language in Poland
|Native to Slovakia, Serbia; minority language in Czech Republic, Hungary, Croatia and Ukraine|
Native speakers 5.2 million (2011–2012)
Language family Indo-European Balto-Slavic Slavic West Slavic Czech–Slovak Slovak
Writing system Latin (Slovak alphabet) Slovak Braille
Official language in Slovakia European Union Czech Republic Serbia, (Vojvodina)
Slovak /ˈsloʊvæk, -vɑːk/ (Slovak: slovenský jazyk, [ˈs̻l̺ɔ̝ʋe̞n̻˕s̻ki̞ː ˈjɐ̞zi̞k], or slovenčina [ˈs̻l̺ɔ̝ʋe̞n̺t̺͡ʃi̞n̻ɐ̞]; not to be confused with slovenski jezik or slovenščina, the native names of the Slovene language) is an Indo-European language that belongs to the West Slavic languages (together with Czech, Polish, Silesian, Kashubian, and Sorbian).
- Nouns, adjectives, pronouns
- Relationships to other languages
- Other Slavic languages
Slovak is the official language of Slovakia where it is spoken by approximately 5.51 million people (2014). Slovak speakers are also found in the United States, the Czech Republic, Argentina, Serbia, Ireland, Romania, Poland, Canada, Hungary, Croatia, the United Kingdom, Australia, Austria, Ukraine and many others worldwide.
Slovak uses the Latin script with small modifications that include the four diacritics (ˇ, ´, ¨, ˆ) placed above certain letters (a-á,ä; c-č; d-ď; dz-dž; e-é; i-í; l-ľ,ĺ; n-ň; o-ó,ô; r-ŕ; s-š; t-ť; u-ú; y-ý; z-ž)
The primary principle of Slovak spelling is the phonemic principle. The secondary principle is the morphological principle: forms derived from the same stem are written in the same way even if they are pronounced differently. An example of this principle is the assimilation rule (see below). The tertiary principle is the etymological principle, which can be seen in the use of i after certain consonants and of y after other consonants, although both i and y are pronounced almost, but usually the same way.
Finally, the rarely applied grammatical principle is present when, for example, the basic singular form and plural form of masculine adjectives are written differently with no difference in pronunciation (e.g. pekný = nice – singular versus pekní = nice – plural).
In addition, the following rules are present:
- When a voiced consonant (b, d, ď, dz, dž, g, h, z, ž) is at the end of a word before a pause, it is devoiced to its voiceless counterpart (p, t, ť, c, č, k, ch, s, š, respectively). For example, pohyb is pronounced /poɦip/ and prípad is pronounced /priːpat/.
- The assimilation rule: Consonant clusters containing both voiced and voiceless elements are entirely voiced if the last consonant is a voiced one, or voiceless if the last consonant is voiceless. For example, otázka is pronounced /otaːska/ and vzchopiť sa is pronounced /fsxopitsːa/. This rule applies also over the word boundary. For example, prísť domov /priːzɟ domou̯/ (to come home) and viac jahôd /vi̯adz jaɦu̯ot/ (more strawberries). The voiced counterpart of "ch" /x/ is /ɣ/, and the unvoiced counterpart of "h" /ɦ/ is /x/.
Most foreign words receive Slovak spelling immediately or after some time. For example, "weekend" is spelled víkend, "software" – softvér, "gay" – gej (both not exclusively), and "quality" is spelled kvalita. Personal and geographical names from other languages using Latin alphabets keep their original spelling unless a fully Slovak form of the name exists (e.g. Londýn for "London").
Slovak features some heterophonic homographs (words with identical spelling but different pronunciation and meaning), the most common examples being krásne /ˈkraːsne/ (beautiful) versus krásne /ˈkraːsɲe/ (beautifully).
The main features of Slovak syntax are as follows:
Some examples include the following:Speváčka spieva. (The+female+singer is+singing.) (Speváčk-a spieva-∅, where -∅ is (the empty) third-person-singular ending) Speváčky spievajú. (Female+singers are+singing.) (Speváčk-y spieva-j-ú; -ú is a third-person-plural ending, and /j/ is a hiatus sound) My speváčky spievame. (We the+female+singers are+singing.) (My speváčk-y spieva-me, where -me is the first-person-plural ending) and so forth.
Word order in Slovak is relatively free, since strong inflection enables the identification of grammatical roles (subject, object, predicate, etc.) regardless of word placement. This relatively free word order allows the use of word order to convey topic and emphasis.
