Slovenia is a country of culture with a rich and challenging language. However, did you know that Slovenians from different regions of the country can have a hard time understanding each other? This miscommunication is due to the significant number of dialects differing from traditional Slovene.
Linguists themselves do not agree on the exact number of dialects spoken in Slovenia. Nonetheless, we can say there are about 50 different dialects classified into eight regional groups. Variations between these dialects can be extreme.
You will need to know more about these dialects and the eight regional groups if you are planning on visiting Slovenia or learning the Slovene language. Let’s take a look at the different Slovene dialects and their history. Here is everything you need to know.
Why Are There So Many Dialects in Slovenia?
The Slovenian language, also called Slovene, Slovenian, and Slovenščina, is one of the oldest and most complicated European languages. It was one of the first Slavic languages.
Slovene is spoken by over 2.1 million people, including 1.9 million living in Slovenia. Other speakers are located in Austria, Croatia, Serbia, or even Bosnia-Herzegovina.
In the Freising Manuscripts from 972 to 1039, there is no mention of dialects. The first proof of Slovene’s fragmentation dates back to the Rateče/Celovec Manuscript from the 14th century and the Stična Manuscript from the 15th century, where some words from dialects are displayed.
In Slovenia, they are about 50 dialects with substantial differences. This diversity brings a lot of pride to the Slovenian culture. It reflects the particularities and uniqueness of the individual culture and history of Slovenian regions.
The enormous differences between all the dialects are due to Slovenia’s geography. The country is very mountainous, which makes communication between cities and regions far more complicated.
Since people were not migrating or crossing roads very often, they were not communicating. This lack of movement between regions is why dialects evolved from the original language in different ways. It also affected the political separation of Slovenia, creating a cleavage between the Hapsburg provinces.
To reinforce the Slovenian language, Primož Trubar, author of the Slovene language printed book, took elements from several dialects and his own, Lower Carniolan.
Another influence on Slovene dialects are languages from neighboring countries such as Hungary, Austria, Croatia, or Italy. Many words from these languages are borrowed by dialects bordering them.
What Are The Dialects Used In Slovenia?
Slovene dialects are numerous, and we cannot enumerate all of them, especially considering that people do not agree on the exact number. Nevertheless, we can divide them into eight regional groups:
- Upper Carniolan dialect group or Gorenjska Narečna Skupina is spoken in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia and the Upper Carniola region. Characteristics of these dialects include monophthongal stressed vowels, two accentual retractions, pitch accent, and an acute semivowel.
- Lower Carniolan dialect group or Dolenjska Narečna Skupina is spoken in Lower Carniola and the East of Inner Carniola. Characteristics of these dialects include extensive diphthongization, an a-colored semivowel, and pitch accent.
- Styrian dialect group or Štajerska Narečna Skupina is spoken in the Center and East of Slovenian Styria as well as the Center and South of Sava Valley. Characteristics of these dialects include no pitch accent, long accents on short syllables, and high and lengthened accented syllables.
- Pannonian dialect group or Panonska Narečna Skupina is spoken in northeastern Slovenia. Hungarian Slovenes also use dialects from this group. Characteristics from these dialects include no pitch accent, short syllables and a new acute on short syllables.
- Carinthian dialect group or Koroška Narečna Skupina is spoken by Slovenes in Austria as well as in Carinthia, North-West of Styria and Upper Carniola bordering Italy. Characteristics of these dialects include a late denasalization, long and old acute syllables, and short neo-acute syllables.
- Littoral dialect group or Primorska Narečna Skupina is spoken in the Slovenian Littoral and western part of Inner Carniola. Slovenes in Italy also speak dialects coming from this group. Characteristics of these dialects include diphthongization, late denasalization, and a particularity: a preserved pitch accent.
- Rovte dialect group or Rovtarska Narečna Skupina is spoken mostly in mountainous areas of west-central Slovenia. Characteristics of these dialects include akanye, and a shortening of long diphthongal.
