The Slovenian language is complicated but beautiful. It is full of secrets and history. If you are a tourist in Slovenia or trying to learn Slovenian, you will want to know everything about this beautiful language.
There are many fun facts about Slovenian. For example, it was one of the first Slavic languages and the first written one. It was a glue for its Nation and its 2,1 million speakers. It uses dual and particular letters, or there are not really serious words for cursing.
If you are interested in Slovenia, you will love learning about all the country’s fun facts, like fun facts about the territory or the people. For now, let’s take a look at 11 fun facts about the Slovenian language.
1. It Was the First Written Slavic Language
Slovenian is one of the first Slavic languages, but it was also the first written one. It is also one of the oldest and most difficult languages in Europe. As a spoken language, we can trace Slovene back to Old Church Slavonic and proto-Slavonic languages because of its proximity to the Romance and Germanic language regions.
Slovenian can also be called Slovene and Slovenščina. It was first talked about in the Freising Manuscripts, a religious text. It is the first Latin-script continuous text in a Slavic language. The Freising Manuscripts are two different manuscripts, including three Slovene records. They were discovered in Germany, in Freising, hence the name.
In Slovenian, the name of the manuscripts is Brižinski spomeniki, which means Brižinski monuments. It comes from the “slovenization” of the word Freising to Brižinski by the philologist Anton Janežič.
According to researchers and historians, the manuscripts were written in the Möll River Valley in Carinthia.
We do not know precisely when the texts were written, and for that reason, we do not know precisely when the Slovenian language was first written. However, we think it dates back to the 9th century, most likely between 972 and 1039.
We were able to determine when the manuscripts were written thanks to how they were written, in Carolingian minuscule, writing that appeared after Charlemagne.
We also know that the manuscripts were probably written during Bishop Abraham’s time, between 957 and 994. Some historians even believe he was the author of one of the texts.
We still have remains of this manuscript: four parchment leaves and a further quarter of a page. The remains of the documents have been kept in the Bavarian State Library in Munich, Germany, since 1803. They were displayed once in Slovenia in 2004.
2. Over 2.1 Million People Speak Slovenian
Slovenian is a tiny country stuck between some of the biggest European countries like Italy, Hungary, or even Austria. Two million people are living in Slovenia, including 1,9 million who speak Slovenian. The other Slovenian speakers are mostly living in Austria, Croatia, Serbia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
This fact that one million people speaking Slovenian are not living in Slovenia can be mostly explained by the fact that 450,000 Slovenians live abroad (plus the second and third generation that were born outside of Slovenia).
Slovenes emigrated from their country in three main waves. The first wave was between 1860 and 1914 when the state could not handle the increase of population. The second wave was between 1918 and 1941 because some regions were impoverished and had to flee fascism and German nationalism. Finally, after the Second World War, the third wave was until the 1970s when people ran for economic reasons mostly.
As a result, about 170,000 Slovenes in the United States, between 80,000 and 100,000 in Italy, 50,000 in Germany, and many others in Canada, Argentina, France, Croatia, etc.
Slovenian is an infrequent language and – except in Slovenia, you will rarely meet someone who speaks Slovenian. This small Slovenian speaking population makes talking Slovenian a treasure, and almost like a secret language.
3. Slovenian Was a Glue for the Nation
Slovenia is a small country that went through a lot. Slovenia lived under the German Empire (also known as the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation) and under the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was again invaded during both World Wars, fought for its independence in 1991 from Yugoslavia.
The fact that Slovenia has not always had the chance to only be Slovenia, even today in some way since it is part of the European Union, explains that Slovenes reunited around small things like its national anthem Zdravljica, its flag, its symbols, and most importantly its language.
Slovenian linked all Slovenians when they were going through challenging and dividing times, even though most of them still feel more pride in their region rather than their country.
But in the end, even when Slovenia did not exist, or could not exist, Slovenian did, and it glued Slovenians together in hope for a better future.
4. There Are About 50 Dialects in Slovenia
Slovenian is not the only language in Slovenia, and there are over 50 dialects spoken daily by Slovenians. Some seem like entirely new languages. Others are just variations of the original Slovenian language.
The Slovenian dialects were not mentioned in the Freising Manuscripts. The first time we see Slovenia’s division through language was in the Rateče/Celovec Manuscript from the 14th century and the Stična Manuscript from the 15th century, where we found words from different dialects.
Linguists do not all agree on the number of dialects, but in general, we can say there are about 50 dialects divided into eight regional groups. These 50 dialects have substantial differences, which brings Slovenian unparalleled richness and diversity. This diversity also represents the diversity of history and culture from each region.
