Slovak 101

The primary principle of Slovak spelling is the phonemic principle, "Write as you hear". 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 there is the rarely applied grammatical principle, under which, for example, there is a difference in writing (but not in the pronunciation) between the basic singular and plural form of masculine adjectives, for example pekný (nice – sg.) vs pekní (nice – pl.), both pronounced [pekniː].

Most foreign words receive Slovak spelling immediately or after some time. For example, "weekend" is víkend , "software" is softvér (but some 15 years ago was spelled the English way), and "quality" is spelled kvalita (possibly from Italian qualità ). Personal and geographical names from other languages using Latin alphabets keep their original spelling, unless there is a fully Slovak form for the name (for example Londýn for "London").

Slovak orthography has changed many times. One of the most important changes was after World War II when s began to be written as z where pronounced as [z] in prefixes, for example smluva into zmluva , sväz into zväz . (That is, the phonemic principle has been given priority over the etymological principle in this case.)

The Slovak alphabet (minus the vowel diacritics) is often used to transcribe Ukrainian or Russian into the Latin alphabet.

The Slovak language has distinctive palatalization. Among the Slavic languages that use the Latin alphabet, Slovak is the closest to Ukrainian and then to Russian, and many Slovak words may be familiar to Ukrainian speakers.

The accent (stress) in the standard language is always placed on the first syllable of a word (or on the preceding preposition, see below). This is not the case in certain dialects. The eastern dialects, for example, have penultimate stress, which at times makes them difficult for speakers of Standard Slovak to understand. Some of the north-central dialects have a weak stress on the first syllable, which becomes stronger and "moves" to the penultimate in certain cases. Monosyllabic conjunctions, monosyllabic short personal pronouns and auxiliary verb forms of the verb byť (to be) are, as a rule, not stressed.

Prepositions form a single prosodic unit with the following word, unless the words is long (four syllables or more) or the preposition stands at the beginning of a sentence.

The acute mark (in Slovak "dĺžeň", "prolongation mark") indicates a long vowel, for example í = approximately /i:/. 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" (which, in such cases, are considered vowels).

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

The umlaut ("prehláska", "dve bodky" = two dots) is only used above the letter "a." It indicates a raised vowel, almost an "e".

The caron (in Slovak "mäkčeň", "palatalization mark" or "softener") indicates either palatalization or a change of alveolar fricatives into post-alveolar, in informal Slovak linguistics often called just "palatalization". Eight consonants can bear a caron. Not all "normal" consonants have a "caroned" counterpart:

  • In printed texts, the caron 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, there are two forms of "palatalization": ľ, ň, ď, ť are palatalized consonants, while č, dž, š, ž are postalveolar affricates and fricatives.
  • To accelerate writing, a rule has been introduced that the frequent character combinations ňe, ďe, ťe, ľe, ňi, ďi, ťi, ľi, ňí, ďí, ťí, ľí are simply written ne, de, te, le, ni, di, ti, li, ní, dí, tí, lí (that is without the caron). These combinations are usually pronounced as if there were a caron above the consonant. There are exceptions:
  1. foreign words (for example telefón is pronounced with a hard t and a hard l)
  2. the following words: ten (that), jeden (one), vtedy (then)
  3. nominative masculine plural endings of pronouns and adjectives do not "soften" preceding n, d, t, l (for example tí odvážni mladí muži /tiː odvaːʒniː mladiː muʒi/, the/those brave young men)
  4. short e in adjectival endings, which is derived from long é shortened by the "rhythmical rule" (see below), does not "soften" preceding n, d, t, l (for example krásne stromy /kraːsnɛ.../, beautiful trees, c.f. zelené stromy /zɛlʲɛnɛː.../, green trees)
  • ľ is current pronounced by many speakers, particularly from western Slovakia, as a non-palatalized l , esp. in li and le where the caron is not written. The palatalized pronunciation of li and le as palatalized has become a middle and eastern dialect feature, or as a sign of hypercorrectness.

