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Slovak language


Slovak (slovencina, slovenský jazyk) is an Indo-European language belonging to the West Slavic languages (together with Czech, Polish and Sorbian). Slovak is especially close to Czech.

Slovak is spoken in Slovakia (by 5 million people), the United States (500,000, emigrants), the Czech Republic (320,000, due to former Czechoslovakia), Hungary (110,000, ancient ethnic minority), Northern Serbia-Vojvodina (60,000, descendants of earlier settlers during the Habsburg rule), Romania (22,000, old ethnic minority), Poland (20,000), Canada (20,000, emigrants), Australia (emigrants), Austria, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Croatia (5,000) and some other countries.

Dialects

The spoken Slovak language consists of a large number of dialects that can be divided in three basic groups:
  • Eastern Slovak dialects (in Spis, Saris, Zemplin and Abov)
  • Central Slovak dialects (in Liptov, Orava, Turiec, Tekov, Hont, Novohrad, Gemer and the historic Zvolen county)
  • Western Slovak dialects (in remaining Slovakia)
They differ mostly in phonology, inflection and vocabulary. The differences in syntax are minor. Modified Central Slovak forms the basis of the present-day standard language. Not all dialects are fully mutually intelligible. The differences between some Slovak dialects make it for example often impossible for an inhabitant of the Slovak capital Bratislava (in western Slovakia) to understand a person from eastern Slovakia. Also, at the dialect level, only some dialects of western Slovak can be considered fully mutually intelligible with the Czech language, with which Slovak borders in the west.

The dialects are fragmented geographically, separated by numerous mountain ranges (Slovakia is a mountainous country). The above three groups already existed in the 10th century. All the three dialect groups are also spoken by the Slovaks living outside Slovakia (in Hungary, Serbia, Romania, Croatia, Bulgaria and elsewhere).

The western dialects contain many 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. However, historically, Slovak dialects arose as varieties of the autonomous Slovak language and they arose neither from the Czech, nor from the Polish, nor from the Ukrainian language.

Relationships to other languages

The Slovak language arose directly from the Proto-Slavic language independently of other Slavic languages

The present-day Slovak language is closely related to the other west Slavic languages. Some observers compare the difference between Slovak and Czech to that between Italian and Spanish. Others prefer to compare it to the differences between Scandinavian languages, or between German dialects or differences between English and Scots language. Generally, it can be said that while the vocabulary (especially the professional one) is quite similar, and the used spelling almost the same, the declension, conjugation and pronunciation are different. Nowadays the Czechs and the Slovaks have more common words due to their long historic coexistence especially within the now-defunct country of Czechoslovakia. Slovak is most apparently related to Czech in written form (because the Slovak literary language spelling was inspired by Czech spelling), but differs from it both phonetically and grammatically. However, Slovak did not arise from the Czech language (neither from the Old nor from the Middle Czech) and the Czech language started to penetrate to Slovakia only in the 14th century. Adult Slovaks are able to understand Czech and to some extent Polish and Sorbian without a translator. As regards Polish and Sorbian, the degree of understanding is highly dependent on the degree to which the individual has been exposed to these languages.

Written Polish may look complicated to a Slovak due to its orthography - words which are essentially pronounced similarly and have the same meaning may look different in each language. In general, it can be stated that during the existence of Czechoslovakia (and especially due to common television), the spoken language has taken over many Czech words, idioms and some features of the syntax, and lost many typical Slovak expressions in turn. The future development after the split of Czechoslovakia (1993) remains to be seen, because close cultural and educational contacts did not disappear. Nowadays the ability to completely understand Czech, however, seems to disappear with a part of the youngest generation (and this is definitively the case with the Czech children in the opposite direction).

Basically, the standard Slovak is mutually intelligible with Czech (a bit more with literary Czech than with colloquial) and shares much of professional terminology with it, eastern Slovak dialects are mutually intelligible with standard Slovak, but less with Czech, the Rusyn language is mutually intelligible with eastern Slovak dialects (but both lack professional terminology and higher style expressions). The Polish language and Sorbian languages are somewhat intelligible to both Slovak and Czech, but they have different professional terminology and higher style expressions - the more you keep your language style low and simple, the better you are understood.