Category Archives: Slovenian grammar

Semivowel ‘ə’ and words without vowels in Slovenian

A semivowel is a vowel which does not have a special letter. Phonetically it is written as ‘ə’, but we never write it. It is pronounced similar to French unstressed ‘e’.

A feature in Slovenian is that a letter ‘r’ becomes a semivowel when it stands between two consonants (trg) or before another consonant (rdeč). So, we have to pronounce it every time, at each ‘r’ which doesn’t stand  beside a vowel. In some words a semivowel ‘ə’ replace a letter ‘e’ in pronunciation, like in a word ‘pes’. We pronounce it like [p ə s ]. Narrow and wide ‘e’ aren’t stressed when write in Slovenian, so you simply have to memorise how each word is pronounced.

In Slovenian plenty of words exist without vowels (mostly very short words). But instead of vowels we use a semivowel.

This might be odd to foreigners, as for example in English, French and other languages words without vowels don’t exist. Sometimes foreigners in Slovenia think that words completely without vowels are acronyms for something. But no, we don’t spell them, we pronounce them fluently.

Some words in Slovenian completely without vowels:

Slovenian Words Without vowels English Translation
prst soil
brž at once
grd ugly
prt cloth
vrt garden
grb coat-of-arms
črv worm
čvrst solid
trg square
grm bush

Similarities between Slovenian and other Slavic languages

There are several similarities and differences between Slovenian and other Slavic languages.

Slavic languages are part of  the Indo-European languages. They are divided in 3 branches:

  • West Slavic (Czech, Slovak, Polish)
  • East Slavic (Russian, Belorussian, Ukrainian)
  • South Slavic (Slovenian, Bulgarian, Macedonian, Bosnian, Montenegrin, Croatian, Serbian)
Map of Slavic language groups, from Similarities between Slovenian and other Slavic languages

West Slavic languages, East Slavic languages, South Slavic languages

Usually Slavic languages of the same language branch have more similarities, in comparison to other Slavic branches.

Understanding between Slovenian and other Slavic languages

Some people may think Slavs understand each other well, but it is only partly true. Slovenians, for example, don’t have any problem understanding Croatian or Serbian, but they have more difficulty understanding Macedonian and Bulgarian, not to mention West and East Slavic languages.

Slovaks and Czechs also understand each other pretty well—because of their common history. And the same story exists between Russians and Belorussians, Croats and Serbs. Slavic languages—excluding Bulgarian and Macedonian—and Baltic languages have from 6 to 7 grammatical cases (we wrote a little about Slovenian cases before). In Slavic languages 2 alphabets exist: Cyrilic and Latin. The Cyrilic alphabet is in use in Bulgarian, Macedonian, Serbian, Russian, Belorussian and Ukrainian. In most cases Slavic languages are written phonetically.

Similar words in Slavic languages

There are a lot of similar words in Slavic languages, with the same meaning, but also a lot of very similar words with the same lexical roots that have different meanings. Latter are called “false friends”.

Let’s see some similarities and differences between each Slavic language and Slovenian:

Russian

Russian has the same number of cases like Slovenian. The difference is just that in Slovenian we use locativ and instrumental with prepositions, but in Russian the prepositions are usually used only in instrumental, which is the 5th case in Russian, and locativ the 6th (in Slovenian is the opposite).

With word pronunciation, the emphasised syllable is different in Slovenian and Russian. Here is an example: земля́ –zêmlja (‘ground’, or ‘earth’), and коне́ц- kônec (‘end’).

Russian has letters Č(ч), Š(ш) and Ž(ж) like Slovenian, and also a Cyrilic letter for the diphthong ‘ŠČ’ (щ), which is quite difficult to pronounce, specially for non-Slavs.

Here are some Slovenian and Russian words with the same meaning and writing, but different stress:

SLOVENIAN RUSSIAN ENGLISH
bánja ба́ня bath
búrja бу́ря bora
káplja ка́пля drop
kít кит whale
ôreh оре́х walnut
uhó у́хо ear
šéf шеф boss

And some Russian words similar to Slovenian, but with totally different meanings:

SLOVENIAN RUSSIAN ENGLISH
poletje ле́то summer
teden неде́ля week
kruh хлеб bread
pogovor бесе́да talk
vrt cад garden

Czech

In 19th century Czech sibilants were first inducted into Croatian, and then to Slovenian.

Here are some Czech letters unknown in Slovenian:

Ď pronounced as ‘dj’
Ě pronounced as ‘je’
Ň pronounced as ‘nj’
Ř pronounced as  ’rž’, ‘rš’
Ť pronounced as ‘tj’
Ý pronounced as long ‘i’

Slovak

A language is very similar to Czech, both also have a similar alphabet. Slovak has also some common features with South Slavic languages, especially with Slovenian and some Croatian dialects. No wonder, some people still confuse Slovakia and Slovenia, not just because of a similar name, but also because of the similar languages.

Polish

Polish has some special letters, also unknown in Czech and Slovak. Most often the second last syllable is stressed in Polish.

