Tuesday, December 18, 2007


We briefly interrupt our regularly scheduled radio silence to bring you the following message:
If you haven't read languagehat's latest post yet, go do it, like, now. And then contact your local bookstore / Amazon knock-off to get your own copy of Uglier Than a Monkey’s Armpit.

Mr. Hat was kind enough to ask me to comment on the Czech / Slovak section and perhaps even to add a few entries. Happy to oblige, I produced a 2000-word essay on the subject of Slovak insults and curses. Needless to say, only some of it got into the book. As for the rest, while you wait for your copy of Uglier Than a Monkey’s Armpit (or, if you're in the US, while you wait for your copies to be printed), here's my original essay as just a little something to whet your appetite.

To be honest, I'm somewhat miffed that they left out "Pojebali kone voz". After all, it doesn't get much more untranslatable - let alone much more Slovak - than this. Perhaps if I had mentioned that it can also be sung...? The tune is Nebola som veselá and the full lyrics go like this:

/: Pojebali kone voz, pojebali kone voz :/
/: A teraz, má milá, na piči si drevo [seno] nos :/

Ah well, maybe there'll be more room in the sequel.

In any case, congratulations to Mr. Hat and let us all hope this is just the first of many!

Sunday, August 12, 2007


So far, this new job thing isn't working out as well as I hoped it would. I do like the fact that working 25 hours a week gets me the same amount of money as my previous 60-hours-a-week job with 100% less stress, but I don't feel the benefit of more free time and energy yet. I assume it's just the rather abrupt transition combined with the fact that I haven't had a real holiday in almost four years that leave me feeling like a drained toilet at the end of every day. Long story short, I know I've been neglecting my blogging duties. I'm aware of the fact that I still need to finish the review of the Slovník súčasného slovenského jazyka, share with you some of the fascinating stuff on Ármin Vámbéry I've learned, write a brief analysis of an emerging Slovak conditional structure, continue with the work on the two Judeo-Arabic translations of Targum to the Canticles and publish at least some of the other 100-odd drafts I've saved over the past few months. And I will, as soon as all of this gets better (which should be any day now). Just hang in there please.
In the mean time, you could check out the new online course of Slovak called E-Slovak my alma mater has put together. The demo (klick on the "Prihlásiť sa ako hosť" button) looks quite good, let's see what you think of it.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


As long as I can remember, my name has always been a source of misunderstandings, mishaps and embarassing incidents. It all started when my mother decided to defy an ancient tradition (the firstborn son always receives his father's first name and both my grandfather and my father are named Imre/Imrich) and talked my father into giving me a different name. My father backed down insisting on the tradition being continued at least in some way and so two years later when my brother was born, they named him Imrich. Since people believed the tradition was honored the first time, for most of our lives, everyone always confused the two of us.
To make matters worse, instead of an honest-to-God Hungarian first name to go with my Hungarian last name, my mother picked out a name which couldn't have been more Slavic without sounding too 1836*. So here I am, stuck with the politically suspect combination of a Slavic first name and a Hungarian last name which has raised many a brow and lead to many a dumbass question of the "So what ethnicity are you then?" type. It's Hittite, by the way. I even gave that as my ethnicity at the last census and you can kiss my fat Neshite ass, Slovak National Party.
Then there's the way my last name should be correctly pronounced: the Hungarian "é" which is a long close-mid/near-close front unrounded vowel without a counterpart in Slovak** is usually heard as [i:] and the combination of "pl" with the final "ö" (i.e. [ø]) is simply too much to handle for most people. As you can imagine, calling a service hotline or introducing myself at the front desk of an office building is always a fun experience - "I'm sorry, did you say [tʃible]?" As long as I live, I will never forget the look on the face of the doctor in the ER in an English town (where I came in after a small accident of the 'pedestrian vs. motor vehicle' type) as he looked at my sign-in sheet and went "Um... Mr, er, [kɛpləʊ]?". The only non-speaker of Hungarian outside our family who has ever pronounced our last name correctly was the Vice-Dean of our Faculty (a professor at the Department of Slovak Language and Literature, of all people) at my graduation ceremony. Needless to say, this feat earned him the undying respect of the entire Hungarian branch of our family, especially my grandparents.
And finally, there's the whole written thing. Never in my life have I had an official document issued with my last name spelled properly the first try. My first passport was a particularly embarassing disaster: the accute accent on "e" was missing. As a result, I was not allowed to board a flight on one occasion because the name on the ticket (copied from my ID card) did differ in this rather insignificant aspect from the name on my passport.
At one point, my father - who has had to go through the same ordeal - started collecting various instances of misspellings of our name from things like official letters, ballots, participant IDs and such most which he came across during his politically active years. For a long time, my favorite item from that collection was Czőploi, taken from a wedding invitation. Every time I look at it I can just hear the person responsible thinking "OK, I'm pretty sure 'p' and 'l' were there somewhere and there was a digraph and one of them Hungarian letters, now if I could only remember which one and in what order..."
Long story short, I thought I'd seen it all. That was until Friday when I went to the post office to pick up my latest order from abebooks. Having opened the package and checked its contents, I was thinking of throwing the envelope into the next trashbin when my eyes fell on the address box:

Yes, you are indeed seeing what you are seeing: & # 2 6 8 , é p l ö. Someone wrote an HTML entity on an envelope.
I totally understand where this began: the webform on the abebooks page did not process the character "Č" - Latin capital letter c with a háček U+010C, HTML entity & # 2 6 8 ; - correctly (happens a lot) and thus this was printed on the order and the invoice. But how could someone actually write this as a part of a person's name, is simply beyond me. Do the good people in France really think our names contain ampersands and numbers? I hope not. Even if this was just a case of not paying enough attention, someone actually had to grab the envelope, pick up a pen, look at the invoice and wonder for a second or two just what the heck were those weird characters and numbers doing in a person's name. I am inclined to believe that that someone was not very IT-savvy and simply too puzzled to figure it out. So they just copied the name line over from the order. But still...
Be that as it may, I shall be proud to present this to my father to include in his collection. I hope it will have the same effect on him as it did on me, because when I looked at that envelope, I broke into a laughter the like of which hadn't been heard from me in years. That alone - and stories like this one - is compensation enough for all the trouble with my name.

* On April 24t, 1836, a bunch of Slovak patriots led by Ľudovít Štúr took a trip to the Devín castle to pledge their lives to the national cause. As a symbol of their dedication, each took a purely Slavic name. Some of those would still be quite OK today (Hurban's Miloslav, Maier's Jaromír etc.) , some of them... Let's just say that if you decided to name your newborn son Velislav, Zvestoň or Slavoľub, you might as well start saving up for therapy sessions right now.

** No matter what the Wikipedia says, there ain't no way in hell the Hungarian "é" in "hét" is the same vowel as "ee" in German "Seele" or the long variant of the Polish "e" in "dzień". No fracking way. Hungarian "é" is both more close and more front than either of those.

Friday, July 20, 2007


It's not every day that I learn something new about my neck of the woods on Wikipedia, but every such occasion is a joyous one and this particular bit of information is certainly worth sharing.
It concerns Sigismund of Luxembourg, Holy Roman Emperor, King of Hungary, King of Bohemia etc. etc. (1368-1437), better known around here as Žigmund Luxemburský/Zikmund Lucemburský. A colorful figure, this one: known to his enemies as "That double-crossing sly red fox" and famous for his lavish lifestyle and constant financial problems, he is said to have once exclaimed "This whole kingdom is bankrupt, you can't squeeze more than 40.000 gold pieces out of it!". He even pawned 13 cities of Spiš to Poland to finance his war against Venice (and/or his expensive tastes, depending on whom you chose to believe). These cities were only returned to the Kingdom of Hungary (and thus Slovak territory) in 1772, which is how come Henryk Sienkiewicz's Potop (The Deluge) has the Polish king John II Casimir (Jan Kazimierz) travel to the Polish city of Lubowla (today's Slovak Stará Ľubovňa) to receive a hero's welcome and to plan the resistance against the Swedish invasion.
But what Sigismund is most (in)famous for is his part in the Hus affair and the resulting Hussite wars. He was the one who guaranteed Jan Hus a safe passage to and from the Council of Constance. The lying cheating bastard politician that he was, Sigismund broke his promise and the rest is history. Which brings us to our amusing anecdote.
It was at the opening session of the Council that the following transpired:

"Right Reverend Fathers, date operam ut illa nefanda schisma eradicetur," exclaims Sigismund, intent on having the Bohemian Schism well dealt with,--which he reckons to be of the feminine gender. To which a Cardinal mildly remarking, "Domine, schisma est generis neutrius (Schisma is neuter, your Majesty)," --Sigismund loftily replies, "Ego sum Rex Romanus et super grammaticam (I am King of the Romans, and above grammar)!"

