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International mother language day

Thursday, February 19, 2009, First Release
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According to the 2002 population census, Slovene is the mother tongue of nearly 88% of the population of Slovenia; for 0.4% of people in Slovenia Hungarian is the mother tongue and for 0.2% of the people in Slovenia it is Italian, followed by languages of other former Yugoslav republics.


                                           Only speak when your words are better than your silence.
                                                                                                         (Arab proverb)

Photo: Nelka VertotUNESCO proclaimed 21 February the International Mother Language Day in 1999 – in memory of the protest and death of Bengalese students who 47 years before demanded equality of their language – in order to highlight the need to preserve cultural and linguistic diversity of individual areas in the world.

Mother tongue - the language we normally learn first

Mother tongue is learnt in early childhood in the family or another primary environment as the first language. It is normally the first language one learns; however, in case children learn two (bilingualism) or more (multilingualism) languages in early childhood, statistically speaking mother tongue is the language which people determine as their mother tongue. For people living on the territory of Slovenia this is mostly Slovene; for people living in ethnically mixed areas it is also Italian and Hungarian, and for some people it can be some other Slavic language such as Croatian, Serbian, etc.


The Slovene language has 46 distinct dialects

Slovene is a South Slavic language with around 2.5 million speakers in the world, most of them living in Slovenia.

In Slovenia, the Slovenian language is used as a mother tongue by some 1.85 million people and as their second language by around 11,000 members of the Hungarian and Italian national minorities and by around 140,000 immigrants from the republics of the former Yugoslavia. Slovene is also spoken in Slavia Veneta and Friuli-Venezia Giulia (Italy), in Carinthia (Austria), in Istria (Croatia), in the Raba region (Hungary) and in other parts of Europe and the rest of the world (Germany, USA, Canada, Argentina, Australia, etc.).

Slovene is one of the rare Indo-European languages which preserved full grammatical use of the dual and is characterized by a large number of dialects. Dialectologists have found 46 distinct dialects of Slovene, divided into seven regional groups: Carinthian, Upper Carniolan, Lower Carniolan, Littoral, Rovte, Styrian and Pannonian.

Slovene – the mother tongue of nearly 88% of the population in Slovenia

According to population censuses conducted on the territory of Slovenia, after the First World War Slovene was the mother tongue of the vast majority of the population of Slovenia. According to the 2002 census data, Slovene was the mother tongue of 87.7%, Hungarian of 0.4% and Italian of 0.2% of the population of Slovenia. Between 1991 and 2002 the percentage of the population with Slovene as the mother tongue declined by 0.6 of a percentage point, which is in comparison with the 1971-1981 and 1981-1991 periods a modest reduction (2.7 and 3.2 percentage points, respectively). In addition to Slovene, Hungarian and Italian, at the 2002 population census the respondents stated as their mother tongues the languages of former Yugoslav republics: 2.8% Croatian, 1.8% Serbo-Croatian, 1.6% Serbian and 1.6% Bosnian. The percentage of the population whose mother tongue was none of the already mentioned languages was 1.8%.

The percentage of people with Slovene as the mother was at the 2002 census the highest among people aged 60+ and among young people aged up to 10 years - in both cases over 92%. According to census data, the percentage of people whose mother tongue is Hungarian has been falling, while the percentage of people whose mother tongue is Italian has been fluctuating around 0.2% since the 1971 census.

Graph: Population whose mother tongue is not Slovenian, municipalities, Slovenia, Census 2002


Note: "Unknown" is not included. 
Sources: Statistical Office of the Republic of Slovenia, 2002 Census, Surveying and Mapping Authority of the Republic of Slovenia 


The possibility to learn Slovene at foreign universities

Great interest in learning Slovene is shown by numerous Slovenian language lectureships at universities around the world. These lectureships (the list is available on the website of the Centre for Slovene as the Second/Foreign Language) operate at 54 universities in 25 countries across the world (Argentine, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France, Croatia, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, Hungary, Macedonia, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Serbia, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America). Slovene language study programs are underway at many European universities, in Tokyo (Japan), in Kansas, Cleveland and Lakeland (the US) and in Buenos Aires (Argentina). The number of Slovene language chairs is growing. At 23 European universities students can graduate in the Slovenian language and continue their studies at postgraduate level Slovene language programs.

Multilingualism in the EU – respecting language diversity

Today, the EU's linguistic diversity is a fact and co-operation with people speaking different languages is becoming common. Article 22 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union of 2000 stipulates that the EU must respect the linguistic diversity, which is why EU institutions use 23 official languages. The European Parliament differs from other EU institutions by its commitment to ensure full multilingualism: all EU citizens must have direct access to legislation that concerns them in the language of their country.

In Slovenia too more and more young people and adults learn foreign languages

A comparison of data on learning foreign languages for the school years 1996/97 and 2006/07 shows that in elementary and secondary schools the percentage of pupils learning foreign languages - either according to the weekly schedule of subjects or as an optional subject – increased.

In the school year 2006/07, in addition to the obligatory foreign language (which is mostly English) around 25,000 elementary school pupils were learning one or two other foreign languages as an optional subject. Most of the pupils selected German as the second foreign language, followed by English and French.
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