History of the Slovak language

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The Slovak language is a West Slavic language. Historically, it forms a dialect continuum with the Czech language. Its standard orthography is based on the work of Ľudovít Štúr published in the 1840s. It continued to be strongly influenced by Czech, especially in the early 20th century when a single Czechoslovak language was the written standard, but it was introduced as a separate standard in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic in the 1960s. The six-volume Dictionary of the Slovak Language (SSJ) was published during 1959–1968, and the Constitutional Law of Federation in 1968 confirmed equal rights for the Slovak and the Czech languages in Czechoslovakia. Since 1993, Slovak has been the official language of the Slovak Republic.


Historic theories[edit]

Centrist theory[edit]

According to the centrist theory, Slovak is the remnant of the Proto-Slavic language spoken in the Middle Danube region before the great migration of the Slavs. The theory was presented already by Matej Bel and was popular in the 19th century when it played a positive role in the Slovak national movement. It depends on Nestor's Primary Chronicle and was supported by several notable members of the movement like Pavel Jozef Šafárik, Anton Bernolák and Ľudovít Štúr.[1] Most modern scholars opposes the opinion about Slavic homeland in the Middle Danube, but the theory was revived in the 20th century by a Russians linguist Oleg Trubachyov.

Nonhomogeneous origin[edit]

Theories about a nonhomogenous origin assume that the Proto-Slavic basis of Slovak emerged on the border of early Western, Southern and Eastern Slavic macro dialects or that Slovak emerged from early of late mixing of neighboring languages.[1] E.g. Samuel Czambel (1856-1909) believed that Western Slovak dialects come from early Western Slavic, Central Slovak dialects are remains of the South Slavic language area (Czechized over centuries) and Eastern Slovak dialects come from Old Polish and Old Ukrainian. A similar opinion was held by Samuil Bernstein. István Kniezsa suggested mixing of languages in today's Central Slovakia after the Mongol invasion of Europe and Ottoman wars thus forming modern Central Slovak dialects.[2]

The main drawback of these theories is that they assume a relatively late integration of Slovak (the 13th-14th centuries or even after the 16th century). This assumption contradicts the current state of knowledge about the development of the Slovak dialects and their evolution from Proto-Slavic.[3]

Homogeneous origin[edit]

In the interwar period, František Trávníček and Václav Vážný proposed that the Slovak and the Czech language emerged from a common Proto-Czech-Slovak (Proto-Czech) language. Trávníček tried to explain unique features of Central Slovak dialects by later differentiation, Vážný by the expansion from the south.[3] Trávníček's trial to look for the origin of Slovak in the Proto-Czech-Slovak language is tough to be outdated and the author abandoned the theory already after the World War II.

Modern theories[edit]

Migration-integration theory[edit]

Modern theories are based on a nonhomogeneous Proto-Slavic basis of Slovak.[4] The prevailing theory is a migration-integration theory of Rudolf Krajčovič. Krajčovič suggests three phases of development:[5]

  • post-migration period (5th–7th centuries): the Slavs came to present-day Slovakia from various directions; Western and Eastern Slovakia was settled by people who spoke Northwestern (West Slavic) Proto-Slavic dialect, Central Slovakia by speakers of the Southeastern (non-West Slavic) dialect
  • integration period (8th–9th centuries): several language features (both West and non-West Slavic) spread across the borders of the initial linguistic regions; these changes are best explained by the integration process of the Slavs before and during the existence of Great Moravia
  • constitutive period (10th–11th centuries): extinction of Proto-Slavic; Slovak began to evolve as a separate Slavic language

Koine theory[edit]

The theory was proposed by a Slovak linguist Martin Pukanec. The main idea of the theory is koineization - a formation of supra-dialect, so-called Nitrian and Great Moravian koiné. The author suggests the following chronology:

  • early integration period (6th century–833)
  • koineization (833–907): the four phases of koineization correspond with the phases of development of Great Moravia.
  • constitutive period (907–1110): disintegration of the koiné and final extinction of tribal system

The arguments for this theory are mostly indirect.[6]

Proto-Slavic period[edit]

Proto-Slavic basis of Slovak[edit]

The Proto-Slavic basis of Slovak can be characterized both by West Slavic and Non-West Slavic features (known in older literature also as "South Slavisms").[7] Some West Slavic features (like preserved consonant group kv-, gv-) are shared across the whole territory of Slovakia, while Non-West Slavic features are distributed over 70-75% of the territory.

