The History of Linguistic Thought and Language Use in 16 th Century Slovenia

by Kozma Ahacic (Author)
©2014 Monographs 329 Pages
Series: Thought, Society, Culture, Volume 1


This book is the first work on this topic to have been published in English and is thus brought before the international public. A preliminary sociolinguistic survey of the major issues concerning language use in 16th century Slovenia is followed by the central section – an analysis of Adam Bohorič’s pioneering grammar of Slovenian (1584) that establishes its position in the framework of contemporary European linguistics. Other subjects include the four-language grammatical appendix to Hieronymus Megiser’s dictionary (1592), the linguistic work of the German writer and teacher Nicodemus Frischlin during his stay in Slovenia, and the language issues addressed in the writings of various Slovenian Protestant writers.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • 1 An Introductory Overview of the factors Contributing to a Literate Culture in Slovenia and of its Testimonies before the Emergence of the Slovenian Literary Language in the 16th Century
  • 1.1 Language use according to social status
  • 1.2 Education
  • 1.2.1 Elementary education
  • 1.2.2 The social origins of the students
  • 1.2.3 The use of languages in elementary education
  • 1.2.4 University education
  • 1.3 Manuscripts, books, libraries
  • 1.4 Latin, German, and Slovenian texts of the 15th century Works by Slovenian Protestant writers
  • 2 A Sociolinguistic Survey of some key issues Concerning Language and Literary Production in the 16th Century
  • 2.1 Introduction
  • 2.2 The authors of Protestant works Major Slovenian Protestant writers
  • 2.3 The addressees of Protestant works
  • 2.3.1 The simple man vs. the gemeiner mann
  • 2.3.2 Other addressees
  • 2.4 The choice of language depending on the author’s relationship to the addressee
  • 2.5 Reading and listening
  • 2.6 The use of Slovenian in church
  • 2.7 The education of literary language users
  • 2.8 Financing Protestant literature
  • 2.9 The sale, purchase and press run of Protestant books
  • 2.10 The users
  • 2.11 A glance ahead
  • 3 The Grammar by Adam Bohorič: Arcticae Horulae Succisivae de Latinocarniolana Literatura (1584)
  • 3.1 Introduction
  • 3.2 A survey of the research to date
  • 3.3 Possible sources for Bohoričs grammar. A survey of some lesser-known works which shed light on Bohorič’s grammar and the language situation of the time
  • 3.3.1 Philip Melanchthon
  • 3.3.2 Donatus
  • 3.3.3 Priscian
  • 3.3.4 The lesser-known grammar books and textbooks considered in the study
  • 3.3.5 A brief digression — Nicodemus Frischlin
  • Questiones grammaticae and Strigilis grammatica: two grammatical works written by Frischlin in Ljubljana
  • The treatise De ratione instituendi puerum. The reverberations of Frischlin’s activity at the Landschaftsschule in Ljubljana
  • 3.4 An analysis of the Bohorič grammar
  • 3.4.1 Etymologia — the inflection of words
  • Nomen — the noun
  • Motio adiectivorum — gender-based declension of adjectives; motio substantivorum — (word-formative) gender-based declension of substantives
  • Comparatio — the comparison of adjectives
  • Genus — gender
  • Figura — the nomen with respect to its derivational complexity
  • Casus — case
  • Numerus — number
  • Declinatio — declension
  • Articulus — the article
  • Paradigmata declinationum — declension paradigms
  • The glossaries accompanying the paradigms
  • Species
  • Numeralia — numerals
  • De anomalis — anomalies
  • De compositorum declinatione — the declension of compound nouns
  • Pronomen — the pronoun
  • Verbum — the verb
  • Genus — voice and gender in verbs
  • Tempus — tense
  • Modus — mood
  • Figura — degree of derivational complexity
  • Persona — person
  • Numerus — number
  • Coniugatio — conjugation
  • Species
  • De formatione temporum in verbis: canones — rules for forming verb tenses
  • Schemes of conjugations
  • Passivum — the passive voice
  • Impersonalia — impersonal verbs
  • Participium — the participle
  • Adverbium — the adverb
  • Praepositio — the preposition
  • Coniunctio — conjunction 182
  • Interiectio — interjection
  • Languages in etymology
  • Sources for the chapter on etymology — conclusion
  • 3.4.2 Syntaxis — syntax
  • Syntaxis nominis — syntax of nouns
  • De syntaxi verborum — syntax of verbs
  • De syntaxi verborum [cum nominativis] — syntax of verbs with nominatives
  • De figuris — figures
  • De syntaxi verborum cum obliquis — syntax of verbs with oblique cases
  • De passivis; deponentia — passive verbs and deponents
  • Impersonal verbal forms
  • Other instances of case use
  • Numeri syntaxis — syntax of numerals
  • De impersonalibus — impersonal verbs
  • Syntax of other word classes
  • A comparative survey of examples quoted in Bohorič’s and Melanchthon’s syntax
  • The comparison of Slovenian and Latin examples in Bohorič — some observations
  • German and Germanisms in Bohorič’s syntax
  • 3.4.3 Examen etymologiae, examen syntaxeos — the test of etymology, the test of syntax
  • 3.4.4 The two short final chapters of the syntax
  • De prosodia seu accentu — on prosody or the accent
  • De metaplasmi quibusdam speciebus — a few species of metaplasms
  • 3.4.5 Orthographia — the orthography.
  • 3.4.6 Praefatio — the introduction
  • 3.4.7 The cover page of Bohorič’s grammar book
  • 4 The Grammatical Appendix to a Four-Language Dictionary by Hieronymus Megiser (1592)
  • 4.1 Nomen — noun
  • 4.2 Pronomen — pronoun
  • 4.3 Verbum — verb
  • 5 Thoughts on Language Beyond Grammar Books: The Linguistic Morsels in some works by Slovenian Protestant Writers
  • 5.1 The alphabet and the descriptions of the pronunciation of certain sounds
  • 5.2 Morphology
  • 5.3 Syntax
  • 5.4 Levels of speech
  • 5.5 Language, dialect, speech
  • 5.6 The influence of the Bible on the notion of language and languages
  • 6 Conclusion
  • 7 Summary
  • 8 Primary and Secondary Sources
  • 8.1 Abbreviations for the works cited
  • 8.2 Other primary sources
  • 8.3 Secondary sources
  • 9 Index of names
  • 10 General index
  • Series Index

