Slovene (/ˈsloʊviːn/ (About this soundlisten) or /sloʊˈviːn, slə-/) or Slovenian (/sloʊˈviːniən, slə-/ (About this soundlisten); slovenski jezik or slovenščina) belongs to the group of South Slavic languages.
Like all Slavic languages, Slovenian traces its roots to the same proto-Slavic group of languages that produced Old Church Slavonic. The earliest known examples of a distinct, written dialect possibly connected to Slovenian are from the Freising Manuscripts, known in Slovene as Brižinski Spomeniki. The consensus estimate of their date of origin is between 972 and 1039 (most likely before 1000). These religious writings are among the oldest surviving manuscripts in any Slavic language.
The Freising Manuscripts are a record of a proto-Slovenian language that was spoken in a more scattered territory than modern Slovenian, which included most of the present-day Austrian states of Carinthia and Styria, as well as East Tyrol, the Val Pusteria in South Tyrol, and some areas of Upper and Lower Austria.
By the 15th century, most of the northern areas were gradually Germanized: the northern border of the Slovenian-speaking territory stabilized on the line going from north of Klagenfurtto south of Villach and east of Hermagor in Carinthia, while in Styria it was pretty much identical with the current Austrian-Slovenian border.
This linguistic border remained almost unchanged until the late 19th century, when a second process of Germanization took place, mostly in Carinthia. Between the 9th and 12th century, proto-Slovenian spread into northern Istriaand in the areas around Trieste.
During most of the Middle Ages, Slovenian was a vernacular language of the peasantry, although it was also spoken in most of the towns on Slovenian territory, together with German or Italian. Although during this time, German emerged as the spoken language of the nobility, Slovene had some role in the courtly life of the Carinthian, Carniolan and Styrian nobility, as well. This is proved by the survival of certain ritual formulas in Slovene (such as the ritual installation of the Dukes of Carinthia). The words “Buge waz primi, gralva Venus!” (“God be With You, Queen Venus!”), with which Bernhard von Spanheim greeted the poet Ulrich von Liechtenstein upon his arrival in Carinthia in 1227 (or 1238), is another example of some level of Slovene knowledge among high nobility in the region.
The first printed Slovene words, stara pravda (meaning ‘old justice’), appeared in 1515 in Vienna in a poem of the German mercenaries who suppressed the Slovene peasant revolt. Standard Slovene emerged in the second half of the 16th century, thanks to the works of Slovene Lutheran authors, who were active during the Protestant Reformation. The most prominent authors from this period are Primož Trubar, who wrote the first books in Slovene; Adam Bohorič, the author of the first Slovene grammar; and Jurij Dalmatin, who translated the entire Bible into Slovene.
From the high Middle Ages up to the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918, in the territory of present-day Slovenia, German was the language of the elite, and Slovene was the language of the common people. During this period, German had a strong influence on Slovene, and many Germanisms are preserved in contemporary colloquial Slovene. Many Slovene scientists before the 1920s also wrote in foreign languages, mostly German, which was the lingua franca of science throughout Central Europe at the time.
During the rise of Romantic Nationalism in the 19th century, the cultural movements of Illyrism and Pan-Slavism brought words from Serbo-Croatian and Czech into standard Slovene, mostly to replace words previously borrowed from German. Most of these innovations have remained, although some were dropped in later development. In the second half of the 19th century, many nationalist authors made an abundant use of Serbo-Croatian words: among them were Fran Levstik and Josip Jurčič, who wrote the first novel in Slovene in 1866. This tendency was reversed in the Fin de siècle period by the first generation of modernist Slovene authors (most notably the writer Ivan Cankar), who resorted to a more “pure” and simple language without excessive Serbo-Croatian borrowings.
During the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in the 1920s and 1930s, the influence of Serbo-Croatian increased again. This was opposed by the younger generations of Slovene authors and intellectuals; among the most fierce opponents of an excessive Serbo-Croatian influence on Slovene were the intellectuals associated with the leftist journal Sodobnost, as well as some younger Catholic activists and authors. After 1945, numerous Serbo-Croatian words that had been used in the previous decades were dropped. The result was that a Slovene text from the 1910s is frequently closer to modern Slovene than a text from the 1920s and 1930s.
Between 1920 and 1941, the official language of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was defined as “Serbian-Croatian-Slovene”. In practice, Slovene was used in Slovenia, both in education and administration. Many state institutions used only Serbo-Croatian, and a Slovene–Serbo-Croatian bilingualism was applied in many spheres of public life in Slovenia. For examples, at the post offices, railways and in administrative offices, Serbo-Croatian was used together with Slovene. However, state employees were expected to be able to speak Slovene in Slovenia.
During the same time, western Slovenia (the Slovenian Littoral and the western districts of Inner Carniola) was under Italian administration and submitted to a violent policy of Fascist Italianization; the same policy was applied to Slovene speakers in Venetian Slovenia, Gorizia and Trieste. Between 1923 and 1943, all public use of the Slovene language in these territories was strictly prohibited, and Slovene language activists were persecuted by the state.
After the Carinthian Plebiscite of 1920, a less severe policy of Germanization took place in the Slovene-speaking areas of southern Carinthia which remained under Austrian administration. After the Anschluss of 1938, the use of Slovene was strictly forbidden in Carinthia, as well. This accelerated a process of language shift in Carinthia, which continued throughout the second half of the 20th century: according to the Austro-Hungarian census of 1910, around 17% of inhabitants of Carinthia spoke Slovene in their daily communication; in 1951, this figure dropped under 10%, and by 2001 to a mere 2.8%.
During World War II, Slovenia was divided among the Axis Powers of Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, and Hungary. Each of the occupying powers tried to either discourage or entirely suppress the Slovene language.
Following World War II, Slovenia became part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Slovene was one of the official languages of the federation. In the territory of Slovenia, it was commonly used in almost all areas of public life. One important exception was the Yugoslav army, where Serbo-Croatian was used exclusively, even in Slovenia.
National independence has revitalized the language: since 1991, when Slovenia gained independence, Slovene has been used as an official language in all areas of public life. In 2004 it became one of the official languages of the European Union upon Slovenia’s admission.
Joža Mahnič, a literary historian and president of the publishing house Slovenska matica, said in February 2008 that Slovene is a language rich enough to express everything, including the most sophisticated and specialised texts. In February 2010, Janez Dular, a prominent Slovenian linguist, commented that, although Slovene is not an endangered language, its scope has been shrinking, especially in science and higher education.