The unfamiliar characters, odd consonant clusters
, and foreign phoneme
constructions can make all Slavic language
s, including Slovenian
, seem impossible to pronounce. In truth, pronunciation is not significantly difficult. The phonetic
writing system and transition from tonemic to non-tonemic system also ease pronunciation problems for English
speakers. Examples following will use the standard Slovenian alphabet
with the addition of diacritic
s for vowel length and stress
(not commonly written in newspaper
s, but still in use for dictionary forms and some publications).
Slovenian consonants parallel their English counterpart
s except under these circumstances:
Voicing and Devoicing
- C: Pronounced 'ts' as in hits, seltzer)
- Č: Pronounced 'ch' as in chin, batch)
- D: Same as in English, except dental like the Spanish 'd'
- H: Not present in English, it's the hard velar voiceless fricative of words like 'loch', 'Bach', or 'Channukah'.
- J: Always a 'y' sound, never a 'j' sound, like 'young', 'you', or 'may' (with the diphthong accentuated)
- L: At the ends of some words, 'l' may be pronounced as a diphthonged 'u' sound. Whether this happens depends on the root-stem of the word, what case it's in, etc.
- R: Rolled as in Italian or Russian
- Š: Pronounced 'sh' as in ship, wish
- V: Like L, diphtonged to a w-like 'u' sound at the ends and beginnings of some words.
- Ž: Like 'su' as in 'measure', 'leisure'
will devoice voiced
consonants like 'b', 'd', 'g', etc. when alone at the end of the word. So rób
(slave) is actually pronounced róp
is actually pronounced dóuk
(also an example of the diphthongization of 'l' there). When the word following begins with a voiced consonant, the ending of the preceeding word will regain its voiced nature. In fact, the effect is strong enough that devoiced ending consonants will become voiced. So, časopís bêrem
is actually pronounced časopíz bêrem
The introduction of a 'j' sound in a suffix will palatize the preceeding consonant, sometimes causing the diagraph of two letters to be written as one to represent the new sound (a process called jotation). Because of the highly inflectiona nature of Slovenian, jotation is extremely common.
- g > ž
- z > ž
- zg> ž
- k > č
- c > č
- t > č
- h > š
- s > š
- p > plj
- b > blj
- v > vlj
- m > mlj
There are five vowel symbols in Slovenian, representing thirteen possible vowel sounds that can exist in long or short form; most of which are individually represented using extra diacritics.
R as a Vowel
- A: Pronounced like the Network English version of 'father', the short form is of the same quality, but more clipped and brief.
- E: In long form, pronounced like the French 'é', the Spanish 'e', or the German long 'e'. Somewhat similar to the vowel sound 'ay' as in 'day', but much more pure. Eliminate the off-gliding eeee sound and you'll have the right vowel. In short form, pronounced like the English 'e' as in 'get', or 'vent'.
- I: Pronounced like the 'i' sound of 'machine'. Short form is simply a clipped version of this (not an 'i' sound as in 'hit').
- O: In long form, pronounced like the long 'o' of 'mote', but much more pure. The short form is pronounced like the Received Pronunciation version of 'got' or the Network English version of 'caught' or 'law'.
- U: Pronounced like the 'oo' of 'soon', but more pure. Short form is, as usual, merely a more clipped form of this.
The letter 'r' can act individually as a vowel (giving words like grde
that look mighty odd from an English perspective). The sound is of a schwa
combined with the normal rolled consonant. It is somewhat similar to the vowel sound of 'sir' in American English, but with a sharper, more rhotic r
Stress and Length
Slovenian makes careful distinctions of stress and length, marked by a diacritic mark. A long vowel receiving stress will be marked with an acute accent (´), a short vowel receiving stress will be marked with an grave accent (`). All unmarked vowels are short. Usually only one vowel can receive stress in a word. Short stressed vowels can only occur in monosyllabic words or in the final syllable. If an inflectional ending is attached, the stressed syllable will become long. Stress is fixed for the most part, although certain words have a mobile stress when inflectional endings are applied.
The vowels 'e' and 'o' are special cases. Because their sound quality in short form is different from that of their long form, the short vowel can exist in stressed, long form (confusing, isn't it?). Stressed, long versions of the 'eh' and 'aw' sound in Slovenian will be marked with a circumflex (ˆ).
In short form, the 'e' vowel can be reduced to a schwa when rapidly spoken. 'A', 'i', and 'u' when in monosyllabic words may also reduce to a schwa.
Just when you thought you'd had enough of the wily, irregular ways of 'e' and 'o', there's a bit more to deal with. Those two vowels undergo a process called umlaut in certain circumstances. Umlaut (the German word for 'around sound') is the mutation of a vowel by surrounding vowels or consonants. In declensional endings and suffixes the short, unstressed vowel 'o' will be transformed into a short, unstressed 'e' if it is preceeded by č, š, ž, c, or j.
Tonemic System of Archaic and Rural Slovenian
In a few minority dialects of Slovenian, a tonal system is still in use. The standards for diacritic usage are thus different. Long, stressed vowels can have either a rising tone or falling tone, indicated respectively by an acute and circumflex. Short 'o' and 'e' are indicated by a subscript dot, since they can still be pronounced long and thus could feasibly take a falling or rising tone. Short vowels can be either level or falling, with a falling tone indicated by a double grave. Unlike in Serbo-Croat, another tonal language, Slovenian was capable of making pitch distinctions in monosyllabic words.
Herrity, Peter. Slovene: A Comprehensive Grammar. London: Routledge, 2000.