In addition, the following rules hold:

  1. When a voiced consonant having a voiceless correspondent (that is b, d, ď, dz, dž, g, h, z, ž) stands at the end of the word before a pause, it is pronounced as a voiceless consonant (that is p, t, ť, c, č, k, ch, s, š, respectively), for example pohyb is pronounced/pohip/, prípad is pronounced/priːpat/
  2. When "v" stands at the end of the syllable, it is pronounced as non-syllabic u (bilabial approximant/u̯/), with the exception of the position before "n" or "ň", for example, kov /kou̯/ (metal), kravský /krau̯skiː/ (cow - adjective), but povstať /pofstatʲ/ (uprise) because the v is not at the end of the syllable ( po-vstať ), hlavný /hlavniː/ because "v" stands before "n" here
  3. The assimilation rule: Consonant clusters containing both voiced and voiceless elements are entirely voiced if the last consonant is a voiced one, or voiceless if the last consonant is voiceless. For example, otázka is pronounced/otaːska/, vzchopiť sa is pronounced/fsxopitsːa/. This rule applies also over the word boundary, for example prísť domov /priːzdʲ domou̯/ (to come home), viac jahôd /vi̯adzjahu̯ot/ (more strawberries). The voiced counterpart of "ch"/x/ is/ɣ/.
  4. The rhythmical rule: 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 syllable in the same word. This rule has morphonemic implications: for example žen-ám but tráv-am ) and conjugation (for example nos-ím but súd-im ). There are several exceptions to this rule. It is typical of the literary Slovak language, and does not appear in Czech, or in some Slovak dialects.

Official Transcriptions

Slovak linguists do not usually use IPA for phonetic transcription of their own language or others, but have their own system based on the Slovak alphabet. Many English language textbooks make use of this alternative system of 'phonetic' transcription, a factor which probably contributes to some Slovaks developing a particular ('incorrect') pronunciation of certain English phonemes. In the following table, pronunciation of each grapheme is given in this system as well as in the IPA.

grapheme IPA transcr.
a a a
á á
ä æ, ɛ ä, e
b b b
c t͡s c
č t͡ʃ č
d d d
ď ɟ, dʲ ď
dz d͡z ʒ
d͡ʒ ǯ
e e e
é é
f f f
g g g
h ɦ h
ch x x
i ɪ i
í í
j j j
k k k
l l, l̩ l
ĺ l̩ː ĺ̥
ľ ʎ, lʲ ľ
m m m
n n n
ň ɲ, nʲ ň
o ɔ o
ó ɔː ó
ô u̯o ŭo
p p p
q kv kv
r r, r̩ r
ŕ r̩ː ŕ̥
s s s
š ʃ š
t t t
ť c, tʲ ť
u u u
ú ú
v v v
w v v
x ks ks
y ɪ i
ý í
z z z
ž ʒ ž

Some additional notes (transcriptions in IPA unless otherwise stated):

  • Pronunciation of ä as [æ] is already archaic (or dialectical) but still considered correct by some authorities; the other standard pronunciation today is[ɛ].
  • r and l can be syllabic/r̩/ and/l̩/ and behave as vowels. When they are used in this manner, they are written with the acute accent {ŕ and ĺ). e.g., vlk (wolf), prst (finger), štvrť (quarter), krk (neck), bisyllabic vĺča vĺ-ča (wolfling), vŕba vŕ-ba (willow-tree), etc.
  • ch, normally the unvoiced [x], has a voiced allophone resulting from assimilation[ɣ].
  • The graphic group -ou (at the end of words) is pronounced[ɔu̯] but is not considered a separate diphthong. Its phonemic interpretation is /ov/.
  • ia, ie, iu form diphthongs/i̯a/ /i̯e/ /i̯u/ in native Slovak words, but two monophtongs in foreign and loan words.
  • m has the allophone[ɱ] in front of the labiodental fricatives /f/ and /v/.
  • n in front of (post)alveolar fricatives has an allophone written as/n̶/ in Slovak phonemic transcription.
  • n can be [ŋ] in front of the velar plosives /k/ and /g/.
  • f can be voiced[f̬] as a result of phonetic assimilation.

Syntax

The main features of Slovak syntax are:

  • The verb (predicate) agrees in person and number with its subject, for example:
Speváčka spieva. (The+female+singer is+singing.)
(Speváčk-a spieva-0, where -0 is a third person singular ending)
Speváčky spievajú. (The+female+singers are+singing.)
(Speváčk-y spieva-j-ú; -ú is a third person plural ending, and /j/ is a hiatus sound)
My speváčky spievame. (We the+female+singers are+singing.)
(My speváčk-y spieva-me, where -me is the first person plural ending)
and so forth.
  • Adjectives, pronouns and numerals agree in person, gender and case with the noun to which it refers(see Slovak declension).
  • Adjectives precedes their noun. Botanic or zoological terms are exceptions (for example, mačka divá , literally "cat wild", Felis silvestris ).

