Slovenian and Slovenian Terminology – Mojca Žagar Karer

Lake Bled. Photo by Franci Ferjan. Source:

Slovenia is a small country in the heart of Europe with a population of around two million. Geographically, it is very diverse because it lies at the junction of the Alps, the Mediterranean, the Pannonian Basin, and the Dinaric Mountains. Since time immemorial, it has been at the crossroads of Romance, Germanic, and Slavic cultures and languages. Although Slovenia became an independent country only in 1991, throughout history the Slovenian language has been an important means of identification.

Slovenian was first written down around the year 1000 in the Freising manuscripts, which are the first written document in Slovenian and the first record of any Slavic language in Latin script. The era of the Protestant Reformation was also important: in 1550 the first Slovenian books were printed (Abecedarium and Catechismus by the Protestant preacher Primož Trubar). In 1584, Adam Bohorič published the first Slovenian grammar (in Latin), and in the same year Jurij Dalmatin translated the Bible into Slovenian. The nineteenth century was also very important for the status of the language. In 1849, Slovenian became one of the ten official languages ​​of Austria-Hungary, and in 1851 Slovene was unified for use in schools and official texts. In 1894 and 1895, Maks Pleteršnik’s Slovenian–German dictionary was published, which was the most complete inventory of Slovenian until the Standard Slovenian Dictionary (SSKJ; 1970–1990) was completed. In 1899, Fran Levec published the first Slovenian normative guide. The current normative guide (Pravopis) was published in 2001, and a new version (ePravopis) is being created at the ZRC SAZU Fran Ramovš Institute of the Slovenian Language. A new general Slovenian dictionary (eSSKJ) is also being created there. Both dictionaries are published on the Fran portal, where one can also find other dictionaries created at the institute.

In the turbulent twentieth century, which was marked by the two world wars, Slovenia was part of various states (until 1918 part of Austria-Hungary; from 1918 to 1929 part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes; from 1929 to 1941 part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia; and from 1945 to 1990 part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia). After an independence referendum in 1990, in which 95% of voters (i.e., 88.5% of the total electorate) chose independence, Slovenia seceded from Yugoslavia in 1991.

Article 11 of the Slovenian constitution defines Slovenian as the official language of Slovenia. In areas where there are Italian and Hungarian minorities, Italian and Hungarian are also official languages. When Slovenia joined the EU in 2004, Slovenian became one of the official languages of the EU. Slovenian also has the status of a minority language in neighboring Austria, Italy, and Hungary, and organized Slovenian language communities are also active elsewhere in the world, especially in Germany, France, Belgium, Canada, Argentina, and Australia.

Whereas the influence of German was still problematic for many in the nineteenth century and the influence of Serbo-Croatian in the second half of the twentieth century, after independence, Slovenian no longer had an “external enemy” for the first time in history. During globalization, Slovenian, like many other languages, began to be influenced the most by English.

Today Slovenian can be said to be in good shape. It is used in all areas of human activity, both in public and private. It is possible to learn Slovenian at more than forty universities around the world. The sociolinguistic situation is discussed in the report on the research project Language Policy of the Republic of Slovenia and the Needs of Users (Gliha Komac ed., 2017). With few exceptions, education from primary school to university is conducted in Slovenian. The issue of the language of instruction in Slovenian higher education is a topical one (Kalin Golob et al., 2014).

Cultivation of Slovenian terminology is also connected with the preservation of Slovenian as the language of science. This has a long tradition; as early as 1853, the volume Juridisch-politische Terminologie für die slavischen Sprachen Österreichs. Deutsch-kroatische, serbische und slovenische Separat-Ausgabe (Judicial and Political Terminology for the Slavic Languages of Austria. German–Croatian, Serbian, and Slovenian Separate Edition), in which emerging Slovenian legal terminology was taken into account on an equal basis. The establishment of the University of Ljubljana in 1919 was very important for the development of Slovenian research and, consequently, Slovenian terminology. After the Second World War, the Terminological Committees of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SAZU), consisting of the most prominent experts in individual fields, published many terminological dictionaries (e.g., on veterinary medicine, technology, meteorology, agriculture, and other topics).

After 2000, more than two hundred terminological dictionaries covering various fields and with different scopes were published, and the EU translators in IATE also collect terminology for their needs. Today, terminology is dealt with at universities as part of translation studies, language studies, and journalism, in various professional associations, and elsewhere.