Well, at least he did not say "Ego deciderator sum"... Anyway, it is quite interesting that in my study of the Hussite wars I have never stumbled upon this bit of trivia. One would have thought that the Czechs with their hate for Sigismund would particularly enjoy this bit, but neither the history books I consulted, nor the historians I spoke to had ever heard of this incident.
By the way, the quote above is not from the Wikipedia, but it's a description of that incident from Thomas Carlyle's History of Friedrich II of Prussia, Called Frederick the Great (Volume II) who quotes from Wolfgang Mentzel's Geschichte der Deutschen. It would seem that Carlyle is the main source for this anecdote, at least in the English-speaking world, though it crops up in Italian, too. I haven't been able to find Mentzel's work to check his sources. Anyone out there has a copy?
The Wikipedia article, referring to The Nutall Encyclopedia, adds that "this reply caused him to receive the nickname "Super-Grammaticam". Again, I scouted the vast plains of the Internet and consulted my library only to arrive at the conclusion that "Super-Grammaticam" probably wasn't a nickname given to Sigismund by his contemporaries, but rather an invention of Carlyle's, as he himself admits in the very same passage I quoted from above:

For which reason I call him in my Note-books Sigismund SUPER GRAMMATICAM, to distinguish him in the imbroglio of Kaisers.

It would appear that the nickname comment is a slight oversight on the part of the Wikipedia users. Someone should correct it immediately.

And on an unrelated note: this record temperatures shit has got to stop. I don't mind the heat that much, it's quite manageable with proper hydration and the right choice of underwear (don't ask). But Bratislava being what it is* and the ladies summer attire being what it is... Let's just say I almost got slapped twice yesterday for, well, staring. Enough, I say.

* The city with the highest proportion of gorgeous women per capita in the world, that's what!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007


Two things I didn't know about:

1. Sabean inscriptions in minuscule script written on pieces of wood and palm leaves

I stumbled across this one in the programme to the 30. Deutscher Orientalistentag in the Semitic Studies section where it was announced that Dr. Peter Stein of Friedrich-Schiller Universität Jena will present a preliminary report on a research project.
I rushed to my bookshelves to consult first A.F.L. Beeston's A Descriptive Grammar of Epigraphic South Arabian (1962) and then G.M. Bauer's Язык южноаравийской письменности (1966). A lot on the monumental script, but zip on the minuscule script on both counts. Fortunately, the incredibly useful Cambridge Encyclopedia of the World's Ancient Languages (p. 455-456) was a little more forthcoming (not surprisingly, since the article on Old South Arabian was co-authored by the very same Peter Stein):

At the beginning of the 1970s, the first instances of writing on wooden sticks, in a hitherto unknown minuscule script, were discovered in Yemen. The understanding of these sticks, which come from the Yemenite Ǧawf and of which several thousand have come to light in the mean time, is made especially difficult because of the script and the unknown vocabulary. Concerning the contents of the roughly thirty examples published thus far, probably dating to the second/third centuries AD, it can be said that they are documents partly written in the form of letter that have to do with legal and economic matters.

That would explain the lack of any mention of the minuscule script in the aforementioned works on South Arabian both of which predate the discovery of inscriptions in minuscule (cursive) script. Furthermore, according to the website (DE) of the project, only a few more than 40 of these have been published so far (e.g.). The Bavarian State Library in Munich is in posession of several hundred of inscriptions in Sabaean minuscule script which represent the focus of the research currently underway in Jena. In the first phase of the project (pardon my poor translation),

...wurden sämtliche Inschriften der mittel- bis spätsabäischen Periode (ca. 3. Jh. v. Chr.-6. Jh. n. Chr.) analysiert. Dieses Textkorpus umfaßt 205 Nummern, worunter sich 85 juristische und Wirtschaftstexte (Abrechnungen, Quittungen, Schuldscheine u. dgl.), 74 Briefe, 26 Schreibübungen und 7 Inschriften aus der Kultpraxis (vornehmlich Orakelanfragen und -bescheide) befinden. Diese Inschriften werden in einem ersten Band der Publikation veröffentlicht, dessen Drucklegung z. Z. vorbereitet wird.

... all inscriptions from the Middle to the Late Sabaean period (ca. 3rd century BC - 6th century AD) have been analyzed. This corpus contains 205 items consisting of 85 texts of legal and economic nature (bills, receipts, IOUs etc.), 74 letters, 26 scribal exercises and 7 inscriptions of religious nature (mostly questions to oracles and responses). These inscriptions will be published in the first volume of the publication which is currently being prepared for printing.

Now there is something to look forward to. While we wait for both the report and the book, check out this sample of the minuscule script.

2. Latino-Punic inscriptions in Libya

A thesis on the subject was recently defended by Robert Kerr of Universiteit Leiden (summary in pdf). Punic written in Latin script is of course nothing new: act V, scene 1 of Plautus' Poenulus, for example, contains an entire monologue in Punic (look here for an analysis taken from Rosenberg's Phönikische Sprachlehre und Epigraphik). Yet I had no idea that the Latino-Punic corpus was so extensive (Dr. Kerr mentions 69 inscriptions, "mostly epitaphs"), nor that Punic apparently remained a living "functioning North-West Semitic language" for much longer than previously thought. Dr. Kerr believes Punic was spoken as late as the 7th century AD and offers the following insight (NL) into the Punic-Roman relations after the Third Punic War (again, please excuse the poor translation):

Er is lang gedacht dat het afgelopen was met de Punische cultuur toen Carthago was verwoest, en ‘Africa’ een provincie werd van het Romeinse Rijk. Maar in Tripolitanie kwam die cultuur toen eigenlijk pas tot bloei. Het gebied ging zijn eigen gang. Rome bemoeide zich er niet intensief mee, en met de Carthaagse invloed was het al afgelopen sinds de Tweede Punische Oorlog, toen de regio zich aan het gezag van Carthago had onttrokken. We zijn snel geneigd om te denken in een dichotomie Romeins-Carthaags. Maar echt niet iedereen in Noord-Afrika die Punisch sprak had posters aan de muur had hangen van Hannibal als bevrijdingsheld.

It was long believed that the Punic culture was done for once Carthage was destroyed and "Africa" became a province of the Roman Empire. But the culture in Tripolitania actually only came to bloom. The region went its own way. Rome didn't really bother itself with it and the Carthagian influence was already diminished after the Second Punic War when the region broke away from the Carthagian sphere of influence. We are inclined to think of that period in terms of Roman-Carthagian dichotomy. But not every Punic speaker in North Africa had posters on their wall celebrating Hannibal as a liberator.

The earliest inscriptions in the Latino-Punic corpus are from 1st and 2nd centuries AD and were found in Leptis Magna. Later specimens were found deeper inland at the edge of the desert and date back to the 3rd and 4th and perhaps even 5th century AD. According to Dr. Kerr,

...in het pre-desert gebied van Tripolitanië waren de Punische inscripties juist veruit in de meerderheid. Daar zijn bijna geen Latijnse inscripties gevonden.

... in the pre-desert part of Tripolitania, Punic inscriptions far outnumbered the Latin ones. In fact, almost no Latin inscriptions were found there.

No surprise there since apparently Punic was spoken by the mixed population which came about when Punic men married Libyan women. Punic men

... waren in het grensgebied neergezet door de Romeinen. Ze hadden in het leger gezeten, en werden nu ingezet om tegen een goede betaling de verdedigbare grensboerderijen te bemannen. Ze hadden een grote vrijheid. In Romeinse bronnen stonden Punischtalige mensen erom bekend dat ze in droge gebieden succesvol landbouw konden bedrijven.

... were settled in the border areas by the Romans. They had been in the army and were now employed to man defendable border outposts for a good pay. They were afforded a lot of freedom. In Roman sources, speakers of Punic were famous for being able to succesfully cultivate the land in dry areas.


Het systeem van de verdedigbare boerderijen en het opslaan van water was fragiel en onderhoudsintensief, en heeft de invallen van Berberstammen vanaf de zesde, en de islamitische veroveringen in de zevende eeuw niet overleefd.

The system of defendable outposts and water retrieval was fragile and maintenance intensive and did not survive Berber raids beginning in the 6th century and the Islamic conquest in the 7th century.

As for the actual language of the inscriptions, there is still some controversy as to what it actually is:

Sommige Berberologen en Afrikanisten wilden nog wel geloven dat arme pachters Punisch waren blijven spreken, maar de elite niet, die sprak Latijn. Maar de inscripties zijn bewijs uit de eerste hand dat het Punisch ook door de upper class aan de kust nog in de derde eeuw na Christus werd gesproken, zoals ook al blijkt uit de overlevering rond keizer Septimius Severus (rond 200 AD, red.), die uit Lepcis Magna kwam.

Some berberologists and africanists still wanted to believe that while poor leaseholders still spoke Punic, the elite did not and switched completely to Latin. But the inscriptions are a first-hand proof that Punic was still spoken by the upper class on the coast as late as the 3rd century AD, as is also evident from the tradition surrounding the Emperor Septimius Severus who was born in Leptis Magna.

