Slovenian (Slovenščina) is a Slavonic language spoken by approximately 2 million people worldwide. Slovenian is most closely related to the Kajkavian dialects of northwestern Croatia. It shows less similarity to the other Southern Slavonic languages BCMS/SC, Bulgarian and Macedonian, and even less to other Slavonic languages such as Russian, Ukrainian, Polish and Czech. It is the official language of Slovenia. In turn, Slavonic languages are part of the Balto-Slavonic group within the larger Indo-European family of languages. Distant linguistic relatives of Slovenian thus include Albanian, Armenian, Danish, Irish, Kurdish, Punjabi, and Spanish.
The usefulness of Slovenian is limited to Slovenia and certain regions of Austria and Italy. For Slovenian communities outside Slovenia, one can usually communicate in other languages (e.g. one can usually communicate in English with Slovenes who live in the USA). As is the case in Eastern Europe, ESL teaching is widespread and many young adults and teenagers speak at least some English. German and Italian are also common choices as foreign languages among Slovenes partially because of the volume of tourists from Austria and Italy.
In a more general sense, learning Slovenian is an useful introduction to future learning of Slavonic languages as it still shares many of the features of other Slavonic languages. As mentioned above, Slovenian is closely related to the Kajkavian dialects of northwestern Croatia and the colloquial language of people living in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. The northwestern Čakavian dialects spoken southwest of Zagreb, Croatia are also closely related to Slovenian, albeit not to the same degree as the Kajkavian ones.
Standard Slovenian is taught in all schools and used as the official language. There are arguably two variants of the standard language which is based on central dialects from southeast of the capital, Ljubljana. One variant employs pitch accent while the other does not. In the case of the former, rising or falling tone/pitch falls on long stressed vowels. Partially because of Slovenia’s mountainous terrain, speakers of Slovenian dialects had relatively little contact with each other thus encouraging independent development of dialects. Depending on the sources consulted, there are at least 32 dialects of Slovenian.
Learning with a background in other languages
According to FSI, it takes approximately 1100 class hours to achieve professional speaking and reading proficiency in Slovenian. It follows from FSI’s scale that the degree of difficulty in learning the language for a monolingual speaker of English is roughly the same as that of the other Slavonic languages as well as Albanian, Hebrew, Khmer, Sinhala or Xhosa among several others.
As suggested in the section on intelligibility, learners with a background in other Slavonic languages will find learning Slovenian less onerous to various degrees depending on how similar it is to the Slavonic languages that they know.
Mobile stress was the most difficult aspect of Slovenian for me to deal with in my studies. Difficulty may also arise when trying to understand verbal aspect, verbs of motion, syntax, declension or to retain vocabulary. However these aspects should not be unduly difficult for someone who already has at least an intermediate-level grasp of another Slavonic language.
Stress placement in Slovenian is not fixed and not marked in print with the exception of some dictionaries and textbooks for foreigners, and must be learned through practice, careful study or exposure. Pronouncing words with the incorrect stress placement at best may not severely impede understanding, but at worse in other instances may lead to some misunderstandings or looks of puzzlement from Slovenes. There is also some vowel reduction in Slovenian yet it is not as prominent as in Russian (or English for that matter), and unstressed vowels are often pronounced very similarly to their stressed versions.
Overview of grammar
Like most other Slavonic languages, Slovenian has elaborate inflections for nouns and adjectives.
There are six cases for nouns and adjectives: nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, locative and instrumental.
There are three numbers: singular, dual and plural
There are three genders: masculine, feminine and neuter with masculine divided further into animate and inanimate categories in the declensions of the nominative, accusative, and genitive.
There are three moods: indicative, conditional and imperative
There are two voices: active and passive
There are four tenses: pluperfect, past, present, future.
There are two verbal aspects: imperfective and perfective (these aspects deal with the concept of whether the verb describes an action that was/is/will be repetitive/ongoing or an action that was/is/will be completed.). This means that most actions are expressed with an imperfective and a corresponding perfective verb.