Here are some special letters:

Ą ‘o’ with nasal
Ć even softer than Serbian and Croatian ‘ć’
Ę ‘e’ with nasal
Ń like Croatian ‘nj’
Ł like ‘l’ in the word “delal
Ś softer ‘š’
Ź soft ‘ž’

Phraseology examples between Slovenian and Polish:

SLOVENIAN POLISH ENGLISH
bolje pozno kot nikoli lepiej późno niż wcale better late than never
kdor čaka, dočaka kto czeka, ten się doczeka everything comes to those who wait
čas celi rane czas goi rany time heals wounds
ljubezen na prvi pogled miłość od pierwszego wejrzenia love at first sight

Ukrainian

Ukrainian is East Slavic language with West Slavic influences, mainly Polish. It is quite different from Russian.

Bulgarian

Bulgarian is together with Macedonian, Romanian and Albanian are also related as the so-called ‘Balkan language union’. For this reason it has some language features uncommon to other Slavic languages. Bulgarian Cyrillic is very similar to Russian.

A special letter in Bulgarian:

Щ pronounced as ‘št’

Macedonian

Macedonian is spoken in Macedonia, northern Greece, south-west Bulgaria, and in south-east Albania. Like Bulgarian it has some special features, untypical to other Slavic languages. They don’t decline nouns and adjectives, instead of this they use prepositions before nouns.

Some letters from Macedonian Cyrillic alphabet:

Џ pronounced as ‘dž’
Ќ pronounced as ‘kj’
Ѓ pronounced as ‘gj’

Serbian and Croatian

Serbian is a South Slavic language. Its writing is Cyrillic. In Montenegro they use both, Cyrillic and Latin. The independence of Montenegro in 2006 was followed by polemics about Montenegrin as an independent language. Serbian has a lot of words from Turkish and French. This also separates it from Croatian. There are also a lot of polemics about which language is spoken in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Some say that it’s Bosnian. Anyway, these languages are so similar to each other, that people can perfectly understand among themselves. It’s ironic, that a Slovenian from Prekmurje region understands a Slovenian from Primorje region with more difficult than a Croat and a Serb between themselves.

Similarities between some South Slavic languages:

MONTENEGRIN SERBIAN CROATIAN SLOVENIAN ENGLISH
đe gde gdje kje where
đevojka devojka djevojka dekle girl
đeca deca djeca otroci children
śutra sutra sutra jutri tomorrow
cukar šećer šećer sladkor sugar
oriz pirinač riža riž rice

A large number of words originate from a common ancient Slavic vocabulary, for this reason there are so many similar words in Slavic languages. Below are some examples of the “false friends”, similar words with different meanings, I referred to earlier.

  • Russian – Slovenian false friends
RUSSIAN SLOVENIAN ENGLISH
стол miza table
стул stol chair
  •  Polish – Slovenian
POLISH SLOVENIAN ENGLISH
bańka posoda container
bank banka bank
  • Czech – Slovenian
CZECH SLOVENIAN ENGLISH
slovenský slovaški Slovak
slovinský slovenski Slovenian
  • Slovak – Slovenian
SLOVAK SLOVENIAN ENGLISH
družina spremstvo retinue
rodina družina family
  • Croatian – Slovenian
CROATIAN SLOVENIAN ENGLISH
grad mesto town
tvrđava grad fortress
  • Bulgarian – Slovenian
BULGARIAN SLOVENIAN ENGLISH
вещ reč matter
реч govor speech
  • Ukrainian – Slovenian
UKRAINIAN SLOVENIAN ENGLISH
cклеп klet cellar
вирішення sklep decision
  • Macedonian – Slovenian
MACEDONIAN SLOVENIAN ENGLISH
воздух zrak air
зрак žarek ray

You can find more false friends here.

 

 

 

 

Slovenian Grammar and Culture: A Quick and Funny Introduction

Slovenian Grammar

I gathered together some interesting facts about Slovenian grammar and culture, to bring you closer to this beautiful language.

Let’s begin:

  • Slovenian is older than the country of Slovenia, which was created in 1991. The oldest writings in Slovenian are Brižinski spomeniki (Freising Manuscripts), which are more than 1,000 years old. They are also the first Latin-script in Slavic language.
  • Our language has three special letters (known also in other Slavic languages), Č Š Ž. We pronounce them like, Č as in a word cherry, Š as show, and Ž as measure.
  • Slovenian is a phonetic language (we mostly speak as we write, this means, one letter-one sound). It’s similar to other Slavic languages and Italian.
  • Slovenian is a romantic language: we have dual (in addition to singular and plural) for referring to two people, objects or concepts. Using dual, it’s clear how many people you refer or speak to.
Slovenian grammar: dual

Onadva sta zaljubljena. (They both are in love.)

