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.


Language said...

Superb post! But:

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.

YOu might want to reword to "Later on you'll find the answer to that" (and possibly delete the word "brief," unless you enjoy the irony).

lemuel said...

Excellent post!

"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."

Though I agree with your liberal approach, I get really irritated by some examples of "transgressions" against Standard Slovak: such as using "bohemisms" as "brusle" "kotniky" etc. (that really ticks me off) and if we were to trust the general public we'd never know the difference between "rad" and "rada".

As an elitist I believe that the existence of a strict "Standard" or "High" Slovak in the public arena serves an important role of weeding out the plebs. It tells me a lot about a person if he can't even talk properly. The fact that this High language is protected by idiots is another matter entirely.

David Marjanović said...

spisovná slovenčina

Schriftsprache! :-)

Microsoft and "download" seems to be an interesting story. In German, Microsoft just keeps "download" and declines it as a German verb. Looks awful. The normal German approach to imported composites is to calque them, and that's indeed what everyone except Microsoft does: herunterladen. (This is then calqued into the dialects...) Only as a noun it stays English, presumably because Ladung would be interpreted as a process rather than its result.

(Maybe they've finally changed it in Windows Vista, but I doubt it.)

Oh, and, my thesis advisor here in Paris, a Québécois, usually writes mél (and pronounces it as if it were mèl). All that while saying fin de semaine and entrevue (if you can't guess what that means, try to pronounce it in English).

bulbul said...

Thank you gentlemen :o)

I'd like to reword some portions of the post, not to mention all the typoes. Unfortunately, at the moment I can only post via email and any attempt at post facto editing ends up with throwing a weird error message at me. Dang it, half of the time I can't even post a comment...
As for the word "brief", I noticed the irony once the first draft reached 2000 words. With the final count of 4500, I just didn't have the heart to remove it :o)

I understand what you mean, though last time I heard the word "brusle" it was uttered by Golonka (former head coach of the national hockey team) and Golonka's Slovak is ... is ... Heavy Czech intereference doesn't even begin to describe it. Just today, I was astonished to see that in a translation of an EU directive, someone translated "airplane" as "letún" (instead of "lietadlo"). I mean, seriously...
As for "kotníky", that one doesn't tick me off that much. I'm an Easterner and to my ears it sounds much more natural than standard "členky". Considering how the Eastern dialects are actually a bit closer to Czech than to Central (=standard) Slovak, it may even be a native Eastern word.
Note that I'm not saying, to quote Geoffrey Pullum, that everything is correct. There are more than a few reasons to find the term "brusle" objectionable - for one, we have a perfectly good native word for that item of footwear, "korčule". But to reject a bohemism just because it is a bohemism, even though the particular term has long been accepted by most, if not all, speakers, that's the very definition of silly prescriptivism. The perfect example - "pravítko" ("a geometric ruler"). Prescriptivist reject this word because it sports the Czech derivational morpheme "-tko" (the Slovak cognate being "-dlo") and insist we should use the Latin term "lineár". And don't get me started about "prevziať" for "download". In other words, USAGE should be the main criterion for judging acceptability. And I also believe that in case of "rad" and "rada", we are witnessing the birth of a new homonym (declension paradigms are the most important factor here, e.g. the Locative form is the same for both). Language development at work, nothing else.
Finally, I am very careful about judging people by their speech. I remember a British gentleman for whom I interpreted telling me he wished he could understand the people he spoke to even just to find out more about their educational and class background. I couldn't help but smile, because at that particular meeting, the three people who "comitted" the most "transgressions" against standard Slovak were the most educated and the richest of the bunch. The reason for that was that to each one of them, standard Slovak was a foreign tongue and their actual native language was a dialect (Záhorie and Zemplín). The relationship between standard Slovak and Slovak dialects, now there's an understudied problem if I've ever seen one...

plha said...

I can also tell you about one "dichotomy", that have cost me an arm and a leg: používateľ vs užívateľ. The later was used happily without anyone noticing for years in manuals and sw documentation etc., but out of the blue, somebody (boy, I wish I knew who) decided, that užívateľ is some kind of perversion and the používateľ was declared new standard (it can be dated some 3 years back, I suspect it collides with the localization of some major Microsoft product)- I still hate the word, although I should get used to it. (BTW užívateľ is still used in law, where they give a damn about the origin of the word - sometimes a way too much)

bulbul said...


AAAAARGH!!!!! Now there's one that seriously ticks me off!
I can't believe you are actually arguing FOR "užívateľ". Seriously, dude :o) That one is a no brainer - after all, a software or a computer is something we "POužívame". "Užívateľ" is just another calque from Czech.
And no, its not 3 years, používateľ dates back to first localization of Windows (98, IIRC). In any case, it was the standard translation for "user" even before I started working on localization.
As for the legal term, "užívať", "užívanie" and "užívateľ" are one of the many pre-1938 borrowings from Czech that survived the purification of Slovak. But they only did so because, like many other legal and scientific terms, they acquired new meanings. "Užívať" certainly isn't the same as "používať", especially not in legalese.

bulbul said...


sorry for the belated reaction, got tied up in a large project, missed the deadline etc. etc.