I found Dr. Kerr's findings concerning the phonology of the inscriptions utterly fascinating. He compared the writing conventions used in both Latin and Punic inscriptions of North Africa and found that the latter must be derived from the former. This lead him to the conclusion that the pronunciation of North African vulgar Latin must have strongly resembled that of Punic. In both languages, for example, ellision of unstressed vowels is a rule. Dr. Kerr believes that the phonology of both vulgar Latin and Punic in North Africa must have been influenced by a substrate language which he terms Berbero-Libyan. In his own words:

Vergelijk het met de overeenkomst in uitspraak tussen het Afrikaans en het Zuid-Afrikaanse Engels, of tussen het Iers en het Engels dat in Ierland wordt gesproken. De taal is anders, maar de tongval is herkenbaar.

Compare that with the similarities in pronunciation of Afrikaans and South African English, or Irish and Irish English. The language is different, but the accent is immediately recognizable.

And finally, even the good old St. Augustine (who was born in Roman North Africa) comes into play here:

Vaak wordt aangenomen dat Augustinus eigenlijk ‘Berbers’ bedoelde als hij het over Punisch had. Maar hij wist heel goed dat er verschil was tussen het Punisch en het Libico-Berber. Van het laatste wist hij dat het bestond, maar hij kende het niet. Augustinus herkende bijvoorbeeld ook Hebraïsmen in de oud-Latijnse Bijbelvertaling, doordat hij Punisch kende. Hij kende geen Hebreeuws.

It is often assumed that Augustine actually meant "Berber" when he spoke of Punic. But he was very well aware of the difference between Punic and Libyco-Berber. Of the latter he only knew that it existed, but he did not speak it. Augustine for example recognized Hebraisms in the Old Latin translation of the Bible because he spoke Punic. He did not speak any Hebrew.

Unfortunately, Robert Kerr's dissertation is not available on the website of the Netherlands Graduate School of Linguistics. Bummer, certainly, but it will hurt less once you look around and notice the tons and tons of great stuff there. My favorites so far are Matthias Hüning's Woordensmederij (pdf) on the history of the Dutch suffix "-erij" and J.A.M Vermaas'
Veranderingen in de Nederlandse aanspreekvormen van de dertiende t/m de twintigste eeuw (pdf) on the history and development of Dutch forms of address. But there is also Johnny Tjia's A Grammar of Mualang (pdf, Ethnologue report here) and František Kratochvíl's (go Czech boys!) A Grammar of Abui (pdf) which was recently announced on linguistlist. So go and get it before they wise up :o)

UPDATE: The always brilliant Lameen follows up with a post linking to a comprehensive database of Neo-Punic and Latino-Punic texts kept by Dr. Jongeling of Leiden and quoting al-Bakri who suggests Punic (or a variation thereof) might have survived well into the 11th century. Do go and check it all out. And if you speak Dutch, Dr. Jongeling's page has a lot more goodies for ya, like this introductory grammar of Hebrew and an introduction to Welsh with exercises.

Friday, June 22, 2007


Jangari over at matjjin-nehen has raised an interesting question: aside from the usual English-based acronyms like omg and lol, are there any acronyms based on other languages used in their respective variations of 133t5p34k?

My answer: sure there are. Here are just some of those Slovak ones I found in my ICQ logs.
(Warning, foul language ahead!)

d = ďakujem = thank you.
p = prosím = you're welcome.
nzc = nemáš za čo / niet za čo = you're welcome (cf. German "keine Ursache" or French "de rien").
mfp = mám f piči (correct spelling: mám v piči) "I have it in my cunt" = I don't give a fuck.
ppf = po piči front = totally cool. Or totally fucked up, depending on the context.
jj = jo jo (Czech: jo = "yes") = yup; sure.
njn = no jo no (no = "well") = yeah, well; what can you do.

The first three are pretty self-explanatory, although it should be noted that they are used alongside their English equivalents (ty, yw and also np).
As for mfp and ppf, they further illustrate the popularity and varied usage of the term "piča" (discussed in brief here). Please don't ask me what "po piči front" is all about. All I can tell you right now is that "po piči" (lit. "alongside a cunt"?) means something along the lines of "cool, great, awesome" and can be used both as an adverbial as well as an adjective (both predicatively and attributively). Just who added "front" ("front" as in military front or weather front) and what it's supposed to mean is still a mystery to me.
mfp also provides additional material for the comparative study of abuse language: as michael farris pointed out in the comments to the aforementioned thread, in Polish,

There's also 'mieć X w dupie' (have X in (one's) ass) which means (IMO rather counter-intuitively) 'don't give a shit about'.

The Slovak version is not only counter-intuitive, but also anatomically inappropriate, since it is used prevalently by male speakers (no surprise there, since a statement like that made by a woman would probably invite a response of the "Oh really? So what else..." kind). Considering the number of such anatomically impossible insults and terms of abuse, I'm starting to think there is a pattern to it: the more outrageous, the more unlikely, the more unreal the connection, the stronger the insult is. Time to look closely at the semantics, wouldn't you agree?


Dang my stupid head, how could I have forgotten this gem?

c2 (courtesy of enzo)

Doesn't ring a bell, does it? One tiny hint: try prounouncing it as if it were an English acronym (and it helps if you're not a native speaker of English). You get something like [sɪ tu] which, by sheer coincidence, sounds almost exactly like Slovak "Si tu?" meaning "Are you here?"
Pretty cool, heh?

Monday, June 18, 2007


What so special about cats anyway?

White-eared bulbul, Pycnonotus leucotis.
Image source: Wikipedia user AshLin.
This image is published under the GNU Free Documentation License.

Taiwan bulbul / Styan's bulbul, Pycnonotus taivanus
Image source: Wikipedia user FrankyBoy5.

White-spectacled bulbul, Pycnonotus xanthopygos
Image source: Nir Ofir.
This image is published under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 License.

Friday, June 15, 2007


I hope it's not too late to jump on it...

Ľudovít Štúr speaking before the Hungarian Assembly. In a speech held on January 15th, 1848, he advocated the use of vernaculars (other than Hungarian, naturally) in education and proposed to amend the legislation under debate accordingly.
Image source: www.stur.sk

Michal Hodža, one of the authors of the 1852 ortography reform which established the so-called "etymological principle". This included the introduction of the letter "y" (absent in Štúr's codification), a move widely criticized, especially by Slovak schoolchildren.
Image source: www.stur.sk

Now let's see if anybody gets this one... :o)
Image sources:
Original image: hethitologie.de
The cuneiform character: John Heise's Akkadian page.

And finally, a big lolthanks to lolpresident for the inspiration. The one with Bush and Topolánek - priceless. And the bukkit category is a masterpiece of the lolart.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007



And the correct answer to last week's puzzle is [drumroll]

büdös = IPA: [bydøʃ].

Of a total of 25 participants (both online and off-line), the correct answer was provided by [drumroll]

No one.

Which certainly does not surprise me, because there ain't no way in hell the first consonant is a voiced bilabial stop (and, accordingly, no participant identified it as such) and neither vowel is rounded (almost everybody heard [i] and [ɛ] / [e] respectively). Now I am familiar with the word büdös, but this particular phrase is one I had never heard before and had it not been for my buddy smiki who explained it to me, I would never have guessed. I wonder why. My initial suspicion, i.e. the 'cartoonish' voice quality which makes it sometimes hard to watch South Park even in English, was invalidated by the fact that I didn't have any comprehension problems with the rest of the episode. So what is it? Regional accent? Some sort of (suprasegmental) devoicing and derounding doesn't sound very likely...

But hey, everybody's a winner here and here is your prize. Let's start with the full transcript and the translation:

Cartman: Kis türelem [kiʃ tyrɛlɛm]
Teacher: Gyerünk, Eric! [ɟɛryn̪k ɛrik̪]
Cartman: Büdös picsába! [bydøʃ pitʃaːbɒ]
Kyle: Ha ha!
Cartman: Kus, Macesz! [kuʃ mats̻ɛs]

Cartman: Just a minute! (lit. A little patience!)
Teacher: Let's go, Eric!
Cartman: Aw fuck! (lit. Into the stinky cunt!)
Kyle: Ha ha!
Cartman: Shut up, dude!

The most interesting thing about this exchange - and the reason it attracted my attention - is the translator's choice. In the original English version, when prompted to step up, Cartman replied with his trademark "Goddammit". (A) picsába! is a common enough way of expressing dissatisfaction or disappointment in Hungarian, but it is also several degrees above "Goddammit" in strength and lack of social appropriateness. Knowing the Hungarian dubbing industry, I would expect A francba! "Dang it!" or something along those harmless lines.

Speaking of translation strategies, check out an excerpt from the episode 5x11, which also features the term picsa. This time as a translation of English "What the fuck was that?", i.e.

Mi a picsa volt ez? [mi ɒ pitʃɒ volt ɛz]
what DEF cunt was this

While not necessarily a bad translation, there is a slight difference in meaning here. In English, the "the fuck" part of WH- interrogative expressions acts as a modifier or intensifier (also see here). That would be best translated using the all-purpose expletive a picsába (see below). Asking Mi a picsa volt ez? in Hungarian amounts to inquiring as to the type of the thing or phenomenon encountered. Mi a picsa volt ez therefore means something like "What kind of a cunt was this?".