Because of Slovenian’s inflective nature, personal subject pronouns are usually omitted unless the speaker wishes to emphasize or clarify the subject of a sentence. Syntax is usually with the verb in the second position but this can change depending on the focus or nuance that a speaker wishes to convey. Thus, syntax can be rather flexible compared to English as much of the relevant grammatical information of a sentence is revealed in the inflections, conjugations, suffixes and prefixes of the words. Syntax is also affected by "enclitics" and there is a strict order when using them.
Adjectives precede the nouns that they describe.
- slovenski jezik “Slovenian language”
In turn, some adjectives can take endings that determine whether the object is definite or indefinite.
- nov kot “a new corner”
novi kot “the new corner”
In addition, adjectives must agree with the nouns that they describe:
- tih fant “a quiet boy” (masculine animate nominative singular)
tihi fant “the quiet boy” (masculine animate nominative singular)
velik grad “a large castle” (masculine inanimate nominative singular)
veliki grad “the large castle” (masculine inanimate nominative singular)
majhna knjiga “small book” (feminine nominative singular)
novo mesto “new city” (neuter nominative singular)
dva tiha fanta “two quiet boys” (masculine animate nominative dual)
dva velika gradova “two large castles” (masculine inanimate nominative dual)
dve majhni knjigi “two small books” (feminine nominative dual)
dve novi mesti “two new cities” (neuter nominative dual)
tihi fantje “quiet boys” (masculine animate nominative plural)
veliki gradovi “large castles” (masculine inanimate nominative plural)
majhne knjige “small books” (feminine nominative plural)
nova mesta “new cities” (neuter nominative plural)
Slovenian spelling is not entirely phonemic and as mentioned earlier it often doesn't give clues about the location of stress and quality of tone in words. This is most noticeable in the tonal variant of Standard Slovenian. In addition, v is pronounced more like the English ‘w’ or ‘u’ in certain positions, while final l is pronounced more like as English ‘ow’. Depending on the word, e can also be pronounced like ә or i. Slovenian uses the Latin alphabet with special characters č, š and ž.
In addition to native words originating from Proto-Slavonic, Slovenian has a sizeable stock of loanwords from other European languages including German, Hungarian and Italian. It has also incorporated words from German by calquing. English loanwords are more prevelant in contemporary Slovenian than in older varieties of the language because of the influence of American pop culture, the internet and sports.
- geslo “password” (cf. Czech heslo id.); smer “direction” (cf. Czech smer id.)
kegelj “skittle” (cf. German Kugel); ja “yes”; ura “hour; clock” (cf. German Uhr)
kočija “coach” (cf. Hungarian kocsi); soba “room” (cf. Hungarian szoba); hasniti “to be of use” (cf. Hungarian használni “to use”)
minuta “minute” (cf. Italian minuto); briga “care” (cf. Italian briga “bother”)
kompjuter, internet, menedžer (manager)
Slovenian uses a two-way T-V distinction like most other Slavonic languages. To address one person politely or formally, one uses the 2nd person plural instead of the 2nd person singular. For addressing more than one person, the 2nd person plural forms are used regardless of the level of formality or politeness.
- - Dober dan, gospa Novak! Kako se imate? "Hello, Mrs. Novak! How are you?"
- Zdravo, Špela! Kako se imaš? "Hi, Špela! How are you?"
See 'Learning with a background in other languages' for other comments on grammar
Mutual intelligibility with other languages
Most English-speaking learners will find little in Slovenian that is instantly familiar at the outset apart from most of the Slovenian alphabet and the occasional internationalism (e.g. hotel, mobilni telefon, policija).
Slovenian is intelligible in varying degrees to native speakers of other Slavonic languages without courses or special training, although this "untrained intelligibility" isn't that high unless one knows the Kajkavian dialect/language of northwestern Croatia. Here are some hints that may help with making sense of Slovenian for people speaking at least one Slavonic language other than Slovenian.
1) The Late-Common Slavonic cluster of *-tj- evolved into -č- as in Belorussian, Russian and Ukrainian.
