Slavic languages still remain an undiscovered world for western people. Even speakers of one of them are not often aware of the language their neighbors speak. Slavic language family is quite big and consists of a number of national as well as regional languages.
In its turn, the Slovenian language is the Slavic language that belongs to its South-Slavic branch. Now, there are 2.5 million speakers worldwide of Slovene. The language is the official language of the Republic of Slovenia as well as the regional language in Austria and Italy. As Slovenia is part of the EU, it is one of its 24 official and working languages.
What Is Slavic Language Family?
Slavic languages usually receive much less attention than Roman or Germanic ones, but they play a significant and important role in the history of Europe. First of all, there are 315 million native speakers of this family. Secondly, the Slavic speaking area covers more than half of the European territory.
Slavic languages belong to the Indo-European family. This means that all the Romance, Germanic, Indo-Iranian, and, of course, Slavic languages derive from a common ancestor, the Proto-Indo European language.
Now, there are three branches of Slavic languages. They are the East-Slavic, the West-Slavic, and the South-Slavic branches. The first one, East-Slavic, includes Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarusian. They are widely spoken in Eastern Europe and the Russian part of Asia. Of course, the most wide-spoken is Russian. It has 137.5 million native speakers. However, the total number of speakers is much higher, which makes it the seventh-largest in the world by the number of speakers. These three languages use the only Cyrillic alphabet.
On the other hand, other Slavic languages are less popular but even more interesting. The West-Slavic branch includes Czech, Slovak, Polish, and two more regional languages. They use only the Latin alphabet, and the most widely spoken language here is Polish, with approximately 45 million native speakers.
The third group, which includes the biggest number of languages, is South-Slavic languages. On the other hand, it is the smallest one, because it has approximately 30 million speakers. Moreover, it is the most interesting but complicated group. Here you can find Bulgarian, Macedonian, Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian, and Slovene. The first two, Bulgarian and Macedonian, are de facto dialects of one language. They use Cyrillic alphabet. Serbian, Croatian, and Bosnian are also dialectically similar. However, Serbian uses Cyrillic, whereas Croatian uses the Latin alphabet.
Only Slovenian is more distinct from the other South Slavic languages. It is spoken natively by 2.5 million speakers worldwide and uses the Latin alphabet as well.
It is important to mention that the Slavic languages share more characteristics than many other language groups. Moreover, they are mutually intelligible within one language branch. Even among all of them, you can find many similar words. For example, almost every Slavic language uses “dobro (dobre, dobrze)” for the meaning of good, “pivo (piwo)” for beer, “nosh (noz)” for knife, and “zlo (zle)” for evil.
One of the well-known features of Slavic languages is the fact they are highly inflective. This means that they have many grammatical cases. The grammatical case means that a noun or pronoun changes its form depending on its function in the sentence. In English, you can still find it in pronouns. For example, “I” is the subject form, whereas “me” is the object form. The Slavic languages have up to seven different grammatical forms. They are nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, instrumental, locative, and vocative.
For people who study one of the Slavic languages but don’t have inflection in their native one, this might be a challenge. Moreover, Slavic languages don’t have articles. The only exemptions are Bulgarian and Macedonian.
History of the Slavic Languages
As we mentioned above, the Slavic language family belongs to Indo-European languages. Around 3000 BCE, they separated from it as the Proto-Balto-Slavic language. This means that all the Slavic and Baltic languages (Lithuanian, Latvian, Prussian) derive from the common ancestor as well. The Proto-Slavic language broke off from the Baltic ones later, around 1500-1000 BCE.
This language had been unified for almost 2000 years after. Only between 500 CE and 1000 CE, it split into the dialects that created the languages we know as Slavic today. This time is called the Common Slavic Period. During that period, Slavic people were migrating a lot, thus the language diverged into dialects.
About 1000 CE, because of this separation, there were three distinct languages: West-Slavic, East-Slavic, and South-Slavic. Later, they became the three branches of the Slavic language family.