Another interesting thing is the use of the Illative (-ba/-be) indicating direction into an enclosed space. Both picsa "cunt" and fasz "dick, prick" often appear in Hungarian abuse language in the Illative. On their own or preceded by the definite article a they function as interjections and can be translated as "Fuck!" or "Fuck that!". Often, however, they appear preceded by verbs in the imperative, such as in the time tried recommendation Menj a picsába! "Go fuck yourself! (lit. Go into the cunt!)" and its anatomically impossible variety Menj a faszba "lit. Go into a prick!". This usage closely mirrors that of Czech and Slovak. In Slovak, the same structure (albeit expressed analytically by means of a preposition) and the same word are used: Do piči! or Do piče! as interjections, Choď do piči! or the more intensive Bež do piče! lit. "Run (in)to a cunt!" as full imperatives. Taboo words connected with reproduction are not that common in Czech. Instead, Czech relies on terms and expressions associated with excretion. A Czech would therefore say Do prdele! "lit. Into an ass!" or Do řiti! and Jdi do prdele! or (much less commonly) Jdi do řiti!

Growing up, I never heard the phrase büdös picsába, nor did I ever hear someone mutter or yell a faszba. It's not that my folks and neighbors are especially polite, far from it. They just opted for a different approach: the third member of the unholy trinity, the ancient verb bászni "fuck" (1st. pers. sg. ind. baszom) and a noun in the Accusative. Baszom az istenét (lit. "I fuck God") is, together with Baszom a Krisztus-Máriát / a Krisztusát, still my father's favorite. Baszom az anyád(at) ("... your mother"), baszom az apád(at) ("... your father") and baszom a világot ("... the world") are just a few other options for those not willing to sin against the Second Commandment. Softer versions can be obtained by omitting the verb - az anyád, az apád, a Krisztusát etc. Such forms have even been borrowed into Slovak as azapát, azaňát and kristušát. Readers of Jaroslav Hašek will surely find all of this familiar, though the author of Good Soldier Švejk might have gotten his case or possessive suffixes wrong. Even the Serbian/Bosnian/Croatian version Jebem ti majku! "I fuck your mother!" can be found mentioned in Švejk.

The similarities mentioned above raise many fascinating questions concerning linguistic contact, common inovations and area linguistics. The etymology of the word piča (SK)/picsa (HU) /pička (HR/BiH/SRB), for example, is a big unanswered question. Similarities such as the Illative structures mentioned are striking and even the differences, such as the aforementioned difference between reproduction based taboo vocabulary and excretion based taboo vocabulary, are truly fascinating. Someone ought to do a real study.

Speaking of comparative scatology and scatological language contact: even the ever popular imperative baszd meg "fuck you" was borrowed into Slovak and Czech as both an interjection bazmek! and a masculine noun bazmek meaning "thingie, device, gizmo". Just to give you an idea of the currency this borrowing from Hungarian enjoys all over the former Czechoslovakia: my hometown Košice is still jokingly referred to as Bazmek city. And check out and ctrl+f this Czech forum on overclocking and this hardware discussion board. Oranžovej bazmek, now that's a typical one.

And finally, here is a little gem smiki found while researching büdös picsába on the internet for me: a rézfaszú bagoly. This one deserves a full treatment:

réz = copper
fasz = dick, prick
= an adjective-forming suffix
bagoly = owl

A rézfaszú bagoly = A copper-dicked owl.

Dunno about you, but I laughed all day. And that was before I found out there is a t-shirt you can order with the full version, i.e. Vigyen el a rézfaszú bagoly = "May a copper-dicked owl take it". 2600 forints equals aproximately $14. Pity they only deliver to Hungary...

Now excuse me, I have to get back to the kibaszott work. Vigyen el a rézfaszú bagoly, indeed.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Hey folks, anyone up for a little game?
Excellent! So here is the board and the pieces:

A - a brief excerpt from an episode of South Park dubbed into Hungarian.
B - a transcript in both standard Hungarian ortography and IPA:

Cartman: Kis türelem [kiʃ tyrɛlɛm]
Teacher: Gyerünk, Eric! [ɟɛryk ɛrik̪]
Cartman: (X) picsába! [(X) piaːbɒ]
Kyle: Ha ha!
Cartman: Kus, Macesz! [kuʃ mats̻es]

Now (X) marks the spot with the treasure we're after. It's a single word consisting of two syllables spoken between 00:00:03 and 00:00:04 and what I want from you, boys and girls, is to provide a transcription below in the comments using any transcription method you like. Everyone who provides the correct transcription, wins.
Warning: speakers of Hungarian need not apply and are asked not to spoil it for everybody else.
The lucky winner(s) will receive my eternal gratitude, a brief lesson in Hungarian and the knowledge that they succeeded where others (such as myself :o) had failed.

Good luck!

Sunday, April 08, 2007


Mark 16:6:

Онъ жє глагола имъ: нє ѹжасайтєсѧ: ˀɪ҃иса ищєтє назарѧнина распѧтаго: воста, нѣсть здѣ: сє, мѣсто, идѣжє положиша єго:

Христос воскрес, everyone!

Monday, April 02, 2007


I have been worshipping at the altar of Language Log for quite some time now. Normally, all I can do is stand aside, marvel and try to learn. But today, reading Bill Poser's post "Political Correctness, Linguistic Incorrectness", I just had to pause, think hard and finally respond. Since Lameen took the first step and published his reaction, I decided to throw in my €0.02 and republish parts of the email I sent to Bill Poser earlier today. But first, a brief recap:

Bill Poser's post is a passionate reaction to an article in the Telegraph which reports that

Brussels officials have confirmed the existence of a classified handbook which offers "non-offensive" phrases to use when announcing anti-terrorist operations or dealing with terrorist attacks.
Banned terms are said to include "jihad", "Islamic" or "fundamentalist".

The article also specifies the phrase "Islamic terrorism" as one of those to be replaced by more PC alternatives. Bill Poser draws the rather incomprehensible conclusion that

The EU really thinks that there is no such thing as Islamic terrorism.

and, in Lameen's words

seeks to justify the term "Islamic terrorism" by saying that "Dozens of terrorists have explicitly said that they are Muslims and that their motivation was Islam. Moreover, there is clearly widespread support among Muslims for terrorism."

Bill Poser supports this by quoting two polls centered around support for suicide attacks against civilians and specifically Americans which purport to show that Muslims support such actions. Lameen retorts by quoting another statistic which shows that a large number of Americans support bombing of civilian targets and wonders whether

Americans' killings of Muslim or Muslim-looking civilians ought to be termed "patriotic terrorism"

Well, ought it?

Lameen also makes one very important point:

The likes of Al-Qaeda wrongly describe their own terrorist acts as jihad in order to make them appear legitimate to other Muslims; for Western governments to publicly accept this characterisation is about as sensible as it would be for Muslim critics of Bush to start losing no opportunity to call him a true American patriot...

Needless to say, I absolutely agree. I am also very sorry to see that Bill Poser has fallen into the same trap many pundits and pseudoexperts cannot seem to avoid: he appears to be taking the "terrorist" rhetoric at face value. To parody a Slovak "expert" on Middle Eastern affairs (may his arse itch and his hands be so short he could not scratch it!): "They say they kill for Islam. Well golly gee gosh aw shucks, they say it, then it must be true! Anyone who says otherwise is an apologist!" Please. We are scientists. No matter how emotionally affected we are, we must always question the first impression, always dig deeper, never believe we know it all and understand everything. If we do, what do we become? Pundits, I fear. And I don't know how about you, but I'd be better off in a pine box on a slow train back to Georgia Košice.

And now for my original comments: first of all, I cannot help but notice that Bill Poser has failed to define "terrorism". I can only conclude from his statistical examples that by that he means actions like suicide bombings against civilians. If I'm correct, then I must confess that I find the comparison he uses rather puzzling. He is in fact equating a group people whose distinguishing characteristic is a fight for/against something (Roman Catholics/Evangelicals - abortion) with a group of people whose distinguishing characteristic is the use of certain tactics (Muslims - suicide attacks). Please forgive me if the phrase "apples and oranges" sounds more than appropriate.

My second objection to Bill Poser's conclusions is based on his attempt to take the logic behind the alleged EU guidelines ad absurdum:

By the same token, "Christian opposition to gay marriage" does not imply that all Christians are opposed to gay marriage or that Christians are particularly associated with opposition to gay marriage.

That is true. But isn't it also true it's the Christians who are particularly associated with opposition to gay marriage and abortion? Consequently, there are two ways to understand the phrase "Christian anti-abortionists":

(1) people who oppose abortion who are (happen to be) Christians.


(2) people who oppose abortion because they are Christians.

In other words, (1) provides a description, while (2) indicates a causal relationship. In this case, both interpretations would be correct, as the majority of Christians are bound by the tenets of their belief and the teachings of their churches to oppose abortion.