West Slavic features by their territorial distribution:

  • common in the whole pre-Slovak area: preserved Proto-Slavic kv-, gv-[a], missing epentetic l[b], c, dz instead of tj, dj[c] and others
  • concentrated mainly in the West and East, nowadays partially also in the Central Slovakia: preserved dl, tl in nouns[d], rot-, lot instead of Proto-Slavic ort-, olt-[e], š instead of Proto-Slavic ch'[f] and others
  • only in Záhorie (the most western part) and Eastern Slovakia: , instead of , [g], suffix -ъmь instead of -omь[h]
  • only in Záhorie: transformation iь > jь[i], long vowels in the place of old acutes[j], short suffix -a in nominative plural of neutral grammatical gender [k]

Non-West Slavic features by their territorial distribution:

  • only in the historic central area of Proto-Slavic basis of Slovak: simplified l instead of Proto-Slavic dl, tl[l], rat-, lat instead of Proto-Slavic ort-, olt-[m], s instead of Proto-Slavicch, preserved suffix -mo[n]
  • also outside of the historic central area of Proto-Slavic basis, but mainly in the neighbouring areas: transformation iь > i[o], syllabic , in words like kr̥v[p], short vowels in the place of old acutes, long suffix in nominative plural of neutral grammatical gender, suffix -omь

Old Church Slavonic[edit]

The Old Church Slavonic becomes the literary and liturgical language, and the Glagolitic alphabet the corresponding script, in Great Moravia until 885. Latin continues to be used in parallel. Some of the early Old Church Slavonic texts contain elements of the language of the Slavic inhabitants of Great Moravia and Pannonia (which were called Sloviene by Slavic texts at that time). The use of the Slavic language (Old Church Slavonic) in Great Moravia is prohibited by Pope Stephen V in 885. Latin becomes the administrative and liturgical language again. Many followers and students of Constantine and Methodius flee to Bulgaria, Croatia, later also to Bohemia, Rus' and other countries.

Pre-Standard period[edit]

Early Slovak[edit]

Important changes of the Proto-Slavic basis of Slovak took place during the 10th century when Slovak began to emerge as a distinct language.[8][9] The changes in disintegrating Proto-Slavic had an impact on the word structure and phonemes.[9]

The most important early changes were:

  • the contraction, different for the basis of Western and Eastern Slovak vs. Central Slovak[10]
  • the disappearance and vocalization of yers (according to the Havlík's law)[11]
  • the denasalization of ǫ > u, ú and ę > initially ä, (11th-12th century, still preserved in some Slovak dialects) > nowadays a wide range of monophthongs and diphthongs[12]

The Slovak emerged as a separate language since the extinction of Proto-Slavic language. The bases of Slovak, Czech and Polish were differentiated from neighboring Slavic regions by the disappearance of yers, the denasalization differentiated Slovak and Czech from Polish, preserved difference between dz:z differentiated Slovak from Czech. The differences between Slovak and Czech like ťažko/těžko, cudzí/cizí became stable in the first centuries. Slovak developed only single r in contrast with Czech r/ř and Polish r/rz.[13]

The earliest written records of Slovak are represented by personal and place names, later by sentences, short notes and verses in Latin and Czech documents.[14] Latin documents contain also mentions about a cultivation of the vernacular language. The complete texts are available since the 15th century.[14] In the 15th century, Latin began to lose its privileged position in favor of Czech and cultural Slovak.[15]

Czech as a cultural and liturgical language[edit]

The written Czech language starts to penetrate to present-day Slovakia through Czech clergy teaching in capitular schools in the 14th century.[16] In the pre-standard period, the Czech language was used (along with Latin and cultural Slovak) as a cultural and liturgical language.[16] The reasons for the use of the Czech language are: the absence of a uniform Slovak language standard due to the absence of a Slovak state (whereas the Czech was a more or less standardized language), the rise of the Slovak population in towns, the fact that it is easier to learn than Latin for Slovaks, studies of many Slovaks at the University of Prague, the influence of the campaigns of the Czech Hussites and of John Giskra (Ján Jiskra) in Slovakia, and the temporary conquest of Moravia by the Hungarian king Matthias Corvinus.[16]

Biblical Czech[edit]

The Czech language was recognized as an official language of the Evangelical Church by the councils in 1610 and 1614[17] and was used as a liturgical language even till the early 20th century. The official form was "biblical Czech" used in Czech Bible of Kralice. The orthography of Hussite "Brothers of the Law of Christ" was used also in Catholic publications, but often adjusted to the cultural Slovak language (e. g. replacement of Czech ř by r, ě by e, au by ú, ou by ú, etc. ).