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This monograph lays out the pioneering grammatical description of the Slovenian language in the 16th century, prefacing it with the language situation in which the Slovenian Protestant writers of the time founded and established the Slovenian ‘literary language’ (a standard written version of Slovenian). Previous written examples of Slovenian can be traced back to the 10th century, but only through individual manuscript recordings that were intended mainly for the recorders’ private use. Slovenian holds many points of interest for historians of European grammar-writing and for historical sociolinguists; in addition to being a minor European language which nevertheless acquired its first grammar book relatively early (1584), it is distinguished from other European languages by a number of features. These are both intralingual, such as the use of the dual number, and extralingual: it belongs, for example, to a formerly stateless, administratively fragmented nation, and still displays a rare dialectal diversity. Without at least a basic grasp of the linguistic tradition of the Slovenian language and the circumstances of its emergence, it is impossible to appreciate the scholarly work of such internationally active Slovenian linguists as Žiga Popovič (1705–1774), Jernej Kopitar (1780–1844) and Fran Miklošič (1813–1891); nor is it possible to appreciate the work of European linguists like Lucien Tesnière (1893–1954), who addressed the Slovenian language, or those who considered the relations between Slavic languages within the European group (e.g. Konrad Gesner, 1516–1565).

The chief aim of this study, a longer version of which was published in Slovenian in 2007, is to enable and encourage researchers unfamiliar with the language to include the Slovenian territory in their research and surveys. Until the mid-19th century, it cannot be said of the linguistic works hailing from this area ‘Slovenicum est, non legitur’, as they are largely written in the Latin or German metalanguages and thus still relevant for non-Slovenian historians of linguistics as well.

