The Slovenian language as a whole is conservative
in comparison to many others of the Indo-European languages
group. Refraining from the transition to analytical
grammar witnessed in the Romance
languages, Slovenian has preserved a complicated inflectional
case system integral to its noun
s. Slovenian even has such languages normally considered declension
-happy such as Latin
, or Russian
beat with six formal case
s used in everyday speech and writing. Not only does the declensional complexity of the noun grammar
pose difficulty, other aspects can become stumbling blocks as well. Slovenian makes important distinctions between three gender
s, three numbers, animacy
, and several irregular suffixes that need their own explication. Make your way through this grammatic labyrinth
, however, and you'll find an extremely versatile, flexible noun system which can quickly and efficiently encompass both mundane and abstract concepts.
Slovenian Noun Qualities
Slovenian nouns can be one of three genders; masculine, feminine, and neuter. Unlike German, but somewhat like Spanish, the gender can be deduced from the noun's Nominative singular ending (with exceptions, of course). Neuter nouns will end in an -o or -e which will be weak and may undergo umlaut (check Slovenian pronunciation for more info). Feminine nouns will end in an unstressed -a (unless its a pejorative derivation of a masculine noun) or one of the following functional suffixes: -ost, -ev, -ezen, or -ad. Masculine nouns end in any consonant except those previously mentioned that are associated with feminine.
In the case of people or animals, gender will follow common sense notions; a female occupation or animal will be female, a male occupation or animal will be male (none of this Mädchen silliness as in German). Nouns can have their gender modified to suit circumstances; šivílja/šivílj (seamstress/seamster) for example. Inanimate nouns have their gender assigned randomly; this isn't a problem in Slovenian since it's very easy to tell the gender of a word from its ending.
Here is an example of the conservative nature of the Slovenian language; nouns have three numbers. There is the standard singular and plural forms, but there is also a dual form for pairs of things. The dual forms have their own declension, same as singular and plural. Dual nouns can either be prefaced by the word for 'two' (dvá m. dvé f./n.) or stand alone. In Contemporary Standard Slovene, the written language and universal dialect for Slovenia, the dual is firmly established in all three genders, however in spoken language dual forms are only used for masculine nouns. Feminine and neuter nouns, even if indicated as being pairs, will still decline according to plural rules. Whether the verb likewise conjugates according to dual or plural rules is a matter of the dialect spoken.
Singular and plural otherwise operate by the same standards as in English. Collective nouns decline according to singular rules.
Although nowhere near an ergative language, Slovenian does make a subtle distinction between animate and inanimate nouns. The change occurs in the singular Accusative ending. Animate nouns will have an Accusative singular that mirrors the Genitive singular, inanimate nouns will have one that mirrors the Nominative singular. Animacy does not necessarily mean a noun must label something 'living', tools, words referring to the dead, game pieces, wines, diseases, and many other exceptions will follow animate rules. In spoken Slovenian, children tend to use animate rules for everything, and adults speaking to children in a cutesy manner will do likewise.
Ahh, here's the meat of it. There are six cases in Slovenian, the Nominative, Genitive, Dative, Accusative, Locative, and Instrumental. The first four may be used alone, the last two may only exist in concert with a preposition (of which there are a large possible number). All case distinctions are indicated through endings, similar to Latin, Greek, Russian, Icelandic, Sanskrit, etc. Using the wrong case will make a sentence incomprehensible; as if you completely threw out the word order of an English sentence. Here are their functions:
- Nominative: The Nominative, per normal, marks the subject of a sentence. It also constitutes the direct object of the verbs bíti (to be), postáti (to become), imenováti se (to be called), and pisáti se (to be surnamed). The Nominative case also serves a vocative function, when referring to anyone directly by name or title one uses the Nominative.
- Genitive: The Genitive is somewhat different in Slovenian usage from its standard in other Indo-European inflectional languages. The Genitive replaces the Accusative as the direct object of a negative verb. It will also be the subject of certain verbs that use it idiomatically. As the direct object of a non-negative verb the Genitive has a partitive meaning (translated as 'some', as in Dàj mi krúha, 'Give me some bread'). The possessive relationship that Genitive case nouns normally have in other languages is relegated to adjectives in Slovenian, however certain aspects remain. The Genitive of will be used to indicate belonging, especially in a wider system or organization, such as člán sindikáta (member of a trade union). Finally, it can be paired with certain prepositions.
- Dative: Usually the indirect object of a verb, equivalent to use of the prepositions 'to' or 'for' in English (also in the word order 'I gave him the book', him is in the dative case). Similarly to the Genitive, the Dative case will sometimes be the direct object or subject of certain verbs. Also in parallel, the Dative can be used with certain prepositions.
- Locative: Only used with prepositions, this case generally gives a 'location' shade of meaning. For example, the prepositions na (on, in, at), ob (by, at, on), o (about), and v (in, at) all govern the Locative.
- Instrumental: The Instrumental is a more general, somewhat abstract case mostly used with the preposition z/s (with). It also is governed by prepositions of relative location, such as med (between), nad (above), and za (behind).
Slovenian Noun Declension
Sg. Du. Pl.
N| -- | -a | -i
G| -a | -ov | -ov
D| -u | -oma| -om
A| -a/--| -a | -e
L| -u | -ih | -ih
I| -om | -oma| -i
Sg. Du. Pl.
N| -a | -i | -e
G| -e | -- | --
D| -i | -ama| -am
A| -o | -i | -e
L| -i | -ah | -ah
I| -o | -ama| -ami
Sg. Du. Pl.
N| -o/e | -i | -a
G| -a | -- | --
D| -u | -oma/ema| -om/em
A| -o/e | -i | -a
L| -u | -ih | -ih
I| -om/em| -oma/ema| -i
Herrity, Peter. Slovene: A Comprehensive Grammar. London: Routledge, 2000.