Slovak orthography

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The first Slovak orthography was proposed by Anton Bernolák (1762–1813) in his Dissertatio philologico-critica de litteris Slavorum, used in the six-volume Slovak-Czech-Latin-German-Hungarian Dictionary (1825–1927) and used primarily by Slovak Catholics.

The standard orthography of the Slovak language is immediately based on the standard developed by Ľudovít Štúr in 1844 and reformed by Martin Hattala in 1851 with the agreement of Štúr. The then-current (1840s) form of the central Slovak dialect was chosen as the standard. It uses the Latin script with small modifications that include the four diacritics (ˇ(mäkčeň), ´(acute accent), ¨(diaeresis/umlaut), ˆ(circumflex)) placed on certain letters. After Hattala's reform, the standardized orthography remained mostly unchanged.

Alphabet[edit]

The Slovak alphabet is an extension of the Latin alphabet used for writing the Slovak language.

It has 46 letters which makes it the longest Slavic and European alphabet.

The 46 letters of the Slovak alphabet are:

Majuscule forms (also called uppercase or capital letters)
A Á Ä B C Č D Ď Dz E É F G H Ch I Í J K L Ĺ Ľ
M N Ň O Ó Ô P Q R Ŕ S Š T Ť U Ú V W X Y Ý Z Ž
Minuscule forms (also called lowercase or small letters)
a á ä b c č d ď dz e é f g h ch i í j k l ĺ ľ
m n ň o ó ô p q r ŕ s š t ť u ú v w x y ý z ž

Some of the vowels might affect the pronunciation of a few consonants, specifically the vowels E, I, and their long pronunciation counterparts. The letters E, É, I, and Í trigger the alveolo-palatal realization of the preceding D, N, T (with few exceptions when the letters denote the ordinary alveolar consonants, which is their usual phonetic value), so that they are spelled without the háček in this position.

