Slovak [slovenský jazyk] is a western Slavonic language like Czech, Polish and Sorbian. It uses the Latin alphabet with four diacritics. The earliest attestations are in Latin or Old Church Slavonic manuscripts, and date from the 10th –13th centuries. Standardisation was first attempted only in the late 18th century by Anton Bernolák (1762-1813), a Catholic priest: the use of a Slovakicized form of Czech was also a way to distance oneself from the Slovak protestant tradition, which had its roots in the Czech Reformation. In the 19th century, parallel to the rise of Slovak nationalism, L’udovít Štúr (1815-56) developed a standard grammar which is basically in use to this day. The Slovak language differs from Czech because the two languages were standardised on the basis of different dialects on the Czecho-Slovak dialectal continuum [Berger, 2003]. Slovak and Czech are in fact mutually intelligible languages: differences between them are smaller than those existing between standard (literary) Czech and Silesian dialects. This has favoured the development of passive (or receptive) bilingualism between Czechs and Slovaks, with a situation of “semicommunication” similar to the one between Danish, Norwegian and Swedish. There are no reliable data available on the presence of Slovak dialects in the CR.; as Slovaks lived dispersed throughout the country and tend to assimilate very quickly, it is generally assumed that no new dialects have come into existence.
Before the foundation of the Czechoslovak Republic (CSR) in 1918 the Czech and the Slovak nations were politically divided, although there was some degree of migration. Slovaks from southern Slovakia, for example, had fled to Southern Moravia following the Turkish invasion of Hungary. Within the Austro-Hungarian Empire Slovakia was part of Hungary. In 1918 Slovaks comprised — together with the Czechs — 65% of the population of the CSR. The migration of Slovak from to the more industrialized Czech regions, that had occurred since the second half of the 19th century, ceased in 1939 when Slovakia was founded as a separate state and the Czech Lands became a protectorate of Germany. After the war the CSR was re-established, with the Slovaks replacing the Germans as the largest non-Czech national group. By 1947 there were as many as 170,000 Slovaks among those who settled the border areas with Germany (the former Sudetenland). Slovak immigration grew to reach a peak of 3.5% of the total CSR population in 1980, when 359,370 declared Slovak ethnicity. Unlike Germans or Poles, Slovaks are therefore mainly post-war immigrants. With the establishment of the Federal Republic in 1968 the situation of passive bilingualism intensified: an example was the arrival of many Slovaks in Prague to work within the state’s administration.
Passive bilingualism was developed essentially through broadcasting, while the influence of printed media was less. Education played a significant role, with the teaching of Slovak being limited to the acquisition of a passive language knowledge.
Before World War II Czechs and Slovaks were considered as one “Czechoslovak” nation and were not differentiated in statistics. In the 2001 census, 193,190 people declared Slovak nationality; in the 1991 census there were 314,877 (3.1% of the population). However, a qualified estimate places the number of Slovaks living in the Czech Republic at between 350,000 and 400,000. There remains a decrease in Slovak ethnicity that has been occurring since the 1980s, and more sharply in the last decade of the 20th century. This fall in Slovak affiliation is not due to repatriation: many second- or third generation Slovaks may have chosen to declare Czech identity, Slovak immigration has slowed down and many of the Roma who had previously declared Slovak nationality (most of them do originate from Slovakia) have probably switched to Czech or Roma ethnicity [Nekvapil and Neustupný, 1998]. As to the number of speakers, in the 2001 census 208,723 declared Slovak to be their first language, while in 1991 239,355 speakers had been recorded. Unlike in 1991, therefore, the number of speakers exceeds the number of those who declare the relevant ethnicity. However, 14,109 people have declared themselves as bilingual Czech-Slovak. The census of 1981 did not include a question concerning the first language.
Although Slovaks are dispersed throughout the territory of the CR, the most numerous groups are to be found in northern Moravia, northern Bohemia and Prague. More specifically, they are found in the Karlovy Vary region, as well as in the Moravia-Silesia, Usti n.L. and Liberec regions. There are still no data available on urban or rural distribution, pending further statistical analysis.
The Constitution of 1920 introduced a “Czechoslovak” language, although legislation in the same document specified that the language had two varieties, Czech and Slovak. They were used in their respective territories, but Czech was the language of the central administration and prevailed in most contexts. In 1938 Slovak became the official language of the state, and the codification of literary Slovak was deliberately separated from Czech. After World War II the legal concept of Czechoslovak was not revived, and Slovak continued to remain under Czech influence. With the establishment of a federal state in 1968, both Czech and Slovak were official languages and the degree of receptive multilingualism increased. With the partition of the Czechoslovakia (1993) the Slovak community in the CR became a minority.
The legal status of Slovak is not mentioned separately nor in a single general framework, but is derived by formulations that are also applicable to other minority languages. Its use is thus governed by the Act on Rights of Members of National Minorities. The main government institution dealing with the Slovak minority is the Government Council for National Minorities, where the Slovak minority is represented. The Government Council for National Minorities allocates grants for the various activities of the Slovak associations.