Word order in Slovak is relatively free, since strong inflection enables the identification of thematic role (subject, object, predicate, etc.) regardless of its placement. This relatively free word order allows the use of word order in information structure.

Examples:


Ten veľký muž tam dnes otvára obchod. = The big man opens a store there today. ( ten = the or that; veľký = big; muž = man; tam = there; dnes = today; otvára = opens; obchod = store)
Ten veľký muž dnes otvára obchod tam. = It is there that the big man opens a store today.
Dnes tam otvára obchod ten veľký muž. = It is the big man who opens a store there today.
Obchod tam dnes otvára ten veľký muž. = As for the store, it is opened there by the big man.

The unmarked order is Subject-Verb-Object. Word order is not completely free. In the above example, the following combinations are not possible:


Ten otvára veľký muž tam dnes obchod.
Obchod muž tam ten veľký dnes otvára. ...

The following are unlikely:


Otvára ten veľký muž tam dnes obchod? = Is that big man opening the store there?
Obchod ten veľký muž dnes tam otvára.

Articles (Členy)

There is no article in the Slovak language. The demonstrative pronoun ten (fem: tá, neuter: to) may be used in front of the noun in situations where definiteness must be indicated.

Numerals (Číslovky)

There are unique forms for 0-10. 11-19 are formed by the numeral plus "násť." Compound numerals (21, 1054) are combinations of these words formed in the same order as their mathematical symbol is written (for example 21 = dvadsaťjeden, literally "twenty one")).

The numerals are: (1) jeden (jedno (neuter), jedna (feminine)), (2) dva (dve (neuter, feminine)), (3) tri, (4) štyri, (5) päť, (6) šesť, (7) sedem, (8) osem, (9) deväť, (10) desať, (11) jedenásť, (12) dvanásť, (13) trinásť, (14) štrnásť, (15) pätnásť, (16) šestnásť, (17) sedemnásť, (18) osemnásť, (19) devätnásť, (20) dvadsať, (21) dvadsaťjeden,... (30) tridsať, (31) tridsaťjeden,... (40) štyridsať,... (50) päťdesiat,... (60) šesťdesiat,... (70) sedemdesiat,... (80) osemdesiat,... (90) deväťdesiat,... (100) sto, (101) stojeden,... (200) dvesto,... (300) tristo,... (900)deväťsto,... (1,000) tisíc,... (1,100) tisícsto,... (2,000) dvetisíc,... (100,000) stotisíc,... (200,000) dvestotisíc,... (1,000,000) milión,... (1,000,000,000) miliarda,...

Verbs (Slovesá)

