).


The language of the ancestors of the Slovenes likely began diverging as soon as those tribes that would form the base for the people between the Danube and the Adriatic began their migrations. Historically, Slovenes inhabited a quite larger area, including vast areas of modern Austria and western Hungary; in fact, the centre of power among old Slovene tribes was in modern Austrian Carinthia. The unique characteristics of the Slovene language today have their foundation in this early period. There was no single migration from which the Slovene people would claim ancestry. The first wave occurred in or around the year 550, when Slavic tribes moved from Moravia south across the Danube. The second happened in the year 568, when the Lombards moved further into the Apennine peninsula, leaving the Alpine lands free for Slavic tribes from Pannonia, where they lived in confederacy with the Avars. Two different waves met and intermingled, at which point the formation of the Slovene language and people truly began.

The first text in the Slovene language, as well as the first Slavic text in any Latin script is the Freising manuscript

Page three of the second Freising Manuscript

(Brižinski spomeniki), written between 972 and 1039 but likely based on 9th century works. Although the manuscript was written by Bavarian (non-Slavic) monks, the work already showed a dialectal differentiation of the language used.

Slovene remained primarily a spoken language for centuries after the Freising manuscripts were written, but it nevertheless had an important place in the Slovene lands. In the coronal traditions of Carantania (later Carinthia), Slovene remained the language in which the dukes would be installed. This tradition survived all the way until the final coronation in Slovene took place in 1651.

It took until the year 1550 that Slovene remained a solely oral language. The founder of the Slovene literary language is Primož Trubar, a Protestant priest and writer who published the first Slovene printed books, Abecedarium and Catechismus. Trubar, a native Lower Carniolan, leaned on the speech of Ljubljana – at that point primarily Lower Carniolan in nature – as well as his own Lower Carniolan dialect. His fellow Protestants followed his example in basing their writing on the Ljubljana speech.

As Ljubljana shifted northwards in the 18th and 19th century, with the incorporation of Upper Carniolan villages and the arrival of more Upper Carniolans into the city, as well as the rise of Upper Carniolan linguists and authors in general, the literary language changed character. The era of national awakening saw two lines of thought in competition. The purists’ ideal for Slovene was in a way paradoxical and self-defeating. There was an idea among some linguists and writers that the Slovene language (known as Carniolan at the time) was too Germanised. This was compounded by the fact that many of said academics came from urban circles, where German was a common language both in writing and in speech. As a result, many believed that it was necessary to look towards the simple rural folk for inspiration in reviving the language.

At the same time, however, many rural speakers came to be perceived as speaking lower forms of Slovene, in many case even more Germanised than the urban varieties. Opposing the purist ideas were linguists and writers such as the famous poet France Prešeren, who saw the German characteristics of Slovene as an inseparable part of the language and something that gave it its character. They opposed borrowing from other Slavic languages or even attempting to merge the language with the neighbouring Shtokavian, which became the standard among the Croats and Serbs, and which was by some (see the Illyrian movement) to be a natural counterweight to the encroaching German language.

Outside of Carniola, the Slovene language saw separate development in the east, in Styria and separately the Hungarian “Slovene March” (Prekmurje and Porabje). Styrian authors would eventually join their Carniolan kin, but the authors of Prekmurje remained separate enough, both politically and through sheer dialectal distance, that their written standard remained in common use from the 18th century and all the way to the end of the Second World War.

The 19th century also saw a different kind of struggle, one that came to be known as the “alphabet war”. After the Freising manuscripts, which were written in Carolingian minuscule, Primož Trubar wrote his first two books in the Gothic script. His orthography was inconsistent, using different letters for the same sounds from one sentence to another. The Protestant authors largely rallied around bohoričica, an orthography codified by the Protestant writer Adam Bohorič. After Bohorič published the rules for his Latin script in 1584, it would remain in use all the way into the 19th century. Many academics saw the need for a new system but it wasn’t until the first half of the 19th century that alternatives would be provided.