There has traditionally been a lack of Slovak schools in the CR. Currently, Slovak is not taught at the pre-school, primary and secondary levels of education, nor in technical and vocational schools. In the first half of the 90s, the primary school in Karviná was the only operational Slovak school in the territory of the CR; but it ceased to exist at the end of the millennium owing to a low number of pupils. A survey conducted in the first half of the 80s revealed that many Slovaks did not consider the teaching of Slovak as appropriate for their children. In Prague (where several thousand Slovaks live) there has never been a Slovak school: in the 90s, the association Obec Slovákov v Českej republike had launched the project of a Slovak High School [gymnázium], but there were not enough applications.
After the division of Czechoslovakia in 1993 Slovak was no longer included in school curricula; some institutions in the CR continued teaching Slovak within the framework of Slavic or Czech studies, others discontinued it. Towards the end of the 1990s it was felt that more systematic attention was necessary. In 1999 the Slovak - Czech Club, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports of the CR, the Charles University of Prague and the Embassy of the Slovak Republic organised a conference to discuss the absence of Slovak language in the Czech education system. In 2000 the National Seminar on Teaching Slovak and Slovak Literature at Czech Universities organised by the Hradec Králové University recommended that some universities establish a Czech-Slovak major, and called for the incorporation of Slovak language and literature at primary and secondary schools within the context of multicultural education. The Protocol between the Czech and Slovak ministries of education permits students to use their mother language in admission examinations and during academic courses in the other country (i.e. the Czech language can be used at Slovak universities and vice versa, unless the course or examination is directly related to the study of the language concerned).
As a subject, Slovak is now present only at the university level, and is included into curricula of Czech Studies or Slavic Studies. There is a department (founded in 1994) of Slovak Studies at the Charles University in Prague. Slovak studies are available also at Masaryk University in Brno. As a medium of instruction, Slovak is used within the Slovak Studies programme at Charles University and Masaryk University, but in other institutions of higher education (technical, economic or medical universities) some Slovak members of the teaching staff use Slovak while teaching various subjects to Czech students. There are no particular training courses for language teachers.
The Act on Rights of Members of National Minorities of 10th July 2001 states that “Members of national minorities living traditionally and for a long time in the territory of the Czech Republic have the right to use the language of a national minority in official documentation and discourse and in hearings before a court. Conditions for exercise of this right are determined by special regulation”. Members of the Slovak minority are thus guaranteed the right to use Slovak in contact with judicial authorities and in court. There are official interpreters from Slovak into Czech registered at the Ministry of Justice. In practice, however, the right to use minority languages in dealing with administrative authorities and in the courts has not been supported by additional legislation, and has not been implemented. Receptive bilingualism is most frequent in such situations.
The are no official statements/documents nor reliable data available on the use of Slovak by state or regional public authorities. Given its interintelligibility with Czech, Slovak is apparently tolerated in dealings with the administration — both in writing and in speech. No services are provided in Slovak; the signage is only in Czech. However, informal contacts with service providers can be maintained in Slovak, insofar as receptive bilingualism allows it.
In 1991 there were still 14 Slovak newspapers being distributed in the CR, but not necessarily published in the Czech Lands. Today there are no dailies or weeklies in the Slovak language that are published in the Czech Republic. Only three monthlies are available in the CR: Listy (published by the Klub slovenské kultury v České republice), Slovenské dotyky [Slovak Touches] (published by the Slovensko-český klub v ČR) and Korene [Roots] (published by Obec Slovákov v ČR). Ilustrovaný žurnál Černá labuť — which is published only occasionally — uses both Czech and Slovak.
In radio broadcasting, there is a regular short programme in Slovak for the Slovak minority (including 1 hour/week of news); Slovak is sometimes used in Czech broadcasting, e.g. in sports programmes or news (in interviews with Slovak players or trainers living in CR), or by national radio stations who employ Slovak correspondents or moderators for music programmes. Since 2002, the Slovak private radio Twist (based in Slovakia) has broadcast in Prague and in the surrounding region. There are no separate Slovak TV channels or programmes, not even on private channels. The Slovak satellite channel Markíza and other Slovak networks (films and series are also dubbed in Slovak) can be picked up in the CR. It has frequently been suggested that television used to play a decisive role in the development of receptive bilingualism, and that the disappearance of the Slovak cultural programmes (as well as the alternation of announcers in news and sports) has negatively affected the passive knowledge of the language among younger generations. However, in the former CSR there was only one TV program in Slovak, and the total share of Slovak was quite limited.
The activities of the Slovak minority organisations are presented by the Slovak-Czech Club on www.cz-sk.net and on www.slovak.sk (or www.slovaci.cz ) by the Community of the Slovaks in the Czech Republic. On both addresses the periodicals Slovak Touches and Roots are available. In addition, the Czech-Slovak Club has put on www.svet.czsk.net an Internet daily which is updated every day. This online publication addresses Czechs and Slovaks worldwide, including the Slovak minority in the CR and the Czech minority in Slovakia; it is supported by both Czech and Slovak government bodies.