Letter Letter name Pronunciation Usual phonetic values Notes
A a á [aː] [a] The letter itself never stands for the long [aː].
Á á dlhé á [ˈdl̩ɦeː ˈaː] [aː] [aː] is mostly replaced by [ɪɐ] after soft consonants, where it is spelled ⟨ia⟩.
Ä ä prehlasované á;
a s dvoma bodkami;
široké e
[ˈpreɦlasɔʋaneː ˈaː];
[ˈa z ˈdʋɔma ˈbɔtkami];
[ˈʂirɔkeː ˈe]
[ɛɐ] Roughly like German Herz [hɛɐts] 'heart' (when not pronounced [hɛʁts]), but realized with equal prominence on both elements. It is nowadays mostly merged with /e/, except in formal speech and some central dialects. The letter occurs only after ⟨b, m, p, v⟩ and thus does not have the palatalizing effect of ⟨e⟩. Furthermore, [ɛɐ] has the length typical of the short vowels, rather than the long vowels. For that reason, it is often transcribed with ⟨æ⟩ in IPA, ignoring its diphthongal nature.
B b [beː] [b], [p] Voiceless [p] before voiceless consonants and phrase-finally, voiced [b] elsewhere.
C c [tseː] [ts], [dz] Voiced [dz] before voiced consonants, voiceless [ts] elsewhere.
Č č čé [tʂeː] [tʂ], [dʐ] Voiced [dʐ] before voiced consonants, voiceless [tʂ] elsewhere.
D d [deː] [d], [t], [dʑ] Voiceless [t] before voiceless consonants and phrase-finally, voiced [d] elsewhere. Before ⟨e, é, i, í⟩ as well as ⟨ia⟩ and ⟨ie⟩, the usual phonetic value of the letter is the alveolo-palatal affricate [dʑ], with few exceptions.
Ď ď ďé;
mäkké dé
[dʑeː];
[ˈmɛɐkkeː ˈdeː]
[dʑ], [tɕ] Voiceless [tɕ] before voiceless consonants and phrase-finally, voiced [dʑ] elsewhere. The letter is not used before ⟨e, é, i, í⟩ as well as ⟨ia⟩ and ⟨ie⟩, where only a bare ⟨d⟩ occurs. ⟨ď⟩ is not to be confused with the Serbo-Croatian letter ⟨đ⟩, which has the same phonetic value.
Dz dz dzé [dzeː] [dz], [ts] Voiceless [ts] before voiceless consonants and phrase-finally, voiced [dz] elsewhere.
džé [dʐeː] [dʐ], [tʂ] Voiceless [tʂ] before voiceless consonants and phrase-finally, voiced [dʐ] elsewhere.
E e é [eː] [e] The letter itself only ever stands for the short [e]. The vowel is lower than the cardinal [e] ([]), but still higher than /ɔ/, /ɔː/ as well as the starting point of [ɛɐ]. Its quality is therefore much like the traditional RP DRESS vowel (rather than the /e/ found in German and Italian, which is close-mid). For this reason, it is transcribed with ⟨e⟩, rather than ⟨ɛ⟩.
É é dlhé é [ˈdl̩ɦeː ˈeː] [eː] [eː] occurs mostly in loanwords, with few exceptions. After soft consonants (where it is spelled ⟨ie⟩), it is mostly replaced by [ɪe]. The quality of this vowel is [e̞ː], the same as the short /e/, but longer.
F f ef [ef] [f], [v] Voiced [v] before voiced consonants, voiceless [f] elsewhere.
G g [ɡeː] [ɡ], [k] Voiceless [k] before voiceless consonants and phrase-finally, voiced [ɡ] elsewhere.
H h [ɦaː] [ɦ], [x], [ɣ] Devoiced and fronted to [x] (rather than [h], which does not occur in Slovak) before voiceless consonants and word-finally (rather than just phrase-finally), where /ɦ/ is banned and the underlying phoneme is /x/, subject to voicing to [ɣ] before voiced consonants (as in vrh guľou [ˈʋr̩ɣ ˈɡuʎɔw] 'shot put').
Ch ch chá [xaː] [x], [ɣ] Voiced [ɣ] (rather than [ɦ]) before voiced consonants, voiceless [x] elsewhere.
I i í [iː] [i] The letter itself never stands for the long [iː]. The short [i] has the same quality as its long counterpart (being the near-close front unrounded vowel []), rather than being more mid-centralized, as in the Prague dialect of Czech (and English).
Í í dlhé í [ˈdl̩ɦeː ˈiː] [iː]
J j [jeː] [j]
K k [kaː] [k], [ɡ] Voiced [ɡ] before voiced consonants, voiceless [k] elsewhere.