Slovakized Czech[edit]

The usage of Czech in Slovak environment resulted to the Slovakized Czech language - a variant of cultural Czech with Slovak elements. This variant existed since the penetration of Czech to present-day Slovakia and was used e.g. in city books, official correspondence, etc. Early writings had a various frequency of Slovak elements caused by a poor knowledge of standard Czech among many Slovak native speakers, the influence of vernacular language and cultural Slovak.[18] The normalized form of Slovakized Czech existed since the 17th century. In the normalized form, Czech letters and words were systematically replaced by their Slovak equivalents.[19]

Kollár's "Old Slovak"[edit]

Slovak humanist Ján Kollár together with Andrej Ľudovít Radlinský tried to standardize a new literal language so-called "Old Slovak" (staroslovenčina). "Old Slovak" was a euphemism for his version of Slovakized Czech. According to the contemporary Pan-Slavic views, the Slavic nation consisted of four "tribes" - Czechoslovak, Polish, Russian and Illyrian (Southern Slavs). Kollár assumed a common origin of Czechs and Slovaks. The original language should be closer to Slovak, Czech "daughter" allegedly lost its beauty in the contact with the German language. After the defeat of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, Kollár got an approval of the government in Vienna to use "Old Slovak" as an administrative and educational language.[19] The trial to create a common literal language for Czechs and Slovaks failed. Czechs had difficulties understanding Kollár's "improvements" of Czech by Slovakisms and younger Slovak generation preferred standardization of Slovak.

Cultural Western, Central and Eastern Slovak[edit]

The Catholics use the Western Slovak language (Cultured Western Slovak, Jesuit Slovak) based on the language used by the educated people from the region of Trnava where the important Jesuit University of Trnava was founded in 1635, and in the profane sphere (especially in the towns) the Slovak language more or less influenced by the Czech is used even in written documents, often with a chaotic orthography.

After the defeat of the Turks near Vienna in 1683, many Slovaks gradually emigrate to the "Lower Lands", i.e. to the territories in present-day Hungary, Serbia (later to Croatia and Bulgaria), and Romania depopulated after the Turkish occupation. They have preserved their particular Slovak dialects until today. In eastern Slovakia, a Slovakized standard Polish language is used sometimes (besides Czech, Slovak and Latin) for the same purposes and reasons as the Czech language is used in the remaining Slovakia. Of course, the Latin language continues to be used, especially in state administration.

Efforts to establish Slovak as the standard language emerge as early as in the 17th century. For example, in his The Czech Grammar (1603, Prague), Vavrinec Benedikt of Nedožery incites the Slovaks to deepen their knowledge of their Slovak language. Matej Bel in the introduction to the Gramatica Slavico-Bohemica (1745, Bratislava) of Pavel Doležal compares the Slovak language with other recognized languages. Literary activity in the Slovak language flourishes during the second half of the seventeenth century and continues into the next century. Romuald Hadvabný of Červený Kláštor proposes a detailed (Western Slovak) language codification in his Latin-Slovak Dictionary (1763) with an outline of the Slovak grammar. The first adventure novel in Slovak - the René mláďenca príhodi a skúsenosťi - is published in 1783 by Jozef Ignác Bajza in the Western Slovak language.


