Slovene Phonology
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Slovene Phonology

This article is about the phonology and phonetics of the Slovene language.


Slovene has 21 distinctive consonant phonemes.

  • /m, p, b/ are bilabial, whereas /f, ?/ are labiodental.[1]
  • /t, d, ts, s, z/ are dental [t?, d?, t?s?, s?, z?],[2] i.e. /t, d/ are laminal denti-alveolar, while /ts, s, z/ are dentalized laminal alveolar, pronounced with the blade of the tongue very close to the upper front teeth, with the tip of the tongue resting behind lower front teeth.
  • /n, l, ?/ are alveolar.[2] The first two are laminal denti-alveolar [n?, l?] before dental consonants. In addition, /n/ is velar before velar consonants,[2][3] and it merges with /m/ to a labiodental before labiodental consonants.[3]
  • /?/ is uvular in a number of Upper Carniolan and Carinthian dialects.[4]
  • /?/ may be syllabic. // has also been described as the sequence // (with an epenthetic [?]). Jones (2002)[full ] found that a vocalic segment similar to [?] occurs before (and occasionally after) both syllabic and non-syllabic /?/, and that it is shorter than epenthetic [?], leading to the conclusion that this is not epenthetic [?], but simply a feature of rhotic consonant production in Slovene.

All voiced obstruents are devoiced at the end of words unless immediately followed by a word beginning with a vowel or a voiced consonant. In consonant clusters, voicing distinction is neutralized and all consonants assimilate the voicing of the rightmost segment. In this context, [v], [?] and [dz] may occur as voiced allophones of /f/, /x/ and /ts/, respectively (e.g. v?h drevésa ['? d'?e:sa]).[5]

/?/ has several allophones depending on context.

  • Before a vowel, pronunciation is labiodental, [3] (also described as ).[6][7]
  • After a vowel, pronunciation is bilabial and forms a diphthong.[3][7]
  • At the beginning of a syllable, before a consonant (for example in vsi 'all'), the pronunciation varies more widely by speaker and area. Many speakers convert /?/ into a full vowel [u] in this position.[3][7] For those speakers that retain a consonantal pronunciation, it is pronounced before a voiced consonant and before a voiceless consonant.[3][7] Thus, vsi may be pronounced as disyllabic [u'si] or monosyllabic [?si].

The preposition v is always bound to the following word; however its phonetic realization follows the normal phonological rules for /?/.

The sequences /lj/, /nj/ and /?j/ occur only before a vowel. Before a consonant or word-finally, they are reduced to /l/, /n/ and /?/ respectively. This is reflected in the spelling in the case of /?j/, but not for /lj/ and /nj/. The reduction of non-prevocalic /lj/ and /nj/ occurs in standard Slovene, but not for certain dialects, where speakers use and in this position instead.

Under certain (somewhat unpredictable) circumstances, historical /l/ at the end of a syllable has become [w], the allophone of /?/ in that position. This change has occurred in the endings of all past participles. For many derivatives of words ending in [w] that historically had /l/, both [l] and [w] can be used, sometimes depending on the context it is being used in.


Vowels of Slovene, from ?u?tar?i?, Komar & Petek (1999:137). /?/ is not shown.

Slovene has an eight-vowel[8][9] (according to Peter Jurgec nine-vowel)[10][11] system, in comparison to the five-vowel system of Serbo-Croatian.

  • The close front vowel /i/ is regularly pronounced as lax when /r/ follows, so that e.g. mira 'myrrh' is pronounced ['m:?a].[12]

Jurgec proposes the existence of a ninth vowel /?/ that in traditional pronunciation (see below under Prosody) would rather be analyzed as a short /a/. However, since the more recent studies indicate that native speakers don't actually phonemically distinguish long and short vowels yet the distinction between /?/ and /a/ is quite consistently perceived, and moreover there is a noticeable distinction in quality and a lesser distinction in quantity between these two vowels, there is reason to treat these two sounds as two different phonemes.[13]

The near-open /?/ can only appear in the word-final stressed syllable before the syllable coda, as in ?as ['ts] 'time'. Due to the restrictions stated above, the open /a/ usually appears in its place in other declinational forms of the same word: ?asa ['t?asa], not ['tsa], 'time (gen.)'. The analysis as two different phonemes is also reinforced by the fact that in some words the phoneme /a/ appears in the very same position that would permit /?/, leading to a phonemic contrast: pas ['pas], not ['p?s], 'belt'.[14]