The research demonstrates how the reflections of 16th-century Slovenian Protestant writers on language and literature were influenced by fully developed book traditions (Latin, German, and to a certain extent Italian). In this context, it further inquires into the potential influence of European humanist thought on the views on language formed by Slovenian Protestant writers. ← 13 | 14 →

The very nature of our research subject calls for a multidisciplinary research method. Particular emphasis is laid on a survey of all available contemporary sources, that is, sources from the 16th and occasionally 15th centuries. Due to the incomplete stock of these materials in Slovenian libraries, the survey has required online searches for materials, copy requests, interlibrary loans, and study visits to libraries abroad. Though, admittedly, not everything was accessible, a lot of material has, wherever possible, been thoroughly examined and presented here in its original form; unless otherwise indicated, the translations are the work of the author.

To begin with, the task entails a number of basic questions about the language situation preceding the emergence of the Slovenian literary language; these are followed by a survey of the key themes relating to language use in 16th-century Slovenia. These questions include such considerations as: Who were the writers and addressees of 16th-century Slovenian Protestant works? How was the choice of language influenced by the writer’s relationship to the addressee? Particular emphasis is laid on the phenomena of reading and listening to texts, as well as on the public use of Slovenian, especially in church. A further topic is language planning in the concept of Protestant education. The discussion on financing Protestant works foregrounds the interesting fact that the majority of the financers did not know the language and had no significant contact with it. Other aspects to be outlined are the process and the scale of bookselling, as well as the press run of books. Finally, the study addresses the complex question of the share of the population that actually used Protestant literature.

Most of the unresolved questions occur in researching the grammar written by Adam Bohorič (1584). A survey of its potential sources, both direct and indirect ones, is followed by an analysis of the text in the light of these sources. The procedure aims to establish the extent to which the grammar is independent of, or dependent on, its potential models — a perspective which calls for a reevaluation of Bohorič’s work.

Another topic of research is the language issues addressed by Slovenian Protestant writers in works which do not primarily discuss language. In consideration of the contemporary situation in European linguistics, it is demonstrated that the appendix to Hieronymus Megiser’s four-language dictionary (1592) deserves to be described as a mini-grammar of the four languages.

No survey of Bohorič’s potential models can omit the sojourn in Ljubljana of Nicodemus Frischlin (1547–1590), a German teacher and writer. While his grammatical and pedagogical work is not related to the composition of the Bohorič grammar, it is crucial to understanding the contemporary language situation in Slovenia. ← 14 | 15 →

Until now, no comprehensive study has been attempted of either the origins and development of 16th-century Slovenian Protestant reflections on language or of the language use in that period. For a number of reasons, the research has focused on mere segments, while individual larger studies have been — for objective reasons — bound to the then-existing presentations of the primary sources. As a consequence, the basic results have been foreseen and suggested but never elaborated with reference to the sources.

A major reason for this situation would have been the difficulty of access. The last few years, by contrast, have seen a rapid expansion of generally accessible source collections. The seminal works, which were consulted by the 16th-century Slovenian Protestant writers as well, are now available in electronic form and many of them are generally accessible online. The resources provided by certain webpages significantly reduce the time needed to analyse primary sources, thus enabling a more thorough analysis; one is no longer limited to the reading room, as all accessible materials can be compared in a single location. Moreover, the contemporary researcher has access to all preserved works written by Slovenian Protestants (some of them digitised), including the complete correspondence that has come to light so far (published in book format). It is increasingly easy to find the desired book in the online catalogues of European libraries and to obtain photographs, scans or photocopies of it. Finally, a researcher of literature and language can consult a number of monographs, collections of papers, and articles — those dealing with the 16th century in Slovenia and those describing similar issues elsewhere in Europe.

A great advantage is also the material compiled for Slovar slovenskega knjižnega jezika 16. stoletja (A Dictionary of 16th-Century Slovenian Literary Language), which is being prepared by the Section for the History of the Slovenian Language (of which I am currently Head) at my home institution, the Fran Ramovš Institute of the Slovenian Language in Ljubljana. The material, comprising 3,169,000 cards, provides information on all appearances of a given word in (printed) works by 16th-century Slovenian Protestant writers. The materials are precious in their own right, and the examination of individual phenomena is facilitated, even at this early stage, by the publication of the entire lexicon in the book Besedje slovenskega knjižnega jezika 16. stoletja (The Lexicon of 16th-Century Slovenian Literary Language; Ahačič et al. 2011).

