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Mutual Intelligibility in Slavic Language

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Bilingual Tetraglot
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 Message 49 of 63
27 March 2010 at 11:22pm | IP Logged 
Chung wrote:
The most notable characteristic that I believe sets Slovak apart from every other Slavonic language is its use of the rhythmic law (i.e. adjacent syllables in Standard Slovak cannot both be long.)

This is only true in written form. Maybe when the orthography was written in some dialects it was true also in spoken language, but I speak a very archaic form of Slovak and we have plenty of words which have two long syllables side by side. This is also true for proper spoken Slovak in Slovakia. I can't think of any examples at the moment, but I was thinking of making a list earlier and just ask people how would they pronounce it, to see if it was just my dialect or is it true for the Slovak language in general.
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 Message 50 of 63
18 July 2010 at 11:34am | IP Logged 
dantalian wrote:
   (I hope there are no mistakes in the them)
Russian.     Я могу есть стекло, оно мне не вредит.
Ukrainian     Я можу їсти шкло, й воно мені не пошкодить.
Belarusian.     Я магу есці шкло, яно мне не шкодзіць.
Croatian.     Ja mogu jesti staklo i ne boli me.
Serbian.     Могу јести стакло а да ми не шкоди.
Macedonian.     Можам да јадам стакло, а не ме штета.
Bulgarian.     Мога да ям стъкло, то не ми вреди.
Czech.        Mohu jíst sklo, neublíží mi.
Slovak.     Môžem jesť sklo. Nezraní ma.
Polish.          ; Mogę jeść szkło i mi nie szkodzi.
Slovenian.     Lahko jem steklo, ne da bi mi škodovalo.

In Serbian you can also say like in Croatian

Могу јести стакло а да ме не боли
Могу јести стакло и не боли ме

In this case, there is no difference between Croatian and Serbian
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 Message 51 of 63
07 August 2010 at 8:23am | IP Logged 
Interesting topic. I'd just like to add anecdotal evidence for mutual intelligibility.
Yesterday I picked up Slovak book from second hand bookstore. It was a small miracle in
itself, considering that 99% second hand books foreign language books around here are
either in English, German, Russian, Swedish or Finnish. Or Esperanto, for some
inexplicable reason (yep, there were, for example, Moomin stories in Esperanto on
sale). Anyway, that Slovak book is Figliar Pedro, Španielske rozprávky, some 280 page
serious hardcover.

I've had no previous exposure to slavic languages other than Russian which I read
freely. I've kind of sniffed a little Czech back in days but I don't remember actively
anything apart from words manželka (one of the cutest words ever devised) and mluvit. I
browsed through the book in store and caught few words and phrases here and there that
I could guess: zvieratá, odplata, kráľ, "ale neboj sa, nič sa ti nestane". It didn't
seem that legible though. I still bought it, since it was mere 3€.

At home I delved right into it and discovered to my delight that I can more or less
follow the storyline. There was somebody who was obviously poor, had three daughters
and a son, went into forest, run into lord of the forest and meadows (pán lesov a lúk),
got caught, promised to bring his oldest daughter next day to service in return for
stealing firewood, went home, was sad, etc. All this without actually knowing a thing
about Slovak. I still miss some important details which leave holes in the picture, but
it's a blast.

It's like giant reverse crossword puzzle where the words are already there and I have
to derive definition by cross-referencing them with all my knowledge. Great, great fun.
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Joined 3211 days ago

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Speaks: Slovak*, English, German, Spanish
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 Message 52 of 63
12 August 2011 at 9:11pm | IP Logged 
Well, as a native slovak speaker I also might be able to contribute with something.

However I think, that Czech and Polish grammar are closer than Polish and Slovak
grammar, some my polish friends told me they were better able to understand to spoken
slovak than to spoken czech. But this also strongly depends on the region you are
living in. Of course if you are living closer to the Czech border you would better
understand czech language.

Even if one might consider Slovak as a "bridge" language, it's not a magical thing like
someone already mentioned. I'm not able to understand to spoken russian. Yeah, some

I recently came back from croatia. I could understand maybe.. 50%. But probably better
than russian understanding.

Anyway, written language is a bit easier to understand. I could catch the main polish
ideas if spoken propper and slowly. It would be much easier to understand to the very
same written text.

I'm studying in Czech Republic, and it's true, that I'm speaking always slovak there. I
could also write my diploma and bachelor thesis in my native language.

I'm not sure about number of tenses in my language. I always thought it would be three.
This plusquamperfekt (I know from German language) I'm not sure about it. When we were
analysing sentences in my basic school, there were always only three options : past,
present, future. However from time to time I use some construction like "Keby som to
bol býval vedel" but it has the same meaning like "Keby som to býval vedel" even "Keby
som to vedel" and even! "Keby som to bol vedel". Speaking to me you could use all these
4 sentences and I would consider them as equivalent however there might be some subtle
grammar diferencies.

Of course another truth is that I would be able to learn russian far more quicker than
an English or German native. So there is some gain to virtualy all slavic languages
being a slavic native. Well there are some disadvantages like I'm struggling for
example with Spanish subjuntivo which does not exist in slavic languages or English
"present perfect".