Jurgec also states that in the tonemic varieties of the language, the near-open vowel /?/ can carry only the high tone (see below), which is "parallel to the pattern for the [/?/, /?/ and /?/]." He also notes that similarly to /?/, the schwa /?/ likewise only appears in closed syllables, i.e. as the nucleus before the syllable coda. On the basis of these observations he concludes that the near-open vowel /?/ "behaves in a systematic way within the vowel system of Slovenian."[15]

According to Jurgec (2007), /?/ is inserted epenthetically, and its distribution is fully predictable. He also says that "[d]escriptions of schwa distribution are offer[ed] in lexical rather than grammatical terms. These were also based on historical data and did not consider actual speech of educated speakers in Ljubljana, nowadays considered standard."[16]

The dialectal distribution of /e/ vs. /?/ and /o/ vs. /?/ is inconsistent with the distribution in Standard Slovene. This influences the way speakers of such dialects speak Standard Slovene.[17]

Slovene has been traditionally described as distinguishing vowel length, which correlates with stress and is therefore discussed in the prosody section, below. The distinction between /?/ and /e/, and between /?/ and /o/ is only made when they are stressed and long. When short or unstressed, they are not distinguished: short stressed variants are realized as open-mid [?, ?], while the unstressed variants are, broadly speaking, true-mid vowels [e?, o?]. In fact, however, the unstressed mid vowels have two realizations:

  • Lowered close-mid (between close-mid and true-mid) [e?, o?] before a stressed syllable (as in velikan 'giant' and oglas 'advertisement').[18][19]
  • Raised open-mid (between true-mid and open-mid) [, ] after a stressed syllable (as in medved 'bear' and potok 'stream').[18][19]

The unstressed mid vowels are never as close as the stressed close-mid vowels /e, o/ and never as open as the stressed open-mid vowels /?, ?/.[18] However, ?u?tar?i?, Komar & Petek (1999) report true-mid allophones [e?, o?] of the close-mid vowels /e, o/ occurring in the sequences /ej/ and /o?/, but only if a vowel does not follow within the same word.[20] One could therefore argue that the unstressed mid vowels are simply allophones of the close-mid vowels, whereas the open-mid vowels do not occur in unstressed positions. Another argument for transcribing the unstressed mid vowels as /e, o/ is that these symbols are easier to write than /?, ?/.

In the colloquial spoken language, unstressed and most short stressed vowels tend to be reduced or elided. For example, k?p ('heap') > [kp], právimo ('we say') > [p?âwmo].[6]


Slovene has free stress: stress can occur on any syllable and is not predictable. The same word can be stressed quite differently in different dialects. Most words have a single syllable that carries stress. Some compounds, but not all, have multiple stressed syllables, inherited from the parts that make up the compound. There are also a few small words and clitics, including prepositions, that have no inherent stress at all and attach prosodically to another word.

Vowel length

Slovene is traditionally analysed as having a distinction between long and short vowels. Stress and vowel length are closely intertwined:[21]

  • A non-final syllable that bears stress will automatically have a long vowel. Conversely, at most one vowel in a Slovene word is long, and it automatically bears the stress.
  • If a word has no long vowels, the stress usually falls on the final syllable. However, a limited number of words have non-final stress on short syllables.
  • Schwa /?/ can also be stressed non-finally, but has no length distinctions.

Vowel length carries a low functional load: it is distinctive only in stressed final syllables, which can be either long or short. In other syllables, however, whether vowel length or stress, or both, are phonemic depends on the underlying phonological analysis. Generally speaking, stress and length co-occur in all but the final syllable, so one feature or the other is phonetically redundant in those words.

Recently, scholars[22] have found that vowel length in standard Slovene is no longer distinctive,[3][16][18][23] and that the only differences in vowel length are that the stressed vowels are longer than the unstressed ones,[18][24] and that stressed open syllables are longer than stressed closed syllables.[18] Stressed syllables are characterized by amplitude and pitch prominence.[24]


The standard language has two varieties, tonemic and non-tonemic. Tonemic varieties distinguish between two tones or pitch contours on stressed syllables, while non-tonemic varieties do not make this distinction. The tonemic varieties are found north-south band of dialects in the center of the country (the Upper and Lower Carniolan dialect groups and part of the Carinthian dialect group).[25] Dialects in the eastern and western part of Slovenia are non-tonemic. However, because the Slovenian capital city Ljubljana is located within the central tonemic dialect area, phonemic tone was included in the standard language, and in fact the tonemic variety is more prestigious and is universally used in formal TV and radio broadcasts.

