Slovak Alphabet—Slovenská abeceda

About the Author:

G. Adam Stanislav was born 1950-04-23T00:30+01 in Bratislava, Slovakia.

He is the youngest son of the late Professor Ján Stanislav, an internationally renowned expert on the history of Slovak language.

He is a graduate of Gymnázium Jura Hronca in Bratislava (class of 1968), with specialization in computer programming.

He holds an MA in Psychology from Univerzita Jána Amosa Komenského in Bratislava; and a JCL in Canon Law from Universitas Pontificalis Gregoriana in Rome.



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Slovak Proverbs on T-shirts
Here is a site that offers Slovak proverbs on T-shirts in the original Slovak language (and some in my own English translation).


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Copyright © 1999 G. Adam Stanislav.
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Informácia o amerických vízach pre návštevníkov i študentov, o prisťahovalectve a občianstve


The Slovak language (slovenčina) uses the Roman alphabet for its written communications. However, because Slovak, unlike English, uses the rule “Píš, ako počuješ” (write as you hear), the 26 characters of standard Roman alphabet are not enough to represent every phoneme of the Slovak tongue. Additionally, the letters q and w are only used in so called foreign words, never in native Slovak words, nor in so called slovakianized words (i.e., words of foreign origin that became part of everyday Slovak usage, such as kvízquiz).

This problem is overcome by two methods:

  • The use of two characters to represent a single phoneme (dz, , and ch);
  • The use of diacritics. Americans would think of them as “accent” marks—quite an inappropriate description in our case since they do not mark the accent (stress) at all.

All of Slovak characters can be found in fonts and keymaps conforming to the ISO-8859-2 and the Unicode standards.

Note: This web page uses the standard UTF-8 encoding of Unicode. Everything is plain text. That means, unfortunately, that if your system does not have the right font, you will not see all the diacritics.

Double Characters

Double characters dz, , and ch should not be confused with diphthongs (Slovak has those, too). Rather, they are digraphs.

Diacritics

Slovak uses four different diacritics:

  • The acute mark (dĺžeň) indicates that a vowel is long. If no dĺžeň is present, the vowel is short.

    Note that in Slovak, y is a vowel, not a consonant. The letters l and r can function either as a vowel or as a consonant (just as they do in Sanskrit). When functioning as a vowel, they can be long (with the dĺžeň) or short.

    Here, then, are the long vowels of Slovak along with their corresponding Unicode numbers in hexadecimal and decimal:

    	á	U+00E1	225
    	é	U+00E9	233
    	í	U+00ED	237
    	ĺ	U+013A	314
    	ó	U+00F3	243
    	ŕ	U+0155	341
    	ú	U+00FA	250
    	ý	U+00FD	253
    
  • The caron (mäkčeň) indicates that a consonant is soft. If no mäkčeň is present, the vowel is hard. The letters d, t, n, and l, however, are made implictly soft if followed by an i or an e. So, for example, the n in my family name, Stanislav, is implicitly pronounced as ň.

    Alas, there are a few (very few) exceptions to the implicit softness, such as in the words teraz and teda. That means that the “píš, ako počuješ” rule, while almost absolute, is not “absolutely absolute”.

    Note that while every Slovak vowel can be either long or short, not all Slovak consonants have a soft counterpart.

    Here are the soft ones:

    	č	U+010D	269
    	ď	U+010F	271
    	ľ	U+013E	318
    	ň	U+0148	328
    	š	U+0161	353
    	ť	U+0165	357
    	ž	U+017E	382
    

    Please note that the digraph dz has a soft form of (pronounced like j in James, while the Slovak letter j is pronounced like y in yahoo), but there is no soft version of the digraph ch.

    Also note that there is a long l (ĺ) which is a vowel, and a soft l (ľ) which is a consonant. There is no such thing as a “long soft l” since the l can function either as a vowel or as a consonant, but not both simultaneously (at least, not in Slovak).

