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About Slovak Language

The Slovak language (slovenský jazyk (help·info), slovenčina, not to be confused with slovenski jezik, slovenščina, or Slovenian), is an Indo-European language that belongs to the West Slavic languages (together with Czech, Polish, Silesian, Kashubian, and Sorbian).

Slovak is spoken in Slovakia (by 5 million people), also in the United States (500,000), the Czech Republic (320,000), Serbia (60,000), Ireland (30,000), Romania (22,000), Hungary (20,000), Poland (20,000), Canada (20,000), Croatia (5,000), Australia, Austria, Ukraine, and Bulgaria.

Alphabet

Slovak uses a Latin alphabet with small modifications that include the four diacritics (ˇ, ´, ¨, ^; see Pronunciation) placed above certain letters.

Orthography

The primary principle of Slovak spelling is the phonemic principle, "Write as you hear". 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 the same way. Finally there is the rarely applied grammatical principle, under which, for example, there is a difference in writing (but not in the pronunciation) between the basic singular and plural form of masculine adjectives, for example pekný (nice – sg.) vs pekní (nice – pl.), both pronounced [pekniː].

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 (possibly from Italian qualità). Personal and geographical names from other languages using Latin alphabets keep their original spelling, unless there is a fully Slovak form for the name (for example Londýn for "London").

Relationships to other languages

The Slovak language is a descendant of Proto-Slavic language, itself a descendant of Proto-Indo-European. It is closely related to the other West Slavic languages, primarily to Czech, but it also has some striking similarities with other Slavic languages, primarily the Southern Slavic languages and Old Church Slavonic. It has been also influenced by German, English, Latin and Hungarian.

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, there is significant variation 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 Rusyn of all the Slovak dialects, 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. There is also some mutual intelligibility with spoken Rusyn, Ukrainian and even Russian (in this order), although their orthography, based on the Cyrillic alphabet, is very different.

There are also similarities with the western Southern Slavic languages, i.e. Croatian, Serbian and to a lesser degree Slovenian stemming from the time before the arrival of the Hungarians in Central Europe.

Most dialects of Czech and Slovak are mutually intelligible. Eastern Slovak dialects are less intelligible with Czech; they differ from Czech and from other Slovak dialects, and mutual contact between speakers of Czech and speakers of the eastern dialects is limited.

Since the dissolution of Czechoslovakia it has been allowed 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 (there are no such Czech municipalities 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.

Czech and Slovak have a long history of interaction and mutual influence well before the creation of Czechoslovakia in 1918. Literary Slovak shares significant orthographic features with Czech, as well as technical and professional terminology dating from the Czechoslovak period, but there are phonetic, grammatical and vocabulary differences.

Dialects

Official usage of Slovak language in Vojvodina, SerbiaThere are many varieties of Slovak. These may be divided in four basic groups:

  • Eastern Slovak dialects (in Spiš, Šariš, Zemplín and Abov)
  • Central Slovak dialects (in Liptov, Orava, Turiec, Tekov, Hont, Novohrad, Gemer and the historic Zvolen county)
  • Western Slovak dialects (in remaining Slovakia: Kysuce, Trenčín, Trnava, Nitra, Záhorie)
  • Lowland (dolnozemské) Slovak dialects (outside Slovakia in the Pannonian Plain in Serbian Vojvodina, and in southeastern Hungary, western Romania, and the Croatian part of Syrmia)

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 (Serbian, Romanian and Hungarian) and long-time geographical separation from Slovakia.

The dialect groups differ mostly in phonology, vocabulary and 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 Slovak capital Bratislava (in western Slovakia) to understand a dialect from eastern Slovakia.

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, Bulgaria and elsewhere) and Central and Western dialects form the basis of the Lowland dialects.

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 (Serbian, Hungarian and Romanian).

 

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