The terminology section of the ZRC SAZU Fran Ramovš Institute of the Slovenian Language deals most comprehensively with terminology. Its members are involved in terminology research, the compilation of terminological dictionaries, and terminological counselling. Since 2000, the section has published seventeen terminological dictionaries, which are available on the Terminologišče website; namely: Planinski terminološki slovar (covering alpinism), Geografski terminološki slovar (geography), Gemološki terminološki slovar (gemology), Geološki terminološki slovar (geology), Čebelarski terminološki slovar (beekeeping), Gledališki terminološki slovar (theater), Slovenski smučarski slovar (skiing), Botanični terminološki slovar (botany), Tolkalni terminološki slovar (percussion), Urbanistični terminološki slovar (urban planning), Terminološki slovar uporabne umetnosti (applied art), Terminološki slovar avtomatike (automatic control, systems and robotics; first and second editions), Pravni terminološki slovar (legal terminology), Farmacevtski terminološki slovar (pharmacy; first and second editions), Terminološki slovar betonskih konstrukcij (concrete structures), Davčni terminološki slovar (taxes), and Kamnarski terminološki slovar (stonemasonry).

The creation of terminological dictionaries is based on the conceptual approach (Fajfar & Žagar Karer 2015), in which terminologists and groups of experts from various fields participate. For each dictionary, a terminologist prepares a specialized corpus of Slovenian specialised texts, from which he or she then creates a wordlist with the help of language technology tools. After experts have reviewed and supplemented the wordlist, preparing the definition of terms begins, which takes place by conceptual groups (e.g., all types of sodba ‘judgment’ in law, all types of tableta ‘tablet’ in pharmacy, all types of park in urban planning, etc.). Foreign-language equivalents are also added, most often English, but also German, French, Italian, and so on. Because terminological dictionaries also serve a normative role, the dictionaries contain cross-references to preferred terms. The selection of the preferred term is the result of a terminological agreement between experts; in this case, between the dictionary authors.

The purpose of terminological dictionaries is to inventory and organize the terminology of an individual subject field, and the result is a uniform and content-related handbook that facilitates more effective communication within the subject field. The only problem is that terminological dictionaries usually cannot help users with acute terminological problems that require a quick solution. These are new concepts that need to be properly named before some less suitable option is established. Even the coexistence of several synonyms can be disruptive to unambiguous communication.

Such needs are met by the Terminological Counselling Service, which has been operating on the Terminologišče website since 2013. It is primarily intended for experts, but questions are also asked by translators, copyeditors, and others. The answers to terminological questions are given in the form of an opinion in which all terminologists participate. The most appropriate term for the concept in question is always chosen, which is also justified by terminological principles. Terminological counselling therefore complements the information in terminological dictionaries. This is why the answers from the Terminological Counselling Service are published on the Terminologišče website, where they are freely available to everyone.

In order to help terminology users even more, a group of language technologists and terminologists have designed a new terminology portal called Terminološki portal as part of the project Development of Slovene in a Digital Environment, which will be launched in the coming months. It will contain a tool for writing terminological resources that will be created on the portal, a common search engine for on-portal and off-portal resources, a term extractor for professional texts, and a terminological Q&A page, which will be connected to the Terminologišče website.

Because terminology is essential for effective communication between experts (and often also in general language), it is important for users to be able to quickly and easily obtain reliable information about terms and their definitions. Only in this way will Slovenian remain a fully functional language.

Mojca Žagar Karer
ZRC SAZU, Fran Ramovš Institute of the Slovenian Language


Fajfar, Tanja, & Žagar Karer, Mojca. (2015) Pojmovni pristop k izdelavi terminološkega slovarja [A Conceptual Approach in the Compilation of Terminological Dictionaries]. In Mojca Smolej (ed.) Slovnica in slovar (pp. 209–16). Filozofska fakulteta.

Gliha Komac, Nataša. (ed.). (2017). Ciljni raziskovalni projekt Jezikovna politika Republike Slovenije in potrebe uporabnikov [The Target Research Project Language Policy of the Republic of Slovenia and the Needs of Users]. ZRC SAZU, University of Ljubljana, University of Maribor.

Kalin Golob, Monika, Červ, Gaja, Stabej, Marko, & Stritar Kučuk, Mojca. (2014). Jezikovna politika in jeziki visokega šolstva v Sloveniji [Language Policy and Languages of Higher Education in Slovenia]. Založba FDV.

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