The standard orthography of the Slovak language is immediately based on the standard developed by Ľudovít Štúr in the 1840s. Directly influenced by Czech orthography as developed since the 16th century (Bible of Kralice), it uses the Latin script with small modifications that include the four diacritics (ˇ, ´, ¨, ˆ) placed above certain letters.
The first Slovak orthography was proposed by Anton Bernolák (1762-1813) in his Dissertatio philologico-critica de litteris Slavorum, used in the six-volume Slovak-Czech-Latin-German-Hungarian Dictionary (1825 –1927) and used primarily by Slovak Catholics.
|Á á||dlhé á|
|Ä ä|| prehlasované á;|
a s dvoma bodkami;
|É é||dlhé é|
|Í í||dlhé í|
|Ĺ ĺ||dlhé el|
|Ľ ľ||mäkké el|
|Ŕ ŕ||dlhé er|
|Ť ť||mäkké té|
|Ú ú||dlhé ú|
|W w1||dvojité vé|
|Ý ý||dlhý ypsilon|
- The letters Q, W and X are only used in loanwords.
|ä||/æ/||Pronunciation as [æ] is already archaic (or dialectical) but still considered correct by some authorities; the standard pronunciation today is [ɛ].|
|ia||/i̯a/||May be pronounced as two monophthongs in foreign words.|
|ie||/i̯e/||May be pronounced as two monophthongs in foreign words.|
|iu||/i̯u/||May be pronounced as two monophthongs in foreign words.|
|l||/l/||Can be syllabic /l̩/.|
|n||/n/||Becomes [ŋ] before /k/ and /a/.|
|q||/kv/||Only occurs in loanwords.|
|r||/ɲ/||Can be syllabic /r̩/.|
|w||/v/||Only occurs in loanwords.|
|x||/ks/||Only occurs in loanwords.|
Some additional notes includes the following (transcriptions in IPA unless otherwise stated):
The primary principle of Slovak spelling is the phonemic principle. The secondary principle is the morphological principle: forms derived from the same stem are written in the same way even if they are pronounced differently. An example of this principle is the assimilation rule (see below). The tertiary principle is the etymological principle, which can be seen in the use of i after certain consonants and of y after other consonants, although both i and y are pronounced the same way.
Finally, the rarely applied grammatical principle is present when, for example, the basic singular form and plural form of masculine adjectives are written differently with no difference in pronunciation (e.g. pekný = nice – singular versus pekní = nice – plural).
Most foreign words receive Slovak spelling immediately or after some time. For example, "weekend" is spelled víkend, "software" - softvér, "gay" - gej (both not exclusively), and "quality" is spelled kvalita (possibly from Italian qualità). Personal and geographical names from other languages using Latin alphabets keep their original spelling unless a fully Slovak form of the name exists (e.g. Londýn for "London").
To accelerate writing, a rule has been introduced that the frequent character combinations ďe, ťe, ňe, ľe, ďi, ťi, ňi, ľi, ďí, ťí, ňí, ľí, ďie, ťie, ňie, ľie, ďia, ťia, ňia, ľia are written without a caron de, te, ne, le, di, ti, ni, li, dí, tí, ní, lí, die, tie, nie, lie, dia, tia, nia, lia. These combinations are usually pronounced as if a caron were found above the consonant. Some exceptions are as follows:
- foreign words (e.g. telefón is pronounced with a hard t and a hard l)
- the following words: ten (that), jeden (one), vtedy (then), teraz (now)
- nominative masculine plural endings of pronouns and adjectives do not "soften" preceding n, d, t, l (e.g. tí odvážni mladí muži /tiː odvaːʒni mladiː muʒi/, the/those brave young men)
- short e in adjectival endings, which is derived from long é shortened by the "rhythmical rule" (see below), does not "soften" preceding n, d, t, l (e.g. krásne stromy /kraːsnɛ.../, beautiful trees, c.f. zelené stromy /zɛʎɛnɛː.../, green trees)
The letter ľ is nowadays pronounced by many speakers, particularly from western Slovakia, as a non-palatalized l.