*světja > sveča (Slovenian); свечка (Belorussian); свеча (Russian); свічка (Ukrainian) “candle” (Cf. sv(ij)eća (BCMS/SC); свещ (Bulgarian); svíce (Czech); свеќа (Macedonian); świeca (Polish); svieca (Slovak))
2) The Late-Common Slavonic cluster of *-dj- became -j- which did not occur in any of the other Slavonic languages.
- *medja > meja (Slovenian) “boundary” (Cf. мяжы (Belorussian); međa (BCMS/SC); межда “landmark” (Bulgarian, Macedonian); meze (Czech); międza (Polish); межa (Russian, Ukrainian); medza (Slovak))
3) The Late-Common Slavonic *g is retained as in BCMS/SC, Bulgarian, Lower Sorbian, Macedonian, Polish and Russian. In the remaining Slavonic languages it has become h. This is also tied to why h does not occur frequently in Slovenian.
govor “speech” (Slovenian, BCMS/SC); говор (Bulgarian, Macedonian, Russian); gwar “noise” (Polish) (Cf. гаворка “talking” (Belorussian - pronounced 'havorka'); hovor “talk” (Czech, Slovak); гoвip “dialect” (Ukrainian - pronounced 'hovir'))
4) Slovenian stress can fall on any syllable as in Belorussian, Bulgarian, Russian and Ukrainian.
5) Slovenian vowels can be long or short as in Czech, Slovak and BCMS/SC. However unlike the latter three languages, the length of Slovenian vowels is tied to stress with stressed vowels pronounced longer than unstressed ones.
6) Final -l and -v, and u- and v- before consonants initially are pronounced like English 'w'. This is vaguely similar to Ukrainian where initial в- can be pronounced as 'w-' or Belorussian and Slovak where final в- and -v respectively are pronounced as -w.
- brez študentov (Slovenian - pronounced like “brez shtoodentow”); без студэнтаў (Belorussian - pronounced like “bez stoodentaw”); bez študentov (Slovak - pronounced like “bez shtoodentow”); без студентpів (Ukrainian - pronounced like “bez stoodentiw”) “without the students” (Cf. bez studentów (Polish - pronounced like “bez stoodentoof”); без студентов (Russian - pronounced like “bez stoodentoff”)
7) Slovenian uses the dual like Sorbian.
8) Slovenian verbs of motion are similar to those of BCMS/SC, Bulgarian, Macedonian and Slovak in that motion on foot is not distinguishable from motion with a vehicle based on the verb alone.
- grem (Slovenian); idem (BCMS/SC, Slovak); ида (Bulgarian); oдам (Macedonian) "I go [on foot]" (Cf. idę (Polish); іду (Belorussian, Ukrainian); jdu (Czech); иду (Russian))
grem z avtobusom (Slovenian); idem autobusom (BCMS/SC, Slovak); ида с автобус (Bulgarian); oдам со автобус (Macedonian) “I go via/by bus” (jadę autobusem (Polish); еду аўтобусам (Belorussian); jedu autobusem (Czech); еду на автобусе (Russian); ïду автобусом (Ukrainian))
9) Slovenian can express the future of an imperfective verb by combining the future tense of "to be" and the quasi-past participle as in Polish. (N.B. The defined future tense in BCMS/SC (called "futur II") also uses this combination although it does not convey the same nuance of general future activity as in Polish and Slovenian)
- bom videl(a) (Slovenian); będę widział(a) (Polish) “I will be seeing” (Cf. vidjet ću / vid(j)eću (BCMS/SC); буду видеть (Russian); budem vidieť (Slovak))
10) As in Czech and BCMS/SC, the Slovenian accusative plural endings for adjectives and nouns denoting masculine humans are distinct from those for the genitive plural
- “I see new [male] students”
Jaz vidim nove študente (Slovenian)
Ja vidim nove studente (BCMS/SC)
Aз виждам нови студенти (Bulgarian)*
Já vidím nové studenty (Czech)
Jac гледам нови студенти (Macedonian)*
(*Bulgarian and Macedonian aren't quite applicable here since almost all of their original cases outside those for pronouns have merged into the nominative)
- Ja widzę nowych studentów (Polish)
Я бачу новых студэнтаў (Belorussian)
Я вижу новых студентов (Russian)
Ja vidím nových študentov (Slovak)
Я бачу нових студентів (Ukrainian)
Literature / Media / Film / Music
For the learner of Slovenian, there is plenty authentic material from Slovenian culture that could enhance or enrich the learning experience.
