Slovak: the language of our neighbors and the European Union

The Slovakian flagSlovak is both the language of our eastern neighbors and one of the most spoken foreign languages in the Czech Republic. It is close to us not only in terms of history and location, but above all linguistically. Let’s find out why.

Here are some facts to begin with. Slovak is the official language of Slovakia, and since 2004 it has been one of the twenty-three official languages of the European Union. It is used regularly by roughly 7 million people: The Slovakian population of 4.5 million, over a million migrants in the U.S., roughly 300,000 people in the Czech Republic and various communities in many parts of the world. It is one of the West Slavic languages, a smaller group in the Indo-European language family.


From the language of the Great Moravian ethnic group

The Slovak language evolved directly from the Proto-Slavic language. The language of the Western Slavs, who lived in today’s Slovakia, separated from Proto-Slavic and evolved on its own in the 10th century. The creation of the Slovak dialects continued all the way until the 14th century. It should be noted that the inclusion of today’s Slovakia into the early feudal Hungarian state played an important role.

In the 15th century, thanks to the Hussite expeditions, to fraternal movements and to a number of Czech university students in Slovakia, Czech and its verbalisms started being used alongside Latin. This even became the codified standard language for some time. Czech was the language used by the Slovakian liturgy throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, and it was used in local literature for several further centuries.


The codified Slovak language in bloom

As the context suggests, Slovak as an independent language started taking shape in the second half of the 18th century, mostly in towns of western and central Slovakia, thanks to the bourgeoisie and local scholars. Czech had been the standard language up until then. An interesting fact is that the Slovak Protestants spoke it all the way until the 1840s!

Anton Bernolák, a Slovak Roman Catholic priest and linguist, and Ľudovít Štúr, the codifier of contemporary standard Slovak, contributed to the creation of Slovak the most. Bernolák published the “Slovak Grammar” in 1790. Štúr’s linguistic work “Nauka reči Slovenskej,” which also contained the foundations of the new grammar, was published six decades later, in 1846. We could say that Štúr’s codified Slovak is still used today, albeit with minor alterations.

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The Czechoslovak language as a link to the past

The Czechoslovak language was created after the establishment of Czechoslovakia and was the official language from 1920 to 1948. Czechoslovak meant Czech in the Czech regions and Slovak in Slovakia. There were essentially two forms, or rather two wordings, of the same language.

Now back to Slovak. After World War II, Slovak was gradually codified and developed into a form capable of fulfilling all the functions and needs of the public. The year 1989 was another milestone for the language, as it marked the beginning of the end for certain terms associated with the socialist government, with these terms getting replaced by words borrowed from English and other international languages.


Under the rules of the language law

Slovakia has had a national language law since 1996. It regulates the use of the official language in public and distinguishes its status from the other nine languages spoken by minorities in Slovakia. Among many other areas of life, it also regulates the authorities, mass media, education, science, and customer service. According to this law, which has been amended multiple times, all bilingual signs must list the Slovak version first and in a larger font than any foreign language versions. We should mention that Czech is an exception to this rule.


Slovak from a linguistic point of view

Slovak uses a modified Roman alphabet. It uses diacritical marks, such as a hook to indicate the softness of consonants or accents for the length of vowels, something the Roman alphabet lacks.

Slovak stresses the first syllable in all words, or the preposition in monosyllabic prepositional phrases. This is the same as in Czech.

It uses declension and conjugation, although the rules are not as complex as in Czech or Russian. Slovak has six grammatical cases, omitting the 5th case, as it is usually identical to the 1st.

Its nouns have three genders: masculine, feminine and neuter. Conjugation in Slovak takes the form of three tenses: past, present, and future. Most Slovak verbs have three modes (indicative, imperative, subjunctive) and two aspects (perfective and imperfective).



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