Similarly in case of "Islamic terrorism", when I hear this phrase, I understand it to mean

(3) people who comitted terrorist acts and who are (happen to be) Muslims

whereas a faithful Fox News viewer or LGF reader might actually hear

(4) people who comitted terrorist acts because they are Muslims.

While (3) certainly is correct in any sense of the word, (4) is probably not. There are two reasons why this may be so - the first one (all major authorities of Islam have denounced terrorism and terrorists) is still rather controversial and will be best left for experts to pronounce final judgement on. The other reason is far more interesting and hinges on the answer to the following question: do Muslims commit terrorist acts because the commandments of their faith order them to? Does a Hamas suicide bomber blow himself up because the Qur'an tells him so or does he actually hope to contribute to a bigger cause? Do the "insurgents" in Iraq drive trucks full of explosives into US Army checkpoints just because the Imam said so or do they see it as another step in achieving a goal? It seems they do. Hamas is - at least nominally - fighting for an independent Palestine state. Various factions in Iraq are either trying to get the US troops out or to wipe out each other. Even Bin Ladin's final goal was the overthrow of the Saudi royal family.

That being so, doesn't it mean that there is a small but significant difference between the semantic content of the word "Christian" in "Christian anti-abortionists" and "Islamic" in "Islamic terrorist"? My answer would be yes. In fact, my observations indicate that the adjective "Islamic" in "Islamic terrorism" is not a purely descriptive one, but is very often used to point out the causal relationship between Islam and terrorism. Needless to say, this a) distorts reality (to believe that, say, a Hamas suicide bombing and an attack on US troops by the Badr Corps share the same cause is sheer lunacy) and b) is designed provoke an emotional response. That's just not helpful and only desirable to those with their own dark motives.

Here I would like to point out that it is by no means certain that the EU Commission and/or Parliament are in fact banning the term "Islamic terrorism". I'm a cynical SOB and I hate journalists, I will therefore not believe a word The Telegraph prints until I get independent confirmation. Especially not if their description of the terms prohibited by the "secret handbook" (my, my, my, what an interesting choice of words...) sounds too recycled. But even if the EU did adopt such a policy, the use of terms like "ostrich-like approach" and "stupid and dangerous" to describe such steps would still be rather unfortunate. In these times of empty rhetoric, rejecting meaningless terms and nonsense phrases like "Islamic terrorism" in favor of more accurate descriptions would be most welcome. Holding on to them is irresponsible.

Monday, March 26, 2007


Via kelmet mailing list (grazzi, Olvin :o):

Department of Maltese, Faculty of Arts, University of Malta
il-Kunsill Nazzjonali ta' l-Ilsien Malti

have great pleasure in inviting you to

a series of talks by prof. Thomas Stolz (Universität Bremen)

Monday, March 26th,7.00 pm – L-Università, Ċentru Vassalli (Gateway), Sala E
1. PIDGIN AND CREOLE LANGUAGES: Is the Maltese case different?

Tuesday, March 27th, 7.00 pm – L-Università, Sala Erin Serracino Inglott
2. "L-GĦAQDA INTERNAZZJONALI TAL-LINGWISTIKA MALTIJA": Towards an international Maltese linguistics

Wendesday, March 29th, 7.00 pm – L-Università, Ċentru Vassalli (Gateway), Sala E
3. LINGUISTIC TYPOLOGY - Where does Maltese belong?

I know it's a bit short notice, but any of you language freaks currently in Malta, please go.
Great things are afoot for the Maltese language, the chief among them is the founding of the aforementioned "Għaqda Internazzjonali tal-Lingwistika Maltija" (International Society for Maltese Linguistics), which will (so the cover letter by prof. Manwel Mifsud) take place in a few months in Bremen and which will be brought about by valiant efforts of prof. Stolz.
So please go and take notes. Especially at the first talk, the subject of which sounds very much like the title of my dissertation proposal.


Two not-so recent and well-known examples I've recently encountered in works of fiction, found quite amusing and thought I could share:

1. Dutch - from Paul Verhoeven's Soldaat van Oranje:
Time: May 1940
Setting: Erik and Guus (dressed in tuxedos and arriving on motorcycles) have just reached an army checkpoint in front of a burning barracks hell bent on enlisting and fighting the Germans who had just invaded the Netherlands. The soldiers at the checkpoint are understandibly confused and thus suspicious as to their identity and motives:

SOLDIER 1: Zij zijn Moffen, verklede Moffen!
ERIK: Wij zijn toch Hollanders!
SOLDIER 1: Allemaal op!
SOLDIER 2: "sch" wat zeggen! Moffen kunnen geen "sch" zeggen! Zeggen, Scheveningen!
GUUS: Scheveningen, Scheveningen!
SOLDIER: Scheveningen!
ERIK: Scheveningen!
GUUS: Schele, schoonmoeder, scheveningen!
ERIK: Scheveningen, sch, sch, sch, nul (I think...)!
SOLDIER 3: Ha, ja, laat maar door.

SOLDIER 1: They're Jerries, Jerries in disguise!
ERIK: Come on, we're Dutch!
SOLDIER 1: Stick 'em up!
SOLDIER 2: Let them say something with [sx] in it! Jerries can't pronounce [sx]! [zexxə], [sxeːvənɪŋə]!
GUUS: [sxeːvənɪŋə], [sxeːvənɪŋə]!
SOLDIER: [sxeːvənɪŋə]!
ERIK: [sxeːvənɪŋə]!
GUUS: [sxeːlə], [sxoːnmudər], [sxeːvənɪŋə]!
ERIK: [sxeːvənɪŋə], [sx], [sx], [sx], zero!
SOLDIER 3: Yeah, OK, let 'em through.

It seems that "Scheveningen" was a popular choice for a shibboleth in WWII Netherlands. Tim McNamara in his fascinating article on shibboleths and language tests mentions that according to witnesses, "the Scheveningen shibboleth was 'common knowledge' " at that time and adds this testimony:

The story of the ‘shibboleth test’ to distinguish German speakers from Dutch ones is well known (at least among people of my age). [The expression involved was] Scheveningen, often combined with an even more difficult word for Germans, ‘beschuit’ (Dutch rusk). Germans pronounce ‘sch’ as ‘sj’ and the diphthong ‘ui’ (sounds a bit like in the French fauteuil) as ‘oi’.... Scheveningen is a village at the coast near The Hague. The place was well known during the war because it was the place where people from the resistance were held in prison. ... Moreover a lot of illegal transport by boat from and to England was via Scheveningen. (p. 356)

In the light of this, I'm wondering if the use of the name "Scheveningen" as portrayed in the movie and in fact the whole scene isn't a bit anachronistic. There wasn't that much reason to look for German spies that early in the war and the town hasn't quite achieved its war time prominence yet. Still, it's quite funny, especially thanks to Rutger Hauer's delivery.

The article also includes other examples of shibboleths, like the one from civil war torn Lebanon where (so McNamara's informant), "right wing militia" (Phalangists?) would require people to pronounce the Arabic word for 'tomato' to identify Palestinians. In Lebanese Arabic, it is pronounced [banaduːra], while in Palestinian Arabic, it's [bandoːra] (p. 353).

2. Polish - from Andrzej Sapkowski's Narrenturm:
Time: 1420
Setting: Reynevan, the main protagonist, is trying to hitch a boat ride with what is described as a bunch of Wasserpolaks (nevermind the anachronism, it's a deliberate one and the book is full of them). Note that Reynevan is a Silesian.

- Koń mi okulał. A trzeba mi do Wrocławia.
Polak żachnął się, charknął, splunął znowu.
- No - nie rezygnował Reynevan. - Jakże tedy będzie?
- Nie wożę Niemców.
- Nie jestem Niemcem. Jestem Ślązakiem.
- Aha?
- Aha.
- To powiedz: soczewica, koło, miele, młyn.
- Soczewica, koło, miele, młyn. A ty powiedz: stół z powyłamywanymi nogami.
- Stół z powy... myła... wały... Wsiadaj.

- My horse got lame. And I need to get to Wrocław.
The Polish guy waved his hand, cleared his throat and spit again.
- Well? - Reynevan insisted. - What do you say?
- I don't ferry Germans.
- I'm not German. I'm Silesian.
- Oh?
- Oh.
- Well then say [sot͡ʂeviʦa], [kowo], [miele], [mwɨn].
- [sot͡ʂeviʦa], [kowo], [miele], [mwɨn]. Now your turn: [stuw s povɨwamɨvanɨmi nogami].
- [stuw s povɨ]... [mɨwa]... [vawɨ]... Get on board.

"Soczewica, koło, miele, młyn" is also an old one: it was used in 1312 in Cracow by the armies of Władysław Łokietek to identify Germans most of whom had participated in a rebellion against Łokietek. As for stół s przewył... powyław... poławy... that other one, it is a noted Polish tongue twister. I might pass that test. But if someone ever whips out "Cześć Czesiek! Czeszesz się częściej często, czy częściej czasem" on me, forget it. Just shoot me. Please.