  • Slovenians are happy if somebody try to speak their language. But as we also like foreign languages, don’t be surprised if they will answer you back in English. I am very proud when I hear some foreigners trying to speak Slovene, so don’t be shy to try!
  • Slovenian is a polite language: we have two versions to addressing someone (formal and informal). Formal form (vikanje) is used when addressing adults, people you don’t know, in business situations, younger people to older ones. A formal form express a respect and it’s more polite. A formal form first appeared in French (‘vous’). We present it the same as French people, using 2nd person plural ‘vi’. Informal form is used when addressing family members, friends, people you know well, children, young people between themselves. If you have doubts which form to use, I suggest you to use the formal one. You can’t miss. Myself, I usually address in a formal way, and then some people tell me not to use the formal way, because they feel old. But anyway, it’s an expression of politeness if using it.
Slovenian Phrase English Translation Use
Kako vam je ime? What’s your name? formal
Kako ti je ime? What’s your name? informal

The polite formal version is sometimes written with a capital letter, Vi, which expresses really extreme respect, and it’s surprisingly often used.

  • Good news, Slovenian has only three tenses, past tense, present tense and future tense. In the past it had four tenses, including past perfect tense. Nowadays we don’t use it anymore. It appears just in the literature. Past and future tenses are simple to build.
    • Past: jaz sem delal (I worked)
    • Present: jaz delam (I work)
    • Future: jaz bom delal (I will work)

    Past and future participles are the same (‘delal’). In present tense we conjugate verbs. In past and future tenses we conjugate auxiliary verb ‘to be’ and add a participle, which also express a gender and number.

  • Slovenian has 3 genders, masculine, feminine and neuter. Neuter gender is known also in German (article ‘das’). In Slovenian we recognize it because of the –o and –e endings of the nouns.
    • jabolko (an apple)
  • Slovenian has no articles! So there is no confusion as to which article to put before a noun. The answer is none.
  • Slovenian supports gender equality. As well as the masculine form, there is a special form to express feminine gender, recognisable by its –a ending (verbs, adjectives, nouns, pronouns). Almost all the professions are in feminine form too.
    • Feminine: Rada bi šla na morje. (I would like to go to the seaside.)
    • Masculine: Rad bi šel na morje. (I would like to go to the seaside.)

For the end I saved a hard nut to crack, cases.

I won’t lie, they are not so simple, also Slovenians sometimes incorrectly decline nouns (mostly in spoken language). But anyway, we will understand you in every case, even if you don’t decline properly. Cases are known also in other languages, such as Latin, Sanskrit, Russian (and other Slavic languages) Icelandic, Finnish. So, if you come from any of these language group, you probably know what I am talking about. In one of the previous blog posts we introduced an example of all 18 declinations for the word ‘frog’.

Here is an example of a declension of a word ‘hiša’ (house) in singular, feminine.

Case Declension
nominative hiša
genitive hiše
dative hiši
accusative hišo
locative pri hiši
instrumental s hišo
Brižinski spomeniki - the oldest writing in Slovenian

Brižinski spomeniki – the oldest writing in Slovenian

Slovenian Culture

  • When they meet, Slovenians usually don’t kiss and hug (maybe just some people, usually young ones). Hand shaking is expected. Yes, Slovenians are more reserved about this, but if you come from some more temperamental culture, don’t worry, I am sure they won’t shrink away, if you’ll try to kiss them on cheeks. It would be nice to be more open about this.
  • Regarding gestures, Slovenians are more stiff, they are not lively with their hands, like Italians for example. We are considered to be calmer, reserved and polite nation. You probably will not see Slovenians dancing on the streets.
  • Our speech is neither loud nor too quiet, something in the middle.
  • Don’t worry, you won’t be a witness of a culture shock, when you will come in Slovenia. Maybe it can be a shock just to those, who are used to more temperamental environment.
  • Slovenia is considered to be a safe country, without a fear you can promenade in the middle of the night on the streets. Because of the empty streets at late night, Ljubljana is called also ‘zaspana Ljubljana’, ‘sleepy Ljubljana’.
  • Don’t be surprised if you visit someone at home, and they give you slippers to put on. We like to keep our apartments clean.
  • Also, don’t be surprised if somebody invites you to lunch and you share a salad from the same bowl. I know that foreigners laugh at this, but it’s a Slovenian feature. Definitely we save time when washing the dishes. But the things are changing here too, I prefer to have my own bowl, so nobody can snatch my favourite morsel of salad.
  • In Slovenia nodding means ‘yes’ (ja) and shaking the head means ‘no’ (ne).
  • You have an opportunity to practice Slovenian also while watching foreign films, which are not dubbed. We have subtitles.
  • Phrase ‘Na zdravje!’ means ‘Cheers!’, and ‘Bless you!’, literally ‘To your health!’
  • And something about romantic matters: giving compliments is not usual among Slovenians (this does not apply to everybody, there are exceptions), but they like to hear them. Well, if somebody accepts and thanks you for a compliment, depends on the person. You can’t miss by using a magic word ‘Hvala’, ‘Thank you’.
  • Other magic words are also ‘Prosim’, ‘Please’ or ‘You are welcome’ or ‘Hello’ (when picking up the phone), and ‘Oprostite’, ‘Excuse me’.
  • Slovenians are usually punctual considering business meetings and also private meetings. I don’t suggest to be late on a date, you can make a bad impression.
  • In my opinion, we are hospitable with our compatriots and foreigners.

Maybe you heard some other stereotypes about Slovenia or Slovenians. I will be glad to hear some you might have heard of too. You can share them in the comments below.