Is Slovene language an endangered species?

“We cannot fall behind English in the new use of language.”

Slovenian language is an Indo-European language and it is the only South Slavic language that uses dual grammatical number. At the moment, there are approximately two and a half million people all around the world that speak Slovene language, majority living in the Republic of Slovenia which gained independence in 1991. There, Slovene language is an official language. It is also one of the twenty-four official languages of European Union and it is divided in seven main dialects (there are more than forty in total).

Quick (hi)story
The first written word similar to Slovene language dates back in nineth century (the Freising manuscripts) which makes it one of the oldest written Slavic languages. The first books that became the pillar of the Standard Slovene language were Primož Trubar’s Abecedarium and Catechismus from the year 1550. With its own grammar (written by Adam Bohorič) and the translation of the Bible (Jurij Dalmatin), Slovenian language started to develop properly. Standard Slovene language is simillar to the one we speak now in public and formal occasions was based on the language of central Slovenia (Ljubljana) and shaped in eighteenth and nineteenth century. Throughout the history Slovene language was mostly spoken by farmers and common people, while other languages such as Latin, Italian and German were considered more appropriate for the noble classes. Slovene’s vocabulary got influenced by before mentioned languages including Serbo-Croatian. So the language accepted different linguistic influences from different parts of history (World War I, Kingdom of Yugoslavia and World War II). At times like germanization or italianization Slovene even became prohibited.
There were always people that tried “to clean” the Slovene language of words from other languages and in the last years this work has been dedicated to English. Because the recent globalization process and expansion of the English language lots of languages are in danger. Or it just seems so. As Slovenian language is the official language only in one country, there is often a feeling that English will burry Slovene and that its future is not bright.

The expansion of English
English became more and more popular after World War II because the number of speakers increased with the technological advance of United States. Soon came the digital age and English had a good position to invade the fields of science, social digital communication and exchanging information on a global level. Because of its online presence, it also has the ability to become a part of everyday life, especially with the development of smart phones (applications, Google search or different articles).
According to data from 2011 Adult Education Survey 65 percent of adult Slovenian people can speak English as their second language (in scholar system they start to learn it at around age seven) which may come handy in looking for a job. And of course the majority of people all around the world can speak it as well (more than a billion).
The invasion of English
We cannot deny the fact that more and more English words are invading the field of Slovene language’s scientific terminology. It is not only scientific or technological terminology where right now English is specifically evident, but in the slang as well. Marko Stabej, Expert of Slovenian Language, told Slovenian Press Agency that he thinks that slang can actually enrich the Slovenian vocabulary and extend its diversity (Serbo-Croatian did it with giving us the proper curses). “I do not think that English is making Slovene worse, Slovene language is a very lively and vital language,” says doc. dr. Nataša Logar, assistant professor at Faculty of Social Sciences in Ljubljana. She also adds that slang “accepts certain words because they are interesting or fashionable. It is always present, it is just different from generation to generation. It does not threaten the Standard Slovene language.”

The appeal of English
But more companies use English names and Slovene singers are deciding to sing in English because it is more “appealing”. Also, most of the documents of European Union are in English and so is our literature and sources at University. Peter Toš wrote in Delo in his article Let’s wake up from belief that Slovenian language is not endangered anymore, in 2016, that the other languages are spoken mainly inside the borders and it can have a blocking effect on developing a terminology. He wrote that with the loss of ourselves in the global world we lose our identity and country’s sovereignty. But according to the article Our everyday language from 2019, Andrej Lokar, a critic on a site Kud Kdo, English could be a way of expanding knowledge about Slovene language.