MCNAMARA, Tim: 21st Century Shibboleth: Language Tests, Identity and Intergroup Conflict.
Language Policy, 2005/4, p. 351-370

Friday, March 23, 2007


When some time ago I discussed Mór Jókai and wondered about the exact meaning of the term "boktsatütün", languagehat and an anonymous reader were kind enough to provide the answer: "small bale of fine tobacco, tobacco wrapped in small bundles".
As much as I trust their expertise, it is always nice to get independent confirmation. This time, I found it on p. 114 of Scenes from the East. Through the Eyes of a European Traveller in the 1860s by the Hungarian orientalist Ármin Vámbéry (a.k.a. Hermann Bamberger, 1832 - 1913) . Though usually ranked among his many travelogues, this book is more of a sociological study of the peoples of Orient. As such, it offers many fascinating insights into the everyday lives of people of the Ottoman Empire. Just consider the titles of some of the chapters - "Women", "Food", "The Bath", "Festivals", "Schools" and "Tobacco and Drugs". It is in the latter that we find the following passage:

There is an old Hungarian proverb which refers to "smoking a pipe like a Turk", whose antiquity I would question, for those Turks who invited themselves so regularly to South-eastern Europe had not at the time been introduced to nicotine. It was only during the reign of Sultan Ahmad III that an edict was issued to curb the consumption of tobacco. Ironically, it is today precisely in the Ottoman Empire that tobacco is almost a cult. The king of tobaccos grows in Rumelia, native soil of the great Macedonian, mainly at a small place north-east of Thessaloniki called Yenije Vardar. The small yellow-brown plant is dried for weeks, even months, on its stem, then packed into small bundles (bogcha), and only after maturing for years in the merchant's warehouse do the connoisseurs of Stambul give it the name of ala gabek. The leaves are sliced into strips as fine as strands of silk, and are much valued in the Imperial Palace, the Sultan's harem, and not the least at the Porte, where the Privy Council carries out its important state duties in dense clouds of aromatic smoke.

Interestingly enough, in Slovak we still say that someone who smokes a lot "fajčí ako Turek" (smokes as a Turk) and same goes, as far as I know, for Czech and Serbian. Also of interest is the fact that the original text only says "a proverb; a folk saying" ("a közmondás"), nothing about just "Hungarian"...
Be that as it may, rest assured I will return to Ármin Vámbéry in the future. A fascinating fella, this one - linguist, tinker, sociologist, tailor, diplomat, soldier, spy. He advised Sultan Abdul Hamid II, was (so my buddy Emík tells me) best pals with Theodore Herzl and apparently knew Mór Jókai and Bram Stoker, too. And he's from the hood - born in Svätý Jur, raised in Dunajská Streda, studied here in Bratislava.

Scenes from the East. Through the Eyes of a European Traveller in the 1860s. - Budapest: Corvina Kiadó, 1979 (an English translation of: Keleti életképek. - Budapest: Atheneum, 1876; available online here)
KHALIDI, Walid: The Jewish-Ottoman Lands Company: Herzl's Blueprint for the Colonization of Palestine.
Journal of Palestine Studies, XXII, no. 2 (Winter 1993), p. 30-47

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

SSSJ part 3

Previously on Lost SSSJ: Kate and Sawyer have we covered the following parts of a standard entry in SSSJ:

dilino [d-] -na pl. N -novia m. {róm.}

and now the conclusion we're proceeding to:

dilino [d-] -na pl. N -novia m. {róm.} expr.

The abbreviation following the note of origin (here in italics) is used to classify individual lexemes according to what the introduction to SSSJ calls "functional criteria". Essentially, this part of the entry is equivalent to OED's label. It provides information on stylistic and pragmatic properties of the lexeme in question and other information concerning its eventual obsoleteness, frequency, limited regional occurrence or correctness. Remember my question about which side of the prescriptive/descriptive fence will SSSJ fall on? Here's where you find the answer to that. But first, a brief rant.

There are three things most people never knew about standard Slovak and definitely should. Here we go:

1. From its conception, Standard Slovak has been first and foremost a political tool. (a.k.a. "We are NOT Hungarians. No, we're not Czech either!")
No one in their right mind will dispute the validity of this statement. It is, after all, so glaringly obvious. Even Bernolák's first attempt to codify a standard Slovak language based on Western dialects was a direct result of a political decision made by Emperor Joseph II. In 1784, the enlightened despot established a general seminary in Bratislava with the purpose of educating priests of all nationalities from all corners of the Empire. Although most of its Slovak students were drawn from Western and Southern Slovakia, the dialectal fragmentation so typical of the mountainous territory of Slovakia was a serious impediment in the educational efforts of the seminary. Bernolák's attempt at codification of a single standard Slovak language ultimately failed, just like Joseph II's policies - for political reasons. But it showed the way.
Štúr's project which eventually led to standard Slovak as we know it today was one of the major materials in the nation-building efforts of the fateful 1840s and arguably its most successful product. Ever since, standard Slovak has been a rallying point for patriots and nationalists alike and one of the most important (if not the most important) symbols of Slovak indentity. It is therefore not surprising that protectionism and purism have always been the main tenets of Slovak language policy and kept our language alive through Hungarian nationalism of late 19th century, the ideology of Czechoslovakism of the first Czechoslovak Republic and other trials our nation faced in the troubled 20th century.

2. Standard Slovak is an artificial language. ("Standard Slovak? That's those two guys over there.")
Now that may not be the best way of putting it. It would be more fitting to say that standard Slovak was an artificial language and is still treated as such by some. As for the first part of the statement, one just needs to look at the first fifty or so years in the history of standard Slovak. First, any act of codification is basically creating a new language. Secondly, until 1914, standard Slovak was pretty much confined to a few people and/or groups. The resulting infighting among linguists (Hattala, Viktorín, Mráz and later Czambel and Škultéty) and writers would put any conlang community to shame and yet, all that time most Slovaks still spoke their respective dialects. It was only the quasi-independence under the Czechoslovak flag and possibly the mass media revolution of the 20th century that made standard Slovak the actual mother tongue of most Slovak children.
The question of whether standard Slovak still is an artificial tongue and therefore whether there exists a state of diglossia in the whole of Slovakia (and not just certain parts of it like the East) is one that would require a substantial amount of research (wink-wink nudge-nudge all you Slovak majors). Various indicators point in that direction. Even the occasional article becrying the decline of "language culture" (like Genzor 1997) usually includes more than a few examples of hypocorrections and hypercorrections so typical of diglossia.

3. To some people, especially certain linguists, "standard Slovak" means "high style". ( a.k.a. "Ľudovo povedané...")

Let's back up a bit. First of all, what I call "standard Slovak" here is termed "spisovná slovenčina" in Slovak. The adjective "spisovný" is a curious one. First, it is only used referring to language. Secondly, it is rarely used when speaking of languages other than Czech, Slovak or German - a phrase like "spisovná angličtina" earns 8 points on a 1-10 weirdness scale. And finally, it appears to be derived from the root "pís-" i.e. "to write" and evokes associations with "spis" = "writing" (as in "zobrané spisy" = "collected writings"). As such, JÚĽŠ seems to prefer the English translation "literary Slovak", as do Russian scholars ( e.g. K. V. Lifanov in his Генезис словацкого литературного языка). But to find out what that term really means, we must go to those who use it. Having spent some time doing so (hence the hiatus), I can report that "spisovná slovenčina" appears to be used in the following meanings:

a) codified Slovak (in historical terms)
This is especially true of the works on the history of Slovak, such as those by Eugen Pauliny ( Dejiny spisovnej slovenčiny I 1966) or the more recent ones like Dejiny spisovnej slovenčiny by Pavol Žigo and Rudolf Krajčovič (2002). In accordance with what appears to be accepted terminology, Žigo and Krajčovič refer to "predspisovné obdobie" ("pre-codification period") and "spisovné obdobie" ("codification period" or rather "post-codification period") in the history of Slovak.

b) a language common to the entire territory of Slovakia (as opposed to regional varieties and local dialects)
So dialectologists (e.g. Štolc 1994 or Bosák 1996) and, it would appear, Pauliny ( e.g. 1966:87-89) together with other linguists who commonly refer to pre-codification regional varieties of Slovak used in writing as "cultural languages", e.g. "cultural Western Slovak" or "cultural Eastern Slovak". In his Krátka gramatika slovenská (Short Grammar of Slovak 1997), Pauliny also notes that the Slovak language is not uniform and explicitly defines "slovenský spisovný jazyk" i.e. "spisovná slovenčina" as a variety of Slovak which is the same for the whole of Slovakia (Pauliny 1997:7).
This is also the most common popular meaning of the term in areas with diglossia (most notably Eastern Slovakia), where one either speaks a dialect or "spisovne". And it's in this sense that the term "spisovná slovenčina" is used in most instances of criticism of media personalities or politicians whose speech shows regional varieties ( e.g. non-palatalized lateral [l] instead of palatalized lateral [ľ] or dialectal "neni" instead of standard "nie je").
And finally, I am assuming that this is what is meant by people who speak of "národný jazyk" ("national language"). Mind you, I am by no means certain: in the last few years, the adjective "národný" has undergone a slight but significant shift of meaning (from "ethnic" to "of state or country"). And it was a fishy term even before that.

c) High variety (as opposed to the vernacular varities or slang)
For this one, we have to look no further than that sorry excuse for a dictionary and the eternal shame of Slovak lexicography, Krátky slovník slovenského jazyka (available online here). It defines "spisovný jazyk" ("standard language") thusly (emphasis in the original, translation mine):

spisovný príd.