Some examples are as follows:Ten veľký muž tam dnes otvára obchod. = That big man opens a store there today. (ten = that; veľký = big; muž = man; tam = there; dnes = today; otvára = opens; obchod = store) – The word order does not emphasize any specific detail, just general information. Ten veľký muž dnes otvára obchod tam. = That big man is today opening a store there. – This word order emphasizes the place (tam = there). Dnes tam otvára obchod ten veľký muž. = Today over there a store is being opened by that big man. – This word order focuses on the person who is opening the store (ten = that; veľký = big; muž = man). Obchod tam dnes otvára ten veľký muž. = The store over there is today being opened by that big man. – Depending on the intonation the focus can be either on the store itself or on the person.
The unmarked order is subject–verb–object. Variation in word order is generally possible, but word order is not completely free. In the above example, the noun phrase ten veľký muž cannot be split up, so that the following combinations are not possible:Ten otvára veľký muž tam dnes obchod. Obchod muž tam ten veľký dnes otvára. ...
And the following are stylistically not correct:Otvára ten veľký muž tam dnes obchod? (Correct is Ten veľký muž tam dnes otvára obchod? or Ten veľký muž dnes otvára obchod tam? or Tam dnes otvára obchod ten veľký muž?) Obchod ten veľký muž dnes tam otvára. (Only possible in a poem or a similar style.)
Slovak does not have articles. The demonstrative pronoun ten (fem: tá, neuter: to) may be used in front of the noun in situations where definiteness must be made explicit.
Nouns, adjectives, pronouns
Slovak nouns are inflected for case and number. There are six cases: nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, locative, and instrumental. The vocative is no longer morphologically marked. There are two numbers: singular and plural. Nouns have inherent gender. There are three genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter. Adjectives agree with nouns in case, number, and gender.
The numerals between 0–10 have unique forms, and numerals between 1-4 do have even specific gendered representations as well (gender rules are bit more complex for these words). 11–19 are formed by the numeral plus násť. For the tens, sať is used up to 40 and desiat from 50. Compound numerals (21, 1054) are combinations of these words formed in the same order as their mathematical symbol is written (e.g. 21 = dvadsaťjeden, literally "twenty one").
The numerals are as follows:
Some higher numbers: (200) dvesto,... (300) tristo,... (900) deväťsto,... (1,000) tisíc,... (1,100) tisícsto,... (2,000) dvetisíc,... (100,000) stotisíc,... (200,000) dvestotisíc,... (1,000,000) milión,... (1,000,000,000) miliarda,...
Counted nouns have two forms. The most common form is the plural genitive (e.g. päť domov = five houses or stodva žien = one hundred two women), while the plural form of the noun when counting the amounts of 2-4, etc., is usually the nominative form without counting (e.g. dva domy = two houses or dve ženy = two women) but gender rules do apply in many cases.
Verbs have three major conjugations. Three persons and two numbers (singular and plural) are distinguished. Several conjugation paradigms exist as follows:
Adverbs are formed by replacing the adjectival ending with the ending -o or -e / -y. Sometimes both -o and -e are possible. Examples include the following:vysoký (high) – vysoko (highly) pekný (nice) – pekne (nicely) priateľský (friendly) – priateľsky (in a friendly manner) rýchly (fast) – rýchlo (quickly)
The comparative/superlative of adverbs is formed by replacing the adjectival ending with a comparative/superlative ending -(ej)ší or -(ej)šie. Examples include the following:rýchly (fast) – rýchlejší (faster) – najrýchlejší (fastest): rýchlo (quickly) – rýchlejšie (more quickly) – najrýchlejšie (most quickly)
Each preposition is associated with one or more grammatical cases. The noun governed by a preposition must appear in the case required by the preposition in the given context (e.g. from friends = od priateľov). Priateľov is the genitive case of priatelia. It must appear in this case because the preposition od (= from) always calls for its objects to be in the genitive.around the square = po námestí (locative case) past the square = po námestie (accusative case)
Po has a different meaning depending on the case of its governed noun.
Relationships to other languages
The Slovak language is a descendant of Proto-Slavic, itself a descendant of Proto-Indo-European. It is closely related to the other West Slavic languages, primarily to Czech and Polish. It has been also influenced to a lesser extent by English, German, Latin and Hungarian.
Although most dialects of Czech and Slovak are mutually intelligible (see Comparison of Slovak and Czech), eastern Slovak dialects are less intelligible to speakers of Czech and more so closer to Polish and mutual contact between speakers of Czech and speakers of the eastern dialects is limited.