Peter Dajnko introduced his script, which came to be known as dajnčica, in 1824. It saw particular support in eastern Styria due to the system’s characteristics which were particularly suited for the speakers from that particular region. Dajnko’s opponent was Franc Serafin Metelko with his 1825 metelčica. Seeing a barrage of criticism due to its “ugly” alphabet and relying far too much on Lower Carniolan, Metelko’s work too was considered a bad alternative to bohoričica. The solution came with the introduction of the Slovene form of gajica. The common consensus was that borrowing the script from the Croatian linguist Ljudevit Gaj (who borrowed his work from Czech orthography) was a worthy compromise, although certain problems remained unsolved.

Purist thought continued into the 20th century. Interestingly enough, it was bolstered after most of the Slovene population (and academia) entered Yugoslavia. The Slovene literary language was allowed to flourish - and Slovenists were allowed to use it as their playground, as some might grumble.



Just like all other Slavic languages bar Bulgarian and Macedonian, Slovene is a highly inflected synthetic language. It has six grammatical cases, losing the Vocative case which is still present in some Slavic languages.

An example of masculinisation (white dot inside black dot) and feminisation (black dots) of neuter nouns, in this case in the word okno (window)

Slovene uses three genders: male, female and neuter; some dialects have through the processes of masculinisation or feminisation replaced the neuter gender with either the male or female gender, although some dialects manage to get even more complicated and use both in the same nouns (okno – sg. tist ôken > pl. tiste ókna). The gender of a noun impacts its declension, as well as the conjugation of verbs and adjectives associated with said noun. These declensions are largely based on suffixes in the singular genitive form, but there are always exceptions. For example, most nouns ending in -a are female, but certain male nouns have this same suffix as well. As a result of all special cases, the latest theory recognises twelve declensions, four for each gender. Although the number of declensions may appear daunting to a foreign learner, the reality is that a large number of them apply only for very limited cases.

During primary and secondary education, only two male, two female and one neuter declension are taught. Even then, the number can be further reduced. The second male declension is used for male nouns which follow the rules of the first female declension by using the suffix -e in the singular genitive case. However, it is possible to ignore this special rule and apply the first male declension for such nouns as well.

One feature of the Slovene language that sets it apart from most European languages and which is only shared by Sorbian and Chakavian among all Slavic languages, is the dual grammatical number. Unlike the other Slavic languages, Slovene retains a form specific for addressing or talking about a category between singular and plural form. But although the dual form is something of a point of pride for many Slovene speakers, the reality is that the form was historically nearly on the verge of extinction and shows signs of reduction. This can be seen in the dual you forms, which are in their essence the plural form + two (dva) – midva, vidva, onadva. In fact, this weakening has gone so far that certain dialects lack the dual form altogether. Another way in which the reduction is felt paradoxically deals with pairs, such as body parts. Slovene uses plural forms for pairs such as eyes and ears. In this way, Slovene is set apart from the majority of Slavic languages which, despite lacking the dual grammatical number, retain those special pairs.

Much like other Slavic languages, Slovene uses two plural forms, one for nouns that come in threes or fours (so trije, štirje avti) and another for other plurals (je pet avtov).

Cases and their helping questions (and words)[]

In primary and secondary school, Slovene learners are taught to use a number of questions and words to help determine the declension of a noun. The questions are as such:


Helping question + word

Helping word

Nominative (imenovalnik)

Kdo ali kaj (je)?


Genitive (rodilnik)

Koga ali česa (ni)?


Dative (dajalnik)

Komu ali čemu (dam)?


Accusative (tožilnik)

Koga ali kaj (vidim)?


Locative (mestnik)

Pri kom ali čem?


Instrumental (orodnik)

S kom ali čim?



Koga ali česa ni? Človeka ni.

Komu ali čemu dam? Dam človeku.

Je človek, ni človeka, dam človeku, vidim človeka, pri človeku, s človekom

Slavic languages
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