1. s. jazyk, s-á slovenčina kultivovaná a kodifikovaná celospoločenská forma národného jazyka

(the cultivated / refined / cultured and codified cross-societal variety of the national language)

I can hear some of you protest: "But dude, 'kultivovaný' doesn't just mean 'cultured', it also means 'cared for', 'nurtured' etc., like, ya know, plants and living things and stuff!"
OK, fair enough. Let's hear it from the KSSJ, shall we?

kultivovaný príd.

1. kultiváciou upravený: k. pozemok, les (improved by cultivation: c. land, forrest)

2. vycibrený, zošľachtený, uhladený: k. jazyk, verš; (refined, cultured: c. language, verse, c. audience = educated)
k-é obecenstvo vzdelané;

As seen above, 1. refers only to agricultural concepts. 2., on the other hand, has exactly the same meaning as, say, OED's " cultivated 2". QED.
One might object that this is only the opinion of the editors of KSSJ. But one would be wrong. There are many examples of this and I will only mention my favorite one. I have previously spoken of the waiver "ľudovo povedané", i.e. "as (simple) people would say", which speakers of Slovak often attach to words and phrases they feel are not exactly "spisovné". In nearly all such cases, however, not even the most fanatic purists would object to what they are saying. In fact, these perceived non-standard lexical items are not even slang expressions or dialectal words, but merely idioms, perfectly legit derivations and various colorful expressions of all sorts. Going through just a few examples, one would quickly notice that what we are witnessing every time someone uses the phrase "ľudovo povedané" is not a speaker of variety A trying to find the right expression in variety B (which would be the case if b) above applied), but rather a choice between two different registers or styles. A simple Google search reveals the full extent of this phenomenon: one speaker prefixes this phrase to such perfectly normal and standard Slovak verb as " zruinuje" ("will ruin"). A journalist includes this waiver when using the idiom "byť za vodou" (lit.: "to have crossed the waters", meaning to be set for life financially), another (from my favorite daily) will prefix it to a perfectly standard word "predať" ("to sell") when meaning "to advertise" and yet another one will even add it to a beautiful and purely native noun "zosúkromnenie" the standard equivalent of which he probably feels is "privatizácia" ("privatization"). Over 12.000 examples of this on the internets and countless others in the conventional media and elsewhere in the public sphere clearly show that something is going on here: all of these people apparently identify a dry stilted way of speaking in public with standard Slovak. And if what these speakers of Slovak say they consider "simple" or "uneducated", what would be the opposite? Refined. Educated. Applied to language, isn't that the very definition of "High variety"?
And finally, I feel tempted to include here a rather curious remark by Juraj Dolník (on whom more below and even more later). In one of his articles (Dolník 2000), he wrote that in order to pronounce qualified judgements on the standard language, one must come to know the "full-blooded" language (quotes in the original). Buggered if I know what he really meant. I guess it just goes to show that even the great linguistic minds of our time are not quite clear about what they mean when they speak of "standard Slovak".

Trivial as the observations above may seem, without knowing what you know now it is nigh impossible to properly understand the nature of Slovak linguistics and language policy. Especially when it comes to the Slovak lexicon and lexicography and the eternal fight between the prescriptivist and the descriptivist faction. You see, although the long war is finally over and we are finally independent (whatever that's worth), some linguists still fight for the purity of Slovak not so much for linguistic reasons, but for political ones: borrowings from Czech are therefore shunned altogether, because /insert_history_lesson_here/. Latin roots and words, on the other hand, are OK even if we have perfectly good native words to use in their stead, because Latin does not carry any negative political connotations and is generally considered cool (see Geoffrey Pullum's "Classicism"). Those same linguists fail to understand that, to use a metaphor, Slovak is no longer a proprietary project. It's been open-sourced for at least 60 years. It's a child that has grown up long ago and no longer needs protection. And yet, some still insist it wear a coat when going outside even in May and some others even try to forbid it to stay out after 10pm and date that cute tall kid that just moved in next door. People like that suffer from a dangerous delusion: they believe they can actually control a living thing like a language (and, for that matter, its speakers). To them, codification is not a completed process, but something they can repeat over and over again. Moreover, they detest any behavior they do not approve of and either try to pretend it does not exist, or, worse, claim that any action (words or phrases or usage) not conforming to their expectations is an aberration and should be swiftly and decidedly suppressed. And what's worse, some people actually buy all of that crap.

Just to illustrate my observations above, let me give you a small taste of the intellectual climate in Slovak linguistics: In 2000, Slovenská reč (one of the major journals for the study of Slovak) served as a forum for a fascinating debate between two major authorities on Slovak, the aforementioned professor Juraj Dolník (the head of the Department of Slovak Language and Literature at my alma mater) and professor Ábel Kráľ (a phonetician and phonologist, currently of the Constantine Philosopher University in Nitra). Did I say "a debate"? Well, it was more like a flamewar, complete with strawmen, Eternally Refined Analogies (TM Fred Clark), Sudden Changes of Subject (TM pending), Infinite Explanations of What I Really Meant (TM pending), Unbelievably Stupid Arguments (copyright expired 6000 BC), Silly Metaphors (licensed under Unfair Use Doctrine) and other staples of flamewars everywhere.
Inspired by an article by professor Dolník with the title Standard Slovak and Czech (and probably his book Spisovná slovenčina a jej používatelia (2000), too), the flamewar proper was initiated by professor Kráľ's response entitled Where did the Slovaks get their standard language from? (Slovenská reč 65 2000/2). Dolník's original thesis - borrowings from Czech (traditionally considered a big no-no, see above) are under certain conditions quite acceptable - sent Kráľ on a tangent and his article reveals the ugly face of Slovak prescriptivism in all its hideousness.
First of all, Kráľ speaks of people's reluctance to "osvojovať" i.e. acquire standard Slovak (p. 72). This would support points 2 and 3 above. Surely people haven't stopped speaking Slovak, so he must be referring to a particular variety of Slovak. And if they need to exert themselves ("brať na seba námahu") to acquire standard Slovak, aren't they in fact, just like say Arabic children, learning a foreign tongue?
Kráľ's reference to the role Czech has played in our history further supports my point 3 above. The so-called Biblical Czech was, so Kráľ, a language used to fulfill

"higher" social needs

i.e. the High variety. But when Biblical Czech was finally supplanted by the newly-created standard Slovak, doesn't that mean that what basically happened was that one High variety replaced another? Certainly so, especially considering how for the first 50 or so years the use of standard Slovak was limited to a few scholars and a relatively small number of journals.
Secondly, you don't need a statistical analysis to show what professor Kráľ considers the central pivot, the pinnacle, the summit and the Holy Grail of linguistics and language policy: the system and its purity. Kráľ views the system as something immutable, something that, once fixed, cannot and should not be changed. There can be no variation in a system. None. The only case of systemic differences ( e.g. non-standard forms in declension or pronunciation) Kráľ can imagine is a hypothetical "different standard Slovak", i.e. what would have happened had Štúr not succeeded or someone else had beaten him to the punch (p. 79). Once in place, Kráľ argues, the system is set in stone. He believes that any variation in speech is first and foremost a mistake or a persistent error. Being a phonetician, Kráľ even goes so far as to suggest that any failure to correctly (orthophonetically) pronounce a phoneme has psychological causes and refers to Piaget to prove his point (p. 80). God forbid there should be regional or dialectal variations. May the Lord keep us from the evil Easterners and their short vowels and penultimate accent or those devils of Záhorie or Myjava and their lack of palatalization. You people are SICK!
After a few pages of this grade-A prime-cut class-1 quality bullshit, Kráľ delivers the coup de grace in a response to Dolník's revision of the criteria for inclusion of a lexeme into the standard lexicon (standards-usage-system integrity being the holy trinity). Kráľ's reaction to propositions which sensibly favor the criterion of usage ("functional adequacy") leaves no illusion about his views on the nature of standard Slovak and the role of speakers of standard Slovak (p. 81):

Nie mi je známy logicky a lingvisticky prijateľný dôvod na odporúčanie, aby sa termínu funkčnosť (funkčná adekvátnosť) prisúdila vyššia rozhodovacia sila než termínu norma alebo systémovosť.

I am aware of no logically and linguistically acceptable reason to recommend assigning a higher importance to "functionality"/"functional adequacy" than to "standard" or "system integrity" [when determining the acceptability of a lexeme].