A music lover who is learning Slovenian can use Slovenian songs to enhance understanding of the language, while also enjoying the creative efforts of Slovenian musicians. Some popular musicians or ensembles include Perpeteum Jazzile whose genres include a cappella, jazz, bossa nova and pop, the alternative rock group Siddharta, the rock group Šank Rock, and the punk group Niet. Slovenian folk music draws on a long tradition and is similar to that of neighbouring peoples.
Slovenian literature arguably traces its origin to the Freising Manuscripts of the 10th century AD which are a continuous text in a Slavonic language showing the most similarity to modern Slovenian. Books in earlier forms of Slovenian appeared during the Renaissance while the efforts of France Prešeren in the 19th century were a turning point as subsequent Slovenian writers drew their inspiration from his work. Important figures in Slovenian literature apart from Prešeren include Ivan Cankar (also a playwright), Fran Milčinski (writer and playwright who also left satirical and humorous works), Lili Novy (first female Slovenian lyric poet), and Edvard Kocbek who focused on poetry in the 1950s after having drawn the ire of the communist authorities for his short stories Strah in pogum (Fear and Courage).
Movies in Slovenian can also provide a helpful diversion for students learning the language, although Slovenian cinema is not very well-known outside Slovenia. Notable Slovenian films include Kekec, Dolina miru (The Valley of Peace) and To so gadi (Real Pests).
- 1) Teach Yourself Slovene (Andrea Albretti et al.) (price: approx $45 US)
- It comes with two CDs or audio cassettes and a textbook.
- What I enjoyed most about this course was that it had a few lively dialogues.
- It also comes with exercises for each chapter and answers at the back of the book.
- What I enjoyed least about this course was that its presentation of grammar was fairly unstructured and could intimidate the learner at first. In fact, the dual got relatively little attention even though it is important. In the interest of keeping lively dialogues, it's natural that the language used would have relatively complex structures for a beginner and some idioms. The grammar section of each chapter would focus on the grammatical aspects of each set of dialogues. It would have been desirable if the textbook had included more exercises.
2) Colloquial Slovene (Marta Pirnat-Greenberg) (price: approx. $65 US)
- It comes with two CDs and a textbook.
- Despite the title, this course is a complete overhaul of an earlier edition written by the same author as that of “Teach Yourself Slovene”. The dialogues and notes on grammar have been improved substantially.
- Its format is broadly similar to that of other courses in the “Colloquial...” series with every chapter containing usually two dialogues with exercises and notes on culture and grammar interspersed.
- Although much of the language taught is the standard variant, Pirnat-Greenberg also occasionally draws attention to colloquialisms in the notes and some dialogues contain less formal language to acquaint the learner with examples of everyday speech.
- Like “Teach Yourself Slovene” it suffers from the problem of relatively few exercises.
3) Slovenščina Slovene, a Self-Study Course (price: approx. $100 US)
- It comes with 12 cassettes and 3 booklets.
- I cannot vouch for its quality as I only came across this course by chance while checking internet booksellers for Slovenian courses.
4) Slovene: A Comprehensive Grammar (Peter Heritty) (price: approx. $60 US)
- This guide is an useful supplement if you’re studying Slovenian
- It is part of Routledge’s series of descriptive grammars on various languages.
5a) PONS Splošni angleško-slovensko slovar (Anja Bolko, Helena Doberšek et al.) (General English-Slovenian dictionary) (price: approx. 40€)
5b) PONS Splošni slovensko-angleški slovar (Maša Peče, Nataša Grom et al.) (General Slovenian-English dictionary) (price: approx. 40€)
- These are two excellent bilingual dictionaries between English and Slovenian published in 2008-9.