Surveys of the major studies conducted on individual topics so far have been furnished by Elisabeth Seitz (1998: 11–29), by Jože Koruza (1991: 47–51), and partly by Jože Pogačnik (1996: 63–72). Surveys of almost all relevant works in linguistics relating to the 16th century, as well as of those disciplines which include research into the Reformation period, were done by Breda Pogorelec (1984c: 181–207), by France Novak (2004: 19–30), by Majda Merše (2009: 47–68), by Andreja ← 15 | 16 → Legan Ravnikar (2009: 69–70) and by Jožica Narat (2009: 105–138); moreover, the works of particular prominence have been commented upon in Igor Grdina’s treatises, later collected in a book (Grdina 1999). In order to avoid needless repetition, the present study will thus forgo a general introductory overview of the research carried out to date. Instead, a detailed survey for each topic is included in the relevant chapter.

The text is based on a monograph originally published six years ago in Slovenian, which has now been revised and adapted for non-Slovenian readers. I am grateful to John Benjamins Publishing Company (Amsterdam/Philadelphia, www.benjamins.com) for permission to publish an expanded version of the article ‘The treatment of “nomen” in the first Slovenian grammar (Bohorič 1584)’ from the journal Historiographia Linguistica 35 (2008: 275–304), and to Société d’Histoire et d’ÉpistÉmologie des Sciences du Langage for permission to use an edited and updated version of the article ‘Omnis lingua confitebitur Deo: writing the first Slovenian grammar (1584)’ from the journal Histoire Epistémologie Langage 30 (2008: 93–112). Unless otherwise indicated, the photographs are either in the public domain or were taken by the author.

I would like to use this opportunity to thank all who have assisted me in solving individual problems and locating less accessible works, and all who have enabled me, in one way or another, to work at home and abroad. My particular thanks go to Sylvie Archaimbault, Metod Benedik, Bernard Colombat, Varja Cvetko Orešnik, Boris Golec, Andreja Legan Ravnikar, Majda Merše, Jožica Narat, France Novak, Irena Orel, Alenka Porenta, Drago Samec, Primož Simoniti, Marko Snoj, Lilijana Žnidaršič Golec, and the late Breda Pogorelec. The presentation of my research to the international public has been made possible by Marko Juvan, Metoda Kokole, Matjaž Vesel and Oto Luthar, and most of all by my former professors, and now colleagues, Igor Grdina and Marko Stabej. I am grateful to them not only for reviewing the manuscript but also for the many debates, encouragements and comments on the text in progress, as well as for their sincere interest and commitment throughout my years of study and subsequent research. Finally, I thank the team that helped to bring the project to fruition: Nada Grošelj, Gregor Pobežin, Jason Blake and Simon Atelšek. Any mistake or deficiency in the book is of course entirely my own responsibility.

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1 An introductory overview of the factors contributing to a literate culture in Slovenia and of its testimonies before the emergence of the Slovenian literary language in the 16th century

1.1 Language use according to social status

If we exclude the clerics, the language situation in 15th and 16th-century Slovenia is best divided into THREE GROUPS BASED ON SOCIAL STATUS: the peasant population, the town population, and the nobility. That said, we should avoid the stereotypical rigid attribution of the three languages (Slovenian, German — in some places Italian as well — and Latin) to one of the three classes. This conception, while completely rejected by contemporary scholarship, can be traced in both Slovenian and international literature as late as the mid-20th century — a timely methodological reminder that the relations between such concepts as language, nation, or social status were fundamentally different in earlier periods (in the 15th and 16th centuries in our case). The role played by the Slovenian language in the Slovenian lands is understood only if the role of the other languages used in this territory (Latin, German, Italian) is taken into consideration. Similarly, the role of a speaker’s or a writer’s national or ethnic affiliation can only be grasped if language and nationality are not equated; a member of one nationality may very well have written in one language and spoken in another (or others).