Slovenia’s geography can mainly explain the differences between the dialects. Indeed, since the country is very mountainous, when languages were developing, communication was almost impossible between the different cities regions considering the lack of roads and paths across mountains. This lack of communication also had a political effect, creating a cleavage between the Hapsburg provinces.
The eight regional groups of dialects are the following: Upper Carniolan, Lower Carniolan, Styrian, Pannonian, Carinthian, Littoral, Rovte, and Mixed Kočevje.
One particular dialect has more influence than others, and almost became a second official language in Slovenia: Prekmurje Slovene, also called East Slovene and Wendish, from the Pannonian group.
There are approximately 110,000 Prekmurje dialect’s speakers in the World. This number includes 80,000 people in Prekmurje and 20,000 in the rest of the country.
5. The Slovenian Language Uses Dual
The Slovenian language does not only have a complicated history, but it is also a complicated language to learn. Besides being one of the rarest Indo-European languages, it also uses grammatical particularities such as dual.
Dual is a grammatical number used along with plural and singular. It refers to two entities. An example of dual in English would be: “Both go to the same school.” Dual is a rare characteristic of Indo-European languages. It is used in languages like Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Lithuanian, and Serbian.
Dual existed already in Proto-Indo-European languages and was used afterward in languages like Ancient Greek, Sanskrit, Gothic, and Old English.
Nowadays, dualism is less used by Slovenes. However, it is still essential to understand it and know how to use it to learn the Slovenian language.
However, do not worry that even if you are having a hard time learning Slovene or do not have time before your holiday, most Slovenes speak English very well.
6. Slovene Was the 12th Language in the World With a Complete Bible Translation
Even though Slovene is a rare language, it was one of the first to have a complete Bible translation. In 2019, the Bible had been translated fully in 698 languages and the New Testament into another 1,598.
The first time a sentence from the Bible translated in Slovene appeared was in the Freising Manuscripts. It was translated entirely in 1578 by the Slovenian Lutheran minister Jurij Dalmatin. It was published in 1583.
The translation of the Bible in Slovenian was significant both for religious and linguistic reasons. For religious reasons, it helped Slovene learn about the Bible, considering that now 60% of Slovenes are Roman Catholic. It also helped share a written version of the Slovenian language in Slovenia and the World, making it a more concrete and fixed language.
This translation by J. Dalmatin set the rules of the Slovenian language for centuries. Dalmatin was a Slovene Lutheran minister, reformer, writer, and translator. He was born around 1547 and died in Ljubljana on August 31st, 1589.
7. Slovenian Uses the Letters Č, Š, Ž
The Slovenian Alphabet uses different letters as the English Alphabet. First, there are only 25 letters. There are 21 consonants and eight vowels. The letters W, Q, X, and Y do not exist.
However, there are other letters that English speakers might have never heard of. These letters are Č (pronounced as ch), Š (pronounced as sh), and Ž (pronounced as zh). The accents above these three letters are called a strešica in Slovenian, which means “little roof.” In English, they are called carrots.
The fact that Slovenian has its own letters makes it even more challenging to learn for English speakers. Furthermore, the pronunciation of many other letters is different.
|Letter||Pronunciation||Example in Slovene||Example in English|
|A a||/a/||Amerika (America)||Father|
|B b||/b/||Banka (bank)||Bee|
|C c||/ts/||Cena (price)||Pizza|
|Č č||/tʃ/||Oče (father)||Chocolate|
|D d||/d/||Denar (money)||Day|
|E e||/ɛ/, /e/, /ə/||Zelo (very)||Electricity|
|F f||/f/||Fakulteta (faculty)||Fantasy|
|G g||/ɡ/||Grem (I’m going)||Gorilla|
|H h||/x/||Hip (moment)||House|
|I i||/i/||Italja (Italy)||Information|
|J j||/j/||Jama (cave)||Yes|
|K k||/k/||Kaj (what)||Coffee|
|L l||/l/, /w/||Letališče (airport)||Legend|
|M m||/m/||Musej (museum)||Mother|
|N n||/n/||Minuta (minute)||Nature|
|O o||/ɔ/, /o/||Oliva (olive)||Opera|
|P p||/p/||Pošta (mail)||Pepper|
|R r||/r/||Restavracija (restaurant)||Revolution|
|S s||/s/||Sam (alone)||Salt|
|Š š||/ʃ/||Študent (student)||Champagne|
|T t||/t/||Teden (week)||Television|
|U u||/u/||Utrujen (tired)||Moon|
|V v||/v/, /w/||Vem (I know)||Villa|
|Z z||/z/||Miza (table)||Zero|
|Ž ž||/ʒ/||Žena (a woman)||Garage|
Also, some combinations of letters are pronounced differently. For example, the combination of D and Ž is pronounced like the English J. In the word “Madžarska” (Hungary), the “dž” is pronounced like the “j” in Jane.
