Slovenia with its diverse linguistic situation marks International Mother Tongue Day on Sunday, an annual observance declared by UNESCO in 1999. The main celebratory event will be held at the Ljubljana opera house.
Slovenia is home to more than 50 mother languages as a result of globalization and migration, the Statistics Office data shows. In 2002, about 88% of Slovenian residents said that Slovenian was their mother language with 40 other languages recorded.
Since then, 10,000 to 30,000 people have moved to the country every year, almost half of them from ex-Yugoslav countries and the rest from 30 other countries, all with their own mother tongues.
However, the Slovenian public has shown varying opinions on the openness of Slovenian to foreign words for a long time. According to translator Boštjan Gorenc – Pižama, the line between formal and casual Slovenian depends highly on the situation.
“If you’re writing a message online to a small circle of friends, using slang is not a problem. You should however use a higher register so all Slovenian-speaking readers can understand it, when it’s a public announcement or an official document,” he explained.
Only time will tell how the language will develop in the future, Gorenc said. He sincerely hopes, however, that the genitive continues to be used in negation, since “using the accusative case here really makes you cringe”.
He was also bothered by the recently launched Slovenian campaign to stop texting while driving, Ne tekstaj, ko voziš (Don’t Text and Drive), which uses a Slovenian derivative of the English verb “texting”, meaning “to send a text message on a mobile phone”.
“The word is supposed to be in use among youngsters, which might justify its use in the ad, but I still think it’s just a forced way to sound youthful,” he said.
President of the Slovenian Writers Association Ivo Svetina also warned of crippling the language, as the “biggest damage we can inflict on ourselves is to deny our own language”. “Without our own mother tongue we will be orphans, nameless exiles from our own motherland.” However, a language “grows, matures, increases in value, but never grows old”.
Meanwhile, Culture Minister Julijana Bizjak Mlakar expressed satisfaction that reading literacy was on the rise: “The share of reading literate residents of Slovenia, aged between 15 and 75, rose from 58% to 70% in 2015 year-on-year.”
SNG Opera and Ballet will host a reading by authors Sabina Buchwald, Rezka Kanzian, Jani Oswald and Aljaž Pestotnik in the evening, organised by the Slovenian Writers’ Association in Austria to mark the observance.
International Mother Language Day is marked in remembrance of 21 February 1952, when Bangladeshi students demonstrating for the recognition of Bangla as one of the two national languages of East Pakistan, were shot dead by police. The aim of the observance is to draw attention to the need of conserving culture and linguistic diversity.
Around 6,000 languages altogether are spoken all over the world. According to UNESCO, half of them are expected to die out. Over the past three generations about 200 languages have gone extinct.