The PEASANTS and their families, who represented the majority of the population,1 were generally uneducated and illiterate; what they spoke was a variety of Slovenian idioms and dialects, which differed from one region to another. Since they spoke no German or Latin (their knowledge would have been limited to a few basic everyday terms, perhaps even set phrases), the common people would have communicated with the upper classes in Slovenian. The CHURCH, too, occasionally adapted its language to the peasant majority,2 as is suggested ← 17 | 18 → by the traces of a pre-Protestant tradition in the spoken public idiom.3 The 16th century further consolidated the establishment of an ecclesiastical Slovenian language in dealings with the peasants — a development assisted by Protestant book production.

The TOWN POPULATION was, in terms of ethnicity and language, more diverse than the preserved documents would suggest. The use of German and Italian (in the littoral towns) in official written communication should not lead us to imagine that all aspects of townspeople’s lives were dominated by these two languages.4 Equally mistaken would be the assumption that each town used a single language. Bi- or trilingualism was a common phenomenon in the Slovenian lands (IZS 1999: 113), not least because of two-way migration: from countryside to town (the Slovenian language), and from town to town (German, Italian, but also Slovenian). As for ethnic affiliation (IZS 1999: 115, Golec 2003: 29–37; 2009:101–113), it has been established that the smaller towns of Carniola had a Slovenian majority. During the Reformation period, when Ljubljana accommodated up to 6,000 residents, at least 70 per cent are estimated to have been Slovenian. That part of the town population that was of foreign origins was less important for the ethnic structure of the Slovenian territory, but it did play a major economic role (these were primarily Florentine bankers, Jews, merchants of South German and Italian descent).

In short, the languages of oral and written communication were not always identical, nor did the ethnic affiliation of those who understood several languages entail the use of one single language in all situations and circumstances.

While the predominant language of the NOBILITY was German, Slovenian was not as repressed in the Middle Ages, let alone in the 16th century, as might be assumed from the — mainly German — written sources. The majority of the nobility were at least bilingual, sometimes even trilingual. Moreover, fragments from history and literature attest to their use of Slovenian even in certain more elevated or formal situations.5

A knowledge of Slovenian may be ascribed especially to the lower nobility, who had patrimonial jurisdiction on their estates;6 otherwise they could not have ← 18 | 19 → acted out their authority. Indeed, we possess a complaint lodged in 1527 by the Carniolan Landstände (assembly of representatives of various classes) claiming that the newly appointed Vize-Landeshauptmann did not hail from the country and ‘knew no Slovenian, as had always been the custom’. According to Štih (1996: 139), this suggests that most Carniolan noblemen knew Slovenian, or else ran a risk of forfeiting prominent state functions. The absence of Slovenian from their written communication or (with rare exceptions) literary production does not preclude its spoken use on everyday occasions.

To cite an example: an aristocratic speaker of Slovenian in the late 15th century is portrayed in Paolo Santonino’s description of his meeting with the knight Hertmannus of Hornegg and his consort Omelia from a castle close to Ptujska Gora (Mons gratiarum). While the knight is ambiguously said to have sung songs ‘in his own tongue’ (Santonino 1943: 237), there is no room for doubting Lady Omelia’s language repertory: ‘Besides, Lady Omelia has a number of lovely maids, young and fresh, and knows both German and Slovenian’ (Santonino 1943: 238). To picture such a speaker of Slovenian accurately, we may take a closer look at Lady Omelia. According to Santonino (1943: 237), she is a ‘most lovely’ woman who has ‘a feudal castle given to her by the Patriarchal Seat: wherefore she showed herself benign and most kind to the Patriarch’s secretary’. Her two dresses, described by Santonino in detail, testify to affluence as well. Santonino’s description enhances our understanding of the late 15th century language situation, confirming that Slovenian, too, was spoken by the nobility and considered no obstacle to making a good impression.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (March)
historical sociolinguistics Slovenian grammars Sprachgebrauch Slovenien European grammars Geschichte der Linguistik
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 329 pp., 17 b/w fig., 29 tables, 20 graphs

Biographical notes

Kozma Ahacic (Author)

Kozma Ahačič is Senior Research Fellow at the Fran Ramovš Institute of the Slovenian Language at the Scientific Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts. He is also Assistant Professor of Slovenian linguistics at the University of Nova Gorica (Slovenia).


Title: The History of Linguistic Thought and Language Use in 16 th  Century Slovenia
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