The Cyrillic alphabet was firstly used in Old Church Slavonic. It was implemented by St. Cyril, based on the Greek alphabet, with some changes for sounds that didn’t exist in Old Greek. Therefore, the alphabet was named after him. The Old Church Slavonic was used by Orthodox Slavs. Thus, now the Cyrillic alphabet is used by languages predominantly spoken in countries with an Orthodox majority.
The migration and spread of Slavic languages were also pushed by the Byzantine Empire territories expansion.
The Slovenian Language
Slovene is a South-Slavic language spoken by the Slovene nation. The approximate number of speakers is estimated at 2.5 million worldwide. The majority, of course, live in Slovenia, where it is the official language.
Approximately there are around 0.5-1 million Slovenes living outside the country. The biggest populations are in neighboring countries like Austria, Germany, Italy, Croatia as well as in the United States and Canada. New Zealand and Australia are also countries with a high number of Slovenian Expatriates living in. Moreover, the Slovene language is officially recognized by Italian and Austrian governments as the language of minorities. Austrian and Italian have the same status in Slovenia as well.
The standard Slovenian language was formed during the period between the 18th and 19th centuries. It was based on Upper and Lower Carniolan dialect groups, with an emphasis on the speech of Ljubljana, the capital of the Republic of Slovenia, and its adjacent areas.
Slovenian uses subject–verb–object (SVO) sentence structure. On the other hand, the world order is flexible, it’s used for adjusting emphasis or stylistic reasons. The language uses T–V distinction. This means that second-person plural forms are used for individuals as a sign of respect.
Scientists recognize from seven to nine dialects of Slovenian. For such a small country, it is a significant number. There is even a proverb “Every village has its own voice” (Vsaka vas ima svoj glas) that characterize dialect variation.
The person who is considered as “the father” of literature Slovenian is France Prešeren. He spread the Slovenian culture around the world. His poems were translated into English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Hungarian, Slovak, Polish, Russian, Ukrainian, Belorussian, Bengali, as well as to all the languages of former Yugoslavia. Moreover, he introduced new genres to Slovenian literature. For instance, he wrote the first Slovene ballad and the first Slovene epic. He is the most important personality for the entire Slovene nation. His poem is now used for a national hymn of the Republic of Slovenia. There is even Prešeren Day, a public holiday celebrated on 8 February.
There is an interesting fact about the Slovene language. Scientists still cannot decide to which category it belongs. The language shows mixed lexical features of Southern and Western Slavic languages. Some scientists are sure that it has Western Slavic origin, but being influenced by the part of the neighboring Serbo-Croatian dialects for a long time. Others found high mutual intelligibility with Kajkavian dialects of the Croatian language.
This happened because of Slovenian history. For a long time, most of the territory of Slovenia was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This factor separated them from other South-Slavic languages as well. Slovenia reunited with its Slavic brothers only in the previous century as the part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Slovenes, and Croats that later became Yugoslavia.
The Slavic languages are a big and important language family. Theіr languages are not so ancient as Greek and Latin, and they are not so popular as their Germanic and Romance brothers from the Indo-European family.
However, it is an interesting world of almost 15 officially recognized separate languages, each with its own history, culture, people, traditions, and peculiarities. For example, Russian is one of the top 10 largely spoken languages in the world, Polish has a unique hissing sound, and nasals found only in French, Bulgarian and Macedonian only have articles, and Slovenian is the most distinct language from the South-Slavic branch.
Slovene is an example of how a relatively small nation could form and save their language being under the control of the bigger nation with a dominant language, German. Now, there are only 2.5 million speakers, but they can be found all around the world. If you are from the United States, Canada, New Zealand, or Australia, try to listen around, and maybe one day, you will be lucky enough to hear it.
If you are from Europe, then the best way to listen to it would be to visit this small but interesting country in the heart of Europe.