Another thing is vocative. This case have languages like czech. I never was learned it
in school but to some degree it exists in slovak language. At least in words "Pán" and
"Šéf". Normally in slovak you use Nominative in situations you would use vocative in
czech. But I think 2 words I mentioned are exceptions. You should use "Pane" and "Šéfe"
like in czech language.

well i hope this post can help to some people interested in slavic languages.

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 Message 53 of 63
16 August 2011 at 10:54pm | IP Logged 
It's a good post, floydak.

Actually, if the mentioned construction in slovak is called plusquamperfect than czech does have this option as well, even though it is nearly extinct among normal people."Kdybych to byl býval věděl, nebyl bych tam šel" or something like that. It is possible and it can be found in some old books but these days people usually say "Kdybych to věděl, nešel bych tam". I was taught about this "pluquamperfect" at school years ago, but it was not clasified as a separate tense (even though it seems it could be one).

To the mutual inteligibility. It depends on many things, exposure being the most important. Another is the language and dialect of the speaker and mine as well. For exemple, I have no troubles understanding slovaks from western part of Slovakia but I need to focus more when speaking with people from the eastern part (but they seem to understand me without trouble. They say they have got quite a lot of exposure to Czech in television and literature, which is possible). Writen Slovak is understandable to me but with some rare tricky points in vocabulary (and when those come, my only way is to ask someone what does the word mean. I am quite unsure there is any writen czech-slovak dictionary). I can understand parts of Polish but far less than Slovak (there is quite a lot of czech jokes about Polish language). I can understand bits of spoken Ukrainian and Russian but not the writen since there's different alphabet. I have never tried understanding Bulgarian but it is said to be unintelligible.

Perhaps near future might bring unexpected ties between Czech and Croatian since most czechs choosing a holiday destination by seaside go there.

Briefly, Slavic languages are intelligible to some point. But I wouldn't overestimate it. I wouldn't even say they are more mutually intelligible than Romance languages.

Their intelligibility is often limited even when it comes to native speakers so don't expect you'll study one and you'll automatically understand others well. Even if your first learnt Slavic language is Slovak, "the bridge".

By the way, Chung, where did you get such awesome knowledge of Slavic languages? Or better question why did you choose this language family, if I may ask?

And one more thing:
1qaz2wsx wrote:
Ayazid wrote:
most of your Czech translations are totally wrong, where did you find them?

I don't speak czech.The correct czech translation is not the point here.Whatever the exact meaning in czech,dokonalý tvar or доконали тварь (they drove the beast nuts) in a coca cola advertisment is just very funny in russian.Here is the source: for 2 and 5 maybe the translation is exactly the same here.
What does ''pozor,policie varuje!'' mean in czech?.To my knowledge in russian it means something like ''Shame on them!The police are stealing things!"
And here is another funny example of a czech night club called 'PRDEL'.
In russian it means ''He let some...air out''.
A czech-russian speaker is needed here.

I don't think the correct czech translation is not the point here, perhaps you should read through the thread or the forums more carefully. Translations by Ayazid are correct."Pozor, policie varuje" means "Attention, police warns:" and it is followed by some advice like "pay attention to your personal belongings". And prdel means ass.

Edited by Cavesa on 16 August 2011 at 10:56pm

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 Message 54 of 63
17 August 2011 at 5:54am | IP Logged 
Cavesa wrote:
By the way, Chung, where did you get such awesome knowledge of Slavic languages? Or better question why did you choose this language family, if I may ask?

Ďakujem pekne. Much reading about comparative Slavonic linguistics combined with study to varying degrees of several Slavonic languages over the past several years helped me to make my observations. I enjoy travelling to Eastern Europe and coming to grips with Slavonic languages has been a by-product of such travel. If for whatever reason I had travelled to China as much as I have to Eastern Europe, then I would have expected myself to have built substantial knowledge about the structure of several Sino-Tibetan languages.
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 Message 55 of 63
18 November 2011 at 1:37pm | IP Logged 
Ayazid wrote:
"Kozyel" sounds like "kozel" = "he-goat". I never heard it used for "a young man".

In the excellent Anglophone quiz QI Stephen Fry has passed along the information that young virile men are called he equivalent of 'he-goat' in Albanian - however I haven't checked the information.
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 Message 56 of 63
18 November 2011 at 3:26pm | IP Logged 
Maybe this is a regional difference, but I use "keby som to bol byval vedel, tak by som tam nesiel" construction very often. I hear it around me quite often too.

Delodephius wrote an interesting thing though. A while ago I was wondering how intelligible or unintelligible Slovak and Czech were before the federation in 1918, because after having learned some Polish I feel like Polish is only slightly further away from Slovak than Czech is and that the fact that we can understand Czech better is only because we are used to the language. Delodephius on the other hand as a native speaker of Slovak says he has difficulties understanding Czech. He might be an exception, but I don’t think that is probable.

Either way it is, I personally feel that the distance between Slovak and Polish and Slovak and Czech is only slightly greater and that the difference between all three of the languages is very small (compared to Russian for instance).


The Russian translations of the Czech sentences are all wrong, except for vonavka and Pozor, policije varuje. That's a really good one:)

Edited by Vlad on 18 November 2011 at 3:36pm

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