L l el [el] [l], [l̩] The contrast between alveolar and alveolo-palatal laterals is neutralized before front vowels. Thus, in contrast to ⟨d⟩, ⟨n⟩ and ⟨t⟩, ⟨l⟩ only ever stands for the alveolar lateral. In contrast to it, the alveolo-palatal lateral occurs only as non-syllabic and is always spelled with the dedicated letter ⟨ľ⟩. The syllabic alveolar laterals occur in complementary distribution with the non-syllabic [l], with the former occurring only between consonants and the latter elsewhere.
Ĺ ĺ dlhé el [ˈdl̩ɦeː ˈel] [l̩ː]
Ľ ľ eľ;
mäkké el
[eʎ];
[ˈmɛɐkkeː ˈel]
[ʎ]
M m em [em] [m], [ɱ] Realized as labiodental [ɱ] before [f], [ʋ] and [v].
N n en [en] [n], [ɲ], [m], [ɱ], [ŋ] Before ⟨e, é, i, í⟩ as well as ⟨ia⟩ and ⟨ie⟩, the usual phonetic value of the letter is the alveolo-palatal nasal [n], with few exceptions. The alveolar nasal assimilates to the place of articulation of the following consonants, so that the alveolo-palatal realization occurs also before the alveolo-palatal affricates [tɕ, dʑ]. Before bilabial, labiodental and velar consonants, the nasal is realized as [m], [ɱ] and [ŋ], respectively. The spelling ⟨n⟩ for [m] occurs mostly in loanwords; in native words, the bilabial nasal is usually spelled with ⟨m⟩.
Ň ň [eɲ] [ɲ] The letter is not used before ⟨e, é, i, í⟩ as well as ⟨ia⟩ and ⟨ie⟩, where only a bare ⟨n⟩ occurs.
O o o [ɔ] [ɔ]
Ó ó ó;
dlhé o
[ɔː];
[ˈdl̩ɦeː ˈɔ]
[ɔː] Occurs only in loanwords.
Ô ô ô [ʊɔ] [ʊɔ] Realized as a rising-opening diphthong similar to the initial two sounds of warrior /ˈwɒriər/ in English, never as a disyllabic /ɒ/ as in to Oxford /t ˈɒksfərd/. The letter is spelled with a circumflex, rather than the háček found on many of the consonants.
P p [peː] [p], [b] Voiced [b] before voiced consonants, voiceless [p] elsewhere.
Q q kvé [kʋeː] [kʋ] Occurs only in loanwords.
R r er [er] [r], [r̩] The syllabic alveolar trills occur in complementary distribution with the non-syllabic [r], with the former occurring only between consonants and the latter elsewhere. ⟨Ŕ⟩ is not to be confused with the Czech letter ⟨ř⟩, which denotes the voiced alveolar raised non-sonorant trill, a sound not found in Slovak as a phoneme separate from either of the plain alveolar trills.
Ŕ ŕ dlhé er [ˈdl̩ɦeː ˈer] [r̩ː]
S s es [es] [s], [z] Voiced [z] before voiced consonants, voiceless [s] elsewhere.
Š š [eʂ] [ʂ], [ʐ] Voiced [ʐ] before voiced consonants, voiceless [ʂ] elsewhere.
T t [teː] [t], [d], [tɕ] Voiced [d] before voiced consonants, voiceless [t] elsewhere. Before ⟨e, é, i, í⟩ as well as ⟨ia⟩ and ⟨ie⟩, the usual phonetic value of the letter is the alveolo-palatal affricate [tɕ], with few exceptions.
Ť ť ťé;
mäkké té
[tɕeː];
[ˈmɛɐkkeː ˈteː]
[tɕ], [dʑ] Voiced [dʑ] before voiced consonants, voiceless [tɕ] elsewhere. The letter is not used before ⟨e, é, i, í⟩ as well as ⟨ia⟩ and ⟨ie⟩, where only a bare ⟨t⟩ occurs.
U u u [u] [u], [w] Stands for the labio-velar [w] after [ɔ] in the feminine singular instrumental suffix -ou (pronounced as if spelled ⟨ov⟩) and for the short monophthong [u] elsewhere.
Ú ú dlhé ú [ˈdl̩ɦeː ˈuː] [uː] [uː] is mostly replaced by [ɪu] after soft consonants, where it is spelled ⟨iu⟩.
V v [ʋeː] [ʋ], [w], [v], [f] The spelling ⟨w⟩ (which stands for the same phoneme as ⟨v⟩) occurs only in loanwords.
W w dvojité vé [ˈdʋɔjiteː ˈʋeː]
X x iks [iks] [ks] Occurs only in loanwords.
Y y ypsilon [ˈipsilɔn] [i] Pronounced the same as ⟨i⟩. Indicates that the preceding ⟨d, n, t⟩ are not alveolo-palatal.
Ý ý dlhý ypsilon [ˈdl̩ɦiː ˈipsilɔn] [iː] Pronounced the same as ⟨í⟩. Indicates that the preceding ⟨d, n, t⟩ are not alveolo-palatal.
Z z zet [zet] [z], [s] Voiceless [s] before voiceless consonants and phrase-finally, voiced [z] elsewhere.
Ž ž žet [ʐet] [ʐ], [ʂ] Voiceless [ʂ] before voiceless consonants and phrase-finally, voiced [ʐ] elsewhere.