  • The circumflex (vokáň) exists only over the letter o which it turns into a diphthong. In centuries past, it used to be spelled out as uo, but that would be quite incorrect nowadays:
    	ô	U+00F4	244
    
  • The diaresis or umlaut (dve bodky) is used only over the letter a:
    	ä	U+00E4	228
    

Lexicographic Ordering

With one exception, the Slovak alphabet is ordered just like the English alphabet:

A B C D E F G H CH I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

This is pronounced as:

Á bé cé dé é ef gé há chá í jé ká el em en ó pé kvé er es té ú vé dvojité vé iks ypsilon zet.

I have recorded a Windows .wav file with the above pronunciation.

Note that the digraph ch follows the letter h. Technically, the digraph dz follows the letter d, but this is never mentioned explicitly, probably because it ends up there anyway. That means Slovak dictionaries always include dz (and ) under the heading for d, but they always have a separate heading for ch.

This also means that computer programs using the ASCII sort order will sort a list of Slovak words incorrectly as they will mix the ch digraph in with other c? combinations. A program sorting a list of Slovak words must account for the rule that ch follows h and precedes i.

What about the characters that use diacritcs? In large dictionaries the characters with a mäkčeň have a separate heading following the same character without the mäkčeň. In smaller dictionaries they may be combined.

Letters with the other diacritics are almost always combined under the same heading. So, a computer program sorting a list of Slovak words may ignore the other diacritics (i.e., treat an á the same as an a, except when the only difference between the two words is in the presence of the dĺžeň, in which case the á should go after the a.

By the same token, such programs should be configurable and let the user decide whether to sort out the letters with a mäkčeň separately, or to combine them with their counterpart without a diacritic.

Capitalization

Some languages drop the diacritics when presenting capital letters. Not so in Slovak: Diacritics should always be preserved (but see the paragraph on Internationalization when diacritics are not available).

When a word starts with a digraph, and only the first letter is to be capitalized, the first letter of the digraph is capital, the second is in lower case. Example: Chlap (guy, fellow).

When ALL letters of the word are capitalized, then both characters of the digraph are in capital letters (e.g., CHLAP).

In Slovak, capitalization is used less often than in English. The first letter of a sentence is capitalized, so is the first letter of proper names, such as names of persons, streets, and geographical locations, but not names of languages or months. Nor is every word in a headline (or a book/movie title) capitalized.

Numbers

In Slovak, the use of commas and points is the exact opposite of English: Slovak uses a decimal comma, and separates thousands by a point.

For example, 1.234.567,89 is one million two hundred and thirty-four thousand five hundred and sixty-seven point eighty-nine, or, in Slovak, milión dvesto tridsať štyritisíc päťsto šesťdesiat sedem celé osemdesiat deväť.

Note the word celé which is analogous to the English word point in this context. It literally means whole, i.e., it designates the end of the whole number (integer) and the start of the decimal section.

The thousands separator is optional. In mathematical texts it is usually omitted altogether as it might be confused for an operator (see below).

The plus and minus signs are used the same way as in English. That is, they may denote the sign of a number if they precede it, or denote the addition and subtraction operators when placed between two numbers.

Multiplication is denoted either by the multplication sign that looks like the small letter x (×) or by a dot (.). Children in grade school are taught to use the ×, while high school students and beyond use the dot.

Division is denoted by a colon (:), never by the ISO-8859-2 division sign (÷).

So, what an American programmer would write as 1 + 2 - 3 * 4 / 5, a Slovak student would write as 1 + 2 - 3 . 4 : 5 (although I presume any present-day Slovak high-school student would understand the American computerese).

The operators are pronounced as follows:

	+	plus
	-	mínus
	.	krát
	:	deleno

The Slovak names of numbers are:

	0	nula
	1	jeden
	2	dva (dve)
	3	tri
	4	štyri
	5	päť
	6	šesť
	7	sedem
	8	osem
	9	deväť

Note that when counting a sequence or a rhythm, jeden is usually replaced by raz (once).

So, for example, counting the beats of waltz would go: raz, dva, tri, raz, dva, tri, raz, dva, tri.... Presumably, this is because raz is a one-syllable word, so you can use one syllable per beat.