Not endangered, just adjusted
Janez Dular, Expert on Slovenian language, said back in 2010 that Slovenian language is not endangered but its problem is the lack of the importance in science and higher education. Because of process such is an emergence of social media languages demand neologisms for the new phenomenons. Linguists try to come up with Slovene substitutes for English words (selfie, like), but in a world of science Slovene language is sometimes not capable enough. Some use foreign words to sound more educated. Tone Pavček, a Slovenian poet, said in 2007 for Slovenian Press Agency that the faith of Slovene language actually lays in the hands of Slovenian people and is not that dependent on exterior factors. Since Slovenian language was and is the base of our national identity and consciousness we have to take care of it.
But we do not need to worry that much. Based on the research in 2007 of Janez Orešnik, the linguist, Slovenian language is in the top five or three percent on the number of speakers. Not a lot of languages have more than two million of speakers. A hundred years from now there will be only six hundred languages left and Slovenian language is said to be one of them. The thing that could happen due to globalization and expansion of English is that it will be spoken only among the family members.

Where English leads, Slovene language lacks
Experts of the Jožef Štefan Institute are certain that Slovene language politics must invest more money in the digitalization of cultural word legacy, scientific texts, language manuals and support Wikimedia about Slovenian society. “The vitality of all languages is measured by the presence in Wikipedia, which is an intersting criteria. Slovenia is quite safe here,” states Nataša Logar. Experts such as Simon Krek are working on a Preposition of a law for providing means for digitalization of Slovene language. This state of mind is based on the fact that the majority of public and personal communication happens in digital environment. In the contemporary time the power of linguistic communities is measured with their online presence. So there needs to be more information in Slovene, more original Slovenian texts and quality translations (of texts and ability to use applications in Slovene language). Slovenia is falling behind in the field of developing linguistic sources and technologies. If nothing happens, Slovenian language will be less and less present in the digital environment. “We are falling behind English in two things: synthesizer of speech in e-reader and speech recognizor. You cannot listen to Slovenian pronunciation on Google translate because e-reader is not freely accesible (except for people with sight problems). Meanwhile, speech recognizor in English is way better than in Slovene language. We need to be able sending messages or calling somebody in Slovene language eventhough we know how to do it in English,” explains Nataša Logar. This can have consequences on the other parts of the language too. There needs to be a change in the developing of the tools for voice recognition (synthesis of speech, voice recognition, automatisation of information search, interpretation of texts, tools for communication with and for the persons with special needs etc.).

What is there to do?
Slovenian language politics is taking care of the language but it must provide a diverse world for its continuous development. “Our language politics is still very traditional,” comments Nataša Logar. Marko Stabej said in 2008 that Slovenian language will not go extinct no more than other European languages. The problem of Slovene language is focusing too much on protecting it but not focusing enough on the development on the field of offering Slovene language in case of translation tools or e-dictionaries. “It has to encourage planned presence in digital media like voice demands, the dictation of messages based on sound signals,” figures Nataša Logar. But it is true that Slovene people cannot survive without the knowledge of other languages because it gives us sort of advantage in the world. “English is being taught as a second language for a long time and I think it is very important to know how to speak it. I do not think that the influence of the second language is that strong because we still live in Slovenian environment,” adds Nataša Logar.
Slovene language will be all right, it just needs a little bit of work and time
Based on the vitality and the number of Slovene speakers, Slovenian language is not in danger. The difference between English and Slovene is that English covers all the fields of expression and communication (even the terminology of various disciplines). “We cannot fall behind English in the new use of language such is the case of smart devices. When there is a (new) area of use that is missing, then we can start to think about the danger of a language. Slovene language is threatened by ourselves. We need to invest in development,” emphasises Nataša Logar. Slovene language is relatively young language so it still has time. The facts on Slovenia’s official site say that with the programme The Slovene at Foreign Universities every year about two thousand people learn or study Slovenian language at foreign universities. In such manner, the spreading of Slovenian culture and studies worldwide is granted. Eventhough, youngsters now know a lot of English and use it in their communication from time to time that does not mean Slovene will die. “If anything, English is a role model,” concludes Nataša Logar.

Žana Elizabeta Čeh