  • Verbs have three major conjugations. Three persons and two numbers (singular and plural) are distinguished. There are several conjugation paradigms.
  • á-Type Verbs
volať, to call Singular Plural Past Participle
1st Person volám voláme volal
2nd Person voláš voláte
3rd Person volá volajú
  • á-Type Verbs - rhythmic law
bývať, to live Singular Plural Past Participle
1st Person bývam bývame býval
2nd Person bývaš bývate
3rd Person býva bývajú
  • á-Type Verbs - soft stem
vracať, to return Singular Plural Past Participle
1st Person vraciam vraciame vracal
2nd Person vraciaš vraciate
3rd Person vracia vracajú
  • í-Type Verbs
robiť, to do, work Singular Plural Past Participle
1st Person robím robíme robil
2nd Person robíš robíte
3rd Person robí robia
  • í-Type Verbs - rhythmic law
vrátiť, to return Singular Plural Past Participle
1st Person vrátim vrátime vrátil
2nd Person vrátiš vrátite
3rd Person vráti vrátia
  • ie-Type Verbs
vidieť, to see Singular Plural Past Participle
1st Person vidím vidíme videl
2nd Person vidíš vidíte
3rd Person vidí vidia
  • e-Type Verbs -ovať
kupovať, to buy Singular Plural Past Participle
1st Person kupujem kupujeme kupoval
2nd Person kupuješ kupujete
3rd Person kupuje kupujú
  • e-Type Verbs - (typically -Cnuť)
zabudnuť, to forget Singular Plural Past Participle
1st Person zabudnem zabudneme zabudol - zabudla
2nd Person zabudneš zabudnete
3rd Person zabudne zabudnú
  • ie-Type Verbs - (typically -Vnuť)
minuť, to spend, miss Singular Plural Past Participle
1st Person miniem minieme minul
2nd Person minieš miniete
3rd Person minie minú
  • ie-Type Verbs - -cť, -sť, -zť
niesť, to carry Singular Plural Past Participle
1st Person nesiem nesieme niesol, niesla
2nd Person nesieš nesiete
3rd Person nesie nesú
  • ie-Type Verbs - -nieť
stučnieť, to carry (be fat) Singular Plural Past Participle
1st Person stučniem stučnieme stučnel
2nd Person stučnieš stučniete
3rd Person stučnie stučnejú
  • Irregular Verbs
byť, to be jesť, to eat vedieť, to know
1st Sg som jem viem
2nd Sg si ješ vieš
3rd Sg je je vie
1st Pl sme jeme vieme
2nd Pl ste jete viete
3rd Pl jedia vedia
Past Participle bol jedol vedel
  • Subject personal pronouns are omitted unless they are emphatic.
  • Non-continuous time is indicated with a perfective verb and the continuous version with an imperfective verb which is formed on the perfective stem. These are considered separate lexemes. Example: :to hide = skryť, to be hiding = skrývať
  • Historically, there were two past tenses. Both are formed analytically. One of these is not used in the modern language, being considered dated and/or grammatically incorrect. Examples for two related verbs:
skryť (to hide) : skryl som (I hid / I have hidden); bol som skryl (I had hidden)
skrývať (to be hiding): skrýval som (I was hiding); bol som skrýval (I had been hiding)
  • There is one future tense. For imperfective verbs, it is formed analytically, for perfective verbs it is identical with the present tense. Examples:
skryť (to hide) : skryjem (I will hide / I will have hidden)
skrývať (to be hiding) : budem skrývať (I will be hiding)
  • There are two conditional forms. Both are formed analytically from the past tense:
skryť (to hide) : skryl by som (I would hide), bol by som skryl (I would have hidden)
skrývať (to be hiding) : skrýval by som (I would be hiding), bol by som skrýval (I would have been hiding)
  • The passive voice is formed either as in English (to be + past participle) or as in Romance languages (using the reflexive pronoun 'sa'):
skryť (to hide): je skrytý (he is hidden); sa skryje (he is hidden)
skrývať (to be hiding): je skrývaný (he is being hidden); sa skrýva (he is being hidden)
  • The active present participle (=which is ...ing) is formed using the suffixes –úci/ -iaci / - aci
skryť (to hide) : skryjúci (which is hiding)
skrývať (to be hiding): skrývajúci (which is being hiding)
  • The gerund (=by/when ...ing) is formed using the suffixes –úc / -uc / –iac/-ac
skryť (to hide): skryjúc (by/when hiding)
skrývať (to be hiding): skrývajúc (by/when being hiding)
  • The active past participle (= which was ...ing) was formerly formed using the suffix –vší, but is no longer used.
  • The passive participle (= ...ed (adj.)) is formed using the suffixes -ný / -tý / -ený:
skryť (to hide): skrytý (hid)
skrývať (to be hiding): skrývaný (being hidden)
  • The 'verbal noun' (= the ...ing) is formed using the suffix –ie:
skryť (to hide): skrytie (the hiding)
skrývať (to be hiding): skrývanie (the continuous hiding)

Adverbs (Príslovky)

Adverbs are formed by replacing the adjectival ending with the ending –o or –e/-y. Sometimes both –o and -e are possible. Examples:


vysoký (high) – vysoko (highly)
pekný (nice) – pekne (nicely)
priateľský (friendly) – priateľsky (in a friendly manner)
rýchly (fast) – rýchlo / rýchle (quickly)

The comparative/superlative of adverbs is formed by replacing the adjectival ending with a comparative/superlative ending -(ej)ší or –(ej)šie. Examples:


rýchly (fast)– rýchlejší (faster) – najrýchlejší (fastest):rýchlo (quickly) – rýchlejšie (more quickly) – najrýchlejšie (most quickly)

Prepositions (Predložky)

Each preposition is associated with a particular grammatical case. The noun governed by a preposition must appear in the case required by the preposition. Example:


from friends = od priateľov

Priateľov is the genitive case of priatelia. It must appaear in this case because the preposition od (=from) always calls for its objects to be in the genitive.

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