Slovene phonology

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


Slovene has 21 distinctive consonant phonemes.

Slovene consonant phonemes[1]
Labial Dental/
Palatal Velar
Nasal m n
Plosive voiceless p t k
voiced b d ɡ
Affricate voiceless t͡s t͡ʃ
voiced d͡ʒ
Fricative voiceless f s ʃ x
voiced z ʒ
Approximant ʋ l j
Rhotic r
  • /m, p, b/ are bilabial, whereas /f, ʋ/ are labiodental.[2]
  • /t, d, t͡s, s, z/ and [d͡z] are dental [, , t̪͡s̪, , , d̪͡z̪],[3] i.e. /t, d/ are laminal denti-alveolar, while /t͡s, s, z/ and [d͡z] 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, r/ are alveolar.[3] The first two are laminal denti-alveolar [, ] before dental consonants. In addition, /n/ is velar [ŋ] before velar consonants,[3][4] and it merges with /m/ to a labiodental [ɱ] before labiodental consonants.[4]
  • /r/ may be syllabic. /r̩/ has also been described as the sequence /ər/ (with an epenthetic [ə]). Jones (2002) found that a vocalic segment similar to [ə] occurs before (and occasionally after) both syllabic and non-syllabic /r/, and that it is shorter than epenthetic [ə], leading to the conclusion that this is not epenthetic [ə], but simply a feature of trill production in Slovene.
  • /t͡ʃ, d͡ʒ, ʃ, ʒ/ are palato-alveolar [t͡ʃ, d͡ʒ, ʃ, ʒ],[2] but they can be laminal retroflex [ʈ̻͡ʂ̻, ɖ̻͡ʐ̻, ʂ̻, ʐ̻] for some speakers, particularly those living close to the Croatian border.

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], [ɣ] and [d͡z] may occur as voiced allophones of /f/, /x/ and /t͡s/, respectively (e.g. vŕh drevésa [ˈʋərɣ drɛˈʋeːsa]).[8]

/ʋ/ has several allophones depending on context.

  • Before a vowel, pronunciation is labiodental, [ʋ][4] (also described as [v]).[6][9]
  • After a vowel, pronunciation is bilabial [w] and forms a diphthong.[4][9]
  • 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 /ʋ/ into a full vowel [u] in this position.[4][9] For those speakers that retain a consonantal pronunciation, it is pronounced [w] before a voiced consonant and [ʍ] before a voiceless consonant.[4][9] Thus, vsi may be pronounced as disyllabic [uˈsi] or monosyllabic [ʍsi].

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

The sequences /lj/, /nj/ and /rj/ occur only before a vowel. Before a consonant or word-finally, they are reduced to /l/, /n/ and /r/ respectively. This is reflected in the spelling in the case of /rj/, but not for /lj/ and /nj/. The reduction of /lj/ and /nj/ does not occur for all speakers, some of whom use [ʎ] and [ɲ] in this position instead.

Under certain (somewhat unpredictable) circumstances, historical /l/ at the end of a syllable has become [w], an allophone of /ʋ/ in that position.


Slovene has an eight-vowel[10][11] (according to Peter Jurgec nine-vowel)[12][13] system, in comparison to the five-vowel system of Serbo-Croatian.

Slovene vowels
Front Central Back
Close i u
Close-mid e ə o
Open-mid ɛ ɔ
Near-open (ɐ)
Open a

The close front vowel /i/ is regularly pronounced as lax [ɪ] when /r/ follows, so that e.g. mira 'myrrh' is pronounced [ˈmɪ̀ːɾa].[14]

Jurgec proposes the existence of a ninth vowel /ɐ/ 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 /ɐ/ 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.[15]

The near-open /ɐ/ can only appear in the word-final stressed syllable before the syllable coda, as in čas [ˈt͡ʃɐs] 'time'. Due to the restrictions stated above, the open /a/ usually appears in its place in other declinational forms of the same word: časa [ˈt͡ʃasa], not [ˈt͡ʃɐsa], '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 /ɐ/, leading to a phonemic contrast: pas [ˈpas], not [ˈpɐs], 'belt'.[16]

Jurgec also states that in the tonemic varieties of the language, the near-open vowel /ɐ/ can carry only the high tone (see below), which is "parallel to the pattern for the [/ɛ/, /ɔ/ and /ə/]." He also notes that similarly to /ɐ/, the schwa /ə/ 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 /ɐ/ "behaves in a systematic way within the vowel system of Slovenian."[17]

According to Jurgec (2007), /ə/ 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."[18]

The dialectal distribution of /e/ vs. /ɛ/ and /o/ vs. /ɔ/ is inconsistent with the distribution in Standard Slovene. This influences the way speakers of such dialects speak Standard Slovene.[19]

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 /ɛ/ and /e/, and between /ɔ/ 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 [ɛ, ɔ], while the unstressed variants are, broadly speaking, true-mid vowels [, ]. In fact, however, the unstressed mid vowels have two realizations:

  • Lowered close-mid (between close-mid and true-mid) [e̞, o̞] before a stressed syllable (as in velikan 'giant' and oglas 'advertisement').[20][21]
  • Raised open-mid (between true-mid and open-mid) [ɛ̝, ɔ̝] after a stressed syllable (as in medved 'bear' and potok 'stream').[20][21]

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 /ɛ, ɔ/.[20] However, Šuštaršič, Komar & Petek (1999) report true-mid allophones [, ] of the close-mid vowels /e, o/ occurring in the sequences /ej/ and /oʋ/, but only if a vowel does not follow within the same word.[22] 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 /ɛ, ɔ/.

