The Slovenian language, or Slovene language, has an intriguing past intertwined with a number of significant events in European history.
Due to Slovenia's central location between East and West, modern Slovenian exhibits close ties to its fellow Slavic languages but also has retained unique German language influences from its time as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Classification and Early History of the Slovenian Language
The Slovenian language is classified as part of the Western group of the South Slavic language family, along with the Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian languages. The Slavic languages arose from the resettlement of the Slav peoples throughout Eastern Europe in the 6th century AD. This migration process resulted in the development of three distinct Slavic language groups: Eastern, Western and Southern.
It is believed that Slovenian developed as a distinct language from Serbo-Croatian between the 7th and 9th centuries. Around this time, the Slovene language began a gradual transition, gaining similarity to the Kajkavian and Cakavian Croatian dialect while moving away from the Stokavian dialect upon which the standard Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian languages are all based.
The Freising Manuscripts: Early Written Slovenian Language
The earliest known records of written Slovenian exist in the Freising Manuscripts – known as Brižinski spomeniki in Slovenian – which date from circa 1000 AD. They were discovered in Freising in the German province of Bavaria. Historians explain this discovery with the fact that in the 8th century, Bavaria and the medieval Slovene state of Carntania were joined in a union.
Comprised of three texts written in the old Slovenian language dialect, these religious documents are some of oldest surviving manuscripts of the Slavic language family. Although the exact date of their creation can’t be determined, it is believed that the Freising Manuscripts were created between 972 and 1093. These dates are based on the fact that the writing is a form known as Carolingian minuscule, which was used in the centuries after the rule of Charlemagne.
The Reformation: Development of a Written Slovenian Language
Written Slovenian gained prominence during the Reformation. In fact, prior to this time, Slovenian was rarely written and existed primarily in the spoken form. During the Reformation, Protestant missionaries translated prominent sections of the Bible into Slovenian utilizing a Latin language alphabet.
The emergence of a literary Slovenian language soon followed, thanks to the work of a number of Reformation activists. The first printed Slovenian language books appeared in religious texts around the mid-16th century. In the 1840s, a modernized Slovene language alphabet, also based on a Latin alphabet, was developed.
Standardization of Slovenian
Despite initial efforts by Protestant missionaries, written Slovenian underwent a decline until the early 19th century when the modern standardized language finally developed. Standard spoken Slovene developed from the Central Slovene dialects during the 18th century. In the late 18th century, Roman Catholic missionaries completed Slovenian language translations of the Bible based on this dialect.
In the early years of the 19th century, the first grammar texts for the written Slovenian language appeared. By the mid-19th century, a standard written Slovenian language based on these texts had emerged, largely thanks to the work of Slovenian-language poet France Prešeren. Modern written Slovenian is based on this Latin alphabet, modified with diacritic marks on the letters c, š, and ž.
Oppression of the Slovenian Language During World War II
During World War II, Slovenia was divided between Italy, Germany, and Hungary. Throughout this period, attempts were made to suppress the Slovenian language. It continued to remain in common use in the everyday life of the region, however. When Slovenia became part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia after the war, Slovene was declared one of the official languages of the federation.
Slovenia After Independence
With a reawakening of Slovenian nationalist sentiment in the late 20th century and Slovenia's independence from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1991, Slovenian was declared the official national language of the country.
Slovenia's declaration of independence was followed by a ten-day war during which Slovenians rejected interference by the Yugoslav military. As a fresh young democratic republic, Slovenia made efforts towards economic and political liberalization.
Thanks to the success of these movements, Slovenia joined both NATO and the European Union in 2004.
German Influence on the Slovenian Language
Until 1918, present-day Slovenia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Because of this, German was considered the language of the elite, while Slovene was reserved for the common people.
Although this outlook changed with time, there is still evidence of German language influences in the Slovenian language. Many Slovene scholars, especially in the sciences, continued to write in German well into the early 20th century.
Regulation of the Modern Slovene Language
The Slovene language is currently regulated by the Orthographic Commission and the Fran Ramovš Institute of Slovenian Language. Part of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, or SAZU, these institutions are in charge of regulating standardized Slovene language orthography and grammar.
SAZU was in charge of publishing the first official dictionary of the modern Slovenian language, which was released in five books between 1970 and 1991. An electronic version was made available online in the 1990s.
Slovenian Language Today
The Slovenian language is spoken by an estimated 2.4 million people around the world, primarily in Slovenia and parts of Austria and Italy bordering Slovenia. Standard Slovene is the official national language in Slovenia, where it is spoken by the majority of the population. It also is one of the official languages of the European Union.
Although the number of Slovenian speakers is relatively small, a significant variety of dialects exist within the language. Most linguists recognize seven or eight major dialects plus 50 individual dialects overall, although there is some disagreement regarding these numbers.
Slovenian Quick Facts
Alternate Names & Spellings: Slovenscina, Slovene
Language Family: Indo-European, Slavic, South, Western.
Official Language of: Slovenia
Spoken by Approximately 2,000,000 people
Also Spoken In: United States
Learn About Other Languages
Spanish (Latin America)