Schriftsprache, that is an excellent point. Between 1838 and 1840, Ľudovít Štúr studied (among other things) linguistics at the university of Halle. His ideas concerning language clearly show the influence of German linguists, especially Humboldt. And according to the aforementioned book on the history of Slovak by Krajčovič and Žigo, Štúr's teachers included not only August Friedrich Pott (who was a full professor in Halle since 1833), but also Franz Bopp himself.

David Marjanović said...

I see...

Johanka said...

Is Eastern Slovak really that close to Czech as you suggest? Now I'm really hungry for some samples! My uneducated guess would classify it as much closer to Ukrainian...

Thanks for this post, anyway. I grew up relatively close to the border with Slovakia, but never realized there's such a huge gap between standard Slovak and its dialects.

bulbul said...


Is Eastern Slovak really that close to Czech as you suggest?
Well there's normal people close and there's linguist close :o) There are certain phonetic developments (like Eastern rot-/lot- vs. standard rat-/lat- for Proto-Slavonic *ort-/*olt-), certain morphological features (like we have a full Vocative, whereas standard Slovak has only some vestiges) and a number of isoglosses (i.e. Czech "kmín", Eastern "kmin" vs. standard "rasca", Czech/Eastern "co" vs. standard "čo" and Central "čuo"). But in very broad terms, those features shared by Eastern Slovak and Czech also appear in Polish. I believe someone has already spoken of a wider dialect continuum spanning from Zemplín to Morava while bypassing central Slovakia.
Also, some Eastern dialects are indeed closer to Ukrainian, most notably those of Zemplín. But dialects of Šariš (Prešov), Abov (Košice) and Spiš (Poprad) are in fact much closer to Polish. Close enough to allow fluent communication to take place.

Vladimír said...

Yes :-)

One more comment on a "language system". When speaking in terms of "systems", we do not refer to phenomena and/or objects themselves, but rather to our abstract models, that, under certain circumstances and within certain range of parameters, provide for (more or less successful) predictions of behaviour of the real thing.

The purist's claim that "we know how the system works" and "the language should adhere the system" is therefore nonsensical in principle: if the "system" does not correspond sufficiently to the "thing", the problem has to be found in the "system".

G, 18:45

bulbul said...


The way I read it, when our purists - e.g. prof. Kráľ - refer to "the system" they speak of its regularity more often than not. It's very idea of irregularity and/or variation ("hranolky" instead of "hranolčeky", "u Sone" instead of "u Soni" - or possibly the other way around) that offends them. Or rather, as you point out, the very idea that their idea of what a language is is simply wrong :o)

plha said...

so it ticks you off?
I have one large client (blue, blue, my life is blue), who insists on this version...

... But to reject a bohemism just because it is a bohemism, even though the particular term has long been accepted by most, if not all, speakers, that's the very definition of silly prescriptivism.

I make my living translating and localizing and believe me, nobody winced about užívateľ for a long time and it was everywhere - maybe not in Microsoft (which BTW has made the task of localization a real pain due to the excessively tied styleguide etc.), maybe it was 50/50 for uzivatel/pouzivatel, maybe pouzivatel was winnig (I cannnot read everything, nobody can), but it was not a crime as it seems to be now.
It is not that I can not adapt to something this simple, but basically it is a waste of time - Slovak language has many more painful problems with a practical impact to allow itself the luxury of wasting time with battles like this.
(try to localize the refference to some programming language - death in convulsions will be your idea of relax)

bulbul said...


"užívateľ" ticks me off. Or, to be specific, it's occurrence in any non-legal text ticks me off. To me, it's an issue of style rather than an issue of acceptability.

nobody winced about užívateľ for a long time and it was everywhere
Trust me, I did :o) Every single time I had to read it in PC Revue or alike. But hey, that's just the purist in me. I don't think we should reject all bohemisms just because they are bohemisms. But I always give preference to "native" words, if any are available.

Slovak language has many more painful problems with a practical impact
Could you please give a few?

plha said...

interesting challenge, I always wanted to find some time to formulate them - they just keep poping on me in form of instances of some more general classes of problems during I work - its those moments when I envy English for having the possibility to do something the way Slovak can not, or, worse, restricts itself "voluntarily)". So after a hell of the project I am working on right now ends, I will try to do so.

Bryce said...

Hmm, interesting comments from everyone, I definitely wish I had more time to think over all of them.

Either way, here's a great site in Slovak I think you guys might enjoy:

Slovenčina wiki browser

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