The Slovakian Language

August 8, 2013 by Clover van Steenberghe
Filed under: Language, Language Learning, Travel 

The Slovak or Slovakian language is the official language of the Slovak Republic, a small country in the heart of central Europe nestled between Poland, the Ukraine, Hungary, Austria and the Czech Republic.  It is an Indo-European language that along with Czech, Polish, Silesian, Kashubian and Sorbian belongs to the West Slavic languages.

Although Slovakia is a relatively new country, gaining independence in 1993, it has a long and interesting history as a part of various empires. In 1787 Anton Bernolák, a Slovakian Catholic priest, was the first person to codify spoken Slovak into a written form. The codification of Slovak was crucial to the forging of a national identity but it initially received little support from the Slovak people. In the 1830s a new generation of Slovaks, including  Ľudovít Štúr who became a leading figure in the Slovak nationalist movement, helped codify a new literary language which became the basis for modern Slovak.

One of the most interesting features of the Slovak language is its relationship to Czech. The two are mutually intelligible due to a long history of interaction and share many orthographic features and technical terminology dating back to the former country of Czechoslovakia.  Although they are similar languages, dialects of Slovak spoken in the eastern parts of current Slovakia would not be easily understood by Czech speakers. In addition to the regional differences, Czech and Slovak have phonetic, vocabulary and grammatical differences.

Some of the differences in Slovak and Czech include differing pronouns, rhythmical rules and the use of the passive voice. Czech exists in two forms, literary Czech and colloquial Czech with the standard Slovak language a closer relative of literary Czech. Further differences include the names for the months: in Czech the names are derived from Slavic roots while in Slovak they originate from their Latin counterparts. Some interesting examples of basic vocabulary differences are:

  • The English “yeah” is “hej” in Slovak but “jo” in Czech
  • In Slovak, “good bye” is “dovidenia” but in Czech it is “nashledanou”
  • The Slovak word for “cat” is “mačka” and in Czech it is “kočka”

According to estimates, over one third of Slovaks live outside of the Slovak Republic. Thus Slovak is also spoken in Poland, the Czech Republic, Canada, the United States, Serbia, the Ukraine, Romania, Hungary and many other countries.   So wherever you go, it is good to know a little about Slovak because you may run into a native speaker. Please do not confuse Slovak with Slovenian!


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