Names of larger numbers are:

	10	desať
	11	jedenásť
	12	dvanásť
	13	trinásť
	14	štrnásť
	15	pätnásť
	16	šestnásť
	17	sedemnásť
	18	osemnásť
	19	devätnásť
	20	dvadsať
	30	tridsať
	40	štyridsať
	50	päťdesiat
	60	šesťdesiat
	70	sedemdesiat
	80	osemdesiat
	90	deväťdesiat
	100	sto
	1000	tisíc

Numbers in their hundreds are the combination of the number of hundreds and the word sto, i.e., dvesto, tristo, štyristo, etc. Similarly the thousands are dvetisíc, tritisíc, štyritisíc, etc.

There is no such thing as fifteen hundred in Slovak. It is tisíc päťsto (one thousand and five hundred).

The year 1999, then is tisíc devätsto deväťdesiat deväť.

Very large numbers: 1.000.000 = milión, 1.000.000.000 = miliarda, 1.000.000.000.000 = bilión.

It is worth noting that the English word billion is one thousand times less than the Slovak word bilión. The same holds for the rest of the huge numbers: trilión, kvadrilión, kvintilión, etc.

And, incidentally, a millionaire is milionár, while a billionaire is miliardár. If there ever is a trillionaire, he will be called bilionár in Slovak.

Ordinal numbers (first, second...) are designated by a period following the number:

	1.	prvý
	2.	druhý
	3.	tretí
	4.	štrvtý
	5.	piaty
	6.	šiesty
	7.	siedmy
	8.	ôsmy
	9.	deviaty
	10.	desiaty

Note that štvrtý is an example of a word in which the r is a vowel.

Rhythmic Law

You may be wondering why the first ordinals end with a long syllable, while the rest of them with a short one.

In Slovak a syllable containing a long vowel or a diphthong (e.g., ia, ie, ô) is considered long, otherwise it is short.

The rhythmic law dictates that a long syllable can never be immediately followed by another long syllable in the same word. There can be more than one long syllable in the same word, but there always is at least one intervening short syllable.

In the case where by some other rule a word with two subsequent long syllables would be created, the first of the two prevails, the second is shortened.

By the way, the rhythmic law causes every Slovak sentence to come out with beautiful cadence. It makes anything uttered in the language sound like a classical Greek poem.

What about miliardár, you may be wondering. Is that an exception? No. There are positively no exceptions to the rhythmic law. In this case we are dealing with a word of foreign origin, in which the ia sequence is not a diphthong. Each of the two letters belongs to a different syllable. The syllables here are mi-li-ar-dár, hence the long dár syllable follows the short ar syllable.

Some other examples: bi-li-o-nár, pi-o-nier.

By the way, unlike in English (especially American English), Slovak speakers do not swallow vowels, everything is fully enunciated. The short vowels of Slovak sound very much like the long vowels of English. The difference between the short and long vowels in Slovak is not in the quality of the sound but in its duration in time: The long vowels are enunciated in approximately tripple the time of the short ones (or so insisted my first acting tutor).

Quotation Marks

Slovak typography uses the lower double quotation mark to start a quote („ U+201E). It closes a quote with the same double quotation mark American typography uses to open a quote ( U+201C).

Example: Ľudovít Štúr povedal: „Naspäť cesta nemožná, napred sa ísť musí.“ That translates (approximately): Said Ľudovít Štúr, “There is no return, we must carry forward.”

Internationalization (i18n)

When faced with the display of the Slovak alphabet on a computer system which cannot display the diacritics, the proper course of action is to display the character without the diacritic. Do not try to emulate its pronunciation. For example, it would appear completely strange, even confusing, to a Slovak reader to see an ô transliterated into uo.

To prepare a Slovak text, as well as text in any language, for internationalization, you can use my i18n Tools.

To inform an Internet browser that a web page (such as this one) uses the UTF-8 encoding of the Unicode standard, place the following in its header:

<META HTTP-EQUIV="Content-type"
        CONTENT="text/html; charset=utf-8">

Localization (l10n)

To localize your computer for the use with the Slovak language, you need an ISO-8859-2 compatible font, and an appropriate keyboard map. You can find my keyboard map for FreeBSD, and my VGA font (for any OS on a PC) here.