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


Scholars[23] have found that vowel length in standard Slovene is no longer distinctive,[4][18][20][24] and that the only differences in vowel length are that the stressed vowels are longer than the unstressed ones,[20][25] and that stressed open syllables are longer than stressed closed syllables.[20] Stressed syllables are characterized by amplitude and pitch prominence.[25]

In tonemic varieties, stressed syllables also have a distinction of phonemic tone (high or low).

All dialects of Slovene have phonemic stress, but the same word can be accented quite differently in different dialects. Most words have a single syllable that carries stress. Some compounds, but not all, have multiple stresses, 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.

In traditional pronunciation

In non-final syllables, quantitative accent (increased syllable length) is also present in almost all words. In tonemic varieties, stressed syllables also have a distinction of phonemic tone (high or low). Stress and vowel length are closely intertwined:[26]

  • 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.
  • The combination /ər/, although phonetically short, may be stressed and behaves as a long vowel in that case. In particular, it may carry tonal distinctions.
  • Schwa /ə/ in other positions can also carry the stress, but does not have tonal distinctions and thus behaves as a short vowel.

Note that vowel length is clearly phonemic 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.


The standard language has two varieties, tonemic and non-tonemic. These differ only in the presence of phonemic tonal distinctions on stressed syllables (i.e. pitch accent) in the former. Phonemic tone exists only in a 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).[27] 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 exact distribution and phonetic realization of tonemes varies locally.[28] In Standard Slovene, some words with the traditionally long vowels /aː, eː, oː, iː, uː/ may have either a high or low tone.[29]

Unless otherwise noted, this article discusses the tonemes as they are realized in Standard Slovene spoken in Ljubljana.

In the tonemic variety, the following additional rules apply to stressed vowels (unstressed vowels never carry tonal distinction):

  • Long vowels as well as tautosyllabic stressed /ər/ (i.e. stressed /ər/ not directly followed by a vowel in the same word) can bear either a high or low tone. (The terms falling or circumflex are sometimes used in place of high; likewise, rising or acute may be used in place of low.)
  • High-tone low-mid /ɛ́ː, ɔ́ː/ are uncommon.
  • Short vowels other than /ə/ are always high-tone.
  • /ə/ (when not part of a stressed /ər/ combination) is normally tonemically high in final syllables and low elsewhere.

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

Long low tone àːɛ̀ːèːìːɔ̀ːòːùːə̀r
Long high tone áːɛ́ːéːíːɔ́ːóːúːə́r
Short low tone ə̀
Short high tone áɛ́íɔ́úə́
Unstressed aɛiɔuərə
tonemic diacritics
Long low tone áéẹ́íóọ́úŕ
Long high tone ȃȇẹ̑ȋȏọ̑ȗȓ
Short low tone ə̀
Short high tone ȁȅȉȍȕə̏
Unstressed aeiourə

Note that tautosyllabic stressed /ər/ behaves like a long vowel in terms of the tones it can bear, and in fact it is notated as such in the tonemic writing system (see above). Examples: pr̂stnica ('phalanx') with high tone vs. pŕstanəc ('finger') with low tone. However, since it does not have any length distinction, it is equally valid to class it as a short vowel.

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 many[4][20][24] 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 /áː/. Instead, the former is realized as [ɐ́].[13]


The sample text is a reading of the first sentence of The North Wind and the Sun. The transcription is based on a recording of two speakers, a female and a male, from Ljubljana.[2] It does not indicate tone.[22]

Phonemic transcription

/ˈseʋərni ˈʋetər in ˈsont͡sɛ sta sɛ prɛˈpirala | kaˈteri ɔd ˈnjiju jɛ mɔt͡ʃˈnejʃi | kɔ jɛ ˈmimɔ priˈʃɛʋ pɔˈpotnik | zaˈʋit ʋ ˈtɔpəʋ ˈplaʃt͡ʃ/[30]

Phonetic transcription

[ˈseʋəɾni ˈʋetəɾ in ˈsont͡sɛ sta sɛ pɾɛˈpiɾala | kaˈteɾi ɔd ˈnjiju jɛ mɔt͡ʃˈnejʃi | kɔ jɛ ˈmimɔ pɾiˈʃɛw pɔˈpotnik | zaˈʋit u ˈtɔpəw ˈplaʃt͡ʃ][30]

Orthographic version

Severni veter in sonce sta se prepirala, kateri od njiju je močnejši, ko je mimo prišel popotnik, zavit v topel plašč.[31]



Further reading

This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.