Mutual intelligibility of Slovak and Slovene - lower than Slovak/BCS?


Slovak - Slovakia
The South Slavic languages are separated from West and East Slavic ones by Hungary and Austria. Slovene however shares many linguistic features with Slovak and is closer to Slovak in the old pre-Hungarian arrival dialect continuum. Yet, I find BSC (Bosnian-Serbo-Croatian) one of the most understandable foreign Slavic languages that are not Czech, but Slovene is almost completely unintelligible to me, and when it is, one sentence can be almost like Slovak and another like I was reading gibberish. Admittedly, I vacationed in Croatia many times, but even so, Slovene seems to have far more false friends with Slovak (consider child-dieťa-dijete-otrok) (SK-BCS-SL respectively) anx a far weirder lexicon than Slovene. Of Croatian radio, I can roughly understand most things, on Slovene radio, I can only identify the topic. Why is that, if Slovene is genetically closer to Slovak than BCS?
  • arn00b

    Senior Member
    Do you mean spoken or written? It makes a huge difference. Slovene is not difficult to read, but I find it difficult to understand for speakers of other Slavic languages. There was a scene in one film (can't remember which) in which two BCS speakers are having a conversation in Ljubljana, a Slovene comes and talks to one of them (in Slovene) and the other needed a quick (Slovene to BCS) translation.

    It's not different enough to be a cryptolect, but far enough to be very difficult to understand for other Slavic speakers.

    On the vocabulary:
    I find Slovene's vocabulary to be the most Slavic. Obviously there are a lot of internationalisms, but the core vocabulary, words used day-to-day, not technological/scientific/economic jargon, are more likely to be derived from Proto-Slavic or Common Slavic roots.

    Having that said, that doesn't mean that the meaning stayed the same or that that purity is necessarily helpful.

    For example the fact that the word for bread "kruh" is derived from PS *kruxъ does not make it easier for anyone else expecting "xleb." As a matter of fact, "brót" would be (arguably) easier to understand for other Slavs.

    It's not that Slovene uses a synonym, or they have another word that other Slavs don't recognize, it's the use of words, like kruh, that mean something else in other Slavic languages.

    Basically, it's false-friends galore.

    The fact* that Slovene uses more Slavic root-derived words means that the frequency of creating a false friend is high. If Slovene changes the meaning and other languages keep it, it becomes a false friend. If Slovene keeps the meaning and other languages shift, then it becomes a false friend.

    So when people talk about the Communist era and waiting in long lines for "kruh," one must wonder if it's worth the wait. (Kruh is a "crumb" in some languages.)

    There are many examples of this, parents talking about their many children/slaves(?), although that's not exclusive to Slovene.

    But the more the word gets suffixed/prefixed, the more it moves into unguessable territory.

    For example, vitez, vítjaz, víťaz, etc. Hero, knight (warrior), horseman... are not far from each other. Slovak's "winner" is a bit farther, but still guessable (hero, winner, sure). But when I read víťazstvo, the first thoughts to my mind are knighthood (the honor, the title), the territory of a knight, cavalry (an army's mounted division), heroism... Reading something like Víťazstvo lásky (the triumph of love) is very strange.

    This confusion doesn't occur (as often) with borrowings as it does with Slavic-root derived words, for example, ritter/reiter-derived ones: rytíř, rícar, rytier, or bogatýrь... Unknown words don't mislead you.

    Let's say that strangers are better than false friends.
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    Slovak - Slovakia
    Hi, I mean both, through I can kind of read Slovene wikipedia, but I think that is because of the technical nature of the texts. However, I do not think Slovene is really more "pure" compared to Slovak and Czech. Likewise, I was able to read a leaflet bundled with ear drops (how to use the medication) in Croatian (also uses far less foreign words than Serbian) and I literally understood every word (trough this is not usual) even through there were nearly no loanwords there, even patient was translated as something like "person in pain". The meanings seem to be shuffled in Slovene, no offense but Slovene is almost like "troll Slovak" to me :).


    Senior Member
    Italian, Spanish, Sardinian (trilingual)
    Hi, at present I can speak just to a little extent BCS, small talk, basic communication, so on, so I am not the best person to answer your question, but I am trying to improve it and my wife is a native speaker of Serbocroatian (she knows both variants, as many people there), plus I am at least once per month in Bratislava, we have had since a couple of years already a big interest in both Czech and Slovak, even if no time to learn properly, and I can at least order things in Slovak in some shops there (because outside from the most central streets you do not find so many people that speak English or German).
    Therefore I can tell you at least my point of view, of my wife and of other Serbian/Croatian speakers that I know.
    It seems to be as you say, my wife also asserts that apparently Slovak is the Slavic languages that she most understands after Macedonian and Bulgarian, but before Slovene.
    A couple of weeks ago a Bosnian guy told me that he can understand Slovak to a good extent, Slovene instead almost nothing.
    I had more examples like that. Of course, they are all relatively young, my wife was born a short time before Yugoslavia split, so they haven't had any contact with Slovene language.
    But they also mentioned this false friends that you say, a little bit like they also find them in Czech, that is why Slovak sounds quite easier to my wife than Czech (and honestly to me too).
    I have also heard too little Slovene to be able to say something 100% reliable, I can just tell you that if I hear Slovene on TV I can recognize many words that are like BCS, but to hear that from people speaking on the street is totally different. Even for me, Slovak sound a bit more understandable.
    I am sorry I am really not able to tell you what the reason of that may be.


    Senior Member
    Serbian (Србија)
    As a native Serbian speaker I too understand more Slovak than Slovene (when spoken). On the other hand Czech is not so understandable, I believe I understand Slovene better than Czech when spoken .


    Senior Member
    For example the fact that the word for bread "kruh" is derived from PS *kruxъ does not make it easier for anyone else expecting "xleb."
    So when people talk about the Communist era and waiting in long lines for "kruh," one must wonder if it's worth the wait. (Kruh is a "crumb" in some languages.)
    Actually, the Slovene kruh is unrelated to the homonymous Czech word: the Slovene letter h means [x], not , and so the Slovene word is cognate to the Czech kruch; the Czech kruh is cognate to the Slovene krog.