Bernolák's standard[edit]

Anton Bernolák, a Catholic priest (1762-1813), publishes his Dissertatio philologico-critica de litteris Slavorum (Bratislava 1787), in which he codifies a Slovak language standard based on the Western Slovak language of the University of Trnava, but containing also some central Slovak elements (e.g. soft consonants ď, ť, ň, ľ and many words). The orthography is strictly diacritical.[20] The language is often called the Bernolák language. Bernolák will continue his codification work in other books in the 1780s and 1790s and especially in his huge six-volume Slovak-Czech-Latin-German-Hungarian Dictionary (published only 1825 –1927). 1820s, the Bernolák standard is revised and Central Slovak elements are systematically replaced by their Western Slovak equivalents.[21]

This is the first successful establishment of a Slovak language standard. Bernolák's language will be used by Slovak Catholics (esp. by the writers Juraj Fándly and Ján Hollý), but the Protestants will still write in the Czech language (in its old form used in Bohemia until the 17th century). In

Štúr's standard[edit]

In 1843, young Slovak Lutheran Protestants, led by Ľudovít Štúr, decide to establish and discuss the central Slovak dialect as the new Slovak language standard (instead of both Bernolák's language used by the Catholics and the Czech language used by older Slovak Lutheran Protestants). The new standard is also accepted by some users of the Bernolák language led by Ján Hollý (see also 1851), but is initially criticized by the older Lutheran Protestants led by Ján Kollár (died 1852). This language formed a basis of later literary Slovak language (see 1851) that is used today. It will be officially declared the new language standard in August 1844. The first Slovak grammar of the new language will be published by Ľudovít Štúr in 1846.

In 1844, the Hungarian Diet of Pozsony (today Bratislava) replaces the Latin language (used since the Middle Ages) with the Hungarian language as the official language of Hungary (including what later became Slovakia).

Hodža-Hattala reform[edit]

In 1851, the supporters of Bernolák and Štúr made a compromise and agreed on the reform of the Štúr's standard. The new standard respected etymological principles instead of Štúr's phonetic-phonological transcription and got Slovak orthography closer to other Slavic languages, especially Czech. The new grammar was published by Martin Hattala in 1952.[22]

Martin period, practice and Czambel's codification[edit]

The Martin period lasted from the abolishment of the Slovak national and cultural institution Matica slovenská until the foundation of Czechoslovakia (1918). The name comes from Turčiansky Svätý Martin, the contemporary Slovak cultural center. The usage of Slovak in education and culture was significantly reduced during forced Magyarization after the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867.

So-called "Martin practice" (Slovak: martinský úzus) was de facto standard partially formed already before the abolishment of Matica and influenced by the dialect spoken in Martin. In 1902, Samuel Czambel published new language standard. Czambel's codification favored the forms used in spoken language to archaisms from Hattala's codification and synchronized spoken and literal language. Czambel's codification was partially revised and extended by Jozef Škultéty (1915, 1919).

Modern history[edit]

Czechoslovakia (1918-1939)[edit]

Position of the Slovak language[edit]

With the establishment of Czechoslovakia in 1918, Slovak becomes an official language for the first time in history (along with the Czech language). The Czechoslovak Constitution of 1920 and the constitutional law on minorities which was adopted alongside the constitution on the same day, established the "Czechoslovak language" as an official language Since the Czechoslovak language did not exist, the law recognized its two variations (Czech and Slovak). Czech should be "usually" used in administration in the Czech lands, Slovak "usually" in Slovakia. In practice, the position of languages was not equal. Along with political reasons, this situation was caused by a different historical experience and numerous Czech teachers and clerks in Slovakia, who helped to restore the educational system and administration (since Slovaks educated in the Slovak language were missing).

The first official language standard[edit]

In 1931, Matica slovenská published a new Slovak language standard prepared by a Czech scientist Václav Vážný, the head of Department of Linguistics of Matica. In contrast with older works (including those published in Czechoslovakia), the standard had an official character and was approved and recommended by the Ministry of Education led by a Slovak minister Ivan Dérer). The standard was inspired by the official ideology of Czechoslovakism and tried to align both languages by the codification of numerous Czech words and forms not existing in Slovak.[23] The standard raised large negative reactions and the board of Matica had to promise its revision. Although a new official standard was not published before the break-up of Czechoslovakia (1939), a new "standard" (practice) of Matica was used along with Vážný's standard.

Czechoslovakia (1945-1992)[edit]

The six-volume Dictionary of the Slovak Language (SSJ) is published during 1959–1968 (online version) The Constitutional Law of Federation in 1968 confirmed equal rights for the Slovak and the Czech languages in the federation.

Slovak Republic[edit]

Czechoslovakia splits into Slovakia and the Czech Republic. The Slovak language becomes the official language of Slovakia.