- Each volume contains roughly 70,000 headwords, phrases and example sentences.
- Most headwords in the Slovenian-English dictionary are presented with explicit hints about inflection. The form of the 1st person singular present indicative tense, l-participle (sometimes mislabelled "past participle") and aspect (but not aspectual counterpart(s)) are listed beside every verb. For every noun, the gender, and endings for genitive singular, nominative dual and nominative plural are shown. Headwords that are adjectives are displayed in their masculine singular form but these are following by their endings in feminine and neuter singular. Lastly, the accentuation and stress of each Slovenian headword is marked by diacritical marks on the relevant syllable(s).
- PONS has also issued the same pair of dictionaries between German and Slovenian ("PONS Splošni nemško-slovenski slovar" and "PONS Splošni slovensko-nemško slovar")
- These dictionaries may be difficult (or expensive after shipping costs are considered) to obtain outside Slovenia. Even though English-Slovenian/Slovenian-English dictionaries are hard to come by these are still the ones to get. Others including Daša Komac's published by Hippocrene Books don't measure up and are little more than word lists which fail to give much useful information to foreign students.
The Center for Slovenian as a Foreign Language also has a list of textbooks used to teach Slovenian to foreigners attending classes in Slovenia.
ii) Online material and links to information of interest
- Discussions on how-to-learn-any-language.com involving Slovenian
- How close to B/C/S is Slovenian?
- Lesser Known Slavic Languages
- Unilang's forum for Slovenian
General collections of links
- A wide-ranging website on many aspects of the language (e.g. grammar, online courses, education, professional organizations, media)
- Large list of resources relevant to Slovenia hosted by University College of London.
General treatment and descriptions of Slovenian's learning difficulty
- A good but brief description of Slovenian
- Wikipedia's article on Slovenian
- Center za slovenščino kot drugi/tuji jezik (Center for Slovenian as a Second/Foreign language)
Dictionaries and other databases
- Slovar slovenskega knjižnega jezika (Dictionary of the Slovenian literary language - monolingual but excellent in giving some inflectional information for entries and example sentences illustrating different meanings)
- English-Slovenian dictionary at PONS.eu
- Slovensko-nemško-slovenski slovar (Slovenian-German/German-Slovenian dictionary)
Online courses, downloadable material or lists of available courses
- A brief evaluation of various textbooks and references for English-speaking learners of South Slavonic languages.
- List by Professor Marc Greenberg of the University of Kanasas which gives bibliographical information for other learning materials for Slovenian
- "A Basic Reference Grammar of Slovene" hosted at ERIC
- "Introduction to the Slovene Language" hosted at ERIC (text only)
- Slovenian for Travellers
- Extensive Australian site on Slovenian language and culture including correspondence course of Slovenian "Slovenščina na daljavo"
Institutions or organizations offering classes for Slovenian
- Slovenščina za tujce (Classes of Slovenian for foreigners at Cene Štupar Center for Continuing Education)
- Slovenian courses offered at the University of Kansas
- Slovenian courses offered at Indiana University
- Undergraduate modules at University of Nottingham (Course in beginners' Slovenian starts in second year of undergraduate studies)
- Evening classes in Eastern European languages including Slovenian offered at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies at University College London.
Literature and authentic texts
- Collection of texts from the Center for Slovenian Literature
- Collection of texts from Slovenian literature
- Texts by younger authors from the former Yugoslavia
- Collection of texts from IntraText Digital Library
- Collection of children's literature from the International Children's Digital Library
Bookstores of interest for learners of Slovenian
- Bay Foreign Language Books Ltd.
- The European Bookshop
- Mladinska knjiga (largest publisher in Slovenia whose webpage has links to information for bookstores throughout the country)
- Schoenhof's Foreign Books
- Svet knjige
- Lists of radio stations and television stations in Slovenia (stations' websites have content that is playable as a stream)
This is a somewhat modified version of my Slovenian profile in the "Collaborative Writing" subforum last edited on Aug. 6, 2011 at how-to-learn-any-language.com with additional input from daegga and DaveBee.