Materials and books in Slovak are published mainly in Slovakia. A recent production in the CR is the result of the collaboration between Czech and Slovak linguists: M. Sokolová, K. Musilová, D. Slančová and J. Dršatová (forthcoming): Renovovaný kurz jazyka slovenského pro Čechy – Renovovaný kurz českého jazyka pre Slovákov [A Revised Course of Slovak for Czechs – A Revised Course of Czechs for Slovaks]. In 2003 a new textbook for secondary schools was published: Čítanka moderní slovenské literatury pro střední školy [An anthology of Slovak literature for secondary schools] (of Baláž, Anton, and Petrík, Vladimír: Praha: Slovensko-český klub).
Among traditional music groups are Limbora (founded in the 1950s) and Púčik (founded in 1991); they work in Prague and Brno respectively. Slovak pop and rock is very popular in the CR, but the music is produced in Slovakia. There are a few Slovak singers living and performing in the CR, among them Miro Žbirka. As far as drama is concerned, there are no professional groups that work in Slovak. The ČeskoSlovenská scéna [The CzechSlovak Scene] is a semi-professional group performing both in Czech and Slovak (the Czech actors speak Czech and the Slovak actors speak Slovak during the same performance). There are no films made or dubbed in Slovak, but in many Czech films there are characters using Slovak. The Club of the Slovak Culture in the Czech Republic holds lectures, seminars, performances of folklore ensembles and professional art exhibitions, publications and collection of documents. The Slovensko-český klub [Slovak-Czech Club] was the main organiser of Days of the Slovak Culture which took place in 2001 in České Budějovice, Moravská Třebová and Prague. This civil association also puts on the festival of Czech-Slovak Theatre, where Czech and Slovak actors play together in their respective mother tongues. In 2002 it also organised in several Czech towns Days of the Slovak Culture in the Czech Republic. The Community of the Slovaks in the Czech Republic was the promoter of the 4th international festival of Slovak folklore Jánošík Ducat at the Walachia Open-Air Museum in Rožnov pod Radhoštěm. This festival has included members of other national minorities living in the CR. In 2002 the Limbora Slovak Folklore Association in Prague was a main organiser of the international folklore festival Prague - the Heart of Nations.
Many Slovaks use Slovak when talking to or negotiating with Czechs: knowledge of Slovak does not seem to be a job requirement or advantage in any sector. There is no advertising in the language. A new phenomenon is the parallelism of Czech and Slovak texts in consumer goods and trade: since producers have to use Czech texts on packages of industrial products for sale in the CR and must use Slovak for the Slovak market, the use of parallel texts in both languages is increasing.
In general, Slovaks who only come to the CR temporarily use Slovak; those who plan to stay permanently tend to shift to Czech. The situation of bilingualism thus seems to be directly linked to the duration of the contact with Czech. The intergenerational transmission of Slovak appears to occur in only 50% of the families and presumably even less, a decrease from 50 years ago. Younger generations, not surprisingly, are considered by their parents to be less competent in the language. The degree of endogamy is low and on the wane (29.1% in 1991 and 16.2% in 1994): in mixed families communication is in Czech or in both languages, but homogeneous Slovak families also tend to use both languages.
The Slovak minority has several associations, most dealing with cultural activities: Česko-Slovenská scéna, Demokratická aliancia Slovákov, Folklórne združenie Púčik, Folklórne združenie Limbora, Klub slovenskej kultúry, Obec Slovákov v ČR, Klub slovenské kultury v České republice, Slovensko-český klub, Spolok Detvan, Spolok priateľov slovenského divadla, Zväz Slovákov. The Klub slovenské kultury v České republice [Club of the Slovak Culture in the Czech Republic] is the largest, with approx. 2,500 members. In 2001 it helped organise the first Week of the Czech-Slovak Cultural Interaction. The Slovak Community in the Czech Republic has its regional branches throughout the whole state. It holds club evening parties and is one of the main organisers of the international festival of Slovak folklore, Jánošík Ducat, which takes place at the Walachia Open-Air Museum in Rožnov pod Radhoštěm. At the 3rd festival in 2001 more than 20 ensembles from the CR and abroad performed. The festival was open to ensembles of other national minorities living in the CR.
The Agreement between the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic on good neighbourhood, friendly relations and cooperation guarantees (Art. 8) both the legal protection and support of new national minorities – the Slovak minority in the CR and the Czech one in SR, the development of educational, cultural and association activities etc. Reciprocal treatment of Slovak students in the CR and Czech students in Slovakia is guaranteed by the Protocol between the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports of the Czech Republic and the Ministry of Education of the Slovak Republic concerning Cooperation in the Field of Education, Youth, Physical Education and Sports in the Years 2002-2006
The situation of the Slovaks in the CR appears to be one of language and cultural assimilation, as the declining number of speakers (paralleled by the diminishing ethnic affiliation) indicates. This language shift is certainly being favoured by the situation of receptive bilingualism and “semicommunication” existing between Czech and Slovak speakers — given the high degree of interintelligibility of the two languages. The role of Slovak in education and other fields is negligible, despite the existing legal framework. The lack of interest and initiatives for the language seems to characterise both official authorities and civic society domains.