Since the dissolution of Czechoslovakia it has been permitted to use Czech in TV broadcasting and—like any other language of the world—during court proceedings (Administration Procedure Act 99/1963 Zb.). From 1999 to August 2009, the Minority Language Act 184/1999 Z.z., in its section (§) 6, contained the variously interpreted unclear provision saying that "When applying this act, it holds that the use of the Czech language fulfills the requirement of fundamental intelligibility with the state language"; the state language is Slovak and the Minority Language Act basically refers to municipalities with more than 20% ethnic minority population (no such Czech municipalities are found in Slovakia). Since 1 September 2009 (due to an amendment to the State Language Act 270/1995 Z.z.) a language "fundamentally intelligible with the state language" (i.e. the Czech language) may be used in contact with state offices and bodies by its native speakers, and documents written in it and issued by bodies in the Czech Republic are officially accepted. Regardless of its official status, Czech is used commonly both in Slovak mass media and in daily communication by Czech natives as an equal language.
Czech and Slovak have a long history of interaction and mutual influence well before the creation of Czechoslovakia in 1918, a state which existed until 1993. Literary Slovak shares significant orthographic features with Czech, as well as technical and professional terminology dating from the Czechoslovak period, but phonetic, grammatical, and vocabulary differences do exist.
Other Slavic languages
Slavic language varieties tend to be closely related, and have had a large degree of mutual influence, due to the complicated ethnopolitical history of their historic ranges. This is reflected in the many features Slovak shares with neighboring language varieties. Standard Slovak shares high degrees of mutual intelligibility with many Slavic varieties. Despite this closeness to other Slavic varieties, significant variation exists among Slovak dialects. In particular, eastern varieties differ significantly from the standard language, which is based on central and western varieties.
Eastern Slovak dialects have the greatest degree of mutual intelligibility with Polish of all the Slovak dialects followed by Rusyn, but both lack technical terminology and upper register expressions. Polish and Sorbian also differ quite considerably from Czech and Slovak in upper registers, but non-technical and lower register speech is readily intelligible. Some mutual intelligibility occurs with spoken Rusyn, Ukrainian, and even Russian (in this order), although their orthographies are based on the Cyrillic script.
weekend – víkend, football – futbal, ham & eggs – hemendex, offside – ofsajd, out (football) – aut, body check (hockey) – bodyček, couch – gauč
German loanwords include "coins," Slovak mince, German Münze; "to wish", Slovak vinšovať (colloquially, the standard term is želať), German wünschen; "funfair," Slovak jarmok , German Jahrmarkt, "color," Slovak farba, German Farbe and "bottle," Slovak fľaša, German Flasche.
Hungarians and Slovaks have had a language interaction ever since the settlement of Hungarians in the Carpathian area. Until the 19th century, Hungarian was used as the literary language in the Slovak areas. Hungarians also adopted many words from various Slavic languages related to agriculture and administration, and a number of Hungarian loanwords are found in Slovak. Some examples are as follows:
Romanian words entered the Slovak language in the course of the so-called "Wallachian colonization" in the 14th–16th century when sheep breeding became common in Slovak mountains. Many of today's Slovak rustic-pastoral words like bača ("shepherd"; Romanian baci), valach ("young shepherd"; cf. the dated exonym for Romanians, "Valach"), magura ("hill"; Romanian măgura), koliba ("chalet"; Romanian coliba), bryndza (a variety of sheep cheese; Romanian brânză), striga ("witch", "demon"; Romanian "strigă/strigoi"), etc. were introduced into the Slovak language by Romanian shepherds during the Late Middle Ages and the Early Modern Times. The Romanian influence is most strongly felt in the dialects of the Moravian Wallachia region.
There are many Slovak dialects, which are divided into the following four basic groups:
The fourth group of dialects is often not considered a separate group, but a subgroup of Central and Western Slovak dialects (see e.g. Štolc, 1968), but it is currently undergoing changes due to contact with surrounding languages (Serbo-Croatian, Romanian, and Hungarian) and long-time geographical separation from Slovakia (see the studies in Zborník Spolku vojvodinských slovakistov, e.g. Dudok, 1993).
For an external map of the three groups in Slovakia see here.
The dialect groups differ mostly in phonology, vocabulary, and tonal inflection. Syntactic differences are minor. Central Slovak forms the basis of the present-day standard language. Not all dialects are fully mutually intelligible. It may be difficult for an inhabitant of the western Slovakia to understand a dialect from eastern Slovakia and the other way around.
The dialects are fragmented geographically, separated by numerous mountain ranges. The first three groups already existed in the 10th century. All of them are spoken by the Slovaks outside Slovakia (USA, Canada, Croatian Slavonia, and elsewhere), and central and western dialects form the basis of the lowland dialects (see above).
The western dialects contain features common with the Moravian dialects in the Czech Republic, the southern central dialects contain a few features common with South Slavic languages, and the eastern dialects a few features common with Polish and the East Slavonic languages (cf. Štolc, 1994). Lowland dialects share some words and areal features with the languages surrounding them (Serbo-Croatian, Hungarian, and Romanian).