Michael Manske’s The Glory of Carniola has a remarkable post called “The Diabolicalness of Dialects” about the diversity of Slovenian dialects in general and a northwestern dialect called Resian in particular. Val Resia is a mountainous region in northeastern Italy near the Slovenian border, and the isolation of its inhabitants has produced a dialect that is apparently incomprehensible to most speakers of the standard language (though, judging from the comments on Michael’s post, not to Slovenes from the western part of the country). Michael links to an audio clip and says “If you’re a fool, like me, who is learning the language, it’s enough to make you want to slit your wrists and let eternal sleep take you to a better place. I mean, imagine learning an insanely difficult language and then going 50 kilometers away and discovering it doesn’t work anymore.” He also links to a great map of Slovenian dialects (with a legend that, fortunately, expands when you click on it). If you’re interested in the dialect, there’s a website devoted to it, with texts, a dictionary, and other goodies.

Incidentally, Michael’s a New Yorker who moved to Slovenia after marrying a Slovenian gal, and his blog FAQ has a hilarious riff on the language:

6. Speaking of which: How is your Slovene?

Catastrophic. Learning Slovene is a long, hard road into Hell. And it’s made worse by the fact that Slovenes rarely appreciate how difficult it is. They’ll tell you things like: “Yeah, it’s hard, huh? Pronouncing the ž and č and everything. That’s tough.”

No, no, my friend, saying “ch” is the least of my problems. I’ll tell you what’s tough: six cases, endless gender declensions, formal and informal divisions, the dual grammatical form—all of it spoken in 32 dialects that are further divided into 76 sub-groups. That’s my definition of tough.

He gives an example, citing ten different ways to say ‘Did you eat anything?’ depending on gender and number of addressees.

Thanks for the tip, Jonathan!


  1. I had never heard Resian spoken aloud before encountering the mp3 Carniola had linked to, and can attest that it is genuinely incomprehensible even to a native speaker of the Northern-Primorsko dialect of Slovene, geographically closest to Rezija. A word or phrase may register, but the overall meaning reamins opaque. I can comprehend more of any other (major) Slavic language I’ve heard, including ones like Polish and Bulgarian.
    My 7th grade Slovene teacher had that chart hanging on the back wall of our classroom, btw.

  2. It must be the crazy challenge-obsessed linguaphile inside me that wants to try learning some Slovene now. 🙂 But once my Japanese is fluent, I’ll be ready to tackle anything.

  3. That Resian might be halfway comprehensible if the speaker weren’t dropping “allora” every other word.
    This reminds me of some Mari-language recordings Chris Culver linked to on his Ignorance blog that were full of false starts in Russian.

  4. It’s never too late to learn! By the way Slovene is not so hard.

  5. Slovenians in the Soca Valley (Bovec) for example, told me that they couldn’t understand Resians, and they live about 12 km from the first Resian settlement in Uccea. The Resiani were never served by the Slovenian Catholic Church and identify strongly as Venetians (as opposed to Italians) and often resent the interference of the Slovenian Catholic Church into their property and welfare, so much so that they resist being included in the census as belonging to Italy’s Slovene minority.
    There are only about 1200 people living in the Val de Resia, but about 1000 of them speak Rozianska and about 100 of them play fiddle in the amazing Resiani style. The time to visit is August 220 (don’t miss the Frico Festival) or in February for Carnival if you want to see music and dancing. There isn’t any hotel in the Valley you would have to stay in nearby Resiutta or at the campground near Gniva.
    All Resiani are trilingual, speaking Friuli and Italian. Based on my experience hanging out in the bar in San Giorgio waiting for a tow truck to haul my friend’s car away, in the morning the villagers spoke mostly Friuli, while younger folk spoke Italian. After lunch and a few drinks (and my, the Resiani do like a few drinks) the older generation started speaking Rozianska, while the younger generation switched to Friuli. After dinner everybody had a nice buzz going and everybody spoke Rozianska.

