GLAGOLITE PONAZ REDKA ZLOUEZA - The Beginnings of Slovene as a Written Language from the Freising Monuments to the Protestant Reformation

Elisabeth Seitz Shewmon, University of California-Los Angeles

The first books in Slovene, a Catechism and an Abecedarium, were printed in 1550 in Tübingen, Germany. For that reason, their author, the Protestant reformer Primož Trubar (1508-1586), is often called the “Father of Slovene as a written language”. Prior to the Reformation, however, Slovene had already been sporadically used in writing. The Freising Manuscripts, written in an ancient form of Slovene from 972 to after 1000, give evidence of the early use of Slovene in written form, as do several other manuscripts ranging from the 14th to the early 16th century as well as court and assembly records. The question arises, therefore, whether or how the existence of pre-Reformation manuscripts in the Slovene language can be reconciled with the thesis that Slovene as a written language emerged only with the advent of the Protestant Reformation and was created by a man who was not aware of any such tradition prior to his own writings.

This presentation will demonstrate how Slovene texts from the 10th to the 16th century can be linguistically analyzed for the formal characteristics of a scriptual language, as opposed to mere samples of speech written down. The emergence of Slovene as a written language will then be placed in its socio-cultural context within a multilingual society, in which Slovene had been used orally in public life long before the Reformation. Following the distinction between registers of oral and scriptual language (Koch-Österreicher 1985), the term written or scriptual language is understood as the full use of all means of language in the creation of written texts (morphological, syntactical and lexical – including, but not limited to, the following criteria: well formed, syntactically complete, varied and complex sentences; wide distances between correlated parts of the sentence; frequent use of hypotaxis instead of parataxis; use of the passive as a means of focussing on the topic; nominal style; frequent use of the subjunctive).

Based on these considerations, pre-Reformation manuscripts in Slovene do not represent written language in the above sense, nor are they part of a continuous tradition in the use of Slovene in writing. The first known instances of applying the full scale of linguistic means to scriptual formulation in Slovene are indeed the works of Primož Trubar, who in his own person made the transition from the public use of a more elaborate register in spoken Slovene in his sermons to the full development of Slovene as a written language in his books.


Koch, P. and W. Oesterreicher. “Sprache der Nähe – Sprache der Distanz: Mündlichkeit und Schriftlichkeit im Spannungsfeld von Sprachtheorie und Sprachgeschichte.”   Romanistisches Jahrbuch, 36 (1985): 15-43.

Seitz, E. Primus Truber - Schöpfer der slovenischen Schriftsprache? Versuch einer Antwort unter besonderer Berücksichtigung des Satzbaus. München, 1998.