- Mixed Kočevje subdialects or Mešani Kočevski Govori is a compound of diverse spoken in Kočevje.
The number of different dialects can be quite daunting for beginners that wish to learn Slovene. You might wonder if you will ever be able to integrate into the country even if you put a lot of effort into trying.
Do I Need To Understand Every Dialect?
Having heard about all these dialects and knowing the difficulty of learning Slovene, it may be frightening to travel to Slovenia. But do not worry, not all Slovenians speak every dialect.
Slovenian dialects are incredibly different from one another, which makes comprehension very difficult between some Slovenians.
Dialects have sonorous and vivid vocabularies compared to Slovene. These dialects are remarkably preserved and make Slovenians very proud. However, you don’t need to understand them to travel or even to live in Slovenia.
The classic and standard Slovene stays the primary language in Slovenia. Knowing Slovene assures you a global understanding of conversations wherever you are in the country. Without this lingua franca, communication between Slovenians from different regions would be impossible.
Nevertheless, speaking and understanding Slovene in Slovenia is not essential. With English, you will be ready to sail without any problem. Indeed, at least 94% of Slovenians speak at least one foreign language. 60% of them speak English, and 46% speak German.
Those percentages can surely cheer you up, considering that it is rare for a country. Slovenia is a truly welcoming country, and we can guarantee that your efforts will be recognized. Slovenians are used to tourists, so they will not only understand your struggle but also appreciate you even more.
The Particularities of Prekmurje Slovene
One of the many dialects in Slovenia has several particularities, which make it a dialect worth knowing. To only quote one, it almost became an official language in Slovenia because it was particularly crucial for the country.
Its history and legacy are fascinating and had a genuine impact on Slovenia. This dialect is Prekmurje Slovene, also called East Slovene and Wendish.
Prekmurje Slovene is one of the dialects used by the Pannonian group. Mostly spoken in the Prekmurje region and by Hungarian Slovenes in the West of Hungary, it is also close to dialects such as Slovene Styria or Kajkavian.
You will find Prekmurje Slovene in many publications and writings from Prekmurje’s authors and in personal conversations in this region. It is one of many examples showing that paying interest in these dialects will allow you to dive into Slovene history on a specific scale.
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. Considering it is one of the last dialects entirely spoken by locals, some of them request for it to be a separate and complete language from actual Slovene.
During World War II, this dialect was very neglected, although it has a strong written and literary tradition. In the 1990s, texts in Prekmurje Slovene were supposed to be published to help the dialect gain in legitimacy.
Famous writers speaking Prekmurje Slovene are Miklós Küzmics, Evald Flisar, István Küzmics, Ágoston Pável, József Klekl Senior, and József Szakovics. These writers defend the right for Prekmurje Slovene to be a separate language.
According to Janko Dular, a famous linguist, Prekmurje Slovene is a “local standard language.” He recognizes its interest and the fact that it is a regional language of its own, but still connects it to traditional Slovene.
Even though Prekmurje Slovene is not accepted as a full language by Slovenia, it is possible to teach it in various primary schools in the Prekmurje region. This possibility was an idea of the General Maister Society and several politicians.
Prekmurje Slovene is one of the only dialects to have a different development than the rest of Slovenia, mostly concerning its literary standard. Indeed, this dialect was used for religious education or the press.
Still today, Prekmurje Slovene is used in the regional media but also the culture (films, literature, social media). The dialect did not disappear, and the youth still speaks it often.
If you visit the Prekmurje region, do not be surprised if you see signs, streets, or shops written in Prekmurje Slovene. In this region, you will be confronted with it every day.
A Challenging Language
Slovene is a difficult language in itself, and the fact that more than 50 dialects are influencing it all the time does not help to understand for tourists. But do not give up on Slovene or Slovenia because of this difficulty.
If you are not motivated to learn a new language, you can still rely on English to communicate throughout the whole country. However, never forget: with a little bit of training, you too can learn Slovene or one of its numerous dialects that make the language even richer.