Another change is for letters placed at the end of words. For example, in the words “pol” (wolf) or “volk” (wolf), the L is pronounced as in the word “know.” The terms “nov” (new) and “v mestu” (in town) are pronounced as would be the word “wrong.” Indeed, the letters L and V are pronounced like a W when at the end of a word.
8. Slovenian Cursing Is Silly
Slovenians are very peaceful people, and the Slovenian language reflects that idea. Whenever we are learning a new language, it is always fun to know a few cursing words. In Slovenia, cursing is rather silly, and there are no actual vulgar words.
When you understand what curses Slovenes are saying mean, you will most probably laugh rather than be offended. Traditional curse words are almost ridiculous.
Here is a list of the most popular cursings. You will see they are quite foolish:
- “Tristo kosmatih medvedov” (Three hundred hairy bears)
- ” Naj te koklja brcne! “(A hen should kick you!)
- ”Krščen matiček! ” (Baptised Matthew!)
- “Bog te nima rad!” (God does not like you!)
- “Jebelacesta!” (The road is white!)
- “Križana gora!” (Crucified mountain!)
- “Pojdi se solit!” (Go salt yourself!)
- “Šmentana muha!” (Damn housefly!)
- “Tristo hudičev!” (Three hundred devils!)
- “Kristusove gate “(Jesus Christ’s underwear!)
- “Naj ti ohrovt zgnije!” (Make your kale rot!)
- “Pes te nima rad!” (Even your dog does not like you!)
- “Mat kurja” (Chicken’s mom!)
- “Krvave dile” (Bloody planks!)
If Slovenes want to hurt you or offend you with curse words, they will borrow ones from other former Yugoslavian countries like Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, or even Serbia.
9. There Are Alternations in the Pronunciation of Consonants and Vowels
Slavic languages use many variations and alternations in the pronunciation of consonants and vowels compared to other Indo-European languages.
Some of these alternations are called palatalizations, which means that there is a sound change in pronunciation. It implies a change in the place or manner of articulation of consonants or the fronting or raising of vowels.
There are two different palatalizations. In Slovenian, the first and the second Slavic palatalizations change the consonants K, G, and H. Palatalization is a sound change caused by a change in the place or articulation of consonants or the fronting or raising of vowels.
There is also an effect called iotation. This one affects the letter Jj, making it merge with some of the preceding consonants like for the following: blj, plj, mlj, and vlj.
10. Ljubljana Means “Beloved”
Ljubljana, the Slovene capital, is not the easiest word to pronounce for English speakers, especially if you are not familiar with the Slovenian language’s pronunciation. It is what we could call a tongue-twister.
If you want to pronounce Ljubljana, think of it this way: “lyoo-BLYAH-nuh,” maybe it will help you. Also, do not worry about the number of Js. Many Slovenians pronounce it Lublana when talking colloquially.
The origin of the name Ljubljana is not entirely sure. One possibility comes from when the Romans settled in the territory and named their city Iulia Emona. After that, the word could have evolved into alluviana, which means “flooding river” in Ancient Roman.
Another explanation comes from the 12th century, and the German word Laibach derived from Laubach, which means marshland emerged. We could also say that it comes from the old Slavic-Roman word Luwigana, or the Slavic deity Laburus.
However, the most popular and most adorable version of Ljubljana’s origin is the word Ljubljena which means “beloved”. This is my favorite because beloved is absolutely the perfect word to describe such a wonderful city.
11. The Slovene Language Was Forbidden in Schools During WWII
During the Second World War, Slovenia was occupied by Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Hungarians and Croatians. During the occupation, fascists tried to impose their nationalism and forbid the use of Slovenian in schools. It was also sometimes banned in public spaces.
Children were punished for speaking or writing in Slovenian. They were beaten with wooden sticks and rulers or forced to kneel on a pile of corn.
The invaders also burnt and destroyed thousands of Slovenian books and cultural objects. This caused immense damage to the cultural and historical heritage of the country.
Because of this prohibition, Slovenes enjoyed, even more, being able to use Slovenian after the Nazi and Fascist occupation. Slovenian appeared as a glue for a bleeding and hurt Nation.
Learning This Secret Language
Now that you know everything about Slovenian and its mysteries, you can try to learn this rare and complicated language. Knowing how to speak Slovenian will surely ease your trip to Slovenia, but do not worry if you do not know Slovenian, because most Slovenes speak fluently English.
However, it is always nice to learn how to say essential words and how to pronounce them. If you want to prepare your trip the best, take a look at our article on how to speak like a local in Slovenia.