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EU > Slovenia > Ljubljana

Basic Slovenian

Ljubljana, SI (View on map)

It`s time for another article about language: the Slovenian language this time as I am still in Ljubljana. Slovenian is part of the South-Slavic group of languages, which further includes Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian and Bulgarian. Contrary to Serbian and Bulgarian, Slovenian is written in Latin letters. Slovenian distantly shares some words with Slovakian, but many of those are `faux amis`: the words may be the same but there meaning can be entirely different.

Spela (25):

`There`s a lot of love in the Slovenian language`
Slovenian is spoken by roughly 2.2 million people worldwide, most of whom live in Slovenia. Despite the relatively small number of speakers, Slovenian has many different dialects across the country`s region. The geographical lay-out of the country has caused the language of each valley to develop in a slightly separate way, which often leads to people from different regions speaking with different accents. In many cases, they even use different words. Mutual understanding is not 100% guaranteed when people from different regions meet.

What`s in a name
Slovenian written language dates back to 1550, when the book `Katekizem` laid down the grammar of the Slovenian language. Like the other Slavic languages, Slovenian has different versions of c, s and z in its alphabet ? which is known as abeceda. Vowels are only used scarcely. Slovenians are fond of citing `čmrlj`, which means bumblebee, as the longest Slovenian word without any vowels.

Spela (25, photo) explains me that the letter R in many cases serves as a semi-vowel. `In words that lack official vowels, the R is usually pronounced as a silent `e`. `Trg`, the word for square, is therefore pronounces as `Terg`. Spela further explains me that every word in Slovenian can be transformed into dual mode: `Words have different plurals to specify whether it refers to two units or anything more than two. The rule also applies to verbs. It`s much more intimate to use the Let`s go-form for two people than the general Let us go, without specifying the number. Some people are really attached to this dual form and will correct you if you use the normal plural if you mean to talk about two things or people.`

Spela thinks that Slovenians are quite proud of their country and of their language. `Slovenia has got the word `love` in it, and a lot of people, when on holiday, will send postcards home with the letters L O V E spelled separately surrounded by the shape of a heart. I also like the name of our capital, which is only one letter different from Ljubljena, which means `beloved`. And the fact that it`s a feminine name.`

Foreign languages
Maja (33) explains that holidaymakers who come to Slovenia do not have to bother learning Slovenian`, Spela says. `Most Slovenians speak English, while older people can make themselves understood in German. Some people speak Italian and most people over 20 will also be able to speak Serbo-Croatian. However, arriving here while speaking Serbian or Croatian to locals will not be the best way of making friends. Serbs and Croatians are often forced to speak their own language, simply because they never learnt ours, while we got imposed theirs, up until 1991. Most of the Serbo-Croatian words we still use today are swearing words, because our own ones are usually very oldfashioned.`

`It`s quite an advantage to speak a language that so few others speak`, Maja says. `You can be almost sure that you can speak without inhibition when you are on holiday, although you can never be entirely sure. I know a story of a girl saying all these flattering things about a boy she saw in a disco somewhere in London. She told her friend, without knowing that the guy also understood every single word she said. Unfortunately, I don`t know how the story ended, just that she felt very ashamed of herself.`

Maja partly explains the multilingualism of Slovenians by the fact that TV programs are always broadcast in original version with subtitles: `I think that`s where I got most of my language skills from. Apart from that, I don`t like seeing a person without hearing the voice that belongs to that person. It`s an integral part of the personality, so you can`t just take it out. Sometimes, I even look for subtitles in Slovenian programs, when there`s noise in the room or something else keeps me from hearing the TV or film.`

Even though tourist can easily get away with speaking just a few words of Slovenian, anybody who wishes to stay for a little longer had better learn the local language. Slovenians may feel comfortable assisting others in a foreign language, they do not like to be forced to speak English on the workfloor or among friends. Finding a job without a basic command of Slovenian is very difficult. It will basically limit your choice to the low-paid jobs like working in the fields or in construction.`

One or the other
Slovenian has different forms to specify the degree of formality between people. You-formal (`vi`) is to be used when talking to older people, You-informal (`ti`) is used among friends. Jure (23) explains that Slovenians are also fond of using their titles and degrees, which are also integrated in the way they wish to be addressed. `If somebody is a Doctor, a Professor or an Ucitel (teacher), you will address them by that name rather than saying Mr or Mrs, especially in schools, universities and hospitals and much less outside those institutions. Some people can however be very picky at this, and they will see it as lack of respect if you do not call them by there title. Colleagues that work on the same level can usually leave all the complicated stuff out. They are likely to call each other `ti` whatever their rank is`, Jure says.

Jure also explains that Slovenian does, strictly speaking, not have any words that have more than one meaning. `Words that have an identical writing will be given an accent on one of the vowels to make them different from each other. However, the accents are often omitted, so the reader will still have to use the context to figure out which of the two words makes the most sense.`

Words an expressions
Which words to learn when heading for Slovenia? Here`s some basic ones, with some bonus ones that are either funny or typical for the Slovenian way of thinking:

Hvala - Thanks
Dober dan - Good day
Kako si? - How are you
Pikadolonica - Ladybird (also: chain of toy shops)
A ne? - Random way to `sort of` finish a sentence
Zgo?čenka - CD
Računalnik - Computer
?trudlj - Pie
Tristo Kosmatih - 1,000 hairy ones! (damn!)
Kapo doll - Well done!
Priden - Hard-working and well-behaving
Hrepenenje - Desire to acquire something

Or, very popular for people returning from holidays:

`Povsod lepo, doma najlep?e`
It`s better elsewhere, but it`s best at home.

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