In other words, to hell with the speakers and their silly ideas of communication effectiveness and intelligibility! Who the hell do they think they are? Who died and made them the custodians of Slovak? Screw them, we have a system to maintain! They will eat what we cook and serve them and they will LIKE IT!
My friends, seldom have I heard a more fitting description of prescriptivism and no one has ever summed up the attitude of certain Slovak linguists to their language and her speakers better than this. Don't be mistaken, this is not a lonely voice speaking. This is the position of many linguists and language professionals. Only a few of them will voice their concerns in terms of preserving the system, but to each and every one of them (and a large number of your average Slovak Joes and Janes), standard Slovak is exactly how I described it a few months ago in my last rant on the subject: a half-dead monster everyone is scared of and does their best not to upset it. However silly one looks doing so.
It is no accident that although professor Kráľ is a phonetician and professor Dolník is known for his works on general linguistics and sociolinguistics, the main points of the flamewar revolved around Bohemisms and in particular around two controversial words - "prádlo" ("laundry") and "hranolka" ("a french fry"). It is a symptom of our prescriptivism-infested linguistics that caring for and about standard Slovak basically consists of a) bitching about spelling and b) bitching about (the choice of) words. You don't get to hear much about morphology or syntax, like the English-influenced 3rd person singular possessive pronoun ( e.g. "váš" instead of "svoj") or the prevalence of passive constructions over the native reflexive-passive phrase (e.g. "návrh bude pripravený" versus "návrh sa pripraví"). As for a), this is particularly evidenced by Pravidlá slovenského pravopisu (PSP). PSP is the authoritative publication on Slovak spelling and, to a very small extent, usage. It's THE book people will throw at you if they suspect you of violating the rules of standard Slovak. Moreover, it is the only such publication that is regularly updated and thus the only guide on "proper Slovak" that is available to the general public. Take this and the emphasis on spelling in elementary and secondary education and you shouldn't be surprised that for many, even those with college education, proper spelling = proper grammar (yes, tbc, I'm looking at you :o). That's pretty much how far caring about language goes in these parts. Except for b), naturally.
And thus although the flamewar mentioned above occasionally briefly delves into phonetics and morphology, its central points are the aforementioned borrowings from Czech and other issues of lexicology. As such, it offers further insights into the perpetual process of creating and enriching Slovak lexicon and the role of linguistics therein. Most notably, when it comes to letting the speakers decide what words to use for new concepts and things, Kráľ has the following to say (p. 81; note that my translation is not very literal - Kráľ's writing is a reader's and translator's nightmare):

Nepokladám za optimálny ani taký postup, v ktorom by kodifikátor iba čakal, kym používatelia jazyka rozhodnú o „osude" určitého javu.

I am not willing to condone an approach where the codifier only waits for the speakers to determine the "fate" of a particular phenomenon.

What a crock of shit. There are cca. 5 million native speakers of Slovak. There are maybe 200 linguists actively working in our universities and the Academy. Guess who is faster in inventing new words? And exactly how many times in the past 20 years were the linguists forced to wait for the public to come up with new words for new things and concepts? My entire tax bill (and this year, that's a lot of money) says never.
Folks, by now you probably know on which side of the P-D divide I pitched my tent and set up my sheesha. But let me just say this: if every time we needed a new Slovak word our mavens got together and came up with one, I'd be the first spreading it all across the land. I can't help but like what the Académie Francaise did in a similar case, the official French word for "email" - "courriel". Hell, I need such an intervention right now: my horse for a native word for "implementation"! Unfortunately, there are two problems here:

1. Like their French colleagues, our linguists are slooooow to move. 2003 is pretty late to pick a word for "email", isn't it? By that time, other terms have firmly established themselves. It goes to Académie's credit that they chose a word which was already sort-of in use (in Canada, that is). But that ain't how it works round here. To pick a very similar example and to entertain you with a personal anecdote: back in 2001, I worked on the localization of Windows XP and Office XP. I really enjoyed the work and the experience it provided me has proven invaluable, but it was also where I had my first run-in with Slovak prescriptivism. The companies involved in the project consulted a prominent Slovak linguist (who shall remain unnamed) on matters of style and usage. Style was fine with me. I really liked the guidelines on using leading words ( i.e. writing "spoločnosť Microsoft" instead of just "Microsoft") and I continue to follow most of what I learned there to this very day. But when it came to chosing a new word for a new concept, only the fact that I was a bit wet behind the ears kept me from voicing my disapproval in the strongest terms possible. Based on the decision of that linguist, Microsoft products and information sources translate "download" as "prevziať". "Prevziať", also meaning "to accept, to take over, to assume, to take on, to adopt." "Prevziať". We were supposed to translate "download" as "prevziať" when none of us, or indeed anyone, has ever used any other Slovak word than "stiahnuť". A beautiful purely native word originally meaning "to pull down" which had by that time gained wide acceptance not just among the geeks and the nerds, but also among wide population. And the effing lingoes throw it away and tell us we should use something else they just made up, something that no one has ever heard of, something artificial. Does it surprise anyone that Slovak linguists and their ideas of what is correct and proper are rarely taken seriously?
2. Unlike the illustrious members of Académie Francaise, our linguists have no legal means to implement their decisions and virtually no support from the government. Once AF picked courriel, the French Culture Ministry banned the use of any other term meaning "email" in official government documents and communication. Fat chance of that happening here. The government, bless their corrupt hearts, have other things on their mind. And even though the nationalists and the fascists (most of whom call themselves Christian Democrats these days) occasionally come up with some silly ideas on how to protect standard Slovak (usually by attempting to punish incorrect usage), the bill either dies in comittee or is thoroughly ignored by everybody. Again, does it surprise anyone that Slovak linguists and their ideas of what is correct and proper are rarely taken seriously?

All of that ran through my mind as I saw the first volume of SSSJ on that shelf in the bookstore a few weeks ago. I wondered whether strict purism would compel the editors to come down hard on many Bohemisms and the growing number of borrowings from English. I was also curious to see whether they would recognize the many changes our language and our society went through in the last 17 years and accept them for what they are: the proof that Slovak is alive and doing better than ever. And I was anxious to find out whether they would finally see that no language can only include a refined and cultured variety and reject everything else and whether they would finally see that what is spoken on the streets, in the classrooms and yes, even in reality shows, is the true Slovak. And that culture means more than Monday night adaptations and the occasional poem no one reads.

Having spent the last few weeks thinking about all of that, I also realize that although Kráľ and Dolník and many others claim to only speak about science when discussing these linguistic matters, the question of including certain words and rejecting others is anything but a theoretical issue. In the Slovak linguistic milieu (of which I hope I you have a much better idea now, though I certainly do not claim to be an unbiased observer), a dictionary is much more than a long-needed tool for language professionals and the general public. Since Slovak is a political tool, the question of the role of purism addresses not only issues of language, but also those of identity. As long as some fight to preserve the artificial nature of standard Slovak claiming to be the ones who own it while rejecting any changes or variations, standard Slovak will further divide rather than unite. And to accept the notion that only the High variety is acceptable for the use in the public arena and thus to renegade all other varieties to the periphery of society is an upfront not only to all language lovers, but also to all language users and indeed all people everywhere. Not to mention the fact that arbitrary decisions by prescriptivist assholes have cost me a lot of money in bills not honored because my translations have violated some silly rules. And arrogant stupid-ass prescriptivism just pisses me off.

In Part 4 of our series, we will finally return to the pages of SSSJ and observe how what we've discussed here plays out there. Please join us then.

References :
BOSÁK, Ján: Nárečia sa menia, postoje ostávajú? In: Sociolinguistica Slovaca 2 (1996), p. 25-36
DOLNÍK, Juraj: O prístupoch k spisovnej slovenčine. In: Slovenská reč 65 (2000/3), p. 149-155
GENZOR, Jozef: Zamyslenie nad normou a štandardizáciou. In: Sociolinguistica Slovaca 3 (1997), p. 134-147
KRÁĽ, Ábel: Odkiaľ vzali Slováci spisovnú slovenčinu? In: Slovenská reč 65 (2000/2), p. 71-85
PAULINY, Eugen: Krátka gramatika slovenská. - Bratislava: Národné literárne centrum, 1997 (a revised reprint of 4th edition, 1971)
PAULINY, Eugen: Dejiny spisovnej slovenčiny I. Od počiatkov až po Ľudovíta Štúra. - Bratislava: SPN, 1966.
PULLUM, Geoffrey K.: Ideology, power, and linguistic theory. Presented in a special session at the 2004 Convention of the Modern Language Association, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, December 2004. (online here)
ŠTOLC, Jozef: Slovenská dialektológia. - Bratislava: Veda, 1994.
ŽIGO Pavol; KRAJČOVIČ, Rudolf: Dejiny spisovnej slovenčiny . - Bratislava: Stimul, 2002.
Лифанов К.В.: Генезис словацкого литературного языка. - München: LINCOM, 2001.