  1. ^ Slovak: kvet, hviezda (flower, star) like Czech: květ, hvězda, Polish: kwiat, gwiazda vs. Serbian: cvet, zvezda or Russian: cvet, zvezd'a
  2. ^ Slovak: zem (earth) like Czech: země, Polish: ziemia vs. Serbian: zemlja or Russian: zeml'a
  3. ^ Slovak: svieca, medza (candle, boundary) like Czech: svíce, mez, Polish: świaca, miedza vs. Serbian: sveća, meda or Russian: sveč'a, mež'a
  4. ^ šidlo (awl) like Czech: šídlo, Polish: szydło vs. Central Slovak dialects: šilo
  5. ^ rožen/rožeň (grill), loket/lokec (elbow) like Czech: loket, Polish: łokieć vs. Central Slovak dialects: lakeť
  6. ^ Češi, ženíši (Czechs, bridegrooms) vs. Central Slovak dialects: Česi, ženísi
  7. ^ Proto-Slavic krъvь (blood) > kref like Czech: krev, Polish: krew vs. other Slovak dialects: krv
  8. ^ hadem ([with] snake) like Czech: hadem vs. other Slovak dialects: hadom
  9. ^ jehua (needle) like Czech: jehla, Upper Sorbian: jehła vs. other Slovak dialects: ihla
  10. ^ kráva (cow) like Czech: kráva vs. other Slovak dialects: krava
  11. ^ ramena (shoulders) like Czech: ramena vs. other Slovak dialects ramená
  12. ^ šilo (awl) like Serbian: šilo or Russian: šilo vs. šidlo
  13. ^ lakeť (elbow), Serbian: lakat vs. loket
  14. ^ nosímo ([we] bear) like Serbian: nosimo vs. nosíme
  15. ^ ihla (needle) like Serbian: igla, Russian: igla vs. jehua
  16. ^ krv (blood) like Serbian: krv vs. kref




  • Gabzdilová, Soňa (2014). Školský systém na Slovensku v medzivojnovej Československej republike (1918-1938) [The school system in Slovakia in the mid-war Czechoslovak republic (1918-1938)] (PDF) (in Slovak). Košice: Univerzita Pavla Jozefa Šafárika v Košiciach. ISBN 80-7079-813-0. 
  • Kačala, Ján; Krajčovič, Rudolf (2006). Prehlad dejín spisovnej slovenčiny [An Overview of the History of the Literal Slovak Language] (in Slovak). Martin: [Matica slovenská]. ISBN 80-7079-813-0. 
  • Kováč, Dušan; et al. (1998). Kronika Slovenska 1 (Chronicle of Slovakia 1). Chronicle of Slovakia (in Slovak) (1st ed.). Bratislava, Slovakia: FortunaPrint. ISBN 80-7153-174-X. 
  • Krajčovič, Rudolf (1980). Svedectvo dejin o slovenčine [History's evidence about Slovak] (in Slovak). Martin: Matica slovenská. 
  • Krajčovič, Rudolf (1988). Vývoj slovenského jazyka a dialektológia [The Development of the Slovak Language and Dialectology] (in Slovak). Bratislava: Slovenské pedagogické nakladeteľstvo. 
  • Krško, Jaromír (2013). "Niekoľko poznámok ku kontrakcii v slovenčine" [Comments on contraction in Slovak]. In Múcsková, Gabriela. Philologica LXXII (in Slovak). Bratislava: Univerzita Komenského. ISBN 978-80-223-3562-1. 
  • Pukanec, Martin (2013). Svätoplukovo kniežatstvo a stará slovenčina [The Principality of Svätopluk and Old Slovak] (in Slovak). Nitra: Univerzita Konštantína Filozofa v Nitre, Filozofická fakulta. ISBN 978-80-558-0363-0. 
  • Pukanec, Martin (2008). "Prečo nie je migračno-integračná teória o pôvode slovenčiny migračno-integračná" [Why is not the Migration-Integration Theory of the Origin of Slovak Migration-Integration]. In Gálisová, Anna; Chomová, Alexandra. Varia XV: zborník materiálov z XV. kolokvia mladých jazykovedcov (in Slovak). Banská Bystrica: Slovenská jazykovedná spoločnosť pri SAV, Katedra slovenského jazyka a literatúry FHV UMB v Banskej Bystrici. ISBN 80-89037-04-6. 

See also[edit]