  6. Zaelic, it’s alway a pleasure reading your comments.

  7. Yes, indeed!

  8. Eric Hamp has done fieldwork on Resian (no surprise) — he published a few impressions in that endangered languages volume from 10+ years ago (the name of which I can’t recall since I mislaid my copy). He also compared what the language sounded like to him versus what Baudoin de Courtenay wrote down over a hundred years ago which was interesting.
    Is there any reason to think Slovenian would be harder than any other Slavic language? (The dialect variation aside.)

  9. According to Manske, the dual makes it harder.

  10. I spent some time learning Slovene when I was working in Ljubljana once- it’s not really any harder than any other Slavic language and it’s certainly easier to pronounce than Russian (for an American), as long as you’re talking about standard literary Slovene. The dialect issue didn’t bother me since I mostly stuck to Ljubljana, but I could see how that could be a hindrance if you’re mostly socializing with people who don’t speak the standard dialect. Of course, you can run into the dialect issue with many other European languages – Italian, German, Croatian-Serbian, Norwegian, etc. so Slovenian is not really unique in this respect.

  11. Also, isn’t Manske oversimplifying the situation in German? In more formal German you would not say Haben Sie was gegessen?,(still slightly informal) you would say Haben Sie ETWAS gegessen?.
    That side, it is an amusing blog.

  12. What a fascinating post. I don’t know anything about the particular difficulties of Slovene, but it’s interesting that some of the people who think Slovene is “not that difficult” are the Slavic speakers here 🙂 Speaking a relatively uninflected language like English, I find it very difficult to get to grips with all the cases in more inflected languages, because you’re having to think about language in an entirely new way.
    Btw, at the risk of utter irrelevancy, the English phrase for which ten Slovenian possibilities are given (“Did you eat anything?”) would more usually be “Have you eaten anything?” here in England.

  13. Michael Farris says

    For what it’s worth, I agree that for an English speaker the Slavic languages are tough to acquire as adults. That’s what’s cool about them.
    If it’s any consolation. Unlike English or Indonesian which start easy and get harder the longer you study them, the Slavic languages get easier the more you study them. The initial hurdle is long and high but once you’re past it, it’s easier going.
    I agree with having to learn to think in a new way, that’s one of the things I like about learning new (not just Slavic) languages. I’m not always that great at it, but it’s fun and challenging to try. People that don’t believe in connections between linguistic structures and thought processes might not agree.

  14. David Costa says

    I studied Russian sort of intensely in the early 80’s and haven’t done much with it since (sadly) — but I have to say, when I listened to that snippet of Resian, it sure sounded easier to pronounce and less phonologically ‘alien’ (to an Anglophone perspective) than Russian.
    I kind of doubt the dual would make Slovenian all that much harder than any other Slavic language since, according to what these sources say, the dual is pretty much extinct in most spoken dialects and kept alive by being in the literary standard.

  15. Resianet’s musical archive! Click and enjoy. One of Europe’s actual living folk music traditions.

  16. Tom Priestly says

    About the dual (I write as someone who learned Russian at age 18, then a Slovene dialect at age 40, Standard Slovene after that.) — It is far from extinct in the two kinds of Slovene that I know. It does indeed makes things quite a bit harder, but has one fantastic benefit. Anglophones and others with a single second person pronoun not only have to learn two or more such things for addressing individual speakers in many languages (tu/vous, du/Sie, ty/vy, Slovene ti/vi), but have to know when to use which AND have to remember what kinds of terms they are on with each speaker they meet, and this is hard if they meet them again after a long time. With the dual, you are totally safe: there is no special formal/familar distinction. So, when I go back to ‘my’ Alpine valley after a long absence, I prefer to talk to people in pairs: I run no risk of being over-familiar or over-formal.

  17. I’ve updated the other links, but the dialect website with texts and dictionary seems to have vanished without trace.

  18. David Marjanović says

    …as university websites normally do.

  19. PlasticPaddy says explains that server crashed and stuff is being restored. At that address there are links to texts (available) and dictionary (not available). The email for the site host (Han Steenwijk) at Uni Padua is also provided.

  20. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    Ooh, an Internet-accessible port 8081. So nostalgia.

  21. explains that server crashed and stuff is being restored.

    Thanks for that excellent news!

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