The two tones are:

  • A low-pitch/rising contour, also known as "acute". It is indicated with an acute diacritic ⟨é⟩ on long syllables, a grave ⟨è⟩ on short syllables.
  • A high-pitch/falling contour, also known as "circumflex". It is indicated with an inverted breve diacritic ⟨?⟩ on long syllables, a double grave ⟨?⟩ on short syllables.

The exact distribution and phonetic realization of tonemes varies locally.[26] In Standard Slovene, some words may have either an acute or circumflex tone, with the chosen tone differing by speaker.[27] Unless otherwise noted, this article discusses the tonemes as they are realized in Standard Slovene spoken in Ljubljana.

Not all types of syllables have a distinction between the two tones:

  • All long vowels distinguish the two tones.
  • Tautosyllabic stressed // (i.e. // not directly followed by a vowel in the same word) can also distinguish the two tones. It is considered "long" for this purpose, for example p?stnica ('phalanx') with high/falling tone vs. p?stan?c ('finger') with low/rising tone.
  • For the schwa /?/ (when not part of the // combination), the two tones are mostly in complementary distribution: it is circumflex in final syllables and acute elsewhere. This is the only case where a short acute vowel can occur.
  • All other stressed short vowels are always realised with a circumflex tone. They are mostly restricted to final syllables.

This leads to the following possible combinations of tone, length and vowel quality:

a ? e i ? o u ?
Long low tone à: : è: ì: : ò: ù:
Long high tone á: : é: í: : ó: ú:
Short low tone
Short high tone á í ú
Unstressed a ? i ? u ?
tonemic diacritics
a e ? i o ? u r ?
Long low tone á é í ó ú ?
Long high tone ? ? ? ? ? ?
Short low tone
Short high tone ? ? ? ? ?
Unstressed a e i o u r ?

The non-tonemic system is identical to the tonemic system above in terms of vowel length and stress, but lacks any phonemic tone. This means that, for those dialects, the first and second rows merge, as do the third and fourth. Similarly, for speakers who do not distinguish short and long vowels, the first and third rows merge, as do the second and fourth. An exception to this is the traditional /á/, which does not merge with /á:/. Instead, the former is realized as [].[11]


The sample text is a reading of the first sentence of The North Wind and the Sun.

Phonetic transcription

['sè:rni '?é:t?r in 'só:nts? sta s? p'pì:rala - ka'tè:ri ?d 'njì:ju j? m?t?'nè:j?i - k? j? 'mì:m? pri'? p?'pò:tnik - za'?ì:t ? 't:p 'plà:?t?]

Orthographic version

Sverni vt?r in s?nce sta se prepírala, katri od njíju je mo?nj?i, ko je mímo pri? poptnik, zav?t v tópe? plá.


  1. ^ a b ?u?tar?i?, Komar & Petek (1999:135)
  2. ^ a b c Pretnar & Tokarz (1980:21)
  3. ^ a b c d e f g ?u?tar?i?, Komar & Petek (1999:136)
  4. ^ Reindl (2008:56-57)
  5. ^ Herrity (2000:16)
  6. ^ a b Priestley (2002:394)
  7. ^ a b c d Greenberg (2006:18)
  8. ^ ?u?tar?i?, Komar & Petek (1999:136-137)
  9. ^ Topori?i? (2001:69)
  10. ^ Jurgec (2007:1-2)
  11. ^ a b Jurgec (2005:9, 12)
  12. ^ Jurgec (2007:3)
  13. ^ Jurgec (2011)
  14. ^ Jurgec (2011:260)
  15. ^ Jurgec (2011:268)
  16. ^ a b Jurgec (2007:1)
  17. ^ Jurgec (2005:11)
  18. ^ a b c d e f Tatjana Srebot-Rejec. "On the vowel system in present-day Slovene" (PDF).
  19. ^ a b ?olar (1950:54), cited in Srebot-Rejec's paper
  20. ^ ?u?tar?i?, Komar & Petek (1999:138)
  21. ^ Priestley (2002:390)
  22. ^ For example Srebot-Rejec (1988) and ?u?tar?i?, Komar & Petek (1999)
  23. ^ Srebot-Rejec (1988)
  24. ^ a b ?u?tar?i?, Komar & Petek (1999:137)
  25. ^ Priestley (2002:449)
  26. ^ Greenberg (2006:22)
  27. ^ Greenberg (2006:23)


Further reading

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