In IPA transcriptions of Slovak, [tʂ, dʐ, ʂ, ʐ] are often written with ⟨tʃ, dʒ, ʃ, ʒ⟩, i.e. as if they were palato-alveolar. The palato-alveolar [, , ʃ, ʒ] exist in Slovak, but only as allophones of /tʂ, dʐ, ʂ, ʐ/, which are normally retroflex, as in Polish. Furthermore, the alveolo-palatal affricates [tɕ] and [dʑ] are often transcribed as if they were palatal stops, i.e. with ⟨c⟩ and ⟨ɟ⟩, respectively.

The following digraphs are not considered to be a part of the Slovak alphabet:

  • ⟨ia⟩, which stands for the rising-opening diphthong [ɪɐ], similar to the /jæ/ sequence in English (as in yap /jæp/), rather than the common [ɪɐ] realization of the underlying /ɪr/ in the German word Wirt [vɪɐt] 'host', which is falling;
  • ⟨ie⟩, which stands for the rising-opening diphthong [ɪe], similar to the /jɛ/ sequence in English (as in yes /jɛs/);
  • ⟨iu⟩, which stands for the rising-backing diphthong [ɪu], similar to the /j/ sequence in English (as in use /jz/) (but with a short ending point), never as a falling-backing diphthong as in some Welsh English new [nɪu].

In loanwords, all three can stand for the disyllabic sequences [i.a, i.e, i.u], rather than the rising diphthongs. The starting points of those diphthongs are written with ⟨ɪ⟩, rather than ⟨j⟩ (as in Spanish tierra [ˈtjera]) because [ɪɐ, ɪe, ɪu] count as a long vowel in the rhythmical rule described below, unlike the phonological consonant /j/ followed by a short vowel. [ʊɔ] also counts as a long vowel, though there is no *[wɔ] sequence to rival it, as [w] never appears before a vowel within the same word.

Sound–spelling correspondences[edit]

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 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).

Most foreign words receive Slovak spelling immediately or after some time. For example, "weekend" is spelled víkend [ˈʋiːkent], "software" - softvér [ˈsɔftʋeːr], "gay" - gej [ɡej] (both not exclusively)[clarification needed], and "quality" is spelled kvalita (possibly from Italian qualità). 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 [ˈlɔndiːn] for "London").

To accelerate writing, a rule has been introduced that the frequent sequences [dʑe], [tɕe], [ɲe], [dʑi], [tɕi], [ɲi], [dʑiː], [tɕiː], [ɲiː], [dʑɪe], [tɕɪe], [ɲɪe], [dʑɪɐ], [tɕɪɐ], [ɲɪɐ] are written without a háček as de, te, ne, di, ti, ni, dí, tí, ní, die, tie, nie, dia, tia, nia. These combinations are usually pronounced as if a háček were found above the consonant. In the case of ⟨l⟩, e, i, í, ie, ia have no effect on the pronunciation of ⟨l⟩, which remains alveolar [l] even in this context: [le], [li], [liː], [lɪe], [lɪɐ]. Thus, uniquely among the alveolo-palatal consonants, the alveolo-palatal lateral [ʎ] is only ever spelled with the dedicated letter ľ. Some exceptions are as follows:

  1. foreign words (e.g. telefón is pronounced [ˈtelefɔːn])
  2. the following words: ten [ten] 'that', jeden [ˈjeden] 'one', vtedy [ˈftedi] 'then', teraz [ˈteras] 'now'
  3. nominative masculine plural endings of pronouns and adjectives do not turn the preceding d, n, t into alveolo-palatal consonants (e.g. tí odvážni mladí muži [tiː ˈɔdvaːʐni ˈmladiː ˈmuʐi], the/those brave young men)
  4. in adjectival endings, both the long é and the short e (shortened by the rhythmical rule) do not make the preceding d, n, t alveolo-palatal, so that both zelené stromy [ˈzeleneː ˈstrɔmi] 'green trees' and krásne stromy [ˈkraːsne ˈstrɔmi] 'beautiful trees' feature the alveolar [n], rather than the alveolo-palatal [ɲ].
  5. However, the adjective krásne [ˈkraːsɲe] (meaning 'beautifully') does feature the alveolo-palatal [ɲ], resulting in a heterophonic homograph with krásne [ˈkraːsne] 'beautiful' (inflected), which features the same alveolar [n] as the uninflected form krásny [ˈkraːsni], which has an unambiguous spelling. There are some more examples of heterophonic homographs like this. The same difference can be found in Polish; 'beautifully' translates to pięknie [ˈpjɛŋkɲɛ], whereas the corresponding inflected form of 'beautiful' is piękne [ˈpjɛŋknɛ] (with the same dental nasal as in the uninflected form piękny [ˈpjɛŋknɨ]). There, the difference is reflected in the orthography.

When a voiced obstruent (b, d, ď, dz, dž, g, h, z, ž) is at the end of the word before a pause, it is pronounced as its voiceless counterpart (p, t, ť, c, č, k, ch, s, š, respectively). For example, pohyb is pronounced [ˈpɔɦip] and prípad is pronounced [ˈpriːpat].