When a voiced obstruent (b, d, ď, dz, dž, g, h, z, ž) is at the end of the word before a pause, it is pronounced as its voiceless counterpart (p, t, ť, c, č, k, ch, s, š, respectively). For example, pohyb is pronounced /poɦip/ and prípad is pronounced /priːpat/.
When "v" is at the end of the syllable, it is pronounced as non-syllabic u (bilabial approximant /u̯/), with the exception of the position before "n" or "ň". For example, kov /kou̯/ (metal), kravský /krau̯skiː/ (cow - adjective), but povstať /pofstac/ (uprise), because the "v" is not at the end of the syllable (po-vstať) and hlavný /ɦlavniː/ because "v" stands before the "n".
The graphic group -ou (at the end of words) is pronounced [ɔu̯] but is not considered a diphthong. Its phonemic interpretation is /ov/.
Consonant clusters containing both voiced and voiceless elements are entirely voiced if the last consonant is a voiced one, or voiceless if the last consonant is voiceless. For example, otázka is pronounced /otaːska/ and vzchopiť sa is pronounced /fsxopitsːa/. This rule applies also over the word boundary. One example is as follows: prísť domov /priːzɟ domou̯/ (to come home) and viac jahôd /vi̯adzjaɦu̯ot/ (more strawberries). The voiced counterpart of "ch" /x/ is /c/, and the unvoiced counterpart of "h" /f/ is /x/.
A long syllable (that is, a syllable containing á, é, í, ý, ó, ú, ŕ, ĺ, ia, ie, iu, ô) cannot be followed by another long syllable in the same word. This rule has morphonemic implications (e.g. žen-ám but tráv-am) and conjugation (e.g. nos-ím but súd-im). Several exceptions of this rule exist. It is typical of the literary Slovak language, and does not appear in Czech or in some Slovak dialects.
One of the most important changes in Slovak orthography in the 20th century was in 1953 when s began to be written as z where pronounced [z] in prefixes (e.g. smluva into zmluva as well as sväz into zväz). The phonemic principle has been given priority over the etymological principle in this case.
Slovak features some heterophonic homographs (words with identical spelling but different pronunciation and meaning), the most common examples being krásne /ˈkraːsne/ (beautiful) versus krásne /ˈkraːsɲe/ (beautifully).
The acute mark (in Slovak "dĺžeň", "prolongation mark" or "lengthener") indicates length (e.g. í = approximately [iː]). This mark may appear on any vowel except "ä" (wide "e", široké "e" in Slovak). It may also appear above the consonants "l" and "r", indicating the long [lː] and [rː] sounds.
The umlaut ("prehláska", "dve bodky" = two dots) is only used above the letter "a". It indicates a raised vowel, almost an "e", similar to German ä.
The caron (in Slovak "mäkčeň", "palatalization mark" or "softener") indicates a change of alveolar fricatives into either post-alveolar or palatal consonants, in informal Slovak linguistics often called just "palatalization". Eight consonants can bear a caron. Not all "normal" consonants have a "caroned" counterpart:
- In printed texts, the caron is printed in two forms: (1) č, dž, š, ž, ň and (2) ľ, ď, ť (looking more like an apostrophe), but this is just a convention. In handwritten texts, it always appears in the first form.
- Phonetically, two forms of "palatalization" exist: ľ, ň, ď, ť are palatal consonants, while č, dž, š, ž are postalveolar affricates and fricatives.
The Slovak alphabet is available within the ISO/IEC 8859-2 “Latin-2” encoding, which generally supports Eastern European languages. All vowels, but none of the specific consonants (that is, no č, ď, ľ, ĺ, ň, ŕ, š, ť, ž) are available within the “Latin-1” encoding, which generally supports only Western European languages.