When "v" is at the end of the syllable, it is pronounced as labio-velar [w]. For example, kov [kɔw] (metal), kravský [ˈkrawskiː] (cow - adjective), but povstať [ˈpɔfstatɕ] (uprise), because the /v/ is morpheme-initial (po-vstať).

The feminine singular instrumental suffix -ou is also pronounced [ɔw], as if it were spelled -ov.

Consonant clusters containing both voiced and voiceless elements are entirely voiced if the last consonant is voiced, or entirely voiceless if the last consonant is voiceless. For example, otázka is pronounced [ˈɔtaːska] and vzchopiť sa is pronounced [ˈfsxɔpitɕ sa]. This rule applies also over the word boundary. One example is as follows: prísť domov [ˈpriːzdʑ ˈdɔmɔw] (to come home) and viac jahôd [ˈʋɪɐdz ˈjaɦʊɔt] (more strawberries). The voiced counterpart of "ch" /x/ is [ɣ], and the unvoiced counterpart of "h" /ɦ/ is [x].

One of the most important changes in Slovak orthography in the 20th century was in 1953 when s began to be written as z where pronounced [z] in prefixes (e.g. smluva into zmluva [ˈzmluʋa] as well as sväz into zväz [zʋɛɐs]). The phonemic principle has been given priority over the etymological principle in this case.

Rhythmical rule[edit]

The rhythmical rule, also known as the rule of "rhythmical shortening", states that a long syllable (that is, a syllable containing á, é, í, ý, ó, ú, ŕ, ĺ, ia, ie, iu, ô) cannot be followed by another long one within the same word. If two long syllables were to occur next to each other, the second one is to be made short. This rule has morphonemic implications for declension (e.g. žen-ám [ˈʐenaːm] but tráv-am [ˈtraːʋam]) and conjugation (e.g. nos-ím [ˈnɔsiːm] but súd-im). Several exceptions of this rule exist.[1] It is typical of the literary Slovak language, and does not appear in Czech or in some Slovak dialects.

Diacritics[edit]

The acute mark (in Slovak "dĺžeň", "prolongation mark" or "lengthener") indicates length (e.g. í = [iː]). This mark may appear on any vowel except "ä" (wide "e", široké "e" in Slovak). It may also appear above the consonants "l" and "r", indicating the long syllabic [l̩ː] and [r̩ː] sounds.

The circumflex ("vokáň") exists only above the letter "o". It turns the o into a diphthong (see above).

The umlaut ("prehláska", "dve bodky" = two dots) is only used above the letter "a". It indicates an opening diphthong [ɛɐ], similar to German Herz [hɛɐts] 'heart' (when it is not pronounced [hɛʁts], with a consonantal /r/).

The háček (in Slovak "mäkčeň", "palatalization mark" or "softener") indicates a change of alveolar fricatives, affricates, and plosives into either retroflex or alveolo-palatal consonants, in informal Slovak linguistics often called just "palatalization". Eight consonants can bear a háček. Not all "normal" consonants have a counterpart with háček:

  • In printed texts, the háček is printed in two forms: (1) č, dž, š, ž, ň and (2) ľ, ď, ť (looking more like an apostrophe), but this is just a convention. In handwritten texts, it always appears in the first form.
  • Phonetically, two forms of "palatalization" exist: ľ, ň, ď, ť are alveolo-palatal, while č, dž, š, ž are retroflex (which, phonetically speaking, is not "soft" but "hard"). This means that just as in Serbo-Croatian, the alveolo-palatal affricates [tɕ] and [dʑ] do not have any fricative counterparts, which makes the system asymmetrical. The Slovak letter ⟨ď⟩ is not to be confused with the Serbo-Croatian letter ⟨đ⟩, which has the same phonetic value.

Computer encoding[edit]

The Slovak alphabet is available within the ISO/IEC 8859-2 “Latin-2” encoding, which generally supports Eastern European languages. All vowels, but none of the specific consonants (that is, no č, ď, ľ, ĺ, ň, ŕ, š, ť, ž) are available within the “Latin-1” encoding, which generally supports only Western European languages.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Rhythmic rule / Pronunciation and orthography / Grammar - slovake.eu".